Terry and the Peachers

IV

By Michael Arram

Andy and Terry settled into a restaurant high in Glendale, with a wide view to the south. Andy was clearly known there. Heads turned and staff flocked towards him. The maitre'd walked him past the queue. Terry loved it. They talked a lot through the meal. Paul had told him that Andy had a way of bringing things out of people, and before the end of the meal, Terry was telling him things he'd never told anyone else, and never dreamed he would tell.

'See, the thing is Andy, I've never been ambitious about anything much. Everyone's on to you about GCSEs, A levels, a degree and a career. Well, maybe yes I'll do something about it one day, but I don't wanna do it now. I'm not a dosser. I've been working in all sorts of jobs since I was fifteen. But I got no plan of my life to work to. Takes all the fun out of it, I think. At the moment I'm livin' life to the full and enjoyin' it.'

Andy smiled, 'Tell me about it. Living with a workaholic historian really makes you feel unmotivated.' Terry looked briefly puzzled. 'Oh, you don't know. Everyone forgets that Matt's only here on a student visa, studying for his doctorate. We're heading back home to England in September.'

'At least he don't bug you about your lack of direction.'

'Oh, the parents... well I have them too, and bugging me about my lack of direction is something they've been doing a lot of recently. No, I'm not exempt from that either. Er... on another subject, or possibly a related one, do you drive?'

'Pardon?'

'Do you drive?'

'Well, yeah. Got me licence when I was seventeen. Me mum lets me use her car sometimes, providing I fill the tank. What's this about?'

'I have a driving ban in the States, for reasons we needn't go into at the moment. I need to get round a lot, and my dad's kicking up about the expense of using drivers from a limousine pool. He'd rather I bought a car and employed my own driver. You're going to be here for a bit; you're a cool-headed, brave and trustworthy guy, as you've proved, and you can earn some good cash before you go back. Also you won't feel like an idle scrounger hanging round the house for weeks and maybe months. It doesn't bother us, but it may well bother you. There's one other thing too.'

'Wassat Andy?'

'Arranging your employment through the London office and buying the car will get Sylvia off my back for a few days.'

Terry thought about it, but not too long. 'Where do I sign, Mr Peacher sir?'

It had seemed like a good idea in the restaurant, but before the end of the day, Terry was having second thoughts. Mrs Fuentas the housekeeper was a sweet and kindly lady, but she had very clear ideas of how life should be arranged. The first row was about where he should now be sleeping. Terry had shifted abruptly from the status of guest to employee. She told Andy in no uncertain terms that the other staff would not understand it if Terry was living in the main house. Andy looked embarrassed. But Terry smiled, and said he wasn't there to cause trouble. His bags and possessions were shifted across the pool to the top floor of the well-appointed but more functional utility house.

Terry looked round his comfortable but small new rooms overlooking the pool through the orange trees. No flower arrangements and no wide-screen TV. He shrugged. Back to my proper social level, he thought.

Mrs Fuentas was big into hierarchies; it was, as she explained to Terry, how households ran smoothly. The second row was where he stood in relation to the other staff. Also in the utility house were Maria, the live-in maid, and Ramon the yard boy. It was decided that since Terry was not a house servant, he could not give orders to Maria, but that, since he was a confidential aide, Ramon was definitely beneath him in status. The problem there, as she explained to him, was that Ramon was her nephew, and she'd take it as a favour if he didn't make a thing about it. Terry explained that he was only there to do a job, and had no intention of bugging anyone.

Then there were Mrs Fuentas's rules. No using the pool when Mr Peacher and Mr White or guests were in the house. No loud music. He must keep his room clean himself, Maria had her work cut out in the big house. He had to wear a black suit, black shoes, white shirt and the Peacher corporate tie. She had the ties, but he'd need to get himself downtown for the rest. Then Andy upset her by breezily summoning a car and driving Terry into Old Pasadena and buying a whole range of gear for him out of his own pocket, including several expensive black suits, a dozen shirts and evening dress. 'It's not right, Mr Peacher. What will the other staff think? It's got to come out of his allowances. I'll talk to Sylvia.' By the time Matt returned from the Huntington, the house was very restless indeed.

'I'm not cut out for this wealth thing,' Andy complained to Matt. 'I never get it right.'

'You're just learning the sad truth about rich people, my love. That they're an enterprise run for the benefit of their employees, who have very strict ideas about how they should behave. I think Adam Smith had something to say about it. Still, whatever Mrs Fuentas may moan about, it was a good idea. You need someone to take you round, and Terry O'Brien may be young, but he's a clever lad and quite a looker too. An aide to boast about. He'll do you proud. Also he's glad to be gay, and that's a major advantage in an Andy Peacher aide. But remember what Paulie said, Andy, keep him out of the limelight, for his own safety.'

The car arrived very early the next morning; a big black Mercedes parked next to Matt's Lexus. Andy had a thing about Mercs, apparently. Terry went out on to the drive and admired it. He sat behind the wheel, breathed in the wonderful smell of new leather, and fantasised; then he realised he'd got to get used to driving on the other side of the road. He went in to the office and told Sylvia he was going to run it round the block a few times. She gave him a tight-lipped smile. He spent an hour cruising comfortably round Pasadena and San Marino, getting beeped at whenever he reached junctions. Then he went back, gave the car a wash for form's sake and started studying maps of the area.

He put on what he called his uniform, and sat in his room with a book. The phone burred. It was Sylvia with the day's engagements. He was free till midday, when Andy needed to be run down to the Huntington for lunch with Matt. He was on the drive at 12.30. Andy came out. Terry had decided how this was to be played. Clearly, he was learning who was boss in the master-servant relationship.

'Hi, Terry.'

'Mr Peacher.'

'Mr Peacher?'

'Would you prefer, sir?'

'I'd prefer Andy.'

'Not when I'm on duty, sir.'

'Wow. You do take things seriously.'

'When I'm being paid I do, sir.'

'Matt told me it'd be like this. OK Terry, get me to the library. Or would you prefer O'Brien?'

'Terry will do, sir. Where will you sit?' Andy sat next to him, chatting amiably. Terry had studied the route carefully, and got the car to the library smoothly. He parked and was out like a shot, opening his door before Andy had a chance to do it for himself.

'Christ, Terry, I'm not an invalid.'

'With respect, sir, you're Andrew Peacher, and the world has its own ideas how you should behave and be treated. Also with respect, I'm not goin' to get a bad reputation as an aide juss cos it embarrasses you, so learn to like it or I'll beat the living crap out of you, shortarse.'

'Fine. I understand. No problem. Just no more height-related remarks please.' The pair of them smiled at each other wryly on the tarmac. Terry followed his employer into the library, one pace behind and leaping ahead to open the glass doors for him at reception.

As Andy disappeared into the interior of the library, Terry sat and read brochures, looking at the lush gardens outside. Eventually Andy and Matt appeared, talking quietly and earnestly. Matt's face brightened as Terry sprang up. They shook hands.

'My, Terry, you do look smart.'

'Cheers.'

'Also you've straightened up.'

'You what?'

Andy smiled. 'He's right you know. Terry, you look different and it's not just the suit.'

'Yep,' added Matt, 'You've dropped the campness, Terry. You've found a new role to play... aide and confidant. Suits you.'

'Thanks, I suppose.' He sneaked a look at himself in the glass doors. It was true. Homo Terriensis had become Homo Officialis. Terry knew that he did self consciously play up his gayness and he knew he did it for effect; to shock as much as anything else. What he had not quite realised was that there was an underlying Terry, a serious and athletic suburban middle-class boy, just waiting to get out once he relaxed the effort it took to project effete, townie Terry. That was the Terry who looked at him now, an elegant, collected and straight-backed boy whom he barely recognised but who had some disturbing things in common with his policeman father, not least his considering eyes and the way he carried himself.

Terry drove Andy and Matt back home, thinking all the way of how he projected himself, and sorting out this sudden confusion in identity. Did he like this new Terry? Was he just growing up? He waited for an hour in his room, puzzling it all out, and then he suddenly thought of the way Matt was gay: for he was unmistakably a gay man when you got to know him. But he didn't parade it, and he was a strong and decisive human being, very much his own man and living his own life. That, Terry finally realised, was what he wanted to be. He smiled into the mirror, and accepted the new Terry as himself. He had a role model at last, and it was Matthew White. What a daunting thought.

More relaxed and smiling, Terry took Matt and Andy to downtown LA on his longest drive so far. They were eating out with some friends. Terry was puzzled working out what to do with the car when a valet leaped into the driver's seat and edged him out. It turned out that he had the bleak choice of hanging round the garage entrance smoking with the rest of the drivers, or crossing the road to take a seat in a dingy bar opposite. He took the latter option, and spent two hours reading and keeping an eye on the restaurant entrance. It would have been boring, but for the fact that he got into several intriguing conversations.

It seemed that talking to people was what you did in the United States. Now Terry liked talking to people, even when he was not on the look out for sex. If he was in a bus queue, he would be the one happily chatting with an old lady, and – it had to be said – the one who would be happy to help her on the bus with her bags. He could charm for England and old ladies homed in on him.

So he was not in the least reluctant to talk about baseball with an old black janitor who sat next to him with a sports paper. Not that he knew anything about the rules or the game's heroes. But he was always happy to learn. It seemed that in America baseball occupied the same place in old men's lives as cricket did in England. Terry was not particularly into team sport, although swimming, tennis, gymnastics and running were definite interests of his. Still, he had been a decent soccer player as a younger boy, and he had never disgraced himself in school sports.

When the old guy shuffled off. His place was taken by a plump middle aged Latino, with a heavy Mexican accent, who turned out to be a security guard. They talked about juvenile crime and drug problems in Los Angeles, a depressing subject, especially as one of his sons was involved in a gang. Another man joined in the conversation at this point and there was quite a fierce debate as to how the USA was a bad place to bring up boys, especially immigrant boys used to traditional rural Mexican society.

The hours passed quickly, and Terry was surprised when the blond head of Andy Peacher issued out of the restaurant opposite. He hopped into the driver's seat of the Mercedes as the valet hopped out.

'Good meal, sirs?' he asked.

'Great,' said Andy. 'Were you OK waiting, Terry? We were a bit bothered about what you would be doing while we were enjoying ourselves.'

'Well actually, boss,' Terry replied with a smile, 'I was enjoying myself.' He pulled away into the evening traffic and headed back to Pasadena.

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