Terry and the Peachers
Terry groaned deeply as he came inside Ramon. The boy was licking and sucking wildly at his mouth, holding him as if he never meant to let him go, clamping hard on his erection clasping him with his legs. But physiology had its limits. Terry's penis shrank and fell out of his lover. He fell on to his side, but Ramon kept frantically kissing his face, between passionate endearments in Spanish, his hands caressing his back, his buttocks, the entry to his anus. Terry too found it hard to let him go.
'I love you, Terry. God, so much. I never thought I'd ever feel like this about anyone.'
But was it true? Was this beautiful boy a consummate liar and seducer? How could you tell? Once think that, and it could all sound so false. And then Ramon said the one thing that it was better he had not, 'I wish you could take me with you, my love.'
Terry sat up, breaking Ramon's grasp. All the suspicion that Matt had planted in his mind sprang up like tangled and sinister weeds. But he said, 'I wish it was possible, Ramon, but it isn't. But you know I'll be back.' Now who's the liar, he thought. The house in Pasadena was on a let, and in September Andy was moving back to England for two years. He knew that, but Ramon didn't. Mrs Fuentas was engaged for another six months, but for most of that time she was now just going to be a caretaker in Pasadena, she might well get bored and quit, then what would happen to Ramon?
Something of what he was thinking must have showed in Terry's face. Tears sparkled in Ramon's dark and liquid eyes, 'You do love me?' he pleaded. Had he only asked that yesterday, thought Terry, he would have got the answer he wanted. But not now.
'Gotta get packed, Ramon.' He got up and looked down at the boy. He looked desolate. Then he sat up and held his ankles looking up at Terry, tears now streaking his cheeks; so beautiful, so very tragic. How could anyone act love this well, he thought. Then he remembered his night with Anson, and realised that given the right motivation, people could do anything. Terry pulled on his clothes rather than continue to torment himself. He filled his shoulder bag and put it with the rest of the luggage. Ramon was where he had left him, but something had changed in his face.
'I'm goin' now, kid. See you when I see you. I'll write, honest.' He kissed the boy gently on the lips, lingered there and broke away, feeling like the biggest bastard on the North American continent.
As he passed the pool, he heard the slap of bare feet behind him. Still naked, Ramon caught at his shoulder and turned him round. 'Terry, I know you don't love me the way I do you. But remember this. I'll never change. I'll always be waiting for you. There'll never be anyone else, ever. You are the one love of my life.' Then he slowly turned, and walked away with the grace that never left him. Terry had no words. He was wrung dry of emotion.
Andy watched Terry carefully throughout the flight, worried and guilty. He recognised heartbreak when he saw it, and knew that, once again, he'd damaged someone he cared for. But Paul had told him it was unavoidable, and he knew that such things could be repaired in time, if there was time. He also watched Sylvia Powicke, his PA, another problem, and one they were carrying with them.
What did he know about her? His father had told him that she was a Stanford graduate, and that she had been three years in the Peacher office in New York, before his father transferred her to Pasadena in January as his PA. He knew that there was a mother in Chicago and a father in Milwaukee. He also knew that in New York she had dealt with public relations including dealing with the Stepmom's United Nations activities; there was a personal link, although a slight one. In some ways she was a more obvious suspect than Ramon, but on the other hand, there was no obvious motive. She was a career executive on a fast track, with nothing to gain from such a betrayal of her employer. She would be earning enough in a few years to make any attempted bribe look absurd. Was it blackmail? Had Anson or his accomplices seduced her in other ways?
Andy tormented himself all the way to Paris, and then on the TGV to Poitiers. They got out at the station in the spring-like afternoon, Terry marshalling the bags and loading them on carts. They were a sombre group. Terry looked across at the dun coloured houses climbing up the hill of the ancient city. He liked France, but nothing was going to lift his heart that day. He found a way to get the baggage cart by lift to the station concourse, Sylvia was already there chattering away in French at the car hire desk. Andy and Matt were apparently not too proficient in the language.
Finally, they loaded up the Citroën saloon, and Sylvia navigated them out on to the autoroute to the south. It was dark by the time they got to Courçon and the Domaine Peacher. Matt and Andy's spirits began rising the closer they got. From snatches of conversation, Terry worked out that they had had a brilliant time there last summer, and couldn't wait to get back.
A middle-aged vinegary woman in black was waiting on the step.
'Chère Madame Cirier!' cried Matt, giving her a huge hug and lifting her off the ground. She double kissed him and patted his shoulders, 'Monsieur Vwit! Toujours enchantant!' she answered. She also kissed Andy, who introduced Sylvia and Terry. Terry toiled with the bags after all three up the shallow steps and into the modest château.
Dinner was waiting, and Sylvia ate with Matt and Andy in the tapestried dining room, with its log fire and mounted boars' heads. Mme Cirier categorised Terry as below-stairs material, and he ate in the kitchen with Madame and her husband, who kindly laboured to converse in English, but then were enchanted to discover that Terry actually spoke quite reasonable French. Nobody had asked him, but his parents loved the Midi and he had spent many summers there as a boy, before they'd got the Ibiza villa. He'd wanted to do A level French, but his school hadn't offered it as an option and a blinkered sixth form tutor had pushed him towards vocational subjects.
A new sort of routine grew up. Terry was drafted on to the housekeeping side of things under Mme Cirier's direction, and spent his mornings in a waistcoat and blue apron, dusting, shifting furniture and polishing. It was a very big job, and Mme Cirier was going to make the most of having an able-bodied assistant for a while. In the afternoon, he sometimes toughened his hands helping M. Cirier in the gardens, when he was needed, or went shopping with Madame in the local markets. The work was good for him, and took his mind off things. Andy was keen to do his own driving, now he was in France, so Terry was rarely needed. In fact he saw very little of Matt and Andy at all, and in his present mood, that suited him fine.
Before the end of the first week he discovered the conference suite and its communications facilities. He hesitated for a while, and then rang Pasadena. Mrs Fuentas answered and was not too happy when he asked for Ramon.
'He's gone, Terry.'
'He left two days ago. Gone to my sister in the Valley.'
'When's he back?'
'I don't know. He was talking of going on to Houston for a while. He's been very unsettled since you left,' she said with an air of accusation. Terry hung up after some banal chit-chat. He felt baffled. Yes, Ramon might leave because he was upset, but then, he might leave also if the job he'd been bribed to do was over. Should he mention it to Andy? He decided that he would not. He despised himself for even considering the possibility that Ramon was a suspect.
That first Sunday he consolidated his position in the household by arriving in his best uniform suit at the door to drive Mme Cirier and Matt to 10.00am mass at St-Jean, and then joining them. He found the French liturgy no problem, and joined confidently in all the hymns, which impressed Matt, who tended to stumble in them. He also had a very fine tenor voice, which carried above the congregation. A number turned and smiled at him; he smiled back. They took communion, the first time Terry had done since he had left school, and he was glad he had. He found himself praying rather earnestly for all his friends, but most specially for Ramon, and he found prayer a comfort, although he couldn't say why. They paused to introduce themselves to the priest at the door, and joined the men drifting over to the cafés in the square. Mme Cirier would be back in an hour after visiting her sister-in-law, Matt said.
They sat out in the chilly square with two big glasses of red wine, and sat quietly for a while. Terry was the first to find the silence uncomfortable. He asked, 'Andy's not a churchgoer?'
Matt surfaced, 'No. His father and mother are aggressive rationalists. I think he went to chapel in his private school, but only when absolutely necessary. He's not baptised … a modern pagan in fact. He doesn't understand why I believe, which is strange, because when you scratch the surface of the boy he's full of odd superstitions and he has a love of the supernatural. He just can't make the jump to think that there really is more to this world than appears on the surface, as the world itself constantly tells him. It's a pity. It's the one gulf between us. There's a whole area of our lives we can't share and it makes me sad sometimes. But he's tolerant of my beliefs, because he loves me.' Matt looked at Terry speculatively. 'How you doin' Terry?'
'Know? How do you know?' Then Terry remembered exactly how Matt knew, and his face must have looked apologetic, because Matt let the remark pass.
'What hurts worse: the suspicion of Ramon or the fear that the suspicion may be true?'
'It's all one undifferentiated ache, Matt. I miss him terribly, and the last time I saw him, I was unable to tell him how much I love him, while all the while he was sobbing out his adoration and devotion to me … to me for Chrissake, fuckin' useless me. What sort of cunt am I? I'll never forgive Paul for his damned logic …'
'… or me for making you act on it.'
Terry looked hard at him. 'You're not my favourite supermodel at the moment.'
'I don't blame you Terry. It hurt me to have to say those things … no really. You're a good guy and good for Andy, he trusts and likes you, and you make him feel safer, which is an important thing if you know Andy. Not only that but his brother's your greatest fan. So it staggered me that I had the nerve to do it. I of all people should know what the pain of losing someone you love is all about. But we can't leave out the possibility. Andy hasn't forgiven me for acting on it. He says I've got hard inside.' Matt looked pensive and even a little unhappy too. 'His heart was always the biggest thing about him, and it's why I love him so very much, why I've given up so much for him, and maybe …. oh, never mind.'
Terry was intrigued. This was the closest he had got to this awesome man. 'Go on.'
'What I was going to say was that you give up so much when you come out. Come on Terry, you know the score. We give up an entire future and what society likes to consider normality. Our parents – yours and mine - were OK with it, thank God, but the future we give up is theirs too. Some take it hard. I know mates who've been thrown out. Ben Craven's dad, for instance, won't have anything to do with him, and his mum's left his dad as a result. Then there's friends. Not all my friends were happy, some have drifted away … some were even downright hostile. My biggest mate of all time was my cousin Xavier. He cuts me dead; not only that but he was vicious about it and he's divided the White family. It all hurt so much … but it would have hurt much more if I'd tried to live a lie, and giving up my Andy was not an option. I thought the pain would go away, or that bridges could be built in the end, but neither has happened. There's no happy ever after in our lives, Terry. It's a bleak thing finally to realise it.'
Terry saw down into the great gulf of depression inside Matt, and saw his problem. He also realised that the man had opened up to him because he wanted Terry to know that he knew all about the pain he was feeling. But Terry was sensitive enough to realise that he had also revealed that his relationship with Andy was under severe stress, which was more than perhaps Matt had intended.
Matt gave him a sombre smile, 'Friends?'
Terry smiled back, feeling genuinely sorry for Matt, 'Yeah. Friends.'
Pain is of course an uncomfortable subject, especially for a normally happy-go-lucky man like Terry, so he decided to change the subject. 'Any more news about Anson and his associates, Matt?'
'No. Paul's virus was detected, and wiped, after it became clear that we knew that they knew that we knew … or something like that. Must have impressed the hell out of them. No doubt Anson added that to his account with you. We've lost track of him entirely. But at least we know where he'll end up. Here. In pursuit of the dossier and you, Terry O'Brien.'
'Can we do anything?'
'Andy's got one or two things up his sleeve, and one of them will be here tomorrow.'
'Who, would be nearer to the point.'
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