Terry and the Peachers

XX

By Michael Arram

How to get back to the UK? The question kept running through Terry's head over the next few weeks. He got a little closer when a month later Andy flew to Washington to look at a potential course for next year, and Mark, Jenna and they got to fly into Ronald Reagan Airport in the small jet.

'Oh my God!' Mark crowed as they banked low over the capital and flew up the Potomac, 'This is dreamland.'

A car was waiting and Terry took the wheel, as he at least knew something about the city. Jenna had the map, sitting beside him. John Adams was a well-regarded private liberal arts college to the west of Arlington. It had been founded in Virginia during the period of Reconstruction by New England benefactors; it had admitted black students since the 1880s and women since the 1920s. This was the college that Andy had finally fixed on as his preferred destination in late August. They stopped at a Starbucks off a windy main road in Pentagon City for a briefing. It was full of crew-cutted officers in green, khaki and blue, wearing conference badges.

Mark took control. He'd already rung ahead to arrange a meeting with the college president and the dean of the faculty of social science and education. He had the documentation ready in four files. They looked through the course, it seemed very promising. Mark had already sorted out the key questions.

'You think you can be an ordinary student then, boss?' asked Mark.

'Yes, just a common or garden student with staffers, a private jet, an open invitation to the White House and a mansion in Arlington.'

Terry chipped in, 'Can I frighten them about security, boss? You know, lean in threateningly and breathe garlic all over the college president.' He put on his wrap around reflective sunshades that did indeed make him look a little sinister.

'Be good all of you.'

The college was very beautiful: the cherry trees were blossoming and the sky was blue. The main buildings were red brick and white stone between rich, manicured lawns, and the students looked handsome and well taken care of.

'Woah, check out that babe.' Since it was Terry who said it, they all looked at a very beautiful male student with long blond hair and an amazing butt.

'You lose,' Jenna snickered, as a gorgeous girl ran up alongside the boy and took his arm, staring into his eyes adoringly.

'He might be bisexual... maybe I could get to share his dorm, and get into all that uninhibited frat sex.'

'Dorms might be an idea,' mused Andy. 'At least I'd be a proper student.'

Terry parked and they spilled out on to the tarmac, Terry opened the door for Andy and scanned the staring students aggressively with his hand inside his jacket, where there was indeed a gun on this occasion. Andy had not worn a suit and had told them not to wear corporate gear, but they might as well have. They walked after their boss and into the reception area of the administration block, holding doors open for him. The receptionist was standing nervously.

'Good morning, Mr Peacher is here to see the president,' said Mark smoothly, 'I think we're expected.'

They were ushered upstairs, and the college president met them at his office door, with the dean. Andy introduced his team, and they had the grace to look intimidated. Not many prospective students came with a chief of staff, an armed security officer and a PA. Andy sent them off to amuse themselves for an hour, wander round the campus and meet again at the car.

They strolled down the lime avenues, fresh with new greenery, and admired the architecture. It was a very attractive campus full of apparently affluent students. They looked in on the sports field and watched the football team training. Terry remarked on a soccer field off to one side.

'The boss'll need to know that, he keeps on saying he wants to get back on the pitch again.'

They ambled back through the main campus, Mark admiring the memorial to students who had died in the Great War, 1917-19, and the Second World War, 1941-45, he remarked on the different dates.

'Terry, your tongue is dragging along the ground and I'm liable to step on it if you're not careful,' said Jenna sharply.

'All this student ass,' pondered Terry, 'scuse me being coarse.'

'We're used to it,' smiled Mark. 'Why don't you sign up for a course yourself, Terry?'

'Me, a student? Leave it out.'

'What else are you going to do when Andy moves here?... if he does.'

'I hadn't thought.'

'We're not expecting to be kept on, you know,' said Jenna resignedly. There won't be enough for us to do, and we'll probably be redeployed back to the UK, but not you. Andy will keep you on, his dad will make him.'

Terry's heart lurched. He hadn't calculated on that. He didn't know corporations the way his colleagues did. When he thought about the future he thought about his present very satisfactory life going on and on. He liked the way things were. But at last he saw that there was going to be change, whether he liked it or not. Something of what he felt must have showed in his face, as he observed from Mark and Jenna's softened looks.

'It's been fun, Terry, but it couldn't go on you know,' she said.

'I guess,' he replied, despondently.

Mark continued the attack. 'So what about signing up for a degree? It takes four years here, and you can chalk up three years alongside Andy and then, I dunno, you could take a year out - you must have enough cash - or maybe go part-time.'

'What would I do?'

Mark pulled out a sheaf of papers, 'I checked through their programmes. There is a Dance and Theatre Studies major, or you could try Modern Languages, Politics or Communications.'

'This is a set up, innit?'

'Well yes, Terry,' said Jenna, 'You care about us, so we care about you, y'know. Think about what we're saying, and... hey, who knows? The team may reassemble when Andy's done with college.'

They wandered into the commissary and found coffee and cakes. Their accents attracted stares from the surrounding table, as did Terry's raffish good looks and Jenna's cool beauty. He scuffled through the fliers littering the table and triumphantly came up with one for a gay and lesbian event. Mark and Jenna applauded. 'So you won't be the only gay in the college!'

They wandered on through the leafy campus and looked in on the Presbyterian chapel, a rather beautiful Pre-raphaelite jewel in dark red brick, with stained glass windows portraying John Knox, Calvin and an assortment of late nineteenth century unknown American worthies, while on the wall were painted mural portraits of the personified arts and sciences.

Terry's verdict was: 'I could really shag Music, what a babe... dark soulful eyes, and into public nudity too; pity that harp hides the key information.'

Jenna sniffed, 'I fancy Geography... chunky guy with big shoulders and deepset eyes. What about you Mark?'

'I'll go for Philosophy, neat and impersonal blonde lass. Probably into discipline and correction.'

'Who does that remind you of?' said Terry, rashly, 'Ouch! That hurt!'

They mooched back to the car, where Andy joined them with another unknown academic, whom he introduced as the head of social work. They had clearly had a long and informative chat. Andy gave him his card and shook his hand warmly when they left.

'Amazing guy. I'd never had the deficiencies of federal funding and administration explained so clearly.'

'So have you made up your mind then?'

'I think so. It's not going to be easy being a student again. I didn't hide what happened at Burnett, but they were OK about it. They said they understood and they believed my assurances that I was a different man now. But the thing is that I'll have to do three years here, instead of two years in the UK which was my first choice.'

'We understand, boss,' said Mark.

'Pardon?' said Andy.

'It's OK. We realise that you'll have to reduce the team and send us back.'

'Where did you get that idea?'

'Just logical isn't it?' chipped in Jenna.

'Get that out of your head. I already owe you guys too much to want to see the back of you.'

'Oh!' they chorused.

'No. Dad and me are opening an office in Washington under the AP Trust to analyse social policy and lobby for social action for the most deprived, especially for kids. The idea is that you head it up, Mark, and Jenna liaises with little me across the Potomac and shepherds me around and continues to look after security.'

'Er... and me?' asked Terry, suddenly worried.

'Well, you're staying here and doing a degree alongside me, and watching my tail too, and not just mine, Pete will be coming to live with me until he goes on to university himself in three years. Dad's happy to give you study leave and a reduced salary for the interim. He said it's the very least we can do for you, considering what you've done for us.'

Mark and Jenna looked smug. Terry was astounded.

'Come on Terry, now's your chance and now's your time.' Andy was grinning and really enjoying the look on Terry's face. 'Ramon's happy to come here too, although he could go to Yale or Stanford with his grades. He'll start the year after we do. You'll have two years at least with him, maybe three. How can you turn that down?' There was a long pause.

'I can't... thank you boss.' Terry said huskily and quietly. They saw the glistening of tears starting in his eyes, and looked away. Me, Terry O'Brien, he was thinking, freshman major in Dance at John Adams College in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA. My mum and dad will finally be proud. Ahah! He also thought. That's my justification to go back to the UK. 'Er, boss?...' he began.

Terry was in a good mood. He had flirted all the way in first class from Washington to Heathrow with a very interested flight attendant. It got as far as the guy's hand on his upper thigh, but it wasn't going to go anywhere else. Still, he felt all the better for it. Jenna had confused him for a while.

Britain looked weirdly small scale and very green after a few months of Santa Barbara. The tube was overcrowded and the people were very pale, whereas his blond hair was sun-bleached and his skin tanned. When he got off the train from Paddington, it was still the early morning. He got a taxi directly to Finkle Road, and rang the bell of No. 25.

'Hello, Paulie!' he said cheerily as the door was opened by a very bleary Paul in his underwear.

'Terry!' Terry hugged him and kissed him lingeringly, despite the early morning breath of his former lover. Paul hugged back.

They went into the kitchen and Paul made coffees. They grinned at each other over the steaming mugs.

'Missed me, Paulie?'

'Oh yeah. Life's suddenly got boring again: essays, deadlines, seminars, library - no assassins, surveillance or international power politics at all. Tell me about the fall of the Stepmom, and I want it all, in technicolor detail, like the epic it was.' Terry obliged, with a lot of additional colour on Peter Peacher.

'You really like the kid, don't you.'

'Yeah, a lot... he's me, at fifteen. Admittedly a bit more acute in the business department, but deeply confused, deeply loving and randy as a ferret on heat. His last e-mail tells me he's got back with Jordan, and Jordan was so overcome with happiness and joy at the reconciliation, he let Pete screw his arse all the way to the top, as he put it. Which is something of a pity, cos Pete actually really wants it up his. But they've both agreed to move on to anal sex and get into it slowly and thoroughly, so Pete's about to get it up the bum pretty soon and, although Jordan's a shrimp in the dick department, as he puts it, I'm expecting an interesting and gory account. He never holds anything back does my Pete. He's so very happy living with his big brother, and Andy is utterly devoted to the little guy. It's beautiful to see.'

'So what's new with you?' Terry told him about the plans, and Paul was delighted at Terry's resolution to sign up for higher education. 'Good. You're twenty in two days. You've seen life big time, and I'll bet you're ready to put it on pause for a few years. You need time for your mind to grow.'

'Nicely put, my Paulie. Now how about Matthew White?'

Paul looked a little unhappy. 'He's rented a service flat in a new block in town... very nice actually, and since it comes with people to keep it clean and make beds it's not the mess you usually associate with Matt. He's working in his old way... the way he did last time Andy and him broke up. He buries the unhappiness in overwork. But this time it's different. He misses Andy a lot, but he won't admit it and he won't show it. He was always stubborn, but he's beyond reason this time.

There's also the distractions. He was in Rome last weekend, and Monaco the week before that. The producers, consultants and photographers have got their hooks into him. Oh, and his agent has landed him a big contract with Channel 4. They're doing a series on every century from the twelfth onwards, and Matt's to present the one on the seventeenth century, he's over the moon about that one. I asked him how much he was earning, and he admitted that he's chalked up over four million since last year. It puts him somewhere out of the ordinary for an English postgraduate student, don't you think?'

'Lucky guy,' Terry admitted, and found he meant it in all generosity. Having discovered Matt's imperfections, he liked him more rather than less. Besides, the democrat in him respected Matt more for making his own way to wealth. He loved Andy, but Andy had inherited his riches.

'So you and Jenna...?'

'She moved on to Mark, I'm relieved to say. She was scary and hot and screwed with my poor queer head.'

'Welcome to bisexuality, Terry. Worst of all possible worlds, innit? You're never happy with what you got. But I like Jenna, smart girl and kind when you got to know her.'

'So what about your Rachel?'

'She's coming to the UK to live here with me next year, she's taking a year out to do a master's and keep me company in my final year.'

'So you've managed to banish me from your thoughts then?'

'No and I never will. I love you Terry... no I do. And I know you love me too.'

'Yes, it's true.'

'But that sort of love isn't the love with any mileage in it for relationships. We both know that. But it'll last till I die, I know that too. I don't think we'll ever be quite free of each other.'

'I wouldn't want to be,' Terry smiled. Paul smiled at Terry in a melancholy way, took his hand and kissed it. Terry leaned over and kissed his oldest lover thoroughly on the mouth. But that was as far as it went and ever would go.

Terry buzzed Matt's button on the chunky red-painted door of the tall postmodern block set back off the southern end of High Street. He remembered when the site had been occupied by an eighteenth-century brewery; he had preferred it that way.

'Lo?' came the voice through the static.

'S Terry, Matt.'

'Come on up, Tel.' Terry took the lift to the sixth floor. It opened on a short, glazed corridor with Matt holding the door of his flat open, smiling and barefoot in a beautifully embroidered African white linen top and pale blue shorts. Talented professionals had taken over his hair, skin and wardrobe. He looked international and so very sophisticated, although his grin at least was still all his own.

The flat was elegant and professionally decorated, with a glazed balcony and views over the city roofscape north to the city hall and university. It didn't seem to have many personal touches as yet, although a lot of framed family photos were spread around the room. If there was one of Andy, Terry didn't see it.

Matt had coffee ready for him, and Terry had finished it long before he had completed his story of recent events. Matt sat quiet and listening, occasionally making the odd comment, smiling and nodding. Terry emphasised Andy's kindness, philanthropy and determination to go through with his wide-ranging plans. He knew that it was Andy's flightiness in the past that had come between the two men. He also knew of Matt's past jealousy over other men's attentions to Andy, so he over-played the danger from Hampton Stuyvessant. He couldn't work out whether it had all registered, but Matt did say, 'You love the little guy, don't you?'

Completely unabashed, Terry admitted it. 'He's all sorts of things, Matt. He's infinitely generous, he's kind and funny, and he's devoted to those he loves. He's changed my life just like he changed Paulie's, and he's changing Ramon's. He's won his mad little brother's heart... and that was a hard one. What can you fail to love about a guy like that? Everyone who gets to know him comes to love him.'

'Except me... were you going to say?'

'No. I don't know what's between you two, but I do know that there's a grey emptiness in him since you left, like he's carrying a heavy weight. And there's no one he can talk to about it.'

'The Fisher King...' Matt murmured, or so Terry thought.

'Pardon?'

'Nothing, Terry. Did he send you with a message to me?'

'Nope, I'm here off my own bat.' Did he detect disappointment? Terry hoped so, 'I've come back to see my parents, and it's me twentieth the day after tomorrow.'

'Oh!'

'Yeah. I'm having a party at the Queen's. Coming?'

'Wouldn't miss it... the Queen's is almost my local living here.'

Matt was very interested in Terry's plans. 'I'm really glad you've decided to settle into college for a bit. You're far too bright just to vegetate, and a US college may just be exotic enough to keep your interest. It's as well you aren't going to a grey and depressing British campus. You'd never settle down now somewhere like that.'

The phone rang, Matt picked it up and began talking business to some media person. Eventually he rang off. 'Gotta go, Terry. The production company wants me to do a thing in London. A car'll be along in an hour. I'll nip up to St Pancras afterwards and work through till closing time in the British Library. I'd like lunch with Paulie tomorrow if you can arrange it... I know, how about that place that does good pub food on the Swindon Road, other end of Riverside, the Laurels? See you there around one.'

'Sure, Matt.'

Matt was late by about three quarters of an hour at the Laurels. Paul shrugged, 'It happens more and more nowadays. It's not deliberate. He just lives in a media time frame now.'

He arrived apologetic, saying he'd been held up by calls. He looked sensational in expensive Italian leather gear worn casually but calculatingly. The barmaid's jaw hit the counter as everyone turned and whispered. Terry noticed that Matt had absently checked out the impact caused by his arrival. It was as if part of him needed to know that he was either recognised or at least noticed. He had acquired the mannerisms of a model, although not yet the ego, or at least Terry hoped not. He liked Matt.

They talked about university, Paul and Matt frightening Terry about the amount of work he would have to do, or at least what they said he would have to do. Then they teased him about getting into a fraternity house and suggested some very original and extremely obscene pledges that he might have to perform. He countered by asserting that only native born Americans were allowed into frat houses. They were not able to shift him on that one, until Matt suggested that Andy might be persuaded to set up his own fraternity house for queer Brits; Paul suggested Gamma Alpha Upsilon.

'Why?'

'That's "GAY" in the Greek alphabet, geddit?'

'You're just too clever for me, Paulie. Anyway, I'll be dancing my way to a degree won't I? So no essays or dissertations.'

'Not true.' said Matt, 'Bet you'll have to do human physiology, history of dance and drama... don't worry there'll be endless opportunities for written work. Besides, you only major in dance. You've got to do other subjects.'

Terry looked sour, but then brightened, 'I'll do French. Got a headstart there. Ha! Mme Cirier'll do me homework.'

Lunch arrived, and although it was pub food, it was well cooked and arranged. Another round of drinks followed, and in the end they stayed until they were bounced out at half past three. A taxi got them back to Finkle Road, and Matt looked round appreciatively, admiring what Paul had done with the garden. The barbecue pit was finished and Terry suggested that since the weather was warm and fine they come back after the Queen's and inaugurate the pit with its first full scale barbie. Terry undertook to deliver the meat, rolls and crisps in the morning, while Paul volunteered salad. Matt chipped in with drinks, and everything was set.

Terry dashed home to the parents, and had another good meal on the town to celebrate what he used to call as a little boy 'Birthday Eve', as his parents fondly reminded him. His father was relieved that he had finally resolved on college, even if it was in the USA. The fact that Terry could pay for himself was acknowledged with pride and a little relief. His mother admired his new clothes and hair style. 'And you've stopped prancing round like a poof too, son,' his dad added with a grin. He agreed to join them in Ibiza before he started college in August.

Paul had gone over the top with balloons and birthday banners in the garden. They stacked the fridge with food and Matt piled cans and bottles on the kitchen table. The sky was blue and the sun was golden. A fair crowd of old friends turned up in the Queen's, including Steve Wharton and his Dave, apparently back together again, judging by the fact that Dave was in his preferred seat on Steve's lap, his arms round Steve's neck. Several of Terry's straight mates joined Paul in the daring adventure of coming to the Queen's. They looked nervous even after their second drink, especially when Dave started necking with Steve.

The back garden of 25 Finkle Road was nearly full at four that afternoon, music beating out of the back kitchen, although Paul would not let it get too loud. The other students in the house were there too, and Frank from the Queen's had taken charge of the barbecue. It was a warm and lazy afternoon and Terry felt agreeably intoxicated and happy. He was sitting contentedly next to Matt on the ground, both leaning against the garden fence, which is why he did not immediately notice the reason for the stir around the kitchen door. The reason did not help by being so very short, but Matt did notice, as if by telepathy, and Terry felt him stiffen next to him. Andy came hesitantly through the crowd and gave a little smile when he saw Terry, and flinched very obviously when he saw Matt next to him. They both stood up.

'Happy birthday, Terry,' he smiled.

'Cheers, boss. You didn't have to come all this way just to tell me that, though.'

'I know. But I was long overdue to go see mum, and you're on the way. Your parents told me you were here, and...' His eyes were pinned to Matt, who was almost visibly trembling. Terry could guess why. This was where it had all began for them; they must both be flooded with memories. 'So... er... Matt.'

Matt was equally articulate, 'Er... Andy.'

Terry took a hint, 'I'll go find you a drink Andy, can of lager OK?' Andy nodded absently. He found Paul down by the barbecue.

'Guess who turned up?' He told him.

Paul was on pins, 'It's now or never. I wish I could read Matt better, nowadays. But look, they are at least talking. I hope they get beyond polite nothings. The problem is that this time they have neither of them anything to apologise for. The other problem is that they have to fall in love again. No one can help them on this. Oh I hope so much they break through their damned pride.'

Terry looked intently at Paul and realised that this was not just disinterested benevolence. It meant a huge amount to him that Matt and Andy were together, almost as if he was a kid whose parents had separated.

Twenty minutes later, Matt and Andy circulated towards them. Andy had Matt's hand gripped in his, they both looked tearful and happy. 'Er, Paulie and Terry,' said Matt, 'Andy and I are going into town... we fancy a swim.'

'A swim?' commented Terry.

'Yes,' said Andy, 'at the City Pool, it's just round the corner from Matt's. We'll probably go back there afterwards.'

Terry laughed with delight, as did Paul. Matt and Andy just smiled with embarrassment.

Andy added, 'Come round to Matt's after nine, if things have wound up here.'

'Sure,' they said.

'I feel like I want to tail you down here at a distance,' said Matt as they walked down High Street, 'just like I did that first time. This was where you went into the music shop and I had to duck into a doorway in case you saw me.'

'I saw you in my head, you were all I could see at the time, my Matt,' smiled Andy, 'I'd been wanking off on your image for days, you were such a beautiful boy. You're even more beautiful now. What have they done to you?'

'Oh stylists, masseurs, personal trainers: your body becomes their property, and they're the experts.'

'I hope there's room for me too.'

Matt stopped and stared deep into his magnetic blue eyes: 'You know that you have total possession of my heart, Andy, you always have. There's never been another, never could be.'

'I know that. So why...?'

'Now at last you ask. I've spent months thinking about it. The stress and pressure caused by the Stepmom was just the trigger, Andy. The explosive was all that pent up trauma from the Burnett episode, but the real reason I think now is simply that I was growing up and away from you. Academic work, the media, the modelling: it was telling me I was someone other that Andy Peacher's boyfriend. Two years ago, being your boyfriend was all I wanted to be. Now – selfish as it may seem – there's a whole world I want to belong to, that wants me. You never stopped me going out there, but I could feel that you'd have rather that I was with you, that you thought I was leaving you, betraying you even.'

Andy pondered as they paced the city street, and eventually said, 'It's true, or at least it was true in Pasadena. I didn't mind the Huntingdon, at least you came home in the evening. But then there was the business trips and the world into which I could not follow you. I still needed you so bad, my Matt. I built all my sense of safety on you.'

'So you say things have changed.'

'Yes they have. It's Terry really. He's so cheerful, so strong and brave... just like you in many ways. But unlike you, he's not in love with me, he was just there to support and protect me, and he loved doing it; he was utterly dedicated to it to the point of offering his own life. He gave me a new emotional independence and I was beginning to notice it... just when you had finally had enough and left me! Matt, I think I'm able now to let you lead your own life. I'll just be happily waiting for you when you come back, from wherever you've been. Do you believe me?'

'Yes my love, I do believe you. So let's do what we loved doing most and what I've missed ever so much. Here's my flat.'

Matt opened the door, led Andy through into the foyer and the lift. They were already naked and kissing before the door opened at the sixth floor. And they never got as far as the bed before Matt entered his lover, on their knees on the hall floor. There was no thought of lubrication or carpet burns, and Andy had enough control and experience of his boyfriend now to open himself to Matt without it, while Matt knew to take his time and not force Andy's hole.

They lay flat out after Matt's copious ejaculation, joined at Andy's anus, still swollen and jammed with Matt's impressive tool which showed no inclination to subside. 'Ooh,' said Andy, 'The size. How could I have forgotten the size of you? Leave it in as long as you can.'

'Got any Viagra? We could stay here till tomorrow.' Matt held his small blond lover tight, felt his chest and belly, stroked his pubic hair, and manipulated Andy's cock until it reared and jetted sideways across the carpet as the smaller man thrust back his soft buttocks onto Matt's groin. He kissed and licked Andy's ears. By then Matt was ready – he had never subsided from their first coupling - and he shifted Andy onto his back; enthusiastically taking him again, in their favourite position, lubricated by their own love making.

After they had both relaxed into a post-coital afterglow, they showered together and dressed. Matt found his swimming trunks and they bought a pair for Andy on High Street. They made their sentimental journey to the City Pool, where their affair had begun, where they had had their first kiss. It was full of kids this time, but they didn't mind. They had found each other again and for the moment nothing else mattered in all the world.

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