Terry and the Peachers

XXI

By Michael Arram

Terry looked out through the study bedroom window on to the green campus of John Adams College. He could see Grant Hall through the window, with its louvered clock tower, the centre of the campus. Happy and good-looking students were everywhere. It was the beginning of his sophomore year and he could see friends meeting and greeting on their return from the long vacation. Some of them were his friends too. There was a rustling from the bed behind him. Without turning round he said, 'Morning, beautiful.'

Ramon's curly and tousled head appeared above the duvet, 'Mmm. Where am I? Who are you?'

'I'm the sophomore who picked you up in the freshman fair last night, got you drunk, seduced you and fucked you rigid while you couldn't resist.'

'Oh God, I'm no longer a virgin, you raped me!'

'Yup. Probably got you pregnant too.'

'Bastard.'

'I know.' Terry turned, smiling and delighted. 'This is so great, babe. Here we are in Virginia, you with your 1800 SAT on a full scholarship, me A-rated Dance student and Vice-President of the Gay and Lesbian Group. We can sleep together, study together and be a couple for evermore. I'm so happy, babe. If I was you, I'd be crying.'

'Terry, I'm too happy even to cry! Seeing you sitting there in student gear and glasses, it's like a dream. You look like a sexy young professor.'

Terry polished his specs, which he had to get fitted because of his developing long sightedness the previous year. For most of the day he used contacts

'You wanna go and get showered?'

'Only if you do too.' Spencer Hall was a new dorm block and each room was en suite. Soon steam, a lot of laughter and the sound of splashing water came from the small bathroom. The two young men took their time over it. The fun was cut short by the buzz of Ramon's alarm clock. They broke apart and Ramon emerged frantically drying his hair, while Terry was applying a bath towel to the rest of him. He lay naked on the bed as his lover quickly dressed and slung his bag over his broad shoulder.

'My first ever college lecture. Wish me luck, my love.'

'Luck, my babe. I'll be back for lunch.'

'Bye!' With a lingering backward glance Ramon disappeared out the door of his room. Terry dressed too, and walked out on to the campus. A passing group of girls waved and shouted. He grinned and greeted them back. It had hardly taken a semester for Terry to become one of the more conspicuous characters on campus, both for his looks and for his frank and open lifestyle. Mostly he was liked and respected, for it was a liberal campus in the best American style. A group of male fellow dance majors caught up with him. They were all straight, but their walk and talk matched Terry's natural demeanour. He felt more comfortable in their company than he ever had with any other group of his peers, gay or straight. They had a common interest in hamstring injuries and muscle strain. Terry had christened them the 'Lads in leotards'. They arranged to meet in a sports bar in town that evening to catch up on their summers.

Terry found his car parked on the student lot where he had left it last night, a smart new white Chrysler convertible. He had bought it to celebrate starting college a year before and he loved it dearly. He drove off campus to a small house he was renting in Franconia. He had furnished it for two, because he planned that Ramon was going to be sleeping with him most weekends. But they had agreed that he should live in dorms for the weekdays in his freshman year; he had to make friends in his year group.

Andy had set up house in Annandale, a handsome modern brick mansion in the Colonial style in big grounds of its own. Mrs Fuentas was presiding there as a benevolent despot, keeping both Andy and Peter Peacher in order, and it was to her that Ramon had come in May after graduation, but not for long. Terry had taken him away and they had spent the summer as a couple, and they had loved it. With Ramon at his side Terry's hunger and restlessness had let him be, he wanted only his Latino lover. He had taught Ramon to drive, they had swum, gone to Broadway shows, concerts and the movies, been tourists, loved and laughed the whole summer long. It was an idyll, the happiest time of his life, even when Ramon had dragged him round the Civil War battlefields, for it was History in which Ramon wanted to major. Now it was college time, and Ramon had his room in Spencer Hall.

Terry parked in his drive, waved at a neighbour and went in, picking up his post. He got an iced tea from his big fridge, and sat at the breakfast bar as he looked over his bank statement. Richard Peacher had been as good as his word. He was on half salary as a retainer for three years, but even half of his salary was real wealth. He was not eligible for a scholarship but his fees were being paid by Andy, who was also paying both Ramon's fees and living expenses. Terry was very comfortably off, to the point where he was looking at a car to buy for Ramon. He heard a car pull up outside. The door buzzed and he opened it to find Andy himself on his doorstep, happily grinning. They hugged.

'How's life, boss?'

'Good, although probably not as good as for you.' Andy too was dressed student style, in jeans, trainers and hooded sweatshirt. His blond hair was long and thick, and he wore stylish shades. 'I'm on my way into campus - it's soccer team practice day - and I was wondering if you and Ramon could come over Saturday. We got a party going, me and Petey. There are special guests.'

'Special guests?'

'A new doctoral student in English at Georgetown and his partner, who's beginning work in the Department of Agriculture in a few weeks.'

'Paulie and Rachel.'

'The very pair, and also some other friends, who maybe you don't know.'

'Me and Ramon will be there. Want a coffee?'

'Thought you wouldn't ask.' They went out the back, where Ramon had already been busy for weeks clipping, tidying and digging. There was a pool, modest in size, but very welcome through the long hot Virginia summer.

'The other thing is that Petey is seventeen next week. I want to do a family thing for him Sunday, so I've booked a major lunch engagement in DC. Dad's going to fly in. I insisted. His mum of course is in Bangkok, and she's not thinking of turning up. No doubt she will send a card. I want you there, Uncle Terry. Ramon too. Matt's in town as well.'

'Sounds totally brilliant. The whole family together.'

Andy had not told Terry about the professional caterers and the currently fashionable band playing out on a big stage in the huge back lot on Saturday. It was a bigger do than he was expecting. There was security too, as a small knot of paparazzi had gathered near the entrance gate. He and Ramon were a bit late, and found parking difficult. But they eventually edged in between two badly parked hire cars and walked the distance to Andy's house, checking their names off with the security team. The front door was open, and the hall was full of circulating groups. The fact that Terry and Ramon came in holding hands was not in the least remarked on.

Terry first caught sight of Paul, talking to Matt with a dark haired woman whom he recognised as Rachel. He went up, with Ramon trailing shyly behind. Ramon knew all about Paul, but Terry wondered whether Paul had been quite so open with Rachel.

Terry sparkled as he caught Paul's smile, he leaned in and gave him a warm kiss, and stood holding Ramon affectionately around the waist.

'Paulie, this is me lover, Ramon.'

Paul smiled even more broadly, and he grabbed Ramon's hand, 'Hi, Ramon. Glad to meet you at last. The man who tamed Terence Kevin O'Brien. That's quite a claim.'

Ramon laughed, 'I didn't tame him, or at least I hope I didn't. He's gotta stay the Terry he always was. I love him that way.'

Terry offered his hand to Rachel, who was giving him a look so appraising that he realised that Rachel did know a lot about him, but she smiled. 'Hi Terry. I've heard some pretty incredible things about you.'

'S all true,' Terry confirmed, 'and I'm a brilliant dancer too.' He grabbed two passing glasses of wine from a tray. He handed one to Ramon, and looked round. 'Who're all these guys, Matt?'

'I'll take you through the house, Tel.' They left Ramon chatting happily with Paul and Rachel. Andy was sitting out the back, with Peter sitting next to him, his trainers up on a table and ball cap down low over his eyes.

'Happy birthday, gorgeous one,' Terry said, 'I got you these.'

Peter sprang up. Nearly seventeen, he had reached adult height and had reached his adult proportions. He was somewhat taller than Andy, and an inch taller now than Terry, broad in shoulder and tapered in waist, a superb athlete. He had the stunning good looks that had long been promised; the smile that lit up his handsome face was seductive, and very like his elder brother's. He closed with Terry, hugged and kissed him. He took the parcel, opened it, and whooped. 'Oh man, you remembered! Terry you are way so cool.' It was a pair of driving gloves that Peter had admired in a mall when they had gone shopping together last month. Peter was starting driving lessons as soon as he had passed his theory test.

Getting Peter from Santa Barbara to Virginia had been a potentially difficult process, but it was assisted by his final row with Jordan. They had not parted friends or lovers. Jordan had outed him to the college in a stupid bid to cement their relationship, and he had not waited till Peter had agreed. For all Peter's up-front attitude to life, he had not appreciated what he saw as manipulation and betrayal, and he had quit both Jordan and St Ignatius College without a backward glance. So far as Terry knew - and Terry knew quite a lot - there had been no new relationship since. Peter had sublimated his drive in his work and, like his brother, in his sport. In Peter's case, he was proving quite the jock, and he was a god-like quarterback at his elite private school in Arlington.

Terry was left wondering quite what was going on in the boy's head. He had no trouble attracting girls or boys, and he had many male and female friends, but none had become really close to him. His sexuality was no secret in his circle, but it had hurt him not at all in the school. 'Fag' was not a word a sane person at his school dared use to Peter's face. Peter had all the intellect and power of personality of his father but had acquired the charm, lovability and humour of his elder brother. He was an irresistible force at sixteen, what he would be like as an adult was frightening to contemplate. Nobody at his college dared challenge him, student or staff alike. Terry felt maybe that Peter was waiting for something, and what it was was known only to him.

Terry sat down next to them, along with Matt. 'Cool party, guys,' he said pleasantly. 'Paulie seems happy enough.'

'It's amazing how it's all worked out,' said Matt. 'Here you and Ramon are, and then along comes Paulie and Rachel to settle in Washington. They're staying here till they can find somewhere they can afford. But then who should turn up also but... hey, Ben! Have you lost Alex?'

Ben came past, looking flustered. He was shy in large groups and desperately needed Alex for moral support. Terry grinned wickedly, grabbed Ben round the waist as he passed and sat him on his lap, 'Hey Benny boy!'

Ben struggled momentarily, then gave up. In fact he began wiggling his bum on top of Terry's groin and grinned when he got the reaction he wanted. 'Lo Terry, I won't ask you what's up. Alex'll beat the shit out of you if he sees you and me like this. Did I tell you he's homicidally jealous?'

Terry laughed, 'That was humour, Benny. Keep working at it. What you two doin' here.'

Ben shrugged, 'It's Alex's inexorable rise through the media. He's now CNN's assistant news editor in the Washington bureau. He loves the place and he's been aching to get back here. I got a transfer to my firm's American office in Baltimore, so we're living there. It's as depressing as Slough. I think he's talking to someone important in the Department of Health or something in the house.'

Andy looked wise, 'Oh that'll be the under secretary for child welfare, I invited him as he lives down the road and he's a decent guy for a Republican. Let Benny go, Tel.'

'Whatever you say, boss.' Ben got up gracefully, tossed his long fair hair and went off into the house in search of his lover. 'So Ben and Alex are here now too! This is getting uncanny.'

A surge of guests spilled out on to the poolside area, heading for the stacked buffet tables. A tall and stunning young blonde woman was talking animatedly with short and dark dynamic girl in a black suit. They stopped and hung over Matt. The short dark one draped her arms round his neck and kissed him on top of his head. He reached back with an affectionate grin and pulled her down on to his lap.

'Lo Katy!' He turned, 'Terry, this is the amazing Katy Amphlett, barrister-at-law of the Middle Temple and my cousin. We were at university together, and she made good, didn't you love?'

'Sure did... but it'll take me a few years to reach your level of income, beautiful.'

'I'm just a tart, Katy, making love to the world for cash.'

'Don't be so hard on yourself, Matthew,' said the tall blonde, 'you add to the aesthetic value of the world every time you smile.'

'... and talking of aesthetics, Terry, may I present Dr Rhiannon Pierce, recently-appointed lecturer in medieval history at the University of Norwich, and generally acknowledged to be one of Britain's most glamorous academics. The paparazzi just peed themselves when she came inside with me.'

'Matt's little lie is no huge distinction if you knew my colleagues, and this from you, anyway.' she laughed, and then to Terry, 'I met these two in LA, and do you know what they did? They borrowed a limo and a private jet and reenacted the night at the San Francisco opera in Pretty Woman...'

'... with you as Julia Roberts,' chipped in Andy, 'and very gorgeous you were. People didn't know whether to look at you or at Matt in the box. It was a fantastic night, what a laugh.'

Rhiannon took a seat next to Terry, 'So what about you, Matt? What's the latest.'

Andy grinned, 'He finished filming for Channel 4 four months ago, and CK have just giving him an obscene sum of money to wear their underpants publicly. The Japs have fallen in love with him and he's off to Tokyo to film something like a dozen commercials there and do a chat show. Another couple of years and he'll have more money than me.'

'Yeah, it's getting embarrassing. Word gets round about the money too. And this'll make you sick, Rhiannon. I was at a conference last week and I met the Master of All Saints, Oxford. If I understood him correctly, he was offering me election as a fellow, even before I finish my thesis.'

'What!'

'Oh but wait... he said, or at least I think he said, that if I was to consider an endowment to the college the election was a dead cert.'

Rhiannon goggled, 'What did you say?'

'I pretended I hadn't understood him, the corrupt son of a bitch. Bribe him to make me a don! I'll never be that desperate, but it made me think what I intended to do with my future and with all the money.'

'And?'

'Well, I don't think that lecturing is for me, although maybe writing is. So what I'm going to do when I finish is to ask for my alma mater to make me an honorary fellow in the department, which they will do to secure my publications, and then surprise them with a wopping big endowment fund to finance poor but talented kids on the History and English undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.'

Andy grinned, 'Isn't he brilliant? He thought that one up all on his own... you gotta love him.'

Rhiannon asked, 'And how is the thesis?'

Andy answered for him, 'Matt's amazing. Modelling, filming and travelling makes no difference to him, he's as workaholic as ever. He's finished it.'

'What, no!'

Matt looked sheepish, 'Not quite, but yeah, most of it's done. Dr Faber said...'

Andy butted in, 'Dr Faber said it's the most brilliant and original thesis that's ever come his way - completely rewrites the history of seventeenth-century European kingship. Dr Matthew Anthony White... the man I love.' He looked at his lover with undisguised worship in his eyes and Matt felt for his hand. There was a brief pause in the conversation. Terry caught a soft smile on Peter's handsome face, and he smiled along with him. Matt and Andy had reached a serene equilibrium in their relationship. They were apart a fair amount, but when they were together they were a living lecture in mutual devotion.

Terry broke the silence by observing, 'If Steve and Dave were here, the ensemble would be complete.'

'Well...,' began Matt, but he was interrupted by a crash as a tray of drinks went down.

'Bloody fuckin' 'ell', said a very Welsh voice, 'even the waiters drive on the wrong side here.' But it wasn't Dave Evans. It was a shambling and shabby man he did not recognise.

'Come over here, Leo.'

'Oh, there you are, Chalky, ah... and you too Katy.'

'Leo, pull yourself together, man,' said Katy, 'sit down there and try not to knock anything else over.'

Terry looked a question at Matt, 'Chalky?'

Matt turned to Terry, 'Hall of residence nickname. Y'know, “Chalky White”. Leo was in college with us, and went off to train as a teacher, but it didn't go too well.'

'Secondary school kids exist in a strange state,' Leo said, 'which involves a brain and morality bypass. My theory is that between the ages of thirteen and seventeen they change species, mutating by way of a chrysallis stage in which they are not sentient, but twitching sacks of hormones.'

'Leo always wanted to be a poet,' added Matt.

'But they don't pay you to write poetry, alas,' Leo commented sadly. 'So since then I've been sort of drifting like. I'm thinking of doing a master's in creative writing.'

'But you haven't done anything about it, have you,' Katy commented sharply.

'So how did you get here?' Terry asked, bemused. This sort of Welshman was new to him. Dave Evans was a perfectly normal guy, for a gay.

'Oh well... Terry isn't it?... Matthew here brought me back with him when he left London. Said I needed a holiday to get perspective. So here I am. Unfortunately so is Katy... her idea of giving me perspective is to hit me over the head regularly with my own inadequacies,' he looked mournful, 'and frankly I could go home to my mum for that.'

Katy looked furiously at him. Apparently there was a history here which was closed to Terry. He shrugged, Leo wasn't his sort of bloke, although clearly Matt had a soft spot for him. Terry noticed that Peter had slipped away, and he wondered where. He made his excuses and left the group of old friends bickering and laughing. He found Ramon, Paul and Rachel still chatting, but now in the lounge.

'Paulie, what's with Katy and Leo?' he asked.

'Oh, the pair of them might as well be married the way they go on. Leo was an obsessive in university. Any unsuitable girl and he was smitten; it was embarrassing. But when he finally worked out that it was Katy he was in love with, it was too late. She was a career woman in London and he was a trainee teacher in Leeds. He was thrown off the PGCE course when a class of fifteen year olds hung him upside down out of a second floor classroom. He went down to London and Katy took him in out of sympathy. But it didn't work, as anyone could have guessed. Leo may be a disorganised mess, but he wouldn't be told what to do, while Katy could have organised him, but she despises the sort of man who would take her orders. Truth to tell, it was always Matt she wanted in college and there was no chance there of course. Leo's got to grow up and get a grip. But I'm not hopeful.'

'Odd the way couples get together isn't it?' Terry mused.

'That a personal comment, Terry?' came an unexpected response over his shoulder. Terry jumped.

'Oh... hi, Mrs Rudat.' It was Jenna and Mark, a married couple now for a fortnight, 'I didn't know you two would be back, I thought you'd be in Australia for another month at least.'

Mark and Jenna's unlikely relationship had not only lasted, but against all the odds had turned into a full blown romance. In part it was because Mark proved more than capable of sustaining the sexual demands she had placed on him, much to Terry's surprise, and indeed awe. Jenna had actually complained that he had shagged her out. It appeared that Mark had a remarkable capacity for sustaining an erection that she had never encountered before. Mark had suggested that she had just married him for his dick, but he was being modest. Mark had a warm and lovable nature which had melted the ice in Jenna's heart; she had finally met a self-evidently decent man and recognised him for what he was. Terry had been the best man at the wedding in Hampstead. He had the fun of being at a public function where male couples could kiss and dance; Ramon, Matt and Andy had also been there. After the wedding, he had taken Ramon to meet his parents, who were surprisingly happy with him.

Mark grinned happily, 'We had to be back for the party, anyway the plan was for us to go on from Australia to the UK to visit family and then on to Courçon, for the Ciriers to take care of us. Andy loaned us the château and Mme Cirier is over the moon.'

'We're buying a house in Annapolis,' Jenna added.

'Yeah,' Mark retorted, 'it's full of marines and sailors, and Jenna feels at home with all the shaved heads.'

'Hmm, we must do something about your hair too, love,' Jenna mused.

A look of horror crossed Mark's face. He loved his unruly head of hair, 'Oh God. No. Not the razor! Not the razor!' He fled into the hall followed by Jenna with a malicious look on her face.

An hour later Ramon and Terry had found a quiet spot in a first floor front bedroom. A lot of Peter's school friends had now turned up and the noise of the band was blasting around the pool, which was full of male and female teenagers playing an impromptu water polo game. There was much hilarity and fun going on, but the twenty-somethings had retired indoors for the time being. Ramon and Terry took the opportunity to go upstairs and make out, but kept their clothes on. They didn't at first hear when a hissing and scuffling started outside. But a sudden yelp caught Terry's attention.

'You disgusting little faggot, Caird,' a raised voice said, 'who said you could crash this party?'

'Pete asked me specially,' a defiant young voice replied.

'Why would he want a warped piece of shit like you in his house? You make me sick to the stomach.' There was a thump and a cry as of a body hitting the wall. Terry struggled up. Whatever was going on needed interrupting. He had reached the door when all of a sudden someone else did the honours.

'Craig! Tommy! What the fuck you doing!' It was the unmistakable voice of Peter Peacher.

'Pete! This asshole says you asked him here.'

'So? I did.'

'But he's the school fag. He came out and said he was. He came on to Charlie Franklin. No one in their right mind...'

'Craig, from where I'm standing the asshole is you. This isn't your house and it isn't your party, and the people I choose to invite are my business.'

'But Christ, Pete, you hang round with this pervert and people'll think...'

'... that I'm gay too. But I am. Always have been. Where have you been? I've been out to my family and friends for years. You're just so fuckin' thick that you hadn't noticed. Now the choice you two have is whether you wanna stay in my house, apologise to Tim and revise your prejudices or get the fuck out and don't come back!'

Shocked silence followed; the force of Peter's powerful personality and anger made inevitable the shambling apologies and shuffled exit. That's me boy, thought Terry, and a proud smile spread over his face.

'You OK, Tim?' Peter continued, his voice now gentle.

'Yeah, Pete. But... you're gay?'

'Didn't I say so?'

'I'd heard rumours, but I'd not...'

Peter went on, 'Come and sit down here with me. We've got some talking to do. It's because you've just gone public about being gay that I wanted you at my party. You and me are the only two out in school, so it's about time we linked up. You need reinforcements, kid. You're fighting your battle all wrong and you're losing it. I wanted to get a chance to talk to you about it, though I didn't think it would be in these circumstances.'

'So you felt sorry for me,' Tim heaved a small sigh, 'Well, thanks and all. I've noticed you've been kind and I do appreciate it. I mean, you come up and talk to me sometimes in school and that's really helped; at least no one bugs me when I'm sitting having lunch and you're on my table. It's kind cos I know I'm not your sort.'

'My sort? What's that?'

'Christ man, you know what I mean. You're the senior side quarterback in your junior year, in a team which never loses. The school god. You look just... wow! You're the richest kid in the universe! I've seen pictures of you with the President at the White House and at Buckingham Palace with the Queen. You're already in celeb mags! And yes, you're gonna think me pathetic, but I've got a collection of pictures of you. You're a pin up, like your brother's boyfriend. But hardly anyone mentions the fact that you've come out.... and the team don't mind?'

'They win when I'm behind them, which does wonders for whether I'm acceptable or not. And jocks ain't quite as prejudiced as you seem to think they are; my friends are more than cool about it. Hell, I live here at Gay Central, with a gay brother and his gay lover, if it had bugged the team then that alone would have got me beaten to a pulp, never mind whether I shared my brother's orientation. But it didn't. Maybe you have some problems with anti-jock prejudice, hey!' Terry could hear the arched eyebrow. 'Tim, we're much more alike than you think. And if it's a matter of mutual admiration, let me say that the way you've stood up for what you are this past couple of months under all the pressure is pretty amazing too. I've got advantages, as you say, and if I didn't have them I'm not sure I could have kept turning up for school like you do.'

'Well... thanks an' all,' Tim responded tentatively. 'It means a lot that you respect me... really it does. But we do sorta live on different planets. My home life isn't yours, and I don't mean the fact that my dad isn't the richest man in the world. It's a war zone with my parents and my brothers and sometimes it's easier being in school than it is being home. Look, Pete, where do you mean to go with this? You wanna be friends? Cos if so I can only say, yes please. I think you're a great guy.'

'Friends. Well, yeah. Friends will do. And if you accept that I'm your friend, Tim boy, let me explain a few things to you. Now. First thing. You may be a bit of a weed, but you're a nice weed. Believe me, if you want to survive as a gay in a straight world - particularly one infested by second-team dimwits like Craig and Tommy - you gotta be a lot more positive about being gay and a lot more confident. It was my Uncle Terry taught me that. So it's time to stand tall.'

'Uh yeah,' came the hesitant reply, 'easy to say when you're as big, handsome and talented as you, but... duh... I'm a weed, Pete.'

'You're a weed, but some weeds have spikes and they're all damned difficult to get rid of. You're also nice looking, not a stud maybe and a bit slender...'

'... skinny,' Tim interjected with a smile in his voice.

'but well-proportioned. I bet that without... Anyways, there's also the second thing, which doesn't quite come in the “let's be friends” category.'

'Wassat?'

'I love you.' A very long silence followed, Terry could almost visualise Pete's intense blue eyes burning into the unknown boy. Tim ruined it by squeaking: 'Scuse me?'

More hesitantly this time came Peter's 'I love you, Tim, I really do. I've been following you down corridors and staring at your ass, making excuses to sit next to you in refectory, trying to talk to you, praying that we'll be in the same classes sometime. Taking your ass in the showers, behind the bleachers, in an empty classroom: these are my jerk-off fantasies. I... I really do wanna get together with you. You're all I can think of. This party was just a feeble excuse to get you here where I could talk to you. Will you...' His last words were muffled by Tim's lips closing on his.

'Mmm... God,' Tim finally said as they broke contact, 'Tell me I'm in gay heaven. The school jock prince wants to be my boyfriend.' Terry's eyebrows furrowed when he heard that tactless comment. He thought he recognised the sharpness of Anthony the Acid in the boy's expression.

Peter heard it too. 'Don't mock,' came his rather dashed reply.

'Mock? Oh I'm so sorry Pete. I'm stupid to have said that. It came out all wrong. No. It's just that I've been so isolated and so alone now for so long, I just can't get my head round this. I just can't believe that someone like you could be interested in me, that's all. Please don't think I was making fun of you.' Terry was relieved, there was a genuine warmth and humanity in the boy's voice that he'd never found in Anthony. He felt Ramon's presence at his shoulder. They exchanged smiling glances.

'In that case... it's my birthday, Tim, and my bedroom's along this corridor, and you haven't given me my present yet.'

'What do you have in mind?'

'Well...' there was the sound of a zip and some muffled giggling, 'it's about six inches long when fully erect, quite thin but uncut, and I think I can find something for you to wrap it in.'

'You're really serious, you want me in your mouth? Me? Now?'

'Well, if you've got something better to do.'

'What! God no! But... everybody calls me a fag an' all, and I guess I am a fag, but I never done it with another guy. Pete... I'm a virgin.'

'As my Uncle Terry says... endlessly... it's fault everyone's guilty of at some time in their lives. You can trust me, Tim. I'm no stranger to this. We'll take it easy.'

'Well yeah then... let's do it. Oh, and Pete?'

'Yup?'

'I... I wanted you from the moment I first saw you in sophomore year, you're a god. You could fill a cistern with the semen I've jerked off over you.'

Peter laughed freely and happily, 'That's the most romantic thing anyone's ever said to me, as well as a very troubling image.' Then there was the rustling sound of another intimate clinch. Their footsteps thudded along the thick carpet and Peter's door closed with a slam and a click.

Ramon took Terry's hand, 'Uncle Terry! The boy really loves you. What a good boy he is. I hope he's struck lucky this time.'

Terry smiled, 'He took his time picking this one. I think maybe the boy's clever enough now not to be easily fooled by his own libido. He's got expectations of his relationships that I never had... till I met you, my babe.' They kissed and returned to the bed, closing and locking the door behind them. They were quick to climax in each other's mouths, quite as quick as the other couple up the hall.

They left just as Pete and his Tim came out on to the corridor. Terry looked curiously at the small and slim boy, who had clearly been rocked but delighted by his first gay sex. He was something of a geek at first sight, not unlike Paul with his thin legs and ankles, though not so tall. His hair was straight and the fringe was combed neatly forward preppy fashion from a tight parting. But the face was really very nice, with fine dark eyes and a sensitive half-smiling expression. The bum in his cargo shorts too looked good, small and firm. Tim jumped when he turned to see them, but Peter grinned.

'Hey Terry! Hey Ramon! This is Tim Caird from my school.'

'Hi Tim,' they said.

'He's my new boyfriend!' Pete was beaming, but Tim looked as if he hoped the ground would open up.

Terry grinned broadly, 'Nice choice, Pete. You're a lucky boy, Tim. Pete's a lot more than just a pretty face... pretty butt and pretty cock.'

Tim looked momentarily shocked and then put the pieces together 'Right. You must be the one and only Uncle Terry.' He gave a hesitant smile.

'Yup,' said Peter, 'my security chief and personal guru, Terry O'Brien. The greatest guy you'll ever meet, apart from my big bro, that is.'

'Pleased to meet you, Terry,' Tim's grin was broader now. 'Sorry I'm so slow, it's been one heck of a day.'

'Come on lads, let's get some food, I'm suddenly hungry.'

'The greatest thing about being rich,' said Andy, 'is that you don't have to do the washing up after parties.'

'Hmm. I can't actually remember you doing much washing up when we were poor either,' retorted Matt.

'Ah, but we had Paulie. He was constitutionally and morally incapable of leaving a dirty plate unwashed. The model housemate, that boy. Rachel is so lucky.'

The caterers, harrassed by Mrs Fuentas, were efficiently and swiftly restoring order to the Peacher house. The guests were mostly gone, although the security detail was still picketing the gates. Matt and Andy, Terry and Ramon, along with Peter and a very shy Tim Caird, had taken refuge in one of the reception rooms off the hall. Peter had told Andy that he wanted Tim to sleep over, and a mobile call had elicited the parental permission from the Caird household. Andy was being left in no doubt of the reason for the request, as Peter had trapped Tim on his lap and was snogging him with great enjoyment, while massaging the boy's crotch.

Andy snapped, 'Will you put that poor boy down, Pete you exhibitionist. He is not a sex toy.'

'He is too, ain't you babe?' Peter grinned up at his boyfriend, who coyly slipped across to the next seat, but kept hold of Peter's hand.

Andy looked narrowly at the boy, 'Do you know what you're getting yourself into, Tim?'

'I hope so, sir,' Tim replied, still looking deep into Peter's blue eyes. Peter laughed happily.

'I only ask, because if you look out the window you will see several big men in dark suits, and beyond them a lot of human lice with cameras. If they knew what you were doing at the moment they'd be dreadfully excited. New Peacher gay romance. Matt and I are boring now, we've been together too long. But Peter Peacher and his gay boy lover Tim Caird, oh that will get them very hungry and excited, believe me. The fact is you won't be able to keep it a secret. Your enemies will be happy to spill the beans. Your parents will be harrassed, and those bastards will be following you everywhere. Peter is protected by Jenna and her team, as well as unlimited access to a pack of feral lawyers. You aren't.'

Tim suddenly looked less euphoric, and Peter tightened his grip on his hand. Andy continued, 'Sex with a Peacher boy has its dangers, Tim. Ask my Matt here. You're going to have to pay for what you get.'

Peter looked deep into the other boy's eyes, and Tim looked over at Andy, 'He's worth it, sir, he's really worth it. I've waited all my life for this moment. If there's a price, I wanna pay it. I'm sixteen, I'm the school fag, what more can they teach me about humiliation?'

'Nicely said, kid,' rumbled Terry. 'Isn't it bedtime, boys?'

Peter whooped and shouted, 'Yes sir!' he dragged Tim out the room and up the stairs.

'Pete'll be up his arse in ten minutes from now. The boy's a definite bottom, no doubt about it.'

'What do you think about him?' Andy asked Terry.

'He's OK, I think. He's had it rough the past year in school. Jordan was manipulative and a bit of a mother's boy; very keen on his looks. There's much more to this lad. He's been up front in school and has paid for it, but he has stuck it out. He won't get walked all over by Pete, like Jordan was. The big question, boss, is not one we can answer. How will he stand up to the temptation to kiss and tell?'

'That's up to Pete,' put in Ramon, 'how well has he read his boy?'

Tim lay back, panting hard, on top of Peter, whose lubricated and erect penis was deep inside his tight rectum; Peter was sitting upright and leaning against the back of his bed and loving the sensation of taking possession of another boy's arse. Tim's ball sac lay heavy on his own, he reached round with his right hand to fondle it slowly and thoroughly, beginning his loving acquaintance with each of his lover's testicles. With his left hand he held his lover against him and gently rubbed Tim's nipples, pubic region and belly. Tim moaned as he experienced a whole range of intense and new sensations.

'Wow... this is...'

'Amazing ain't it, Timmy babe? You feel so full and so trembly.'

'Yeah, oh wow, when I moved on you, something just went... ooh! And there's shiny stuff leaking out my cock; that's never happened before... is it supposed to?'

'It is if you're enjoying this.'

'Oh God, yeah!' Tim stretched again, pushing his head back into Peter's shoulder, feeling the sensations of deep anal penetration as he shifted on his boyfriend's thick and fleshy spike. Tim was in heaven. He had never been naked with another naked boy, let alone a naked boy as strong and as beautiful as Peter, and his prick was straining so hard it felt as though it would explode.

'You hurting, babe?'

'It hurt for a while, but you were so gentle Petey. I love you so much for what you just did to me. It's the best thing ever. But you've done it before haven't you?'

'Oh yeah, but it wasn't like this, believe me. The first time was in a toilet with this bastard who all but raped me. Then I did it with Jordan, but he was such a wuss. I had to spend ages talking him into it, and he yelped and cried, even though I don't think I was hurting him. But you, babe, you're so brave and so willing and so seriously sexy. It's a different world with you. Shall we do it doggy style?'

'I'd love it, but keep on holding my dick while you screw my ass, please. What if I squirt on your bed?'

'I don't care, babe, make as big a puddle as you like, I'll lick it up later.' He pushed up with his groin and they assumed the position without separating. 'Let's fuck then.'

'Screw my ass good, my big, handsome Petey.' Then for ten minutes there was nothing but the squeak of a bed and increasingly frantic groans.

The two boys collapsed, slick and sweating, in a pool of Tim's cum. He deliberately squirmed in it, and groaned as Peter left him with a loud sucking noise. They turned on their backs and felt for each other's hands.

'Can we do this for the rest of our lives, Petey?'

'I wish, but biology is against us. Still, I reckon I could get it up at least twice more maybe three times before sunrise, and I think I'll try to do it too. Ooh, Timmy, let me clean you up.' He knelt and began licking the mess off Tim's slim, flat belly and then lifted Tim's legs and licked and sucked out the astonished boy's anus.

'God! What did you just do! You put your tongue up my ass! Didn't it smell?'

'I like the Timmy smell. Don't you want me to do it?'

'Oh my God, do I!'

'Let's cuddle, babe.' They got under the duvet and lay together, completely naked together, body and soul.

Peter said, smiling into his lover's face, 'It doesn't get better than this, my sexy babe. But tell me a few things.'

'What do you want to know, Petey?'

'Everything, but we got ages for that. No, I gotta ask you stuff about us. You're my boyfriend now, and you love me, yeah?'

'Oh yeah, you're my god and I worship you.'

'Well, we go back to school and it'll be very different from what it was. It'll be better. Remember Terry and what he said. We are up-front and unashamed gay lovers, but we don't go round frightening the kiddies. We don't neck, hold hands or feel each other up at school... we got our bed for that. Our bed, hear that? We are lovers, ain't that great? Some guys will still be scared of us, but that's their problem. I don't think my real friends will care, they've always known what I am and they think it's funny, not disgusting. And they'll be your friends too, if they care for me. Your days of isolation are over, Timmy my babe, you're mine now and we face the world together. Life'll be better for you.

But the other thing is this, and it's because I'm not just Peter, but because I'm Peter Peacher. There'll be people who want to know about me and what we do, and they won't want to know just for curiosity's sake. They'll want to know because they want to use the information. So you can't ever talk about us. Think how Matt is with Andy. No stories ever come from him.'

Tim looked solemnly into his lover's eyes, 'I know, Petey. You can trust me, they could beat the crap out of me, and all they'll get is a pile of crap.'

Peter burst into laughter ringing with sheer delight, 'I love you, Timmy babe.'

'I love it when you call me Timmy babe.'

'I believe what you say too. I didn't move on you tonight without watching you and talking to other guys and girls about you. Hope that doesn't sound too clinical. You got more friends out there than you think, and they all say you're a good guy and it's a pity that you're a limp-wristed queer.'

'That's... reassuring.'

'Ain't it,' they kissed and stroked each other, 'Now,' said Peter, 'let's feel what your pretty cock is like inside me. I got a great position... it's Matt and Andy's favourite.'

'Seriously, you'll let me screw your ass?'

'Share and share alike...'

'That's so cool, though... I dunno, I love it when you fill my ass with you, I like being your...'

'... bottom?' suggested Peter. 'S'OK, my babe. But I like it up me too, and you've got such a nice cock. I gotta have it just sometimes.'

'No problem, Petey, no problem. What I gotta do?'

Sunday morning came, and Peter and his Tim were in the kitchen ravenously consuming anything that Mrs Fuentas put in front of them: pancakes, ham, muffins, toast and coffee were stacked high. She looked pleased at their appetites. They were barefoot and barechested in just shorts and it was perfectly obvious to Mrs Fuentas what they had been up to, from the fact that they were playing footsie under her table, smiling and staring into each other's eyes.

'You need to get your energy up, Timmy babe,' said Peter, looking seriously at his lover.

'Why?'

'My dad arrives in two hours.'

'What, the Richard Peacher, modern legend and supposedly the richest man in the world?'

'The man himself.'

'Does he know that you're gay?'

'Has done since I was fourteen. But since Andy is too, and he loves Andy, he's been pretty cool about it. That's why I'm living here. Dad gave me over to Andy to bring up after my mom's divorce, and it's been so great. I got Andy, who's so understanding and caring, and Terry who's so cool and streetwise. They've taught me how to be gay and to be proud. Dad was so good about it. He got quite funny last year. He said that he was having the twins - they're twelve - regularly dosed with hormones in hopes they'll turn out more conventional and breed. He's OK is my dad, never mind that he's got a brain the size of a planet. He's got a heart to match. He's just difficult to talk to about anything other than business and technology. Andy scares him when he talks about history and literature, Andy just doesn't notice. Don't worry he'll let you live.'

'What's he coming for, Petey?'

'My birthday of course, but there's something else. I told Andy that something was up, but he didn't believe me. But when dad's keeping a secret he gets sort of solemn and humorous all at the same time. As if he wants to laugh, but can't work out how.'

'He sounds sweet,' said Tim.

'D'you know, babe, you're the first person I've ever heard call him that, apart from Uncle Terry.'

Tim giggled, 'Terry's totally buff, isn't he?'

'Sure is. I had the hots for him when I was younger, I'd have loved it if he'd have taken my cherry, but he never would. He's so cool and so totally brave, a real warrior. I gotta tell you some of the things he's done when we got time. They're all true, but you'll hardly believe them. He's saved my ass so often... in fact he saved the entire Peacher empire. My dad would do anything for him. He refuses to let him resign and says that if nothing else, he'll pay Terry a fortune just to be a corporate consultant. But you gotta swear never to tell anyone if I tell you: it's a secret on a par with Roswell, and I can't even tell you without Andy gives me permission.'

'Wow! Petey! This is more than I signed up for, but hey, I love a mystery. But don't tell me if you don't want to.'

'We'll see. You'll understand me a lot better if you know some stuff about us Peachers. But not yet, maybe.' Tim looked intrigued, but let it go. He was too happy to do anything other than soak up the joy of being Peter's avowed boyfriend.

'Morning lads. Don't suppose you slept much. Morning Mrs Fuentas.' Matt wandered in, wearing some sort of heavy silk Japanese robe. Tim was rocked by the amazing beauty of the man.

'Hey, Matt!' Peter greeted Matt cheerfully, almost as if he were a mortal man, 'What's happening?'

'Umm, so far as I remember, Andy says your dad's motorcade arrives at ten thirty. The twins will be with him. We're having dinner in DC, just family... that means Peachers and partners. I guess that would include you Tim, if you'd like.'

'Certainly will, the day wouldn't be any fun without him,' Peter said.

'Oh, that's kind,' Tim said, looking a bit worried, 'but honest Petey, I'd rather not. I mean I'd love to be with you, but jeez, this is a new thing for us both. And my mom and dad expect me back and stuff... no, better not.'

Matt nodded approvingly, 'You're a sensible boy, Tim. The Peachers scare me, and I've been in their orbit for five years. You need to ease into their world gently. You'll have time.'

'Aw, but I want my Timmy...'

'You're taking the piss, Pete,' smiled Matt.

'Love that Brit phrase... taking the piss, what on earth does it mean?'

'To tell the truth, Pete, I don't have a clue. But you know what it means.'

'Something like, taking the mickey?'

'Yes, I believe so.'

'Doncha love the accent, Timmy babe? My dad's still got it after all these years. Anyways, since you're excluded from lunch by Archangel Matthew with the flaming sword, I suppose we'd better get you back to your place. Come on, babe. Let's get dressed.' They padded off hand in hand, looking very beautiful, but Matt rather doubted that getting dressed was going to be their first priority.

Andy appeared soon afterwards. They held each other and kissed. 'Morning my Matt. What's for breakfast, Mrs Fuentas?'

'Anything you want, Mr Peacher.'

'Just toast and coffee, then. I'll have it out by the pool, the morning's already hot.' Matt and Andy went out on the poolside, hand in hand. Andy grinned, dropped his robe and plunged naked into the water. Matt whooped and followed him. Andy let him catch him up on the third length, and they embraced and kissed long and hard, bobbing in the water. 'Better let Mrs Fuentas deliver breakfast before we get out of here.'

Matt looked over as the housekeeper delivered trays, studiously ignoring them. They came out streaming with water and Matt found them towels to wrap around. He looked up to see two amused teenage faces in an upper window, and Peter's thumbs up. He mouthed 'Nice butt!' and grinned as Matt scowled up at him. They disappeared.

'So now we know what the boy was up to all along,' Matt observed as he spread his toast with English marmalade and poured a coffee.

'He's a clever one,' Andy agreed, 'just like dad. I wonder if he interviewed for the post of his boyfriend and asked for CVs. I'm so pleased though. I was getting worried about him being isolated, but all along he was just taking his time and looking for the right boy. Not only that, but he didn't go for looks, but for sense, courage and intelligence...'

'... and a small bum. Tim's not bad looking,' Matt said.

'Jordan was way beyond Tim's league, though,' Andy replied, 'and he clearly doesn't do sport or work out. By the by, Matt, Pete had an interesting thing to say about dad.'

Matt, his mouth full of toast, cocked an eyebrow.

'You know Pete reads him better than me. He says dad is working up to something, that there's going to be a shock announcement.'

'Then believe him. He's been right before.'

Mrs Fuentas brought in the mail as Andy poured a second coffee, he scanned the pile. Mark's office in DC vetted it first before despatching the unmistakably personal items to Annandale.

'Oh!' Andy said, looking sideways at Matt, 'Here's one from Phil Esposito.'

Matt gave the distinct impression of a man forcing himself to look indifferent. Phil had been Andy's lover in his Burnett days when he had tangled with a criminal gang and got into drugs. Andy had gone out of his way to get Phil released from gaol and put on to a rehabilitation scheme. It had worked.

'He's got a girlfriend called Angela, who's a nurse. She's a pretty blonde, look at the photo. He's so grateful. They're living in Michigan, and he's managing a realty office. They're thinking of kids. They attend church.'

Matt nodded, 'All's well that ends well, I suppose.'

Andy grimaced, 'You haven't forgiven him have you?'

'You know my jealous streak. Not that I would have wished him any longer in the state pen, of course. But he hurt you bad, love, and almost did for us.'

'He was as trapped as I was, Matt. The real bastard in it all was Jim Rosso.'

'Well, at least he's where Phil was. It'll be a long time till he sees daylight, thank God, even if his dad is in the House and his aunt is a US ambassador.'

'The Stepmom seems to be doing OK; at least she hasn't started a war yet.'

'Alex says he's keeping an eye on her; she's still big in DC. Her receptions are a wow with the Republicans and right wing think tanks when she's at home on Friendship Heights. There's talk of her running for senator soon. She's picked herself up and dusted herself down. She's calling herself Ellie Marquesa now though; your dad insisted she dropped the Peacher name after the divorce.'

'She really did get off lightly,' said Andy.

'Hmm, maybe. But I have an idea that your dad's not yet finished with her. He's not a vengeful man, but I think he owns her more now than he did when they were married. She'll never be free of his political control. He's so cool-headed; it's almost unnatural. Anyway, I'll get dressed and run Tim back to his house.'

Matt pulled into the drive of the Caird residence. Tim's father was an executive in a furniture business, and it was not a small house. Tim had two younger brothers and a sister, so the house looked well lived in, from the basketball hoop over the garage to the toys littering the porch and garden.

'Well, here you are, Tim. Say goodbye to Pete...'

'No, sir. I want Petey to come in with me. We're going to be honest about what we are. My parents may not like it, but they know I'm gay; God knows I've told them often enough. They just won't believe it till they see me hand in hand with another boy. Will you come in with me, Petey?' He looked timorously at his handsome lover.

'Sure babe. I got no secrets,' was the confident reply.

Matt looked surprised. He remembered the painful day he had come out to his parents, which he'd put off for months. He had been a lot older than these two, yet here they were, both still only sixteen, coolly confronting who they were, and daring the world to hate them. He was suddenly very moved. He took Peter by the shoulder. 'Pete. Maybe I never said this before, and maybe I should have. But I admire you very much for what you've become, and the man you are. I'm so proud of you.'

Peter looked moved in his turn. 'Matt... I know you and I haven't always got on, but you are so good for Andy. I love him so much... and so I gotta love you too, just remember that, will you, next time we have a disagreement!' The boy's eyes were glistening. Matt leaned in and they kissed gently.

'Go for it then, lads.'

The boys were gone for a good three quarters of an hour. Finally they emerged on to the porch, hand in hand. They kissed briefly and Peter loped back to the car, with his boyfriend waving behind him.

'How'd it go?' asked Matt as they pulled off.

'Not comfortably, Matt. The mother's the problem. I think his dad's disappointed, but accepts it. She's still pretending it's a phase Tim's going through. She looked poison at me, as if I'd seduced her baby. On the other hand the name of Peacher did its usual magic. She knew who I was, and she knew how many hundreds of billions of dollars I may be worth. I may be doing her a disservice, but I think that she'll end up being pragmatic about it. Anyways, she won't stop us meeting. She just said we weren't to do stuff at their house, but Tim can sleep at our place with me some week-nights.'

'You're amazing, Pete, you know that? I've met clever men years older than you who couldn't assess situations as coolly as you do. You're your father's son alright.'

'Mm .. guess so. Matt, you must have realised that when dad finally steps down, it won't be Andy who'll take over the show.'

'Oh yes. Andy's all heart and intuition; calculation just does not enter into his sweet little head. That's why I love him so very much.'

'It's why I love him too. I know he's already told dad that he's to regard me as his successor, and that he won't stand in my way even though he's the elder. He's such a great guy. If my stupid mother had left things alone, she still would have got her way, just because of what a good man my big bro is. Isn't that irony for you?'

The Peacher motorcade arrived precisely on time. First to emerge, as ever, were the twins, taller and sturdier now they were twelve, but just as cute. Harriet, as ever, tagged along after Ed, the leader of the pair, but devoted to his twin sister nonetheless. Ed was in a suit. He was not as pretty as Peter was at his age, but he was a confident and happy freckled boy, as all-American as a kid in a fifties advert. Harriet was very pretty, much more like Peter in that sense, and dressed unusually for her in a frilled skirt. She was usually in jeans, so she could play more comfortably with her brother. They closed with Matt and Andy, as usual, and as usual gave Peter a wide berth. For the first time, Matt noticed that it pained him. But if he wanted a good relationship with his younger siblings, he had a lot of bridges to build.

Richard Peacher emerged from the car in a gang of security men, followed along by an old friend; it was Sylvia Powicke, the head of corporate security. Andy and Peter went up to hug and kiss their father, who looked very pleased to see them, in his massive way.

The Peachers, Matt and Sylvia settled into the lounge. Matt looked at Sylvia hard, there was something different there. She seemed to have put on weight.

'How're you Sylvia?'

'Fine Matthew, blooming in fact. How long're you over for?'

'Till mid-September, then it's Tokyo for a few weeks.'

'And how's my boy, Terry, doing?'

'Terry is in student heaven, now that Ramon's in the freshman year here. They were here yesterday.'

'What are his plans, any idea?'

'I could guess at his short term plans: to get as much of Ramon as he can. Long term, I really don't know.'

'Dance? The theatre?'

'He loves his course and he's already starred in a college production of Die Fledermaus.'

'Die Fledermaus? That was ambitious.'

'John Adams has major resources and a lot of talent. I saw a DVD of it. Terry can sing fantastically did you know? A beautiful true tenor. I think he may feel a pull towards the stage at the moment, but who knows. He loved security work too, and boy was he good at it.'

'The best I ever met. A complete natural, with nerves of titanium steel. He's a legend in Peacher Security. The black suits have a little altar in Santa Barbara with his picture on it, and candles burning.'

'You're in a good mood, Sylvia.'

'Hmm... I am aren't I?' She looked enigmatic.

Richard Peacher had got his update on Peter's school and romantic progress. He had stunned Andy and Peter by saying that he would go over and talk to the Cairds straight afterwards and reassure them about his son's dependability and good intentions. He called everyone else to order.

'Ladies and gentlemen, I am glad you are all here, because I have an announcement. It is this. Over the past months I have become very close to a very fine lady for whom I have long had a deep respect. Respect has turned to love and I want therefore to introduce you to the future third Mrs Peacher.'

'Er... dad. Where is she?' asked Peter.

'Son, it's Sylvia.'

'Sylvia!' they all said and stared at her. She was looking uncharacteristically coy.

Matt grinned. 'So that's what it was all about.' Andy was laughing happily. He came over and embraced Sylvia. She looked a little tearful and hugged him back.

Richard continued, 'The other thing is that we have jumped the gun a bit and Sylvia is carrying a new little Peacher to add to your number.'

'Dad!' shouted Ed and Harry, 'You mean there's gonna be another baby.'

'Yes indeed. It'll be a baby sister for you Harriet.'

'Wow!'

'The marriage will be in Santa Barbara weekend after next, and I hope you can all come.'

'You bet!' beamed Peter.

'Now Andy, I want you to consent to be my best man.'

'Love to, dad!'

'And Peter, can you and your boyfriend be ushers?'

'Seriously! Can Tim come!'

'Delighted if he can.'

'Dad you're an ace.'

'I hope that's good. Matt. I'd like you to be an usher too, with Terry and Ramon.'

'Fantastic.'

'Do I have to be a page?' whined Ed.

'Son, no. You can be an usher too.'

'Cool... suit and all.'

'But I want to be a bridesmaid,' pleaded Harry, 'Can I Sylvia?'

'Course my love, nothing I'd like better. I've got two nieces your age. You'll be a really pretty group.' Sylvia took Harriet's hand and they started whispering earnestly together about dresses and bouquets.

Peter raised an eyebrow at Andy, 'Bro, in seven months time the balance of power in this family will have tilted towards the girls. This is not good.'

Richard Peacher, having dropped his bombshells, relaxed and smiled. Peter sat on the arm of his chair questioning his father about the latest corporate acquisitions and market movements. Andy and Matt sat next to Sylvia, getting the full story of the unlikely romance. Ed and Harry disappeared to look for Mrs Fuentas, of whom they were very fond.

Richard called over to Andy to get Terry and Ramon over to meet them in DC for lunch. Then he had the car brought round for him and Peter to drive over to the Cairds.

'Poor Tim,' Matt whispered to Andy, 'what a morning for him.'

Andy smiled, 'D'you know what puzzles me, my Matt? Where the hell does dad find the time?'

The doorbell rang. It was Terry. 'Have I got news for you,' said Matt, as he met him at the door.

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