Terry and the Peachers

XXIII

By Michael Arram

Matt bit his lip nervously. People were filing into the lecture room and his heart had just disappeared somewhere down near his boots. This was it, his first conference lecture to an audience of fellow academics. He had made the interesting discovery that talking to cameras and the millions of people behind them was nowhere near as scary as talking to his peers, face to face.

'Are you alright, Matt?' asked Dr Faber, smiling.

'Sure, Jeremy.' They had finally got on to first name terms.

'I could flood you with advice at this point, Matt. Speak slowly and clearly. Don't look down too often at your script. Pause every now and then if you can. Time is going faster for you than for your audience. I could give you all this advice but I'll bet you're not hearing me at the moment are you?'

Matt was, but he was having the panicky feeling that key information was going into one ear and straight out the other, and he couldn't hold on to it. 'No, s'alright, really.'

'You're last on, after me and Tony Phelps. You'll be great, trust me. And look at the audience you've pulled in, wonder boy! They're not here for me and Tony, believe me.' It was true, the small lecture theatre had filled up rapidly with graduate students and lecturers, preponderantly female, Matt noticed. The session was No. 125 at the London International Conference on Early Modern Studies, and it had the unpromising title of 'Aspects of Royal Sacralisation in the Protestant State'. The level of attendance could only be curiosity to see how the new media history hero performed in person. There was also the groupie aspect amongst a certain sort of female graduate student. A bunch of them were down the front, chattering excitedly and openly sizing up Matt. Then Matt's heart lifted. Waving from the back was Rhiannon, a broad smile across her beautiful face. Suddenly he didn't feel so isolated.

Jeremy Faber and Tony Phelps, old and mutual friends, gave their papers. They were relaxed, practised and amusing pieces, looking at coronation rituals in seventeenth-century Sweden and Denmark. Matt's sense of panic returned in force as Professor Phelps sat down to polite applause and the presider, a senior Oxford academic, introduced Matt. He was very amusing on the subject of media comments about Mr Matthew White, with a certain determined stress on the fact that he was still 'Mr' White. Matt pretended to smile at the jokes directed at him. He knew enough about academia to know that you always had to be mild, amusing and amused, even under provocation. Just wait till I review your next book, you bastard, Matt was saying in his head. Matt stood to a ripple of applause, and took the podium.

He had decided against Powerpoint, as Sod's Law meant that it was bound to go wrong. He smiled at the audience, which was the best thing he could have done. The female majority were instantly in love with him and totally on his side. He sensed it from the front. So he began his modest little paper about what the bishops of England thought they were doing when they crowned Charles I. He was very funny on the eccentricities of Archbishop Laud and very accomplished on the theology of the Calvinist bench. He pulled off his party piece with a devastating little conclusion which pulled in unexpectedly the views of Bourbon Catholic bishops and court theologians to demonstrate how the needs of the State imposed the same theology on bishops, Protestant and Catholic alike. There was a brief silence at the end, which unnerved him until it turned into very generous applause. In the succeeding questions he got the lion's share of them and defended himself very well. Dr Faber was ecstatic. 'So proud of you, Matt. No one here will take you for a media bimbo now!'

'Gee thanks.'

'Tony Phelps will be happy to be your external examiner, too. He was so impressed. He can do it before Christmas.'

'Excellent.'

A horde of young women descended on him at this point and he was forced to autograph several conference programmes. But, for all that, he was very charming and it was quite a while before they let him go.

Rhiannon loomed up behind them, for she was tall as well as good-looking. They hugged and kissed, much to the evident disgruntlement of one or two of the Matt groupies. 'Dinner, Matt? I know a decent place on Goodge Street.'

'Love to, and the tab's on me.'

'No argument. We've just taken out our first mortgage on a terraced house in Norwich. I feel as though I've signed away my life.' Rhiannon's York boyfriend, a musician, had just got a job teaching at the cathedral school, and they were being thrown into adult life with a vengeance.

They walked arm in arm on to Malet Street, and eyes were following them as they went. 'You were great, Matt. I could see you were nervous, but as soon as you stood up and you gave them the Smile, they were yours, some of the men too.' Rhiannon in her day had been a victim of the Smile, as she called it. 'Even I could follow what you were saying, though it isn't my period. Frank Andrews, the early modernist in my department, was taking notes so fast the end of his pen was smoking. He seemed to think you were saying something important.'

'Time will tell. We're not always the best judge of our own work.'

'So Dave,' said Matt, 'what're we doing today?' It was the morning after the conference and Matt was slowly relaxing.

'It's the Beeb at six to record an interview. Got a car coming for you at five. Should be alright since the traffic will be coming out of town and you'll be going in. But the important thing is that Andy will be arriving at Heathrow in two hours and do you want to go and meet him, if so I'll have a cab ticking downstairs in twenty minutes.'

'You're good at this, y'know.'

'Ta. My great grandmother was a housemaid for a doctor in Tredegar, it's probably genetic.' Dave Evans grinned, 'So what is it going to be, Matt?'

'Umm. I'll go meet him off the Peacher jet, so get a cab. I really do need to buy a car, but I'm not here often enough to make it worthwhile.'

'Yuh, well, love to see you Matt, y'know that, but it's a lot quieter when you're not in town.'

Matt had moved his British base up to London. With a huge sense of foreboding and a lot of advice from his father, he had bought a rundown house at the back of Highgate Hill. After his father had finished with it, the house was no longer rundown. In fact it was worth three times what he had paid for it. But his fingers still trembled at the size of the cheque he had written last year. It was a town house two streets away from the Green, and when his father had got to work, stripping away the horrible seventies modernisations, they had been stunned to discover an intact eighteenth-century structure beneath, which had now been reinstated. The windows and doors had to be renewed in the old style, and the place re-roofed, but with his father in charge and his superb team of mates on the job, the end result was nothing short of wonderful. A designer had put the finishing touched to the décor and the garden had been planned and replanted.

Matt stood with his coffee steaming from a John Adams College mug (Go Patriots!), looking out on the back garden through the fine French windows. It was mostly finely clipped lawn, but it had borders, a raised patio and at the back was a former garage, now an office and flat. The office, and flat above, was occupied by his temporary PA, no less than Dave Evans, and his live-in lover, Steve Wharton. Dave and Steve had finished successfully at university, but had then endured a year's unemployment, living off benefit and Steve's earnings at the Queen's. While Matt was completing on the house Steve had got a job on the London Underground as a trainee manager, although Dave was still at a loose end.

Neither of them had anywhere to live other than on friends' floors and were facing a long separation, so Matt had offered Dave a temporary job in his office, and he and Steve had the flat above rent free, for the time being. It was only one bedroom, but, as Steve said, one bed was all they needed and Steve was happy to keep the garden tidy when he was between shifts. It was a comfort to Matt that when he was away, which he often was, his two friends were there to look after things. It was an arrangement that was working and Dave was icily efficient on his behalf.

With his modelling and media career on the rise, Matt had found his Californian agent too remote from the European centre of affairs and desperately needed a London representative. Dave seemed as good at it as Terry had been for Andy. It's a gay thing, Dave had snorted. They went through the mail together. Matt got a huge amount of it, a lot of it fan mail sent on by the broadcasters he worked for. Dave sorted into three piles. The biggest by far was the uncomplicated fan stuff, to which Dave sent an acknowledgement, which Matt signed. He even sent signed photos when requested. Most of this went to females, despite Matt's well-known sexuality. Dave said he kept the fan mail sent by gays, especially if they sent photos. Matt half believed him. The second biggest pile was the hate mail, of which there was a depressing amount. Some was sheer uncomplicated spleen, half-bestial ravings; some was homophobic; and some was definitely threatening. Dave filed this last pile carefully and passed the more persistent and disturbing productions on to the police.

The smallest pile was a special one that Matt answered personally, a lot of it sincere letters from troubled adolescent gays asking advice; others were from students in financial trouble. They needed to talk and communicate with someone and Matt was clearly the last resort for a lot of them.

As the taxi took him along the M4 through Hammersmith, Matt pondered the amount of lunacy in the world, and the way it forced itself on you. People might well regard him as privileged and lucky, but you paid your price for success in the world, and indeed there was a price to pay even for the deep and fulfilling love that he had found with the boy he was racing along the motorway to meet.

'Doan' I know yer, mate?' came the inevitable question from the front seat. He had watched the taxi driver sizing him up in the mirror since Kentish Town. He was a youngish man, Matt's own age.

'Dunno. I'm Matthew White.'

'Corst. Thass who you are. See you on telly all the time and you do adverts too dunn yuh?'

'Yup.'

'You orf to meet sumwun at Heathrow? You got no bags.'

'Yes, I'm meeting my boyfriend.'

'Oh yeah, you're gay aintchuh?'

'Right on.'

'Yuh, me too.'

Matthew smiled. 'You got a boyfriend then?'

'Nah. Got no time for a boyfriend, not wiv the hours I work. I get sex from pick ups... hey, fancy a BJ? It'd be an honour. Yuh could even autograph me dick.'

'Uh... no offence, and you're a good-looking bloke and all, but no. I don't do casual sex.'

'No offence taken, mate. But yuh gotta ask anya? Hope it woan' affect the tip!'

Matt laughed, the guy was young, cheerful and engaging. They chatted the rest of the way more comfortably than he usually did with London taxi-drivers. He tipped him heavily, way past the American level.

His heart began thumping as he reached the private terminal exit, as it always did when he was about to rejoin his lover after a long separation. His heart almost was at bursting point as he saw the smiling young man bobbing along towards him with his distinctive walk, one bag slung over his shoulder.

Stuff the world, he thought. He reached out, hugged and kissed Andy, and didn't even bother to check what were the reactions around him.

They separated and smiled happily at each other.

'How's my Andy?'

'Not too bad, my Matt. How're you?'

'All the better for seeing you. No Jenna? No Mark?'

'It's only going to be a couple of days. I'm only here to see your house, see my mum and potter round before going back to the academic grind.'

Matt took Andy's bag and they wandered off, 'It's not that bad is it? I hoped you wouldn't find being a student again a strain.'

'No, it's not a problem... I'd just forgotten how disorganised I was about deadlines, and I can't cheat by letting Mark organise me.' He paused and looked around. 'Let's get the tube, huh?'

They found their way to the Underground and boarded an eastbound Piccadilly Line train. It was full of returning tourists with masses of baggage. At Earl's Court more people surged on. Andy and Matt were crowded into a small corner of the carriage with people pressing hard on them and the murmur and chatter of any number of foreign languages in their ears. Finally they spilled out at King's Cross, into another surging crowd. So Matt was taken off balance and was pushed into a passing young man, spinning his briefcase out of his hand and causing him to swear.

'Bloody hell! Easy! What you doing?' He recovered his case stood up, and turned to confront Matt.

'You!'

Matt stood open mouthed, 'Sorry... Oh God! It's you Zav!' Andy spun and there indeed, looking eerily like Matt, was his estranged cousin, Xavier. The crowd had dispersed and only isolated commuters were moving past.

Andy was uncharacteristically fierce and direct, 'Come on, Matt... leave the homophobic cunt, and let's get home.'

But Matt hesitated and put out a hand. From irritated, Zav moved to aggressive and slapped Matt's hand away. 'Of all the people to bump into in this city it would have to be you. Too many fucking poofs in this place, you can smell them everywhere you go.'

Matt wouldn't let it go, however. 'Zav, I...' He moved towards his cousin, who went white, balled his fist and struck Matt a very hard blow in the face. Matt went down in a heap, cracking his head against the lip of a step, and Zav, shouting incoherently, now began kicking him in the side with sickening and heavy thumps. Andy had frozen, but with a terrible cry he now threw himself on top of Matt and took one of the kicks meant for Matt on the side of his own head. His vision exploded in stars, and the next thing he knew he was being lifted off Matt by an Underground worker as a concerned crowd looked down. He sat up groggily and with a sudden surge of panic looked over at Matt. He was unconscious and a pool of blood was around his head. Two men were crouching over him. One looked panicky.

'I don't think he's breathing.'

'I've called an ambulance.'

Andy moaned and pushed them aside. Matt was on his back. His face was very white and his eyes were closed. His lips were bluish. Blood was oozing thickly out from his long dark hair. Andy knelt over him unable to say or do anything. A young woman pushed past.

'Scuse me love, I'm a nurse. Let me get at him.'

She knelt over Matt's face. She checked the pulse in his neck and began applying emergency resuscitation. Andy slumped in horror against the tiled wall of the tube passage. Police appeared rapidly and people directed them to Andy. They helped him stand. Who was the man on the ground? Did you see the assailant? Are you hurt? They didn't get much to the point out of him. Other bystanders chipped in. The boy had been assaulted unprovoked by a random attacker, who had run off. He had left his briefcase. 'Unusual white collar crime, this one,' an officer observed.

Paramedics arrived and Matt disappeared under an oxygen mask and behind reflective green suits. The police cleared the crowd and ushered the stretcher and Andy up the escalators and out on to Euston Road. 'You can travel with us mate', said an officer, putting him in the back of his car, 'that head of yours needs looking at. We're going to the Royal Free.'

The nightmare trip through North London seemed to last for ever. Somewhere around Camden Andy's mind began working. He began explaining to the police his relationship with Matt, and who his assailant had been. The officer in the front passenger seat listened intently and began talking into his radio. Andy found his mobile and wondered who to call first. He raised Dave first, told him what had happened, what was going on and to ring Matt's parents. There was an appalled silence at the other end, followed by a small voice, '... Is he going to live, Andy?'

Was he? Andy's world lurched and crumbled, and with tears running down his cheek faced the possibility that this was the end of the story for him and Matt. He pulled together. 'He's bad, Dave. But he's strong. I'll let you know from the hospital when there's news.'

The ambulance and police car screamed into the Casualty area. The stretcher trolley carrying Matt disappeared at speed inside, while the police took Andy to register himself and Matt at reception. When he was asked what his relationship with Matt was he said, firmly, that he was his partner, and that he was the next of kin. After twenty minutes a doctor appeared and took him into a screened cubicle. He inspected Andy's wound and told a nurse to take him to X-Ray. He didn't know anything about Matt other than that he was in theatre and had not regained consciousness.

Andy met the police officer outside. 'Mr Peacher? The assailant surrendered himself to the Transport Police at Euston twenty minutes ago, sir. He's been charged and committed to custody. Hope that's some comfort to you. Any news?' Andy shook his head.

A stranger accosted him moments later. 'Mr Peacher, I'm from the Evening Standard. We just heard that your partner Mr White has been seriously injured in a gay-bashing attack at King's Cross. We understand it's touch and go. Can you tell us anything? How serious are his injuries? Was it an unprovoked attack?' Andy muttered that it was very serious and had no other comment. The reporter made a bee-line for the police.

Andy sat waiting outside the X-Ray suite. He flipped his mobile and checked his address list. There were a lot of people who needed to know what had happened before the attack was reported in the press. He began the painful process of ringing round. Then he made the call he was dreading to the USA, where it was the middle of the night '... that you, Paulie?'

Andy dozed in his seat in reception, his body in reaction. He had mild concussion, the doctor said, and had got off lightly. Take these pills and no alcohol for a week. Paul's sobs kept welling up in his head. The boy had broken down completely on the phone, crying like a child. He had never experienced Paul in agony before, and never seen him lose it. But lost it he had, with a vengeance. Oddly, it gave Andy strength of a sort.

He got up and paced the reception area. He saw a sign pointing to the Chapel, and for the life of him he would later swear that he felt Matt at his side at that precise moment, even felt his scent in his nostrils and his familiar breath on his cheek. A warmth welled up deep inside him and an unaccountable peace took hold of his mind. He shook his head. This was his mind screwing with him. But he followed the coloured line to the small chapel nonetheless.

Andy sat in the empty chapel at the back, contemplating the big wooden cross above the bare stone altar. He was alone, but he still felt improbably in company. Again the feeling of peace took full possession of him. Without any surprise at all he heard, if not with his ears, a voice say to him quite clearly that he, Andy, was in the deep dark of night, and though the owner of the voice said that he had once been there alone at a time of trial, yet no one else need be, for He was there always with him, beyond the time of trial and to the end of time. Andy picked up a pew bible. It was marked for the Twenty-third psalm. He read it and suddenly, as never before, he knew the power of words. He put the bible back and for the next twenty minutes found he could pray, and pray easily, saying all that needed to be said and finding both comfort and reassurance in the act.

Dazed, he made his way back to reception and took his seat again. In a minute or two, he felt someone next to him; a kiss was planted on his cheek and an arm took his as a body as small as his own nestled next to him.

'Lo, Katy. Thanks for coming.' She was there in her court suit with a pin-striped skirt, a wig still clutched in her hand.

'How long's it been?' she asked quietly.

'He's been in the theatre for five hours. Apparently they've lost him twice, but he's stabilising.'

'Where's his mum and dad?'

'They should be here any moment. Carl's on his way too.'

'Oh Andy... I'm so sorry.' They hugged and kissed.

Andy looked over at the clean bed with the sun shining on it. Matt looked unusually thin and drawn, he thought. The bandages were all gone now and there was no hair underneath it, just blue stubble except for the scar at the back of his head. Still, he looked beautiful, as an ascetic young monk in the middle ages could look beautiful, he thought. His heart full of love, he got up and kissed the pale cheek. Matt was breathing gently but easily, like he was asleep.

Three weeks, and Matt was still unconscious. A blood clot had formed on the brain. The doctors had no idea how much damage it had done or where the damage was or whether they had got to it in time. But at least his body was reacting normally to stimulus, and he would not be paralysed, if he ever woke up. That was the big question now, if and when. Andy hardly left the hospital and usually only to eat and change his clothes; he mostly slept on the sofa in the anteroom of the private ward he had taken for Matt. Shifts of friends and family kept him company and filled in when he was absent. Matt's mum had been quite as assiduous as Andy was in her attendance, but she had had to go back home for a few days. Andy generally timed his absences to the visits of the physiotherapists. Everyone was stunned at his strength. He too was surprised at himself, but he thought he knew now that the strength was not his, but had been given on loan.

The media circus had run its course. Matt had made the national news for over a fortnight. He would be so amused, Andy thought. Laments about the growing violence on London's streets and the homophobia that was corrupting civic culture soon gave way when the more peculiar nature of the attack was understood. Matt had been the victim of an internal family feud. So families and their tensions became the lead story instead. The press also fell in love with the idea of the doomed romantic nature of Matt's life. The papers were clearly warming up to some spectacular obituaries. Andy smiled - which he managed to do surprisingly often, all things considered – at least the pictures of the departed would be sensational.

He picked up a book Paul had lent him. But he could not concentrate. Instead he sat next to the bed, took Matt's hand, and held it, feeling oddly happy. He heard movement behind him and a young hand was rested gently on his shoulder. He clasped it as his brother Peter kissed him lightly on the top of his head. Peter asked the usual question, 'Any change, bro?'

'None. He just sleeps. It'd be nice if he snored from time to time, just for variation's sake. I'm glad you came Petey.'

'He was there for me when I was in hospital. Can't do no less, can I? Can I take a turn?'

'Sure. I need to stretch my legs.'

Peter had come across the Atlantic under his own steam as soon as he heard the bad news. He wanted to be there for Andy. He looked over at the beautiful man who was his brother's lover. He kissed him as Andy had done. With a quirky grin he began talking. The doctors had said that Matt needed stimulus and that he might well be hearing what was said at his bedside. So Peter began telling Matt of how his relationship with Tim was going. Then, warming to the subject, began on an account of his long history of lust after Terry. He told him about spying on Terry and Ramon's rutting in the woods at Courçon and what Ramon had done to him. He told him about his attempted seductions of Terry and the incident at the Faculty Club with Travis. Then, checking out whether anybody was listening, he gave Matt a detailed and unexpurgated account of the group sex at Terry's flat in Santa Barbara and precisely what Terry had done to him and he had done to Terry. He was close to Matt's face when he did this and he ended up by saying '... and do you want to know the big confession, Matt? The big one is that I've always wanted to see and touch your dick. Andy says it's huge and wide and he needs to do Zen exercises before he can get it in. I reckon that now's as good a time as any to find out the truth.'

His hand crept under the covers, where Matt was naked except for a smock. He touched Matt's wiry pubic bush and felt down to where Matt's penis was. He caught his breath, it really was huge... and it was erect. He grabbed a handful of its hot length and stroked up it, his heart beating hard. He let it go as he heard a sudden intake of breath which was not his own. He shouted 'Andy! Andy!'. He stood and looked down at Matt. His eyes were still closed but his face was working as if he was trying to say something. Andy was next to him, mouth open in surprise.

'What's he trying to say?' he asked urgently.

'I dunno! Wait!'

Matt's eyes flicked open and blinked. He focussed on Peter and he said, quite distinctly, 'Little pervert.' Peter laughed so loud the nurses ran in.

It took a little while for Matt to regain full consciousness, but once improvement had begun, it continued. Physically, he was weakened but his high level of fitness made recovery rapid. Xavier's assault had cracked three ribs and bruised his left kidney, but these injuries had quickly healed. The doctors reckoned that the clot had not affected anything other than temporarily interfering with his autonomic functions, which was why his body had tried to shut down. His memory was intact apart from the period of the attack. The last thing he remembered was the taxi ride to Heathrow and the randy cab driver. He claimed not to have remembered the stimulus that woke him, but he caught Peter's eye when he said it and winked. Peter blushed scarlet. When they were alone, Matt wickedly got him to go through it all again, which Peter did shamefacedly, but it caused Matt to give his first laugh since the assault.

Within a week of coming round Matt was discharged in a wheelchair. Pushed out of the hospital by Andy, and escorted by Carl, Peter, Katy, Paul and Dave, he was shifted by private ambulance to his home in Highgate. Mrs Jenna Rudat was in attendance as Andy's aide, and she made sure the press kept its distance.

They put Matt in the back lounge with the view of his sunny garden. Andy looked him over. 'You make a good skinhead, love. I don't like the stubble round the face though. It's itchy.'

'Every man must grow a beard once in his life, Andy, just to see what it looks like. It's a rule of nature. Now's a good enough time, while I'm on an enforced sabbatical from displaying myself publicly.'

'I think it's good, although it totally changes your face. Also it makes you look old,' Dave concluded with his customary charity.

'Wow, thanks,' Matt replied.

'You made the front page of the Standard again,' Katy observed, flourishing the paper which showed Matt being escorted from the hospital.

Paul had piled up drinks and eats on the lounge coffee table. 'None for you, Matt.'

'Aw great... what was the point of leaving hospital then?'

'So we could laugh at you of course,' said Steve as he lifted Matt effortlessly out of his wheel chair and put him gently on the sofa.

'I could have done that,' Matt protested.

'But then I couldn't have fondled your bum.'

Matt's parents and his brother arrived at this point and it turned into a relaxed social afternoon for family and friends. Later, Carl took him for a push around the garden in the sunlight.

'Matty, I went to see Zav in Pentonville.'

'Yeah?'

'His dad wouldn't go to see him, and none of the rest of the family would go either, not even our dad, and you know how soft he is.'

'So... how is the stupid bastard?'

'Odd. I don't think he's all there half the time. He thought I was you sometimes. I think he's on Prozac or something.'

'Why did you go, Carl? You never liked him anyway.'

'I know. He was a stuck up sort of kid, I thought. Treated me like dirt because I was two years younger than him. He always used to hang round the older kids. He wanted you as his special friend. Look, this is an odd question, and you don't have to answer, but did you two ever get up to anything... er...sort of gay when you were kids?'

'No, we didn't. Given half a chance I might have. We got to see each other naked once or twice and I would have done it if he had asked, but there's no way I would have blown my cover by making a pass at him. He might have told on me. Why do you ask?'

'It might have been the drugs, but he began at one point to talk to me as if I was you. He couldn't shut up. He was talking about some night you two slept together in your bed when you were kids, and he... not to put too fine a point on it... wanked you off. He was talking as if you had been awake when he did it.'

'Crazy. It never happened... unless.'

'What?'

'Well... unless he wanked me while I was asleep one night. I certainly used to wake up with sticky pyjama bottoms when I was a kid. Maybe he helped it along one night. Where's all this going?'

'Nowhere really. It's just that it occurred to me that Zav's problem was not that you came out, but that you didn't come out with him. That he wanted you and that he hated himself for wanting you. He was terrified of acknowledging that he had sexual feelings for you, but lusting after you all the time. Basically I think he's out of his head, Matty. Driven nuts by the contradictions inside himself... hence the deranged nature of the violence that morning.'

'Disturbing theory, Carl.'

'Look at it this way. He was on his way to work in the City that morning a million miles away from you and your world and then – bingo – he bumps into you. But the worst thing was not just that it was you, but you were there being a couple with little Andy. So he had to deal with jealousy too. Wham. All the baffled lust and suppressed feelings explode and you do the worst possible thing, you apparently make a pass at him, or so he interprets it. He loses it and down you go, bruv!'

'Er... you did A Level Psychology didn't you?'

'So?'

'Nothing. Actually it makes more sense than any theory that's occurred to me. I hope it occurs to his barrister too. He's facing a long time in prison otherwise.'

'Will you go and see him?'

Matt stared at his brother. 'Carl, the bloke nearly killed me. You just said the reason why he did it was because I had made such a determined effort to talk to him and tried to take his hand.'

'That was then, this is now. He's had a complete breakdown. However fucked up he was, he's really pathetic now and even his mother won't go and see him. At the very least, if you go, the rest of the family might rally round him a bit. You know what Fr Jenkinson would have said.'

'Below the belt, bruv.'

'So I'll take you down tomorrow afternoon, OK?'

Matt grimaced at his little brother, now so much taller than he was, and in some ways, so much more mature. 'You've grown, halfling.'

Carl laughed his boyish laugh and for a moment he looked quite as handsome in the sunlight as his brother. He wheeled Matt back into the house.

Jenna had the car ready out the front in good time for church. 'You want to go through with this?' asked Matt. He was standing well now without a need for the stick he had been using. His beard had finally disappeared under Andy's pained protests, and his hair had grown to the length of an overgrown crewcut, which gave him back his familiar boyish beauty, indeed it was more boyish than usual. Andy saw once again the boy he had met in university, fantasised over, slept with and loved so very much ever since. The scar at the back of Matt's head could be felt, but no longer seen. He was a little thin and pale in the face, but otherwise he was Andy's beloved Matt once more.

'I do want to go through with it,' replied Andy, giving his firm look.

'This is amazing, y'know. Are you sure it's not just because you've been so long in America that religion has rubbed off on you?'

'No, it's because of what happened in the hospital. I don't know exactly what happened, but whatever it was, it didn't belong to this world. I can either try to forget it, or I can face up to it, and I think you know which is the more honest course of action.'

'I have to say that I've often prayed for this. I just wish I hadn't had to get beaten with an inch of my life for it to happen. God does move in mysterious and very inconvenient ways. So I'll talk you through the service. You'll have to get baptised in the end, y'know.'

'I know. I can do it... I think. Let's get to the car.'

Jenna drove them to the Dominican priory in Muswell Hill, where Matt had already settled into the Sunday congregation.

On the way, Andy asked him how his meeting with Zav had gone. 'He knew me OK. But I don't think he could remember what it was he had done to me, either that, or he didn't want to remember. We talked about the old days when we were boys, which is where his head wants to be most of the time, I think. Poor kid.'

'Poor kid?'

'Yeah. I'm glad I went just for that. You can't hate a boy that fucked up. Carl's right. It wasn't homosexuality that he got fixated on, it was me. He's living a fantasy where we are both kids again and where we had become boy lovers. He talked of things we'd never done and nights we'd never spent together; he tried to hold my hand through the screen. He looked in my eyes like... like you do, my lover'

'Sorry, Matt. Sounds like he'll end up in an asylum, not in prison.'

'I hope someone can sort him out. His brother Mikey broke into his laptop and found all sorts of weird stuff. There were scanned nude pictures of me asleep in my bed as a sixteen-year-old boy, which I can't imagine how he got unless he stripped me of my boxers when I was deeply asleep one night on a sleep over, and took the shots himself. You know how deeply I sleep. I've got copies. I look really quite cute. I thought I was ugly as a boy, but wow, was I the pretty one. His parents have finally realised that he's a basket case, not a homicidal maniac. They're visiting him, and the family has rallied round.'

'Well done, Carl.'

'Yeah. The boy did good. So here we go. It's the priory.'

Jenna opened the door for Andy. 'But I'm the sick one!' protested Matt.

She smiled at him, 'You don't pay me, Matthew.'

Grumbling, Matt took Andy's arm and entered the cool interior of the Victorian church, gloomily built of grey London stock brick. The ten o'clock mass was reasonably well attended, and a fresh-faced young priest celebrated. There was no attempt at liturgical splendour, but the mass was well said and the homily was both deep and accessible.

'I felt as though I'd found the place I should be,' Andy confessed as they left.

Matt looked at his lover fondly. 'It's a place we can go to together, whenever we want,' he answered, and then his heart bubbled over. 'Oh, I'm so glad we can share this at last. It was the one thing that we couldn't talk about, the thing that separated us! But no more.'

They smiled at each other, their souls without barriers to each other. In what they felt at that moment there could not have been a more perfect union on earth.

THE END

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