by Camy Sussex
Simon Charles Henry Neil Onk was decidedly unimpressed. Post bath, he was looking at his body in the full-length gilt-framed mirror he had garnered from one of the basement store rooms in his grandfather's house. He'd carried it up the uncarpeted back stairs that servants in decades past had used and installed it in the corner of his room. Now, standing in front of it, he moved from pose to pose, flexing his muscles as demonstrated in the magazine he'd purloined from the top shelf of the village newsagent. Of course he hadn't actually stolen it. Well, he had, but he'd purposefully dropped a five pound note next to the counter before he'd left, and five pounds more than covered the cost of the magazine. Simon frowned. Maybe he should have taken two? Shaking his head he dismissed the thought and struck another pose - having first examined the picture in detail to aid his erection.
"Coming to breakfast, Schnonk?" Simon rolled his eyes as he hopped three paces backward and slammed the bedroom door with his heel. He shook his head in consternation at the muffled squawk of protest from his cousin outside in the corridor. There was no way on god's green earth he was going to let Peter see him naked. Not a bat in hell's chance. Not Peter, who's fault this whole debacle really was. Polka dot lollipop on a stick! Why had he started IM-ing him? It had been a bit of fun, that was all. A bit of fun that that stupid, stupid idiot hadn't yet realised had gone too far and was over. FUCK!
There was a timorous and slightly embarrassed tap on the door. Cursing under his breath, Simon grabbed his dressing gown, slid it on, tied the cord and, after a cursory glance to see if his erection was obvious and deciding it wasn't, yanked the door open.
"What?!" he snapped, immediately regretting his tone as he saw Peter's lower lip begin to quiver.
"Oh Schnonk!" Peter wailed, holding his arms open for a hug.
"Don't call me that!" Simon said, his ire at his cousin using a hated nickname he shouldn't have known coming to the fore. "I should never have told you!"
Simon blamed his mother. She should have thought his names through before having him christened. He blamed his father, too, for having Onk as a surname, but reasoned that hadn't been entirely his father's fault. But all his other names, blimey! Why parents couldn't write down their offspring's proposed nomenclature and take a few measly minutes to check them out for potentially disastrous nicknames was beyond him. He certainly would if he ever got married and had children, though admittedly, as things stood, that outcome didn't seem terribly likely. Unthinkingly, Simon rearranged his dressing gown-covered erection which hadn't had the common decency to go away, and actually seemed to be getting more interested.
"Oh Schnonk!" This time Peter's voice was much, much lower. Guttural and evincing awe. It was even, Simon thought, a bit salacious, which went well with the idiot's drooling expression.
"I told you not to call me that," Simon said as he slammed the door again. There was a pained 'oof!' from the other side, followed by a thump as something heavy, and probably Peter shaped, hit the floor. Simon stood stock still for a moment, his nose almost touching the old carved oak of the door. The redolent smell of bees-wax permeated the air and he wondered how on earth this situation had come to pass.
"I am not a poof," he quietly told the door which, luckily he thought, didn't answer. Though under the circumstances, had it replied, Simon wouldn't have been terribly surprised.
"Yes you are."
"No. I'm not. I refuse to be queer. And I refuse to have this conversation, so shut up." His inner-voice snickered, but wisely stayed silent. Simon turned on his heel and stalked back to the table where his stolen copy of Playgirl was lying open. Why Playgirl? Why hadn't he taken Playboy? With a trembling forefinger he traced slowly around the young model's pectorals, briefly hovering over each nipple, then continued down his stomach, slowly tracing down his treasure trail to his enviable penis. Groaning, Simon let his dressing gown fall open and, grabbing hold of his erection - it felt more like a bar of rigid metal than silken flesh - brought himself off. He sank to his knees and, as an involuntary spasm of sound escaped his lips, he came and came again, spurts of jism coating the drawers and brass handles of the seventeenth century dressing table.
"Oh, you're gay alright," his inner-voice murmured, sounding smug. And Simon, for all his determination to be straight, couldn't argue.
"Maybe I am," he said, reaching for the tissues, "maybe I am … but if I am it's just a phase."
"Where's that cousin of yours, Peter?" their grandfather, Tim asked. "And what's wrong with your head?"
Peter shrugged, then said "Shut a door on it, Grandfather." Tim frowned, but wisely dropped the subject. The youth of today were very different from when he was a young man and no mistake. He seldom understood these boys. They spent most of their time on-line, wherever that was, or playing games on the television. And television! He helped himself to another kipper and smiled as he remembered the family's original black and white monstrosity, and their butler having to whack it with a cricket stump whenever it went wonky. Now the damn things were thin as rakes and hung on the wall like one of his ancestor's portraits. He tutted, then thoughtfully took another slice of bread and butter.
"Simon will miss breakfast if he's not careful," he opined.
"Mmm," Peter said. "Probably." Adding under his breath, "I really couldn't care."
"Oh well." Tim watched Peter out of the corner of his eye as the boy helped himself to cereal. "So, have you two any plans for the day? Are you off chasing girls, again?"
Unfortunately, Peter was miles away thinking about Simon in his dressing gown. Grandfather's question shocked him so much he breathed when he should have swallowed, and consequently seemed to explode as milk and bits of half chewed cereal spewed from his mouth and dribbled out of his nose. Coughing, he mopped as much as he could off his shirt with his napkin and then hurriedly excused himself. Watching Grandfather surreptitiously to check if he'd jumped to any conclusions he shouldn't have, Peter bumped into Simon coming through the dining room door.
"Accident," Peter managed as he rushed by, his face feeling like it was on fire. He didn't hear if Simon said anything in response.
"Good morning, Grandfather," Simon said. Weighed down by the angst of his burgeoning gayness he felt miserable and thought he probably looked it too, though he wore a brave face for his grandfather's sake. He might want to break down and howl, he might want to rip Peter's clothes off and do unspeakable things to his ever so cute bottom, but neither was possible: it wasn't British, and it certainly wasn't what was expected of an Onk.
Good morning, Simon," Tim replied, looking up from his paper and seeing Simon's abstracted expression. He was a lucky man to have two such able and well-behaved grandchildren. Now if only they'd … what was the phrase they used? Oh yes, 'chill out.' If only they'd chill out and not try to be so formal around him they'd all have a much better time of it.
Simon decided against a kipper and poured a bowl of cornflakes instead. He sat down, added milk and sugar and had just taken his first mouthful when Grandfather harrumphed, snapped his paper and said:
"I asked Peter but he seemed to have some trouble. I was wondering if you two were off chasing girls again, today?" He sat back, the chair creaking as his second grandson exploded in a shower of milk, cornflake particles and coughing. He watched with pursed lips as the lad leapt to his feet waving his arms, in what he took for an apology, and shot out of the dining room. The pounding of feet retreated as the boy sped back upstairs to his room. There was a last slightly muffled crash as a door slammed, then silence. Steepling his fingers Tim thought for a moment or two, then scratched his chin and rang a little silver bell.
Peter, meanwhile, had fully recovered and reasoned that Grandfather was only being polite. After all, it's what grandparents were like, especially when they were acting in loco parentis: inquisitive and mildly interfering. Not that he didn't love his grandfather. It was just that he didn't think he'd be overjoyed to have a whoopsie as a grandchild. Peter sniggered at the idea of being thought a whoopsie. It was a ludicrous word, a stupid, silly word, and really it wasn't at all funny. Except it was and he couldn't help laughing, which cheered him up no end and made him feel much better.
"Yep, I'm a whoopsie! I'm a gay boy and proud of it, too!" He said quietly, looking at himself in the mirror and pulling a face. Then he heard pounding footsteps and just down the corridor Simon's door slammed.
"You rang, sir?"
Tim looked up from his paper and smiled. Playing at being his manservant during his grandsons' holiday had been Roger's idea, and anything Roger put his mind to he did extremely well. He'd had his long curly tow hair cut severely - almost too short, certainly too short for Tim's taste, anyway. His charcoal gray pinstripe suit was classically cut, with waistcoat and a tail coat on top of a crisp white linen shirt and black tie. His black shoes were so shiny Tim had to stop himself checking his appearance in them. All in all, Tim thought, Roger looked gorgeous. He cleared his throat.
"They're not here. They're both upstairs, and, umm, I rather think you were right."
"Ha!" Roger said and grinned. "I won't say I told you so, but…." Tim rolled his eyes and grinned back. With a thankful sigh Roger kissed him on the lips before taking the seat next to him and pouring them both a fresh cup of coffee. "This playing at being a manservant is all very well, but I miss our lie ins terribly."
"Then let's save them up and we'll have a week's worth when they've gone."
"So you still don't want to tell them?" Roger said and raised an eyebrow in question.
Tim stroked his chin. "I don't know," he sighed. "I should I suppose. After all, they are nearly seventeen. But I do not, absolutely not want their mothers to think I had anything to do with it. You know what they're like."
"That I do." Roger shuddered dramatically, "That I do." He added another dollop of cream to both coffees and stirred them. Tim took his and had a sip. "I must say, Tim, I'd like to meet them as family rather than as staff." His timing was perfect and it was Tim's turn to blow coffee out of his nose.
"Grandfather, are you alright?" Peter said from the doorway as he hurried over to pat his grandfather on the back. Roger got smoothly to his feet and began to clear away the breakfast dishes from the table as Tim got his breathing back under control.
"Thank you, m'boy, thank you," he said, then saw Peter was looking at Roger and frowning. "Ah, I think that's enough patting if you don't mind."
"Oh, sorry, Grandfather." Peter was still watching Roger as he left the room laden with a tray. "Was he sitting next to you, Grandfather?"
"Roger was, yes. We were planning the coming week's meals. Shopping and things."
"Oh," Peter said, his expression lightened. "It's just I thought he said something about family."
"Family Assortment." Tim extemporized, "They're biscuits, apparently. He rather thought you'd like them."
"Oh. Yes, well, I'm sure they'll be nice. Anyway, I just popped in to say I'm off for a walk. Simon's locked in his room in case you were wondering."
"Is he?" Tim mused. "Perhaps I'll go and have a word."
"I wish you would." Peter sounded distraught and Tim looked at him carefully.
"Because, because … oh, it doesn't matter, Grandfather," Peter said, his whole body quivering in distress.
Tim pushed his chair back, got to his feet, and pulled Peter into a hug that went on and on as he quietly told the boy that everything would be alright, that everything was fixable but that nothing he could see needed fixing anyway. Eventually he released his arms, but Peter still snuggled into him for another few seconds before slowly pulling back, pulling a hankie from his pocket and blowing his nose loudly.
"Yes, much. Thank you, Grandfather."
"That reminded me of a time I had to do the same for your father. And of a time he had to do the same for me." He chuckled as he retook his seat and stirred his coffee. "Never be afraid of giving a hug to someone who's in need of one. That's my advice, young man." They grinned at each other.
"Sir, I'm going to the shops," Roger said from the doorway.
"Would you like some help, Roger?" Tim nodded at Peter who saw his grandfather's manservant grin in reply.
"It would be a help, sir. If you wouldn't mind, young master?"
"No, I'd be happy to," Peter said. "I'll just go and get a sweater and meet you by the car."
Peter ran all the way upstairs and past his room. He stood for a moment to collect his thoughts and then knocked on Simon's door.
"It's me!" Peter hissed. "Open up."
"I know it's you, you pratt. That's why I said go away."
"You sound odd, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Now piss off."
"Sheesh, cous. I just want to say that I think Grandfather's manservant is ripping him off or something. So I'm going out with him to see if I can find out…."
"You're going out with Grandfather's manservant?" Simon cut in, sounding slightly more normal, now. Normal and … what? Peter frowned. "Aren't you a bit young?" Now Simon sounded snarky.
"Yeah, young. You're a kid, you shouldn't be going out with older men like him. Besides, he's a servant."
"Are you out of your mind?" Peter felt his cheeks reddening with anger. "And … and you're suggesting I'm gay, too! You fuck! You fucked up stupid little git. How dare you! Too young! I'm only three days younger than you are, you arrogant shit. And If I choose to go out with an older man that's none of your bloody business!"
"So you are gay!" Simon said. His voice seemed much closer now, probably just on the other side of the door, Peter thought. He was incandescent with anger and stood back before booting it hard. The door rattled in its frame and he heard a satisfactory yowl from the other side.
"Fuck your nose and fuck you, too!" Peter said and stormed back downstairs.
"I thought you were getting a jumper young master?" Roger said as a livid looking Peter got into the car beside him.
"Obviously not." Peter replied tartly as he fumbled with his seatbelt, snapped it home and then looked straight out of the windscreen, his hands clenched in fists.
Roger, who had been about to start the car, sighed deeply. "Would you prefer not to come?"
"What?" Peter said, looking briefly at Roger before turning back to the front. "Oh, no. Let's get on with it. I can't stand it here."
Roger, who had seen tears in the boy's eyes, started the car and set off down the drive. Indicating, he turned left towards the coast and the shopping centre. They drove in silence. Once they got on the main coast road the traffic became heavier and Roger turned on the stereo. He pulled a CD out of the side pocket, slid it in and 'Snow Patrol' started playing. Peter listened for a moment, then glanced at Roger and frowned before turning forward again. Roger caught his look and smiled.
"I'm sorry?" Peter said, "were you talking to me?"
"Mmm. I was wondering what the look was for."
"Oh," Peter said, pulling on his earlobe. "It was nothing really. I was just surprised you were listening to Snow Patrol."
"Were you?" Roger said and looked at Peter briefly. "Why, not ageist, are you?"
"No! Of course not." Peter sounded genuinely shocked.
"Good, because your grandfather bought it."
"Yes. You sound surprised."
"No. Well yes, I suppose I am. I didn't think Snow Patrol was the sort of music he'd listen to."
"He likes all sorts. Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Supertramp, Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd. At the moment he's into Elbow."
"I don't know Elbow," Peter said.
"Great band! They won the Mercury for 'The Seldom Seen Kid' and they've just released a new album."
"Oh." There was a pause in conversation, but it was natural and painless, unlike the silence that had permeated the car earlier. Peter found himself unwinding and discovered that it really was easier if you didn't frown all the time. Out of the corner of his eye he kept glancing at Roger. He had a firm jaw, was clean shaven, had short tow hair and was somewhere in his forties or fifties, Peter thought, though he couldn't be more accurate than that. He was also quite good looking in as far as any old person could be called good looking, though his clothes made him look severe and businesslike, which, Peter thought, was probably proper for a manservant. Peter turned slightly in his seat so he could observe Roger better and saw the man was smiling.
"What?" Peter asked in a teasing voice, without thinking.
"What, what?" Roger glanced at him, his smile widening, then looked back at the road.
"I wondered why you were smiling."
"Smiling? Oh, it's the track. 'Chasing Cars.' It's one of my favourites."
"Ah." Peter murmured and leant over and turned it up, looked briefly at Roger and then settled back in his seat. Roger had definite laughter lines around his eyes which spoke of someone else entirely. He certainly didn't seem to be the proper and slightly frosty manservant he knew him as. Peter closed his eyes and let his thoughts dance around from Simon, to school, to Simon, to their parents, and finally to their paternal grandparents. He'd met their grandmother once. It had been long after their divorce. She'd flown over from Canada for a meeting in London and had decided to spend the night at Grandfather's. She hadn't been interested in either of them, which Simon and he had thought was most odd. Then she'd had a flaming row with Grandfather in the library with the door closed, and had then called a cab and left in a cloud of perfume, clinking jewelry and leather luggage.
Roger had carried her cases out and Simon and he, sneaking out to watch her leave, had heard her tell him that he might have charmed her husband but he couldn't pull the wool over her eyes. Oh no, she knew exactly what he was up to! Roger hadn't responded or said a word, even when she'd slapped him. As the taxi drove away he'd spoken quietly into the dusk and in the direction they were hiding, 'listening to other people's conversations is a bad habit to get into.' Then he'd gone back inside and closed the front door.
That memory led Peter to thinking about finding Roger sitting next to Grandfather at the breakfast table. He hadn't heard everything they'd been saying, but the way they'd been sitting next to each other, and their body language which seemed more intimate than…. Peter, who had been on the verge of dozing off, snapped wide awake. No! It couldn't be. Grandfather and Roger? It was absurd.
"Are we there yet?" Peter said. The country road had turned into suburbia, and they'd just passed a small parade of shops.
"About another five minutes. Are you okay? You woke up with quite a start. Bad dream?"
"No. Umm, you know those bands you mentioned."
"Well, didn't Sigur Ros make some sort of, umm, gay film?"
Roger laughed. "Yes. Though please don't ask me for the title because I'm not good with Icelandic pronunciation. Jonsi, their singer, is gay. It's a beautiful film. Very poignant." They drove on for a minute or so in silence, then Roger pulled off the road into the car park of a giant supermarket. They drove around until they found a parking spot and stopped. Roger switched off the engine, undid his seatbelt and turned to Peter. "Why?"
Peter swallowed, then blinked. All of a sudden he was nervous and had no idea what to say. He felt himself blushing and saw that Roger had noticed, but that the man was waiting for his response. He looked serious. Peter swallowed again.
"I was, umm … it's just that I was thinking about, umm. Oh!" He fumbled for his seatbelt, released it, and was just about to open the door and run when the central locking clicked.
"Spill it," Roger said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Truth will out, as Shakespeare once said. So spill it."
Peter tried the door but it was locked. He began to panic. "Look, I don't know what your game is but let me out. I'm sure Grandfather won't be too cross."
"I'm sure he won't." Roger said looking at Peter stoically.
"What? What have you done to him? If you've hurt him in any way I'll…."
"He's fine," Roger interjected. "When we left he was drinking coffee and reading his paper."
"Then LET ME OUT!" Peter screamed. Roger winced and pressed the central locking. The door locks clicked open.
Peter was scrambling out when Roger quietly said "I'm not his manservant, Peter."
"You're … you're not?" Balanced half in and half out of the car Peter felt distinctly awkward, so he slid back onto the seat and looked at Roger. He knew he was frowning, but it wasn't really surprising given what he'd just been told.
"No, I'm not." Roger said and Peter realized his accent was different, too. No longer servile and misplaced cockney. Now it was Home counties like his own.
"So you are…?"
"See if you can guess, Sherlock."
"Umm, I … well, when I saw you at breakfast this morning you were sitting next to Grandfather and you both seemed, umm…."
"Seemed?" Roger smiled and raised an eyebrow.
"Why did Grandmother leave him?" Peter asked. He'd found that if you asked a question out of left field quite often the original topic of conversation was forgotten. Besides, Simon and he had wanted to know the answer for ages.
"I think that's a question you should ask your grandfather, Peter," Roger said, then added "and Peter, you can't escape answering awkward questions that easily."
"Oh. Damn." Peter found himself smiling and Roger smiled back. He hadn't seen Roger really smile before. The man's face seemed to light up and he became a completely different person altogether.
After Peter left quiet reigned for a minute or two in the upstairs corridor. Then a key was turned in a lock and Simon's door slowly opened. He padded down the corridor and slid an envelope under Peter's door. Yawning, he went back to his own room, disappeared inside and relocked the door.
Simon wanted to be long gone before Peter got back. He couldn't cope with being near his cousin and best friend any longer without going do-lally barking insane. He wanted to rip Peter's clothes off and do all sorts of nasty, wonderful things to him, and the fact that Peter wanted the same and didn't seem to mind who found out about it was too much. Besides, he wasn't gay. He really wasn't. Peter just wasn't helpful, and he made it all too hard. Simon stopped pacing and laughed at his unwitting double-entendre. Even the thought of Peter was too much. No. Peter could be gay if he wanted, but he couldn't be. They were cousins and it was forbidden. What would their parents say? Cousins couldn't be in love. It was out of the question. It was not bloody well on!
It wasn't that he hadn't tried to change the way he felt. He had. One of them crushing on the other was manageable, but both of them! Their grandfather, their parents and their school would have a field day. They'd be separated forever, and probably end up on opposite sides of the planet.
Simon yanked his suitcase off the top of the wardrobe and flung it to the floor. Then he began scrabbling around for his clothes. The suitcase was far from tidy when Simon shut the lid. He had to sit on it in order to close the latches and then had to open it twice more to put in items he found: three socks and a pair of underpants from under the bed, and from under his pillow one sock that was almost stiff as a board. He grimaced slightly as he slid it into the side of the case before finally doing up the straps.
He looked at his watch. It was nearly eleven. Peter had been gone an hour and would probably be gone at least another so, just to be safe, he should leave before noon. He looked around the room once more. Satisfied, he decided to have a quick look around Peter's room for old time's sake. Simon opened his door and screamed.
Tim almost wet himself. He'd been about to knock on Simon's door when it had been abruptly opened and Simon had screamed at him.
"Yes m'boy," Tim said. "It's me. Definitely me and not the ghost, though seeing as it's mid morning it'd be odd to see the ghost up and haunting, anyway." He chuckled to ease the tension, then saw Simon's tear stained face and became concerned. "I was just coming up for a chat," he said, walking into the room and seeing the packed suitcase on the floor. He sat down on the edge of the bed and patted the counterpane next to him. "Sit, sit, do your grandfather a favour and sit. I haven't seen a lot of you these hols and thought, since the others were out shopping, we could have a natter," he said, smiling.
Simon did as he was asked and sat next to his grandfather, the old mattress sinking down between them, pushing the two together. Tim put his arm around Simon's shoulder and gave him a hug.
"Now, Simon. I'll begin then, shall I. Why is your case packed and…." He broke off, amazed as Simon burst into tears.
"Oh Grandfather!" Simon wailed. "Oh Grandfather please don't be cross," Simon wrapped his arms around Tim and linked his fingers. "Please, please don't be cross, but I love him so much and I don't know what else to do!"
Tim didn't know what to do, either. Simon was almost fully grown and in misery and desperation he was hugging the breath out of him.
Roger and Peter had split up in the supermarket. Roger had Bluetoothed half the shopping list to Peter's phone and told him which aisles they were in. Then, after agreeing to meet back at the checkouts, and with cheery - albeit false - waves, they'd gone in separate directions. Roger felt mildly guilty as he'd given Peter far more than half the list, but he reckoned that his phone call to Tim would take a while, and as it benefitted Peter, too, in the long run he probably wouldn't mind.
Peter watched Roger go off up the fresh produce isle before turning abruptly around and heading off for the cafe. He wanted to talk to Simon badly. No, strike the wanted bit. He more than wanted to talk to him, he needed to, he had to talk to him. Their situation was getting ludicrous. Almost farcical, and it had to stop. Besides, if Roger was having a … well, whatever Roger was doing with Grandfather wasn't exactly any of their business, but it meant that they would both understand about him loving Simon and vice versa … wouldn't they? Peter stopped the trolley for a moment to think about it. Roger and Grandfather having an affair. That was the bottom line: that was what he was thinking. Was it possible? He didn't like to picture it, that sort of thing was all a bit squidgy and odd, but he supposed it went on. Peter closed his eyes and scrunched up his face at the thought. Yick! Old people doing it. Together.
"Haha! You're funny!" A little girl prodding him in the stomach pulled Peter back from his reverie. "Mummy, did you see this silly man pull a face? Did you, mummy? Did you?" She squealed. Peter gave her a sickly smile, poked out his tongue and pushed his trolley past her. He wanted a double latte and a table to sit at while he called Simon.
He turned left at the end of the aisle and was looking at the posters for special offers on Playstation games as he entered the cafe. Consequently he missed Roger's surprised expression as he ran his trolley over the older man's foot.
"Ow!" Roger cursed under his breath as the trolley wheel rolled over his bunion. "What are you doing here, Peter? I thought you'd be on the other side of the store at the bakery, by now." Roger managed to keep his tone level, which he thought was remarkable considering the pain the blithering idiot had caused.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Roger," Peter said. Then did a double take. "Wait a minute. What are you doing here?" he blushed and tried to cover it up with a glare. He'd wanted a quiet few moments to make a call and here was the one person he was trying to avoid. "I thought you were getting the vegetables and frozen stuff."
Roger blushed, too. Then said, "I was, umm. I err, forgot I had to make a call." He bent over and rubbed at his toe. The instant, searing pain had died away a little and he didn't feel so much like getting up and ripping Peter's head from his body.
"I'm truly sorry, Roger. I really am. I'm a clumsy oaf." Peter said, and meant it. "Would you like another coffee while you call Grandfather?" he added, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
"No thank you, but let me get one for you while you call Simon," Roger fired back. Then sighed as he took in Peter's wounded expression. "Sorry, that was churlish of me. Let's blame my toe."
"Fair enough," Peter chuckled. "Would you like a refill or some space?"
"Mmm, a refill would be nice. We might as well share the table. I promise I won't listen." Roger said with a wink. Peter rolled his eyes.
"Let me get this straight," Tim said. "You love him so much you were running away?"
They were sitting in the old orchid house that stretched the length of the southern end of the house. Tim didn't have the same love for the blooms that his father had had, and since he'd inherited he'd turned the greenhouse into a magnificent living area, sectioned into different spaces. He and Simon were sitting in his private thinking space which was closest to the lake in the garden. Tim liked to sit and watch the herons fish, whilst his father had liked to try and shoot them - which was stupid, considering they were magnificent birds and protected, too.
They'd come downstairs slowly, as Simon had kept bursting into tears and stopping for more agnatic hugs. Tim thought he knew what Simon's problem was, but thinking you knew and actually knowing were two entirely different things, as well he knew. They'd made tea together and brought it in from the kitchen on a tray. He'd popped off to make a phone call, and now they were sitting knee to knee and Simon was about to explain. At least Tim hoped he was. He wished Roger would get back to help.
Simon, who had, as far as Tim could see, been thoroughly examining the pattern on the floor tiles, sipped his tea, sniffled, and then looked up at Tim through his lashes.
"Yes. Though I didn't manage it very well, did I. You've always been kind to us, Grandfather. We feel safe here, at least I do and I'm pretty sure Peter does, too. It's just our parents aren't so understanding. If they knew…." He went back to looking at the tiles. Tim groaned. There were too many secrets and it was time they stopped. He wondered how to begin and wished again that Roger was there to help.
"Shall we wait until Roger and Peter get back?" He asked, and then was shocked as Simon leapt to his feet. He winced as the Sèvres cup and saucer - that had been in the family since Napoleonic times - fell to the floor and smashed to fine porcelain smithereens.
"No!" Simon wailed and began pacing. "No, because I couldn't vanish then, I couldn't just up and leave him if he was here. But if I go now … if I go now…. Do you see, Grandfather?"
"No, to be honest, I don't," Tim replied and pointed to the chair Simon had been using. "Sit."
"Pardon?" Simon frowned. Grandfather was always kindly and never gave orders.
"Sit down, Simon." Tim was getting cross. "Sit down and listen."
Simon sat. They glowered at each other for a moment before Tim laughed. He couldn't help it. It was such a stupid situation to be in.
"Right, m'boy," he said. "I'm going to tell you a few things that might or might not help. I think they will. Help, that is. Do you understand?" Simon nodded.
"Good, but first I have a couple of questions I want answers to. And no shilly-shallying, okay?" Simon nodded again.
"You and your cousin probably think I'm a doddering old fool and fit to be put out to pasture. Correct?" Simon nodded, then shook his head vehemently.
"No, Grandfather, of course not. We'd never…."
"Tell a porky?" Tim interjected. "Fib? Lie to your poor old doddering grandfather?" Simon turned scarlet and squirmed. Tim thought he looked rather cute, but didn't say so.
"Well?" Tim pushed.
"I should think so, too." Tim sat back in his chair and looked at the boy. Nature versus nurture, indeed. They were a fine example: if only there was honesty. Well, today there would be. And there would be healing, too. He'd make sure of it.
"So, Schnonk, tell me something I don't know while we wait." He grinned as Simon's mouth opened like a goldfish.
"How … how do you know my nickname?"
Tim tutted. "Because I'm Timothy William, or Twonk, if you hadn't worked it out. I tried to stop them, but your dads both thought it an amusing right of passage, Besides, your Christian names were your mother's choice."
"Peter has it easy with Pronk."
"Oh, I don't know. Does he pronk a lot?" Tim guffawed. Simon joined in and soon the sound of hysterical laughter reverberated around the orchid house. They were laughing so hard they missed the sight of Roger and Peter driving past, arriving back from the shops.
They were still chuckling when Roger and Peter walked into the orchid house and stood, side by side, looking at them in amazement.
Peter was about to say something when Tim held up his hand. "Wait a minute, m'boy. Simon was just about to tell me something I didn't know." They all looked expectantly at Simon.
"All right then, Grandfather," Simon said, still smiling. "You're gay!" There was a horrified intake of breath from Roger and Peter. Simon looked nervously between them, two with eyes the size of saucers, and Grandfather who looked, if anything, amused. Finally, Grandfather shook his head.
"Nope. You were supposed to tell me something I didn't know. That I've known since I was twelve."
"The same age I was when I found out," Roger said, walking over and putting his arms around Tim's neck and kissing him on the head.
"And us, too" Peter said, smiling as he walked over and pulled Simon to his feet and into a hug. "And if you ever think you can run away from me again I'll … well, I don't know quite what I'll do, but it'll be painful."
"And pleasurable?" Simon whispered in his ear.
"Maybe." Peter laughed, a sound that soon stopped as Simon kissed him.
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