by and © N Fourbois
Kieran walked briskly through the dark streets. The rush hour traffic was beginning to die down. How he hated these dark evenings. It was not that he was scared of being out on the streets in the dark. It was just that he thrived in the long, light days. He wondered whether he suffered from SAD, but dismissed the thought for as far as he was concerned he was in good health. He arrived at Eric's flat at twenty past six, in good time. Eric let him in and got him to sit down in the living room while he gathered his kit together.
"So, what's new, Kieran?"
"Quite a bit, but I'll tell you about it while we're eating. What are we having tonight?"
"I have got a steak and kidney pudding simmering in the kitchen. It'll just about be ready when we get back."
"Steak and kidney pie?"
"No, Kieran. Steak and kidney pudding."
"What's the difference?"
"Instead of a pie crust the steak and kidney is surrounded in a case of suet. It is terribly unhealthy and will undo all the good we'll have done in the gym, but occasionally it's nice to live dangerously."
"So any more about your weekend guest?"
"What? Vivian? No. I thought he might have had the decency to ring up and apologise."
"You don't seem very sympathetic."
"You wouldn't be with what I invested in the weekend and then there's my reputation. What's going to happen if it gets around in the gay community that I failed to rouse one of my guests?"
"Not a lot, I would think. They'd have more sympathy with Vivian for a start. Some of them might even see it as a challenge."
"And if they succeeded, what would that do for my street cred?"
"Stop thinking of yourself, Eric. Vivian's the one that must be suffering."
"Come along, Kieran. It's time we got going."
They motored off to the gym, got changed and went into the weights room to find Olaf. Tonight he was dressed in a discreet primrose yellow one-piece which blended with his blond hair.
"Hi, fellows. Good weekend?"
"Great," said Kieran in a cheerful voice. Eric grunted and said
"Mine was a bit of a flop." He bit his tongue when he realised that his choice of words had not been the best. Kieran tried to suppress a snigger, but without any success. Eric gave him a filthy look as if it had been his fault.
The one good thing about Eric's mood was that it made him give the fitness machines hell. Olaf thought he needed a couple of extra weights added. At the end of the session Kieran asked
"I've got a friend staying with me for half term. Is it all right if I bring him along?"
"Yes, certainly," replied Olaf. "First time he gets a free session. Your age is he?"
"A bit younger actually."
"How much younger?"
"Fourteen," exaggerated Kieran. William hadn't had his birthday yet.
"We'll find him something to do, but no weights. If I'm not here, talk to the trainer in charge. He'll put you right."
Kieran and Eric went off to shower and change. In the shower Kieran found a lad his age who was quite respectable in appearance, so respectable in fact that Kieran could not help showing his appreciation in the natural way. The other lad just grinned, put his hand under his own balls and lifted his tackle in a provocative way. Not a word was spoken. Eric had to use all his willpower not to burst out laughing. He turned towards the wall. At least his mood had been improved by the vigorous exercise.
When they arrived back at Eric's flat, the first thing he did was to go into the kitchen and check the steak and kidney pudding. It was all right. The saucepan had not boiled dry. Kieran put his kitbag by the front door and set about the routine of laying the kitchen table while Eric cooked some veg and checked the roast potatoes in the oven. In just over a quarter of an hour they were sat at the table digging in to Eric's steak and kidney.
"Mmm, this is nice," mumbled Kieran between mouthfuls.
"So what's this 'quite a bit' that happened over the weekend?" Kieran told him about William turning up on the doorstep on Saturday and wanting to become his apprentice. He then went on to talk about what had happened earlier in the day. He had intended to omit having been caught in delicto flagrante by William's mother, but forgot and blurted it out. He did spend quite a time talking about how she needed to go away on urgent family business to look after her sister and the only option open to her was ask if William might be allowed to stay with Kieran for the week. Eric listened to all this carefully while he ate. Finally he put his knife and fork down, looked at Kieran seriously and said
"Kieran, it's not for me to tell you what to do and what not to do with a friend..."
"But..." filled in Kieran with emphasis.
"But you must be very careful."
"Careful? It's not as if he's going to get pregnant."
"Not careful in that sense, but remember your William is under age." 'Your William' appealed to Kieran and brought him onside. "You could get into serious trouble if anyone decided to report you to the authorities. And it wouldn't matter how much William had been willing or encouraged you. You would take the rap. As far as I'm concerned, what you did or didn't do is hearsay, but Mrs McLarney caught you in bed together. From what you have told me I am sure that all the time things are going well, William can keep her under control, but if things got sticky..." Kieran giggled. "I'm not doing very well with my words today, am I? But if things got difficult between you and either of the McLarneys, the whole business could come back to bite you on the bottom."
"So what do you suggest, Eric?"
"You can't do anything about what's happened. However, when he turns up tomorrow, and remember for a start Mrs Crater will be there, give him the blue guest room to himself. He keeps all his belongings in there. It's his room. Secondly, make sure he sleeps in the bed there. If you are going to do stuff together, do it in his bed and sleep with him. Your bed will look slept in anyway. Lastly, if any third party's around, like Mrs Crater for instance, act as just friends, not as lovers. She'll have a good idea what's going on, but she won't know for certain." After a silence of some seconds Kieran said
"Mmm... yes... I'm beginning to understand what you mean. But Mrs McLarney wouldn't really..."
"'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' as the saying goes."
"No, yet another William - William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, but written about the same time. There's already some bitterness there because of your William's father. Anyway, it probably won't come to anything like that, but you still need to bear it in mind. I take it Colleen and Dean know that William will be staying with you?"
"Oh, yes. I'm not that naïve. That was the first thing I did, get their permission."
"And they know his age?"
"They know he's my fag at school."
Eric got up from the table, cleared away the main course and said "There's a choice of ice cream or ice cream, Kieran." Kieran thought for a few moments and replied
"I think I'll have the ice cream."
"Sorry we're reduced to this, but it's a busy time at work with clients trying to tie everything up for the end of the year. You were lucky I suddenly had the evening free yesterday to make the steak and kidney pud. Have I converted you? Do you think it's better than a pie?"
"Yes, it was very tasty indeed."
"The next challenge is to get your mother to make one. And don't forget to let me know in advance and I'll be round."
After they'd cleared up, Eric drove Kieran home. They both had things to do for the next day before going to bed. Kieran hoped he would have a chance to talk to Mrs Crater before the McLarneys turned up.
Next morning Kieran made sure he was up by seven. It was already light. He didn't know what time the McLarneys would arrive. Mrs Crater would be in at eight... probably, but then it wouldn't be the first time that she had missed the bus, especially as the traffic was much lighter over half term. He showered and put on a polo shirt. He was just going to put some underwear on when he thought 'dammit!' and just slipped on his thick black baggy sweatpants. He was in that sort of mood. He had no need to impress. He wanted that feeling of hanging free and if he got a stiffie, more than likely with William around, so what? Kieran was sitting in the kitchen, consuming his muesli and reading the paper when he heard the doorbell and the sound of a key turning in the latch.
"Cooee, it's only me." It was only Mrs Crater. Thank goodness for that.
"Good morning, Mrs Crater. I'm glad I could catch you."
"Catch me? I'm not going anywhere, Kieran."
"I know, but something's cropped up over the last twenty-four hours." He briefly described the circumstances and added "Would you give William the blue guest room, please?"
"Yes, of course, dear. It's all made up. I'll just give it a quick hoover and dust. But why the blue room? He'll rattle around in there if it's just him."
"I know, Mrs Crater, but it's his favourite colour."
"Oh, that's all right, then." He didn't mention anything about it being the only guest room with a double bed.
"I've put all my dirty kit in the washing machine. It should be done any minute now."
"Kieran, you're a good boy. Anything in the linen basket?"
"No, it's all in the machine."
"Do you need any extra food?"
"I'll tell you later. I know Mrs McLarney is bringing some extra food. Perhaps you'll look through it and see if we've got enough."
At that moment the doorbell rang again and Kieran went to answer it. As expected it was Mrs McLarney with William. He invited them in and introduced them to Mrs Crater. Then all three went back to the car to fetch the picnic hamper of provisions. William appeared to have enough luggage for a month. They took his belongings up to the blue room which Mrs Crater had started sprucing up, and Mrs McLarney seemed satisfied. 'Good thinking, Uncle Eric,' thought Kieran. William bounced up and down on the bed to test it. Kieran thought of the noise that would make in the kitchen and laughed to himself.
"Can I get you a cup of tea, Mrs McLarney?"
"No thank you, Kieran. I need to get going. Perhaps we can just have a word in the kitchen." The three went downstairs again and let Mrs Crater get on.
Mrs McLarney opened her handbag and handed Kieran an envelope.
"There's a hundred pounds in there to cover any incidental expenses. If you need more, let me know when I get back. William's got his own money. Here's a key to our house in case he needs anything." Meanwhile William was standing there in his angelic pose, as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. She handed Kieran a second envelope. "This is a blood chit." Kieran looked askance. "It says that William is in your charge, it's got my contact address and number and it gives permission for an operation, should he have an accident. I think that covers everything. I should be back some time on Sunday, later rather than earlier, and I'll give a ring to let you know when exactly. I don't expect you to be sitting round the phone waiting. Now, that's a point. William's given me these numbers of yours. Can I check they're right?" 'Where did he get those from?' Kieran wondered. "Now have a good time. I'm sure you will. I'm just sorry to impose all this upon you at such short notice." They saw Mrs McLarney off and after they closed the front door, Kieran turned to William and said
"Does your mother ever stop talking?"
"When she's asleep, I believe," replied William drily.
They went into the sitting room and Kieran closed the door behind them.
"Now, William, before we start, one or two ground rules. Last night my Uncle Eric had a serious chat with me and now I've had time to think about it, I really believe he's right. I saw you make a face when you were shown the spare room. You've got to have your own room and if you invite me into it, that's your choice, but because you're under age Mrs Crater must know the bed's being slept in. In front of other people we're just good friends, that includes my Uncle Eric, who's also gay, by the way. You do understand, don't you?" William said yes. "And you're in agreement?"
"Yes. But we can still carry on with my apprenticeship, can't we?"
"Yes, but we've got to be careful."
"I've got another question, Kieran. Why did you text me to bring my PE kit?"
"Three reasons really. I belong to a gym and we can go there together."
"What? We're doing fitness?"
"Well... yes, but it's also a great place for boywatching. Secondly, I want to take some pictures of you."
"I want to see you in your kit."
"What are we going to do today?" asked William.
"We can't do a lot while Mrs Crater's here. I suggest getting you settled in, putting all that food away that your mother's brought, then we can kick a ball around in the garden. We must work out what we're doing for meals for the week. This afternoon we'll have the house to ourselves and so after a photographic session, we do a little revision of the course so far and this evening? Who knows?" said Kieran with a wicked grin. William was broadly in agreement.
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