Princely Love

by Flaulus

Chapter 13

It seemed like a plan until Conrad spoke to them.

"I take it Dad wants you to keep an eye on us." Conrad said, "Is it going to spoil your stay?"

"No, but I'm not really sure what His Majesty wants us to do."

"I guess I should get all annoyed because I'm being treated like a kid, and I want to look after myself, but what happened to Seb is scary, so I think I like adults looking out for us. These quarters are smaller than Tolberg so do you reckon you could help us run it ourselves?"

"How come they are so small?"

"The guest wing is designed so diplomats from two countries at war could stay without meeting each other. Quarters can be combined to make bigger ones but each one has its separate access and adjoining quarters can be sealed. Hartnell seemed to cope with us, but I don't want to put staff here on the spot."

"I thought royal families liked gay staff because they don't get married and want family homes."

"A lot of our staff are gay, but they're also as snooty as hell. Let's face it; royal footman sounds so much better than stable hand."

Hans frowned but Chris managed a grin.

"I get it." Chris said, "I suppose they'd be upset if we sat on the settee together in our dressing gowns."

"Seb's mum and Jim's dad are arriving tomorrow, so we'll have to be careful. Seb's mum might have problems with his new boyfriend and Mr. Poulson is still a little unhappy Jim is gay, but we'll have to make them comfortable. What the staff would object to, is if you just sat down beside me if it wasn't the only seat available, and when was the last time you stood when I entered a room? That's why I don't want palace staff if I can avoid it."

"OK, we'll help." Chris said, "How about we let the staff in during the day, but evenings is our time, or do you want to do the cleaning?"

"I like your thinking. I told you I wanted adult input."

There was a gymnasium/swimming pool complex available for guests Conrad and his friends were the only ones so there weren't diplomatic problems which would need a rota, and after lunch, Chris suggested they use it. Conrad was thinking about their exercise periods at Tolberg and stripped naked before diving into the water. Jim and Seb followed suit and shrugging, so did the older boys.

They had slept late, so it was late afternoon, and they were all still a bit tired. Soon they were just sitting: Jim on a lounger with Conrad lying on him, Seb sitting on Dave's lap and, Chris and Hans just sitting close together, when King Constantine arrived.

"Don't get up, boys," he said before anyone noticed him, "Conrad, you seem to be growing into a handsome, young man."

Conrad grinned as he stood to hug his father.

"Your mother misses you," the king added, "Would it be convenient if we visited tonight?"

"Yes, of course. Is something wrong? It seems weird you coming to ask."

"There's nothing new wrong," the King replied, "We're still upset about Barty and everything else that's happened. We didn't know Jamie, but his death is still a bit close to home. Being trapped at Tolberg didn't ease our fears for you, and I'm tempted to order you back to your room in our private quarters. Don't worry, between boarding school and state events we're not as close as I'd like, I like your choice of friends, so I'm prepared to do things on your terms, but I'd like to enjoy a family Christmas. That means, convincing your mother everything is in order, so can you organize a little soirée to show her what you can do?"

"Dave, you're our computer expert. Can you go online and find a caterer who can deliver a hamper at such short notice, please? Otherwise, it'll be Jim and me making sandwiches, or should we just find a supermarket and go shopping?"

"I'm sure the palace kitchens would help," the King said.

"I'd rather phone Billy's mother." Conrad replied, "She put on a nice spread for her birthday without any help. OK, we need tips, but we can do something."

"You're getting carried away again." Jim said, "Let the kitchen help. It's short notice, so it'll have to be simple, but they'll have longer without allowing for delivery time. What food are you thinking of?"

Conrad looked deflated as he turned and kissed Jim.

You're right. Let's get dressed and go down to talk to them."

"What about the rest of the arrangements, you know, music, room. You know little details like that?" Jim asked.

"OK! Seb, see what you can do."

As Conrad and Jim walked off, Seb looked around helplessly, and the King grinned.

"He's got this wonderful idea in his head and assumes the details will fall into place, but it doesn't work that way. Ring Mrs Brampton and ask for help."

"He's done it before, but he does listen." Seb said, "I think he wants to get it right though."

"That's good to know. If that's one of his weaknesses, judging people is one of his strengths, and he's better at it than I am. I'm trying to say you are all genuinely welcome, and I'm not saying it just to please Conrad."

"Thank you, sir." Seb replied, "I'm still a bit worried about what I should do. What kind of evening do you want?"

"The Queen would like something to show you know how to behave, so maybe a little formal to start with. You all bow when we arrive but line up so Conrad can introduce you. I suggest a buffet, so we just circulate after. A playlist of Christmas music is enough, and keep it low, so the conversation can flow. How about in here? You can ask Mrs Brampton about decorations."

"OK! I'll phone Conrad and tell him."

The evening went much as the king had suggested. The room boasted the biggest Christmas tree Seb had ever seen indoors, music played from a tablet and everyone duly bowed and allowed Conrad to introduce them.

For Jim, Seb and Dave, her response was a warm, 'I'm pleased to meet you'. However, her demeanour changed when she was introduced to Hans and Chris, the stable hands.

She smiled delightedly and asked, "Do you intend watching any of the Boxing Day races?"

"I do, Ma'am." Chris replied, "I'm not sure if any of our courses will be open though."

"Yes, this snow is a nuisance, isn't it? I should think Downbury might manage. What do you think?"

"Excuse me, My Dear," the King said, "Shall we allow our hosts to finish the introductions?"

"That's everyone." Conrad said, "We've got a fruit punch but no wine, I'm afraid."

"No matter. David, you must come and see my railway. I trust it'll have enough electronics and mechanics to interest you. I'm sure the beer in the fridge will help."

Conrad, Jim and Seb found themselves ignored for a time, and Hans joined them.

"I like riding, but I'm not into racing," he explained.

The King strolled over to join them.

"You'd better join your friend, Sebastian," the king chuckled, "I'm sure he wanted to say, 'Your Majesty', after every sentence, it took a real effort not to bow. He relaxed a bit when I asked about programming a controller, but it was a real strain."

"Tolberg habits." Conrad laughed, "But I thought he was getting used to us."

"I'm afraid we must sacrifice Chris for the common good. Esmeralda's passionate about all things equine and for some reason, it does break down her reserve. The thing is, she is accepting Chris, so she'll feel obliged to accept you all. Jim, how are you getting on with the media attention now?"

"It's getting easier. My family still think we're flaky queers, and I'm selling Conrad drugs, but they'll never change."

"They're not the only ones," the King said, "We'll have to deal with it in the New Year. I'm thinking a documentary about you and how your life has changed. If you see a strange film crew following you, try to ignore them and carry on as usual.

"We'd better not go skinny dipping in the pool then." Conrad giggled.

"I said ignore them. If that's what you do, do it."

"Oh! I don't get it."

"If you stop being gay now, it will look phoney, so don't try. However, when we go to church on Christmas Day, Conrad will walk with us while the rest of you just mix in with the rest of the entourage. The French ambassador is always willing to help unofficially, so we'll get a photo shoot of Conrad formally greeting him at some function, and we'll play up how you looked after our tenants at Tolberg. That'll establish his credentials as a responsible young prince, then we'll get shots of you swimming nude with your boyfriend and dancing together."

"I thought it was going to be about Jim." Conrad said.

"It is. He'll do a voice-over commenting on his reactions; what it's like just being an onlooker, what it's like demonstrating your relationship so publicly when say, you're dancing together. The conservatives are your biggest enemies, so we play up the responsible prince who likes a healthy lifestyle while the liberals will accept there's more to you than your sexuality. That's enough business for today. Conrad! Listen to your mother's laugh. Your friends are in. If it was just a polite chuckle, we'd be in trouble."

The King was right. Queen Esmeralda spoke to all the boys. Seb about his spokesman role, Jim and Conrad about life with Mr. Poulson and even Dave and his ambitions.

"I couldn't help overhearing," she said, "You've received a royal summons to overhaul his train layout. Be warned, kings and dictators have been known to execute rail workers who make the trains late."

Luckily, Dave understood she was teasing her husband for his passion, and the ice was well and truly broken as Dave replied, "It's OK. 2 cm high soldiers can shoot me as much as they like."

It was a pleasant evening, and the boys relaxed, looking forward to an early night, and a late morning with a little time spent asleep. Mrs Brampton had found gay staff who would be comfortable if the boys showed up for breakfast naked or still kissing and cuddling after their night.

"Thank you." Conrad said to them, "I know we're behaving badly, but off duty, you're welcome to join us when you like. On duty, I have to be a good little prince and expect the highest possible standards."

"Thank you, Your Royal Highness. Our quarters have excellent facilities, and we are delighted to serve you, so perhaps you would care to follow Elbourg ways."

Conrad looked deflated again so Jim replied, "It's what Conrad meant. We're just making sure you weren't stuck in your rooms over Christmas."

"I see, sir. I'll pass on His Royal Highness's concerns, but they are unwarranted."

"That's good to know."

Once they were alone, Conrad said to Jim, "It's just as well I don't have to rule. I seem to get it wrong every time."

"You do all right." Jim replied, "You just assume you're the first to think of something. Try asking people what their plans are and listen before you jump in."

"We'd better get dressed ready for your parents. It's a pity, I kinda like you being naked all the time."

"I've noticed. You can't hide when it gets hard."

"Maybe we should get dressed then.

Elbourg ways meant Mr. Poulson and Mrs Walker were met at the entrance by a group of smartly dressed young men who guided them through to the guest quarters where staff offered them hot drinks and snacks.

"I'm never going to get you home if this is how you live now." Mrs Walker joked.

"I'll be glad to get home." Seb said, "I'll miss Dave though."

"Ah yes. I'm grateful to you, Dave. I should be worried about a near adult latching onto my son, but you've done him a power of good."

"You boys look well despite your adventures." Mr. Poulson said, "I'm proud of my son-in-law for being so caring, and I'm proud of my son for being so supportive."

He turned to Chris and Hans, "How do you like looking after this lot."

"I'm not sure what we're doing." Hans said, "We're just stable hands sheltering from the weather, but we seemed to have turned into guests."

"Make the most of it then." Mr. Poulson laughed.

The afternoon settled down to catching up on family gossip.

"My side of the family doesn't like the idea we're at Elbourg." Mr. Poulson said, "Your granddad seems to think he should represent the family, not me. Your mother's side reckon your mother should be included, and got annoyed when I said I couldn't just bring her along. Your Uncle Sam wanted me to bring that modelling contract along and arrange for a photographer to take some shots. Georgina's sending you a wedding invitation with a plus three. She wants Seb to come along and get it in the papers."

"I thought I would contaminate my cousins." Jim retorted.

"Ah! It's been hinted I should keep a close eye on you."

"That sounds better." Jim chuckled, "What about you, Conrad? How's your family coping?"

"Uncle Raphael is the biggest problem, but it's much easier for us. He sits in Monte Carlo waiting for the call to take over. While our country is freezing the papers get pictures of him sitting in the sun, drinking champagne. It doesn't make him very popular. I've got cousins at Brookdales, but I'm not part of their set any more, so they ignore me. Oh, and Chris is working. He's getting my mother on side."

Even the news was more cheerful. A warm front was pushing up from the south, and the weather was rapidly improving. As they settled down for the evening, the King visited.

"Esmeralda sends her apologies. We're attending midnight mass, and it takes her hours to get ready. I try to persuade her God doesn't care about such things, but she insists it's the public which expects it. Conrad, Jim, are you coming?"

"Do we have to?" Conrad asked.

"Your brother was usually away, on special duty or unwell. In other words he was drunk and in bed with some call-girl. With you, we can say you're a bit young still. However, I would appreciate it if you could."

"OK, but what about us being gay. Isn't it going to stir up the religious hardliners?"

"Yes, but it's confusing. That was wrong, so I'll try again. You'll never convince the hardliners, but they're in the minority. As views become more liberal, so they seem to split. One side sees you as reformers promoting tolerance while doing good works. The other side see two normal kids, with a normal teenage friendship and red-blooded credentials, and they try to ignore the sex while they talk about your good works. If you're seen walking to church together, both sides will see what they want to see."

"That's crazy." Conrad exclaimed.

"Maybe it is, but either way you've got plenty of support. Brookdales's redeeming feature was that it kept you away from the public eye, but you've chosen to take on your role of Crown Prince years before you needed to, and you are creating your own liberal style. As with rescuing those people at Tolberg, you didn't do anything except provide the impetus to get it done, but it was important. Now, if you attend church, even if you are an atheist, you will be supporting another minority group."

"I do believe in God, but church services don't do anything for me. It's probably sacrilegious and will send me to hell, but I find it easier praying when I'm sitting on the toilet. I'm alone, won't be disturbed, and I've got time to think."

"God created our digestive system," the King chuckled, "I'll think He'll be content if your mind and soul concentrate on Him while your body deals with other issues. However, how about more conventional prayers tonight?"

Conrad shrugged in defeat.

As the cars drew up outside the city cathedral, Jim saw a large crowd waiting for them. Most seemed cheerful and welcoming as he and Conrad followed the King and Queen, but Jim noticed a banner with the legend, 'Sodomites, only enter to truly repent your sins'.

"Does that mean us?" Jim asked quietly.

"Probably." Conrad replied, "Come on."

He hurried over to the barrier below the sign, and shook the hands of the crowd there.

"Is that sign anything to do with you?" He asked.

"No. Ignore it, Your Royal Highness."

A small group around the flag started forward and security hustled Conrad and Jim on with Conrad just managing, 'Merry Christmas everyone'.

"Sorry, sir," the security man whispered, "But you don't need to start a scuffle."

"What about you, Jim?" Conrad asked.

"I'm OK. I got to shake hands as well."

It was the only incident, and the following morning they walked to the chapel with Jim beside Conrad while their friends mingled with palace staff.

Christmas' dinner was in a small dining room close to the royal family's private quarters.

"Our private apartment is small, but it's homely." Queen Esmeralda said, "I'm afraid this room is the best we've got when we have guests."

"It's a lovely room." Mrs Walker said, "Seb and I often just sit in front of the TV to watch the King's speech. Oh!"

"I've already heard it a few times," the King chuckled, "I'm sure we can arrange something though. As long as I don't have to recite it while I eat."

"No. It's recorded isn't it. Perhaps I could hear it this evening."

"And how about you, Hans?" King Constantine asked, "My wife has hijacked your partner for the races so how are you coping?"

"I think I'm kind of numb." Hans replied, "I expected to be sleeping in the stables, doing maintenance. This is just so way out for me."

"We're both missing Barty. All right, so the last few years he was at some party instead of here. We are worried about him and prison life, but Conrad deserves more than us being depressed and miserable."

"Yes sir. It's how I felt when my parents were killed. I miss them, but I'm still alive, and I want to make the most of it."

"Well said." King Constantine exclaimed, "Jim, do you intend inviting your family at all?"

"Mum lives in the city, so I thought I'd visit her. I ought to visit my grandparents, but I don't want to."

"I'm sure Conrad would go with you." It doesn't do to embarrass people, but it doesn't hurt to let them embarrass themselves."


"You want to be family, but they only see a nasty little queer-boy or a young man moving in royal circles."

"Constantine, that's not the way to talk." Queen Esmeralda said.

"If I understand correctly, young James' family does have that conflict, and he's bright enough to know I'm happy to have him as part of our family. So, can your new family help you deal with your old?"

"Yes sir, my family does have that conflict. I've been invited to a wedding but only if Conrad comes as a prince and Seb comes to make publicity, so I'm not going. I just feel … it's Christmas so goodwill and all that … I don't know."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. Speak to Mrs Brampton, and she'll arrange for whatever you need."

The rest of Christmas was quiet, something everyone needed. There had been too many dramas during the previous months. Mrs Brampton had her own flat in the palace and friends in the city, but she no longer had regular work hours. If she wanted to visit a friend, she did so when she wanted, and if the palace needed something she did it. Arranging a car and making appointments took minutes before she headed off to a friend's party.

On Boxing Day, Jim and Conrad arrived at Jim's grandparents where his mother was staying. Arriving in a luxurious, chauffeur driven limousine was ostentatious while holding hands as they walked to the front door was making a statement. Jim's mother greeted them.

"Hello James. It's nice to see you again, Conrad." She looked pointedly at their clasped hands.

"Hello, Mrs Poulson." Conrad replied, "I'm here as Jim's boyfriend, not as a prince. It's your family gathering, so I don't want a fuss."

It was a confusing response. Surely Conrad could see being gay was a big deal. Conrad's first impression of the room they were shown into was: it had been decorated by a sergeant-major ordered to prepare it for inspection by a fashionable lifestyle magazine. Everything was neat and orderly, furniture looked as if it had just been delivered, and the packaging removed moments before they arrived. Conrad would not have dared take a magazine from the coffee table for fear of disturbing the orderly row. Christmas decorations were grudgingly given corner spaces or between the ornaments, expensive and showing off the family's good taste.

Jim was expected to kiss his grandmother on the cheek then shake his grandfather's hand. There was another youth present who just stood waiting, glancing at Grandfather Bandon as Jim introduced Conrad.

"This is my boyfriend, Conrad," he said. "His Mum and Dad are visiting the city barracks today, so we thought we'd visit you. We seem to be forgetting poor old Richard. Conrad, this is my cousin Richard."

"Hi, Richard." Conrad said, "Jim's mentioned you. His Aunt Joanna is your mother, isn't she?

"Yes, she is. I'm pleased to meet you, er …"

"Just Conrad. I save the prince thing for work. I could insist on sir, but could you imagine teachers calling me that in school?"

Richard managed a smile, glanced at his grandfather who remained impassive, and the smile faded. Everyone waited for Grandfather to reply.

"Yes, of course, but this family has standards, Your Royal Highness. It's good of you to visit, though I suppose you need a break from his father's Bohemian lifestyle."

"We got too much of a break at Tolberg, but we're having a nice stay at Elbourg." Conrad replied, "I like being with my parents over Christmas, but it's a bit weird when Dad calls Jim his son-in-law though."

Richard had been briefed, his task was to convince Conrad he was a far more suitable companion. Ground down by years of being told what was expected, he would be part of the next generation working in the family business. The problem was, it was difficult to impress anyone while Grandfather was expected to take the lead in any conversation. His one passion was for acting. His family tolerated him being in the Drama Club at school, but knew nothing of his upcoming role in a local amateur dramatics show, and he could recognize another showman, Conrad. Lunch was going to be interesting.

"I'm afraid lunch will be a little disorganized. Would you believe the staff refused to work unless I paid double time? I don't know what the world is coming to."

"Jim and I will help. It's a bit Bohemian, but we like doing our own food. No-one can tell us it's bad for us." Conrad said.

"I wouldn't dream of it." Grandmother said, "I know what you mean about cooking though, and Roy doesn't understand I like it when my kitchen is my own."

"I understand trying new recipes. You can't expect staff to do anything too complicated, but you should draw the line at washing up." Grandfather retorted.

"It's something Mr. Poulson teaches us." Conrad said, "You should finish a job properly and that includes looking after your tools."

Advantage, Conrad." Richard thought.

"How is your father?" Jim's mother asked.

"Worried about leaving the nursery for a week." Jim chuckled, "Adam's looking after it. He works for Mr. Dawlish, and he's our friend but Dad would like him to wear one of those cameras to keep an eye on the place."

"And is this Adam another queer?" Granfather Bandon asked.

Both Richard and Conrad noticed Jim's anger.

"I wish he was and so does Jim because he's hot." Conrad exclaimed, "He's got a couple of girlfriends though."

"At least he's normal then."

"How come you're so open?" Richard ventured waiting for his Grandfather to cut him off.

"Queers are natural show-offs. It's why there so many in show business." Grandfather Banden pontificated, "It's one facet of the life that Prince Conrad may benefit from while carrying out public duties, providing the rest of it doesn't drag him down."

Only Richard noticed Conrad squeeze Jim's hand to calm him.

"If anyone puts on a show, it's my mother." Conrad said, "When you see her on TV, you don't realize how shy she is. If I am a showman, then I get it from her."

"And it's not what I meant" Richard said, "There are gays at school and no-one worries but Jim seems to be on the news with you all the time."

Richard could see Grandfather glowering at him. He was keeping a question open that Grandfather had already pronounced upon.

"I'm allowed to be a rebellious teenager defying convention." Conrad laughed.

Richard was relieved because even Grandmother allowed herself a brief smile.

"It's unfortunate Richard's girlfriend is with her parents in the Caribbean." Grandfather said, "We could have had at least one normal couple representing the family."

"I think it's time to go." Jim said angrily, "I'm not putting up with this."

Grandfather glared at him before saying, "You bring it upon yourself. You stroll up to our front door looking like a couple of nancy boys. You're cuddled up on our settee, and it's disgusting. Maybe His Royal Highness is rebelling against the pressures of his life, but you're not, so you'd do better to follow Richard's example and grow up."

"Can we all calm down." Jim's mother said, "Jim, please remember this is your grandfather's house and behave properly."

"If I'd brought a girlfriend home, would you object to us holding hands?"

"Of course not. That's totally different."

"No, it's not, so we're leaving." Jim snapped.

"Don't be so silly. You can't just ask Prince Conrad to leave before lunch. What would the neighbours think?" Grandmother said.

"The ones you messaged, or the ones you don't like?" Jim asked.

"Jim, you're being rude," his mother said, "Apologize, now!"

"And how rude are you being to Conrad? Richard, There's a pizza place I saw, and it was open, do you want to come with us?"

Richard wanted to but Grandfather interrupted with, "Don't you dare try to corrupt your cousin. He knows where his place is, and where will you be when His Royal Highness remembers his? Maybe you should go, James, if His Royal Highness chooses to stay, I'm sure Richard will provide more suitable company."

"Thank you. Jim had been talking about inviting cousins to the New Year Ball, but Dad wouldn't take sides in a family row." Conrad said, "He was hoping for some sort of reconciliation, so I guess he's disappointed. It was interesting to meet you, Mr. and Mrs Bandon."

An invitation to Elbourg Palace and the New Year Ball. Grandfather Bandon realized he had talked himself out of a major social event, and considerable prestige for the family, but he did not know how to backtrack.

As they walked down the path, Conrad said, "I've never seen you so angry. Are you all right?"

"I'm sorry I dragged you into it." Jim replied, "I shouldn't have done."

"I dragged you into all that RNN shit, so I guess we're quits. Why not phone Richard and ask him anyway?"

Jim grabbed Conrad, hugging him and kissing him on the lips. The hairs on the back his neck rose as he imagined his grandparents glaring at him. A small crowd across the road were watching as well, but split into two groups. One group consisted of the Bandon's cronies so Jim led the way to the other group, offering his hand to an elderly gentleman dressed in a flamboyant, pink dressing-gown, and standing close to another elderly man.

"Merry Christmas, Simon," Jim said, "You're still lowering the tone of the place, I see."

"Merry Christmas to you Jim, and to you, Your Royal Highness. Yes, I intend to carry on annoying the prigs. I take it, the king prig … I'll change that to President Prig in His Royal Highness's honour. Has he upset you again?"

"Granddad called the police and accused Simon of paedophilia just because he talked to me." Jim explained, "And yes, he's upset me."

"Jim needs a hot drink, and some friendly company." Conrad said, "I don't suppose you'll risk being arrested again."

"I think it'll also be treason, so it'll be even more fun. Please, do come in."

"Thank you, as long we're not intruding."

"What miss a chance to annoy President Prig? I might even rustle up some turkey sandwiches."

Everyone makes assumptions and Conrad expected their house to be full of pink frills and feminine decorations. Instead, he described it as homely. There was a hastily removed pile of washing in one chair, and an abundance of decorations some of which were in danger of collapsing under their own weight.

"Trey's the home-maker and I work in fashion." Simon said, "His ideas are a bit slobby, but they do make a break from work."

"We should have brought Seb along. He's thinking of doing some modelling." Conrad said.

"He could model for Trey and me any time, but he was overdressed in that loin cloth."

Conrad looked startled but Jim grinned, "Simon's just a wind-up merchant. He knows it's the wrong thing to say and is trying to shock you."

"Yes! It's a bad habit of mine. You'd better not tell him a couple of old queens spice up their sex-life with his pictures."

Conrad grinned, "The loin cloth spiced up our sex life as well. I'm not shocked, and Jim needed a change. Seriously, Seb would like to know more about his prospects."

"Seriously? He's welcome to come and watch a couple of shoots."

The conversation continued on various subjects until Jim calmed enough to be ready for the next ordeal — his father's family.

They drew up in a neighbourhood depressingly like the one they had just left: an upper middle class estate with detached homes of at least six bedrooms. The front lawns were impeccably trimmed while the roads were narrow winding lanes with chicanes to discourage speeding and making it almost impossible to park on the road without causing an obstruction.

However, a small crowd had gathered waving flags and cheering their arrival. As the car drew up, so Grandfather and Grandmother Poulson came out to the porch to greet them.

"If you want to annoy your grandparents we could go and say hello to the crowd first." Conrad said.

"Hand in hand or is it getting too formal?" Jim asked.

"Hand in hand. It's just a private visit. And you're here to introduce your boyfriend."

Jim nodded, smiling. As they strolled over, Jim noticed a few glares, but most were still enjoying a novel Boxing Day entertainment. They let go of each other as Conrad started shaking hands and posing for selfies. Jim did not know anyone in this neighbourhood, so he was surprised to be shaking hands as well.

Finally, Conrad said, "Thanks for the welcome, but we shouldn't keep our host waiting for any longer."

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