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PERSONAL RELATIONS


A series of short stories by


Anna Butler





© June 2017

ISBN: 9781370963164






Personal Relations © 2017Anna Butler





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, situations and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination.


This book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. This eBook cannot be legally loaned or given to others. No part of this eBook can be shared or reproduced without the express permission of the author.




Contents



Shopping List


Gossip Queen


All Because of Him


Candlelight


A Kiss Is Just A Kiss, But A Good Blow Job Is, Well, A Good Blow Job


Happy Holidays



Author’s Note




SHOPPING LIST


March 2012, London


“Tall.”

“Tall?” Aiden wriggles around in his seat for a minute or two, frowning. “Sure?”

“I’m sure.” John Hogarth raises his hand to catch the waitress’s attention, and when he has that, taps his glass to get a refill. He’s stuck with his nephew for at least the next three or four hours while his sister fritters away her money on some serious shoe shopping. He’ll need the alcohol to get through it, sanity intact.

“Mmnn.” Aiden leans his chin on his hands in a deep-in-thought pose.

Whoa. Far too reminiscent of John’s father, from the tilt of the head to the thinness of nostrils, bright eyes hooded with eyelids drooping at the corners, and the thin-lipped, downturned mouth. The image of rectitude and solemnity that only a man of the Church can wear to perfection when faced with his offspring’s childhood transgressions. John takes a healthy swig at his drink. How does Aiden manage it? He’s only seven. Genetics has to be the science of the devil.

“Why?” Aiden asks, and his tone is his grandfather’s too. Not the booming declamations from the pulpit or the fruity tenor unashamedly leading the hymn singing, but the pained tone of a man tried by the antics of the sinners around him.

John can only shake his head in rueful wonder at his own lack of a nice, shiny spine. Here he is, a successful PR professional with his own business—all right, in partnership with two old friends from university, but still. His own business and one that’s increasingly making a name for itself. Lewis-Hogarth-Richards are good. Bloody good. So bloody good they have a nice juicy contract handling some of the Olympics work and are handling it well. So how is it Sal only has to comment that her fatherless boy needs time with his favourite uncle (“To bond, John. To teach him things other than the name of every trout fly ever tied by mankind.”) and that little dig at their father has turned John’s spine to the finest jelly. Sal knows too many of his pressable buttons. There’s no reason she couldn’t have taken her blasted offspring shopping with her.

“It’s the kissing thing,” John explains, already regretting the game they’d devised to while away the time waiting for his partners, Kit Lewis and George Richards, to join him for what has been planned as a business-focused lunch. Sal’s desire for new shoes is screwing with more people than just John. “I don’t want to get a crick in the neck.”

Aiden grimaces. “Ugh! Do you have to do that?”

“Afraid so. It’s expected.”

“Do what?” Kit Lewis asks from behind him.

John glowers in Kit’s direction. “You’re late.”

“Hi, Uncle Kit!” Aiden instantly sheds his pose of grandfatherly seriousness for Kit’s spontaneity, glittering and consciously charming.

John winces. Aiden is altogether too adept at soaking up other people’s mannerisms, his talent for mimicry encouraged by Kit despite John’s protests. If truth be told, it amuses John as much as anyone else, until Aiden decides he’s going to be Kit for a while. Then it stops being funny. Then it’s almost unbearable.

“Hi there, Tiger.” Kit ruffles Aiden’s hair and slides into a seat. He turns his usual alluring smile onto John. “And hello to you too, grouch. What’s bitten you in the arse?”

“You’re late for lunch, of course.” Aiden switches back to seriousness.

“I’m always late.” Kit glances at John. “George says he’s sorry, but he’s stuck in a meeting with the finance people at Mascetti’s, working on their final figures for the Olympic TV ads. He won’t get away for hours, so you just have me.” Kit turns back to Aiden and pokes a disrespectful finger into his midriff. “I wasn’t expecting you, though. I thought I could have a nice tête-a-tête lunch with your uncle. You’re one hell of a gooseberry.” A second’s pause for consideration. “Maybe not as green.”

“Oh, my mum’s gone shopping, so I’m to stay with Uncle John until she gets back.”

“That explains the snarl I got, then.”

“I think Uncle John’s hungry.”

“Well, we’d better take care of that,” Kit says, and signals the waitress with a smile that probably has her rocking back on her heels. It certainly has her hurrying to their table, and her answering smile seems far friendlier than the professional one she’d used on John.

John spends the next few minutes watching the two self-absorbed creatures in front of him, the original and its miniature copy, as they have all the fun of ordering lunch between them. He agrees to every suggestion they make. Not worth arguing.

“What were you two talking about when I got here?” Kit asks, sipping delicately at a glass of wine.

Aiden sips just as delicately at the Coke he’s insisted on having served in an identical wine glass. “The list.”

“What list?”

“The list about someone for Uncle John.”

“Someone for your Uncle John?”

Aiden nods. “Grandad was talking to Mum and Grannie today. He said it was high time Uncle John found someone and got married.”

“Did he now?” Kit says, all his attention seemingly on putting his glass down in one exact spot.

Aiden has a very good memory, with all the mimic’s ability to repeat conversations. He has his family’s intonations down pat. “Grandad said that Uncle John was wasting his life, and the sooner they got him sorted out the better for everybody. Grannie said she’d like more grandchildren and then she looked at Mum and went all scowly-frowny like this—” Aiden’s face scrunches into a passable impression of a sixty-something vicar’s wife trying not to cry. “Why does she want more, Uncle Kit? They’ve got me. Mum was on her phone, so she just said ‘mmmmnnn’ and ‘uh-huh’, and ‘bad-word it, Adam’s seeing that Cathy Dawson woman, I thought I had him in the bag’. Anyhow, I asked Grandad who he thought we should get. Grannie stopped looking frowny but she went pink and said that I was quite the little pitcher. What does that mean, Uncle Kit? Mum said ‘uh-huh’ again. Then Grandad told me I wasn't to say anything to anybody about other people’s private conversations. He used his sermon voice. You know, Uncle John.”

John does indeed know and can empathise with Aiden’s faint air of resentment.

“Oh.” Kit looks at John and grins slightly. “But my guess is that you told the grouch here.”

“Of course I did. I tell Uncle John everything.”

“Snitch.” Kit is disapproving, but then, as John can attest, he has more to hide than either John or Aiden. Stands to reason he dislikes whistle-blowers.

“Uncle John told me he’d talk to Grandad about it.”

“I bet. Time for one of those father-son chats?”

“No,” John says, a touch grimly. “Time for a son-father chat. I intend to do all the talking, mainly about how I can manage my life without his interference, thank you very much. I don’t need him or anyone else to help me.”

“Really? Things have changed. You used to need all the help I could give you in Uni.” Kit gives John a smile that has him floundering for a second, drowning in its warmth and intimacy.

He does wish Kit wouldn’t do that. Despite ten years of knowing Kit, of fending off the occasional drunken hit on his virtue because he can never quite believe Kit means it or wants the same things he does, or seeing the devastating impact Kit can have on the people who tangle with him... Despite all that, John has to harden his heart when Kit does things like that to him. Hardening the heart hurts. And not in a good way.

“What does that mean?” Aiden asks.

“That your Uncle John was never very good with the ladies, even with me helping him along.”

“That’s overegging the pudding, Kit.”

“Pfft.” Kit stares at him, expression unusually serious. “Question is, are you ready to find someone?”

It would be so satisfying to smack Kit around the head for being obtuse, but John settles for a shrug and a “I wouldn’t mind.”

Kit gives him a thoughtful glance, one eyebrow quirked in Spock fashion. They’d spent hours at Uni perfecting that, and only Kit can bring it off with credit. Not that George had even tried, being more of a Stars Wars man himself, while John was a better Doctor Who. He still has his Tom Baker scarf somewhere; he hasn’t upgraded to the newer models, because he can’t manage David Tennant’s accent even when he’s drunk. He has Matt Smith’s hair though. That’s a start.

Kit turns to Aiden. “Good idea, d’you think? Who’s it going to be?”

“I don’t know. I asked Uncle John.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said he had no bad-word idea, and then he said what the very-bad-word did Grandad think he was playing at and that he’ll have something to say about interfering old men. And then he said Grandad would get it all wrong, and I’d better help out by making a list of all the… the…” Aiden pauses, his memory failing him for once over the new word he’d learned that day. “What was it?”

“Criteria,” John says, seeing how much Kit appreciates Aiden’s verbatim report. “That just means all the things I’d want that someone to have.”

“Ah.” Kit nods. “A shopping list.”

“I guess.” John forces his mouth to curve into a smile. “I hate shopping.”

“This is different. This is the best kind of shopping. Can I help?” Kit’s almost as eager as Aiden. “How far had you got?”

“We’d only decided on tall,” John says.

“For kissing,” explains Aiden, as the waitress puts plates in front of them, oblivious to her slight start. “So he doesn’t get a crick in his neck.”

John, conscious of the waitress’s interest, grins at her weakly, all too aware that neither Kit nor Aiden share his reticence and won’t much care who overhears. It seems to John that she drifts away unusually slowly, as if she’s straining to hear what’s going on. If she’s not careful, she’ll be getting a derisory tip for being such a bloody nosy-parker.

“Seems reasonable,” Kit agrees. “How tall, though? We’ll have to be exact here. We don’t want your Grandad looking at people who’re an inch too tall or an inch too small. He won’t want to waste his time on people who are obviously unsuitable. We’ll have to give him an exact specification. What do you think, John? About my height?”

John stares, the pasta he’s just speared onto his fork suspended in mid-air. “Your height?”

“Well, we’re about the same.” Kit holds his hand up in the air a little above his head, palm held out flat and flicks it between himself and John to drive the point home. “That’s good for kissing. That way, nobody gets a sore neck.”

Kit’s green eyes, bright and glittering, are so innocently, ingenuously wide that John almost falls into them, momentarily unable to breathe. With an effort, he restarts both his lungs and the fork’s upward movement, and manages a “That sounds fine” without his voice doing an embarrassing break and croak in the middle. For which he’s grateful.

“Okay.” Kit takes a hasty few mouthfuls of food and pulls a notebook out of the Mulberry satchel he’d hung over the back of his chair when he arrived, along with a disreputable stub of a pencil. Most people, of course, would have pulled out a tablet, but Kit has a fondness for paper and pen. He uses his iPad to play games and mock people on Facebook. He opens the notebook at a clean page and carefully smooths the page flat, his thumb rubbing down the book’s spine, his fingers spread across the white paper

John shifts uneasily in his chair.

Kit licks the pencil.

John looks away so fast he almost gives himself whiplash. The sudden rush of heat has him bending his head to the plate again, concentrating on his pasta. It’s tasteless and bland.

He tells himself to remember all those years he and George kept a running tally of Kit’s conquests, the list George always refers to as Kit’s ‘inventory’. Remember how long that list was. Just… remember. The way he’s always had to remember.

“Inventory,” he says, sotto voce, to drive the memory home.

“Now then,” Kit says, in the business-like yet charming manner he employs for serious things like sucking up to major clients and winning lucrative contracts. He carefully prints the title on the top of the page:


SHOPPING LIST: SOMEONE FOR JOHN


Aiden is admiring. “You write nice. My teacher writes like that.”

“Nicely,” corrects his conscientious uncle, unheeded.

“I had to practice,” Kit says, beaming with a wholly spurious modesty, and writes:


Tall - just like Kit


“Hair?” Kit bolts down another quick mouthful of food.

“Hair would be nice,” John agrees.

Aiden and Kit look at each other. Kit rolls his eyes and sighs. Aiden rolls his eyes and sighs, an instant behind Kit. Watching them, John just sighs. No delicate sips from the wineglass for him. He swigs down a large mouthful, as a sort of necessary anaesthesia. If this keeps up he’ll be pissed before mid-afternoon.

“Oh, a flash of wit.” Kit puts down his pencil to offer applause.

“Uncle Kit meant what colour hair, Uncle John.” Aiden’s eyes are rolling so hard he’ll end up with a headache, and John won’t have an ounce of sympathy for him.

John shrugs. He’s sure Kit did. He’s just not sure what else Kit means.

“Brown? Black?” Kit purses his lips. “What about a redhead?”

“Don’t know one.”

“And you think that will stop your father?” Kit gives him a measuring look. “What do you think, Aiden? Your uncle’s so dark, I think we should go for some contrast here, something to complement him. What about blond?”

“What’s that?” Aiden, being an unmannerly little tyke, picks up his bowl to slurp down the marinara sauce.

John decides not to worry too much about table manners until he needs it as a diversion. “Remember you met Canary Wilson this morning when your mum dropped you off at my office? She’s blonde.”

“She has golden hair, just like a princess.” Aiden licks at the red moustache the sauce has left on his upper lip. “She’s nice.”

John doesn’t normally think of Canary as nice. One of the best in the business, yes, but she’s usually too focused for nice. “She has a boyfriend. He’s an engineer, or something. Works for London Transport.”

Kit makes a tch-ing sound between his teeth. “She’ll do anything for free Tube travel, that one.”

“You could share. You always tell me I should share things, like my sweets.” Aiden gives John a hard look. “And your share’s always my favourite ones.”

“He’s a rotten sort of uncle to have,” Kit says. “But you can’t share women like that, Aiden. It’s not on. They’re aren’t like sweets.”

“She’s awfully pretty. Just like a princess in a book.” Aiden picks up the bowl again and sticks out his tongue, but even John balks at bowl-licking in public. Aiden sighs at John’s shocked hiss and puts the bowl down.

“She is. But not nearly tall enough,” Kit points out. “Use your bread, Aiden. That’s what it’s for.”

“Not as much fun,” Aiden says, but mops out his bowl, as directed.

Staring at his plate, John worries first about what in hell Kit is up to, and then about the invidious effect of children’s literature on his nephew’s precocious appreciation of the opposite sex, while having a simultaneous vision of Aiden’s adolescence that leaves him shuddering in apprehension. He puts his fork down, appetite gone. Dear God, he hopes Sal remarries long before then and Aiden can be someone else’s problem when it comes to hormones. Maybe he can find this Adam bloke Sal was moaning about, and have an encouraging word.

“And anyway, I was thinking a darker blond. Not as golden and lacking the final ‘e’. Between you and me, Aiden, princesses have hair that might be, well, too golden for your Uncle John. He’s a bit dull for that.”

“Hey!”

“More like your hair, then?” Aiden suspends his bowl-mopping and stares at Kit. “Yours is a sort of gold.”

Kit puts down his fork for a moment and pulls a lock of dark blond hair in front of his eyes, squinting at it. “It might do. What do you think, John? Something along the lines of this should contrast with yours pretty well. Subtly gold and gleaming, without being flashy.”

John swallows hard. Unable even to look the food in the eye anymore, he pushes his plate aside. “It’s okay, I guess.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Okay. Yes.”

Kit picks up the pencil, licks the point again and writes:


Subtly-gold blond hair - just like Kit


“We’re making progress,” Kit says. “Slow but sure. Now, eyes.”

“Uuhh?” John drags his own eyes up from reading Kit’s list upside down, trying to work out what’s going on inside the machiavellian mind inhabiting the man in front of him.

“What’s your favourite colour eyes, Aiden?” Kit asks.

“Brown.” Aiden gives John a melting look of adoration and hero worship.

Not exactly subtle, since John’s the only one at the table with brown eyes, but he’s helpless before Aiden’s charm. He’s Sal’s son, all right. “Very flattering, I’m sure. And?”

“And?”

“And what do you want?”

“Can I have something sticky and nice for pudding? With chocolate?”

“It’s all in the timing,” Kit murmurs, raising his chin in a proud smirk. “And the training.”

John laughs for the first time since Sal dumped Aiden on him. “You’re corrupting him. It’s like he’s been cloned from you, some days.”

“Then they’ve cloned my good taste, as well. Brown’s my favourite, too.”

John stares, then instead of offering the healthy fruit salad he’d been determined his nephew should have for dessert, he finds himself agreeing to profiteroles, stuffed with rich, thick crème anglais and swimming in chocolate sauce. But it’s the last gasp of whatever sense of self-preservation he has that prompts his hasty addition, “But if you’re sick, Kit will have to look after you.”

“Then I’ll have a lot of chocolate sauce.”

John just laughs again, and calls over the waitress to give the order. Not quite up to choux pastry at that time of day, he opts for the fruit salad for himself. Kit shudders at what he calls John’s Puritanical tendencies and demands cheesecake.

“Now that’s settled, can we please get on?” Kit jabs his pencil at the page, leaving a dent beside blond. “We were deciding on eye colour.”

“Grey? Blue? Brown? Both there?” John says. “Although pirate eyepatches can be sexy… no. Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters! You’ve got to take this seriously, John, or the Lord alone knows who you’ll end up with.”

“All right.” John pushes back the surge of discomfort that uncurls like lead in his belly, half afraid that Kit’s having some huge joke at his expense and half sorry that the diversion of Aiden’s profiteroles hasn’t been enough to turn the conversation onto something else. Kit seems to be determined not to be side-tracked. Yet another instance of John getting indisputable evidence Kit isn’t nearly as frivolous as he pretends.

“So, what goes with subtly gold-blond hair?” Kit once more pulls forward the lock of hair and squints at it. “Can’t be brown. Two brown-eyed people together are too matchy-matchy. We’ll be wearing identical sweaters next. Blue’s a good possibility, I suppose. Grey?”

John starts to smile, his anger at his father’s disgraceful interference and a vague depression both lifting. A throbbing pressure starts up in his groin and he shifts in his seat again. “Grey’s too cold.”

“Then what’s left?”

“Green,” Aiden mumbles, barely looking up from his dessert, mouth smeared with chocolate sauce.

John meets Kit's intense gaze. “Green would be good.”

“Dark green? Light green? Emerald? Jade?”

“We’ll need something for a comparison, a kind of example.” John is still all at sea about where Kit’s heading with this, but surprising himself about how willing he is to drift until he finds out. Every time Kit’s tried this on since Uni, John’s closed him down fast. But this time… this time feels different.

“Don’t know what we could use.” Kit sounds doubtful.

John takes a deep breath and finally joins in whatever game it is Kit’s playing. If it’s like most of the games Kit drags him into, he’ll end up losing his lunch money, metaphorically speaking. But, hey, who needs to eat, especially metaphorically?

“Your green eyes go pretty well with that subtly gold-blond hair,” he says, just as the waitress leans in to refill their glasses. John flushes. She stares and grins, looking from John to Kit and back again, eyebrow raised. Shit! Just what he needs. He stares coldly back at her. Aiden isn’t the only one who can channel uptight moralistic Church of England archdeacons and when it comes down to it, John’s had years more practice. The waitress retreats rapidly, the grin wiped off her face.

Kit’s expression is unnaturally solemn. “Really, John, where’s your sense of timing? The kid and I have it in spades.”

“You must have got mine too.”

“Well, I certainly intend to get yours,” Kit says, and while John chokes and splutters, he adds to the list:


Green eyes - just like Kit


John’s heart lurches at the unmistakable suggestion. Kit can’t mean it. He just can’t mean it. Can he? Does he mean it? Oh God, what if he really means it?

Kit turns his attention to Aiden. “Okay, Tiger. What’s next on the list?”

“I dunno,” Aiden says, sounding bored. He’s polished off the profiteroles and is eyeing the remains of Kit’s cheesecake, pointedly ignoring the fruit salad. Not that John blames him. The strawberries are imported and tasteless. He should have had the cheesecake himself.

Kit pushes his dessert plate in Aiden’s direction. “Well, let’s move onto other things. What sort of things should this person be interested in? We need a few shared interests for those all too short hours when your uncle’s not fixated on work.”

Hot sex. Lots and lots of hot… John glances at his nephew and swallows the words unsaid.

“Apart from the obvious one that we can’t mention in front of the child,” Kit says, smooth as cream on glass.

Has Kit had developed ESP abilities without telling anyone about it? Does Kit, through the same hitherto unknown ESP ability, know about the growing discomfort in John’s groin? Kit smiles at him. He knows. Oh God, he knows.

John looks unflinchingly into those wicked green eyes. “Cricket,” he says firmly, daring Kit to find anything suggestive at all to say about that.

Kit is, of course, equal to the challenge. “Oh, all those athletic men in pressed whites!” He positively glows. “I love Lords on a sunny summer afternoon.”


Loves cricket - just like Kit


“How are you on smoking?” Kit asks, looking up from the page, and tapping the satchel where he keeps the single packet of cigarettes that usually lasts him a week. He’s been trying to give up completely for at least the last five years. He claims to lack motivation.

“Prefer not.” John really doesn’t like the smell or taste of tobacco, although he’s always tolerated Kit smoking because, well, Kit.

“Ah.” Kit glances at the satchel. “Well, I always wanted a good incentive…”

John lets the smile break out, warmth spreading through him from the chest out.

“Good. Anything else?” Kit licks the pencil again, watching John closely.

John hesitates. Kit just doesn’t want the same things he does. Not silly things like cricket or smoking. John’s wants are a lot deeper than that. He doesn’t want the casual kind of thing that’s the breath of life to Kit. It’s the main reason that he’s always side-stepped Kit’s occasional advances, pretending not to even see them most times.

“Well,” he says, slowly. “I’m kind of serious, Kit.”

Kit really should give up on eye-rolling. Supercilious is not a good look on him. “Just how long have I known you?”

“Too long.”

“So what makes you think I don’t know that?” Kit writes something down quickly. He looks over his list, frowning.

“Finished?” Aiden asks.

“Think so.” Kit studies the list for a moment more. “Okay, I think it’s done. But I don’t think that we need bother your Grandad with it.”

“Am I a hopeless case then?” John considers going back to sighing.

“Naw. It’s just that there’s nothing for him to do. I think we’ve cracked it.”

“Read it out, then,” Aiden says.

Kit clears his throat and reads the list in quiet tone.


SHOPPING LIST : SOMEONE FOR JOHN

Tall - just like Kit

Subtly gold-blond hair - just like Kit

Green eyes - just like Kit

Loves cricket - just like Kit

Non-smoker- just like Kit


He pauses then reads the last line in a voice that trembles slightly.


Seriously loves John - just like Kit


John’s face flares with heat.

“Of course,” Kit says, “I’m lying about one or two things.”

“Which things?” John’s voice is a croak.

“I haven’t really given up smoking, though I promise to try, but I mean the rest. ’Specially the next bit.”

“The next bit?”

“About how serious I am.”

“Oh.” John holds out his hand and Kit puts the notebook into it. He reads the list through twice, each time his eyes dwelling on the last line.

“Very serious,” Kit says, and there’s a tremor underlying his soft voice, a kind of uncertainty that John has never heard before. Not from Kit, at any rate.

“Okay.” John reads the shopping list once again, then nods. “This isn’t the place to talk about it, and we need to talk. I’ll take Aiden home. Dad should be there and can step up to do childcare duty. My place? In a couple of hours.”

Kit smile would ignite steel. He takes a deep, rather wavering breath, and glows. Damn him, he’s glowing and there’s something about the way he’s looking at John, as if John’s dessert and better than cheesecake. He grins. “Text me when you’re home. I’ve a little shopping of my own to do.”


**~*~**


The Rev. James W Hogarth is an immensely dignified man with a great deal of gravitas, an imposing presence and a powerful personality. He’s a man who was greatly respected by the parishioners and clergy within his archdeaconry and by his bishop (and in the Church of England, the clergy and their bishops are seldom in harmony), and even after his retirement is seen as a safe pair of clerical hands when it comes to various contentious committees at Church House. He’s also a man who looks extremely sheepish and self-conscious when his son and grandson arrive on his doorstep.

“Ah. John. I wasn’t expecting to see you today.” He looks around vaguely. “Your mother’s out. And Sal.”

John glances down at Aiden, then pointedly at his father, keeping the grim-faced expression steady. “That’s all right, Dad. You’re the one I was looking for, anyway. I think you know why I’m here. Aiden told me all about your interesting proposition for my future.”

His father winces visibly. It’s good for the old man to be caught out now and then, to be reminded he isn’t infallible. He’s a retired Archdeacon, not the bloody Pope.

“I’m prepared to overlook your interference this time, Dad.”

“I’m not interfering, John—”

“Damn right you’re not. What you are doing, is taking care Aiden for the rest of the day.” John hesitates. He’s not entirely sure what Kit intends, but what the hell. Or sure what he really thinks about what’s going to happen… but really, what the everlasting hell. “I’ve got a date. A hot date.”

“A date!” his father says, eager, then bites off the question before he can ask it.

“Good,” John says, approving his father’s restraint and knowing exactly what that effort has cost.

His father sighs and holds out his hand to take his punishment. Aiden hugs John, and tucks his hand into his grandfather’s.

“I’ll text Sal and tell him he’s home.” John turns to go. If he hurries, he’ll be back at his West India Quay flat within the hour.

“Will you … er …?”

“Tell you about it? I might. But then again, I might not. Bye, Dad.” John pauses and turns back on the threshold to smile gently at his father. “By the way, I let him have profiteroles and gallons of chocolate ganache. I should think you’ll be on toilet duty within the hour.” He takes a moment to savour his revenge, to treasure the expression on his father’s face, and the smile broadens. “Love to Mum!”


**~*~**


By the time the door chime sounds, John is racked with doubt. As time ticks past, all of his old uncertainties resurface.

Kit’s well… Kit. Whatever he was playing at over lunch, John has almost convinced himself he misheard and misunderstood everything, that he’s made a complete and utter fool of himself by misreading the signals Kit sent him, and that his stupidity will ruin their long friendship. Not to mention the business… Jesus, George will kill the pair of them. Kit will never be able to forgive him, will never feel comfortable with him again. He’s ruined everything, ruined the most important thing in his life. His face burns.

He’s kept a safe distance from Kit for years. It’s not the first time Kit’s propositioned… no. That’s not fair. Propositioning sounds too soulless, too mechanical a process. Kit has claimed love and devotion before, but he was always more pissed than the proverbial newt when he did it. John’s honest enough to admit that Kit being drunk gave him enough cover to pretend not to hear or see it, to believe it’s the wine talking or the tequila. He’s never been sure Kit meant it, before. But now…

When the door chime sounds he’s tempted to retreat to the safest place and panic. The cupboard under the stairs, perhaps, a la Harry Potter. No one would look for him there.

The chime sounds again.

He swallows hard, forces himself to go to the door.

Kit bounds in as soon as John cracks the door open. “At last! I thought you’d gone deaf.” He’s in the hallway in two steps, and when John opens his lips to say something, anything, fastens himself onto John’s mouth like a leech.

Astonished, John just lets him. There’s still the sharp tang of wine and a faint smokiness on the lips pressing against his and on the hot, hot tongue pushing into his mouth. John stands frozen only for a second, tasting that distinctive Kit taste for the first time, then he closes his eyes and melts into Kit’s embrace, his own tongue pushing eagerly into Kit’s mouth to taste it more. He gets both arms up around Kit’s neck and pulls him in closer. The world contracts into the heat of Kit’s mouth on his, Kit’s hands moving on his back in slow, sensuous sweeps.

When finally they break apart for air, Kit draws back, smiling into John’s eyes. “How’s the neck?”

“Perfect,” John says. He’s having trouble breathing. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. That’s it. Easy when you get the hang of it. “Not a crick anywhere.”

“Well, we can cross the first item off the list, then. We know I’ve got the hair and eyes, that I love cricket as much as you do, and I haven’t had a smoke for... .”

“About ten minutes,” John says, staring into those intense green eyes and twisting his fingers into the gleaming, subtly-gold hair.

“It was nerves! I didn’t say I’d give up smoking immediately. What’s left?”

“Getting serious.” John has severe pulmonary trouble again at the thought.

“Ah yes. Getting serious.” Kit puffs out a little sigh. “I suppose we need to get this over with.” He pulls John over to the sofa, a huge purple velvet affair that really should have clued everyone into John’s inner queer a lot earlier. “Me first, okay?”

John’s surprised, and maybe a little alarmed, to see Kit’s hands are trembling.

“I’ve wanted this for a very long time,” Kit says, after a moment of staring so intently that John raises a hand and rubs at his cheek. Is Kit staring at an outbreak of spots or something? “Since before we left Uni. You’ve always been so skittish about it though—”

“I’ve known you a long time.”

Kit’s grimace wrinkles up his nose in a way that makes John want to say bad words like ‘cute’ and ‘sweet’ and ‘Oh God, I want him so much I’m aching for it.’ John has to press his lips tight shut to stop the words tumbling out.

“Yeah, I know.” Kit grimaces again. “Thing is, when we met at Uni I was stupid, right? I’d just discovered why God gave men cocks. I was sort of worried that if I didn’t use it a lot, the technology would fail, or something.”

“Don’t think they fall off if you don’t use ’em, Kit.”

“Big risk to take though, and I need to see the scientific evidence. Anyhow, by the time I’d worked out that what I really want is you and only you, I’d already queered my pitch. You’ve never believed I was serious. And I know I acted like a complete arse every time I made a move on you and you waltzed away as if you hadn’t seen me. I’ll admit I didn’t ever handle that well.”

Given that Kit had appeared to handle it by throwing himself into the most torrid affair possible with whoever he could nail, John didn’t feel he had grounds for disputing that assessment. Kit hadn’t acted like a complete arse. He’d been a complete arse.

“And that made things worse. You were even more skittish after that.” Kit scowls and broods. His hands close on John’s, the grip painful enough to make John wince. “It was one of those virtuous circle things, only not so virtuous. You didn’t fall for me because I was too busy playing the field, so when I asked you said no, and the only thing I could do was play harder, so when I asked you again you said no because I was too busy playing the field… round and round, and no way out.”

“You were never serious.”

“I wasn’t. I wasn’t serious with anyone else. I am serious with you.”

John opens his mouth, and then closes it again words unsaid.

“I’d begun to think you’d never come around,” Kit says. “Most times I work up the guts to ask you, you pretend you haven’t seen it or heard me, and retreat faster than Napoleon from Moscow.” He frowns. “Why not this time?”

John doesn’t have to think about it. “You aren’t drunk.”

Kit stares at him, mouth open. “That’s it? I’m not drunk? Bloody hell, John, it was always Dutch courage with me. I didn’t ever dare ask you sober.”

“I never thought you meant it,” John’s rather apologetic. Because seriously, if Kit had always meant it, they’d wasted a lot of time. “I thought it was just the booze talking. Today… today was different.”

“I’m sober for a start, and Aiden handed me the opportunity on a plate. I am serious about this, John Hogarth. I’ve always been serious about this.”

John nods.

“Sober. Serious. Wanting to make a real go at it with you. Not just the fast fuck and move on thing I’ve had with everyone else while I was waiting for you to realise I bloody well meant it. Just…” Kit stops, and with the drooping of eyelids and mouth, he looks uncertain, not as cocky as usual, unsure of himself. “It’s what the list said—seriously loves John. I want to do that. I want to love you very seriously.”

John manages a smile, and seeing it, Kit relaxes. The trembling in his hands stop.

“Do you want that, too?”

“I always have,” John says. He hadn’t quite realised it until he said it, but now he knows. Now he knows for sure.

The uncertain look fades from Kit’s face. But still, he’s not his usual confident, extrovert self. “Then maybe we should start as I mean to go on. I’d like to love you. Seriously. All night.”

Complete pulmonary paralysis.

Breathe. Breathe.

John can feel his face burning, but he nods. “Oh God, yes!” he says with absolute, if breathless, conviction. “Kiss me again.”

Kit laughs and does as he’s told, and John melts away again for several long delicious minutes to a place where there’s only the sharp tangy taste that’s already coming to mean ‘Kit’, the rush of rattled breathing, Kit’s hands sliding under his shirt, feeling scalding hot against his bare skin. He slips his own hands inside Kit’s shirt to return the favour, running them lightly over a body he has never before touched with such intimacy and warmth.

Well, what does it matter? Who the hell needs to breathe anyway?

When they break apart, Kit tugs him up off the sofa and towards the bedroom without another word said. Progress is satisfyingly slow. They shed clothes and shoes on the way, stopping every second or two for another long, deep kiss, for more exploration of familiar, newly intimately familiar, bodies.

John isn’t sure how long it takes for them to get naked and into his bed. Just the right amount of time, though. Not too slow, not too fast. Just enough time to get seriously hot. And then he is lying under Kit, skin pressed to warm skin, feeling Kit’s weight holding him down, Kit’s cock pressing against his thigh, Kit’s mouth on his and, fantasy of fantasies, Kit’s hands running down his sides to start pumping his almost painfully-hard cock.

He moans into the mouth fastened on his, biting gently at Kit’s lower lip, his hands cupping the smooth-skinned buttocks, pulling him in closer. It’s been quite a while since a man had held him like this. Not that he’s been a monk, but it hadn’t ever been Kit. Substitutes haven’t proved to be satisfactory or long lasting, no matter how John has tried to make it work. This is different. This was, oh, so very different.

“John.” Kit is murmuring between fast distracting kisses that run from one ear, around the line of his jaw and up to the other ear. “John. I want to make love to you. Please let me, John.”

John answer is to part his legs and thrust up against Kit, invitingly.

“I won’t hurt you,” Kit promises, leaning over the edge of the bed to find the results of his own shopping trip. He’d tossed the lube and condoms he’d gone to find onto the floor at some point in that long slow undressing.

“I know,” John says, tangling both hands in the blond hair flopping down to obscure Kit’s eyes. “Right now, Kit. Do it right now. I can’t hold on much longer.”

Kit grins. “Me neither.”

Another long, long kiss, another endless time of bodies straining together, rubbing up against each other, then John’s back is arching as a well-lubed finger pushes gently inside him. He catches his breath sharply at the intrusion, gasping as Kit’s probing finger finds the magic little spot, his whole body responding in answer to the rhythm of Kit’s wicked, evil, skilful finger. Another finger, and another, and John is beyond thought and speech, conscious only of Kit lifting himself up for a minute, and it’s too much, too much… John clutches at the beloved weight holding him down as Kit pushes slowly up into him, bending his knees outwards to give Kit more room.

Kit’s inside him. Dear God, is Kit inside him! Kit lies on him, still, breathing hard. John loves that, knowing that Kit is letting him get used to the feeling, waiting to be sure he’s ready before starting to stroke. This is as hot as it gets, but God, is it loving too.

“All right?” There’s strain in Kit’s voice.

John nods, and hooks his legs around Kit’s waist. “Go,” he says in Kit’s ear.

Kit, grinning down at him, pulls back almost until he’s left completely, then slams into him, pounding on his prostate and sending a wave of such intense pressure through him that John’s drowning in it. Another stroke, and another, and then he’s bucking wildly under Kit, matching him thrust for thrust, trying to get him in harder and higher, and the intense pain-pleasure of orgasm makes him feel his whole body is exploding through the white heat in his balls. Kit is yelling something that sounds ridiculously like he loves John and they’re both holding on and gasping and the heat’s washing over John until he can barely breathe unaided.

And then it’s an exhausted, happy time, holding each other, with tired little kisses and caresses, little half-broken words of love and pleasure, until Kit slides reluctantly out of John and gathers him into an embrace.

It’s several minutes before John can manage an entire sentence. “I think we got everything on the shopping list, Kit.”

Kit’s smile is beatific. Serene. As unlike the usually energetic, jazzed up Kit as could be.

“Love you,” John says, for the first time. It won’t be the last.

Kit’s fingers caress his cheek. “I love you too, John. A lot.”

“Just as well,” John says, dizzy, starting his lungs up again. He’ll have to watch that. It could be an inconvenient reaction to realising that Kit loves him. Very inconvenient. He needs his breath for a second bout just as soon as humanly possible. “You’ve made the sale. Time to get down to some serious consumer testing of the product...”




^^++^^++^^++^^



Gossip Queen


May 2012


“Do you know anything about Kit's latest squeeze?”

“Latest squeeze?” John repeats.

“Dunno why I'm asking you, since you never like to gossip.” George Richards takes a long pull at his beer, and wipes the froth from his top lip with back of his hand. “Surely you've noticed? Heard the gossip? Seen the difference in Kit?”

“He seems pretty much the same to me.” John sips at his own beer in what Kit, had he been in the Ship Aground with them, would describe as a nice, lady-like way. “What's the latest, then?”

“Word is that he's off the market. I mean, really off the market, tied up with someone so special that he's not available. Have you ever heard that one before?”

“That's new.”

“Where Kit Lewis is concerned? Damn right that’s new. It’s like he’s had some sort of personality transplant.”

“Mmn,” John says.

“Bloody unnatural, if you ask me. Not like him. I never thought he’d be like that with anyone except—” George stops abruptly and eyes John sidelong. He coughs. “Better not say, I suppose. But it seems to be true. The girls in here have all given up trying to catch Kit's eye. So’ve the boys. It’s as if he doesn’t even see them. He’s given up flirting, John. Kit! Can you fathom it? The man breathed less often than he flirted.”

John manages another “Mmn.”

“He isn’t out on the razzle every night. He hasn’t gone drinking for a week that I know of, and it’s probably longer. He’s even given up smoking at last. The universe must have shifted half an inch over, or something. Whoever he’s seeing, this is mega.” George gives John a pitying look. “Surely you’ve heard about it! Everyone knows.”

John shrugs.

“You must go around half-comatose,” George says. “Anyhow, Kit is definitely hooked by someone and the ladies are settling for us lesser mortals. Even no-hopers like Giles are getting some action.”

John raises an eyebrow at this rather unkind aspersion cast on their admittedly gauche and retiring chief designer and webmaster. He doesn’t have to say anything. The eyebrow is enough.

“You know what I mean. Giles would be the first one to tell you he's shy, only he'd stutter so badly through the confession that you wouldn't work out more than one word in three. That boy goes scarlet with embarrassment saying good morning to his best friends. He nearly dies when he has to speak to a girl. And have you seen how they treat him? They barely know he's there, most of the time. But Giles…” George pauses for effect and says, impressively, “John, Giles is taking Canary on a date. Canary. On a date.”

“Canary?” John glances over to a neighbouring table to check out the lady in question.

Lewis-Hogarth-Richards occupies space in the same building as two accountancy firms and a corporate lawyer’s office. Relations with the other companies are friendly, to the point where half a dozen women, culled from each of the firms, are having a shared lunch. Canary Wilson is among them: pretty and vivacious, delicate and tiny, and not looking at all as though she’s one of the most cut-throat and ambitious communications professionals in the business. She’ll clamber over anyone to get a better contract or a spot in PR Weekly, and barely notice the scars her dainty stiletto-heeled boots leave on those she’s left behind her. She’s a looker, is Canary, and in demand. John can’t imagine her and Giles. But it’s quite possible that George's theory about the ladies' chagrin over Kit is accurate: they all look morose.

“She's quite something, is our Canary.” George shakes his head over his beer. “And she's going out with Giles. Astonishing.”

“You're a malicious old gossip,” John says, grinning and wondering what happened to the London Transport engineer Canary had been seeing. Maybe his ticket expired, or something. “Giles may be shy but he's one of the good guys.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know that. I wasn't getting at Giles. Just she turned me down flat and yet… I mean, Giles! The point I'm trying to make here is that the rest of us have a chance at last. Kit's not putting himself about anymore and the ladies are pining for some action.” George finishes off his ale. “I'm taking Ellie Brown to dinner,” he says, giving John an oddly tentative look.

Ellie is an actress, currently between jobs at the National because the ‘theatre is where it’s real, dahling, nowhere near as soulless as TV’. She’s been temping in the corporate law firm’s offices for the last six months. They’d met at the building’s Christmas party, most of which John can’t remember with any accuracy. He might have kissed Ellie in the emergency stairwell—at least, he thinks it was Ellie—but she’d departed soon afterwards with Ben Rosens, the corporate lawyer himself. She’d kissed Ben Rosens in the emergency stairwell too; of that much, John is certain. He’d seen them.

“Good for you,” he says. “You might want to watch Rosens, though. He had plans in that direction at Christmas, at any rate.”

“But you don't?”

“No. I don't.”

“Okay. I don't mind crossing Rosens, but it would've been a dirty trick if you'd been interested.” George blows out a noisy little breath and finally, thinks John, gets to the crux of what he wants. “I was hoping that you'd noticed what was going on.”

“I don't do gossip, much.” John feels slightly shamed, as if confessing to a personal moral failing.

“I thought you might tell me who it is.”

John finishes off his beer, regarding George over the top of his glass. “Tell you who it is?”

“He usually tells you everything.”

John lets his mouth twitch, the closest he'll come to smiling. “Does he? There's a bet on, is there?”

“Of course there's a bet on. The entire building’s in on it. I heard that at least two offices put in their weekly Lottery money, even though the odds of Kit and a new squeeze lasting longer than two trips around the block are almost as bad as winning the lottery. You don’t think it might be Livvy, do you? She didn’t like letting go. Like Fatal Attraction without the bunny boiling—”

“Only because there aren’t many bunnies hopping about South London,” John says.

Livvy Simmons had been the fourth in their early partnership, but burning from a short fling with Kit, she’d ruptured their new and fledgling company. Only now, four years later, were they getting out of the financial doldrums after buying her out. So bad had it been, punches had been thrown. By Livvy. She’d blacked Kit’s eye nicely.

Mind you, he’d asked for it. And the only reason she’d blacked his eye was that she got there before John and George could. It took some time for things to get back on an even keel.

“So, not Livvy?”

“Haven’t seen her for at least a year. Last I heard, she was taking on the comms director role in one of the local authorities. Newham, I think.”

“Well, that’s one local authority we probably won’t get any business from.” But George only shrugs as he speaks, philosophical.

“ And she’s seeing someone. Don’t know how serious it is, but it isn’t Kit.” John frowns. “A banker, maybe? Someone in the City, anyway. She was all over Twitter about it a few weeks ago.”

George nods. “Always better to keep it outside of work. That was a disaster.”

George isn’t joking The Titanic had been less of a disaster. Much less.

“Mmmn.” John focuses on his beer, tilting the glass to get the last few drops.

“Canary tried to give him a whirl, did you know? Failed, obviously, if she’s stepping out with Giles.”

“That's another juicy rumour that got by me. Do people not tell me things because I'm the boss? One of the bosses.”

“No. People don't tell you things because you're an innocent.” George signals to the bar tender to refill their pints. “Damn, I was hoping you'd give me a bit of an edge.”

“Sorry. You'll have to work it out on your own. No, I won’t have another, thanks. I've got a meeting this afternoon with the design team at the Olympics organising committee. I'll need all my wits about me.” John glances at his watch. “In fact, I had better be on my way. See you later. I’ll be back around four.”

George grunts and waves a hand in farewell.


**~*~**


Canary hustles out of the pub to join John in the street, muttering something about walking back to work with him to put a pitch together for a new contract with one of the bigger City banks.

Hopefully not the one Livvy Simmons’ new bloke works for. John would prefer to avoid another Titanic iceberg.

“Little bird tells me you have a date,” John says.

Canary rolls her eyes. “This company is a hotbed of gossip.”

“Funny that. I almost never hear it.”

“You must be deaf, then. I tell you, I could go and lock myself in the basement storeroom, wrap myself in four hundred metres of PVC mesh substrate”—which has John twitching, because, well, kinky—“entirely on my own and no-one to see me, no-one to hear me. And sneeze. I guarantee that when I get back to the office, sixteen people will ask me how my cold is before I get more than three feet towards my desk.” She huffs a bit. “It's impossible to have a private life around here.”

“I don't have a problem. I don’t think people talk about me like that. Do they?”

Lewis-Hogarth-Richards occupies the top floor of a converted Victorian warehouse in Jacob Street, one street back from the riverside in Bermondsey—which makes Canary’s point about the basement store room all the more telling. They go into the lobby together and John, having been brought up to be polite, holds the door for her as they go in and calls the lift. She stands blocking the lift doors so they won't close.

“You're you,” she says. “You probably just don't notice. Who told you about my date, then?”

“George.”

She laughs. “Gawd. He’s worse than my old grannie when it comes to gabbing about other people’s business.” And when John gestures to the lift, she shakes her head and adds, “No, it’s okay, I’m not going up just yet. I really do need to check the substrate for some banners for CitBank. Hey, listen, do you know who Kit's seeing? That's the real juicy bit of gossip at the moment.”

“George asked me that, too. His excuse was he has a bet going on it. What's yours?”

“I'm just nosy.” Canary tries her most winning smile and pokes John familiarly in the ribs. “Go on. You can tell me.”

He shrugs. “I’m sure. But I don’t know what I can tell you.”

“See?” she says, tone derisive. “You just don't notice things.”

“Plus I'm deaf and, according to George, comatose.” He glances up as the door alarm gives a peevish little toot, and a light flashes. “Someone's called the lift. Better go. Have a nice time with Giles.”

“I will. Find out and tell me, okay?”

He grins and, when she steps back, he lets the doors close.


**~*~**


The Olympics committee meeting goes pretty well in the end. John is good at pitching the company’s work. He can do upbeat, professional and authoritative with the best of them and he’s a demon with a PowerPoint presentation. Animated bullet points and everything. With Kit’s ability to smooch celebrities into signing up to endorse their campaigns and George’s financial savvy, Lewis-Hogarth-Richards is moving up to stand against the big boys. They get invited to all the government departments’ pitches now almost on automatic; and if the work isn’t wildly exciting, the Government at least pays its bills on time. John wends his way to his parents’ house in Dulwich Village for the monthly family supper, rather pleased with himself.

The whole family is there. Sal had moved back into the parental house with Aiden a few months earlier, when her marriage, always sticky and intermittent, came off the rails altogether. Her soon-to-be ex is rumoured to have run away to a remote tropical island off the Tasmanian coast to monitor the mating habits of land crabs. Takes one to know one, in John’s opinion. Sal’s ex is no loss to society. It astonishes John how she always picks such complete tossers. The biggest downside is that Aiden’s main male role model is now John’s father. John isn’t entirely convinced that a retired Church of England archdeacon with a passion for fly fishing, collecting teapots and mediaeval manuscripts is the sort of role-model a football-crazy seven-year-old needs. It certainly hadn’t been the one John had needed.

Sal pounces when their father is off to one side talking to their poor mother about something that interests none of his children, and probably doesn't interest Mum much either, if her blank-eyed expression is anything to go by. From the way his father’s hands are moving, he’s miming tying a fishing fly. Mum will have heard that one a thousand times.

Well, Sal maybe doesn’t pounce, exactly. But she’s intrigued enough to look up from her iPhone. “I heard something interesting about Kit.”

“Did you?”

She flourishes the phone at him. “He’s changed his FB status to ‘off the market’.”

“I didn’t know you two were Facebook friends.”

“Pfft,” Sal says. “He’s a bloke. I keep tabs on possibilities.” And as John stares, she laughs. “What? He likes Aiden, Aiden likes him. I had him on the list of maybes, that’s all. And now someone else has snaffled him.”

Story of Sal’s life, if the truth be told. Her ex had been semi-detached long before Aiden was even born. Astonishing he stuck around as long as he did before the land crabs seduced him.

“You stalk them on Facebook?”

“Of course not!” But Sal isn’t convincing. She looks pink around the ears. “I merely monitor the possibilities and… well, all right. I keep an eye on them. So, before I take him off my list, what I want to know who’s stolen Kit from under my nose and is it really as serious as it sounds? I know that you know. He tells you everything, so don't think you can put me off with your usual tactics.”

“What usual tactics?”

“You look vague and say you never listen to gossip. You say that no one ever tells you anything, and you say it with the sort of innocent expression that makes people believe you. You always, but always, avoid a direct answer. You answer with a question or a shrug or something that sounds like an answer but isn’t really. It's really rather clever of you because most people go away thinking that you don't know anything and that you're too pure for gossip. Well, you don't fool me.”


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