Chapter Six – new friends and French fancies

Rolling hills covered by multi coloured rustic fields disappeared into the misty far distance viewed through the dappled shade of young fruit trees just beginning to burst into fragrant bloom. The country garden I was sitting in consisted of alternating flower beds and vegetable plots some of them divided by young fruit canes wavering in the afternoon breeze. A large wooden table sat on a partially sun-baked stone patio, the blue and white checked table-cloth covering it now held only empty serving bowls and unwashed plates. Partially filled glasses of still cool white wine were being slowly emptied to round off a perfect outdoor lunch in the heart of the Dordogne, south-western France.

Staying in the shade of a large parasol to save my balding head from the power of the southern sun I sat and watched some of the people as they quietly chatted. Even though the house was the exquisite modern development of an old farm-house and outbuilding, it was impossible to stay inside its undoubted decadence on such a beautiful day. The time was made more special because I was with friends, some were new, others still only recent acquaintances, one was amazingly intimate.

My reverie was interrupted by the sudden increase in noisy activity out on the wing, banging doors, voices calling out and what sounded like lots of people moving to and fro past our door.

“Workers gooin back,” my informant did something useful once, “I wana goo but me back dae stand it,” a pause for the now well anticipated addition of, “I cor walk anyway.”

Sadly, I had been waiting for the last comment and I might even have added it myself if he had missed it off; I got the gist of his perceived disability and could do without the constant reminder of it. The noise wing-ward started to recede after a few minutes and I assumed the workers had gone back to whatever they worked at. Meanwhile, I went blissfully back to France.

The trip had been arranged around a vague idea of creating a retirement community out here in this quiet continental idyll. The common interest of both the proposal and the participants was that it was to be exclusively for retired gay men of quality and means. Although it might sound just a little contrived, sinister even, I had at that point only allowed myself to get superficially involved. My many misgivings had this enterprise been under normal business conditions, would have meant I would not have touched it with a barge pole. Why get involved? I had asked myself the same thing many times in the few weeks while the trip was being arranged.

It was not the project or even the concept I was really interested in, I was far more absorbed in the people, more accurately in one of the people. He sat out in the full sunlight topping up his already naturally tanned complexion. By staring at him as I often did, meant that I missed most of the post lunch chatter and a couple of questions that had been directed to me.

“Hello? Are you with us?”

Embarrassed, I felt myself jump and felt rather awkward at been caught out, or had I, I didn’t quite know what I thought anymore.

“Sorry, yes, the sun, the food, the wine, I forgot this isn’t a holiday.”

My rather over emphasised smile and mock coughing fit helped to make it a poor joke but hopefully cover my tracks. Despite this, I was riding the crest of a wave of confidence that I hadn’t felt for many years. The most difficult thing was that I didn’t think I wanted to get off.

Despite knowing all the ideas we were discussing were never going to work, plus all the other complications that were welling up around me, the very personal and intimate rewards I was discovering back in England were maybe worth the efforts here. I was also unaware life would soon crash on top of me. It was either the current situation or more specifically the trip itself that would be the decisive episode which set this prison peregrination on its way.

Despite having no absolute proof of who had started the ball rolling to get me into trouble, it would require a trial to force the information out into the open but that was too difficult to contemplate. By a process of elimination, it had to be down to one of just two people who had sat around the table that day. Each of them knew something about me few other people did, thanks to my separation technique working its devious magic. Either of them might have had a motive to get me out of the picture. Only one of them would be needed to put the wheels in motion. Only one of them had told the police just enough to acquire their interest. The rest of course was all down to me and although it was an inevitable thing that had to happen at some point and for many other possible reasons, obviously, I didn’t want it just at that time. The worst thing by far was, I had found something or rather someone who might have given me so many of the important and personal things I had been so desperate for and for far too long. Now, with my world being turned upside down I would almost certainly lose them and even worse, him.

It had been some time since I had seriously considered how I had ended up here in this cell but with no finite information to build on, I had managed to push it all away back into its box. My mind might have been elsewhere but the chill of the cell was a stark contrast to the memory of a warmer southern France and as if to emphasise the point it was accompanied by another involuntary shudder. With the moment soon past, I decided to stay in the recall of warmth and beauty of that more elegant French afternoon. Reality could wait for a while.

Given the very short time I had known this guy, I was still getting to grips with the effect he could have on me.

During one more unremarkable evening only a few weeks before the trip, while taking a break from my regular picture collecting activity, a web page had popped up in the browser as they unfortunately do. If it wasn’t Viagra or penis extensions, it was generally dating that the pseudo intelligence of the web would decide you must be surely interested in.

This time it must have been just good timing because as I casually scrolled down the page, just in case, I was moved to go back up the page and re-read one profile which had belatedly caught my attention. It must have been the beaming white smile against the deep tanned skin which had pricked my imagination. A second look made me think the teeth must be a Photoshop enhancement but I read his details anyway. This done, there was nothing in them that was either remarkable or unrealistic although I always weighed any claims carefully against the ‘code’ which is generally employed for these things; a little like estate agents just on a more personal level.

People claim to get a degree of satisfaction from dating sites but my experience was sparse at best. My annoying habit of running presumptive comparisons of prospective suitors against myself often scotched things before anyone could have the chance to form their own opinion and turn me down. This self-examination was something I did for almost everything in life and in general I could always manage to convince myself I was not interesting enough, or the situation would get out of my control or, become just too complicated, or I was just not good enough in the sex department for anyone to put up with, or. Any one of these excuses could apply to almost everything in life.

Looking back and just to add a little perspective, having met all of my long-term ‘serious’ friendship slash relationships through dating sites, I don’t know why I am quite so disparaging of them. Other than odd situations, which included my flirtatious dalliances with rent boys and a couple of others, it was a paradox that all my conquests have been from such sites; I will get back to some of the other more interesting events all in good time, don’t worry.

In the twenty years of being ‘out of the closet’, I have had only as few instances of successfully meeting other gay men. Each one has had its own significance. The first and longest was with a wonderful man, a doctor. We had arranged to meet in McDonalds, it was safe, in the public eye, and anonymous; doctors were not allowed to be openly gay then, or even now probably. He set the ground rules at the outset as if this was something he did regularly, although I didn’t know if he did or not. We would be just talking, finding out what was what and defiantly no intimacy would be engaged in. It was something I had never really expected or visualised; in my ignorance at that time, apparently, most people only met for casual sex. If it had happened it would have counted as a bonus but that would be too much to hope for. Trying to assure him I hardly knew which end of this world was what, I managed to save myself from any real embarrassment. After spending at least two hours talking and drinking the very good coffee they have, he decided he would need to give me a lift back to my place; I had gone there on the bus. Although I didn’t really understand if this was a good thing or not, I just went with the flow. When we arrived at my home, he didn’t accept the coffee I courteously offered but surprisingly and very excitedly we spent the rest of the glorious afternoon enacting the euphemism in be instead. So much for the no sex please we’re British; perhaps I had some allure after all.

The relationship lasted for seven wonderful years and I have so much to thank him for it could constitute a book on its own. In the end and for no rational or appropriate reasons other than my petty and unreasonable jealousy, I managed to make things stupidly complicated and enough to end it all. With an overload of unrealistic and perverse demands, it finally meant that I pushed everything just too far and we split up rather painfully, even for me.

The next entanglement might have been OK except for his near pathological attachment to a pair of rubber gloves and a bottle of cleaning fluid. Around the house, I have no objections at all, I even aspire to such heights but, anyone who takes up to an hour to wash up after a simple meal and includes the inside of the tea-pot spout, had to have some sort of a deep-seated problem. In the more provinces of personal hygiene there had to be a limit, if only for the practicality of any intimacy. Once more I gave up on it all although this time it didn’t seem to have any adverse effects in the long-term; he still had his mop and bucket to go back to.

There was one short interlude but it didn’t really count. We had a great first night together in a hotel he used while he was working near where I lived. That led to more regular home visits and the occasional stop over whenever he was in town. Eventually he tried to latch on too hard and too completely, wanting to leave his wife and family to be with me. Of course I panicked and ended it all once more.

Third in line and with hindsight, I just let my sympathy play too strong a role. He was a nice guy, still is I imagine, interesting, obliging, welcoming, grateful. I didn’t have to work too hard at the relationship all I needed to do was reciprocate by helping him with all the things his disability wouldn’t allow him to do. At the first sign of him wanting me to attach myself more permanently, once more I ran for the hills. Things would get a little awkward at times after that as our paths crossed quite regularly.

The last long-term association had started rather shakily on my side. Finding I had no physical attraction but, taking into consideration the opinion I had about my own looks at the time, I thought it was something I had to get past. We found out that we had many things in common which over time filled many of the gaps in my physical expectations. The love of theatre music, food, general going out meant I could ignore the obvious. Although I am not proud to have spent time revelling in the decadence he afforded with and around all the high-powered people he knew and the extravagant places whch we went to, all this activity definitely coloured and distorted my already questionable moral perspective and enhanced my manipulative energies. Praying on his unworldly shortcomings of a gay lifestyle I fully engaged the ploy of keeping just one step ahead of things to give me the air of someone who was more than they really were. Combining all the advantages I thought I had, my diverse life experiences, an interest in just everyday things, my knowledge of trivia and the trivial were used most unfairly against someone who had few natural defences to such and onslaught. Although I enjoyed all the trappings and treats at the time, it is my hope that I gave something in return even if, eventually, it would all be negated by my moral deviousness. While I am guilty of taking a generosity of heart and wallet and only giving enough back to keep me looking and sounding if erroneously, like an honest person, I don’t see myself doing it again; at least no one else will ever be hurt like I think he was.

This was my last long-term adjunct and, for right or wrong, until everything blew up in my face I think he was blissfully ignorant of the fact I had already started to see he of the tan and the bright white smile. But as was burning my candle at both ends, the fact that one end seemed to burn much brighter than the other, I would become just another queer and desperate moth drawn to the brighter of the lights.

In between many of these more involved relationships, there had been the odd outing to meet even more odd people; odd being the operative word during most of them as shown here.

There was a lunch consisting of a very expensive baked potato and the history of the West Midlands bus services throughout the ages; which did nothing to inspire another meeting. Another liaison had me getting lost on a windswept Cannock Chase but eventually finding it was just another casual sex outing; we tried but it was far too cold for anything like that to be successful. One of the last encounters included a passable meal but when it came to dessert, I was the only thing on his menu and consumption was to be made in the car park. Obviously that dalliance was never going to go anywhere; having said that, I did have my pudding but didn’t go back for seconds. At least I knew from most of these experiments, I could do casual sex if I had to but, it also confirmed that it was not what I really wanted. The danger and illicit excitement only lasted as a dim spark in time and then it all went dark again; I was looking for a much brighter light to lighten my breed of moody darkness.

Back on the dating site, still intrigued by the smile, I sent a brief message off to the equally brief profile and had an almost instant reply despite the very late hour. It was obviously a well-practised formulaic response and I adopted the same style and tone as I entered the game of coded conversation. Trying to say things without saying them is not easy and so often such a waste of time and effort but, as I had no real idea what I was doing I played along anyway. Once we had got past the initial exchanges and we both realised we were not the usual prick teasing idiots who were the staple fodder of most dating sites, the typed tone changed and we got into more serious, if still guarded issues.

He was quite a few years younger than his attitude or interests might have suggested. My one photo, jealously saved for such times, carefully hid my shortcomings, and unfairly showed me a few years younger than I was; I hated myself in print and few got to see it. After supplying more rather superficial details about myself I made the fatal flaw of slipping into crass, banal, stylised internet chatter that I thought was clever but Paf obviously didn’t. He bought me up sharply and told me not to waste his time. Only just managing to recover my position with much back peddling, we continued at a more serious level, well, more realistic anyway.

After several exchanges both that and the next night we, or rather he decided it might be easier to meet up to continue the exploration of whatever it was we seemed to have found between us. Still not quite knowing what it was or what I was expected to do with this opportunity, I agreed. There were a few days to wait before the arrangement slotted into our very busy schedules but I was getting quite excited when it came. Despite the expectation, during the wait I made several attempts to talk myself out of it all together. One side of me eventually won the argument, fortunately the one which wanted to go and meet this vision of beauty. In most internal discussions, my default position was ‘if in doubt, don’t’ and this paradigm had been the architect of most of my failure to integrate in anything over the years.

As I sat in my car parked several doors down from his house, I almost succumbed to the maxim of failure again. Having allowed myself what I thought was an escape route by not parking right outside the house, I realised that I was a stranger in a private service road so I might have already lost the advantage. As it turned out, I had. He had come out of the house and stood on the drive looking straight at me. My brain switched into full visual absorption mode and took mental flash images of everything.

He was much taller and broader than I had visualised. Dress sense, very smart casual, certainly nothing that looked cheap anyway. Hair, dark, perfectly managed but could be a little more adventurous perhaps. Car, Jaguar, latest sports model personal number plate. House, large detached, wide and imposing. Questions flooded in as I wondered if this was the right thing for me to be part of. The question went unanswered, the escape route was closed, all I could do was try not to look too incompetent being outside the wrong house.

“Hi.”

It was an unheard greeting obviously sent out as a lifeline to me. The smile that went with it showed off the whiteness of his thankfully accurate internet representation. Understanding the greeting he had mouthed I opened the car door but sat fumbling for some invisible contrivance in the foot well.

“Not having second thoughts, are you?”

On one level I was but I didn’t want to let on and eventually and probably glowing with embarrassment, I rather self-consciously got out of the vehicle.

His accent was indistinguishable given he was obviously of Asian origin but his voice was deep and resonated through you, even out here in the open air. It was absolutely nothing like anything I had conjured up in my head; how could I have from just one picture and few typed words on a computer screen. As I walked up the drive to shake his large, strong but soft hand, his six feet four height felt rather intimidating. His smile persisted and somehow, I began to feel at ease in its glow, enough to follow him into the house anyway.

My mind moved from collecting data to running through all the many scenarios of what might happen next. Having managed only a few, none of them fitted the reality as we had entered his immaculate kitchen; the string of ideas seemed to have melted right away. Not having been in this sort of situation many times, I had always suspected there was some sort of formulaic protocol which one should adopt. If there was, I had never been able to quite work out what it might be. My inexperience must have been patently obvious but Paf didn’t give way to any of my imagined fears; thankfully he was very much in control.

Despite knowing I could be reasonably articulate if I had to, I had never worked out how to either start or control conversation without some sadly obvious help. It seemed there would be no problem here as I followed all of his leads and lines of enquiry, trying not to fall into the old trite traps. He responded positively to my efforts by filling in some of the gaps from our shallow electronic exchanges

After moving around the downstairs rooms for a couple of hours between cups of coffee, I found myself casually washing up in the sink and offering to make us yet more. It struck me that this was not the normal behaviour for a first, dare I call it, date? Everything seemed so natural, casual, and thankfully, safe.

It had always been my style to shock people into thinking I was something different. For some reason here, the need to stand out didn’t seem to apply. Rather pleased I hadn’t fallen into the usual babbling potted history of my diverse and sordid life experiences, I felt relaxed and dare I say it, happy. Here, I didn’t feel the usual need to either impress or more probably depress my new companion, I just felt comfortable being there with him. It was a comfort that, because of my inexperience or lack of appreciation, I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or engineered. My brain was desperately telling me to just enjoy the moment; the other side was telling me it was all too good to be true.

Conversation was easy and we covered all sorts of subjects I might not have expected on a first meeting. Despite the intriguing and yet unspoken aspects of his life I didn’t want to pry into areas which were obviously more complex nor did I want to have to respond with some of my own complications. Eventually, I hope, because I wasn’t being too pushy, I found out quite a lot about the reality of his life, the house, the car, none of which matched the presumptions one could easily have made. Cynically, for just a moment I did wonder if he was trying to dispel any untoward thoughts if I had been some sort of a gold digger; it would be easy to imagine that others had been. Materialism was one of the last things on my mind but he wasn’t to know that, not yet.

The exchange swung quite unexpectedly back to me but, through perceptive questioning which he skilfully controlled the overemotional gushing to which I was prone unlike at other times I felt relaxed enough to share as much about me as he had about himself. Eventually I realised what he was doing and was pleased I didn’t sound like a complete idiot as was often the norm in these situations. The opening up had all happened before I could stop myself; as I would have normally done. It was almost scary to hear myself talking about perceptions ideas and thoughts; no one had been this interested in me as a person for a long time.

“I wouldn’t normally do this, be assured, but,” he had adopted a light but serious tone, “I am going to show you that you really have nothing to fear or worry about by just being yourself, we all have our shortcomings, fears and hang ups, you just need to know you are OK.”

Although I hoped it wasn’t showing, the panic developing deep inside my chest had silenced me as I knew this was leading to something I might not have been expecting to happen.

“Come upstairs, you can give me a massage.”

It was not a request but more of a statement of intent and although I was certainly out of my depth the prospect did appeal rather. Luckily, he was still well within his comfort zone although at the same time I didn’t get the feeling it was something which would have normally happened so soon. He had already intimated it wasn’t and I believed him. In answer to his statement I just went with the flow, feeling more confident in his firm command of the situation.

“I need a shower first,” he made another statement as we started to ascend the stairs, “you can sit and talk to me if you want to.”

Placed onto the closed toilet seat I waited as the beautiful if still slightly unnerving event unfolded before me. As for the talking, there was simple and general chatter although for me it was not just talking went on.

My eyes were out on stalks at the confidence and the lack of any inhibitions from the magnificent vision boldly lathered up right in front of me. Not being completely without common sense I had worked out this was yet another carefully executed confidence building exercise driven presumably by some of the things we had shared downstairs.

My personal comfort zone was small at the best of times but between my physical incompetence and questionable appearance it was often nearer to zero where I generally saw myself as an overweight hairy blob but having never been able to express it to anyone, somehow Paf had cajoled me into doing so without all the shame that I had expected to have felt in the past.

Still not quite understanding what was going on, I managed to go along with things trying to make it look as if I did. Paf showered comfortably in front of me and I tried not to be too obvious as I scrutinised his curvaceous but manly figure complete with more than generous genital appendages. We chatted, no smut, no innuendo, just new friends talking; was that what I thought we had become in this short time, were we friends?

He eventually switched the water off and the beaded wetness that remained rolled off his coffee coloured skin, cascading through the curves and crevices of his tall elegant form. It was difficult not to be aroused by it all but he was not to know that showers and showering in general had always been a special fascination and potent stimulus for me.

“You can get undressed in the bedroom, the one at the end of the landing,” the instruction was precise but kindly, “do you want to shower?”

“Do I need one?”

I asked the question rather tentatively not knowing if I should have picked up on some inferred but obviously unacknowledged meaning.

“You won’t be having sex,” his tone was clear but still kind, “so as long as your hands are clean it’s up to you.”

I panicked again. ‘It’s up to you’, it was a veritable mine field of possibilities and I instinctively ran away from the problem. I didn’t run literally but I removed myself from the immediate situation to get undressed as he had suggested. The simple activity gave me time to decide I should shower just to be in the safe side and after returning to the bathroom I found my way around the large luxurious shower cubicle in record time. Clean if still a little damp, a towel hid my modesty although I expected we had already gone way past that point. Shyness was never a problem I was always just too embarrassed about my body and certainly didn’t like to inflict it upon people if it wasn’t required or requested.

The bedroom was darker when I returned to it, the curtains had been closed and a small dim table lamp was the only light. The gloom allowed me the pleasure of being able to relax. Paf was stretched out face down, his ample length and broad shoulders almost filling the bed which had been protected by a generously sized towel over what I had noted previously to be a silk cover. He looked very comfortable which rather confirmed my unnecessary thought that this wasn’t his first time. His eyes were closed which helped further with my settling nerves but I flinched as he spoke; I don’t know why.

“The oil is on the radiator, warming,” he didn’t open his eyes but I could sense him listening to my movements as I went to get it. “Don’t spill any of it, it’s expensive and stains,” the soft smile and a gentle tone belied the warnings true meaning.

This was the last of the instructions I was to get. Waiting for a moment or two, fiddling with the small bottle of warm oil, it was obvious I was now on my own in the action department. A shallow sigh deliberately drew my attention back to his prone beauty. I noticed there was quiet music playing in the background, I couldn’t tell where it was coming from but it was the same which I had heard while in the shower.

Although I had done massages before it had been mainly on feet. My ex-wife loved it, my doctor partner pretended not to but protested only mildly at the ‘torture’; he had never actually stopped me. While I stood rubbing the oil into my palms my divided brains were speaking to each other but my body was doing nothing creative as it should have been by now. Come on it’s not rocket science; just get on with it; I’m sure he’ll say if it’s not right; it was his idea in the first place; this is for your benefit not his; that’s what he said anyway isn’t it? get on with it for pity’s sake.

The thoughts rolled round and round in my head until I eventually leaned over and put my hands gently onto his wide smooth shoulders. With only a kindly pressure, the oil did its job and my palms slid effortlessly over the perfect brown contours spread out in-front of me. A halcyon moan of what I took to be satisfaction rumbled somewhere inside his deep chest cavity. What followed could have been some crude, salacious debauchery as it had at other times in the past but this, this was so, different.

The best part of two hours passed where my hands never once left his skin. Constant contact delivered calmness and confidence in the heightened state that I understood competent massage could induce; I had read it in a book somewhere. Following every curve, every space, every indentation, every imperfection, flowing out to every extremity and back again, it was utterly heavenly.

Finding some rather more special areas as they flowed under my fingers I found I was returning to them more often than other places. The subtle creases just below the perfect mounds of his buttocks; the dimple at the base of his spine; a soft spot behind each knee cap; the wide flat shoulder blades forming hard plateaus under soft skin; it didn’t seem that the magic would stop.

Unexpectedly there was no arousal, sexual that is, not for me anyway but this exertion was about more than that and as far as I can recall I didn’t think about our mutual sexuality. Although I couldn’t easily tell what I was doing for him by any facial expressions, he remained face down, and immobile but as the depth of my incursion developed, it didn’t seem that it mattered.

My confidence had grown immeasurably in that relatively short time and I thought back to our conversation about physical differences and imperfection, both as psychological and visible external scars. My hands had silently found several of these on their travels. Not needing to see them to know they were there, the dim light did sometimes catch the slivers of silver against the otherwise coffee coloured perfection. On subtle examination, subdued stretch marks curved gracefully around architectural hip bones, smaller grouped strings slid out of sight underneath strong curving upper arms. Most noticeable though were the sinewy self-inflicted marks down his forearms where each one would no doubt hold its own story. Despite noticing these things my hands glided over them without the need to ask what they were, I was content to know that they just made a person into an individual. Just to be allowed to touch someone so intimately in the quiet of the afternoon, I think I learnt more about myself than I had during all the years out both desperately and disparately on my own.

Of course, part of me had considered if I should take things one step further in this intimacy, not really knowing what was possible or even perhaps expected despite the earlier assertions. Through the haze of pleasure, I was fortunately reminded of something Paf had said about people being grossly obvious about sex and how boring it was. He had been referring to other people homing in on one’s genitals the moment they were on display whether sex was on the cards or not as if there was no other part of the human body to work with. Silently I had admitted to the same sort of failing with other people on the few occasions when I had such opportunities. Although the temptation here was so tantalisingly close to my fingertips I decided against finding out what the result might be with the shameful probability of being rejected. My hesitation on the matter must have fed through to my finger tips and had broken the masseurs spell, the gentle snoring which had begun to match my rhythmic stokes grunted harshly to a halt.

Reluctantly lifting my hands away from the warm skin, they now felt crudely cold.

“Hmm, next time you’ll be so much better.”

Inside I had to chuckle awkwardly at his cloaked promise but his easy smile told me I must have done something right. He rolled over and as if giving me some small reward, he gently stroked his still flaccid but enormous penis hopefully showing me what I might be fortunate to have some of, the ‘next time’.

The next problem would be that often awkward transition between whatever activities you had been engaged in, to getting ready to leave and actually leaving. He was obviously used to all these shenanigans as well; he sat up signalling the end of the games.

“I have to get ready for work now so, if you sort out your things you can find your own way out, when you’re ready,” I took the instruction literally as I had all the others, “I’ll call you very soon, if that’s OK?”

He already knew I was hardly going to say no, now was I?

The instructions might have sounded a little harsh but it got us over the practicality of the universal problem and I gathered up my hurriedly folded clothes. Having shuffled off to the shower room to dress in private, I made sure that I had first washed all the oil off my hands. Before it all disappeared down the drain hole I lingered for just a moment or two savouring both the scent and the memory now inseparably locked together. We met on the landing but before I turned to go downstairs he afforded me a soft lingering kiss as a final goodbye. We didn’t speak and I eventually left. It was light outside being still only late afternoon and it felt rather strange, like it had going to the pictures in the daytime, it didn’t seem right somehow.  I drove off with my mind running through what had just happened and I let them linger, feeling illicit and naughty.

Eventually the memory slipped into a newly made mental box, I closed its metaphorical lid and smiled to myself. It was a smile that I don’t think faded all the way home. Paf and I spent many ‘special times’ together after that but although it was all so wonderful I always felt things were kept in their appropriate and separate boxes I really wanted to share him and us with the world but it was not my idea to manage our almost secret friendship as we did but I was just happy to have the time with him. We tried other intimacies but either the timing was not right or it didn’t seem necessary for us to immerse ourselves in things and were happy just being together; that is how I convinced myself it was for me, be it true or not.

Knowing more about his past lives and always trying to be mindful of his emotional state, I always waited for Paf to take the lead in most things we did together but perhaps, on a selfish reflection that might not have been the right thing to have done. It was hard to admit to myself I feared losing him although I knew I would undoubtedly would, eventually. Despite our individual shortcomings, I didn’t want to run the risk of losing what I had found for the want of a little patience.

We didn’t sleep in the same bed very often as I didn’t actually stop over that many times but, when it was deemed appropriate, it was something which was extraordinary; for me anyway The one thing I thought, more so hoped we might achieve, was the perfect, penetrative, physical union I had longed to experience since the first days of my sexual discovery. Despite having forgotten how much heat two bodies produce under a quilt, the moisture created provided an excellent lubricant for one of my favourite pastimes, stroking sleeping bodies. My experiences with others had always seemed to be good at the time but this, this was something different, mature, grown up, responsive. Gentle stoking movements along a firm arched thigh worked their way round to a tight, rounded buttock which in turn gave way to a large and protruding but delicate scrotum. If he was ever aware of the attention I stole from him I didn’t know it, not that it mattered as he never once moved away from my exploring hands. The physical excitement, even if only derived through his subconscious, was more than obvious and it seemed I could raise his erection at will; as did mine although not small by any means, I was no match in the genital department.

Only twice did it become more of a one-person adventure. The first, he rolled over onto his back I assumed still asleep and I took the risk of directing my attention directly and orally to the ramrod tenting the duvet. It achieved a perfectly adequate result, I cleaned every drop of his copious emissions so as not to make a mess on the smooth, expensive satin sheets; the size of his testicles had always promised a veritable sea of seamen which was as sharp and salty as I had imagined. The incident went unmentioned the next morning but I was happy enough with that; he would have said something if I had gotten the situation wrong in any way.

The second time I worked my magic, was to have a very different result unfortunately in the negative sense. Having slowly and carefully achieved his full arousal in my usual self-indulgent way, this time, he had been pretending to sleep and joined in the activity before I managed to take up my position deep beneath the quilt. He let me linger on the magnificence for a moment or two, I was good at that part but he rolled me gently over so my back was towards him. Terror and pleasure intertwined and shot through me as rather hoped I knew what was going to happen.

The reality of the impending possibility was spoilt by my concern, given the size of the penis sensuously rubbing up and down against my spine, gently but firmly it was working its way down into the crease of my buttocks that I was desperately trying to relax ready to accommodate the approaching elixir of most gay men’s lives. Calming words slid into my ear and his large but ever gentle hands tried to smooth away the tension that had me almost rigid with expectation. It wasn’t working, I could feel the desperation of impending failure welling up inside me and the disappointment I had feared only added to yet another humiliating crisis that was about to befall me; befall us.

The firm smooth head of his manhood had reached the lips of my puckered anus but the door was firmly shut and locked. However, much I tried to override its involuntary reaction, however much gentle pressure was applied to it, there was no movement or relaxation and so no unveiling of my anal virginity. Removing his appendage from the field of play for a moment, I heard my welcome assailant rummage in the draw by the bed and retrieved what turned out to be a tube of lubricant. Its momentary coldness had the reverse of any desired effect although, with a little deft persuasion and mental agility, I managed to allow what I imagined was just the one finger to slide through the barrier.

This did at least manage to have some effect. Once loosened even that tiny bit, the muscles seemed to accept the intrusion and they started to relax more. The soft gentle probing continued to expand the hidden depths, encouraged by almost inaudible words of encouragement breathed warmly into my ear. With a rush which caught me unawares, the previous muscle contractions gave way, one finger was replaced by two, two by three and I was falling into a pit of magnificent emotion by the almost catastrophic feelings created by the internal massage. If I had been more experienced or even just aware, perhaps I might have concentrated enough to keep the now adequate entrance open for him to enter me properly but my guard slipped for just the most fleeting of moments as the fingers retracted wanting to be replaced by his penetrative member. It was almost immeasurable in time but enough to stop the trophy from attaining its prize, I could see it all pathetically playing out in my mind and could already feel the disappointment screaming through my body. The purple tip of the colossal member pressing against the quickly reforming barrier ahead of it, I cried out, as much to encourage him to press on as to vent my growing frustrations, the sound might have been misinterpreted as I could sense a strategic withdrawal of the cannon from the closing porthole. Realising my mistake, I slid my hips backwards to indicate I wanted him to continue. Feeling the strength still in touching distance behind me I managed to hook what was left of the aperture against the end of the heated shaft, hopefully to give the indication of intent that I could verbalise. Even this clumsy collision and partial engagement wasn’t going make it fully work; I knew the moment was lost. I could have cried, inside I think I did.

“Turn over, relax, leave it a minute, think of something beautiful ….”

The suggestions were lost in the mist of anger and confusion.

Although I did turn it was away from him it was to hide the disappointment of him seeing my frustration at myself. Fighting back the tears which were fast welling up the one thing I couldn’t do was stop the shuddering in my core. A huge dark arm curled itself around me and hugged me to the hot, no doubt frustrated body behind me; I could feel his retreating but still massive erection in the small of my back didn’t help my feeling wretched. Although I would have given anything to be able to instigate another and impale myself upon it, the desperation which had overtaken me was never going to allow that to happen. Words of comfort were lost on me and I couldn’t face my failure, not just for my own indulgence but that of my willing companion. It would have been more than just the physical act which marked a step change in our relationship it would be a sign of compliance and belief in myself. Reality had no place in my emptying heart I only wished that at some point I could replace it with all the things which were rampaging around in my head.

Pretending to sleep, the effort of controlling my breathing and spasms of shaking was too much for that to become a reality. The attempt was never repeated or spoken of again. Privately, images of such beautiful congress and how things might have worked out differently in the long-term kept me going in the darkness of the many sad lonely nights.

Anyway, all that locked away, there were many other things which we could and did do together. These were just everyday things with many of them fully clothed and somehow in the pleasure they bought we just seemed to click. We were never going to be a couple in the formal sense that much was clear, but, I would like to think I counted as more than just a friend. The modern parlance for it would have been ‘friends with benefits’ but even that wasn’t a fair description, it was something just that little bit more; or was that just for me to imagine. We gradually shared more about our lives and often, for me at least, it felt more of a privilege that we did given some of the very personal and intimate things which he found the need or just the comfort to be able to talk about.

His partner, his civil partner, had died only a few months before after a long illness. He had been much older than Paf but that had apparently been a benefit more than an issue. My obvious thought about this current dalliance was I might have been just a rebound, maybe it was but I didn’t want to explore that. Instead, in some stupid attempt to appear older or more mature than I was, I did rather stupidly offer several ridiculous platitudes about ‘time’ and ‘healing’ and the like but was shot down in a blaze of flaming admonishment. The wound of his loss was obviously still very raw but I think he saw I was only trying to be kind; even if in a completely inappropriate and patronising way.

Moving on from this hiccup, he told me things about his difficult upbringing, living in different countries, the physical and mental abuse by other family members and the general sense of abandonment which clouded his life. It was hard not to feel for him and I had no difficulty in showing it; the tears were very genuine. Although I had my own difficulties and challenges which were nothing like his, I still felt we shared more in common than many others might have.

Despite all this intimate bonding and sharing, bizarrely I still didn’t quite understand where I fitted into what seemed from the outside to be a perfect scenario and so I didn’t want to run the risk of losing all or any of it. With a great deal of patience and some self-inflicted pain from having to hold myself back, I seemed to manage to keep the situation going without giving any of my concerns away. It really was fantastic.

The French agenda was presented to me for the first time on one lazy sunny afternoon. We had been pottering about in the garden, he liked his flower beds and I could garden if I had to. As it wasn’t my forte I was dispatched instead to get some lunch ready to eat under an umbrella’s shade on the secluded stone paved patio. Although I had never taken him or anything for granted, things had developed to a point where I felt I was no longer a guest. That day we were to be joined by another friend, long time soul mates as much as a friend.

The young lady, Beverly, was a lawyer by profession. The alfresco meal went well, punctuated with general chatty conversation although most of it excluded me; more by my own devices than deliberately. Paf went to make coffee and during the few moments we were left alone, she turned her professional face full on to me and I had a firm mini lecture on not messing people around, not taking anything that was not mine, not doing anything to hurt ‘her’ Paf. Taken slight aback and despite trying to explain that I couldn’t, I wouldn’t and I already knew how much he had gone through, Not really understanding everything she had covertly referred to, I did my best to allay her fears as much as I could. It was all finished as soon as our host appeared with the coffee and a bonus of cake; I sat back quietly admonished. The subject was never raised again and she was as nice as pie whenever I saw her afterwards; I put it down to just territory marking by a protective lioness for her admittedly enormous if cute cub.

As the initial bones of the French scheme were laid out, I could see so many gaps and pitfalls in the idea that it was impossible not to start to point them out. Although I knew I shouldn’t have been quite so sceptical, once my wrist had been verbally slapped, I paid more attention to the detail and tried to be constructive instead. It wouldn’t hurt to think about things even if they would never come to fruition. However, there were other things and other people who were more important to me not to carry on with the ideas at least.

There were already two others involved in planning the scheme apart from the nice lady lawyer and we two. Another man named Ian who took an instant dislike to me when we eventually met and the guy already living out in France. The chap at this end was difficult to fathom, he went out of his way to avoid me although thankfully it meant suffering the rather strained atmosphere slightly less often than we might have. Not feeling completely confident or competent in my small part of the jigsaw of Paf’s complex life, I didn’t feel I should challenge although on every occasion that we met he would go through grotesque but obvious territorial marking activities towards ‘his’ Paf, an obvious touch, a kiss, positioning himself between us whenever he could. It made me feel I wanted to do some territory marking of my own to outstrip this unwanted interloper and a school yard pissing contest was started.

He was older than me, quite obviously, no idiot but I didn’t want to overstep any social or personal boundaries he and Paf had. In many respects, it would have been difficult to usurp any of their connection as he had provided the Jag on the drive and I couldn’t piss that high up the wall. On quiet reflection, I decided I would just let him get on with it; whatever ‘it’ was. At least I could do one or two good things in the bedroom which he wasn’t allowed or I don’t think capable; he preferred being tied up and left in the shed at the bottom of the garden. It was at least one point on the score board to me as far as I was concerned and I was a very patient man.

The practicalities of ‘the project’, as it had come to be known, started to be fleshed out and many different options were probed and investigated but still having no real faith in it ever happening. My allotted task was looking for accommodation possibilities, availability, and styles along with suitable leisure facilities. Paf was the dynamo behind everything and his never-ending faith in the whole thing was how the four of us eventually came to set off towards the French countryside for a ‘site meeting’. For me it was more of a much-needed holiday.

The journey was straight forward if not actually the shortest route. A long drive followed by an even longer night ferry crossing and then another drawn-out dusty haul to our destination. For future reference, going via Portsmouth is not the best way to get there.

Having decided I would drive all the way there, unfortunately this meant I had lost a point in the ongoing urination contest with Ian as he could pay much more attention to our conquest, I realised I might have to work harder to keep ahead.

On the night ferry, he had thankfully stayed out of the way but I made sure I was the one who sat and massaged Paf’s feet while he slept. I was also the one who got the breakfast croissants and hot if questionable coffee; real playground politics but it was working.

The French leg of the journey was marred only by me speeding on the AutoRoute most likely to show off but getting caught doing it. My claim that I hadn’t changed the cars display over to kilometres fell on ears which didn’t understand English. The fact that it made the 130kph, 130mph instead and well outside the 80mph limit was always going to be a lost cause. My interest was distracted by the two, motorbike riding, tight leather trousered traffic police. They didn’t admit to speaking any English and my limited schoolboy French was not up to the job by any means. There was nothing to do but pay the spot cash fine of €90 to the rather scintillating if unsociable officer. Needing to gather some of the money from the rest of the group, I had to put up with Ian’s smirking. While we all rummaged for the collection of notes and coins, the machine gun touting accomplice wandered round the car, ironically a Citroen, expressionless behind the standard issue but very stylish sun glasses; it set us all on edge, despite his obvious attractions for most of us.

The rest of journey was done within the regulations but proved to be noticeably quieter; I was miserable because I had lost ground in the game.

We eventually arrived in the picture-perfect town square bathed in warm bright sunshine and pleasantly scented ‘Frenchness’ only to wait to be met by the last piece of the people puzzle, James. He arrived all smiles and excitement. Although I knew roughly where he fitted into the scheme of thing, thankfully it didn’t seem to be the same as Ian. It was refreshing that there were no feelings of conflict, no hostility at all in fact, which was a tonic for my sometimes-problematic ego.

Three days of pure bliss followed. It was my first holiday in ages, I was with people I generally liked and managed to muster up enough interest to provide positive input to ‘the project’ as well as make the rest of the trip worthwhile. The others did what they wanted while I just soaked in the opportunities to be around someone I had grown to like very much. Even the prospect of not having any one on one time with Paf didn’t spoil things. We had talked about it; or rather he had explained how things would have to work while we were out there complicated by him having indulged in some physical interaction with both other guys at different points, although nothing of any serious nature. In the interest of fairness and relationship politics, none of the three of us would be shown any personal favour while we were there. As far as I was concerned, if Ian didn’t get anything that I couldn’t, I didn’t really mind; if he had, then my rather petty jealousy might have become more of a problem so far away from home.

As it turned out, the glorious open country space allowed us enough room to keep out of each other’s way if we needed to. Having always hankered to speak a foreign language but never having the need, I got to practice my French rather more successfully as I volunteered to pop to the village a couple of times and get more bread and other bits of things. It afforded the pleasure of glimpsing the young patisserie which James suggested might be an interesting distraction while I was in the boulangerie; the bread shop. He was not wrong in his suggestion but I got the impression that the very handsome, young, sun-baked guy might have been used to and I was just another of the English invaders leering through the produce at the producer. Feeling some degree of embarrassment at being caught looking was not enough to spoil the moments.

To break up the deliberations surrounding ‘the project’ and to see some of the surrounding area, we planned a morning out for the second day. We all squeezed into my car despite Ian saying he didn’t want to go; he lost this argument as Paf directed him to join us and I chalked up another pee point to me. Cosily crammed in, we set off on the picturesque drive to one of the larger local towns which held its weekly street market that day. The potted history of the area which accompanied the drive was interesting and at least something extra a normal visitor would not have the benefit of.

When we had parked in a side street and wandered down into the market place Mr. Grumpy went off on his own after he had been given an approximate time to meet up with us again; the day was getting better and better as he sauntered off. We four who remained did the market rounds but decided that someone needed to get the provisions needed for the rest of the day. Paf and Beverly would go off and meet James and me later; and Ian if he turned up.

Despite the short time I had known James, I felt rather comfortable in his company. We continued with the tour and eventually made our way down into the old town. With my love of France and the French and his eloquent descriptive style of conversation made the history of the area even more interesting. James was originally from England but his years living out there made his knowledge flow like a naturalised Frenchman.

Of course, he fitted in all the gay related places and people as we went around the narrow streets, shops, and pavement cafés. Perhaps I might have been guilty of appearing to be a little more interested than was appropriate but, such subtleties were generally lost on my naiveté.

As we walked around we shared more general interests and noted some of the local ‘attractions’ who passed while we sat and drank strong black coffee at a pavement cafe. It wasn’t as if we talked about our personal preferences all the time but the subject was one which came easy to both of us. The conversation was punctuated by certain specific, mutual, interests but I silently speculated that James must lead somewhat of a lonely existence since the loss of his long-time partner only a year or so before. I was probably wrong but I thought myself compassionate for thinking about it anyway. As I had only known him for these two days, whatever little we had shared made it seem much more. We had a good laugh and although we flirted a little with ourselves and one or two of the passing sights, it was nothing serious and we both managed to gather our composure’s as we eventually met up with the others as arranged.

The rest of the stay went very well if uneventful and after more eating, drinking, talking and even more light if unproductive flirting, the holiday had to end. We exchanged and rechecked all our contact details and departed after flamboyant declarations of thanks and reciprocation; between some of the party anyway. We travelled north following the sat-nav once more and I kept well within the speed limits. The scenery changed from the picturesque to the perfunctory as we arrived back in the less picturesque West Midlands. On the rivalry front, boundaries had been clearly marked had thankfully not been breached. Ian went home first although I deliberately held back to be the last one to say goodbye; it was another high-water mark on the wet wall of combat.

Discussions around ‘the project’ continued on and off but were dogged by complications with the French authorities and the convoluted mayoral planning and information system over there. Unsurprisingly things slowed to a near stop; I was neither surprised nor worried about it. What information we gathered was shared in a very business-like way between the interested parties. It was at this point, having no real reason to contact the French connection that I broke one of my golden rules of communication.

It was evening, I had been reflecting on my time with James that day in the market, and if the truth is known not for the first time I felt the need to contact him. The thought had been prompted during one of my picture collecting sessions during which I had received an email from him and eagerly broke away from sorting out duplications to read his message. It was nothing very important but I replied to it out of courtesy anyway. Unfortunately, this time I added an extra piece on the end relating to what I considered were our shared interests in particular types of men. Although I did no more than type an ambiguous comment, my thoughts were he might be interested in sharing pictures of such examples as well. Not waiting for a reply, I simply attached a few representations to a second email of what I meant in all only about five images, each based on my interpretation of our time spent in the market. My mistake. He sent a rather harsh reply immediately pointing out that we may well have similar interests in men but he had none in having pictures banded about across the air waves with his name attached to them; sensible man.

Of course, I understand that people might find it difficult to admit to having guilty pleasures but it seemed it was only me who was stupid enough to use it as a tool for outrageous and obviously inappropriate flirting. Despite apologising as profusely as is possible via a keyboard, the matter was never referred to again. In fact, I didn’t have any communication with him at all from that point forward.

Putting my stupidity aside, and not looking to excuse my actions, one of the failings of modern computer based communication systems is there is very little or, in many cases no face to face interaction; video conferencing was not as big as it is now. With just a keyboard to express one’s self on, all the subtleties and nuances which make human non-verbal communication so effective have been abandoned to misinterpretation, malformed opinion, and loss of context. A great leap backward in my view but that is often the way of the modern world.

Having had little time or even the need to consider my blunder, not that I really understood what I had done anyway the wheels of my downfall had most certainly been set in motion. Desperation was the only mitigating evidence I could come up with. Much more of the evidence against me would be brought into play when, only a few days after that disastrous email exchange, I had the first visit from the ‘tax inspectors’. The thought was not a happy recollection to end but as I was dragged back to the current reality by a heavy banging on the window from outside in the prison yard.

“Yow’d better kepp out of sight,”

In my confusion, I didn’t fully take on board what Dave had said.

My curiosities for almost everything lead me to look up at the window to see for myself what was going on. A rather unattractive scowling face was pressed aggressively against the Plexiglas. Once it had seen it had an audience, a string of obscenities were spit out in my direction, actual bubbling spit accompanied most of them which slid down leaving moist streaks in the already dirty surface. Not really understanding many of the insults or the rationale behind them, it was officious enough to make me retreat to the corner of my bunk and out of direct sight; as I had been advised only moments earlier.

“What was that all about,” I enquired tentatively.

“It’s just what yam get for bayin’ a VP.”

I was still none the wiser.

Dave went on to describe his interpretation of the event as best he was capable of and I managed to decipher most of what he said, filtering out the extraneous and the extreme to formulate some sort of half-baked rational.

VP stood for vulnerable prisoner. It didn’t always apply to people with the sexual connotations that the belligerent face at the window had made out although the liberal use of phrases like ‘nonce’ and ‘pedo’ might infer that it did. The status also applied to drug related issues, personal grievances, gang related problems and generally, anything that a good kicking or sometimes worse might sort out. We were separated very much for our own protection as prisoner to prisoner justice was swift and often brutal; fortunately for us the VP system would try to minimise it as best it could.

The prisoners pacing around the yard outside were not from our wing as far as I could tell and certainly not VP by their actions or shouting. Fortunately for us they only had to be endured for about an hour a day, if it wasn’t raining; apparently ‘the screws ‘dai get wet for no one’. The diatribe from my cell mate was at least informative this time.

My asylum in the corner of my bunk seemed to work, out of sight did get me out of mind for now anyway but, once the others outside had gone back to their own block and the coast was clear again, I could look at the yard in more detail. There were yellow hatched markings on the floor alongside each of the buildings which were apparently theoretical exclusion zones to stop such aggressions that we had just experienced to the other wings. It seems these were only occasionally enforced by the supervising officers during exercise periods and we would have to put up with them. Obviously, officers had their own views on what was admissible for sport and we manifestly constituted an acceptable quarry.

An image of being a prisoner, within a physical prison and within a mental prison made the already diminutive space feel even more oppressive; I felt one of my involuntary shudders go through me. Both the feeling and the reality of being alone are things which I had lived with most of my life. Although never actually feeling sorry for myself because of this fact, it seemed to be just one of those things you had to deal with. Wondering just how I was going to deal with it in here seemed a waste of time as, day by day would be the only possible solution. Having sort of settled into the place now, in the cell anyway, the general operation of the wing was another thing to absorb and amalgamate. There was still so little information about what else was happening to me or was going to happen that I couldn’t afford to let myself consider any of the options for now; I could deal with information but I was lost without it.

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