The following story is almost certainly a work of fiction.
If you shouldn't be reading this sort of thing, because of the rules which operate in the place where you live, then your decision to continue reading must be a matter between you, your conscience, and your relationship with whoever it is who makes the rules – be it your mother or your government.
I should address the `playing safe' issue, I suppose. Leo and Michael don't, because they don't need to: Leo was a virgin when the relationship began, and has only ever had unprotected sex with Michael, who had tested `negative' in his most recent test, since when he had not been exposed. Which means they can indulge freely, without having to break off in mid-flow and start scruffing around in search of condoms (remember what those days were like?)
Comments are welcome. There's more to tell, and if there's any interest to hear it, then, you never know...
And, as ever, donations to Nifty are encouraged. We all get a helluva lot of `entertainment' from these pages; give something back. Follow the link on the Nifty homepage to see how you can donate.
Many thanks for your comments. I only hope that it's as rewarding to read as it is to write.
This episode, I'm afraid, is another one without any `action'. Apologies – it's the demands of the narrative structure. I expect the next episode to be unconstrained raunch, though, to make up for it...
Lost Ball: Part 17
`Return of the Prodigal...(3)'
The light from the candles on the table caught the underside of the ancient brick arch which bisects the dining room. And from the furthest corners it was reflected back repeatedly from the glass doors of the display cabinets, and more dimly from the glass and porcelain inside them, as well as from the gilt of Frederick-Augustus's frame on the end-wall, from where he looks down with an air of benign hauteur.
Leo's dressed-down look might not have met his exacting standards, but to my eyes he looked perfect. The soft lines of the sweatshirt and sweatpants sat well on his frame...broad shoulders, and a hint at muscular solidity, which he'd not had before. There was strength there, too. His hair had dried in a rather unruly mass – as tends to happen, if you have sex with wet hair, and then lie around afterwards, cuddling - and it had darkened since summer to a rich auburn, which also occasionally caught the light from the candles when he moved his head as he was speaking.
We'd stayed there, on the sofa in the salone, long after he'd cum, more or less entwined together, and not really speaking, since there wasn't a lot of need. I'm probably the last man in the western world to carry with him on a daily basis a freshly laundered large white handkerchief, and it had been unfolded on this occasion and put to good use in wiping up the cum that generously decorated Leo's belly – I didn't want to get up, or for him to have to, which would have broken the moment, so for now it seemed an appropriate compromise. I made a mental note to suggest to him another shower before going to bed – if he was going to be staying, through bedtime, that was- but for now I was quite happy with the lick-and-a-promise approach. Between us, we tugged his clothing back into place – although, my hand stayed for a while up and under his t-shirt, just lightly maintaining contact, and then, later on, I slipped it down and inside his underpants, where I casually cupped his balls, and I held him there like that, while he cuddled himself against me. Kisses, on both sides, all the while were soft and frequent.
I remembered the exchange of messages on his phone from several hours earlier, and I mentioned it to him now. He frowned, and I extricated myself from beneath him to go and retrieve his phone from the dressing room. On my way back, I drew the curtains on the salone window, and gave the fire the attention that it needed. Leo sat up, next to me, on the sofa as he looked through the messages, and he bit his lower lip, thinking.
"Why not tell them you'll be back home, sometime tomorrow?" I suggested. "You don't really need to be any more specific than that." I properly reasoned – to myself - that the shit probably couldn't hit the fan any more badly than it already had done, and so he might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a goat; staying out for another night wasn't going to make matters any worse, given how bad they probably already were. He looked up.
"I can stay, tonight?" This was unexpected.
"Leo. You can stay any night, as far as I'm concerned..." Within reason. And with the qualification that we still had to address the matter of why he'd disappeared in the first place, and for all this time. Although, as we appeared to be slipping further back into the closeness that we'd previously had, I was less and less worried that whatever had happened, whatever he'd done, was going to be somehow irreparable. He grinned. Momentarily delighted. Quickly, he sent the message as suggested, and then, again at my suggestion, he switched off his phone; transmissions for the day were concluded. I removed the thing from him, and then pulled him in for another hug, which lasted, and lasted, my arms around his shoulders, and his around mine; his face buried against my chest, and mine resting against the back of his neck, where I was conscious of a fine covering of the lightest down of soft hairs, and of a slight but unmistakable aroma of Leo.
The rain had finally ceased, at some point, and when I went across to the barn for more wood for the kitchen fire, the sky was clear and filled with stars. The temperature had dropped, giving a distinct chill to the air, and it seemed possible that we might even be in for a frost.
Although we'd become already a lot easier with each other over the course of the day, it was still the case that every time we were apart for more than a minute or so – when Leo went to the loo, for instance, or like now, when I went to get more firewood – a slight air of awkwardness inevitably returned, which had to be dispelled again, each time. This time, I handed him the basket of logs, with instructions to stack them beneath the stove, and to keep the fire fed, as necessary.
Dinner was scavenged, largely from the freezer, and the rich smell of carbonnade filled the kitchen, as it slowly thawed, and began to heat through, in a pan on the hob. To drink with it, I'd retrieved a decent bottle of red from the cantina, on the basis that there was something to celebrate - but for beforehand I stuck to the scrubbing-alcohol quality of prosecco which is the standard pre-dinner tipple in this house, and I poured a glass of it now for each of us. For Leo's benefit, and to stave off his clear and imminent starvation, I made some bruschetta, and we ate these while we waited for the carbonnade to be ready.
"Leo?" I was standing at the hob, stirring the pan. My back was towards him as I stirred.
"What have you told your parents about me?" I asked, with apparent nonchalance. I was thinking about that message I'd seen: Are you with Michael? And all that it perhaps implied; I thought I probably ought to know more... about where I featured in all of this...if at all. The pause behind me lengthened, and I glanced at him over my shoulder. He appeared to be gazing into the flames, and he chewed his lip, lost in thought. Clearly, not an easy memory.
"Everything, really," he said, finally, still looking into the flames. Which came as something of a surprise.
"Really...? Everything...?" Without meaning to, I parroted him, but in reverse.
"Mm. Pretty much. All the bits that properly matter, anyway." He seemed disinclined to expand further, and, although curious for more detail, I let it drop. For now. And instead I sought to distract him, with a suggestion that he get on with setting the table.
The food was good – six months resting, for a carbonnade, will do that – and the wine was excellent. Conversation was easy, and with no obvious awkwardness – the objects in the cabinets gave plenty of opportunity for questions and for answers, and Leo was intrigued by many of them: the brass box my grandfather had brought back from the trenches in 1914; the silver sixpence from the reign of Elizabeth I; the necklace of roman glass beads; the Neolithic carved arrowhead; the small, framed Cocteau drawing...The room is not really used in the summer, and so, although he'd stuck his head through the doorway once or twice before, he'd never properly looked at any of these things. It wasn't difficult to keep the conversation going, whilst avoiding any and all references to recent history.
But, at some point, that wasn't going to be possible any longer.
As I drained the decanter into both our glasses, long after dessert was finished. I raised my glass to him, and with my free hand I reached across the table and took his free hand in mine. "I am so happy that you're here!" I told him, smiling . And he smiled back, flushed, and he raised his glass to meet mine. More of the wine had flowed my way than his, that was for sure, but he'd had enough noticeably to have cheered him. But, as he raised his glass, suddenly he couldn't meet my gaze any longer, and he glanced uncomfortably down. The elephant in the room had just moved to centre-stage.
The pause lengthened. And lengthened.
"It's not...I can't...I have to tell you, what happened. Why..." he said. His voice was low – barely audible, really. And, nothing more was forthcoming.
"Ok." And then, as he still said nothing, "Ok?"
He withdrew his hand from mine, and his attention appeared focused on the table top. Still, nothing.
"I don't ...I don't really know how to explain it. How to tell you." His voice wavered. I thought he might lose it.
"Well. For a start. You can look at me, can't you? Nothing is so bad that you can't do that...I hope." He looked up. His face was troubled, and his eyes brimming. I took his hand in mine, once more.
"Look. We don't have to do this now, you know? It can wait." Although I knew that it probably couldn't. And so did he, as he indicated by the shake of his head. It had to be dealt with and – if possible – put out of the way, now.
"Look. Would it help if I asked you questions, maybe, and you can answer them...?" I suggested.
"Questions and answers?" his voice was still uncertain, but he seemed to have recovered – a bit, at any rate. I nodded in acknowledgement. "Like the Spanish Inquisition, you mean?" In his feeble attempt at a joke, I could see that he was trying to hold it together.
"Not entirely," I said, drily. But, from his expression I understood that I'd been given the go-ahead.
I thought, for a moment. Quite a long moment. Then, I launched in.
"Do you still love me?" I asked. With no warning. If Leo was surprised by the question, then it was probably no less so than I was – I hadn't intended to start out with that.
"Yes." No hesitation. His answer was clear, and certain, and direct. He had no problem meeting my eyes.
"Good. Because... I'm fairly certain that I still love you." It wasn't an avowal; it was a straightforward statement of fact. His fingers were once again firmly intertwined with mine, across the table. Now, though, he looked less sure; because...what if, what he'd done...once I knew...would have compromised my feelings beyond repair, once I knew for certain what it had been.
"You know," I said carefully, "on one level, that might be all that needs to be said about...everything." He shook his head, no – he needed certainty on this. He needed to know that I knew, so that he could be sure that I understood what he'd done...and, if I still accepted him anyway, then he would have been...absolved. For want of a better word.
"Ok. I...think...I can appreciate that," I said. He swallowed, hard. "But, you have to remember that whatever you say, whatever it was that happened...what you tell me, and what I hear...is all within the context of what you've just said to me and what I've just said to you. And that is the most important thing of all." He nodded. It seemed that unless he was answering a direct question, he couldn't trust himself to speak
"So." If we were going to do this, then it was better to get it done.
happen when you were in
"Yes. But – not one specific thing...it wasn't like that." So, he hadn't just met somebody else, in that case.
"Alright." I re-grouped. " When you first went there, though, everything was ok? You were happy?" I remembered that he had been; I remembered the text messages, and the phone conversations we'd had.
"And, then - something changed? Around the start of the second week?" He confirmed this, his brow furrowed.
"What was it that happened? What made things change?"
"Some more people arrived, to stay. There weren't enough bedrooms in the house, and so Marco and I were told we'd have to sleep in the pool-house, just for a while. Which I thought would be cool...at first."
"But, it wasn't?"
Well, the first night it was, but then...the next night, he suggested we go
skinny dipping in the pool in the middle of the night. And I forgot, about my
tan-line. And he saw it." Leo's speedo tan-line, from his white and
yellow swimming trunks, which delineated all his best bits. By the time
he'd left for
"So...what happened? He asked you about it?"
"Yes. And I tried not to answer, at first. Just to push the question away. But he kept coming back to it. Maybe, because I wouldn't tell him. He had a bottle of whisky in his stuff, and we were drinking it together. And he still kept on asking me. And so...I told him. About meeting you, and about being friends, and about spending time together here, at your house."
"And...about the rest?"
"Yes," he admitted. "I guess I was a bit drunk...I don't know...but I was feeling so happy about everything. About you, and about everything in my life. And I started to tell him about ...about `us'...and it felt so great to be able to tell somebody else about it, and for it not just to be this secret thing I had to keep to myself. And I suppose I didn't notice that he didn't seem to think it was so great...and maybe I couldn't stop talking. But, I told him everything. I'd thought he'd think it was something special, and amazing. Like I did."
"You told him about the sex?"
"Yes," he confessed miserably. And it was only after he'd told him all about it, that Leo had realized his mistake. He'd somehow assumed that Marco, his sophisticated, cosmopolitan, worldly-wise, go-to person, to whom he'd looked up for as long as he could remember would understand, and would be happy for him about how his life had changed.
"But, he wasn't?" Leo shook his head. Not one bit.
It seemed, though, that it wasn't enough for Marco just to disapprove, but he had to take on Leo's `rescue', as he saw it, as a personal mission. That first night, and for nights – and days – thereafter, he'd worked to demolish Leo's morale, and his belief that anything about what had happened between Leo and me had been any good. And he'd been thorough. Marco was obviously clever, and it helped him that he knew Leo very, very well...so he knew exactly how and where to get under his skin. He'd worked all of the possible angles: the relationship was sick, and perverted...I was an elderly degenerate (I'm paraphrasing here...Leo was more circumspect in the words he used, but I got the message)...I was abusing him...Leo would go to hell (his relationship with God was a rather fluid work-in-progress at that period, and it was yet one more angle that could be worked, as far as Marco was concerned)...his parents would be disgusted, and disappointed, and would consider him worthless...society would shun him...he would get ill and die a disfigured cripple. On, and on, and on. Apparently, some nights Marco would wake him from sleep, in the middle of the night, just in order to harangue him with yet another new set of arguments.
Marco, in short, was a manipulative bully of the worst kind. He was a shit. After that time when I'd tried unsuccessfully to phone Leo, Marco had taken the sim card from his phone; and then, later, he'd thrown the phone away, and had made Leo tell his parents that he'd lost it. Every lie of that kind was stored away as the basis for further ammunition – things that Marco could use if Leo were to show any sign of trying to reassert his independence.
Our question and answer session proceeded in a rather clumsy fashion, as Leo stumbled through his explanation, with frequent pauses as he searched for the right words, or in order to collect himself, against the unpleasantness of his memories. I probed, and carefully searched further in my questions...but I was quite clear about what had happened: Marco was a total shit, and he had successfully turned Leo into his victim. At times, as Leo talked, I found I was clenching my jaw, as I bit back what I really thought of this complete and utter cunt. The turquoise and leather wristlet which I'd given Leo, I learnt, had gone the same way as his phone, and Marco had forced Leo to throw it into the sea.
"Was he `in love' with you, do you think?" I asked, at one point. Leo denied the idea, forcefully – but I still think that probably that had been the case. Not `in love' in any positive sense, but in a nasty, crabbed, possessive way. He was getting satisfaction from his bullying of Leo, and it seemed that it fed on itself - the more Leo caved in to him, the further he seemed to want it to go. He was in love with Leo as an object for him to control, if nothing else.
Outwardly, in the confused mass of people coming and going, and the summer crowd moving through, it was easy for Leo's changed demeanour to go unnoticed; and anyway, Marco seems largely to have taken charge of Leo's timetable, taking him off to other beaches and away from the group for whole days at a time, where he could carry on his campaign, unobserved. Leo's parents noticed nothing.
Although this was difficult for Leo to talk through, and despite my initial request that he look at me as he did, his eyes were often downcast as he gave his answers. It was not an easy process.
I sensed, though, that it was cathartic for him, and that the process of imparting the information was also, to some degree, a process of offloading it.
By the time the holiday had ended, Leo had become so demoralized, and was so much under Marco's thumb, that he found himself going along with Marco's suggestion to Leo's parents that he go back with him to Milan for a couple of weeks. As a postgrad student there, in Economics, Marco had a lot of flexibility with his time, and Leo's parents thought the experience would be good for him. They thought of Marco as a positive influence in his life. And so, the bullying continued, entirely unabated. And during that period when I'd been anxiously awaiting Leo's appearance, it turned out that he hadn't even been back in town, at all. By that stage, it wasn't so much that Leo believed what Marco had told him about us, as that Leo didn't have any belief of his own any more, and so he just accepted whatever Marco told him. Marco had sapped his free will. Which meant that, even when he could have done, he made no effort to be back in touch with me.
As bad luck would have it, Marco had been approved to begin a project with some fellow academics from two other universities, one of which was our local one, and so it was arranged that for two days or so every week he would be coming to stay with Leo and his parents, overr a period of at least several months. And so, things continued. If anything, Marco's behaviour became even more controlling. While he was there, he vetted any post that arrived for Leo – which included the letter I'd sent. It had been Marco who tore it up, and who had accompanied Leo when he made him stuff it back into my mailbox, along with Leo's copy of the key to the gate.
And then, of course, there had been the evening of the concert, in the Duomo. Marco hadn't been around, at the time, and Leo was there with his parents and another couple, who were friends of theirs. By that point, Leo's confidence in himself had been completely undermined by Marco, and he had no certainty about himself, or about almost anything which was going on in his life: he'd jettisoned his relationship with me, and his relationship with his parents was submerged under the threat that Marco would expose him to them, and destroy their faith in him. His schoolwork had suffered – but Marco was clever enough to broach the subject himself with Leo's parents, and to suggest that he should take responsibility for getting Leo back on track. Which they approved. It seemed that Marco had every exit covered.
The concert, though, it turned out, had been some kind of turning point. He agreed, now, that when I'd seen him, he'd felt covered in shame. But, I'd misread it. It wasn't me that had been the cause of his shame, but himself. And, it wasn't shame about what he'd done with me, but – he realized afterwards – a deep sense of shame about how he'd behaved subsequently. Needless to say, he didn't realize all of that at the moment when he saw me standing there, beside the pulpit, but he gradually pieced it together in the solitary darkness of his bed, later that night.
"'Just about your favourite place for me...'" he quoted, unhappily, from a conversation we'd had, about a million years previously. I smiled ruefully, and squeezed his hand, at the fact that he'd remembered.
Seeing me had, in a way, unlocked all sorts of memories which came to him, unpolluted by Marco's input. And it seemed as though it began a process of undermining Marco's version of what had happened. Enough, anyway, that Leo began to question, and not merely to accept whatever it was that Marco said. Maybe the reversal would have happened anyway, without our encounter in the Duomo. Maybe Leo was just tired of being used as a punchbag, and he would have started to push back, whatever. It doesn't matter. What matters is that he did.
When Marco next turned up, he found Leo much less malleable than before, and he didn't like it. He tried to exert pressure, and Leo increasingly resisted. To the point that, eventually, finally – at long fucking last – Leo's mother noticed that something was amiss. Leo thought maybe it dated from an occasion when Marco forgot himself sufficiently to tell Leo, in front of her, to go and change the shirt he'd just put on, because he, Marco, didn't like the colour, and Leo had noticed that Marco's `order' to him had obviously jarred with her; and so, she started to watch more closely. And probably she observed that there was something seriously wrong in what was happening. It came to a head, dramatically, when she walked into the kitchen one day, just after Leo had quite forcefully told Marco, in relation to some petty order or other, to `fuck off', and, just as she walked in, Marco had slapped him across the face, at the same telling him that unless he smartened his act up, then his parents would `have to be told...about everything'.
On Leo's behalf, I hated him.
The upshot, though, was that Leo's Mother told Marco that it would be better, the next time he had to come to town for his research project, if he were to make alternative arrangements about where he would stay. And, Marco didn't like that. As a parting shot, just before he left the house, he waspishly informed Leo's parents that perhaps they should ask their faggot son what he'd spent his summer doing, with `Michael', his older boyfriend. For Marco, it seemed a surprisingly unsubtle move; but, nevertheless as far as he was concerned it produced the desired result.
And so began a period of interminable soul-searching and interrogation. Endless sessions of his parents questioning Leo about what Marco had said...and endlessly Leo would tell them so much, and no more: Marco was right...he had had a friend...alright, a `boyfriend'...who was called Michael, and who was older...and they had had a sexual relationship...which was now finished...and, yes, he, Leo, was indeed a `faggot'...and, no, it was actually none of their fucking business. Over, and over. He was grounded – although, it wasn't clear why. And since he ignored the rule, anyway, it made little difference, except that it meant that relations went from bad to worse, to awful. Counselling was suggested, and tried – once – although only after he had initially refused to go at all. The bad humour extended to cover every aspect of his interface with his parents, until there'd been a complete breakdown in their relationship. Any and every conversation would turn into a shouting match, and would end with slammed doors. He started failing at school, and so there had been further meetings, and the school had been brought into the picture. The whole thing spiraled down, and was a total nightmare.
"But, Leo," I asked him, picking my way carefully, once the facts of what had happened had become more or less clear to me, "I don't get it. Why have you been worried that I would blame you for any of this? This isn't anything that you've done. This is all something that's been done to you." I didn't want to use the word `victim'; the last thing he needed from me was to feel patronized.
His answer was entirely straightforward. Completely warped - in my opinion - but it appeared to make perfect sense to him.
"But...it was me who let it happen," he shrugged. "It was my fault. I let it happen." It was as simple as that; he seemed surprised I even needed to ask. Guilt was etched across his face. "It was all my fault. I behaved horribly, to you. I knew you couldn't forgive me."
Where exactly to go with this, I had no idea. It wasn't something that could be dealt with by one glib sentence, and I suspected it would take time, and much talk, to get him to understand what had really happened: that Marco had been devious enough not only to fuck with his mind, but that at the same time he'd managed to persuade Leo that the mind-fucking had all happened because he, Leo, hadn't stopped it.
"I think... you'd find that no Court in the land would convict you on that basis," was all I could say, for now. And, for now, it was sufficient, for him to understand that we were good. That now I knew everything, and that we were still good. At that realization, looking down at his hands, he drew in one deep, shuddering breath, and then he looked up at me, his face a picture of misery and relief in equal measure. I pushed my chair back from the table, and pulled on his hand.
"Come here," I said. "You're far too far away, over there."
He made his way round the table to me, and raised a questioning eyebrow as I patted my lap, for him to sit.
"You aren't too old, even at fifteen, to sit on my lap," I told him.
"Sixteen," he corrected.
"I had a birthday. Three weeks ago." I had known, but I hadn't allowed myself to remember the fact.
"Happy birthday." He considered how the day itself had been and immediately he banished the memory.
"Not really," he said. There was a pause. He sat. I hugged him close, and he allowed himself to relax against me.
"Well, then – happy birthday, now."
"Mm," he said.
The silent phone calls, it transpired, had begun just after Marco had disappeared from the scene. Leo couldn't entirely explain them - why he'd made them - but could only say that he'd wanted to make contact. Although he knew that he couldn't really make contact, not after he'd behaved so badly to me. He thought.
"How did you know it was me?" he asked.
"I didn't. Well...not really." I thought about it. "I suppose, you were unfinished business, in my head. You were there, at the front of my thoughts, and so I just attached the idea of you to the fact of somebody being out there, on the end of the silent phone line." He seemed to like that idea. It made sense for him. He liked having been front-of-mind for me.
And his nocturnal visits to the house. To my surprise, and his quiet pride, he told me that in fact he'd visited, and entered the house in my absence, half a dozen times, in all – not just the two that I knew about. Through the gate into the courtyard - which, it happens, has a faulty lock, and which I'd never thought it important to get fixed, since I thought it was only accessible from the school water- tank room, next door. But, Leo had identified a route from the school cloister, through into the Priest's garden, and from there through a window into a generator room, and then, by excavating through some plasterboard, into the tank room; and so, all he'd had to do was to block open an emergency exit door from the school before he left, at the end of the day, and his route was clear. I never lock the doors from the house to the Courtyard, since, as far as I knew, there was no way for anybody to get into the yard. He would come into the house, he told me, and just wander around...remembering. He was always very careful to leave no trace of his presence
"Except, that time when you took the shirt?"
"I got distracted. I found your clothes, on the chair in the Dressing Room. And I picked up your shirt...it smelled of you. I wasn't concentrating. And then, suddenly, I heard the sound of the garden gate, and I got out as fast as I could. I had to jump down from the terrace to the courtyard...and it was only after I'd already gone out through the gate that I realized I was still holding your shirt. I think I probably left the light switched on, as well. I could see it, from the Courtyard, as I left."
"You did." I mussed his hair. "I'm surprised it was my shirt you had, though, and not my underpants," I teased him.
"There weren't any there," he answered, with endearing candour. "Just jeans and the shirt. Do you think I'd have been sniffing your shirt if I could have had your pants, instead?" He looked scornful at the idea. I had to laugh.
"I do love you, you know." And this time it was both a statement and an avowal.
"Yes," he said, quietly. "I know."
To be continued...