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As the Twig is Bent

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As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.

Castle Gloria, June 1970. Age 12.

“Cheers,” said Sir Rex Price, raising his newly filled glass. He sat amongst a throng of friends under the dappled shade of the alder trees alongside the tennis court at Castle Gloria, watching Theo Red, Earl of Gloria, engaged in an energetic set of tennis with his current interest, a young man from the Foreign Office.

“Theo always turns on a good show,” Toby Latymer remarked with approval. He sipped his cocktail. “How’s business, Price?”

“Fairly poor, I have to say,” was the reply. “I’ve all but given up on farming; impossible to turn a profit. I’ve leased out most of my estate to those chaps from that frozen-food chain. Frightfully vulgar, I know, but they paid well and I don’t have to watch the expenses so closely any more. Had to let the tenants go, of course, and they weren’t happy, but in the end, what can you do?”

They drank silently, watching the tennis match.

“Helen Red must be an understanding woman,” commented Denis Dunbar. “Turning the blind eye, leaving Theo the run of the house with his friends.” Dunbar watched Theo’s tennis partner with undisguised interest, wondering just how strong the young man’s devotion to the Earl of Gloria was, and what it might take to shake it.

Latymer snorted. “Understanding be damned,” he said scornfully. “She and Theo are at daggers drawn these days. It’s only a matter of time before she packs up and goes, according to Myra.” Latymer’s sister was friendly with the Countess of Gloria, and delighted in passing on snippets of gossip that came her way. “When they married, he thought she’d be happy with the title and the money, but it seems she wanted more attention than he’s been prepared to give her. Oh, she did the right thing, produced an heir, but ever since they had the boy she hasn’t darkened the doorway of Theo’s bedroom.” Latymer sipped his cocktail. “Much to his relief, I should say,” he added. “He has better fish to fry than that shrew.”

Sir Rex Price’s eyes drifted over to the edge of the lawns, where Dorian, the twelve year old heir to the Earldom, was engaged in energetic horseplay with two or three other boys several years older than himself. Dorian’s sunlight-yellow curls and chiming laughter formed the centre of a vortex of teenage energy.

“Theo’s boy is turning into a pretty little thing,” observed Price. “He’s getting to the age where he needs someone to take his social education in hand before he runs wild.”

Latymer looked at him askance. “I doubt that Theo would thank anybody for taking young Dorian’s social education, or anything else of young Dorian’s, in hand,” he said. “Better keep your eyes off him, old boy.”

Price responded indignantly, “Whatever are you implying? He’s a mere child!”

“Quite. Pretty enough for you to notice, and precocious enough to cause trouble,” replied Latymer. “I seem to recall you had a spot of difficulty with Gordon Stewart’s son two or three years back when you were shooting in Scotland.”

“Different kettle of fish altogether!” protested Price.

“To be fair,” said Dunbar, “Jamie Stewart was old enough for University – but still too young for you, Rex, and if you take my advice you’ll forget about pursuing your own youth through somebody else’s. Too much trouble to be bothered with if it comes unstuck.”

There was a ripple of applause as Theo Red played the winning shot. He and his young friend shook hands over the net, their eyes lingering on each other just a few moments longer than was socially acceptable – but here at Castle Gloria, conventions were more relaxed than in most of the world outside.

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Cornwall, August 1972. Age 15.

Theo, Earl of Gloria, sat in the Yacht Club bar with two fellow boating enthusiasts. They watched through the window as Dorian, long-legged and suntanned with a cascade of sun-bleached hair brushing his shoulders, moved easily about the deck of the boat tied to the jetty. Dorian and his companions, sons of the Earl’s friends, had spent the afternoon sailing.

Tony fforbes-Russell, eighteen years old and full of self-confidence, was seen to pull Dorian aside as the boys stepped onto the quayside. The two stood very close together, talking for a moment – and then Tony placed a swift kiss on Dorian’s cheek before walking away. Dorian looked pleased as he turned and walked in the opposite direction.

The Earl and his friends chuckled. “Your boy seems taken with my son,” said Theo. “They do make a charming couple.”

“Where’s your sense of decency, man?” teased Major fforbes-Russell in mock-indignant tones, not upset at all. “Most fathers would be displeased to see their son being kissed like that in broad daylight.”

“Nonsense, they’re just boys. Harmless.” Theo drained his gin and tonic, and signalled to the barman. “I’m happy enough to see him keeping company with boys his own age. Dorian’s too smart to be taken in by older men out to use him, thank goodness.”

Francis Broadford stared silently into his glass, staying out of the conversation. Not many weeks before, he’d offered to coach young Dorian with his shooting, in preparation for grouse-hunting in Scotland with his father. The hours they had spent together on the shooting range had achieved nothing for Dorian’s marksmanship: the boy was still a rotten shot. Broadford had been careful to hide his real motivation from Theo. His mistake had been in thinking that Dorian would be naïve and easily manipulated. He wasn’t. Broadford cringed inwardly at the memory. He didn’t think he would ever forget the sound of the boy’s derisive laughter or the look of utter contempt in his eyes.

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London, October 1973. Age 16.

Autumn in London. The trees were shedding their leaves and there was a distinct chill in the air after sunset. The Earl of Gloria and his son were staying in a borrowed house in Eaton Square; his own town house had been sold to settle up in the aftermath of his divorce. Theo Red’s sojourns in London now depended on invitations.

Just after midnight, the Earl quietly opened the door of Dorian’s bedroom and looked in. The room was in darkness, and Dorian lay still, as relaxed as a sleeping cat, under the covers. Smiling, Theo closed the door and went to his own bedroom at the other end of the house. After an evening spent dining with old friends at his club, where the wine had flowed freely, he was ready for a good night’s sleep.

As his father’s quiet footsteps faded down the passageway, Dorian opened his eyes. He waited for ten minutes, then slid out of bed and hauled on his clothes – a pair of crushed velvet bell-bottoms and an Indian muslin shirt. Opening the window carefully, Dorian climbed down the rose trellis to ground level and headed out to the street where he found a taxi to take him to Soho.

Descending the stairs into a basement nightclub, Dorian entered a heady world of loud music, swirling lights, and attractive men. He moved confidently through the crowd, attracting interested glances on the way. A man in his late twenties, leaning against the bar, raked Dorian with an appraising look, head to foot and back again. “Hello, sugar,” he said. “Buy you a drink?”

“Thanks,” said Dorian, unfazed. “Vodka and lime.” He returned the assessing look, and decided he didn’t quite like what he saw. Picking up the drink, he turned his back on the man, watching the dancers.

Three young men, not much older than himself, now clustered round Dorian, and pulled him onto the dance floor. The graceful foursome surrendered themselves to the primal rhythms of the music, flirting elegantly with each other as they danced. When the music switched to a slower tempo, the group broke up and drifted off in different directions. Hot and thirsty, sweat dampening his curls, Dorian made his way back to the bar. His would-be pursuer from earlier had disappeared. He gulped down a drink and leaned against the wall, sucking on an ice cube.

“It’s Dorian, isn’t it?” said a voice at his side.

He turned, surprised. “Alex!”

The previous summer, he had met Alex Winton at the Falmouth Week Regatta, where Alex was competing with his university sailing team. Alex had taken a liking to the clever, reckless teenager, and noticing that the boy was left to his own devices much of the time, had kept a brotherly eye on him.

“What are you doing here? Are you on your own?” asked Alex.

“Yes,” Dorian replied.

“Does anybody know you’re here?”

“No,” said Dorian. “I sneaked out.”

Alex shook his head, and laid his arm around Dorian’s shoulders. “You’re an accident waiting to happen,” he said with a winning smile. “I think you’d better stick with me; I’ll try to keep you out of trouble.”

Dorian returned the smile. He didn’t mind being ‘looked after’ by the handsome Alex.

After two hours of dancing, drinking, and laughing together, Alex said, “Listen, Dorian, I’m calling it a night; I need my beauty sleep. I’ll take you home.” He found them a cab, and together they headed back to Eaton Square. The two sneaked in through the garden gate, and round to the back of the house where the rose trellis led up to Dorian’s bedroom window.

“Do you need a leg up?” whispered Alex.

Dorian didn’t reply. Instead, he wound his arms round Alex’s neck and kissed him on the mouth. At first, Alex tried to pull away, but after a moment he relaxed into the kiss, drawing Dorian closer to him. Breaking the kiss, Dorian began to unfasten Alex’s jeans.

“God, Dorian,” Alex gasped. “Stop it.”

“Why? You don’t want me to stop,” Dorian replied breathily, sinking to his knees. Alex gasped again as he was taken into Dorian’s hot, wet mouth. After that, neither of them said anything for a long time.

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Cornwall, August 1974. Age 17.

Dorian wandered back into the house after spending the afternoon watching a cricket match on the village green. The summer holidays were drawing to a close, and he was counting down the days left until he had to return to school to begin final year.

“Is that you, Dorian?” called his father’s voice. “Come and meet Neal.”

Dorian had never met the Earl’s new house guest; it was only recently that Dr Neal Collins’ name had begun to appear in Theo’s conversation. All Dorian knew was that Collins had just taken up an academic position at Cambridge. Dorian strolled into the drawing room, smiling politely.

Collins was far from the stereotype Dorian had formed in his mind. Around thirty years old, the man was tall and athletic, his brown eyes brimming with good humour. He and Dorian sized each other up as they shook hands.

Collins had come to Cornwall to enjoy Theo’s company, but he was immediately aware that the good-looking teenager might prove quite a distraction. Not an unwilling one, either, he thought, judging from the shrewd gleam in young Dorian’s eyes.

Soon after dinner, Dorian excused himself and went up to his bedroom. Collins had dominated the dinner conversation with descriptions of his archaeological expeditions in the Middle East and North Africa. Dorian longed to travel to exotic places, and the whiff of danger in Collins’ tales of working in politically unstable countries thrilled him. Part of the thrill, he recognised, was Collins himself. If he had met Neal Collins independently, he would have been very willing to encourage the man’s interest. The man was definitely attractive. The man was also his father’s companion. Dorian was already something of a daredevil when it came to seeking sensual pleasure – but he drew the line at pursuing his father’s lover.

It seemed Neal Collins had no such qualms, however.

Two days later, the Earl had to spend the afternoon in meetings with his bank manager. “It’s nice weather for swimming,” he remarked; “Dorian, why don’t you take Neal down to the cove for the afternoon?”

The two set off after lunch, and passed the time alternately swimming in the clear, cold water and lazing on the warm sand. Neal continued to weave tales that made archaeology seem the most exhilarating occupation that could be imagined. Lying in the sun, listening to Neal’s stories, Dorian felt drowsy and relaxed. He was taken by surprise when he felt Neal’s hand on his thigh. His eyes snapped open, alert and watchful.

Neal smiled conspiratorially. “We have a few hours before Theo gets back. We can’t really do anything together at the house, but this beach is nice and secluded. Perhaps we could…?" His voice trailed off suggestively, as he drew a tantalising finger down Dorian’s chest and belly. “You want it too, don’t you? I’ve seen the look in your eyes.”

Dorian sat up slowly, a battle raging in his mind. He did want it – but he wasn’t prepared to risk paying the price.

“You’re my father’s lover,” he said coldly. “This won’t work.”

Neal stroked a firm hand over Dorian's half-engorged cock. "He doesn't have to know," he drawled.

Dorian seized Neal’s wrist and shoved his hand away. “The answer’s no. Forget it.” He stood, and picked up his towel. “If things were different, I’d be interested – but I do have some principles.” Leaving Neal on the beach, Dorian headed toward the cliff path.

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Devonshire, May 1975. Age 18.

Relishing the tingling tightness in his balls, Dorian willed himself to breathe steadily, savouring the moment before entry. He leaned his weight evenly on both hands, focusing. A slow, steady push, and the window slid upward without a sound. He slithered gracefully through the opening, and once he was inside, he paused, listening. As his eyes adjusted to the deeper darkness, he moved silently toward the hallway.

Upstairs, the eighty-three year old Dowager Countess of Teignbridge was asleep. Her downstairs rooms were crammed with valuable artworks. Most of them had been gifts from her late husband, an extravagant collector with impeccable taste. There was only one of her treasures that interested Dorian: a Fabergé egg, made originally for the Russian Imperial family.

The secret penetration of another person’s space excited him intensely. Arousal gnawed at him as he glided through the darkened rooms, skirting around the heavy old furniture. The best artworks were kept in the drawing room, the most valuable of them locked in a glass-fronted cabinet against the far wall. Kneeling in front of it as in front of a lover, Dorian lifted out his lock picks. The thin gloves he wore to prevent fingerprints did not impede his dextrous fingers: in a few moments, there was a soft click and the glass door swung open. With steady hands, Dorian reached for the prize, in a single action lifting it off its carved ebony stand and wrapping it in the soft silk cloth he had brought with him. He did not stop to look at it: there would be time to admire it later. Stowing the precious bundle in his backpack, he retraced his steps, closing the window behind him.

Keeping to the shadows, he made his way back to his car, and drove swiftly to the cottage where he had spent the weekend. His friends were asleep. If they knew he’d been out, they wouldn’t know where, wouldn’t care. In the morning, he’d leave when he woke, maybe before they got up.

He slung the backpack into a cupboard, stripped off the black catsuit, and stretched out on the bed. His hand closed around his cock, squeezing hard. He replayed every moment in his mind as his hand worked: the stealthy entry, the delicate care in picking the lock, carrying the trophy away with him. It was more than the prize itself: it was the anticipation, the performance, the achievement, the adrenalin blazing through his veins… Dorian’s spine arched. He stifled the cry that rose in his throat. His seed gushed over his hand and belly in thick spurts.

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Cornwall, November 1976. Age 19.

Terminal.

The word sat cold and heavy in Dorian’s throat. He couldn’t bring himself to say it. His father was too young, too full of life to –

To die.

“Dorian?” Theo nudged his son. “Are you all right?”

“Sorry, it’s a bit of a shock. I can’t take it in. Are they sure?”

“Oh, yes,” said Theo. “I got a second opinion. They’re both sure. I might have as long as twelve months, perhaps as little as six. They say it won’t be bad until right near the end.”

Dorian couldn’t look his father in the face. “What does that mean – ‘bad’?”

“Pain,” said Theo. “Not being able to do much of anything. Not being able to eat, sleep.”

Dorian felt sick. “You’re too young,” he said leadenly.

“Come on, Dorian, I’ve lived life to the full. I’ve had more life than most people. If I have to go young, I’ll still have crammed in more than the average person.”

“Does anyone else know yet?”

“No,” said Theo. “I wanted to tell you first. But it won’t take long for word to get around.”

There seemed to be nothing else to say after that. Unable to stand the awkward silence that grew up between them, Dorian went to his bedroom and closed the door. He lay on his bed staring up at the ceiling.

Surely he should be feeling sad. He wasn’t – he just felt empty. Numb.

His father was his greatest friend. He admired his father for the way he defied convention. His father had allowed him to be himself, had accepted his sexuality. His father had wrapped him in affection and indulged his every whim. His father was a blind ass, who’d never seen what was right under his nose.

Dorian remembered his thirteen year old self trying to appear nonchalant as he slipped quietly through the front door, hoping nobody would guess, desperately determined to hide what had happened – longing for his father to know, somehow, without being told, and to make it right. He never told anyone; his father never guessed.

Then there was that coward Broadford. Tried to feel him up while he was supposed to be teaching him to use a gun. Wanted Dorian to get into the back of the Land Rover with him. Thought he’d be too frightened to say no. He remembered the way Broadford’s face went white when he laughed at him and threatened to tell Mrs Broadford. The bastard kept away after that.

Neal bloody Collins. He didn’t see that, either.

He had never been able to tell his father any of this. He couldn’t tell him now; there would never be a time to tell him. Even after his father was dead, it would still be there: the thing they’d never talked about, the secret he’d never told, the thing his father had never seen.

Abruptly, Dorian sat up. This is crazy. It hasn’t done me any harm. I’m all right. What does it matter?

He took a deep, calming breath.

His father was his greatest friend. His father was his supporter and encourager. He loved his father.

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Castle Gloria, October 1978. Age 21.

The last removal van closed up and drove slowly down the driveway toward the tall iron gates. Dorian stood in the entrance hall, gazing out through the still-open front doors to the lush lawns and beautifully-clipped hedges beyond. He’d lived here as a child, and now, thanks to his own finely-honed skills, his trusted team, and Jamesie’s book-keeping – he was home again.

“My Lord!” James had whined when Dorian had announced that he intended to buy Castle Gloria back from its present owners. “It’s too soon! You don’t have enough behind you – there won’t be enough left over after you’ve paid for it!”

“Nonsense, Jamesie. The world’s our oyster. We can fill up the treasury again in no time. Don’t you worry about a thing!” He’d ruffled Jamesie’s hair and kissed him sweetly, and his friend-turned-accountant was silenced, nursing a spark of love and hope in his heart.

Moving day went smoothly. Eleven removal vans delivered the furniture and artworks, and after a full day’s effort, most of it was in place.

Plenty of room on the walls for more paintings, mused Dorian. Plenty of room in the cellar for more wine. Plenty of room for a few more highly skilled people when we find them.

“Where’s this going?” called Jones, his arms full of tiger-skin rug.

Dorian gave him a wicked smile. “Up in my bedroom. You know the way, love.” He winked, and Jonesy grinned back. Dorian watched his friend ascend the stairs, savouring the sight of his trim arse and narrow hips.

The only thing that made Dorian feel a little sad was that his father wasn’t there to see him move back to Castle Gloria. It was hard to believe he’d been dead for nearly eighteen months.

“M’lord? Where do you want this one hung?” Bonham stood holding a large portrait in a heavy gilt frame.

“Up there – on that wall. I want that to be the first thing people see when they come in.”

Bonham nodded, and together he and Dorian hoisted the portrait up to hang in the place of honour. They stood back to admire it, Dorian with his arm curved around Bonham’s shoulders.

Up on the wall, resplendent in plumed hat and crimson velvet doublet, the first Earl of Gloria gazed down at the fourteenth Earl.

“The Reds are back in residence,” said Dorian. “Come on – time to open the champagne.”