It was a long long drive from Skye to Exeter, so they’d done it over three days. Nikki and Bradley had talked back and forth forever about whether to take trains instead, which would mean that Calum could wander around rather than be trapped in a seat for hours – if the train wasn’t crowded – but that would also mean they had little flexibility. Instead Nikki and Bradley shared the driving, and they stopped fairly frequently, in natural areas where they could walk or kick a ball around or Calum could go treasure hunting.
Despite their efforts, though, the three of them were inevitably tired and irritable and restless by the time they reached Rupert James’ home on the coast to the west of Exeter on the third evening. Bradley himself always felt trepidation when visiting his father, especially if it had been a while, which of course was made all the worse for this being The Visit during which Rupert would meet Calum for the first time – and of course his own fears completely undermined any reassurance he offered to Calum.
It was late evening and they were all overdue for dinner by the time Bradley parked the hire car outside Rupert’s house. Rupert came out to meet them as the three straggled towards the front door. ‘Hello, Dad,’ said Bradley. They shook hands, and then shifted into an uneasy half–hug. They never managed this gracefully.
‘Bradley. It’s so very good to see you.’
‘You, too, Dad.’ Bradley stepped back. ‘Dad, this is Nikki. Nikki, my father.’
Rupert shook her hand, and said very sincerely, ‘It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Miss Black.’ He meant well, of course, but Bradley knew Nikki was already nervous and this warm yet formal greeting managed to take her even further aback.
But Rupert had already headed for Calum, and Bradley was too late to intercept him. ‘And you must be Mr MacLeod.’ Rupert was shaking Calum’s hand with great vigour. ‘You’ve made my son very happy, and for that I owe you a great debt.’
Calum was tired and bewildered, and of course he’d been anxious about meeting his boyfriend’s father even though he’d decided he and Rupert would like each other. The two of them were already in the habit of passing messages to each other via Bradley. Despite all of which, for a moment Bradley feared Calum was near tears.
Nikki snorted. ‘He’s not used to being called that. He’s thinking of his father.’
‘I’m very sorry.’ Rupert backed off a little, and said a bit more gently, ‘Perhaps you’d let me call you Calum? Would that be better? And you must call me Rupert.’
Calum managed to say very quietly, ‘Hello, Rupert.’
But Rupert was determined to make things right in his own way. ‘Bradley tells me you’re a wizard in the garden.’
Calum brightened. ‘He said I could help you with your garden.’
‘Well, only if you want to,’ Rupert responded with a relieved smile. ‘You’re meant to be here on holiday. I don’t mean for you to spend your time working.’
Finally Bradley managed to cut in. ‘He’ll enjoy it, Dad.’ Bradley added a bit sourly, ‘Everyone likes to be good at something. Calum is good at gardening.’
Calum took a breath, and threw Bradley a look – amused, wicked, imploring, still very near to being upset.
And Bradley couldn’t help but huff a laugh. ‘Yes, among other things. But let’s not go there right now.’
Nikki was starting to look desperate for a smoke.
Rupert was bemused rather than disapproving – thank god – apparently wanting to be pleased, looking from his son to his son’s boyfriend and back again.
‘Dad, it’s been a very long trip. Any chance of a cup of tea, at least?’
‘Of course. I’ll make a pot now.’ Rupert disappeared inside.
And Nikki had a smoke, pacing around the driveway while Bradley and Calum took a couple of trips to carry the bags into the front hall.
Bradley, Nikki and Calum sat around the kitchen table drinking tea while Rupert started cooking dinner. Bradley sat next to Calum, with their joined hands resting on Calum’s thigh. Nikki had her arms crossed tightly before her chest. There was some fragmentary conversation about their trip, about the places where they’d stopped, mostly led by Rupert. The mood was easiest when Calum sparked into enthusiasm for the lakes and mountains and forests and beaches they’d seen. Rupert listened to him with an interested smile.
But Bradley remained on edge. Which he knew wasn’t great for Calum, but Bradley had always found it difficult to relax around his father, and there was all the more reason for it tonight. Despite Rupert’s best efforts, he’d always made Bradley feel dumb – and Bradley had promised himself that he wouldn’t allow Rupert to treat Calum the same way. Though he’d never managed to change Rupert for his own sake, so why he thought he had a chance for Calum’s sake, he had no idea.
Eventually Rupert served up lamb chops, mashed potato and peas, with onion gravy. Calum dug in appreciatively, and the rest of them took heart from watching him for a moment. He’d hardly finished his second mouthful, and his third was poised ready to go when he looked up and said, ‘It’s very nice, thank you, uh…’ Then he got shy again.
‘Please call me Rupert, Calum.’
‘Thank you, Rupert.’ Almost a whisper, but Calum had gone that sweet shade of pink that meant he was bashfully pleased.
‘And thank you, Calum. I’m glad you like it. I’m afraid I get a bit lazy with cooking now I’m on my own again.’
‘It looks great, Dad,’ Bradley supplied a bit flatly.
They all tucked in, and the mood became a little more comfortable, as if they were reminded that they had one thing in common, at least.
Once the plates were empty, Rupert sat back. He crossed his arms and tilted his head in that way that meant he was about to say something momentous. He and Bradley simultaneously took a breath; Bradley braced himself. And eventually Rupert announced, ‘I watched the England game last month.’
Bradley smiled a little wryly. Another difficult subject, and hardly the time for it. ‘Ah, yes,’ he said quite neutrally.
‘You were… magnificent.’
Bradley was surprised, but figured it didn’t count for very much. Hardly an informed opinion. ‘Well. Thank you.’
‘I mean it, Bradley. I watched it with a neighbour. Jim Harper. He, uh – Well, obviously when we watched it live, he was caught up in the game. But we recorded it, and he talked me through it afterwards. In great detail. He explained to me what you were doing, and when, and why. In… truly excruciating detail.’
Unbelievable. Bradley shared a dazed laugh with his father. It began dawning on him that this might be a real turning point for them. Something more to deal with on top of everything else…
‘The word genius was used on several occasions,’ Rupert continued. ‘He made me see what it is that you do, son. And how very good at it you are.’
Bradley couldn’t find his voice for a long moment. But then he said, ‘Thank you, Dad.’
Rupert nodded at him. ‘There is a price, of course. He’ll be joining us for a drink tomorrow evening, and no doubt he will want your autograph, or whatever it is that “adult” fans do.’
Bradley smiled a bit wryly. ‘That’s fine, Dad.’
And that was enough of a father–son moment for both of them. Bradley began gathering the used plates and cutlery while Rupert went to sort out the pots and pans. Nikki began fiddling with her pack of cigarettes. Rupert cleared his throat and said something about a shopping trip for groceries the next day.
But then Bradley found himself enveloped in a hug, wrapped tight in Calum’s arms with kisses being pressed to his face and hair. Calum, who was as attuned to emotion as any of them, but far more honest about it, was comforting and congratulating Bradley. Revealing that Bradley felt raw enough to need soothing, broadcasting that this moment had been so very significant to him. And of course Bradley knew he mustn’t push Calum away at such times, even though this left Bradley completely exposed – so he simply closed his eyes, let Calum hold him, and returned the embrace as gratefully as he could.
Eventually Calum let him go, and sat down.
Everyone else was still for a moment.
And then Rupert made what seemed for him an amazing gesture. He rested a hand on Calum’s shoulder, and said warmly, ‘What a wonderful young man you are.’
Calum immediately got up again, and responded to this with a hug for Rupert – who laughed, and hugged him right back. And suddenly everything was just fine.
Bradley and Calum were sharing the room Bradley thought of as his own, even though the bed was only a three–quarter size. Bradley hardly minded the two of them sleeping snug, and Calum seemed delighted about it. As if he needed any other reason to wrap himself close around Bradley for the night.
They’d had a week already at Calum and Nikki’s home on Aysaar to shag themselves silly, but of course that hadn’t got it out of their systems. Nowhere near. They’d been waiting for each other for months, separated by circumstance. So of course they had sex that night as well. And it was magnificent.
Bradley lay on his back under a confident Calum, legs wrapped around Calum’s waist as Calum moved slowly and steadily within him. He floated in the sensation of it, lost in the feeling of being possessed by this beautiful man who never quite did the expected. Floating un–tethered in the soft darkness…
And then in the middle of it, Calum leaned in close, and kissed him, and whispered, ‘Open your eyes.’ And Bradley did so, deliciously shocked through to his core. Floating still, higher than ever in the light, but also grounded now, and completely exposed – and Calum was there with him, sharing it all, finding yet another way inside Bradley. Blue poured into summer blue. It was possibly the most intense moment of his life.
‘I’ve always closed my eyes,’ Bradley murmured afterwards as they held each other. ‘Or at least for as long as I can remember. I shouldn’t have let it become a habit. But it was never quite the right person.’
Calum was looking sad for him.
‘It was never you.’
And Calum kissed him.
Rupert had sent Bradley and Calum off on a couple of errands while he and Nikki braved the supermarket. Bradley walked down the roads and past the shops that seemed both familiar and strange, with Calum at his shoulder. Calum was looking around with interest, though he flinched occasionally when startled by the traffic or the crowds. Bradley would have liked to hold his hand for reassurance, but thought they’d attract too much of the wrong kind of attention; he drew enough stares as it was, what with the openly gay Manchester Albion and England footy player returning home victorious. Or at least returning to what Bradley thought of as home; certainly he’d never thought of Bristol that way.
Of course they ran into Davey Morton. It felt like some kind of inexorable fate. Bradley stalled, and he and Davey stared at each other. Both a bit hostile. Both a bit defenceless. Eventually Bradley said, ‘Hello, Davey.’
‘Bradley James.’ After a moment he turned to stare at Calum, take him in. Davey seemed conflicted as to how to respond, but eventually he decided on nasty. ‘Yeah, I heard you were dating a half–wit.’
Bradley scowled. ‘No, I gave them up when I left you.’ He took Calum’s hand now. ‘Come on. We don’t have to listen to him.’
Calum seemed concerned, stubborn – but not belligerent, as if he were wise enough to know that Davey’s anger had nothing to do with him personally. He followed Bradley, though dragging behind a little. ‘Bradley…’
‘Just ignore him.’
‘Must be great, Bradley James,’ Davey called after them, ‘finally finding someone at your own intellectual level!’
‘Gave that a try with my first boyfriend,’ Bradley called back, ‘Davey Morton. But it just never worked with both of us so stupid, did it?’
They’d attracted attention, of course, which must be far more embarrassing for Davey than Bradley himself, cos Davey had to live there. Davey turned away, headed for the nearest cover. Bradley kept walking, tugging Calum along by the hand. ‘Bradley…’
‘Sorry,’ he muttered. ‘I’m sorry, Calum.’ But he just couldn’t talk about it. Not right there in the middle of town, and definitely not right then while he still felt so raw. Because he’d heard Davey Morton had finally separated from his wife after years of unrest. And Bradley was sure it must be at least partly his own fault.
Calum’s thought processes and social interactions could be… somewhat surprising. But then, so could Bradley’s. When Jim Harper came over for a drink, Bradley was… still recognisably Rupert’s son, but there was a slight reserve to him, a politeness. He was Bradley James the professional footballer meeting a fan – with good humour and generosity and considerateness, but also with a barrier beyond which no fan could pass. Rupert wondered if Jim himself picked up on it, and if he did whether it was only to be expected.
In stark contrast, once Calum got past his initial shyness, it seemed he had no barriers at all. Rupert happened upon the tail–end of a conversation so unexpected that he couldn’t imagine how on earth it had started. ‘Of course,’ Calum was saying quite mournfully, ‘I keep trying to make a baby with him, but really I know it won’t ever work.’ And he gave a gusty sigh, as if he desperately wished it were otherwise.
Jim was gazing at Bradley’s lover, patently startled and rather curious. But before Rupert could intervene and rescue the situation – though he was at a bit of a loss as to how he could do that – Jim gathered himself and responded perfectly. ‘Well, do you know what, son? I’ve always said it’s the trying that’s the best bit…’
Calum stared at him for a long moment, as if processing this. And then he guffawed appreciatively, and nodded in enthusiastic agreement, and the two of them were laughing quite happily at this shared truth.
Despite the fact that Bradley didn’t entirely relax until Jim finally went home, the evening was rather a success.
Calum loved stories. He sat there transfixed while Rupert muddled his way through what he knew of the house, with Nikki beside him apparently lost in her own thoughts. ‘There are caves in the cliffs below us,’ said Rupert, ‘and I understand there’s a rock ledge in one of them to which –’ He took a breath and started again. ‘There were smugglers, two or three hundred years ago. They would bring black market goods by boat to England from the continent. And they could moor their boat to a rock ledge in one of the caves, but it was only accessible at low tide –’ Good heavens, surely he was better at telling a coherent story than this. He’d been a teacher, and he was now a fulltime writer, and he shouldn’t be having this trouble with beginnings, middles and ends.
However, one could hardly wish for a better audience than Calum. ‘Is it still there?’ he asked, voice hushed in wonder. ‘The cave and the ledge?’
‘I don’t know. I suppose they must be.’
‘Are there still smugglers?’
‘No. At least, not in these parts.’
Calum nodded. ‘And then what would they do? After they’d moored?’
‘Well, I was told that there is or was a tunnel leading from the caves up to a storeroom under the house, and they would bring the goods up through it.’
Of course Calum was intrigued to hear this. ‘Do you know where it is?’
Rupert chuckled. ‘No, I’m afraid I don’t. It could just be a story.’
‘Well, maybe we can explore, and try to find it.’
It seemed Nikki was paying attention after all, for she immediately said, ‘Don’t you dare, Calum MacLeod. You must promise not to try exploring the caves. Certainly not on your own.’
Calum’s jaw set a bit stubbornly. ‘I’d be all right. There are caves on the island, you know. I’m always careful.’
Nikki didn’t bother arguing, but simply repeated, ‘You must promise me.’
Rupert backed her up. ‘The same rule applies to all of us, Calum. It’s too dangerous. You could get caught by the tide, trapped in the caves. We must all be careful.’
‘All right,’ he reluctantly muttered. ‘I promise. Not the caves.’
Over the next couple of days, however, Rupert was amused to find Calum creeping about the house, peering here and there, occasionally rapping at walls… He wasn’t exploring the caves, that was true. But he seemed determined to at least find the door that would lead him down to the purported storeroom.
There were different types of knowledge, Rupert James was at last beginning to understand. Different ways of learning, different wisdoms. He understood there was material on this notion in the social sciences field, and he’d resolved to read up on it. But in the meantime, his neighbour Jim had made Rupert belatedly see that his own son was clever in ways of which Rupert had barely even conceived: pinpoint–accurate physical skills counted as cleverness, instincts and awareness counted, as did the ability to read the flow of a game and respond or take action accordingly.
And now here was Calum, gently and thoroughly passing on all kinds of wisdom about plants and soils and seasons, none of which he’d learned from books, but only from his own observations and experience, and from knowledge passed on by other gardeners.
Apart from which, it had soon become apparent to Rupert that Calum had a good, open heart and a loving, patient soul. And Rupert now saw that that must count as the most profound kind of wisdom of all. It had certainly provided Bradley with a peacefulness and a happiness he’d seemed doomed to never find; Rupert had been able to tell that even from a distance, but it was so very clear now that they were all together. To his shame, Rupert realised there’d still been a part of himself that had blamed Bradley’s homosexuality for his restlessness and lack of contentment, but obviously that hadn’t been the problem in itself. It had been the lack of a wisdom that perhaps only Calum MacLeod could bring.
Bradley and Calum seemed to share the same deep sense of belonging that Rupert had had with Jenny, Bradley’s mother. He watched them with some envy, with bittersweet memories, and of course with gratitude. Meanwhile, Rupert and Calum quickly developed an easy friendship that Bradley seemed to watch with a similar combination of jealousy and pleasure; perhaps Rupert and Bradley were fated to never be entirely comfortable with each other, but at least they could each appreciate the other’s good relationship with Calum. He might do them both the world of good.
Meanwhile, however, Nikki remained quiet and wary, and Rupert didn’t push her to be more open with them. Bradley had already explained about her being adopted as a baby, and not even knowing Calum until a few years ago. And then there’d been the tragic business with their mother. And then even if Nikki was delighted that Calum had found Bradley, surely she felt some fear over losing her newfound brother. It would take time for Nikki to feel part of this unexpected group, Rupert thought, and no one could blame her for that.
It was strange, however, that she wasn’t forthcoming in even the most obvious ways. One afternoon in conversation with Bradley, Rupert had referred to something from Jenny’s celebrated work on the Elizabethans’ beliefs regarding magic and the supernatural – and Rupert and Jenny’s son had simply looked blank.
‘Will there ever be a good time to admit that I’ve never read it?’ Bradley asked.
Rupert sighed, and bowed his head before the inevitable. ‘I thought – at least that… It was the only thing she had time to publish before –’
‘I was born. Yes.’ Bradley sighed, too. ‘You know I have copies at home. Every edition. In the display cabinet.’
‘Yes, but have you never tried to read it? It was written with a general audience in mind.’
Bradley cast him a pained look. ‘Of course I’ve tried. I’ve never even got through the introduction. It’s beyond me. I’m sorry, Dad.’
‘As am I,’ he murmured.
‘Nikki read it,’ Bradley offered. ‘When she and Calum stayed with me in the new year. She was impressed.’
Which was what Rupert found strange. ‘Nikki and I were talking about your mother just the other day, and she never mentioned reading her book.’
Bradley shook his head. ‘Nikki is a hard person to get to know. And she never knew her father. She’s probably not really sure how to talk with you.’
‘Am I so difficult to relate to…?’ But Rupert’s plea was met with a dry glance. Instead he asked, ‘Surely there was a foster father to help bring her up?’
‘More than one, and none of any use to her. From what I understand.’
Rupert and Bradley contemplated this sadness. But Rupert assumed that all they could do was be there ready if she ever had need of them.
One afternoon Rupert and Nikki were sitting out on the paved patio, watching Bradley and Calum lying in the sun at the bottom of the lawn, not far from where it curved down towards the cliffs. Occasionally the two young men jostled and laughed and tickled and wrestled, utterly comfortable with each other. But mainly Calum was reading aloud from a book – no doubt the volume of smuggling stories Rupert had found for him – and asking Bradley when he didn’t recognise a word. Bradley would either explain the meaning and pronunciation, or he’d roll over onto his front to help Calum look up the word in Rupert’s concise dictionary – all with infinite patience and good humour, with no judgement or pedantry at all.
Rupert commented, ‘I used to think I was a good teacher, but it is quite humbling to watch Bradley.’ Nikki didn’t respond, but Rupert eventually continued, ‘I’ve never been prouder of my son than when I see him with your brother. I never realised quite what a generous soul he has. I trust that you’re happy with the relationship.’
After a while, Nikki nodded, though not really engaging with the subject.
‘If you ever have any concerns – if you have any now – I hope you will be prepared to talk to either Bradley or myself. Of course we must all have Calum’s interests at heart.’
‘He can take care of himself.’
‘Of course. But anyone who loves him must care a great deal about his happiness.’
At last she said, ‘He’s happy.’ Then she challenged him: ‘They’re talking about adopting a child. Did Bradley tell you that?’
‘No.’ This was, to say the least, surprising – despite Calum’s talk of making babies. But as Rupert returned to watching his son and his son’s lover, he soon concluded, ‘I think they will do very well. I begin to suspect that Bradley will do rather better than I have done.’
Perhaps she took this as a rather needy plea for reassurance. In any case, Nikki didn’t respond directly. Instead she said, ‘You probably know… about my conviction. For manslaughter.’
‘Yes,’ he said cautiously, calmly. ‘Bradley and I spoke about it at some length.’
‘You don’t have to worry. When the kid shows up, I’ll get out of the way. You don’t have to –’
But this rather alarmed him. ‘Have you spoken with Calum and Bradley about this?’
‘I think you’ll find – that they’ll want you with them. Or nearby. They’ll rely on you more than ever.’ When Nikki just shook her head, Rupert tried, ‘It seems to me that the circumstances won’t repeat themselves. And you’ve served your time.’
She was watching her brother with a fierce intensity. Then she turned back to Rupert and said, ‘If Calum ever tries to tell you a different story about what happened that night… don’t listen to him.’
‘Nikki, I really think that –’
‘I wouldn’t be any use to the kid.’
‘Well, maybe the child would be of use to you,’ he returned.
But Nikki let that go by, and they didn’t speak of it any further.
‘I think maybe there are still smugglers,’ Calum announced over dinner.
‘I’m afraid there aren’t,’ Rupert said gently. ‘It all happened such a long time ago.’
‘You haven’t been exploring the caves, have you?’ Nikki demanded.
‘You’ve been reading too many stories,’ suggested Bradley.
‘No, I mean it,’ Calum insisted. ‘I think there really are.’
But of course they didn’t believe him.
Rupert and Nikki returned from a walk to find the house resounding with groans. Bradley’s groans. It was perfectly obvious what was going on upstairs. They shared an embarrassed glance. Rupert wasn’t quite sure what to do or say.
Eventually Nikki dropped her head – though she didn’t quite hide her grin – and she asked, ‘Did you know your son was a bit of a moaner, Mr James?’
Rupert cleared his throat rather than laugh. ‘I think under the circumstances you really should start calling me Rupert.’
‘Well,’ said Rupert. ‘Yes, I did. Though I must say, I’ve never heard him sound quite so happy…’ He decided to take a risk, though this was hardly the topic over which he’d anticipated bonding with Nikki. Rupert observed, ‘Obviously Calum was right about his other talents.’
Nikki smirked, also trying not to laugh. But within moments she burst into chuckles. And the two of them had a bit of a laugh at the expense of the young men. Which did them the world of good.
Eventually Rupert made a pot of tea, and they headed outside to the patio area, where it was quieter.
After a while, Nikki asked, ‘So you’ve been all right about this? With him bringing boyfriends home, and all that?’
‘Well, I had to be, really. It was pretty obvious – from a surprisingly young age – by which I don’t mean anything nasty, but even just emotionally – and I thought, there’s no point in fighting over that as well as everything else. Not that I wanted to fight over it, of course, but I did my best to accept Bradley for what he was. I know I haven’t been a particularly good father, but I feel I did get that much right, at least.’
Nikki took her time pondering this.
Rupert ventured, ‘You, uh, never knew your own father?’
Nikki shuddered. ‘No, and I wouldn’t want to.’
‘I’m sorry. And you never had a good foster father?’
‘They weren’t all bad. But no one in particular who was… good.’
‘You don’t have to be.’
‘I know. But I am.’
And she actually seemed to accept this. Rupert was as surprised as Nikki was.
After a while, there was movement in the kitchen, and Rupert heard Bradley’s mystified question, ‘Where’s the teapot?’ Rupert and Nikki could do with another cup, too, so Rupert headed inside. He reached the door just as it dawned on Bradley that the missing pot meant that they had company. ‘Oh fuck,’ muttered Bradley…
His son Bradley, who was standing there completely naked in the kitchen. As was Calum. Rupert froze in the doorway.
Bradley had quicker physical instincts, of course, and adroitly stepped across to shield Calum – grabbing a tea towel on the way and holding it before his own offending parts. Staring with wide blue eyes – horrified – at his father. Behind him, Calum’s bent shoulders were shaking.
Rupert cast a pointed glance at the tea towel. ‘That’ll go straight into the wash, I trust.’
Rupert was concerned that Calum was upset, but just as he was about to offer reassurance, it became clear that actually Calum was trying not to giggle. Eventually he couldn’t hold it in, and spluttered into laughter. Bradley grimaced, apparently too mortified to find this funny. But Rupert was with Calum: he started laughing, too, almost despite himself.
Soon Bradley was left stranded between two men bent double in laughter. It was obvious he really didn’t appreciate it. His grimace turned sour. Which only provoked more giggles from Rupert and Calum…
Until, overflowing with high spirits, Calum dashed outside and started running around the lawn. Bradley and Rupert headed over to the doorway to watch him. Calum was running in wide circles, head back and yelling to the skies, stretching his arms out. Naked and exhilarated and beautiful. Rupert wasn’t laughing any more, but he was happy. Nikki had called out to her brother in exasperation, and was now standing there watching him with her arms crossed; she seemed to realise there was no stopping Calum when he was in the midst of an urge like this.
Bradley was smiling reluctantly. ‘I’m sorry, Dad.’ Then he added, with helpless sincerity, ‘God, but I do love him.’
Rupert soberly advised, ‘Then you’d better go catch him. Before he gets away.’
Bradley looked at him, and Rupert smiled. After a long moment, Bradley took him at his word, and chased out after Calum. The two young men ran about in the sunshine, chasing each other. Beautiful. Rupert shared a ruefully amused glance with Nikki.
Then Bradley finally caught up with Calum, grabbed hold of his shoulders and whispered something in his ear. Calum looked at him startled for a long moment. Suddenly Bradley took off, heading for the front door. Calum tore after him, his expression now excited, hungry, determined. Rupert could hear them pounding up the stairs in the direction of Bradley’s bedroom.
He wandered over to Nikki. ‘Perhaps another walk…?’ he suggested.
It was an odd sort of situation. They’d been boyfriends for just over a year, and spoken almost every day on the phone, but had actually been together for only about six weeks in total. During which they’d indulged in frottage and hand–jobs and of course Calum had fucked Bradley as often as humanly possible. But there was still so much to explore. And they had years in which to do that, but Bradley was feeling a bit urgent about something specific right now.
Once Calum caught up with Bradley in the bedroom, they stood there, wrapping each other up in a hug, kissing with a happy generosity. Then Calum broke away, and whispered, ‘You said… with your mouth…?’
Bradley grinned. ‘Yeah…’ And he sat Calum down on the edge of the bed, and knelt on the floor between his thighs. Calum’s cock was already resting heavy against his thigh. Bradley bent his head, and rasped the flat of his tongue along the length of it from tip up to base; it twitched and thickened. Calum moaned, and Bradley chuckled under his breath.
Another long lick, and then Bradley took the cockhead into his mouth, and began gently sucking. Calum let out a little cry. Bradley wrapped his hands around Calum’s hips, and settled in. And Calum loved it, letting out surprised and appreciative yelps in time with Bradley’s attentions, Calum’s hands stroking Bradley’s hair. And then he was coming, unable to help himself pushing up hard against Bradley’s hands – Bradley swallowing greedily, Calum’s come tasting wild and salty.
Afterwards Calum curled up over Bradley, and they held each other, warm and loving. ‘That’s the first time for me,’ Bradley murmured into Calum’s lap. ‘Properly, I mean. The first time I’ve done that without a condom. The first time I’ve swallowed a man’s come. You know?’ He would have felt foolish saying that to anyone else, but with Calum no matter what Bradley came out with, Calum only loved him the more.
‘It’s like you ate me! I’m part of you now. Part of me is part of you.’
‘Yes… that’s it exactly.’
‘I want that, too,’ Calum declared – and he was hauling Bradley up, turning him, laying him back on the bed, bending over him, getting his mouth on him… but not as Bradley had done, not straightforwardly sucking as Bradley had. Instead he roamed over Bradley’s cock and balls and the inside of his thighs, mouthing and suckling and gently gnawing and biting and licking…
‘Oh god…’ Bradley moaned, deliciously shocked by the assault. He loved Calum’s imagination. He loved that, despite his own years of experience and Calum’s innocence, Calum could surprise him, again and again. In fact, Calum’s innocence was probably part of it: he had fewer filters than more ‘civilised’ sorts. ‘Oh god…’ Bradley groaned again as Calum wriggled his tongue–tip against the sensitive spot just under the flare of his cockhead.
Then Calum slid lower, and he was taking one of Bradley’s balls into his mouth, sucking tenderly on it – shifting, widening his mouth, taking Bradley’s other ball in, too – Calum’s nose and his stubble and his cheek against Bradley – but Bradley’s balls, god, both of his balls in heaven – heaven, and he was coming, impossibly coming, crying out, protesting, calling Calum’s name, and Calum stayed with him through it all, drawing it out beautifully…
‘How is that even possible?’ Bradley asked dazedly as Calum started licking up the splattered come, as neat as a cat, his tongue rasping against Bradley’s sensitised skin. ‘Did you know you could do that?’
‘No…’ Calum cast a wicked grin his way. ‘I was experimenting.’
‘You go ahead and experiment any time you want, all right?’
‘All right.’ Calum crawled up beside him, and they held each other close. ‘My beautiful prince,’ Calum murmured in his ear, nuzzling at him with those magical lips and tickling him with his stubble. ‘You’re part of me now.’
‘My sweet wild honey,’ Bradley murmured in return. ‘I’m yours. All of me.’ And they dozed for a while, lying curled up together across the bed.
The footy teams at Bradley’s old school held combined training sessions twice a week throughout summer, although most of the kids spent at least some time away. Bradley would join them whenever he was in Devon, to pass on whatever skills or enthusiasm he could. He’d been in two minds about whether to take Calum with him, and had eventually decided not to the first time. Of course everyone knew by now that he was gay, but Bradley wanted to suss out the coach’s attitude to Bradley bringing along a boyfriend who would feel free to hold Bradley’s hand or hug him if he was feeling affectionate. Which he frequently did. And Bradley didn’t really want to subject Calum to teasing if the kids were going to be nasty about them being gay or about Calum’s perceived slowness. No, he’d take the chance to prepare them all, and take Calum along the next time. Which would probably turn out to be fun, especially if Calum overcame his shyness and actually joined in the exercises and the match.
Bradley James loved the game of football, and he spent the afternoon rediscovering why. The boys and girls re–enthused him as much as the other way round. But once the training was done, and he had signed all the required autographs, Bradley turned on his mobile again and his smile faded. Rupert had left him a voicemail to say that he and Nikki had gone into town. The problem being that the message finished with Rupert commenting rather vaguely, ‘I take it that you decided to take Calum to training after all?’
Bradley went cold. That meant that Calum hadn’t been seen since Bradley had left just after lunch. In which case, where was he? Bradley got in the car, and headed back home, ignoring the speed limit. No doubt Calum would be there, innocently sprawled on the lawn or curled up in a chair reading about smugglers, or he’d be combing the beach for fossils. Yes, he’d probably just gone out for a walk, though he was meant to let someone know when he went on his own. Bradley tried not to think about caves and rising tides…
The house was empty. Bradley ran into every room, calling Calum’s name. Nothing. And no note from him or anything. The garden was deserted. The caves, it had to be. Bradley scribbled a note for Rupert and Nikki, left it on the kitchen table, and headed out –
Except that something made him pause in the hall. He looked around, wondering what it was… The sharp smell of ozone and the dull feel of dankness on an unexpected waft of air. And when he took a step in that direction, he saw that a section of panelling was askew. A memory was trying to surface, seeking to take on a new meaning. But even without that coming clear, it all suddenly made horrible sense. Calum had found the tunnel that led up from the caves. Calum had gone exploring.
Bradley ran to fetch a torch, came back, and then pushed the panel open and set out to find his boyfriend. His love.
The tunnel was dark and wet, but there were boxes of stuff in the storeroom that had been created out of a natural hollow… Modern boxes. Which meant that Calum had been right about his smugglers. Bradley’s heartbeat eased up a notch in fear. He continued down into the rock, the way created through natural tunnels and fissures, with carved steps every now and then.
When Bradley finally emerged high at the back of the cave, he found chaos. Daylight showed him a thirty–foot yacht tied up to a rock ledge; there was obviously something wrong, as the deck wasn’t level. The tide was rising. Someone was moving within the boat. A bundle of something on the ledge moved – and Bradley’s heart stopped.
The bundle was Calum. It was Calum’s dark head, the striped polo shirt he’d been wearing that morning, his blue jeans. He was curled in a huddle on the wet rock.
Bradley ran to him, forcing himself to take enough care not to trip on the rough–hewn steps. He’d be no use to Calum if he broke his leg on the way down.
Calum was struggling to sit up, succeeding only in spinning brokenly around on his side.
‘Calum…’ Bradley breathed, kneeling beside him, running hands and gaze over him, trying to find what was wrong, what needed fixing. His hands were bound – bound tightly at the wrists, too tightly, so his hands felt cold and stiff. ‘God, Calum…’
‘Bradley…’ Calum muttered, opening his eyes. Perhaps he’d been knocked out.
‘Are you all right? What happened?’
Those blue eyes widening. ‘Bradley!’
Bradley jerked himself and Calum to the right, but something fell heavily down the side of his head and onto his left shoulder. And everything went black.
His head resting in Calum’s lap, and Calum whispering his name, and for long moments everything was fine. Perfect.
‘Bradley, please… Wake up, Bradley… Bradley…’
Then he felt the wet hard rock below him, and he remembered. Bradley opened his eyes, saw Calum leaning over him, cradling him, Calum’s hands still bound. Bradley’s hands, too, now. But not as tightly. He still had the use of his fingers. ‘Are you hurt?’ Bradley asked. He started fumbling at the rope at Calum’s wrists, trying to work it loose.
‘No. No. Your head…’ Calum sounded mournful. ‘There’s blood in your hair.’
‘Never mind that. I’m all right.’ Bradley smiled up at his love. ‘Don’t worry about me, OK? Tell me what’s happening.’
‘It’s that man. The one who was your first boyfriend. It’s him.’
‘Davey Morton?’ Bradley had that odd sensation again, that there was a memory that needed reassessing. Something he hadn’t quite understood at the time. ‘Where is he?’
‘On the boat. He’s getting stuff out. I don’t know what. But there’s people, Bradley. There’s people. They’re trapped in there.’
Bradley spared a look at the boat, which was further tilted and grinding uneasily against the rocks. There was something wrong with it, and the tide was coming in – but no matter who else was involved, Bradley’s first priority was Calum. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,’ he said, just in case he couldn’t say it later. The rope was starting to loosen a little, but there was still a way to go.
‘Bradley,’ Calum muttered urgently.
He looked around to see Davey struggling out of the boat and onto the ledge carrying a stack of plastic–wrapped packages. Drugs. It must be. The moron. Davey started putting the stuff into a large bag. There were already two bags crammed full waiting on the ledge.
‘Davey!’ Bradley cried out, trying to sit up while still working on Calum’s bindings. ‘Fuck’s sake. Let Calum go, and I’ll help you with that. All right?’
‘No…’ Calum moaned in protest.
Davey cast him a look, but was more concerned with the drugs.
‘No one will believe him. I didn’t believe him. They’ll think he’s just caught up in the old smuggling stories.’
‘Bradley…’ Calum whispered.
‘Let him go!’ Bradley demanded. The water swelled, and washed over onto the ledge for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last. The boat shifted in a sickly manner, and Bradley heard a despairing cry from within it.
Calum groaned in frustrated sympathy. ‘They’ll drown,’ he said.
‘Davey, for fuck’s sake! Whatever that is, how many lives is it worth?’
Davey staggered up towards them with one heavy bag over his shoulder. Went back for another one. Shifting the stuff away from the rising sea.
Bradley and Calum were already half wet. ‘Let Calum go, Davey, I’m begging you. I’ll do anything you want.’
‘Fuck off, Bradley,’ Davey muttered as he staggered past them with another bag.
‘I’ll help you with that. I’ll make sure you get away. Is the only way out now through the house? It’s clear. Dad isn’t home. But I can –’
‘I don’t need your help, Bradley.’
‘Come on, you didn’t mean to end up doing this by yourself.’ The ropes on Calum’s wrists were soaking wet now, which didn’t help anything. Bradley kept working at them, though. ‘What happened?’
Davey threw him a glance full of misgivings.
And Bradley suddenly remembered. It was the echo of Davey’s expression that finally brought everything clear. He stalled. ‘That night I found you in the house,’ he slowly said. ‘You were right by that panel. It was your stag night and I thought –’
Davey stood there staring down at him with contempt. ‘I know what you thought. I was just there to pick up the best of the stash for the party. Which, by the way, I went down and got afterwards…’
‘Oh god… You let me assume –’
Davey leered. ‘You are so full of yourself, Bradley James. But I was planning on getting laid that night anyway. Started with you. Finished elsewhere. With a woman, like it’s meant to be. That all worked out fine.’
Bradley knew he’d be furious about this if he wasn’t already worried about Calum. ‘All these years, I thought I had something to do with why your marriage didn’t work out.’
‘Get over yourself, Bradley.’ And Davey started up the steps with one of the bags.
The sea was already surging inches deep across the ledge.
‘Let’s stand up, Calum,’ Bradley said. And they helped each other up to their feet. Bradley figured there must be something on the boat to help them cut their bonds. But the boat was starting to look really dangerous. They’d just have to manage to scramble back up the steps and through the tunnels with their hands tied. And if Davey wanted to try to hurt them again, they’d have to fight him off somehow. ‘Come on,’ Bradley said, encouraging Calum towards the back of the cave.
‘The people on the boat…’ Calum protested.
‘I’ve got to get you safe,’ Bradley said. ‘I can’t think about anything else right now.’
‘Bradley,’ Calum said firmly. ‘We can’t leave them.’
And there was a figure clambering out of the sea beyond the boat. Another figure helping him, each with a floatation device. Bradley started pushing Calum towards the steps, assuming these were Davey’s partners. But, no – it was Nikki and Rupert! They must have come via the beach, and swum across the cave entrance. Bradley stumbled back towards them, Calum at his heels. ‘Dad! Nikki. Can you get this rope off Calum? I’m worried about his hands.’
Nikki seemed to have the trick of it. Soon Calum was free, and despite his own bonds Bradley was clumsily chafing Calum’s hands, trying to warm them and get the circulation going. Calum was whimpering under his breath with the pain of it. But as soon as Bradley suggested they all get up to the house, while warning the others to keep an eye out for Davey, Calum was thinking again of the people in the boat.
They all considered the boat, which was wallowing heavily at one end. The hull must have been breached. And of course it was still tied up, so the tide would eventually swamp it. ‘It’s too dangerous,’ said Bradley. Everyone he cared about was in this cave now. He couldn’t afford to lose any of them.
‘Bradley,’ said Rupert, ‘you take Nikki and Calum up to the house. You know the way? I’ll see what I can do here.’
Suddenly Rupert was right there, cupping Bradley’s face in both hands. ‘I love you more than anything in this world, son. You make sure you and your family are safe. That’s all I want.’
‘Dad…’ Bradley glanced at Calum. His strongest instinct was to get Calum out of there, but of course Calum would find it hard to forgive him if they didn’t at least try to help the others. ‘No, Dad. We have to help, too.’
Calum’s proud and loving look was more than enough reward.
But Rupert insisted. ‘I’ll go aboard. None of you must follow me. No matter what happens. I want you to promise me. You’re all too young. You’re all too precious to me.’
And Bradley said for them all, ‘I promise.’
Rupert held him fiercely for a moment; pressed a fatherly kiss to Calum’s temple; rested a reassuring hand on Nikki’s shoulder. And then he was carefully climbing aboard, making his way below deck.
The three of them waited anxiously as near as they dared to the edge. Nikki was rubbing at Calum’s hands now. Bradley was tracking Rupert’s progress as best he could. The sea was surging around their knees, and trying to suck them in.
Davey showed up again, and began cumbersomely struggling with the second bag of drugs.
‘Davey!’ Bradley cried to him. ‘Who’s on the boat? Help us get them out!’
‘Fuck off,’ Davey said, and staggered off up the steps. ‘Anyway, the door’s jammed.’
Bradley’s heartbeat thundered in his ears. ‘Dad,’ he whispered.
There was a crashing, crunching noise, as if Rupert was forcing his way through plywood. And soon enough, Rupert was handing out a woman, and then a man with a child in his arms. The child was hurt but alive. Without any further fuss, they all helped each other up towards the house.
When they reached the hallway, of course Davey was waiting there, wide–eyed with fear and aggression. He had a chopping knife from the kitchen in his hands. ‘You’re not calling the police,’ he said.
Rupert stepped forward. ‘I think you’ll find we are. You would have let these people die down there. You hurt Bradley, and you hurt Calum. If Bradley wants to say something on your behalf, I’ll listen, but actually I don’t think even he will sway me.’
‘I’m not gonna defend you, Davey,’ Bradley said. ‘I’ve been beating myself up for years over something that meant nothing to you. I might have called it quits now if that was all there was between us. But you hurt Calum, and I can’t forgive that.’
Rupert turned towards the phone –
Davey ran at him –
Calum roared, and charged – intercepted Davey and rugby–tackled him to the ground – swung his forearm up against Davey’s jaw so his head cracked back –
Bradley and Nikki went for Calum, to make sure he didn’t do any real harm while in a temper – only for his own sake, of course –
They helped him to his feet. And it was over.
Rupert turned to the people from the boat, with the phone receiver in his hand. Of course they were all assuming these three were a family of illegal immigrants. They had an Asian appearance; perhaps Korean, Bradley thought, or a mix including Korean. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Rupert. ‘I’d be inclined to let you walk away, but the child needs medical attention.’
‘Yes,’ said the man. ‘Call whomever you need to. We will wait. We will cooperate. We owe you our lives.’
The medics had seriously considered admitting Calum to hospital, but he hadn’t wanted to go, and Bradley had sworn he’d take care of him. He didn’t, though. Oh, he made sure every piece of medical advice was followed to the letter. But then, when it was finally just the two of them in bed together…
Bradley lay over Calum, pinning him with Calum’s hands held down against the pillow over his head. ‘I can’t lose you,’ said Bradley, low and intense. ‘You’re mine, and I can’t lose you.’
Calum looked up at him, half worried and half awed and wholly trusting.
Bradley let out a predatory growl, and kissed him. A devouring kiss.
Calum whimpered a little, but his body pressed up against Bradley’s, and he was hard.
‘I have to have you,’ Bradley announced. His free hand slid down Calum’s flank to his waist, and then pushed lower to cup a buttock. ‘You’re mine,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t make a sound.’
Nothing but panting breath, and wide blue eyes, and the eager press of a hard cock.
Bradley reached for the lube. Still trapping Calum’s hands, he unscrewed the lid with one hand and his teeth – made a mess, but got some lube smeared on his fingers. Returned to Calum’s butt, which pushed up from the bed to accommodate him. He rubbed across the sensitive flesh hidden safely away in the crevice – he’d never touched Calum there before. Calum whimpered again, moaned – pushed up against him, cock against cock. And Bradley pressed a finger inside. Easier than he’d thought, so he let the length sink slowly in, letting gravity settle him down closer against his love, Calum lying flat now except for Bradley’s fisted hand propping up his butt.
‘All right?’ he whispered in Calum’s ear.
Calum shifted his stubbled cheek against Bradley’s in a surrendering caress, and then whispered, ‘Yes.’ Just to be clear.
Bradley rocked back onto his side, bringing Calum with him. Carefully slid that finger out and then thrust it back in. Calum moaned, stretched tall, pivoted and pressed, trying to find the right balance of sensation between cock and arse. Bradley thrust again. Suddenly shook with the need to possess, really possess someone in the way he hadn’t since – that bastard – he didn’t want to think about that. He wanted to lose himself in Calum, he wanted Calum to give himself over to Bradley… give all of himself over totally – god he wanted that so very much…
Calum groaned again, and shifted down, met Bradley’s next thrust halfway, welcoming him.
‘My sweet wild honey…’ Bradley murmured. How could he ever express his gratitude for this man’s love, this man’s trust? But the answer was immediately apparent. By never abusing the trust, nor taking the love for granted. ‘Calum? All right, Calum?’
‘Yes… Yes… Bradley, my prince…’
‘I’m going to make you come like this, all right?’
‘Yes… And you…’ Those blue eyes no longer seeking a way inside Bradley, but instead offering a way into Calum. ‘Fuck me,’ Calum whispered. ‘Plant your seed in me. Try making a baby. Our baby.’
‘Oh my sweet man… Maybe next time. Not now. Let’s just come like this.’
‘Yes. Yes. I love you, Bradley James…’
‘I love you, Calum MacLeod.’ And Bradley pushed over on top of Calum again, and thrust against him, his finger hard and deep inside his love, possessing him – and Calum gave himself over to Bradley as completely as they both must have known he would.
The next morning was a strange one, which wasn’t really a surprise. Bradley and Calum seemed to have had some kind of epiphany of love, into which Rupert did not inquire. They held hands and gazed at each other throughout breakfast. Nikki seemed considerably more relaxed than she’d been before, but was oddly even quieter.
Everything was contented and peaceful between the four of them. They were a family, Rupert thought.
Then at last Calum made an announcement. ‘Bradley and I want to adopt a child,’ he said quite confidently. Sounding rather grounded and secure. ‘Seeing as we can’t make a baby ourselves.’
‘That’s excellent,’ said Rupert, glad that Nikki had ensured he wouldn’t react with surprise or concern. ‘I’m sure you’ll both make wonderful parents.’
‘I’d like a baby girl,’ Calum continued. ‘What do you think, Bradley?’
‘Fine by me, wild honey.’
‘I hope, Nikki,’ said Rupert, ‘that you will stand as godparent. Or whatever the equivalent is these days.’
She cast him a dry look, but eventually nodded. Though Rupert knew that didn’t count as a promise.
‘Yes, you must,’ said Calum firmly. ‘Because we’re going to name her Susan. And we’re going to love her so much.’
Nikki stared at her brother for a long long moment. And then burst into tears.
Calum smiled at her, sweet and loving and sympathetic. Apparently her tears were a good thing.
Rupert pressed a fatherly kiss to Bradley’s temple as he passed by. ‘Congratulations, son. I am so very proud of you both.’
‘Thank you, Dad.’ There was hardly a dry eye in the house. Which was a truly excellent thing.