Back for Good...
A Studs & Steel Novella
(Studs & Steel #7.5)
Heather Mar-Gerrison, Copyright 2018
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No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically or mechanically, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work.
Five years ago…
I stared at Georg, “What?” I asked, heat curling in my gut and making my insides start to shake. My youngest brother, Franz, had come out two years before but surely, he wasn’t old enough to know that he was gay for certain? Never mind being sure enough to come on out and say it...
Georg nodded, “Yup,” He said, rolling his eyes as if he thought Franz was as mad as a bag of snakes, “He’s got a new boyfriend and he’s gonna introduce him to the olds – tonight.”
Holy fucking shit. That was a mistake. Mum had almost killed him when he did his whole coming-out thing. What the hell did he think he was doing? He really seemed to me to be on a path of total self-destruction. “Where is he?” I demanded. I’d go and give him a piece of my mind – and tell him not to be so fucking stupid at the same time. The kid had a fucking death-wish…
Georg shrugged, “He’s probably round at Wade’s. I think they’ve got an assignment to do.”
My heart flip-flopped in my chest at the mention of Wade. I nodded, “Yeah, I know,” I managed to maintain my thunderous look of rage that I used whenever I felt threatened. Everyone was completely convinced that I was a total homophobe. I really wasn’t. I was actually an incredibly closeted gay guy, having realised it when my brother Franz had come out in total style – and well, there was no way I could have put my hand up and said, “Oh, by the way – you can count me in on that confession, too,” with the way my mother had completely lost the plot over it. By the same token, there was no getting away from it. I’d never fancied a girl in all of my life. I was a bit of a late developer, I guess and other than admiring football players and rugby players, I’d never really had any sort of admiration for anyone my own age.
Knowing I was gay and actually having the hots for someone other than a celebrity came a lot later. The first time I realised that I’d really got the hots for someone and was actually willing to do something about it, I was coming up for twenty and the guy in question was sixteen. That guy was Wade Jackson and he lived right across the street. We’d been friends with the Jacksons for literally years. The trouble was, I’d only realised the depth of my feelings for him just before he left to join the army – and the other rather massive flaw in my plan to tell him the way I felt, was that, as far as I was aware, he was as straight as a die… Yeah. Could be a bit of an issue, that…
Anyway… He went, well of course he did. He wasn’t going to change his mind for me – but out of sight didn’t mean out of mind and the time apart hadn’t stopped me thinking about him on a pretty much daily basis. Hell, I thought about him so much that I’d not been able to have any sort of relationship with anyone else in all the time he’d been away. I’d had the odd hook-up – hell, I wasn’t a monk – but no one else held a candle to Wade…
I remember when he joined up. I’d been completely shell-shocked.
“You’re joining the army?” I asked. We all used to hang out on the park, drinking, playing football and generally being a total pain in the arse to anyone that was trying to walk their dog...
He nodded, shrugging his shoulders, “Yeah,” he said, “I’m not clever enough to go to uni, like Franz – you must know he does most of my homework for me,” he flashed an apologetic grin and my heart just about melted, “and well, there’s nothing else to keep me here.”
My heart went from melted to feeling as if it was in an icy grip and being squeezed hard. I was here for him but I guess that wasn’t enough. I was just Franz’s older brother – a sort-of friend but not really someone he would actually call one of his bezzies, “No,” I muttered, “I guess there isn’t....”
He’d looked up at me. His bright blue eyes had always been far too beautiful for the rest of his face that had been kind of thin and non-descript. He had full lips and a fine nose – girly I guess and that shock of white-blonde hair had really done nothing to make him any manlier.
I stared back into his face, trying to memorise every little freckle. What if he never came back? What if I never got the chance to tell him how I felt? Suddenly the most overwhelming feeling of desperation took over me. I grabbed his hand, “Come with me.” I pulled him away from all of the others to a patch of trees that we used to call the hideout when we were smaller. I had to tell him while I had the chance – whatever that might do to our friendship.
He laughed, “Where are we going?” he asked, trailing after me the way he had since we were little.
“Hideout,” I said shortly, “I uh, need to tell you something.”
He fell silent and still clutching his hand, I led him to the centre of the trees.
“What?” he asked, a little frown furrowing his pale eyebrows.
Breathing hard, and hoping against hope that he wasn’t going to lose his shit completely at my confession, I started to talk...
He blinked at me, “You’re gay?” he asked, his jaw dropping slightly, “So, it’s not just Franz?”
I shook my head, “No, Franz is just something else when it comes to telling it how it is,” I rolled my eyes and tried not to smile at my sassy brother’s ways, “he’s the only one of us brave enough to come out. Mum went nuts – well, she is nuts...”
He nodded his agreement. Mum had always been a religious freak, “So, why are you telling me?” he asked.
I sighed. It was madness thinking he’d feel the same way as I did. We were really good mates, always had been – and it would be just too fantastic if he felt the same but there was something about him that I just wondered about... “I don’t know.” I shook my head, suddenly feeling really exposed and a little foolish, “I guess I just wanted you to know the real me – you know? Before you leave me.”
He laughed and punched my shoulder affectionately, “I’m not leaving you, dude,” he said brightly, “I’ll still be at the other end of your stupid text messages.” He grinned and his beautiful mouth curved up at the edges in that maddeningly sexy way it had always done.
I sighed. He just didn’t understand the pain. I wouldn’t be able to see him every day. Wouldn’t be able to talk to him whenever I felt like it. I looked at him. He loved me, sure he did – but only as a mate. It was a crushing blow. “Yeah,” I said, forcing a grin, “I know. Ignore me, I’m just freaking out about you going off and never coming back...”
He shook his head, “You don’t get rid of me that easily, fella.” He said, punching my shoulder again. “I’ll be battering your door down every time I’m home on leave.”
I grinned, “Brilliant.” I said, “And we’ll play on the X-Box every time you get back, too.” We might not have been really close friends, but out of the five of us, he and I were definitely the geekiest when it came to gaming and we’d definitely bonded over it – that and wrestling. We both loved wrestling too and had been known on occasion to wrestle with each other. It had always given me a boner, though, so I tried my best to avoid it whenever I could. I would have hated for anyone to have noticed.
He laughed, “We can still game over the internet too. I’m sure I’ll have some down time.”
I nodded. Things were brightening a little – only a little, though. I was going to miss him like crazy and suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to wrestle him to the ground and kiss him until he submitted...
I gazed up into Eduard’s face. Eduard was incredibly handsome, there was no denying it. He’d always been the best-looking out of the Krämer brothers – or maybe he wasn’t and I was just biased because I’d admired him the most since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.
There were three of us – and three of them – and we all went through school together.
Eduard was the eldest and went to school with my sister, Frances. My older brother Roger and his younger brother, Georg were the same age and then Franz and I were the youngest and hung around together pretty much all of the time.
I always felt a little sorry for Frances for being a girl. She never got the same experience that Franz and I had, having a close friend that we could tell everything to. Although, to be fair, I’d never told Franz how much I valued Eduard’s friendship, even though Franz had no trouble telling anyone that would listen everything he was feeling at any time of the day or night. I did tell him one time that I thought I might be bisexual – and I think I might have even mentioned that I fancied Eduard – but I was roaring drunk and so was he, so I doubted he would ever remember it. He’d never mentioned it again, so I think I’d got away with it. We were both fourteen at the time and I was going through a bit of a phase. I assumed it was because Franz had come out and I thought it was cool…
I loved Franz for being the way he was, so eager to embrace his sexuality. He was as gay as a rainbow and as far as I could see, his world was full of wonder. He didn’t even bat an eyelid over coming out to his parents, even though he nearly gave his mother a coronary in the process...
I admired the little guy for his balls of steel.
When he came out as gay at the tender age of fourteen (around the time we got drunk and I confessed that I thought I might be bisexual) I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Franz had been camp for as long as I could remember. If he wasn’t walking around in the tightest jeans possible, he wore hot pants. He was out even before he came out.
Neither Georg nor Eduard were like that, but I’d often wondered if Eduard was harbouring a secret but then I figured that there was no way. I’d have noticed, surely? And besides, I just wasn’t that lucky. If anything, Eduard showed signs of being like his mother – totally homophobic. But if he had been gay, I’d have totally supported him in the same way as I did Franz. I couldn’t promise to like any prospective boyfriends Eduard might have because as far as I was concerned, no one would ever be good enough for him – but there was no way I wouldn’t be mates with him. I loved him too much to not want to be in his life in some capacity or other.
“What?” I asked, my heart thumping in my chest. I’d just found the courage to tell him that I was going into the army. I didn’t really want to go – but where we lived, there was little opportunity to do anything else when you were as academically challenged as I was. I was great at sports but I wasn’t about to be chosen to be the next big thing – and I figured I could work really hard and become a fitness trainer for the cadets or something after I’d served my time as a new recruit. The officer I spoke to at the careers day had said it was definitely something I could strive for – and I was nothing if not tenacious...
I’m not gonna lie, when Eduard started telling me that he was gay – well, it rocked my world.
I started to think about all of the times, growing up, that we’d been allowed so much alone time together and he’d never once made a move on me. Did that mean he didn’t fancy me? I was strangely disappointed.
“So why are you telling me now?” I had to ask. Why the fuck did you never say so before? Didn’t you trust me enough? Did you think I wouldn’t still want to be friends? What?
He sighed and looked at me, his big, not-quite-green, not-quite-brown eyes full of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Was he embarrassed? Nervous? Shy? I had no idea. “I guess I just wanted you to know the real me... you know? Before you leave me.”
I suddenly didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay right here, with Eduard, hidden away in the clump of trees forever. What the hell had possessed me to enlist? I didn’t want to be anywhere that Eduard wasn’t. Fighting down the lump in my throat that was threatening to cut off my air supply, I forced myself to grin at him, “I’m not leaving you, dude,” I managed to get out without sounding as if I was about to bawl my eyes out, “I’ll still be at the other end of your stupid text messages.” And boy, were some of his text messages stupid?
I was trying my best to make him smile, but there was nothing but desperation in his face. What wasn’t he telling me? Come on Eduard, tell me what you’re really thinking. Then I can tell you what I’m really thinking…
He sighed and then finally, as if it was a massive effort, he shot me a small smile, “Yeah,” he said, “I know – ignore me, I’m just freaking out about you going off and never coming back to me...”
It was a valid point but I was trying not to focus on that possibility. I shook my head firmly, “You don’t get rid of me that easily, fella.” I punched his arm to stop myself from flinging my arms around his neck and hugging the life out of him – something I’d never really had the nerve to do before, but right in that moment, it felt so damned right... “I’ll be battering your door down every time I’m home on leave.” And I really would. Make no mistake. I would probably head straight for his house instead of my own.
He was finally smiling at me in the way he always did, “Brilliant.” He said, “And we’ll play on the X-Box every time you get back.”
I nodded and laughed. He was forgetting that we could game over the internet, “We can still game over the internet too. I’m sure I’ll have some down time.” God, please let me have enough down time to keep in proper contact...
He nodded. “Let’s head back before anyone misses us.” He said.
I nodded, “Sure.” I agreed, feeling as if I’d missed out on something really special but not quite sure what it was.
Chapter 1 – Back for Good...
My brother, Roger, had mentioned to me that Wade was back – and then Dad also told me that he was back. Did they both have some sort of inkling about my feelings for him or something?
I had no idea if they did or if it was just that we’d always hung out with the Jackson’s sons in the past. Whatever their motivation for telling me – I was, very interested – and dying to see him. I’d been a little disappointed that he hadn’t hot-footed it round like he used to when he got any time off until I realised that maybe it was more that he couldn’t rather than the fact that we weren’t speaking to each other…
“Is he home, then?” I asked Dad.
He shook his head and let out the biggest sigh I’d ever heard, “No,” he finally said, his face grave, “He’s been sent over to St Hugh’s... you might want to sit down, son.”
St Hugh’s was the massive, sprawling hospital on the other side of the city.
My heart almost stopped at his words. Sit down? Fuck. What the hell had happened to him? “What’s he gone there for?” I asked, a feeling of dread trickling through me slowly. Something was badly wrong. I could just feel it. Dad was looking at me, like someone regards a skittish horse. Wade was in trouble. Of course, he was because even if we weren’t talking to each other (only because I was a dick and had spent the last God knows how long ignoring him) he wouldn’t come home and not come over. He was a far better human being than that – and without question, a far better man than I was…
Dad sighed and shook his head sorrowfully, “He was badly injured in a roadside bomb, Ed. I think he lost a leg or something…” he trailed off, his chin wobbling.
My blood ran cold. He’d lost a limb? Was he going to live? Holy shit. What was I supposed to say to him? It didn’t matter what I was supposed to say. I had to see him. I had to tell him how I felt about him. How I’d always felt about him – and having a limb missing somehow didn’t change that one iota.... I fucking loved him. And I didn’t want to wait another second to tell him.... “Can I go?” I asked.
Dad shrugged, “Who’s stopping you?” he asked.
Good point... well presented. Right.... I guess I should go, then... Fuck. What the hell was I supposed to say to him, though?
I was awkward. There was no getting away from it. I said the wrong things. I did the wrong things. I think I was sure I was on some sort of spectrum for autism or something, even if Dad had never taken me to be assessed... I had issues.... I repelled people and there was no doubt that there had been a time, in the more recent past when Wade was among those I repelled. Being on the other side of the world from each other for years had put a strain on our friendship – and hearing all about the other guys in his life – his friends and colleagues; well, it had driven me over the edge...
Jealousy like I never knew existed had eaten away at me, making me bitter and angry and I’d stopped texting so much, only replying with the odd word when he bothered. He was busy with his army career and I was drifting along at home, going through university half-heartedly and then getting a job. I wasn’t interested in anything much. I was so hung up on Wade that I had little time in my life for boyfriends. I had the odd hook-up – always away from home, so no one knew my terrible secret...
I’d lied about my sexuality to everyone else for so long I was almost convinced myself that I was straight again. I was pathetic. A liar... Why the hell would Wade want me back in his life? He’d never want to see me... I should stay away... But I couldn’t.
My legs were shaking as I walked through the high dependency unit that Wade was being looked after in. I really didn’t feel as if I’d be welcomed by any of his family – and least of all by him.
As I forced one foot in front of the other down the corridor towards his unit, I thought about the last time we’d seen each other. He didn’t get a whole lot of time off to come home and I hadn’t seen in him almost two years but finally, he’d come home on leave – and true to his word, he’d come to batter down our door just as soon as he’d gotten home.
I was absolutely delighted to see him, to the point that I actually couldn’t stop myself from throwing my arms around him and hugging him. I’d have felt awkward about it if he hadn’t hugged me right back, burying his face in my neck and actually kissing my neck before pulling away from me again. The trouble was, that he was full of stories about some guy called Tom. Tom sounded like the best friend a guy could ever have – a far better mate than I’d ever been – the type that always had your back, no matter what.
Larger than life and no doubt, twice as good-looking... He showed me a photo of the two of them in the desert, arms around each other’s shoulders and looking kind of cosy. My heart sank. He really was twice as good looking as I was, “He looks like a really great guy.” I said, my voice coming out all scratchy.
He beamed at me, “He really is the best,” he said warmly, “you’d love him, Ed.”
I doubted that. The only man I loved was currently mooning over Tom, the amazing army bestie…
So instead of being an adult about the whole thing and telling him that I had feelings for him and asking him if there was any chance (of which I assumed was a total zero, but if you didn’t ask, you didn’t get) I was a total douche-bag for the rest of the evening. I had too many beers and being a total lightweight I lost the plot completely and lunged at him, trying to kiss him. He’d taken it well, laughing it off and pushing me gently away, “Mate,” he said, “It’s uh, it’s not like that between us.”
No. Of course it wasn’t like that between us. I was so fucking delusional. It was like that between him and Tom. I was sure of it...
“Is he your boyfriend?” I asked harshly, nodding towards his smart phone, “That Tom guy?”
He blinked, “Tom?” he laughed, “Are you fucking serious? No way. He’s not a faggot, Ed – and neither am I.”
I felt like I’d been slapped. A faggot? Wow. It had been so long since I’d bandied that term about, I’d forgotten how awful it was. Was that what he really thought of me? Jesus, that stung. It was like he’d thrown cold water in my face. I was shocked at the way his words made me feel. Fuck, I’d called my brother, Franz, a faggot a million times growing up – and he’d gotten mad over it and hit me a few times – and for a skinny little fucker, he had a mean right hook. It had never occurred to me just how hurtful an off-the-cuff remark could be but that word cut me to the quick. I stood up, my face still aflame, “I think you’d better go.” I said stiffly.
And he did, and that was the last time we’d seen each other – or spoken to each other – until now...
I pushed open the door to the ward he was on.
Please don’t let anyone else be here...
“Can I help you, sir?”
I jumped violently. I was so lost in my own thoughts, I hadn’t even noticed the reception desk. I blinked and focused on the girl behind the desk. I smiled automatically, “I’m uh, here to visit my friend, Wade Jackson?”
She beamed at me and nodded, “Oh, Wade!” she said, a dreamy look that I could totally relate to coming over her face, “He’ll be delighted to see a familiar face, what’s your name?”
“Uh, it’s just Ed.” I mumbled, beginning to wish heartily that I’d thought my impulsiveness through a little longer before coming. “Ed Krämer.”
She nodded, “I’ll go and tell him you’re here – give me a minute.”
I nodded and sat down in one of the chairs before my legs gave out completely. At least I had a few minutes to compose myself, or not...
No sooner had my arse hit the hard plastic of the chair, she was bustling back towards me, “Come on through.” She said enthusiastically, “He’s absolutely delighted that you’re here.” She winked conspiratorially at me, “You must mean a lot to him.”
Delighted? To see me? Seriously? Fuck me...
My legs began to shake even harder and the adrenalin coursing through me was enough to make me light-headed. I walked into the ward in a bit of a daze.
“Ed?” His voice hadn’t changed a bit. I turned towards the voice.
Oh, my God... He was even better-looking than I’d been imagining him in my dreams. His mop of white-blonde hair had been cut into a really short buzz cut, his face had filled out into a proper man’s face and his skin was tanned, making his eyes glow brightly in his face. Fuck he was really handsome. Those eyes, they’d always made my breathing speed up a little...
His body had changed. He was still slim but he was broad in the shoulders now and his frame was muscular. In short, he was fucking gorgeous.
“Wade.” I breathed, “It’s really good to see you, buddy.”
I went across to his bed. He had a massive frame around his legs. I didn’t want to even think about the fact that one of them was missing....
He beamed at me, “Ed, mate! How the hell have you been?” he asked, opening his arms wide so I could totally hug him. I breathed in his masculine scent. Fuck. He smelled good.
He was asking me how I’d been? When he’d been just about blown to bits? What the hell was that all about? “I’m, uh, I’m fine...” Better for seeing you.
He grinned, “Great!” he said, then with a dry chuckle, he added, “I’ve gotta tell you, mate, I’ve been better!”
I gave him a watery smile, “Uh-huh.” I cast around for something to say, “So how long will you be in here before you can go home?”
He shrugged, “Dunno,” He said, “Six months or so. My left leg wasn’t so badly injured but it’s broken so that’s been pinned. It looks a right fucking mess, too,” he rolled his eyes, “and what’s left of my right leg has to heal properly, of course – and then they’ll have to fit me with a prosthetic leg and the like.” He sighed and shook his head, “then I’ll have to learn to walk again...” He pulled a face, “It’s a total ball-ache, mate.”
I nodded. Ball-ache? Fuck. I’d be sobbing my heart out for weeks for the loss of my wonderful leg. I was absolutely sure of it. “I guess.” I murmured. Swallowing hard, I asked the question that I really wasn’t sure I wanted the answer to, “So, how much of your leg did you lose?”
He looked up at me, his eyes darkened with emotion and I realised that he wasn’t quite so bright and breezy about this as he was making out. He was putting a brave face on it and I was so impressed by his bravery but I was quite relieved at the same time that he wasn’t quite so emotionless about the whole thing as he’d first appeared.
He didn’t need to do that. He was talking to me now. He didn’t have to be brave. He was allowed to cry if he wanted to. “Just above the knee.” He said, his voice coming out a little hoarse, “It was an IED. I’d have preferred not to lose my leg, obviously – but it could have been a whole lot worse.” He smiled up at me, “I’m still here, even if I am a bit battered and bruised – and at least no one died. Tom and the others all got away with minor injuries.”
What sort of sick bastards wanted to blow people up? I would never understand warfare. Never... “That’s good.” I mumbled, as an image of his big mate, Tom, flashed through my mind. I had no idea what to say. I glanced towards the massive frame.
“I still feel pain in the missing limb,” he blurted out and then forced a laugh, “I always thought that was bullshit but it’s a real thing and it’s so fucking weird, Wade.” He frowned up at me, his forehead creasing and looking incredulous, “Apparently that’ll fade with time. They said it could take weeks or even months. I dunno, we’ll see, I guess. I’m hoping sooner, rather than later…”
I nodded, “I’ve heard about that.” I said, “So what are you gonna do? You know? When you’re all better and back on your feet?” Was that an insensitive thing to say? Back on his feet? He only had one now. Fuck. I was such a wanker.
He shrugged, “I was thinking that maybe I could still keep up with my fitness. My plan has always been to leave the army and to open my own gym or something...” he trailed off, his eyes fixed on the frame over his legs. “Not sure how that’s gonna pan out, now.”
I bit my lip. I’d been wondering about a change of direction for a couple of months now. Would he be interested in going into business with me? Well, there was one thing for sure, if I never asked, he would never be able to make the decision. “There’s an old pub for sale next door to the office I work in. I’ve been toying with the idea of taking it on for a while. Of course, I can’t do it on my own but I could make some enquiries about what they want for it…” And then I could see you every day again…
He looked at me with bright eyes and nodded, “A pub?” he asked, “Wow, yeah. That’s a great idea.” He smiled at me, “And you’d like us to do that together?”
I felt my face heating up but I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than to spend every day with my favourite person in the world. “I nodded, “I’d love to do that.” I replied sincerely.
He beamed at me, “Thanks, Ed.” He said, “I know things got a bit awkward between us last time I was home, but, buddy – I’ve missed you so much.”
I smiled, “Missed you too.” I said. You have no idea how much...
Chapter 2 – Eduard…
I’m not gonna lie. It was a shock to be told that Eduard had come to see me after the last time we’d been in each other’s company – and I’d been a total wanker. He’d caught me off guard, assuming I was in a relationship with my buddy, Tom – who was actually happily married and had three kids with a really lovely woman and wouldn’t have floated my boat in a million years.
I’d handled things badly, said some things that I’d instantly regretted but had no idea how to put right again – and we hadn’t spoken to each other since, which, I’m not gonna lie, was totally gutting for me.
So now, I didn’t really know how to act around him. I looked towards the entrance of the ward, feeling inexplicably nervous. Hell, it was Eduard. If he’d come to see me, surely, he couldn’t still have beef with me for being a twat?
As soon as I saw his face, all of my apprehension dissipated. He looked anxious. I relaxed. He was still the same old Ed he’d always been – a little bit awkward if I’m honest, but a really solid mate – and my absolute hero. I totally loved the guy and it had been a very long nine months since we’d last spoken to each other.
He looked at the frame covering my legs with trepidation and I couldn’t blame him. I’d looked at it that way too, wondering if I’d ever be able to walk again.
The weirdest thing was that I kept forgetting that my leg had been blown off and I honestly felt as if I could still feel it. They said that would fade over the next few days but it hadn’t so far – in fact it was only when I looked at the frame that I remembered half the time…
I couldn’t remember anything after the bomb blast itself and I was rather grateful for that. I remembered the day beforehand quite clearly and I remembered the utter confusion and helplessness that I felt the instant the explosion occurred. I didn’t remember feeling any pain. Just Tom’s yell of horror and the look on his face before I lost consciousness. Up until that point, we were all in good spirits. We were travelling back to the base from a day helping out the community up in the mountains. Tom and I both had leave planned and would have been travelling back to the UK the day afterwards. I’d got plans to go and sort things out with Ed. I had no way of knowing that my life was about to change dramatically and, looking back, I was kind of glad about that.
The next thing I remembered was waking up in the hospital and being told that I’d got extensive injuries to my legs and that they’d managed to save one but the other had been so badly damaged they’d had to amputate. The consultant was droning on about my good leg, explaining the level of damage it had sustained but that it was easier to fix because the bones had been broken more cleanly. Apparently, my right leg had been shattered so badly it had damaged the tissue beyond repair and I was at risk of losing my life through infection.
I remember the feeling in my stomach and the tingling sensation that went through me from head to toe as his words washed over me. A thrill of utter horror… I realised that my life in the army was over, that I’d lost the one job that I was good at. I felt that everything that had made me the man I was, was gone. Wiped out in one fell swoop.
It had taken a few weeks to be stable enough to be transferred back to the specialist unit in the UK and from there I’d been transferred closer to home and was now in St Hugh’s Hospital.
Fortunately for me, the rehabilitation unit that would fit me with my prosthetic leg, in time, and get me walking again, was linked to the hospital and wasn’t miles away in another part of the country. I’d be allowed home, so, I might even be able to see Eduard – if he wanted to see me, that was.
Clearly, since he was here, Eduard must have heard what had happened and wanted to see me, which, I’m not gonna lie, I was absolutely thrilled about.
I couldn’t, however, let Eduard see how devastated I’d been to lose my leg. I didn’t want him thinking I was less of a man and I felt that I had to put a brave face on it, even though I just wanted to cry my heart out – and did on quite a regular basis when I was alone.
Hell, I was damned sure that if he thought I was going to be a total pussy over the whole thing, he’d never want to be seen with me again. Not that we ever really went out and about with each other – our relationship with each other was all about the gaming and the texts and the wrestling.
I was desperate to get back to some sort of normality. Desperate to start my rehab program and to get to grips with a prosthetic so that I could at least appear normal when I was dressed. Fine, I wouldn’t be able to wear shorts until I’d come to terms with things in my mind. Thankfully, with the changed attitudes – mainly due to people like Jonny Peacock and the nation embracing our Paralympians, it was going to be much easier for me to fit in with my prosthetic.
I just hoped that Eduard wouldn’t be too repulsed by me, because I’m not gonna lie, seeing him stood there, looking incredibly handsome, my heart picked up a little and I wasn’t all that sure it was only apprehension I was feeling… “Hi Ed.” I said with the first genuine smile I’d managed to muster in forever, “Good to see you, buddy.”
Chapter 3 – Four months later…
I was bored out of my mind. I had a few days off work since I was being forced to use up my holiday rather than losing it – and I was never very good with holidays, anyway. I had no one to share the time with, so what was the fucking point? It never failed to piss me off that Franz had Buzz to play with – and Georg and Tony were getting married… I was the only one left and I’d known for years who I wanted my husband to be. It just wasn’t fair.
Dad frowned at me over the top of his paper, “What’s eating you up today?” he asked.
I huffed another massive, petulant sigh, “Nothing.”
“Well, good,” he said, “you can go down to the supermarket for me then and get some more milk, bread and something for dinner – get a couple of chicken breasts and I’ll make us a chicken Kiev each.”
I nodded, “Fine.” I said with another sigh. I got up and headed for the door, picking up my car keys as I went. I needed to get out of the house. I’d go stir crazy if I spent any more time indoors, doing nothing.
“And Eduard’s back home.” Dad called after me, “It wouldn’t hurt for you to drop by and give him some support. Bit of bad-timing if you ask me. Julie and Bryan are away for a few days. Julie’s sister’s getting married again.”
I bit my lip. Julie and Bryan were Wade’s parents. Did that mean he was trying to cope in there by himself? Something I was sure he was quite capable of doing under normal circumstances but hell, he’d only just got out of the rehab centre.
Both his sister and brother lived away from home now, so other than medical staff coming by to check on his wellbeing, he was in there alone. That couldn’t be good for his mental health…
I sighed. I had no idea what good I could do for him. Since I’d been to see him that one time at the hospital, I hadn’t gone back. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want him to get pissed off with me hanging around him like a bad smell while he was trying to recover – and besides, he still thought I was a faggot, after all.
Going to the hospital had been a bit of kneejerk reaction and he wouldn’t have thought it was weird. He might, however, not be all that enamoured at me invading his personal space at home. I didn’t want to make things awkward between us again – not when he’d been happy to see me. It had nearly killed me the last time we weren’t speaking to each other but that didn’t mean he’d want me around all of the time…
“Yeah,” I muttered, “I might go later.” I drove down to the supermarket, bought everything Dad had suggested and then also threw a load of my favourite snacks in the trolley too. They were also Wade’s favourites. We both loved crisps, nachos and dips and all sorts of other savoury snacks that were no good for us but what the hell? I guess in the back of my mind, I really was planning on taking them over to Wade’s for us to have a night in on the X-Box, but in the current state of misery I was indulging myself in, I was convincing myself that he wouldn’t want me to hang around him, they were all for me to binge eat, telling myself that it didn’t matter what I ate, I had no one to stay in shape for. No one wanted me anyway. Yes. I really was feeling horribly sorry for myself…
I got home again and sat in the car for a moment. I could see Wade’s house in the rear-view mirror. My heart started to beat a little harder. Could I really go over there just to say hello and stay a while to keep him company? Would he welcome me into his home? Sure, he’d been pleased to see me at the hospital, but he was kind of a sitting duck there – and no doubt high on painkillers and bored out of his skull… I shook my head. Maybe later… I got out of the car and was heading back for the front door when I heard a crash from across the street.
I stopped and turned. Had that come from Wade’s house? His parents were away for the weekend and he was out of rehab, now. Was he alone? Did he need help?
I waited, the only sound other than the birds and the distant sound of traffic from the motorway was my heartbeat. Come on…
Another sound pierced the silence. A roar of absolute desperation. That was definitely Wade. I started running…
Not even caring if it was appropriate or not, I burst into his house without even knocking first. “Wade?” I shouted, “Everything okay, buddy?” Clearly it wasn’t but what else was I supposed to say?
“In here.” He called, sounding upset and frustrated.
I went through to the lounge to find him on the floor and quite clearly in a lot of distress and discomfort.
“What’s happened?” I asked, kneeling down next to him and at a loss of what else to do other than to wrap my arms around him and give him a hug.
“Damn stupid leg.” He shouted, his voice hoarse with emotion, “It was fine in the clinic – but ever since I got home…” He swore under his breath. Looking back at me he scowled, “I just can’t make the fucking thing do what I want it to do. It’s fucking useless! I’d have been better off being blown to fucking pieces. Why couldn’t I have just been taken out?” He looked away and it was only then I noticed the tear tracks down his face and the look of total anguish and desperation on his beautiful face.
My heart squeezed painfully in my chest at his words and my blood ran cold, “Don’t say that.” I whispered, hugging him a little closer to me.
“Why not?” he asked, “I’m no fucking use to anyone anymore – and this fucking thing might as well go in the fucking bin for all the use it is. I’ll never be able to walk on it properly.”
I doubted that. I wasn’t about to start deluding myself that it was easy but there were plenty of people who could successfully walk with prosthetics. Hell, look at that beautiful runner, Jonny Peacock. You’d have no idea he didn’t have a leg until you saw him run with his blade on. I knew that it had to take some getting used to but Wade wasn’t really giving himself enough credit. It really had only been a matter of weeks that he’d been out of the hospital and in the rehab centre. He’d done well to be allowed home this soon. “Do you need a hand putting it back on?” I offered, hoping against hope he’d say no because I’d really have no clue how to even start.
He shook his head, “I can do it.” He grumbled, beginning to look a little sheepish at his emotional outburst, “Pass it here.”
I watched him in quiet admiration as he took a deep breath and then calmly fitted the prosthetic to his leg; his stump was covered up with some sort of stocking and I guessed this was to keep his newly healed skin as comfortable as possible. He didn’t look in pain as such, but it clearly wasn’t particularly comfortable, either. “Does it hurt?” I asked tentatively. I didn’t want to upset him but I wanted to be able to understand.
He shrugged, “Not as much as it hurts in here.” He patted his chest, “To know I’m not as much of a man as I used to be.”
I blinked. Not as much of a man? Who the fuck was he kidding? He was a total hero – and definitely my hero. He always had been. “What are you on about?” I asked.
He looked up at me, his beautiful blue eyes watery with more unshed tears, “Well, let’s be honest, Ed.” He said, “Who the fuck’s gonna want me like this?”
Me. I wanted to tell him, I want you no matter what. “Well, obviously there’ll still be people attracted to you.” I hedged, “You just have to get back on the horse.” Yes. I was talking utter rubbish.
He shook his head, “Fuck off,” he said, “no one will ever want me again.”
I started to feel a little annoyed at his self-pitying attitude. He was still here. He could still function perfectly normally, well, perhaps not as normally as he had before but hell, there was nothing displeasing about the way he looked – and it wasn’t about looks anyway... I loved everything about him and I always had.
“Well, I’d still want you.” I blurted out before my brain could engage and stop me from blurting out stupid things. Oh, well done, you fucking idiot... just tell him you’ve been in love with him forever, why don’t you?
He sighed, his face pained, “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Ed – but, uh, I still wasn’t gay the last time I checked.” He said quietly, “I’m sorry.”
I nodded, “I know,” I said, because I did know. He’d told me a while ago – when he’d come home and referred to me as a faggot. That was the last time we’d seen each other before we’d fallen out. This was the first time we’d talked about it since, “and I don’t care that you don’t feel that way about me.” What was the point in him not knowing exactly the way I felt? Now that I’d opened my big mouth I didn’t seem able to shut it again and it was giving away everything… “You’re my best friend and I love you – and I’ll take care of you. I’ll fix you – and I’ll let you go when you’re all better and ready to fall in love with some girl who really deserves you, too.” I smiled at him even though I really just wanted to go and put my head in the oven for being a total and utter prick.
He looked at me as if I was completely and utterly crazy, “You can’t do that.” He said, “I don’t need your charity and besides – allowing you to take care of me and all… that’s too hard when you...” he looked awkward, “you know? Have feelings for me. It’s wrong. I’m not what you need. Go and find someone whole. Someone who’s gay and who’ll love you properly.”
He was so wrong. He was everything I needed but I was serious. I’d give him up for someone who was worthy of him. I wasn’t that delusional that I thought he could ever fall in love with me.
“You’re wrong,” I said quietly, “You’re all I need. You always were.”
He shook his head, “Look, Ed, we both know that we can only ever be friends.”
I shrugged and nodded. Of course, I knew that, “I just want to help you get better.” I said. “Just let me help you, mate. I swear I’ll do my best not to let my feelings for you get in the way of us being friends.”
Finally, he nodded, “Okay.” He said, “Thanks, Ed.”
“You’re all I need. You always were.” His voice kept going over and over in my mind even though he’d left hours before.
And I knew what he meant, because he’d always been what I needed, too. There was just one problem. I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t even sure if I was bisexual anymore. I’d never identified as anything other than completely straight – and I’d never found any other guy that I fancied since I left home and joined the army. All my mates in the army had been just that – mates. There wasn’t one amongst them that I’d found remotely attractive in that way.
In fact, apart from having admiration for Franz’s big brother, Eduard, my whole life, I’d always believed that I was straight. I’d had plenty of girlfriends throughout my military career and I’d assumed that my lack of interest in them other than for sex, was just that I was a military man who didn’t have time for romance.
But I couldn’t deny the feelings that went through me every time I looked up into Eduard’s glorious not-quite-brown, not-quite-green eyes. They’d always managed to turn my insides to mush and warmth had always spread right through me whenever we touched. I’d always thought it was just a really fantastic friendship. A kinship if you like – like he was my soulmate or something…
I’d never felt like that about women but I thought it was just that girls were different to men and weren’t on the same wavelength. Yeah, okay – maybe I was a little on the naïve side when it came to matters of the heart.
My longest relationship with a woman had been a record-breaking six months – but when I analysed it, that was only because I was on a mission for five of them.
I liked women. I liked having sex with women and I thought they liked having sex with me, too. I just hated the whole commitment thing they wanted from me. As soon as they started to talk about their feelings – and started sentences liked, “So, we’ve been seeing each other a while, now...” or “where do you think this is going...?” I was out of there like a shot before I got sucked in. It always made me feel the same – different girls, hell, all kinds of girls but I always ended up feeling the same way – trapped and suffocating.
It had gotten to the point that I’d stopped chatting girls up in bars and I hadn’t been with anyone for a couple of months before I was forced to retire after the bomb.
What now, though? Now I really could do with being trapped. The knowledge that I had a girlfriend waiting for me at home would have been a comfort I those early dark days after the explosion. I needed someone to look after me for fuck’s sake – at least in the short term...
And I had that – Eduard had said he would be there for me and that was fantastic of him – but I didn’t want to rely on Eduard. It wouldn’t be fair. He’d as good as told me that he was in love with me – and I really couldn’t lead him on.
I really didn’t want to give him any ideas that I needed him – even though it was beginning to dawn on me that I really did... Needing someone and wanting someone were two different things, though – and there was no way I was going to use him.
My phone buzzed at around four in the afternoon and I picked it up. It was a message from Ed. “Fancy a head-to-head over the net? Or shall I just come over to yours? I have beer and nibbles.” He’d finished the message with a smiley face poking its tongue out.
I grinned as I read the sweet message, “Come over.” I texted back, my heart starting to thump in my chest with excitement. I’d always loved gaming with Ed. He might be four years older than me but he was like a little kid when we played. He got so excited and his laugh was so infectious. And heaven knew, I needed a good laugh with my best friend. Since he’d left me again this morning I’d felt pretty down about one thing and another before I’d decided I’d moped enough and had another go with my prosthetic – with mixed results.
He sent another smiley face and less than a minute later there was knock on the door. That was quick. Had he been waiting outside?
I dragged myself to the front door, grabbing onto everything I could as I battled to find my balance and to try to get the prosthetic to feel less alien. I opened it and shuffled backwards against the wall to give him room to get inside. “Come on in.” I grinned at him.
He grinned back, “Well,” he said, “You’re looking better,” he peered closely at my face, “you look a little tired, but definitely better.”
I nodded, “I decided it was time to get my shit together. I’ve made friends with Petey here.” I patted my leg.
He frowned, “Petey?” he raised his eyebrows, “Really?”
I nodded, grinning, “Petey, my prosthetic,” I said, laughing at the look on his face, “I figured it needed a name if I was really gonna embrace it.”
He grinned back at me, “Great idea.” He said with a chuckle, “But if Petey’s making your leg sore, I really don’t care if he joins the party or not. You can take him off for me.”
I raised my eyebrows, “It won’t freak you out to see me without my leg?” I wasn’t sure that I wanted him to see me looking so vulnerable but I couldn’t deny the feeling of joy that went through me that he was being so accepting about it.
He chuckled, “Not at all.” He said, “What will we be doing that needs you to walk around? Whatever makes you more comfortable is absolutely fine with me. Do you need a hand getting it off?”
I shook my head, “Nah, I’m good.” I said as I sat down and eased it off. I immediately felt better. It was amazing how sweaty my leg got in the damned thing – even with the absorbent stocking over my leg.
I stretched my arms above my head. Getting used to the prosthetic was almost a full body workout every time I got it on. I felt as if my whole body was readjusting and it probably was. I was definitely using muscles I didn’t know I had before.
I smiled up at Eduard. He would be perfectly happy to run around getting stuff for us – and hell, I could still hop around the room holding onto the furniture to get to the bathroom if need be or anything. I wasn’t completely helpless.
Eduard came in from my kitchen with a tray overflowing with snacks.
He sat down right next to me and grinned at me, “Feeling better?” he asked.
I nodded. I was mildly surprised to realise that everything was better, now that he was here. “I feel great.” I said sincerely, “Hand me one of those controllers and let’s play.”
I leaned into him before I realised that he might take it as a come-on but it was too late now, “Thanks for being so great.” I said, “I really appreciate it.”
Eduard ruffled my hair before he shuffled away from me slightly, “I know.” He said, sounding a little gruff, “I’m amazing. Come on, then – let’s play.”
I settled myself back against the sofa cushions and seconds later we were having a head-to-head battle on the X-Box, laughing and shouting at each other.
Finally, Ed won the game and we put our controllers down. “Christ, what time is it?” he asked, “I’m starving,” he checked his watch, “Oh, I’d better get back home, too.” He said sounding a little crestfallen, “Dad’ll wonder what the hell’s happened to me. I told him I’d only be about an hour – he’s making Kievs.”
I looked up at him, a feeling of disappointment flooding my gut, “Oh, sure.” I said, “You’d better get off. I guess I’ll see you…”
I bit my lip. He looked so disappointed that I was leaving and I really didn’t want to go home and leave him all on his own. “Tell you what,” I said, “I’ll just go and tell him where I am – and then I’ll be right back.” I said, “He won’t mind. Wanna call out for pizza or something?”
He nodded, looking happier again, “Sounds great – but can we have Indian instead of pizza?”
I nodded, “Sure.” I agreed before I headed home.
Dad was a little disappointed, I’m not gonna lie – but he wasn’t in the least bit surprised that I wanted to spend the rest of the evening with Wade and encouraged me to go back, “You boys have fun.” He said, “He needs his mates around him at a time like this – particularly with everyone else being away.”
It was true. His sister had moved in with her boyfriend and Roger, his brother, worked away all week. His parents were at the wedding and even though his mother had fretted about leaving him, he’d insisted they go and enjoy themselves.
I gave Dad a hug, “Thanks, Dad.” I said, “He’s doing really well.”
I got back to Wade’s and let myself back in, “What do you want to order?” I shouted through to him as soon as I was in, hopping around on the spot as I took my trainers off before I went into the lounge.
“Chicken tikka masala.” He shouted back, “What else?”
I chuckled to myself at his answer. He always had that. I didn’t know why I’d even asked…
“Poppadums and pickles?” I pushed the door of the lounge open and grinned.
He laughed, “Obviously,” He said.
I nodded and dialled the number. “Half an hour,” I said, “Fancy a beer?” I’d brought over a pack of twelve earlier – not that I’d expected us to drink more than two or three each, “You can still drink, right – with your pain meds?”
He nodded, “I’m allowed a beer every now and then, yeah,” he agreed, “Great stuff.”
We both reached for a poppadum at the same time and our fingers brushed together, sending shock waves through my body and having a very embarrassing effect on my dick. I heartily wished I’d worn my jeans instead of my comfy sweats.
Wow. That was intense. I deliberately avoided any sort of eye contact, I just went straight for the dips and tried to pretend that nothing at all was happening.
It’s just your imagination. I scolded myself. He’s straight. He feels nothing for you other than being your friend. Nothing.
I ate the rest of my curry without even really tasting it. My mind was racing and I was trying my hardest to act perfectly normally. Well, as normal as normal got for me, anyway. I think I managed to pull it off pretty well.
We had another couple of games and then put Netflix on and I introduced him to the wonderful world of Teen Wolf. Okay, so it was totally because Wade looked a little like Jackson in the first place that I’d started to watch it – and it tickled me that he had the same name as Wade’s surname – not that I was about to admit that to Wade.
“This is such a load of shit.” He said with a chuckle, “What do you watch it for?”
I shrugged, “Dunno,” I said with a grin, “I just caught the first one and got sucked in.”
He nodded, “Well, I like Stiles.” He said, “He’s funny.”
I nodded, “I just love Jackson.” I said dreamily and then remembered that I was talking to Wade – who was a dead ringer. Fuck. What the hell was wrong with me?
His lips twitched, “Your type, huh?” he asked, looking straight at me with those ridiculously blue eyes of his.
I shrugged, “I guess,” I said, “Anyway.” I stood up, “I really need to get going. Will you be okay? Getting yourself to bed and everything?” Please say you can or I’ll be climbing in there with you…
He nodded, “Sure.” He said, “I’ll uh, see you sometime...?”
I smiled, “Want me to come around tomorrow?” I offered, “I’m off all week. I get forced to take my holidays because I never use them up.”
He blinked, “Fuck.” He said, “You need to get yourself down to Cornwall. We could totally go surfing.”
Now that sounded like a plan. “Next time.” I said, “I’ll book some time off in the summer – and we’ll definitely go.”
I went home full of plans to rent a nice cottage for us to share…
I felt slightly lost once Ed had gone home. The house was so quiet and it was such an effort to get off the sofa but I really needed to pee – and it was getting late.
Ignoring the plates on the coffee table, I grabbed Petey and eased my leg into him. “Right, fella,” I said, “Behave yourself and we might get to the top of the stairs without getting stuck halfway tonight.”
I woke up the next morning, feeling completely unrested. My mind had been racing for hours before I’d finally dropped off to sleep. Full of ideas about going on holiday with Eduard. Would I be able to surf? Well, why not? I didn’t have to stand up on the board and I could sit at the water’s edge waiting for Ed to help me back to where we’d set up camp.
My thoughts had taken me into unchartered territory, however. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poppadum incident and wondering what had happened between us.
Punching my pillow into a more comfortable shape, I closed my eyes and willed myself to sleep. That was a mistake, since I dreamt about kissing Ed. What the fuck was that all about?
I glanced at my clock and groaned. It was going to be hours before he was up and awake. Eduard had always loved his bed and was never up and about before lunchtime when we were kids. I couldn’t see that changing now that he was all grown up. He was on holiday this week… What on earth would he want to be up early for?
My stomach was in knots. I really couldn’t wait to see him.
I tried to convince myself that it was just his company that I wanted. It was true that I hated being alone – in the armed forces I’d always been surrounded by my mates – but with Eduard, I couldn’t deny it was so much more than that. Now I was fighting the urge to touch his fingers again just to see if the feeling that had gone right through my body last night was real. What was that feeling anyway? I’d never reacted to another person’s touch so dramatically before in my life!
I’d really wanted to look at him to see if he’d felt it too but when I glanced his way, I got the feeling he was more interested in his poppadum and pickles than he was in me… It had left me feeling slightly disappointed.
Don’t be so ridiculous, Wade. I told myself. You’ve never felt this way about him before… Only that wasn’t quite true either. I had, when I was fourteen – and I’d told his brother, Franz after a few shots that we weren’t supposed to have drunk. Still, I’d never fancied any other guy ever after that and I’d thought that it was just a fluke…
But what if it wasn’t a fluke? What if I’d only ever felt this way about Eduard? I was going to have to go for the brush of hands again… just to see. God, I couldn’t wait for lunchtime…
As it was, it was seven in the morning and I really couldn’t lie in bed a moment longer.
Ignoring Petey who was stood leaning against my chest of drawers, I hopped across my bedroom to my en-suite bathroom.
I was going to have a shower.
Leaning against the wall of the shower, I reached for the shampoo and started to wash my hair. I wasn’t really one for different products and generally used the shampoo to wash myself all over. I washed my armpits and then my arms, torso and then I reached for my cock. I wasn’t really aware that I’d been thinking about Eduard until I realised that I was hard and it was Ed I was thinking about…
I took myself in my hand and started to work it. I closed my eyes and thought about our hands touching the day before. Seriously. What the hell had that been about? Did I really have feelings for Ed? Well of course I did. He was one of my best friends – and he’d always been someone I’d admired. Be honest with yourself Wade, you’ve fancied him since you were a kid.
I’d done such a good job of convincing myself that I was straight in the army that I was completely confused at my newfound feelings for Ed – or rather, renewed feelings, since they weren’t really new at all. I realised that I’d just buried them – they’d never gone away at all. I came, gasping as my come ran down my hand and was washed away but the shower. My leg was shaking with the force of my orgasm. Fuck, that was intense. I’d never done that before. I’d never come to thoughts of Ed and I kissing. Thoughts of Ed sucking my cock? Well, maybe…
So, what the hell did it mean? Was I gay? Bisexual? Pansexual? Gender fluid? Jeez, there were so many ways to describe your sexuality these days, most of which I had no clue what they even meant. It was no wonder I was confused.
I shook my head and rinsed myself one last time before I switched the shower off.
Reaching for my towel, I hopped out of the cubicle awkwardly and then, holding onto the sink for support, dried myself off.
Trying me best to stop thinking about Ed and the fact that I’d just had an orgasm while imagining him kissing me, and yes, damn it, imagining that it was his hand around my shaft, I made my way back into my bedroom and got out a pair of boxer shorts.
I wondered briefly what sort of boxer shorts Ed wore and then almost immediately had to stop myself from thinking about it, because I was beginning to sport wood again and I was going to be in danger of walking around with a semi on all damned day until I saw him – and then it would likely be a full-on stiffy and I had absolutely no idea how I would be able to explain it away.
I looked at Petey. “Right you.” I said as I pulled on the stocking over my stump, “You and I are going to make friends today.” And if you let me down, even once, so help me I’m going to smash you against the fucking wall…
I stood up. “Right.” I said, “Come on then.”
I don’t know if I was just having a really bad day yesterday or if I’d woken up with a brand new and improved positive mental attitude, but suddenly, walking on Petey was like second nature. “Well, would you fucking believe it?” I asked myself in wonder as I got to the bottom of the stairs without having to resort to shuffling myself down on my backside. “Petey,” I said, looking down with a big stupid smile on my face, “You and I are so becoming buddies.”
I chuckled to myself as I went through to the kitchen to get myself my breakfast.
I’d just snapped the kettle on when the doorbell rang. I just about jumped out of my skin, but as I turned to answer the door, my heart jumped in my chest. I recognised Ed’s outline instantly. Fuck me. What the hell had happened to him in the last five years? Why on earth was he up at this time in the morning?
I opened the door.
His not-quite-brown, not-quite-green eyes twinkled at me as he held up a bag of yumyums from Greggs. “Breakfast?” he asked.
I snorted, “That shit’ll give you a heart attack by the time you’re forty.” I said, “And you haven’t got that long before you get there.”
“Cheeky bastard.” He grumbled as he pushed past me, “There’s only two each.”
I laughed, “I’ll make us a coffee.” I said, “since when did you start getting up early?”
He shrugged, “Since I had to leave behind my heady student days and get a job.” He answered with a grin.
I grinned back at him, “Yeah,” I agreed, “Speaking of – did you make any enquiries about that pub next door to your place of work?”
He nodded, “As a matter of fact, I did.” He said, “And I made us an appointment to go around it next week. I figured you and Petey needed a little time to get acquainted before we went walking all over town.”
My heart skipped a beat, “Really?” I asked. How thoughtful was that?
He blushed slightly, “I’d have gone on my own if you really couldn’t make it.” He said, “It’s a really nice building. There’s loads we could do with it. We could apply for a new licence for the pub or we could look into getting a chef on board and changing it to a bistro…”
I raised an eyebrow. Did he just say we? Was he really serious about coming in on the business with me? “What did you have in mind?” I asked.
He shrugged, “Well,” he said, “I’ve got a few ideas. Not that I’m complaining or anything – but there are no gay bars in the town centre.” He said, “I’m not suggesting that we exclude straight people or anything, but…”
I nodded, “I hear you.” We could encourage an all-orientations-welcome policy…
He nodded, “Yeah, or we could just go down the bistro route – then we don’t have to worry about all orientations being welcome because no one would even consider it. I’d really like to come in on the venture with you. I’d be happy to split the investment with you, too – and give up my boring-as-fuck job…”
My heart swelled, “Thanks, mate.” I said, “I really appreciate it.” I felt like I was beginning to sound a little like a broken record. I didn’t know what else to say to him, though. I did appreciate everything he was doing for me. More than appreciated it, actually. I loved that he was looking out for me – but I didn’t want to encourage anything that I really didn’t know if I could handle. It wouldn’t be fair of me to start something I couldn’t see through. And right now, I really didn’t think I could do anything with Ed that I would normally do with a woman.
Actually, that was a total lie. I could totally imagine watching Ed going down on me. I just couldn’t quite compute the idea of going down on him, although it was getting easier all the time. Images flashed through my mind of taking his cock in my mouth and sucking it but I pushed them to the back of my mind. I was genuinely baffled at the images in my mind. What the hell had gotten into me?
I took a bite of the yumyum that Ed had thrust into my hand, “Oh, my God.” I breathed, locking gaze with him and grinning from ear-to-ear. “I’d forgotten how good these things were.”
Ed laughed, “I know, right.” He said. “I don’t think I’ve eaten one in about six years!”
I gazed at him, “You always used to bring them to the park.” You always shared them with me.
He nodded, “Yeah.” He agreed with a chuckle, “It was because Mum said that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. I figured it was worth a shot.”
“Ahh,” I replied playfully, “So that’s what you’re doing.” Oh, my God. Was that what he’d been trying to do all that time?
He immediately looked mortified, “NO!” he shouted, “Honest, I just fancied them and wondered if you’d like a little company for breakfast and something nice to eat…”
I didn’t know what to say to make things less awkward, “I was only joking.” I said as I passed him his coffee, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make things awkward between us.”
He sighed and shook his head “This isn’t working.” He muttered, “I can’t help the way I feel about you – and you can’t help being straight. I’d better go home.” He pushed his chair out and stood up.
I shot out an arm to block his exit, “Please.” I said, “Don’t go.”
He looked at me, a myriad of emotions playing over his face. “I’ll stay.” He whispered. He looked up at me, his face a picture of anxiety. Anxiety that I was causing him and it cut me to the quick, “If I get too intense – you know? If I get too much for you to deal with.” He said, “Please, just tell me to go. Okay?”
I nodded. He had nothing to worry about. I never wanted him to leave. As far as I was concerned, there was no fucking way he was ever going anywhere…
Chapter 4 – A day full of apologies…
Mortifying. That’s what this was, absolutely mortifying. What the hell had possessed me to say that?
I was all ready to run, the old fight-or-flight instinct kicking in – but Wade had other ideas and he blocked my exit. Not that I couldn’t have pushed past him. It was more the way he asked me to stay.
We’d definitely had a moment. The two of us just staring into each other’s eyes. I had no idea what he was thinking of, but I was wishing with all my heart that things were different – that he wasn’t straight and that he felt the same as I did. It was never gonna happen, though. It really was time I downloaded Grindr and went on a couple of no strings, sex dates…
By the time I’d gotten my heartbeat back under control and the power of speech had come back to me, Wade had finished his two yumyums and had disappeared into the lounge. I followed him in, “You’re walking a hell of a lot better on that leg.” I commented.
He nodded, a big grin on his beautiful face, “Yeah,” he agreed, “We had a little chat this morning.”
“Who?” I asked in confusion.
He patted his prosthetic, “Petey and I.” he said, “I threatened to smash him into the wall if he played me up – he’s been really well-behaved since.”
I chuckled, “Well, I’m glad about that.” I said. Suddenly, I had an idea. The park wasn’t so far away from where we lived. Maybe we could take a slow walk there and back… “Why don’t we walk down to the park?”
He raised his eyebrows at me, “Do you think I’ll make it?”
I shrugged, “I could give you a piggyback ride home.” I said with a grin.
He nodded thoughtfully, “Okay.” He said, “Let’s finish these drinks and then we’ll head out.”
“Might want to leave it till the school-run’s over.” I said, “We don’t want you tripping over the rug-rats.”
He nodded, “Good point.” He winked at me, making my dick twitch. Thankfully, I was wearing my jeans today so there was no chance of him noticing my semi-permanent boner…
We finished our drinks, watched Jeremy Kyle for as long as we could stand it before we had to turn it off and then we headed out.
It was slow progress but I felt that Wade was doing exceedingly well. We took his crutches with him but I was just carrying them in my free hand. My other hand was busy catching him whenever he had the slightest stumble. It would be fair to say that I couldn’t keep my hands off him…
Finally, we reached the park. “Let’s sit down over there,” Wade panted, “I’m absolutely knackered.”
I steered him over to the bench and we sat down. It was a gloriously sunny early summer’s day. Just the sort of day to go on a picnic – only we’d not got one with us. Next time…
“Are you okay?” I asked, looking at his pale face a little worriedly. “Have I made you do too much, too soon?”
He shook his head, “I’m fine.” He said, “I just needed a rest.”
“Is your leg comfortable?” I pressed.
He shrugged and nodded, “It’s a bit sore.” He admitted ruefully, “I’ll be okay.”
I jumped up, shaking my head, “I’ll go and get my car.” I said, “I can’t have you in pain.” I’d rather die than be the one to ever cause you pain.
He shot out an arm and grabbed mine, “Sit down.” He commanded, “I’m fine.”
I nodded and sat down next to him, “Sorry.” I muttered, “I’m not used to this…”
He raised an eyebrow, “Me either.” He said, “I’m used to being with a massive group of guys, all of them taking the piss out of each other and generally being a bunch of obnoxious twats.”
I smiled, “But you miss them almost as much as you miss your leg?”
He shrugged, “I did,” he agreed, “to begin with…” he trailed off and I totally got the feeling he was about to say something else but he stopped himself.
I looked at him, “Were you going to say something else?”
He looked up at me sheepishly, “I was just going to say that I did miss them – until I re-discovered you.”
I blinked. “Me?” I asked. I honestly thought he’d be sick of me hanging around him like a bad smell by now.
He grinned, “Yeah.” He said, “I always liked you best out of the three of you – you were the only one any good at playing the X-Box games for starters.”
I smiled at him, “Yeah.” I agreed, “That was part of your charm too.”
We sat there, chatting and reminiscing about all sorts of things before we realised that we were, once again, absolutely starving. “Shall I get my car?” I asked, “It’s uphill on the way back.”
Wade was a stubborn bastard. He shook his head, “I’ll walk.” He ground out. “I might have to hang on to you, but I’ll fucking walk.”
I nodded. Fine with me…
Chapter 5 – Lean on me…
My leg hurt. Not unbearably so but I could feel it.
I guess I could have managed it home without asking Ed for help, but what the fuck was the point in having mates if you couldn’t lean on them sometimes?
So, I leaned on Ed – literally. He had his arm around me all the way home, pretty much pushing me up the hill as I hung onto him for support.
At last, we made it. “Thanks mate.” I gasped as we both collapsed onto my sofa, “That was really hard work!”
He beamed at me, his weirdly beautiful brown-green eyes glowing with something that looked awfully like pride, “You did amazing.” He said, “You’ve only been out of rehab for a couple of weeks – you’re incredible.”
I smiled, feeling inexplicably buoyed up by his praise, “Thanks, mate.” I said, “Would you do me a favour? Stick the kettle on, would you?”
He nodded and headed off into the kitchen. I leaned back against the sofa cushions and closed my eyes. I sighed happily. I’d walked to the park and back. That was fucking incredible…
Ed was back in in a couple of minutes, putting a steaming mug of tea in front of me, “I put one sugar in it.” He said.
I frowned, “I have two.” You know that…
He shook his head, grinning cheekily, “Not when you’ve had two yumyums for your breakfast you don’t.”
I chuckled, “Okay, Mum.” I said.
That earned me a punch. I grabbed his hand and pulled him into me. He fell slightly awkwardly and ended up half in my lap.
“Oh, God – your leg.” He yelped, trying to scramble back up to his feet.
I let him go. I had absolutely no idea what I thought I was going to do with him once I’d got him straddling me but the image of us kissing flashed back through my mind. Fuck. I really was losing it…
“I’d uh, I’d better be getting back.” Ed started backing away towards the door, “Want me to come around later?”
I nodded, “Sure.” I muttered, “Why don’t you bring a bottle of wine or something.” Maybe we can get drunk and reckless and end up kissing…
He nodded, muttered a hurried goodbye and then he was gone.
I made my way to the kitchen and watched him walking across the street. I sighed. How was I supposed to tell him what I was feeling when I’d told him in no uncertain terms that there was no way we could be anything more than friends? God, I was an idiot.
Chapter 6 – Confusion…
What the fuck was going on with Wade?
At least twice today he’d done something that I would assume was flirting if it wasn’t him doing it. Was my crush on him getting out of control? Was I imagining it? Or was he actually trying to flirt with me? Why would he do that?
I really had no clue. What the fuck was I supposed to do?
There was nothing else for it. I had to ask one of my brothers for help.
I called Franz. Georg was in Canada for a month with Tony, visiting Tony’s sister – for one, I didn’t want to disturb him when he was on holiday and for another, we just didn’t get on that well. I’d been a total shit to him for coming out as gay – and I really didn’t need him to give me a hard time for it now.
Franz, though? Well he was a total darling. He’d just be happy that I was happy. Not that I was exactly ecstatic to be coming out…
I decided that I needed to be able to see his face for this call. I dialled his number on Facetime.
“Eduard?” Franz’s voice sounded worried and he blinked at me with a frown on his face, “What are you calling for?”
I smiled back at him, trying to look like I wasn’t totally at the end of my rope, “Can’t a brother call just to say hello?” I asked brightly.
His sigh of relief was very breathy – and he flapped his hands in front of his face. Franz was very camp. It made me smile. “Oh, thank goodness.” He exclaimed, “I thought you were calling to tell me you couldn’t be a best man!”
“As if I’d let you down.” I scoffed, “No… I uh, I needed to talk to you about something else. Are you alone?”
He chuckled, “No.” he said, “I’m surrounded by three dogs, look.” He turned the camera around to show me Gumdrop, Zac and another dog I didn’t recognise, “Who’s that funny-looking one?” I asked.
Franz turned the phone back around and frowned at me, “Shh!” he scolded, “That’s Simon’s dog, Rocky – don’t call him funny-looking. You’ll hurt his feelings!”
I chuckled. “Right. Sorry.” I said.
Franz looked at me expectantly, Silence… I had no idea how to get started.
Luckily, though, Franz wasn’t stupid or blind and he seemed to know exactly what the problem was, “Is this about Wade?” He asked, peering at me as if he could totally see inside my head.
I’d called him to talk about this. There was no point in not admitting it. I nodded, “Yes.” I said, feeling my face heating up.
He nodded with me, “And is this about your feelings for Wade?” he probed.
I sighed and rubbed my temples. I was beginning to get a headache. “Yes.” I said again.
Franz was silent for a moment but then he looked at me with his big eyes that were exactly the same shade of hazel as mine. “Did I ever tell you that when Wade and I were fourteen, he told me he thought he might be bisexual because he fancied you?”
My jaw dropped and I stared at my brother. How in hell had he never mentioned this to me before? “Wh-what?”
Franz nodded, his face serious. “I guess I never told you because, well…” he trailed off.
“Because I was a homophobic arsehole.” I supplied for him, “And you thought I’d be mean to him about it.”
He looked at me slightly apologetically, “Well, yeah.” He said nodding his head. “That and the fact that we were both drinking shots.” He chuckled at my look of shock. I’d never had the balls to nick alcohol when I was fourteen. Looking back, I’d been a right goody-two-shoes… “Wade was a good friend of mine. He was never mean to me when I came out and I didn’t want you to be horrible to him for having a crush on you.”
I sighed, “Oh, fuck.” I muttered, “I wish you had said something. I totally had a crush on him, too!” I couldn’t deny it. I’d fancied him even when he was fourteen, I’d just ignored it until he was sixteen so I couldn’t be accused of being a paedophile…
Franz smiled, “But you were too old for him back then, anyway – it would have been a disaster.”
I nodded. He was right. Neither of us would have been ready for it back then – not that Wade would be ready for it now either, since he was quite convinced he was straight… “What am I supposed to do now, though?” I asked, “He’s clearly not bisexual. He told me quite categorically that he’d never feel that way about me before he even left for the army – and I’m way past just crushing on him. This is torture, Franz.”
He gave me such a sympathetic look, I felt like crying. “Babe.” He said, “Listen to me. You can’t be bisexual one minute and straight the next. If he was bisexual then – he’s still bisexual now – and he lied to you before he left for the army. Part of his reason for going in the army in the first place was because his dad thought he should man-up. I know that because I remember him saying it. He said it in front of me.”
The bastard. I’d never liked Mr Jackson senior… “So, what should I do?” I asked.
He grinned, “Nothing at all,” he said, “Just wait for him to make his move, bro’,” he said, “It won’t be long.”
Right. Okay, then. That’s what I’d do. I’d play it cool, keep things light – and wait for him to snog my face off. I rolled my eyes and let out a snort. “Yeah, right.” There was just no way…
Franz was smiling at me, “Trust me.” He said, “It’ll happen. Have faith in the little faggot.”
I frowned at him, “Don’t call yourself that.” I said softly, “You’re wonderful, Franz. I’ll see you at the end of next month. Do I need another fitting of the suit or anything?”
He chuckled, “Not if you stick to a healthy diet and get lots of exercise.” He winked at me again and giggled, “Maybe you should suggest an exercise plan to Wade.”
I scowled at him, “Yeah, right.” I said, “Like he’d ever be interested.”
Franz just smiled, “See you next month, babe.” He paused and then his eyes twinkled mischievously, “Oh, and bring Wade as your plus one,” he said, “I’m sure you’ll be an item by then – and if not then, you will be by the time you’re heading home. Trust me.” He winked and blew me a kiss before disconnecting the call.
Could he really be right? God, I hoped so…
Monday arrived and I was back at work.
It was a total wrench when I’d spent the last week with Wade every day, even if I hadn’t plucked up the courage to ask him to come with me to Franz’s wedding.
I sent a text off to him, “How are you today?”
He replied in seconds, “Bored out of my skull – missing my gaming buddy.” He sent a sad face.
My heart skipped a beat, “Fancy meeting for lunch in town?” I had no idea how he was going to get here but if he never got invited, he had no incentive to get on a bus…
“That’s a great idea! We could look around that pub.”
“See you there.”
I spent the next three hours checking my watch every ten minutes.
Finally, it was time for my lunch. I grabbed my jacket and ran down the stairs to the main entrance. I worked in a ten-storey building for a company of architects. It wasn’t the most exciting of jobs but it was well-paid and it usually kept me occupied for the full day. Of course, that was before Wade came back into my life and spending time with him was far more exciting than spending time at work.
He was waiting for me outside. He was wearing a tight-fitting black tee shirt that showed off his chiselled chest perfectly, with a pair of faded jeans. You would have absolutely no idea that he didn’t have a real leg. “Hi.” He said, walking up to me as I stepped out into the sunshine.
I grinned at him. God he was gorgeous. “Hi.” I said. “Where to?”
He nodded across the road to the pub, “What about a pub lunch.”
I was quite happy with that, “Sure.” I agreed, “Come on.” Without thinking, I caught his hand in mine to cross the road. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry.” I dropped his hand like I was dropping a hot potato.
He stared at me, “What for?” He asked.
I nodded to his hand, “for being inappropriate.” I spluttered, feeling mortally embarrassed.
He shook his head, “Hey,” he said, “It’s okay. I wasn’t offended. Not in the slightest.”
I nodded, my breathing returning to normal, “Okay – but – sorry…”
We headed into the pub and found a table towards the back of the pub where it was quieter. We put in our order and then I looked across the table at Wade, “Have you had your hair cut?”
He grinned and nodded, “Well spotted.” He said, “I didn’t think you’d notice. I went before I came to meet you.”
I smiled at him and shrugged, “I may not be obviously gay but I still notice things that straight guys tend to miss.”
He grinned back at me and nodded, “Does it meet with your approval?” He asked. Was he flirting with me?
I nodded, “You look very handsome.” I assured him.
He blushed right up to the tips of his ears but he looked pleased, “Uh, thanks,” he said, “When are we going to look around that pub?”
I shrugged, “I can take the rest of the afternoon off if you like – and we can go today?”
He frowned, “Won’t you be missed?”
Not likely. No one would even notice if I didn’t call in but I reached for my phone. Courtesy and all that… “Hi Sonia,” I greeted the secretary in a friendly way. She was always really nice to me. “I’m going to take that half day I worked a couple of weeks ago this afternoon, something’s come up.”
Finishing the call, I beamed at Wade’s surprised face, “I’m all yours.” I said.
He grinned, “Glad to hear it.”
Fuck. That was almost flirting again. What the hell was I supposed to do with a flirty Wade? I know what I should have done. I should have flirted right back, but I was awkward at the best of times. When I fancied the pants off the guy, I tended to be even worse.
Thankfully, our meals came at that moment and we were, once again, silent for a good twenty minutes while we emptied our plates.
Wade finished first, “That was fabulous,” he said, “I’m stuffed.”
I nodded, pushing my own plate away from me, “Me too.” I agreed. “We’ll let it go down a bit and then we’ll head over to the estate agents and get the appointment changed to look around the pub today.”
Wade nodded enthusiastically, “Great.” He said, rubbing his hands together, “I can’t wait.”
Neither could I. We finished our drinks, paid for everything and then set off for the estate agents. It wasn’t far but I was aware that Wade must have walked quite a way, already. “How did you get here?”
He looked at me, “Taxi.” He said, “I was going to get the bus but then I thought we might walk to a pub or something and I wanted to be fit enough for you.”
My heart skipped a beat. He’d been fit enough for me since he was about thirteen but that didn’t need mentioning. I nodded, “Well, that’s good – and are you comfortable enough to make it up there and back?” I pointed up towards the estate agents that was further up the high street.
He nodded, “I might be hanging on to you later.” He said, “But right now, I’m good.”
I smiled at him, “You’re amazing, do you know that?”
He blushed a little and looked pleased, but he didn’t make any comment.
Chapter 7 – The way to Eduard’s heart…
What the fuck was I doing? I needed to tell Ed the truth. I was quite clearly not quite as straight as I’d convinced myself I was. I was in fact, hopelessly in love with my best friend, who I’d had a secret crush on since I was at least twelve years old…
He was coming to see me this evening. Being back at work, my days were long and very boring without him. Mum and Dad were still away so we had the house to ourselves again and I’d even cooked – not that I could be sure he’d like what I’d done. I’d made a chilli – but not with minced beef – no, I’d done it with stewing beef. I liked my chilli chunky… The same way I liked my men – or at least, one man.
There was no denying it, Eduard was tall and broad and fucking gorgeous. I’d been in awe of him as a kid. I’d been a late developer, only getting my growth spurt once I’d joined up. When Ed had confessed to me that he was gay that summer before I left, I was only five-feet-seven and he was a strapping six-footer. Now, I was actually slightly shorter than him at five feet eleven, and I was slightly broader than he was now – and I knew he liked what he saw. I could see the hunger in his eyes. I could only assume that it matched my own hunger for him.
I just had no idea how to tell him. I’d told him that I could never want him that way – more out of fear of what my father would say than anything else but I wasn’t sixteen anymore and I didn’t really care what my father thought anymore. Fuck, I’d served Queen and country and come away with a leg missing. I figured I’d earned the right to live my life any way I fucking well liked these days, thanks very much…
My phone rang as I was sat staring off into space. I looked at the screen and grinned, “Tom!” I exclaimed, “Good to hear from you bud!”
“Wadey-boy!” he shouted, “We’ve got a weekend free and we thought we’d come and see you. Are you up for a few bevvies with your boys?”
Was I? “Hell, yes.” I said, “When are you coming?”
The doorbell rang and I hurried to answer it. I was getting so used to my leg now that I didn’t even need to think about it. I flung open the door, expecting to find a beaming Eduard stood there with a bottle of red wine. Instead I found myself gazing into the face of my partner in crime of the last five years, Tom.
“Oh, wow!” I exclaimed, feeling absolutely over-joyed to see his cheeky face, “You told me you were all coming over tomorrow! You’re a day early!” And I haven’t had a chance to invite Eduard…
He laughed and nodded, “I know, right.” He said, “We all got special dispensation to visit our injured colleague – the other’s will be here tomorrow. They all went home first but because I don’t live far, I came over straight away. I’m on my way home.”
He stepped up to me and gave me a bear hug. “You’re looking great, man!”
I hugged him back. It was great to see him. My heart ached that I’d had to give up my job and knowing that I’d never have the camaraderie that I’d always enjoyed with him and the rest of our team but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been in the beginning. I knew why. Eduard…
“So, what’s been going on with you?” Tom asked, plopping himself down on the sofa and giving me his undivided attention, “and more to the point,” he nodded to the coffee table, where I’d set a place for Eduard and I to have dinner, “who are the candles on the coffee table in aid of?”
I felt my face heating up, “Uh, I’ve got a friend coming over for dinner.”
He started to smile, “A friend?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows at me, “What sort of a friend warrants candles?”
I huffed a laugh, “A very good friend.” I said.
“And her name?” Tom asked, “This friend of yours? What’s her name, you sly old dog?”
I rolled my eyes, “It’s Eduard.” I said, “Eduard is coming over for dinner. We’ve been spending a lot of time together since I got back. We’re really good again.”
Tom had been aware of Eduard and I falling out but I’d never told him the reason why. I just hadn’t needed the piss-taking and so I’d suffered in silence, afraid that it might have changed my relationship with my colleagues. Some guys were a bit funny around what they considered ‘fags’.
Tom looked back at the table and then back at me with a bit of a surprised look on his face. “Have you got something to tell me, dude?” he asked, “Are you and Eduard, uh, romantically involved?”
I knew my face was giving me away but I shook my head because, technically, we weren’t romantically involved. Not yet anyway, as much as I wanted us to be. “No.” I finally said, “We’re just friends.”
He nodded, “Okay.” He said, “If you say you’re just friends, I’ll accept what you’re saying.” He paused, “Would you like it to be more?”
I sighed. “Would you be freaked out if I said that I did?”
He shook his head, “No, mate,’ he said sincerely, “I’ve always had an idea that he meant more to you than you were letting on. And you were so upset when you fell out.” He looked up at me with a frown, “what was that all about, anyway? Had he met someone or something? I never really liked to ask. I guessed that you didn’t want to talk about it.”
I chuckled and shook my head, “No.” I said with a grin, “I didn’t want to talk about it. It was mortifying.” I rolled my eyes, “He thought you and I were getting it on.”
Tom’s jaw dropped, “How the hell did he come to that conclusion?” he asked incredulously.
I shrugged, “I was just full of stories about my new best friend. I showed him a photo of the two of us together and I guess he felt a little threatened and he put two and two together and got about five thousand.” I sighed, “And then he made a pass at me,” I closed my eyes as my heart constricted, “And I said it wasn’t like that between us,” My throat went thick with emotion as I remembered his face when I’d said the worst thing to him imaginable, “Oh, God.” I wiped my eyes, “I told him I wasn’t a fag, Tom. I was so fucking stupid. I should have just told him at the time that he was the only one for me. I was just too busy trying my best to play the straight card – protecting myself against ridicule – that I forgot to take his feelings into consideration. I’m frankly amazed that he gave me a second chance.”
Tom, who had been listening to everything I was saying intently, smiled, “Well, he loves you, doesn’t he?” He said, “It’s obvious.”
I shook my head, “I hope so.” I said quietly, “Because that’s the way I feel about him.”
Tom grinned, “You know, Emily said you were gay to me when she first met you. I said you couldn’t be, because you’d have told me. I was so sure you’d confide in me about it. Was I really so awful and homophobic?”
I sighed and shrugged, “We all were, weren’t we?” I asked, “Calling all the gay guys, fags?”
He shrugged, “It wasn’t meant nasty.” He said.
I nodded, “I know that – and I never thought it was nasty until Eduard got all upset when I said it about them to him. He said it was awful to be called names just for being himself.” I sighed, “I totally get his point about it now.”
Tom nodded, “Well, I’d better be making myself scarce.” He said, “I don’t want to ruin your romantic night.” He flashed a grin, “If you get lucky, remember I want details.”
I chuckled, “I don’t really think you want details about another guy’s junk, do you?” I asked.
He pulled a face, “Nah,” he agreed, “Maybe not.”
I stood up too and we walked to the front door together.
I opened the door and Tom stepped outside. He turned back to me and opened his arms wide, “I’m so fucking glad you’re okay and that you’ve found someone to love, mate.” He said, “I know that sounds really soppy but I honestly mean it. Eduard’s a lucky man.”
I stepped into his massive hug and wrapped my arms around him. “Thanks, mate.” I said.
“Bring him with you tomorrow night, yeah?”
I nodded, “I’ll ask him to come.” I agreed, “he might not want to, though. Don’t be offended by that – he’s a very shy guy.”
Tom nodded, “I get it.” He said.
Pulling away from him again I waved him off and went back inside. What time was it? I glanced at the clock and frowned. Eduard was a little late…
Chapter 8 – Tom…
I came out of the house, a bottle of wine that I’d taken my time choosing in my hand and my heart light. I was going to have dinner with the man of my dreams and I could not wait another second to see his beautiful face. It had been a long day at work without seeing him. I closed the door behind me and looked towards Wade’s house.
I faltered as I saw his door open. My jaw dropped as I saw him embracing the guy that had haunted my nightmares for the last couple of years. Tom. Tom was around at Wade’s house and he was just about lifting him off the ground with a rib-cracking hug. What the fuck was that all about?
I ducked back into the shadow of the side of the house. I really didn’t want either of them to see me gawping at them. That would just be too humiliating. I’d been kidding myself that Wade could feel any more for me than being mates but it didn’t stop me wishing it with all of my heart.
Seeing him like that with Tom, though. Well. I couldn’t deny that it hurt. I couldn’t compete with a guy like Tom. I had nothing in common with what those two had shared. I was a pacifist. I couldn’t have gone in the army if my life had depended on it. I was sure…
I looked up as Tom started to walk down the path. Wade hadn’t hung around on the doorstep to wave him off.
I started to head over, my light mood from only seconds ago evaporating with every step I took…
My mind was racing. What was Tom doing back here? How long had he been there? Had they been kissing – or worse, shagging?
It would be fair to say that I was in a rotten mood by the time I got across the road.
Chapter 9 – Chilli king…
Just as my nerves were beginning to frazzle to a crisp, the doorbell rang.
I hurried to the door and opened it. My heart melted as I looked into Eduard’s beautiful eyes. “Hi.” I said.
He looked at me, his glorious eyes looking dark and guarded. What was the matter with him? “Hi.” He replied flatly.
I stood back to allow him into the house, wondering what I’d done wrong, even though I knew I’d done nothing to upset him. Maybe he’d just had a bad day…
He stepped inside and sniffed the air, “Mm,” he said, “Something smells good.”
I grinned, “I am the chilli king.” I said, “Come on through.”
We went through to the kitchen, “Want rice with it?’ I asked.
He nodded, “Sure.” He said, “Anything. I’ve got a couple of crusty rolls back at home if you want me to go back for them?”
I looked at him and we both nodded, “Go on then.” I said, “Let yourself back in. I’ll get the butter out and serve up.”
He hesitated in the doorway, “I’m sorry if I’m being weird – but I just saw Tom leaving. Am I stopping you from doing something you’d rather do?”
He looked crushed and he couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I wanted nothing more than to spend the evening with him. I shook my head, “He and the guys are back for a few days – they want me to go out with them for a few drinks tomorrow night – you’re invited too if you want to come.” I looked at him hopefully.
He looked horrified at the thought, “I dunno, mate,” he hedged looking as if it was the last thing in the world he wanted to do, “I don’t know them and I’m not really…” he trailed off, “I’ll just go and get the bread.”
Feeling a little disappointed that Eduard didn’t want to come with me for a drink with the boys, I set to work as he dashed back across the street. I served up two generous portions of the chilli and took them through to the lounge, next I grabbed the butter and a knife, I shoved the bottle of wine under my arm and went back through the lounge. I was well impressed with myself for not dropping anything or going arse over tit with my dodgy leg.
I settled myself down on the sofa and unscrewed the bottle. I had no idea if it was supposed to breathe but I figured it wouldn’t be open long enough to ruin before we were drinking it.
Seconds later, Ed reappeared. He held up the crusty rolls, “There’s four.” He said, “So dig in.”
We spent the next twenty minutes in pretty much silence as we devoured the chilli and the rolls.
Finally, Ed put his empty plate back down on the coffee table with a satisfied sigh, “That was fucking fantastic.” He said.
I felt my chest puffing up with pride that I was able to provide a decent meal for my best friend. “It was good, wasn’t it?” I asked, “Made better by the crusty rolls, though. Genius idea, mate.”
He shrugged, flashing me a shy smile. “Shall I pour the wine?”
I nodded, “Yeah, great,” I agreed enthusiastically, “and then what? Teen Wolf again, or X-Box.”
He smiled, “Either. I’m not fussy.”
Me either. I flicked the TV on and went to sit next to him on the sofa.
He settled himself back against the cushions and yawned, “God, I’ve done virtually nothing all week – and yet I’m knackered.” He chuckled.
I grinned at him, “Put your feet up over here.” I said.
He did, planting them right in my lap. I chuckled and then took one in my hands and started giving him a foot massage.
He closed his eyes, and I’m not gonna lie, I sat there, massaging his feet and gazing at him like a love-struck teenager. I had the biggest hard on. It felt well weird and I had no idea how to tell him the way I was feeling. I might have been able to tell Tom that I was in love with my best friend but actually admitting it to him – admitting that touching his feet was giving me a boner to be proud of – it was just a bit of a step too far right now. I couldn’t do it.
Feeling a little bit like things were taking a turn that I didn’t know how to handle, I picked up the X Box controller, “Fancy a game?”
He opened his eyes and nodded, “Yeah,” he said, “Sure.”
Chapter 10 – Wedding invitation…
I had no idea how to broach the subject about being insanely jealous over seeing Tom here talking to him; and I really didn’t want to talk about going out for drinks with them all again, either, so I cast around for something else to say. Finally, it hit me. Franz had told me to invite him as my plus one…
“I’m giving Franz away next weekend.” I said as conversationally as I could manage as I watched my avatar being blown to bits by Wade’s. He was so much better at this game than I was…
“Oh, yeah?” he asked, “Sounds cool.”
I pulled a face, “Yeah,” I said, “I suppose – if you like gay weddings.”
He looked at me with a bit of a puzzled frown, “You’re gay.” He said, “So why wouldn’t you?”
I shrugged, “Yes. I know I’m gay.” I said a little defensively, “As in, I fancy men but I’m not gay in the same way as my brother is.” I said. “I don’t relate one iota to the rainbows and Unicorns world that Franz and his friends live in.”
Wade grinned, “Yeah,” he said, “I get it. The fags in the army were like that.”
I frowned, “Please don’t say that.” I said quietly, “I never realised how awful it was to be called a faggot until you referred to me as one. I’d been calling poor little Franz name for years.”
Wade looked stricken, “I’m sorry, mate.” He said, “I didn’t mean to offend you. I just didn’t think.”
I sniffed and nodded, “It’s fine.” I said, “Do you wanna come with me to the wedding? See what real faggots do for kicks?”
He grinned, “As your date?” he asked, “Sure.”
I felt my face heating up. I didn’t want him thinking I still held out hope of us getting together, even though I totally did, “No. Just as my mate.” I assured him quickly.
He nodded, “Oh, right. Sure.” He agreed, making my heart spike at the thought that I was going to have the hottest date there. “Sounds like fun.”
“Just as my mate.” My heart sank to my boots at his words.
I nodded, the smile feeling a little fixed on my face. “Sounds like fun.” I said. Fuck. If I wasn’t mortally offending him, I was trying to awkwardly flirt. What the fuck was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just come out and be honest with him – that actually I was beginning to realise that he was becoming more than just a friend to me and that the crush I’d had on him all those years ago had never really disappeared. It had actually developed into something so much more – a very definite longing that wouldn’t go away, no matter what I did.
I was just at a loss as to where to start with my explaining. How was I supposed to broach the subject?
Maybe I should wait for the wedding. Maybe it would be easier to tell him when we’d had a few drinks and he was feeling all mellow, having watched his brother get married to the love of his life.
I was actually quite looking forward to seeing it myself. I’d never been to a gay wedding before.
Still, I had a more pressing matter. I wanted him to come out with me and the boys, tomorrow evening. How was I ever going to convince him to come with me? I’d seen that look on his face. He was really threatened by Tom.
“So, are you uh, gonna come out with me and the lads tomorrow?”
He frowned. He didn’t look up at me. He looked at his glass of wine as he chose his words carefully, “I’m uh, working late tomorrow. I’ll probably be tired and not particularly good company. You’d be better to go with your friends alone. Besides, I don’t know any of them.”
Well, that told me to fuck off, didn’t it? “Okay.” I said with what I hoped was a carefree attitude. “I guess I’ll see you on Saturday, then. For your brother’s wedding.
It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? Tom and the guys all turned up, dying to go out and let their hair down. Since I still wasn’t up for walking miles with Petey, we got a taxi into town.
The taxi pulled up right opposite the office block that Eduard worked at – and guess who was coming out at the exact right time?
“Eduard!” I yelled, waving at him from the other side of the road, “Eduard!”