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Authors: Josephine Myles

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BOOK: Last Chance
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“Steve is my partner, Mum. We’ve been together for six months.”

“Yes, I see.” I watched for the disgust in her eyes, but instead found only an old sadness, now tired and worn thin. “Love, it might be best if you go up alone first. The tumor’s affected his memory and he’s currently stuck in 1996 with you about to start your A-levels. Might take him a moment to recognize you, but at least he’s not angry anymore.”

I nodded and she gave me directions. I was about to ask Steve if he’d be okay waiting with Mum -- I mean, it’s not like she’d been all that welcoming -- but he was already steering her in the direction of a seat with talk of finding her a cup of tea. Yeah, that’s Steve. Manages to make himself at home just about anywhere. He’d be fine.

There was a red line painted on the floor that led me up to the ward, and I concentrated on following that rather than thinking about the meeting ahead. Then I arrived at the door of his room, completely unprepared. All the one-sided dialogues I’d been having in my head over the last decade flew away, leaving me wordless. Staring.

Was this bag of bones really my father? He’d always been a big man. Sturdy and built like a Viking. I took after him in looks, if nothing else. Yet here he was, his arms wasted and liver-spotted, his legs like sticks under the thin blanket. I made myself look him in the eyes, but they were shut. For a moment I thought perhaps I’d left it too long, but then his chest heaved and he gave a rattling cough that made me want to retch.

His eyes flickered open, the whites an unhealthy, bloodshot yellow. I remembered Mum’s words about the cancer having spread from his brain all through his body, attacking his liver and his lymph nodes. All that macho aggression he’d cultivated, and a few mutant cells were all it took to defeat him.

I forced myself to speak. “Dad, it’s Jez. Jeremy, I mean.”

“Jeremy? What are you doing down here? I thought I sent you up to finish your homework.” Dad’s voice wheezed and spluttered, but through it I heard the echo of the strident tones I’d grown up with.

“It’s all done now,” I said, blinking hard as the room blurred.

“Yes. You’re a good lad, aren’t you? A hard worker. Your teachers say you could get into the Royal College of Medicine if you keep it up.”

I tried to smile but it only made my eyes well up. “Sounds good. I’ll do my best.”

“That’s all I ask, son. All I’ve ever asked.”

And then he surprised me by reaching out to take my hand. I almost flinched -- muscle memory kicking in after all the reprimands he’d given me in the past -- but then he squeezed my fingers gently and let go.

I realized, as his breathing slowed, that he’d fallen asleep.

***

When I returned to the lobby, I saw Steve sitting next to Mum, his knitting on her lap as she demonstrated something to him. She answered his enthusiastic thanks with a faint smile, and I saw a glimmer of the beauty she’d once had, before a life of poverty had tarnished it.

I rounded the row of chairs and Steve rose to greet me with a hug. I hugged back fiercely, breathing in his fresh, lemony soap scent as an antidote to the stench of death still haunting my nostrils. Unshed tears still pricked at my eyes, so I buried my face in his neck until I’d fought them back. When I looked up again, Mum was watching us both with a strange expression. I tried to place it. Was she wistful?

“How was he, love? Is he sleeping?”

I nodded, still not sure if I could trust my voice not to crack.

“It’s hard to see him like that, isn’t it?”

I nodded again, but the words needed to find a way out. “He used to be so strong. I can’t believe he’s let this beat him.” I directed my anger at the NHS. “Why couldn’t they treat him? He’d have had longer on chemo, wouldn’t he?”

Mum shook her head, her lips pursed. “You know what he’s like. Always knows what’s best, and he wasn’t going to have his body pumped full of poison just so he could spend more time lying around being bloody useless. Besides, it wouldn’t have cured him. The tumor was too deep to operate safely.”

I could hear his voice through hers, and remembered his hatred of layabouts and scroungers. Of those who sponged off the state. All that bitterness, all that loathing, and where had it landed him? Alone in his hospital bed, only a downtrodden wife and estranged son to visit him.

I felt like someone had cut the cords at the back of my knees. Steve pulled me down onto the row of chairs and I clutched him wordlessly, borrowing his strength to help hold back the tears stinging my eyes.

***

Later that afternoon we sat in Dad’s room, all three of us. I stared up at the elaborate moldings on the high ceiling as Mum introduced Steve. She called him my friend, but as I was clutching Steve’s hand so tight my knuckles had turned white, I think the relationship must have been obvious.

Dad grunted, looked Steve up and down, and then turned his attention to me. “What have you done with your hair? I thought you’d have grown out of all that nonsense by now.”

It looked like we weren’t in 1996 anymore, then.

“I love his locks,” Steve said, with a bright smile. “Don’t you think they make him look like a lion?”

“They make him look like
something
, all right,” Dad grumbled, but he was speaking to Steve, so I figured this was some kind of progress.

“Steve’s in publishing,” Mum offered. “He’s just been promoted, and Jeremy’s just had a very successful exhibition in a gallery in Islington.”

I wanted to tell her to stop, because Dad had never been interested in the arts, but I was distracted by Steve pulling something out of his satchel. For a moment I thought it was going to be his bloody knitting, which really would cement him as a useless fairy in Dad’s mind, but my heart sank even lower when I recognized the gallery guide.

“Here, take a look at Jez’s paintings. He has a real talent. You should be proud of him.”

I wanted to tear the pamphlet out of Dad’s hands. The exhibition had been of my recent nudes, Steve posing for more than one of them, but if Dad had any opinion on his son painting naked men, he kept it to himself. I couldn’t read his expression as he stared at the glossy prints, but he studied them for a long time.

“Says here you’re up and coming. I suppose people must pay good money for these, then.”

Steve named the most surprising bid I’d had, and Dad gave a shocked wheeze before that awful rattling cough took over again. When he recovered, though, he gave me the strangest look.

“Don’t know why you want to spend your time on all this arty bollocks, but it looks like you’ve done all right for yourself.”

That look was still there. If I didn’t know better, I’d have called it pride.

***

The phone woke me at three am, and I listened to Mum’s choked words with a numb resignation. He was gone, and it hadn’t been easy -- I heard it in her voice. Steve said nothing, but held me tight until I demanded more. More touch, more sensation. I wanted to be fucked so hard I’d forget everything else. Steve rolled me onto my front and covered me with his body, pinning me down and nailing me with a single-minded intensity. He ground in deep, scouring out my insides and biting down on my neck. I came from that alone, rutting into the mattress, the pillow muffling my howls.

After a few hours of fitful sleep, Steve and I returned to Slough to look after Mum. It was bizarre, walking back into that tiny house again. Other than the telly being bigger than I remembered, hardly anything had changed. I kept expecting to hear his voice bellowing from the living room, telling me to get back to my homework. I was amazed at how well Mum coped with it all, considering, and after a couple of hours of sitting dazed in an armchair, she roused herself and started to talk about all the paperwork we needed to sort out between us.

“And of course, you’ll want to have a look through his things. See if there’s anything you want as a keepsake.”

“There’s nothing of his I want.” I didn’t mean to sound cruel, but I was numb inside and the words kept coming out wrong. It’s a good thing Steve was there, because he seemed to know exactly what to do and say, whereas I was floundering.

“Come on, Jez. It won’t hurt to take a look, will it?”

It would hurt, I knew it. But with Steve’s arm around me I didn’t want to admit it. Besides, maybe I could borrow some of his strength.

“It’s not just his stuff, love. Take a look at the bottom of my wardrobe. There’s a box of things from your Gran and Granddad’s house I thought you might be interested in.”

I led Steve up the narrow staircase and into the fusty smelling bedroom. Mum’s wardrobe was a cheap flat pack job, the melamine chipped and yellowed with age. The whole thing shook as I opened the doors, and I didn’t see how there could be anything I was interested in here, but then I saw the wooden chest at the bottom.

It used to sit by the gas fire in my grandparent’s house, full of ancient toys they’d kept for me to play with. I pulled it out and sat on the floor before opening the lid. Yes, there they all were: the lead soldiers; the spinning top; the wooden acrobat who tumbled and flipped when you squeezed the handles together. His strings had rotted away, but he wouldn’t be hard to repair.

Much easier to repair than the damage my family had suffered over the last decade.

“I didn’t go to their funerals.” I finally admitted. “I loved them both, but I was too much of a coward to face Dad again.”

Steve sat behind me, wrapping his arms and legs around me so I was cradled in his warmth.

“I don’t know if I can forgive myself for that.”

“They wouldn’t blame you. They knew what he was like.”

“I should have been there.”

Steve didn’t argue with me, didn’t try to fill the silence with pointless platitudes, he just rocked me gently as the tears started to flow; more than were needed to mourn my dad. Enough tears to wash away a decade of guilt and send me out the other side raw and exposed, but somehow refreshed. I sniffed and wiped my nose on my sleeve, before reaching for a wooden bear Granddad had carved for me. He’d made it over a number of cozy winter afternoons, sitting in his armchair by the fire with me on the footstool beside him. I remembered Gran telling me how I could always depend on their love. Their forgiveness.

“Thank you.” I said. To Steve. To my grandparents. Even to my dad, who in his own, ham-fisted way had raised me to be the man I was today.

The man Steve loved.

***

The funeral was a quiet affair: just Mum, Steve and me, with one of Dad’s sisters turning up once the service had started. When Mum introduced Steve as my “boyfriend” I thought Aunt Flo would pass out, but she recovered and took me aside before she left.

“Your dad always was a difficult man, Jeremy. Even as a small child, he had ideas above his station and tried to manipulate everyone into doing things his way. You mustn’t blame yourself for the way things worked out, or ever feel ashamed of being who you are.”

I turned Aunt Flo’s words over and over in my head on the train journey home, as Steve sat beside me, finishing off the toe of his second sock. Had I been ashamed of who I was? It was true I’d never been demonstrative with other men in public, or affected any mannerisms that might betray my sexuality to strangers, but I’d always thought of that as being a sensible way of avoiding getting my head kicked in. But was it something else? Had I been trying to appear straight to live up to my dad’s image of masculinity? If so, it was a stupid way to live my life.

“Yes! One matching pair of socks, hand knitted by yours truly.”

I turned to smile at Steve, marveling at how he was secure enough in himself to knit in front of all those strangers. I recalled all the times he’d reached out to me in public and I’d shrugged off his touch, until he’d finally got the message and stopped trying.

He didn’t deserve to be treated like that.

I took his hand, lacing my thick fingers through his slender ones. Steve raised a quizzical eyebrow before darting his gaze around the crowded train carriage.

“Fuck ‘em,” I whispered, before kissing him right on the lips.

I pulled away before the contact woke my dick up, as there’s no way I’d be able to hide it in that ill-fitting suit, but I rested my forehead against Steve’s, my dreads falling down to create a curtain between us and the rest of the world.

“I reckon I should knit more socks, if that’s what I have to look forward to when I finish.”

“You’ve got a lot more than that to look forward to,” I murmured.

Steve licked his lips. “So have you, Poppet. You just wait until we get home and I model these babies for you.”

He held up the sock, resplendent with its brick red, olive and ochre stripes, and I shook my head, chuckling.

“What? Not sexy enough for you?” Steve pouted but his eyes still sparkled. “Fine, well I won’t be modeling that pair of leather sock suspenders I bought then, will I?”

My head filled with an image of him dressed like those men in the Victorian photographs I’d found online, naked except for their socks and the suspenders that wrapped around their upper calves, emphasizing the swell of muscle beneath them. My dick perked up at the thought, and Steve must have noticed because he gave a dirty snigger.

“Oh yeah, I remember that vintage filth you showed me. And besides,” he added with a sheepish grin, “I got the tension wrong and they’re too baggy to stay up without some support. Your mum suggested it as a solution.”

I couldn’t stop smiling all the way back, even with my suit as a reminder of our somber morning. And later, when Steve finally walked out of our bedroom wearing nothing but a pair of brightly colored socks and some cherry red suspenders, I fell down to my knees and worshipped every inch of him, before letting him push me up against the wall and pound my arse into oblivion.

We fell asleep tangled up in each other’s arms and I felt strong, worthy, complete.

Because he’s my man.

And I’m his.

End.

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Last Chance

Copyright © 2011 by Josephine Myles

All rights reserved. No part of this eBook may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Torquere Press, Inc., PO Box 2545, Round Rock, TX 78680

BOOK: Last Chance
7.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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