Harry could remember his own mother very clearly. He could remember flowers she liked. He could remember the way she would expect Vincent to be on the other end of the phone every time it rang for almost a year. He could even remember the way she would delicately set the table even when it was just the two of them having dinner.
But he couldn’t remember what she looked like when she smiled. Nor could he remember what she looked like when she was angry or sad or amused. The only thing he could remember about her appearance was when he found her slumped at the bottom of the stairs, her head at such an odd angle, her eyes glazed over and her mouth lolling open ever so slightly.
Every time he had tried to picture her since her death, he could only ever see that strange angular face. He’d discovered that once you’d seen a dead body, it was hard to get that image out of your mind. It could haunt you throughout your whole life, shape everything you do, and poison every thought.
“What were you doing in there?” Matthew’s voice snapped him out of the trance-like state he’d ended up in. Harry was leaning against the door to Ernest’s office, staring at the wood panelling opposite. He turned to Matthew, he was holding a rucksack limply at his side.
“I was just speaking to your grandfather about something.”
“It’s late. I didn’t think anyone would still be up.”
“It’s Christmas Eve, people are supposed to be up till the wee hours.”
Matthew smiled briefly. “Yeah, I guess I forgot about that. Still, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas anymore.”
“Yeah.” For a moment there was silence between them. “What’s in the bag? You playing Santa and filling everyone’s stockings?”
“Oh, no,” Matthew laughed nervously. “These are just some clothes.”
Harry looked towards the utility room where he had discovered Reece attacking Ella. “Odd time to do your laundry?”
He gestured to the room at the end of the hall. “Like you say, it’s late.”
“Oh, right. This, err, this isn’t laundry.”
“You don’t say.”
Matthew pulled the pack onto his shoulder. “I’ve just come from there. It’s just a few of my shirts… Ella was washing them for me. I thought I’d come and get them, save her bringing them up.”
“So… what are you up to? Going back upstairs?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Right, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Harry looked at the bag on his shoulder, the trainers on his feet and shrugged. “Hey, it’s ok, I’ll walk up with you.”
“I’m… I’m not going back upstairs.” He patted his bag. “I’ve got everything I need.”
“Look, I know we hardly know each other and that you don’t really care what I think, but can I talk to you for ten minutes? If you don’t like what I have to say, then I’ll let you go.”
Matthew stared at him for a moment, attempting to assess if he would remain true to his word. “Fine,” he shrugged, “let’s talk.”
“Not here, somewhere private. Where we won’t get interrupted.”
“Ok. We’ll go to my room.” Matthew led the way down the corridor. “I think you know where it is.”
* * *
Harry sat down carefully on the end of Matthew’s bed as he closed the door and checked his watch. “Ten minutes.”
“What are you doing?” Matthew was stood over by his laptop, pressing some keys.
“Just making sure it’s turned off.” He tapped the top of the webcam.
“Right.” Harry nodded and looked around the room at the various posters of himself stuck up on the wall.
If it was possible the room was messier than it had been when Harry had first set eyes on it. The drawers on the cabinet had been pulled open and various piles of once folded clothes had been thrown casually onto the swivel chair which sat in the middle of the room, aimed halfway between the television and Matthew’s laptop.
Matthew dropped his rucksack on the floor by the door, pushed all the clothes off of the chair and sat down in it, before checking his watch again.
“Nine and a half minutes.”
“You know, considering the fact that you’ve… got my face plastered all over your walls, you’re a very hostile person.”
Matthew closed his eyes for a moment before giving a small smile of amusement. “I’m not a hostile person. I’m a private person, I don’t share my emotions all too well.”
“You shared them pretty well at dinner tonight.”
“I said I’m a private person, I’m not completely devoid of emotion. The stuff he was saying, what he said about Freddie. About you. I don’t know, I guess I just… I didn’t.”
“How did it make you feel?”
“I was angry, he – “
“No. You came out. To all your family, just like that, in one go. How did it make you feel?”
“Numb, I guess.” Matthew stood up and started to pace. “I didn’t even realise what I’d done at first. Then I got up here and… and I sat down and it was quiet and I started to think about it.”
“What did you think?”
“I don’t know, I guess I got scared. I mean, you’ve heard the way he speaks, that look in his eye, I thought he was going to kill me.”
Harry sighed quietly. “Frederick never came up here to see you, did he?”
“So, what? You’ve been sat up here all alone for four hours? Without even talking to anyone, without even waiting to see what your family’s reaction might be, you just decide that the best thing is for you to leave?”
Harry hesitated. He was worried about what Matthew might do, and he was the only one there. It shouldn’t be me talking to him about this. Of all people, it shouldn’t be me.
“You’ve been letting it fester, thinking about nothing else, of course you’re going to think the worse, but – ”
“But, if I stay – ”
“If you stay, maybe your grandfather will go on a crazy rampage with a shotgun and kill you. Or, he might decide he wants to see what all the fuss is about, pull on a pair of hot pink Lycra shorts and head out onto Hampstead Heath. The truth is, you can’t predict the future, you can’t know what’s going to happen before it happens, and running away from it is just the coward’s way out.”
“Maybe you’re right, maybe you can’t know the future. You can make an educated guess though, and I’m willing to bet that it’s more likely he has a shotgun in his closet than a pair of hot pink Lycra shorts.”
Harry sighed again and for a long moment there was silence as he tried to think of something else to say.
“You know the story of how Frederick came out?”
“Victoria ended up killing her own father that night, I think we all know the story.”
“I’m not talking about how he came out to his family, I’m talking about the first time he came out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Freddie was going out with a girl called Rebecca at the time. One night he got horrendously drunk and hit on their friend Graham. Anyway, Graham wasn’t so drunk and he turned him down. The next morning Frederick proposed to Rebecca.”
“Frederick got engaged?” Matthew laughed.
“Not quite, she turned him down. But he kept asking, almost once a week for six months, he’d ask, get rejected, and then ask again. Then one day she accepted and Frederick panicked. He told her that he was in love with Graham, that he was sorry, but he couldn’t be with her. He ended up not only breaking Rebecca’s heart, but he destroyed any potential relationship he might have had with Graham and ripped apart Rebecca and Graham’s friendship.”
“And this is supposed to make me feel better? It sounds pretty shitty to me.”
“It does, doesn’t it? But, you see, a couple of months after that Rebecca took Frederick shopping for something to wear on his first date with Graham. In the end the only reason Graham and Frederick even split up was because of Edward’s death. Graham couldn’t handle the pressure of it and he moved away, Rebecca followed and they’re sharing a flat in London somewhere. Freddie still talks to them, they’re some of his closest friends, he’s always on the phone to them.”
“So, what’s your point?”
“My point is… things change Matthew, and you can’t predict how they change. Frederick could have run away when he and Rebecca split up, but if he had, then he wouldn’t be who he is now, he wouldn’t have Rebecca and Graham as such close friends.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“What happened when you came out?”
Harry stood up and made his way over to the door. “Look, I’ve got to go.”
“Now who’s running away?”
“I’m not running away, I’m…” He checked his watch and smiled. “My ten minutes are up.”
Matthew climbed onto his bed and sat with his head against the back rest. “Look, you win, I’ll stay. At least until Christmas is over.”
“Good. Then I definitely don’t need to stay.”
“Please?” Matthew looked up at Harry, his wide blue eyes shining with a sudden vulnerability. “I… I want to talk. I need to talk.”
Harry looked around at the posters on the wall, and then down at Matthew lying on his bed. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Maybe you should give one of your friends a call, talk to someone who really knows you.”
“I don’t have one.”
“You’re telling me that of all your friends there’s not one who knows you better than anyone?”
Matthew bowed his head. “I’m telling you that… I don’t have any friends.”
Harry let out a small involuntary laugh. “You’re kidding, right? Everybody has friends, what about the people in your class at school? The people you sit with at lunch, the ones who laugh at your jokes?”
“Well, sure,” Matthew shrugged, “I know people. There are people who were randomly picked to be in the same classes as me five years ago, but they’re not my friends.”
“Tell me about them.”
“What is there to tell?”
“Well, who’s the ringleader, the one in charge? The clever one? The slutty one? The funny one? How do you – or don’t you – fit in?”
Matthew frowned, seemingly trying to decide where to start. “There’s the two Rebeccas, Becky and Becks, they’ve been best friends for years, way back into infants. Except, that’s kind of changed in the last couple of years. Becks started going out with this guy, they’re still totally in love, and Becky lost a little weight and discovered just what a bottle of blonde hair dye and make up could do for a girl. She got a little attention, and now she’s a total drama queen, everything’s either about her, or happening because of her you know what I mean?”
Harry couldn’t help thinking of Frederick and smiling. “Yeah, I think I know the type. Who else is there?”
“Lucy, I guess, you’d call her the pretty one. She used to get all the attention, and then like I said Becky suddenly grew up and Lucy got pushed to one side. Anyway, now she’s become the bitchy, slutty one. She’s only really still in the group because of the seating plan our tutor draws up every year. Then Valentine – ”
“You have a friend called Valentine?”
“Pity the child born on a saint’s day to eccentric parents.”
“She’s lucky there wasn’t a Saint Trevor.” Harry laughed at his own joke.
“Anyway, Valentine, she’s pretty much the outcast, she’s had a rough life, like, really rough, Becky would probably kill for the kind of drama V’s had. Anyway, she’s not really a very serious person, it’s her way of coping I think, but you know, everything’s a joke with her.”
“I’m starting to notice a common theme.”
“That they’re all female? Yeah, I’m just not quite like the other guys for some reason.”
“So you don’t have any male friends at all?” Harry asked.
“There’s Jason, he’s going out with Becks, he’s, err, he’s really…” Matthew blushed and avoided eye contact with him.
“You can say it.”
“I guess I kind of… fancy him a little. He’s quite nice to me, but I think that’s only because I’m Becks’s friend, you know, keep in her good books. Then there’s his best friend, Dean, Becky’s on again off again drama fulfilling asshole of a boyfriend.”
“You know, I’m not sensing much love here.”
“No, he’s a total prick.”
Harry laughed a little “I didn’t just mean for Dean, I meant for all of them. It doesn’t sound like you have a very high opinion of any of them.”
“They’re all nice enough for what they are.”
“And what’s that?”
“Superficial. None of them know what it’s like to have to be so guarded all the time, they can relax, they can be themselves. They don’t have a care in the world.”
“They don’t know you’re gay?”
Matthew shook his head. “I don’t trust them.”
“I see the way they treat each other, the constant bitching behind each other’s backs, telling each other’s secrets to anyone who’ll listen. I just don’t trust them not to tell the wrong person about me. My life would be a living hell.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“It wasn’t that long ago you were at school, can you imagine walking into the PE changing rooms with everyone having just found out you’re gay? They’re hardly going to lay out the red carpet for you.”
“It’s no big deal, they’re just some people I see at school. They all go out with each other after school. They don’t invite me, I don’t invite myself.”
Harry moved away from the door and sat on the end of the bed again. “Well, the way you put it, I don’t think you’re missing out on too much. From the sounds of it, they’re not really a nice bunch of people to be around.”
“See, now, I feel bad.” He rubbed at his eyes a little. “They’re not bad people, they’re lovely, all of them – except Dean, I guess – I adore being around them.”
“Well, there you go then, you do have people to talk to, ring one of your friends, have a big, deep and meaningful and a cry, it’ll do you the world of good.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not? I thought you said they were all lovely people?”
“They are, I guess. It’s not them, it’s me.”
“I’m scared. I don’t want to risk losing anyone by telling them I’m gay.” The smallest of tears started to appear in the corners of Matthew’s eyes. “So, I have to pretend to be straight, to be something I’m not. That means I can’t let my guard down for one second, in case someone realises. I spend all day at school, keeping myself at a distance from everyone, and then I get home and I have to raise my guard even more and it’s so hard and I don’t think I can do it anymore.”
By now tears were streaming down his face and Harry reached out to comfort him. He slowly patted the top end of his calf muscle, smoothing the crease in his jeans. “Hey, come on, it’s alright, you’ve taken a big step tonight. You came out to your family, you’ve got to admit that’s got to be harder than coming out to your friends.”
His sniffling started to subside, and he looked up at Harry. For a moment their eyes locked together before his gaze shifted to Harry’s now stationary hand on his outstretched leg. Harry hastily pulled it away.
“Listen to me,” he said, “as soon as Christmas is out of the way, you are going to invite one of your friends – all of your friends over, tell them who you are, let them know the real you, it’ll be such a weight off your shoulders, I promise you.”
Matthew smiled gently at him. “Thank you, Harry.”
“Hey, it’s nothing.” Harry tried to act casually as he stood up and started to look through his CD collection. “So… apart from this Jason guy – who if he is going out with one of your friends – is totally off limits, is there any other special guy in your life.”
“I don’t really fancy him, like I said, he’s just nice to me.”
“And you blush over every bloke who’s nice to you, do you?”
“I don’t know,” Matthew shrugged, “he’s the only one who is. Most of my friends are girls, apart from Dean and Jason. And Dean’s a –”
“A prick, right, yeah.”
“You’re the only other guy I’ve had a conversation with lately.”
He stood up and slowly walked over to face him, and as he did, Harry noticed again all the posters of himself adorning the wall.
“Matthew, I don’t think you should – ”
“A day ago, you were just some Hollywood Superstar dating leading lady after leading lady. Tonight you’re a gay man, and not only are you in England, but you’re spending the first few minutes of Christmas Day in my bedroom. I’ve come this close, you’ve got to give me at least one kiss.”
Harry stared into his crystal blue eyes and found himself unable to speak as he moved in closer to him. He slipped one hand on the back of his head and pulled himself up a little so that their lips met. A shiver shot down Harry’s spine as Matthew’s soft unblemished lips began to slowly massage his. Almost instantly, Harry was hard and as he pulled Matthew in to him, applying pressure, relieving the tension a little, he discovered that the teenager was even harder. Their bodies touched, all the way down from their lips to their toes, and it felt so different, to Harry, so new and fresh to be kissing someone other than Frederick.
The squeak of the door handle suddenly interrupted them, and Harry pulled his head away from Matthew, breaking the kiss. Their bodies stayed in contact, Harry’s fingers tied up in the belt loops of Matthew’s jeans, Matthew’s running through Harry’s hair.
Harry watched, wide eyed in terror at the down turned handle as the door was pushed hard against the frame, creating a muffled thud. The door remained closed.
“I locked it.” Matthew whispered quietly.
“Matthew? Matthew, are you awake?” Frederick’s voice sounded from the other side, and Harry quickly covered Matthew’s open mouth to stop him from answering. Matthew nodded at him and Harry slowly removed his hand.
They both listened intently, and it wasn’t until Harry heard Frederick’s footsteps moving away from the door that he realised he’d been holding his breath, and let out a huge sigh of relief.
He quickly moved over to the door and listened to it for a moment. “It’s alright, I think he’s gone.”
Matthew sat on the edge of his bed and looked at him. “Why didn’t you want him to know you were here?”
“Considering what we were doing, I don’t think that would have been a good idea, do you?”
“He didn’t have to know,” Matthew shrugged, “for all he knew you were just up here talking to me about stuff.”
“Maybe I just didn’t want to see him, ok?”
“I thought there was something up. You two haven’t seemed right all night, even before I knew you were a couple. You looked pissed off with each other, and now you’re kissing other men.”
“That…” Harry pointed a finger at him. “That, was a mistake.”
“It was nice.”
“It’s over. Forget it.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, I just snogged Harry Hicks!”
“Do you want to keep your voice down?”
Matthew smiled, but said nothing. Harry sat next to him, side by side, on the edge of the bed, and let his head drop into his hands. After a moment, Matthew turned to him. “Is it because you pretend you’re straight?”
“Is that why he’s pissed off with you? I mean, if I was sleeping with the sexiest man in Hollywood, I’d want to tell anyone and everyone.”
“You realise what would happen if I did come out, right? It would totally ruin my career.”
“So? I’ve read the biography, I know you never wanted to be an actor why should you care?”
“I never had a huge ambition to be gay either, but that’s who I am, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
“Ok,” Matthew frowned, “you’re contradicting yourself quite a lot here. First of all you’re proud that you’re gay, but you won’t tell anyone because it’ll ruin your career, despite the fact that you came out to a dozen or so people tonight, and only one crabby old dude took offence to it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he’s not really your target audience.”
“It’s different, not everyone’s as accepting as the rest of your family.”
“Are you kidding me? You call this lot accepting? Everybody bickers over every little thing in this house. Even you, you’ve only been here a couple of hours and you’re already not talking to Frederick.”
“I’m not not-talking to him,” Harry sighed, “I just… we had an argument.”
Harry stared at him for a moment, trying to decide if he really wanted to share the more intimate details of his love life with this kid. He had already shared too much. “I suppose you’re going to find out sooner or later.”
“Damn straight,” he smiled, “you can’t keep a secret in this house.”
“I found out tonight that Frederick slept with someone else, while he was with me.”
Matthew’s eyes widened. “Who? Was it someone famous?”
“It was Robert.”
“Forrester. The man currently sleeping with your aunt.”
“Oh.” His face fell in disappointment, before the implications of what Harry had said began to sink in. “Oh!”
“Yeah. I guess, you could say we ‘were on a break’, I don’t know, but we’d had an argument, just before he came over here a few months back. Met him at Cromley’s, in fact Robert fucked him right on your grandfather’s desk.”
“Yeah, it was a bit of a shock. I mean, we’ve both had other partners, you know? Frederick’s gone out and gotten drunk with a few of his friends before, woken up in one of their beds.”
“And you’re ok with that?”
“It’s just something he does. I know he loves me, but sometimes, you can’t help it, you just get horny, I get it. I’ve only ever done it the once, I was on a shoot out in Nevada in the desert. We’d been in out there for days, and we were staying in these shabby little trailers. Anyway, one night Tom – umm, one of my co-stars and I, we were lonely, we spent the night together.”
“Wow, that’s…” Matthew seemed lost for words. “I mean that’s really… liberal.”
“It was a two week fling, once the shoot was over he went back home to his wife and kid, I went back to Frederick.”
“Well, what made this different? You know, him and Robert?”
“He never told me about it. I told him about Nevada, he told me about his flings. We shared notes, we told each other what we got up to… it was a turn on.”
“So, you’re worried that it meant something? That the reason he didn’t tell you was because he felt guilty? That he enjoyed it too much?”
“That’s exactly it. Robert fucked him and he enjoyed it.”
Matthew’s frown deepened. “Look, I might be being stupid here, but I still don’t get this. Why would he enjoy being with Robert more than any other guy?”
Harry sighed deeply. “Frederick’s never had… sex like that before, at least he hadn’t. He always said he couldn’t bring himself to let someone… I didn’t mind. I enjoy both, so we just did it that way all the time. Him on top.”
“But he let Robert?”
“And he enjoyed it.” Harry could feel a small tear forming in the corner of his eye. “But he didn’t tell me, because he loved the fact that he had this power over me. He was the one fucking me, night after night, he felt powerful, like he owned me. I was his bitch, and he didn’t want to let that go. I guess, I just realised tonight, all the stuff he’s ever done, it’s all been to keep me under his control. He’s writing a movie for me, literally telling me what I’m going to say, so I turn down job after job. He encourages me to come out, because he knows that I won’t, but that it’ll make me feel guilty. I’ve just been so stupid.”
Harry was really starting to cry now and Matthew leaned in to hug him. They held each other tightly and Harry remembered the kiss they’d shared minutes before. Matthew’s soft tongue, plunging into his mouth with a fresh excitement, the softness of the skin of a young man, that sweet, fruity smell of the hair gel in his hair.
Matthew pulled away from him. “If you ask me, Frederick’s really stupid. I’d let you fuck me.”
And that was it. The moment Matthew had said those words, Harry knew what was going to happen. There was no denying it, no escaping.
“I said I’d let you fuck me. You’re intelligent, gorgeous and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. You’re also a Hollywood megastar and filthy rich at that. Why not?” He rubbed his hand across Harry’s thigh.
Why not? Matthew was a young, gorgeous guy and Harry was here, on his bed, late at night and there was an incredible attraction between them. And damn it, I’m horny. He wants me to fuck him and I want to fuck him. Oh, God, I want to fuck him.
Matthew pulled himself up and stood in front of Harry. He grabbed hold of the bottom of his top and quickly and expertly pulled it over his head. Harry looked at his milky white, slender, tender torso, noting how it was completely different to Frederick’s ripped, sun-kissed six pack.
“I know I haven’t exactly been with a lot of guys… well, you’re the only one I’ve even kissed… but that kiss… that was amazing.”
“It really was.” But I can’t just throw away everything I have with Frederick over one kiss.
Harry looked back over at the door and sighed. He knew that if he went back to his room right now, Frederick would be waiting in bed, maybe reading a book. They would talk, and they would both apologise for shouting at each other and they would make love and everything would be ok.
Matthew unbuttoned the top button on his jeans and softly gripped the zipper on his fly. “Do you want to or not?”
* * *
Harry dozed quietly and held him in his arms, both of them relaxed in the soft warm afterglow of a frenetic sex session. Both of them naked, both of them happy.
“Wow, you were right.” He whispered softly.
“You enjoyed it then?”
“You’re glad we did it, then?” Harry asked.
“Yeah.” Matthew turned his face to Harry’s and smiled. “Wow, wait until I tell everyone at school.”
“School?” Harry pulled back from him a little. “This question is probably coming a little later than it should have, but… how old are you?”
“Sixteen. Last week. Don’t worry, we’re legal.”
“It might be legal, I don’t know if it’s exactly moral, though.” He pulled himself up and stepped over Matthew. He reached out a hand and pulled the condom from Harry’s softening penis.
“Can I keep this?”
“Oh, that’s disgusting.” Harry frowned.
He looked at the used latex as Harry pulled on my boxer shorts. “Maybe you’re right.” He dropped it on the floor, leant back in his bed and rested his head on his hands. “Wait until Granddad finds out what we did.”
“You’re going to tell him? You want to wait until I’m out of the country?”
“I might not go into too much graphic detail, but I think I should talk to him.” He pulled himself out of his bed and grappled around on the floor for his clothes. Harry looked at his pert, smooth bum bobbing in the air and smiled.
“You’re going down now? It’s one o’clock in the morning.”
“He’ll still be up, the man’s a total insomniac.”
“You want me to come with you?”
“I don’t think that’ll go down too well, meeting the new boyfriend and all that.”
“Listen, Matthew, I think we should talk. Tonight wasn’t about… I’m not…”
“It’s alright, Harry, I understand. You’re with Frederick, I get that. But still, I need to talk to him.”
He slipped on a pullover and moved over to the door.
They both quietly looked around the landing to check it was empty before stepping out onto it. They made their way down the stairs in silence until they reached the first floor. Matthew smiled nervously at him and turned to go down the last flight. Harry pulled him in close, kissed him quickly for luck and then grinned and let him go, before stepping on the landing towards the bedroom he was sharing with Frederick.
Harry reached the door, placed his hand on the handle, and stopped. He quickly turned back around and followed Matthew down the stairs to the ground floor.
At the bottom of the stairs, he almost stood on a crumpled piece of white cloth. He bent down and picked it up. In the dim light he could just see the initials R.F. embroidered in the corner and there was a smear of what looked like blood across the centre. He smiled. Someone had not only punched Robert, but they’d drawn blood. Harry found himself hoping that it had been Frederick. He stuffed the handkerchief into his pocket and tiptoed down the corridor towards Ernest’s office.
Somewhere below him, he heard a loud clunking noise from the pipes. It echoed loudly in the silence of the rest of the house. Ahead of him, was a soft orange glow, spilling out from the crack under the door to the study, bathing Matthew’s shins in amber.
Matthew was stood in front of the door, nervously rubbing his index finger. He stepped back from it and turned to move away. He caught sight of Harry at the end of the corridor and stopped walking. Harry nodded to him across the darkened hallway to reassure him and Matthew nodded back. He turned to the door, grabbed hold of the handle and pushed the door open.
He stepped in, Harry smiled briefly and turned to go, but stopped when he saw Matthew back out of the room.
“What is it?” He moved down the corridor and saw Ernest, in his office slumped over his desk, a small pool of blood on his back. He moved in and quickly felt for a pulse.
Harry glanced at the gun lying on the desk and then looked Matthew in the eyes. “He’s been shot. He’s dead.”
Read the next chapter here