Chapter Number 10
We were making really good progress on the way home from Blackpool, all a bit shell-shocked after the Pride and each of us nodding off from time to time. So once we had made it past Birmingham on the motorway we decided it was time for a comfort rest at one of the services, and a change of driver for the last part of the journey.
At the till, we all emptied our wallets of what seemed to be enough money to pay all the staff a weeks wages in return for a miserly lukewarm excuse for a cooked breakfast.
It has always amazed me how with all the island self-service pods in these cafeterias, along with a huge long hot self-service counter designed to serve maximum numbers of people in record time with the least contact with any staff, one still just stands at the end of the queue to shuffle a tray along at a snails pace, continually stopping and starting to watch the odd hand appear from the line of people in front to grab a cake, sandwich or a cooked breakfast.
The only member of staff that is to be seen, apart from the occasional one sauntering in through a door behind the counter to throw some more chips or sausages into the hot dishes and have a prod and shuffle amongst what is already there in some vain hope of stopping it all coagulating together, is Dolly at the cash register. She is there to eye the contents of the trays as they reach her, and every now and then consults her price board whilst tapping away at her machine for what seems an eternity.
Occasionally she will casually get up to fill a teapot or to dispense a coffee before returning to her cash register, but the real bummer comes when you get to be the very next one to pay and you find she first has to change the till roll. After ferreting around under the counter for what seems ages, she will slowly unwrap the new roll before attempting several times to feed it through the machine, and all the time she will be doing this without even a smile or the slightest eye contact. It must take nerves of steel and special training.
This ritual over, eventually we found ourselves an empty table and, with many a humorous exchange, sat around it to pick at our breakfasts. Sitting nearby, with just a mug of coffee on his table, was a lad of about 25 years old. He was surrounded by two giant holdalls and a huge rucksack, and appeared to be enjoying our banter. Quietly smiling to himself, he would occasionally glance in our direction.
Shortly before we were about to go ourselves, he got up to leave, and struggling to grapple with all his belongings, he at the same gave us a friendly wave and a nod goodbye. We watched him as he slowly made his way out of the cafeteria, and whilst I was musing to myself what a good-looking lad he was, Andrew piped up, “Wouldn’t chuck him out of bed!” His partner, Peter, responded with, “You're a right old queen - you’d have anything in trousers!” There was a general consensus of agreement about the lad amongst our group, and some general discourse followed on the lad's finer visual attributes and his obvious fitness.
Back in the mini-bus, refreshed and setting off again, we were about to enter the slip road onto the motorway when we noticed the very lovely lad again. He was standing by the side of the roadway and thumbing for a lift. As one, we all shouted, “Stop! See where he’s going!” Peter, who had taken on the driving, pulled over and stopped, and the lad peered in through the front passenger window.
“Where you going?" Peter asked him. “We're going as far as Southtrend-On-Sea - any good to you?”
“Oh, thanks guys - that would be great! I was really making my way to London, but I have always wanted to go to Southtrend-On-Sea. Would it be alright if I went all the way with you?”
"You can go all the way with me anytime, sweetheart!” Peter laughed.
A broad smile crossed the lad's face. Clearly he was not at all phased by all the laughter erupting inside and, after throwing his baggage into the back of the mini-bus, he clambered to sit beside me, shuffling around to get comfortable in the only seat available.
“Alright there now are you Darryl?" Peter joked. "Don’t think I can't see what you are getting up to back there!”
An embarrassing flush crept across my face, and I hoped no one had noticed it. Turning, I noticed the lad's broad grin again, only this time it was directed at me, and suddenly I began to feel very hot. I could feel his warm thigh up against mine, and he had his arm pushed gently into my side. His voice was soft and gentle, and the slightest movement from him gave me a distinct tingle in all sorts of places, soon necessitating me to casually place across my lap the copy of the Birmingham Mail I had bought earlier at the services.
The name he had provided us with, Lance, conjured up all kinds of exciting thoughts in my mind, and occasionally I would get just a whiff of his ginger hair which was almost in ringlets, but not designed to be so. He had a slight, almost sweet, natural aroma that made me want to give him a hug, but I resisted and just continued to enjoy his closeness.
The lad explained he had left home in Burnley. His family had never understood him, and were always deriding him for not having a proper girlfriend. In the rubber factory where he worked he was constantly chastised about his hair, and for his fondness of his Steiff teddy bear collection, which now amounted to a dozen.
He hoped to be re-united with them soon - once he had finally settled down somewhere in his own place. Before the rubber factory there had been several jobs. He had been a plumber's mate, a carpenter's mate, and for a while had even worked in a bus garage helping to service the fleet at nights. His best job, he revealed, was being a hotel porter where he had done everything from helping the domestic staff to kitchen portering.
However he hadn't been able to cope with the permanent split shifts, or the dreadful wages. Anyway, all those jobs had allowed him to accrue enough savings to see him through a couple of months in digs whilst he looked for some work and a new life down south, he explained.
This was all music to my ears. The lad actually wanted to work, had been working, and he even had money saved up to get him going. I was beginning to suspect too that he might be gay. What could I say to him? I was working on it, when suddenly Patrick interrupted my thoughts.
“Hey, Darryl," he said, "surely you can put him up for a while. With all his job experiences he may even be able to give you a hand with some of the work.” He then went on to explain to the lad what I had been up to, and how we were all hoteliers returning from the Pride weekend in Blackpool.
I was quite overcome with the idea of having some help, and the company of this lad, so I smiled questioningly at him. He avidly agreed, and told us how thankful he was that it had been his absolute good fortune to have met us. Now all I could think about for the rest of the journey was that I was actually going to take this beautiful lad home with me - Lance - and I kept saying the name in my head. On my lap, further re-arrangements of the Birmingham Mail frequently took place.
Naturally, and quite coolly, not wanting to give away my enthusiasm, I explained to Lance that it would be only a very temporary arrangement, and that he would have to stay on the top floor of my place. It was not an en-suite room, I hastily added, and he would need to do all his own cooking, cleaning and washing. He was definitely not allowed to bring friends back, and I expected him to go out every day to look for work.
I would go with him to the job centre initially to get him registered, and with luck he would soon find work and be able to get a home of his own. At the back of my mind had emerged my meeting with Shaun in the Freedom Tavern a couple of weeks ago, and what a lucky escape I had then, so I was trying not to go too overboard.
"Take no notice, Lance," Peter piped up, "he will soon have you in his bed. He is just too shy to say so!”
More deep blushes emanated from me as they all had a good belly-laugh, amidst many ribald remarks. Glancing at Lance I could see he was blushing too, and that pleased me immensely. Peter could be so embarrassing at times - and I told him so. But secretly I was very appreciative of his and the groups' comments, and their encouragement. Could it actually be true that I was coming home from Blackpool with a souvenir of my very own? It seemed so unbelievable.
We finally hit Southtrend-On-Sea at 5pm and I was dropped off with Lance outside my guest house. Wow! It looked fantastic! Lance seemed equally impressed as he struggled with his belongings and followed me up to the front door.
Dave, the builder, had seen the mini-bus pull up and opened the front door before I could get my key in the lock. “Hello Daryl, did you have a good time?" he enquired, glancing behind me at Lance. "Is this going to be your first guest? Its not all quite finished yet, you know.” He looked Lance up and down again, and then gave me an approving wink.
God! More embarrassment! "No,” I quickly told him, “it’s just an old friend who has come to give me a hand opening for business. He'll be staying for a while, of course. I'm putting him in one of the rooms at the top.”
“Of course, Darryl. Just joking,” Dave said, with yet another sly wink. Turning towards Lance, in a friendly but authoritative manner he told him, “You make sure you look after Darryl, or you'll have me to answer to.”
Hastily, I gave Lance a room key and told him to go and make himself at home whilst I caught up with the progress of the house with Dave. The place looked magnificent, all carpeted, and Dave had put the delivered furniture in to the rooms. There was just so much to look at, and clearly I was going to be really busy in the coming week putting up new curtains, making beds, and shopping for breakfast stock for the guests.
My bedroom in the cellar had been finished and now it seemed to be perfectly dry. There was a radiator on the wall, and even a little cupboard with a loo and a shower inside it. Hooray! I thought. With the new washing machine upstairs it was the end of the plastic sheet on the bed, and the radiator meant it was goodbye to the paraffin heater too.
Dave explained that next week he would demolish the outside loo, and then build me a porch from the kitchen door, right around the corner, and along to the entrance to my new bedroom. Before going home an hour later, he showed me how to work the central heating system and the fire alarm. Great! I thought, once he had gone. I have the place to myself again. Well, almost - and with some excitement I began to wonder how Lance was doing.
After quickly checking the lovely new units in the kitchen - all empty, no food, not even a tea bag - off I went upstairs. I found Lance lying on his bed reading my Birmingham Mail, with the door open. If only he knew what that had been covering all afternoon, I thought to myself! I had to pinch myself at this vision prostrate before me on the bed - fully clothed, I might add - but there in my own house.
“Oh, hello Darryl. I thought I would wait until you had finished with your builder,” he said apologetically, slowly sitting up to put his shoes on again.
In my best matter of fact manner, I suggested that we should go out for something to eat. My treat, just this once, I told him. Afterwards we would have to go together to the all night Tesco, and he could give me a hand to do a big shop. He was more than happy with the idea, and immediately up and ready to go. To see him, so gorgeous and responsive, made me go weak at the knees. My mind questioned: did he ever stop smiling? And I hoped not.
It was only a fish and chip supper that we had in the town centre, but it was enjoyable. The visit to Tesco afterwards had resulted in three trolley loads of shopping, and a taxi ride to get it back home. Finally we had it all packed away, and then the lad surprised me by offering to pay for some of it.
“Don’t be silly, you can work it off,” I told him, immediately castigating myself for not putting it better. “Would you like something to drink before going up to bed?" I asked. "We have gin and tonic in stock now - would a short nightcap be in order?”
“I don’t drink alcohol," he explained. "I can’t stand the smell, but I don’t mind others drinking it. If it’s alright with you, a cup of tea would nice.”
Tea, and a packet of garibaldi consumed, saw both of us yawning repeatedly. I suggested it was time I retired to my bed. “If you get lonely up there or want a drink during the night just come down and help yourself," I told him. "I have my room downstairs, out through the kitchen door, so if you have a problem just come down.”
Damn! Had I really just said that? I wondered what he would think of me. Oh, my God! I guessed he would probably lock himself in his room all night. What an absolute tart I was!
“No problem, Darryl. Thank you for taking me in, I have been really lucky in meeting you. I am just so grateful. See you in the morning. Goodnight, and God Bless,” he bade me before disappearing off upstairs.
I really could not keep awake any longer, and went down to my bed. Soon I was fast asleep. But then later, suddenly I was awoken by footsteps in the kitchen above my bed. It was 3am, my clock told me. The noises were a bit muffled through the new ceiling, and I listened carefully, wondering whether I was being robbed - and then I realised it was probably Lance, remembering how I had told him he could make a drink in the night if he was thirsty.
Ardently listening, I began to imagine him up there making himself a cup of tea, and felt almost comforted by his every movement. Then suddenly I heard the kitchen door being opened. With bated breath I waited as I heard him coming down the stairs, slowly and quietly.
In the gloom I could just make out that he was wearing red silk pyjamas under a white dressing gown, and he was carrying two cups of tea. There was a copy of “Woman’s Own” tucked under his arm, as he gently sat down on the edge of my bed and in almost hushed tones asked if I was awake.
“Yes,” I croaked, at a loss of anything else to say to this vision in my room.
“I thought you might like a cup of tea if you were awake," he said quietly. "I’ll leave it here for you and go back up to the kitchen. I thought I would have a read. With all the excitement of today, I couldn’t really sleep. Luckily, I thought to grab one of my mum's magazines before I left home, to while away the time hitchhiking.”
“No, no, no. Stay and have a chat with me if you are not tired. Sit back on the bed, and I will prop some pillows up for you,” I spluttered, as I patted the pillows up and smoothed out the duvet for him to, hopefully, even lie back on.
He climbed onto the bed and made himself comfortable. We talked for what seemed to be hours, until both of us actually fell asleep. Him first, and soon afterwards myself. I can remember glancing at him in the duskiness, and looking at his soft complexion. He was still smiling.
The last thing I remember doing was putting a spare blanket over him, he being on the top of the duvet and me underneath it. I was seriously tempted to give him a gentle goodnight kiss on the forehead, just a little one, but fearing he might wake, I resisted the urge.
What absolute bliss it was, I considered. And then I thought to myself: what a strange choice of magazine Lance had made. Thinking more about it, I expected it was the only one he could find at the time.
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