A gentle, cosy, and touching romance set in mid-1980's Yorkshire.
Simon Peters knows he’s Mr. Average. He works at the local library during the day and goes home to his modest and lonely house at night.
Mark Smith was kicked out of home by his drunken father for being gay. Buying a bus ticket, he travels as far as his meagre savings allow. He’s taken in by Jake, but soon realises the man’s darker, criminal side. Trapped, Mark is forced to work the streets.
One evening, when the loneliness becomes overwhelming, Simon gathers up his courage and goes to the red light district of the town to buy a little human companionship.
As the weeks pass and the weather turns colder outside, both Simon and Mark find warmth and friendship indoors.
When an explosion kills Jake and injures Mark, Simon has to make a decision. Can he offer Mark shelter and nurse him back to health without revealing his true feelings for the man?
Once on Gamble Street -- the place where I knew a few rent boys plied their trade -- I began to experience the same doubts I’d had before, but I pushed them aside and walked with the most confident manner I could muster, up to a young man of about nineteen or twenty years of age. He was wearing a faded black T-shirt which was a little on the small side for him, a pair of worn blue jeans, and white trainers. He was a couple of inches shorter than me with curly black hair. As I drew closer still I saw his eyes were grey-blue. He was good-looking, and under normal circumstances -- say, in a gay bar -- I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
“Hi, mate,” he said in a low -- and, to me, sexy -- voice. “What you after?” He had a faint but detectable Geordie accent. I thought it was ... well ... sexy.
Haltingly I asked, “Uh, what do you, um, offer?”
He smiled reassuringly. “Anything and everything, so long as we’re safe.”
“Um, would it be all right if we just went back to my house and uh,” my voice, low to start with, whispered, “Just sat and cuddled and ...” I knew my cheeks were flaming red. This was a bad idea.
The man’s smile increased. “Sure, mate, not a problem.”
After agreeing a price, I realised I’d actually committed myself, we walked the ten minutes or so to my place.
Although the temperatures were about average for early September, I thought a thin T-shirt didn’t afford adequate protection, but that I guess was his business.
Conversation was a little forced on my part. We exchanged names, and he said I could call him Jim. I doubted if that was his real name, but that was his business.
We eventually arrived at my house. I unlocked the front door and ushered him in.
The front door opened into the main room.
“First things first,” I said getting out my money and paying Jim. I guessed it was usual to deal with such things at the beginning.
“Thanks.” Jim tucked the notes into his front jeans pocket.
“Want a drink?” I offered beer, sherry. I could have kicked myself for that last. It seemed, well, inappropriate somehow.
“Do you have anything soft?”
“Perfect.” Jim’s smile was back. He was so handsome.
When I returned from the kitchen, can of Coke in hand, Jim was looking at my rather extensive video collection, which was shelved along one wall and all in alphabetical order -- once a librarian, always a librarian.
“You’ve got a few nice titles ‘ere, mate,” he said.
“Would you like to watch one?” I asked.
I left him looking through the selection while I put a match to the fire I’d laid that morning. Although the house had gas central heating, I liked a real fire, and it wasn’t cold enough to justify switching on the boiler. After the fire had taken hold, I looked up to see which film Jim had selected.
“South Pacific has always been one of my favourites.”
I was a bit surprised; I thought he’d go for a James Bond, or some other action movie.
“It’s one of my favourites, too.” I smiled.
I put the tape in the machine and we settled down to watch. We began by sitting next to each other, but soon I lay across the back of the sofa. Jim settled himself in front of me, the top of his head under my chin. I slowly worked an arm under him, and put the other one over him, squeezing lightly. He gave out a quiet sigh.
My attention drifted from the screen to take in my surroundings. Dusk had fallen outside, and the only illumination in the darkened room came from the TV screen and the fire. I looked at the warm body next to me. Jim had moved further down my front, and I’d worked myself a little flatter, allowing Jim to put his head on my shoulder. The situation began to tug on my emotions. I had lost count of the number of times I’d dreamed of such a scenario, someone warm and soft to cuddle up against in a cosy room, something romantic on the telly, all lit by a flickering fire. My eyes began to water at how nice everything looked and felt. I was able to block out the fact that the only reason this was happening was because I’d paid someone to help fulfil the fantasy. It just felt so nice ... right ... perfect.
A bleeping noise shook me out of my thoughts. I looked up at the clock on the mantelpiece and saw my two hours of bliss were about to come to an end. The noise must have come from Jim’s watch. I made to get up.
“It’s okay, I can stay longer if you like,” Jim said in a quiet, almost sleepy voice.
“I’d love you to stay longer, but ... a librarian doesn’t earn all that much, and…” I raised my arm to let Jim free.
Jim twisted around before I’d had a chance to wipe away the tears that had fallen earlier.
“It’s okay. I like it here. There’s no extra charge.” He lifted up on one elbow and gave me a quick peck on my lips. It felt wonderful. I put my arms back around him and managed to choke out through a quickly tightening throat, “Thanks, Jim.”
“Please, call me Mark. I feel safer, a bit more removed from my customers, if I don’t give them my real name. I like you, Simon, so I wanted you to know my real name.”
“Thanks, Mark. I think I like you, too,” I managed to get out through a throat that hadn’t grown any less tight.
At that moment both our stomachs began to rumble. Mark let out a quiet chuckle. I did, too.
“Would you like something to eat?” I asked him.
Mark nodded. “If we can bring it back in here -- and finish off the film. I’ve seen it so many times, but it’s nice to watch it in such pleasant company.”
I smiled. “I often have my tea in front of the telly. There isn’t much point in setting out the dining table for just me.”
I didn’t have a dining room. Just a kitchen worktable with leaves that folded out to allow up to four people to sit round it. Not that I ever had that many guests.
We both got up and went into the kitchen to see what I could cobble together from what lay in the far corners of the fridge.
“There’s a couple of chicken breasts, some tomatoes that are only fit for frying, and a bit of salad. Would these along with some pasta and a jar of pasta sauce do you?” I asked Mark.
“Great. Do you need a hand?”
“Thanks. If you could get the packet of pasta and the sauce from the pantry over there, that’d be a help.”
We soon began to get the meal together. We seemed to work pretty well as a team. Domestic harmony. Yeah, right, Simon, I thought to myself. Dream on!
I cut the chicken into strips; Mark said it would cook quicker that way. I wasn’t all that domesticated, I just knew enough to feed myself the basics. I didn’t see the point in going to a great deal of trouble, when I was the only one who would eat the end results. I made a bit more of an effort on the few occasions when Mary would come over, but on the whole, I just did for myself.
The meal was soon ready. We went back into the living room where I got out a couple of TV dining tables, setting them up in front of the sofa. After we both got settled, I switched the VCR back on. We ate in cosy silence, with occasional comments from one or other of us about the food or the movie.
We’d pushed away the tables from the sofa, and I had my arms back around Mark when the final scenes came on, the ones where Liat, the native Island girl, finds out from Nellie that Joe Cable, the man Liat loved, had been killed in action.
“No matter how many times I watch this film, this bit always makes me cry,” Mark said.
I agreed with him.
When the titles began to roll, I looked down at the tears on Mark’s face.
I don’t know where I got the courage, because I’d never done such a thing before, but I lightly kissed Mark’s eyes. He gave a contented sigh of pleasure.
I pressed rewind on the VCR and got up to turn on the lights. It was totally dark outside now. The extra light in the room seemed to dispel the cosy mood. I knew Mark had to go soon, so I thought it better I bring up the subject. He’d been good enough to stay longer than we’d agreed, and I didn’t want to impose on his generosity any further.
“I guess you’ll have to make a move,” I said.
“‘Fraid so,” he replied.
Walking over to the window to draw the curtains, I saw the glow of the streetlights reflected in the puddles on the roadway. It must have been raining steadily for a while.
I turned to Mark in his thin T-shirt. “You can’t go out wearing just that. I’ve got a jumper and an old raincoat upstairs. Will you let me go get them for you?” Before Mark could object I ploughed on. “I outgrew them, so they’re no good to me ... and you’d be doing me a favour by taking them and --”
“Thanks, mate. That’s really nice of you.”
I went upstairs and dug out the promised items. They fit him quite well.
“Thanks, Simon, these’ll be a big help.” I didn’t really give much thought to his statement at the time, but after he’d gone I wondered if he had many clothes.
“I’d like to do it again sometime, but ...” I looked down at my shoes, “I don’t earn much so I can’t say when.”
Mark touched my cheek. “Looking forward to it.”
We bade each other goodnight and I shut the front door and returned to my seat on the sofa. After looking at the discarded plates on the TV tables, I got up again and took them into the kitchen. While going through the usual domestic routines, I pondered on the evening’s events. I wondered what Mark really thought of me. He couldn’t have been too disgusted, as he’d agreed to stay longer than he had to. I imagined he occasionally got strange requests from his clients, so I didn’t think mine would have been too weird for him.
Feeling a little tired after the day’s events, I put the fireguard in front of the fire, turned off the lights and went upstairs to prepare for bed. Undressing in the bathroom prior to getting into the bath, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, You’d have stood no chance with Mark if you met socially. The pneumatic drill was at work again, burrowing even deeper.
After a soak in the bath, I got out and dried myself. Stepping into a pair of boxer shorts, I stood at the sink and brushed my teeth.
Once in bed, I looked at the cover of the book I was reading, but decided I wasn’t in the mood, so I switched off the bedside light and settled down to sleep.
Naturally my thoughts drifted back to Mark. I wondered what he was doing now. Would he have gone home, or to wherever he slept, or back to Gamble street to pick up another customer? I heard the rain splatter against the window, so hoped he’d gone home. I drifted off to sleep with thoughts of Mark’s warm body that had -- for a short time, at least -- been held next to mine.