Simon Peters and his partner Mark Smith face a number of challenging life events in the fourth and final volume of this heart-warming saga.
Because of his time working on the streets after being kicked out of home by his father, Mark worries he may have contracted HIV. Despite knowing the lack of treatment options if he were to test positive -- this is the late 1980’s before the age of retro-viral drugs -- Mark is determined to know his fate.
Things become complicated when Mark receives a letter from his father wanting to re-establish contact. Roy entering their lives presents further challenges, ones which ultimately threaten Simon and Mark’s continued happiness.
Gay teens Sam and Billy play an increasingly important part in Simon and Mark’s lives, often regarding the older men as surrogate fathers/big brothers. Can this unconventional family pull together and become stronger, despite all the world has thrown at them?
I sat in the waiting room of the STD clinic—trying but failing to distract myself by reading a dull article on the Amazon rain forest in a frighteningly out-of-date issue of National Geographic.
Ten minutes earlier, a tall, broad man with short hair and a beard had called out “Jim Smith, please.”
Mark had decided to use his old street name. “After all,” he reasoned, “if I’ve got it, it was when I was Jim.”
We’d rung up early in the New Year and made an appointment for the following Friday afternoon. Both Mark and I had got the time off work. We’d decided -- not that it took long to make the decision -- that we wouldn’t tell anyone where we were going. Apart from Tom and Cliff.
In the week before the appointment, I’d gotten some leaflets on HIV and AIDS from my contacts at the main library in Leeds. It depressed me that there wasn’t much reliable information available. My motto had always been If in doubt, read up about it. I’d found out that even if Mark did have the HIV antibodies in his blood, it didn’t necessarily mean he’d contract full-blown AIDS. I drew some comfort from that, though of course I hoped Mark would get a negative test result. The literature was rather speculative on some points and some of it plain scared me. I decided that it would do more harm than good to show the stuff to him. So for the first time in our relationship, I hid something from my lover.
Time seemed to drag by as I sat waiting. National Geographic gave way to Readers’ Digest, then Vogue. Mark had told me he probably wouldn’t want to have a test done after his first session, but agreed to keep an open mind. I felt powerless. Although I’d be there for him as much as I could, everything had to depend on what Mark ultimately decided. I’d never had sex with anyone before Mark, so condoms didn’t bother me because they were all I knew. If I was truly honest with myself, I did wonder sometimes what it would be like to have Mark plant some of his seed within me, and I’d be able to hold on to it, at least for a little while.
Eventually, Mark emerged, looking pale. I stood and gave him a brief hug. Neither of us said anything as we walked back to the car park.
Once we were in the car—I’d decided to drive us there and back -- Mark let out a long breath. “I feel like I’ve been through the wringer.”
I nodded and squeezed his right hand briefly.
“But thanks to Cliff I kinda knew what sorts of things John would ask.”
“But actually hearing the counsellor ask them made it all real, you know?”
I nodded. “Do you want to go home or to Tom and Cliff’s?” We’d agreed to visit them if Mark felt up to it.
“Would you mind if we went home?”
I patted his knee. “Of course I don’t mind.”
To relax him I tuned the radio to some of his favourite country music. I’d even put up with the horrible twanging if it eased my man’s nerves.
Back at home, I made coffee; Mark said he didn’t feel like eating anything.
“There’s a lot to think about.” He began.
I put the mug of coffee I’d been holding on the table and brought my stool next to his.
“If I’d have had the test at the doctors, they would have been legally bound to report a positive result on any mortgage applications, life insurance, medicals, that kind of thing. If I have a test at the clinic they would have to write to me before passing on those details to anyone, and John said they would never write to me. Mind you I didn’t give our address so they couldn’t even if they wanted to.”
I nodded and made a noise of agreement.
“Because of what I had to do,” Mark swallowed, “my chances of having the virus are increased.” He sniffed. “I want to know. Despite there being no treatment, I still want to know if I’m going to die.”
“Oh, Mark.” I pulled him toward me.
I wanted to say so much, reassure him that if I could, I’d take the HIV -- if he had it -- from him and give it to myself instead. I wanted to tell him that I’d always be there for him; I’d love him, in sickness and in health so long as we both lived. But my throat was too clogged to get anything more out than a croak.
We held each other for the longest time, neither of us saying anything.
Eventually Mark broke the hug, took a sip of cooling coffee, and said, “I made an appointment for next week.”
“Uh huh.” There was nothing else I could say. This was Mark’s decision. He was so brave, I don’t know if I could have done it.