Wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and suffering post traumatic stress as a result, Andy Johnson is given a medical discharge from the British army. Shunning attention, Andy lives a quiet and lonely existence on his pig farm in Yorkshire. His peace is threatened when his friends take him to the city for his birthday. They buy him a kiss from Luke Wales, a twink porn star.
Overwhelmed and needing some air, Andy escapes outside. Luke finds him there. They talk and Andy begins to relax. It’s cold and Andy gives Luke his combat jacket. However Roger, Luke’s boyfriend appears and the momentary connection is lost.
Weeks later, recently separated from Roger, Luke is back in the north of England. He decides to pay Andy a visit, using the excuse of returning the man’s jacket. A snow storm forces the two men to spend time together, and a tentative friendship begins.
Neither man is convinced they are worthy of the other. It takes time, plus the encouragement of friends and Andy’s teenage nephew, Craig, to convince the reluctant couple that what exists on the surface only tells part of the story. Andy’s scars and Luke’s past employment shouldn’t stand in the way of them exploring what each feels for the other.
Andy heard footsteps. He hoped whoever was out walking would just pass by.
“Lot quieter out here,” the voice announced, now about six feet away. It was the kid, the porn star, Luke whatever his name was.
Andy grunted. He wasn’t interested in talking.
“And they don’t like it when I smoke,” he said just before a match was struck, briefly illuminating his face.
Andy turned away. Whenever the dark thoughts reared their heads, he would always retreat into himself. Why wouldn’t this kid just leave him alone?
“You want one?” Luke asked.
Andy’s first reaction was to walk away and not acknowledge he’d heard the question. But something made him stay. “I’ve given ‘em up.” The same something made him reach out and accept the unlit cigarette Luke was about to put away.
The tips of their fingers touched. Luke’s skin felt soft, smooth. Leaning close to accept the proffered light, he drew in a deep lungful of the smoke, then let it out slowly.
“You look like you’re enjoying that.”
Despite himself, Andy smiled. “Yeah.” He watched as Luke took his own cigarette out of his mouth. He then heard the young man’s teeth chattering. In the dimness, Andy could see that all Luke had on above the waist was his silk shirt.
“I’ll go in when I’ve finished this.”
Luke seemed ... Andy wasn’t sure what…easy to talk to maybe. He had changed his mind; he no longer wanted to be alone. Taking off his combat jacket, he wordlessly laid the heavy coat over Luke’s shoulders.
“Thanks. It’s loads too big, but it’s nice and warm.”
“But what about you? You’ll get cold now.”
“I don’t feel the cold.”
“You’re lucky. Mam used to say I had thin blood ‘cause I’d always sit closest to the fire.”
“Yeah.” Andy knew he wasn’t holding up his end of things. Since the ambush, he’d never been one to initiate conversations. The other person had to do all the work. Most gave up and left him alone. Usually that suited him, but here, now, he didn’t know why, but he wanted the kid to stick around. “You do many of these, uh --” he didn’t know how to finish his question. He didn’t want Luke to think he was a dirty old man who wanted to perv on him.
“Sometimes. Roger, my boyfriend, thinks they’re good publicity.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” There was a long silence. Andy scrabbled around for something else to say, something to keep the conversation going. The kid’s cigarette was burning down.
“So, you in the army?”
“Not any more. Was in Helmand. Got injured and was invalided out.”
“I’m sorry.” Luke really did sound as though he meant it. Most people didn’t understand and didn’t even try to.
“Thanks. Now I run my uncle’s pig farm.” Andy could have kicked himself. Luke wouldn’t be interested in pigs.
“Really? I remember reading somewhere that they’re actually quite clean animals; it’s just that people often keep them in dirty conditions.”
Andy felt himself smiling as he warmed to one of his favourite themes. “My pigs have a raised platform in their pens where I give them plenty of straw to bed down in and play with. The sunken part of the pen is where they do their business. They’re good at keeping the two separate. It also makes cleaning up after them a lot easier. Though during good weather they spend most of their time outside in a big fenced-off yard.”
“That sounds so much better than battery farming. Sorry, I know hens can be battery farmed. I don’t know the first thing about pigs, though.”
Andy became increasingly animated, Luke seeming genuinely interested. He told him how he didn’t use hormones to artificially boost the pigs growth. In fact he had just been awarded organic status. He explained that he only had fifty sows but because they were rare breeds and they were raised partially outside, their meat was of higher quality and commanded a premium at the butcher. “Though having said that, I don’t make much of a profit. I’m not really in it for the money.”
“Oh? They’re sort of a hobby for you, then?”
“Exactly.” Andy nodded. “I can live off my army pension. The pigs just give me something to do.”
“Uh huh. Do you give them names? Sorry, that’s a stupid question.”
“It’s all right. No, not really. They have a number tag in their ear. But one or two, I ... Andy felt himself blush. He had never admitted to anyone that he had a soft spot for a couple of his pigs and had names for them, would give them extra attention, even sit and talk to them.
“That’s so cool.”
Andy was surprised Luke didn’t think he was a sentimental old fool. Or at least he did a good job of hiding it.
“I’d love to come see your pigs sometime.”
Andy nodded. He knew Luke was only being friendly and didn’t actually mean what he said. Someone as beautiful as Luke would be completely out of place in his pig sheds. “You’d probably not like it. The smell, the --”
“There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you,” a whiny nasal voice said as its owner grew near. “What the hell you doing out here? It’s effing freezing.”
“Roger, I --”
“Come on, you promised we could go clubbing after you did your charity-kiss gig. And I want to go.”
“Just a minute, I --”
“But, Lukie --”
The newcomer, Roger, was thin, tall, all knees and elbows. He latched himself onto Luke and was pulling him away, oblivious to Luke’s unwillingness to go. Andy hated Roger instantly.
“Just a minute!” Luke said, trying to disentangle himself. To Andy he said, “Been nice talking to you. I --”
“Come on. We’re missing all the fun.”
“It’s all right,” Andy waved a hand to dismiss Luke’s apology. The pleasant feelings of a few moments earlier had dissipated completely. Now he just wanted to get away, be with his thoughts. Turning on his heel, he limped back to the car park and his van. His right knee was aching, a sure sign rain was on the way.