Fabian Black: Hope House - Sample Chapters




Hope House - Copyright Fabian Black 2017. Registered at Copyright House.


Chapter One



“Come on, Christopher, don’t hang back.” Gordon smiled encouragingly at the dark haired young man who had finally been persuaded to leave his room for the first time since arriving at Hope House the day before. “Let’s get this over with. You have to meet your housemates sooner or later. You might as well do it while everyone is in one place.”

“Why?” Chris Emett scowled at the door, which had a dog-eared sign ‘meeting in progress’ hanging on it. He thrust his hands deep in the pockets of his holey through lack of funds rather than fashion statement jeans. “I’d rather go back to my cell.”

“Room, Chris, not a cell, this isn’t a prison.”

“Can I leave any time I want to, like right now?”

“I’ll give you the answer you already know, just so you’re clear. When you’ve proven you’re ready and willing to resume control of your life in a responsible and acceptable way, then you can leave.”

“In other words I’m a prisoner here until YOU say I can leave.” Pulling his hands from his pockets Chris turned away from the door and strode back up the generous hall, aiming for the stairs, only Gordon got there before him, as if he were practiced in overtaking reluctant houseguests.

“Enough. You have to get to know us sometime and this is as good a time as any. We often have an informal get together at this time of day, so we can talk about anything that might have upset or worried us during the course of the day.”

“I don’t need group therapy.”

“It isn’t group therapy. It’s a chance for you to get to know people.”

“I don’t want to get to know people. I hate people.”

“I know this is daunting for you, Christopher, all new experiences are, but the sooner you embrace them the easier they become.”

“I don’t want to embrace anything in this dump.”

“Hope House isn’t a dump.”

“Well it isn’t exactly a luxury hotel.”

“Neither is prison, Chris. You made the choice to come here. No one twisted your arm.”

“I can change my mind.”

“Too late.” Gordon examined the boy, not without sympathy. “The decision was made and you will abide by it. We can help you here, if you let us.”

“Maybe I don’t want help.”

“Tough.” Gordon lost patience. Taking a firm hold of Chris’s arm, and ignoring his protests, he steered the boy back down the hall towards the room where the meeting was being held. Thrusting the door open he pushed Chris inside and closed the door behind them. “Take a seat. Make yourself at home.”

Chris considered trying to shove the big man aside, but catching a look from his ice blue eyes, decided against it. There was something forbidding about Gordon Trapp. He dropped his gaze and turned away from the door, facing into the room, which was furnished with an eclectic range of chairs and sofas. Christ. He flinched, as four pairs of eyes inspected him with interest.

Gordon made a general introduction. “This is Christopher, our new resident, make him welcome.”

There was a mumble of greetings, which Chris ignored. He walked over to the large bay window. He might not be able to leave the room, but no way was he going to sit and make small talk with a bunch of weirdo’s. It was like tales from the fucking crypt!  How had he ended up here? Folding his arms he stared out of the window at the rapidly darkening garden.

“Chris.” Gordon spoke in a firm voice. “Sit down please, you’re distracting everyone by standing there.”

Chris didn’t respond, keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the window, determined to do things his own way, only, he felt a sudden stir of fear as the outside light faded and the window became a dark mirror reflecting the room behind him. His skin prickled as he caught a slight movement from the corner of his eye, a shadow forming.
Gordon watched the colour fade from the young man’s face. Striding quickly towards to the window he dropped the blinds and drew the heavy velvet curtains together. Taking Chris by the shoulders he propelled him across the room, pushing him onto a chair. “Sit there, boy, before I lose all patience with you.”

Sliding from the chair, Chris sat cross-legged on the floor.

Gordon decided to call it a compromise. “Would you care to tell us what you found so interesting out there in the garden, Christopher?”

Chris gave a caustic smile. “Would you care to tell me why you think it’s any of your damn business?”

“Later then.” Gordon ignored the provocative tone of voice. “Let me introduce everyone.”

“My fellow prisoners you mean?”

Gordon smoothly carried on, holding out his hand towards the young man nearest to him, a gangly figure with uncommonly large brown eyes. “This is Nigel.”

Chris swallowed as Nigel gazed at him intently. The gaze was bad enough, but the babble of words accompanying it was infinitely worse.

“I like gardens, don’t I, Gordon? I’m not much good at gardening though. I get the flowers mixed up with the weeds and I don’t like worms. Are you good at gardening, Chris, is that why you were looking out of the window? I wish I were good at gardening. If you are good at gardening can I watch you while you garden? I won't get in your way. Gordon lets me watch him while he’s gardening don’t you, Gordon?”

“I ain’t no fucking gardener,” spat Chris, embarrassed by the long-winded spiel, “so shut up, you freak!” His discomfort doubled when the brown-eyed young man shot from his seat and lumbered towards Gordon, arms outstretched.

“He didn’t mean to upset you, Nigel, so there’s no need to cry.” Gordon wrapped comforting arms around the figure, while fixing Chris with a cold look. “We don’t upset each other here, Christopher. We certainly don't call each other hurtful names. Mutual respect is the house policy. Please apologise to Nigel.”

“What the fuck for?” Chris started to his feet. “I’m not apologising for not liking fucking gardening!”

“I’m not asking you to apologise for disliking gardening. I’m asking you to apologise for upsetting Nigel, and may I remind you that swearing is against the house rules. I don't want my ears suffering a constant barrage of foul language.”

“Jesus H Christ!” Chris blew out his cheeks. “Sorry, okay I’m sorry.”

Nigel’s tears magically dried up and he gave an engaging smile. “Does that mean I can watch you when you garden?”

“I suppose so.” Chris ground the words from between gritted teeth, conscious of Gordon’s eyes on him. He felt hysteria rising. What the hell had he come to?

“Can I have a hug?” Nigel turned from Gordon and lunged for Chris.

“Bugger off!” Chris backed away, revulsion written large on his face.

Nigel produced fresh wails. “He doesn’t like me. Why doesn’t he like me, Gordon? I just want to be his friend. Tell Paul to stop laughing. He’s laughing because he doesn’t like me either. Why doesn’t anyone ever like me?”

“Because you're annoying and you get on everyone’s wick.”

“That's enough, Paul.” Gordon gave the giggling teenager a stern look, while comforting Nigel afresh.

“I like you, Nigel,” said a man with pale skin and short blonde hair who sat rocking backwards and forwards on the edge of his seat, a bamboo wastepaper basket clutched tightly to his chest.

“Thank you, James. I like you too.”  Nigel broke away from Gordon and hurled himself at James, who let out a thin high-pitched squeal of distress as his paper basket was crushed in Nigel’s ensuing clumsy embrace.

“You’ve squashed my mother, Nigel! I don’t like you any more. You can’t go around squashing other people’s mothers.”

“Welcome to Hell House, man.” Paul grinned sadistically at Chris who was staring in fascinated horror as James tried to evict Nigel from his knee. “If you aren’t already barking mental, you will be after a few weeks here. It makes Bedlam seem like an oasis of sanity.”

“Be quiet, Paul, you’re not helping anyone by saying things like that.”

“I’m only telling the truth.”

“I said be quiet.” Gordon rubbed a forefinger against his temple. It was going to be one of those sessions. Maybe it was time to ditch them? They seemed to hike up stress more often than they reduced it, or maybe he was just in the wrong frame of mind. He silently cursed his partner Nat for insisting on attending a conference when they had a new resident to cope with. It wasn’t the best of times to jump ship, not with Nigel still unsettled after a visit by his parents. Wretched people. They had turned up out of the blue after a year without so much as a postcard, undoing in an hour the slow painstaking progress of an entire year. The visit had sent Nigel crashing back into fretful mode. He had been difficult to cope with ever since, demanding attention and constant reassurance.
Pushing aside his weariness, Gordon took Nigel by the hand and led him back to his chair, uttering reassurances. “James doesn’t hate you, Nigel, not at all.”

“I do.”

“No, James, you don’t.”

“My mother does, she said so, just now, after he squashed her, great lump he is.”

“She said nothing of the sort. Really, James, it isn’t like you to be so unkind. Besides, we both know your mother is not in that wastepaper basket.”

“She is. I can hear her.”

“No, James, you can’t,” said Gordon firmly. “Your mother is dead, she is not in the basket, so put it back in the corner where it belongs. I mean it, James, are you listening to me, put the basket back, right now.”

When calm and the battered wastepaper basket were restored, Gordon took a deep breath and glanced around at the small group. Nigel had fished a red jelly baby from his pocket and was peaceably engaged in de-fluffing it, his tongue slightly poking out as he concentrated on the task. Jelly babies were his favourite sweets. He insisted on taking the wretched things out of their wrapping and putting them in his pockets naked, so to speak. It was no wonder they got covered in fluff. They were barely edible after being confined with coins and tissues and whatever other rubbish Nigel filled his pockets with.

James was rocking gently back and forth on the edge of his seat, his lips moving in silent conversation. “Stay with us, James.” Gordon touched a soothing hand to his pale cheek, receiving a small distant smile in return.

Paul was still grinning like a Cheshire cat, delighted as ever by chaos. The grin diminished a little when Gordon fixed him with a cold look. He would have verbally remonstrated with him, had not a slight snivelling alerted him to the distress of another resident - a teenage girl whose thin face was grotesquely at odds with her bulky body. She huddled on her chair, twisting a strand of lustreless, mousy hair around her finger in tearful agitation.
“What’s the matter, Anna?”

“I’m too hot. I feel sick.”

Before Gordon could comment, Paul jumped in with characteristic subtlety. “Take your coat off then, you barmy cow.”

Gordon frowned. Paul always had to bait and provoke, especially where Anna was concerned. He spoke sharply. “Apologise to Anna for that remark at once. It was uncalled for.”

“Just saying. She’s got four jumpers on under her coat. It’s a wonder she doesn’t have heatstroke.”

“How do you know how many jumpers I’ve got on?” Anna leapt to her feet, her face flushed with temper as well as heat. “Have you been spying on me again? You spotty little pervert!”

“Why would I want to spy on a skeleton?”  Paul also leapt to his feet. “You’ve got nothing worth spying on. A flat fish has bigger tits than you.”

“You have, you have been spying on me, and I’m not a skeleton, you pustuled creep.”

“That’s enough. Both of you.” Gordon made an effort to intervene, to no avail. The two teenagers were like a couple of alley cats squared up for a fight, oblivious to anyone but each other.

“Bony bitch! It’s about time you started eating something. No wonder you give off such bad vibes.”

“Vibes? What are you on about? You’re such a retro geek.” Anna whipped off her gloves and savagely hurled them at Paul. “Pick the vibes out of them, sad sack.”

Paul snatched the gloves up and waved them under her nose. “Are you offering me out? Throwing down the gauntlet?  What’s it to be, lettuce leaves at dawn?”

Gordon suddenly brought his large hands together producing a sound like a thunderclap. It did the trick. The alley cats stopped hissing and spitting. “Thank you.” He wagged a finger between them. “Take a deep breath and think about what ego state you’re operating from right now?” 

Nigel stopped cleaning his jelly baby and shot an arm into the air, waving it frantically. “Oh, I know, I do, I know this, Gordon. Ask me, ask me.”

Paul made a rude noise, snorting.  “I know what ego state she’s in, prize bitch ego state, same as usual.”

“No.” Nigel shook his head. “That’s wrong, isn’t it, Gordon? It’s all wrong.”

“You could invent ego states of your own,” hissed Anna, beads of sweat trickling down her face as both her temper and temperature rose. “Moron, adapted moron, and total frigging moron.”

“Wrong, wrong.” Nigel bounced up and down in his seat. “They’re not real ego states. Ask me, Gordon. Ask me. I know what ego state Anna and Paul are in.”

Paul and Anna turned from glaring at each other to glare at him. “SHUT UP, NIGEL!”

Nigel once again dissolved into tears. “Don’t shout. I don’t like being shouted at. It hurts my head.” Discarding the jelly baby he got to his feet.

“You’re upsetting mother,” James began rocking more frantically. He pointed to the wastebasket he’d been made to put back in the corner. “You’re upsetting my mother. She’s saying her rosary now.”

“Now look what you’ve done you bad tempered sow. You’ve upset James’s mother.”

“You started it, pig face, and give me my gloves back.”

Gordon groaned as the room erupted into frenzied chaos with Nigel crying and trying to cling to him while Paul and Anna shrieked and all but punched each other.  It was all too much for the new arrival.

“Fucking Hell. It’s a fucking lunatic asylum. I’m not staying here. You’re all raving nutters!” Chris rocketed to his feet and ran for the door.

Gordon managed to disentangle himself from Nigel in time to prevent Chris from leaving the room. Thrusting him back towards the circle of chairs, he barked. “SIT down, Christopher. I don’t want to hear another profanity cross your lips for the remainder of this meeting.” He divided a glare between the warring teenagers. “The same goes for you two. I will wash your mouths out if I hear one more dirty word.”

He then pointed a stern finger at Nigel. “Stop wailing at once or I won’t allow you to watch Blue Peter tomorrow.” The noise shut off at once. Blue Peter was Nigel’s favourite magazine programme and they were doing a special feature on ‘The Sound of Music,’ Nigel’s favourite film. He’d had the programme ringed in the Radio Times for days past.

Gordon turned his attentions back to Anna. “Take your coat off, young lady, and at least two sweaters before you faint and then take yourself off to your room. You can have an early night. I’ll be discussing your behaviour with Nathaniel when he gets back.”

Anna complied with the instruction, muttering and mumbling all the while. She looked decidedly more in proportion as she removed her thick coat and peeled off two heavy knit sweaters, dropping them on her chair before storming from the room.

“Good riddance, skinny chick.” Paul used both hands to deliver a double V sign to her parting back.

Gordon wiped the gleeful look from his mischievous pixie face with a curt command. “Go to my study, Paul. Find yourself a corner and stand in it. I’ll deal with you presently.”

“That’s SO unfair. She started it. Why do you always pick on me?”

Gordon pointed to the door. “Go, or shall I take you there?”

“I’m going.” Paul stalked out of the room.

Gordon closed the door behind him, took a deep breath and smiled at the three surviving members of the meeting. Chris, huddled on the floor, was gazing anxiously around, his eyes never quite resting anywhere. Gordon felt a twinge of pity for him. He was being given a baptism of fire. Clearing his throat he spoke with an air of forced cheerfulness. “You’re not seeing us at our best today, Christopher. Don’t worry about it, we....”
Yells and shouts from the hall followed by an almighty crash stopped him mid-sentence.

“Nobody move.” Gordon strode across the room, his face grim. “I’ll be back in two shakes.” He opened the door and closed it behind him again. It did nothing to keep out sounds of the fracas in the hall.

Anna’s voice shrilled an accusation. “He smashed it.”

“You skinny witch! It was your fault for ducking.”

“You could have killed me, you knob head!”

“That’s enough, Anna. What part of go to your room didn’t you understand?”

A thunder of feet on the stairs and the slamming of an upstairs door were followed by the more conservative opening and closing of a door further along the hall. There was a blessed silence.
In the meeting room, Chris swallowed uneasily as Nigel and James stared at him with rapt attention.
“Paul’s naughty,” said Nigel, and plucked another jelly baby from his pocket, examining it.
James nodded agreement while eyeing the wastepaper basket he’d been made to return to the corner.
Nigel added. “I think Gordon might spank him.”

The bizarre statement was too much for the newcomer. Getting to his feet he began edging towards the door.

“Gordon said not to move.” James forced his eyes away from the wastepaper basket to look at Chris.

“Fuck, Gordon. I’m getting out of this nut house. I’d rather sleep in a piss soaked shop doorway than stay with this freak show.”  Chris dashed out into the hall, colliding with a visibly upset Paul who was heading for the stairs.

“Watch where you’re going, you idiot.”

Chris didn’t bother retaliating. He bolted for the door with only one thought on his mind. Escape. Flinging it open, he rocked back on his heels with a scream of shock, as a blue-eyed apparition materialised in front of him with a taunting smile. It had followed him.

“Well.” Nathaniel Andrews stepped over the threshold, set down his suitcase, and stared at the prone figure at his feet. “Have I overdone the Lynx body spray perchance? I don’t usually have such a dramatic effect on people.” He looked at Gordon who had emerged from the study into the hall. “This is our new resident I take it?”

Gordon nodded. Effortlessly scooping Chris up into his arms he began walking up the stairs. “I’ll take him to his room and see to him. The poor boy is thoroughly overwrought.” He glanced back over his shoulder. “Welcome home by the way. I’ve missed you.”

“Thanks. I’ve missed you too.” Nat smiled and then glanced at Paul who was still hovering tearfully in the hall. Pulling down the corners of his mouth, he said, “oh dear. Trouble?”

Paul nodded miserably. “It’s not fair, Nat, he always...”

“Room, Paul.”

Paul glared at Gordon’s back. “See what I mean. It was Anna's fault, Nat, she provoked me, but I'm the one who gets the bother.”

A dramatic high-pitched scream prevented further discussion.

“MURDERER!”

“Sounds like I’m needed.” Nathaniel gave the unhappy youth a quick hug. “Off you go, Paul. I’ll come up and have a chat with you later.” He winced as the shouts reached a new pitch. James had obviously forgotten, again.
After flinging his jacket over the end of the banister, Nat   hastened in the direction of the screams, murmuring, “and to think I was looking forward to getting home. Why the hell didn’t I flee the country? I could have been on a beach in Barbados by now eying up the talent.”

The scene in the sitting room was one he’d encountered many times with a puzzled James and an outraged Nigel.

“He killed my jelly baby. He bit off its head.”

“You gave it to me.”

“Not to kill.”

“Calm down, Nigel. It's only a sweet. I’m sure you have plenty more.”

“I want that one back. I loved that jelly baby. It was my friend.”

“He gave it to me, Nat, he did.”

“I know, James, don’t worry about it. Only do TRY to remember not to eat it next time. He only gives you them to look at. You should know that by now.”

“He’s silly, mother says so.”

“Yes, well, we’re all silly at times.”

Taking the dismembered jelly baby from James, Nat dropped it in the wastepaper basket, ignoring scandalised looks from both him and Nigel. Taking each of them firmly by the hand he said, “come on you two. It looks like poor Gordon has his hands full right now, so you can help me make a bite of supper. I’m starving.”

*

“What’s he like then, our new boy, when he’s conscious?” Nat opened the wardrobe door in order to inspect his face in the mirror on the back of it. He fingered his unshaven chin and then turned to look at Gordon, who was sprawled on their big bed. “I'm thinking of growing a beard, designer stubble style, what do you think?”

“I think you can shave in the morning. As for Chris, he’s like all our charges, something troubles him up here,” Gordon touched a hand to his head and then to his chest in the vicinity of his heart, “and in here. He's prickly, defensive, angry and frightened, oh, and foul-mouthed too. He could give you a run for your money in the effing and blinding stakes.”

“Sounds like an average Hope House sort of person then.”

“Yep, he’ll fit right in.”

“Have you really missed me?”

“No. I’m lying here naked on the off chance an artist looking for a subject is going to pass by?”

“Sarcasm does not become you, Gordon.”

“Then shut up, my darling. Lock the door and come to bed. I want you.”
 





Chapter Two


“You do love me don’t you, Gord?”

“Repeat the question in an appropriate way and I might answer.”

“You do love me don’t you, Gordon?” Nat did as bidden, giving his partner his full and proper name. He had never liked his name being shortened, dismissing Nat’s claim it was affection rather than ‘a cheeky challenge to authority’ that prompted it.

“There’s still a hint of attitude there, but we’ll let it pass for now. And, in response to your question, how can you even ask after what we’ve just done, you daft man?”

“Well, I don’t usually find myself naked and face down over your knee after a passionate lovemaking session.” Nat injected a pout into his voice. “As foreplay goes this is a bit on the late side and, just so you know, it isn’t turning me on, not one bit.”

“It isn’t meant to, my poppet. This isn’t play. My lust has been sated and my seed expended and now there’s other business to attend to.”

“Can’t it wait until morning? What is it anyway? Did I misspell an item on the grocery list I left before I went away? Do you want me to attend a Spelling Bee as punishment?”

“Don’t be flippant, and no it can’t wait until morning,” said Gordon crisply. “Unless you can give me a good, a very good, explanation for the smell I finally traced to a plastic bag in the bottom of our wardrobe, and the contents therein, I’m going to tan your backside until it resembles a morello cherry in colour.”

Resisting an urge to ask if it would count as one of his daily dietary essentials, Nat closed his eyes, silently cursing himself for not having removed the bag prior to going away. Damn. He’d meant to do it on more than one occasion and it had always slipped his mind. It made him wonder if he was getting early onset dementia. It would be just his luck to lose his marbles before he’d finished playing with them, and trust Gordon to turn sniffer dog. He launched a distraction attempt. “Five days I’ve been away, five days at a boring conference,” he gave a calculated pause, “raising money for Hope House and this is all the thanks I get - a threat of actual bodily harm. And you claim to love me. Shame on you.”

“Money?” Gordon’s hand paused in its upward flight.

Nathaniel gave a smug smile, and then yelped as the hand descended. “OW!”

“Keep the noise down if you please. It’s late. I don’t want you disturbing everyone. It’s been a long enough day as it is.”

“Well don’t wallop me then, that’s the simple solution.”

“I’m very cross with you.”

“No you’re not. If you were really cross you’d have taken me down to the torture dungeon by now.”

“Laundry room, Nat, not a torture dungeon. We don’t go down there to engage in BDSM play.” Gordon rubbed the red mark he’d just imprinted on his partner's bottom. “I haven’t ruled out a trip.”

“Don’t kid yourself. Now, if you’ve finished playing head of house macho man, kindly let me up. I’ve still got my case to unpack. There are socks in there that could pose a threat to the community if not carefully handled and conveyed to a secure unit. It would have been done by now if you hadn’t waylaid me with your insatiable lust. Anyone would think you’d been starved of sex for a decade rather than five days.”

“The case can wait until morning.” Hauling Nathaniel off his lap Gordon grasped him around the waist and lay back on the bed pulling him on top of him. “Tell me about the cash, you wonderful man.”

Nathaniel smiled. “I took the opportunity to do some fund raising while I was at the conference. It relieved the tedium. Some of the speakers droned on for hours. It’s no wonder the hotel bar was packed every day. I suspect the hotel management of paying some of the speakers a rambling increment to drive custom to the bar. Still, it was all to the good. Alcohol loosens the purse strings as well as the tongue. I got some good donations too, enough to cover the repairs to the roof without us dipping too deep into savings. Winter is coming on and I don’t fancy indoor snow showers.”

“Thank you.” Gordon kissed Nathaniel’s forehead.

“This place means as much to me as it does to you, Gordon.”

“I know it does. Now tell me about the goldfish I found mouldering in the wardrobe.”

Nat sighed. Clearly his distraction technique needed brushing up on. “Promise you won’t be cross.”

“No.”

“Promise you won’t discipline me then.”

“No.”

“Gordon!”

 “Start talking or I'll start spanking. I want an explanation.”

“I didn’t want Nigel to be upset.” Nat shrugged, as if that explained it all.

“And?”

“You always claim to be able to read me like a book, if that’s the case how come I have to do so much talking? What am I, an audio book?”

Gordon injected a certain tone into his voice. “Skip the cheek and start the chat or my hand and your backside are going to collide.”

“Well, it was like this...”

…Gordon propped himself up on an elbow, gazing in disbelief at Nathaniel. “Let me get this straight. You’ve been stockpiling dead goldfish in the bottom of our wardrobe for three months because you didn’t want Nigel to be upset because they’d died. He thinks the goldfish currently swimming around the tank downstairs is the same one he won at the summer fete in July?”

Nathaniel nodded, avoiding Gordon’s eyes, which had a shark like chill to them. He could challenge a Great White to a staring contest and win.

“When in fact it is goldfish number - what?”

“I’ve already told you, weren’t you listening?”

“Humour me, darling, tell me again. I want to be sure I heard it right.”

Nathaniel swallowed and then said the number, trying to sound casual. “Ten.”

“Ten.” Gordon kept his gaze firmly fixed on Nathaniel. “Quite a fishy mortality rate we have around here. So, there are nine very dead, very smelly, disgustingly mouldy goldfish residing in a plastic bag in our wardrobe.”
Nathaniel nodded, blushing slightly. He knew what was coming next.

“Why? Why put them in the wardrobe, Nathaniel? Even by your standards it’s slightly eccentric. The wardrobes around here come mainly from Ikea, not Narnia, none of them have magical powers of resurrection.”

“Ours came from a charity shop, actually.” Nathaniel pulled a face. “And I didn’t intend to put them there, Gordon. I’m not completely without sense. I tried to flush the first one that died down the toilet, but it kept bobbing back up and then I heard Nigel coming upstairs. He wanted the loo. I thought he’d have a screaming fit if he saw his pet floating in the toilet. I panicked and put it in my pocket. It was a perfectly logical thing to do in the circumstances.”

“It still doesn’t explain how it ended up in the bottom of our wardrobe with eight comrades stacked on top of it.”  
“I’m getting there. Give me a chance. Let me speak. I couldn’t very well leave it in my pocket. So I went into the bedroom and put it in the waste bin, and then I heard Nigel heading for our room. He’s like a bloodhound the way he follows me around as if I have aniseed balls in my pocket. I panicked again. I pulled the bin liner out and shoved it in the bottom of the wardrobe.  I meant to move it as soon as I could, but I forgot and a few days later the second one died so I put it in the bag with the first one and…”

“Enough,” Gordon raised a weary hand. “I can see the pattern emerging. Honestly, Nat. It’s a wonder we haven’t had the RSPCA beating down our door demanding an explanation. It’s like an aquatic Rillington Place.” He gave Nat a stern look. “I assume Nigel had something to do with the deaths?”

“I’m afraid so.” Nat nodded sad confirmation. “I keep telling him goldfish only need to be fed once a day, but he insists on feeding them every five minutes. The poor bloody things were in danger of exploding from obesity. I hid the fish food in the end, but then he started dropping bread and biscuits, even crisps into the tank. He put a tin of beans and a can opener in one day. And he insists on trying to cuddle and stroke them. The poor fish can’t take the stress and peg out in next to no time. He literally loves them to death. It’s costing me a fortune at the pet shop. I’m sure the owner thinks I’m eating the fucking things.”

“Language!” The reprimand was automatic.

“Sorry.” So was the response. He and Gordon had never been able to agree on casual day-to-day use of Anglo-Saxon vulgarities.

“Let’s cut to the chase.” Gordon sat up. “Why did you seek to conceal these tragic fish victims from me, because that’s what you were doing, wasn’t it? You were hiding them from me as much as from Nigel.”

Nat flushed more deeply, but remained silent.

“I’m waiting, Nathaniel.”

Nat grimaced. “You know what Nigel’s like. He gets so upset. He can’t bear you to be cross with him, and he was so happy about having a pet and looking after it.”

“That’s beside the point, and you know it.”

“Is it, are you sure?”

“Quite sure. For a start he’s hardly been looking after the creatures.” There was a touch of frost in Gordon’s voice, and a definite hint of winter in his eyes. “For heaven’s sake, Nat. I know wandering off-piste and swimming against the tide tends to be the norm around here, but having a shoal of goldfish wash up in the bottom of a wardrobe is just ridiculous. Would you agree?”

Nat nodded, while cursing himself yet again for not having disposed of the remains in a more conventional manner. He’d been too preoccupied with other things.

“The truth of the matter is simple. Nigel has to learn actions have consequences. Both you and I explained that goldfish need feeding only once a day and he was categorically told not to physically handle it. Covering up his actions and the outcome does not help the learning process. It teaches him nothing about responsibility. You should have come straight to me, not stashed dead fish in the bottom of the wardrobe. Really, Nathaniel, what on earth were you thinking? Just how long did you intend to keep on covering this up? Until the French fleet trawled in here and demanded to know why we were exceeding international fishing quotas?

“I don’t think even the French would squabble over a few goldfish.” Nathaniel scowled. Some homecoming this was turning out to be.

“A few? I don’t consider nine to be a few. I’m serious, Nathaniel. We’ve discussed this time and again. I know you act out of kindness, but it’s ultimately detrimental to Nigel’s progress. I know it often seems nonexistent where he’s concerned, but remember when he first came to us two years ago he wouldn’t even dress himself. Concealing the results of his behaviour only leads him to believe it’s all right to continue with it. Those poor wretched creatures needn’t have suffered an early demise if you’d presented the facts to me immediately.”

“Sorry.” Nathaniel tried to look soulful, but managed only sullen.

“You don’t hide things from me, Nathaniel, no matter how trivial you think they are. Is that perfectly clear, or do I need to follow up with an object lesson?”

“It’s clear. I apologise. I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry. All right?”

“All right.” Gordon relented, recognising the tearful note in his partner’s voice. “You’re tired, come on, let’s sleep.” He switched the bedside lamp off and lay down draping an arm around Nat, pulling him close. “You can sit Nigel down tomorrow and tell him you’re confiscating his goldfish because he’s disobeyed the rules regarding its welfare. You needn’t tell him about the deaths, it will serve no purpose, but you must make clear to him why you’re taking the course of action you’re taking.”

“Oh God, must I, can’t I just be on bathroom cleaning duties for the rest of my life?”

“No.” Gordon ignored the plaintive plea in his partner’s voice, but not without sympathy. Nigel in trauma was wearing on the nerves. It had to be done though. “You can jolly well suffer the consequences of your own misguided, irrational actions. I’ll sit in with you, but you’re doing the talking, and you can write me an article on the proper care of goldfish for the children’s section of the community magazine.”

“Why don’t you just fucking shoot me,” muttered Nat under his breath.

“Excuse me?”

“I said sleep well, my dear.”

“I don’t think you did, but we’ll let it go in respect of the hour.”

“Too kind I'm sure.”

“Do you want a visit to the laundry room, Nathaniel?”

“No.”  Nat gave in. “You’re right. I am tired. I didn't mean to be rude.”

“Go to sleep,” said Gordon more gently. “Come on, cuddle up. You're home now and safe. We’ll talk more tomorrow, when you’re properly rested.”
 





Chapter Three



The radio alarm clicked on at six-thirty, sending out a tune that worked its way into Nat’s sleepy mind, becoming part of the dream he’d been having. He opened his eyes, dispelling the dream, but not the song. Gerry Marsden continued to sing a warning. Don’t let the sun catch you crying, because night is the time for tears. If only that were true. In Nat’s experience, tears came at their own inconvenience, day or night.

“I think we can spare ten more minutes.” Gordon pulled away from Nat’s warmth and reached for the clock, intending to push the snooze button. He’d missed having Nat close by on waking and wanted to make the most of it.

“Don’t turn it off,” said Nat quietly.

“Why not?”

“It’s just I haven’t heard this song for years. I used to be able to play it on my guitar.”

“You probably still can. Maybe it’s time to reopen dialogue on…”

“No.” Nat cut his partner short. “You agreed. It’s my call, Gordon, and mine alone and I say no. That door is shut.”

“I punished you a long time ago for what happened. There’s no need for you to go on punishing yourself. It’s my role to discipline, not yours.”

“I know what your role is, Gordon, and I know mine. But you agreed on this issue. My call.”

“I regret my decision. I never imagined you’d take a lifelong sabbatical from something that gave you pleasure. I should have nipped it in the bud long ago.”

“But you won’t go back on your word?”

“I hope one day you will forgive yourself as completely as I’ve forgiven you, but no, I won’t force the issue. It would be counterproductive.”

“Thank you.” Nat fell silent for a few moments before posing a question. “Are we old, Gordon?”

“Judging from your performance last night, I’d say you had a good few years left in you yet.” Gordon kissed Nat’s cheek.

“I feel old.”

“For goodness sake, Nat, what is it with you and age lately? You’re forever harping on about it. I’m a few years ahead of you and I don’t think I’m old. I don’t even feel middle-aged. Don’t start with maudlin thoughts just because of a silly sentimental song from a decade long gone. I’ll have Paul’s head on a pole if he doesn’t stop re-tuning all the radios to these trashy stations. He does it to vex me.” Gordon leaned into the autumn morning darkness and smartly clicked the off button on the radio.

“You think anything not played by an orchestra or sung by a fat Italian is trashy, well pardon me for my plebeian tastes.”

Gordon was taken aback. “Watch your tone, Nathaniel or...”

“Or what?” interrupted Nathaniel, his voice unusually aggressive.

“Continue in this vein and you’ll find out.” Gordon put a warning hand on Nat's shoulder. “You’re obviously still tired. I told you a five day affair was too much for you, but you would insist.”

“One of us has to keep ahead of current trends and thinking in mental health and social care matters.”

“Mental well-being shouldn’t be subject to trends. It’s not a fashion statement.” Gordon gently kneaded Nat’s shoulder for a few moments, but there was no accompanying relaxation of the muscle under his hand. Nat was tense, very tense. He felt a stir of unease. Tension and aggression did not materialise form thin air. They had a root cause.

“What’s the matter? What’s on your mind? Did something happen when you were away?”

“Of course not,” snapped Nat. “I can interact with people without causing an incident you know.”

“I didn’t accuse you of causing an incident. I simply asked if anything had happened. Perhaps someone upset you?”

“I attended a polite conference, Gordon, not a rowdy football match. No one threatened to thump me at the pie stand or stab me in the corridor. No one upset me. I’m fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.” A whisper of suspicion sounded in Gordon’s mind. He gave it full voice. “Your mood seems volatile. Did you take your medication properly while you were away?”

“Yes of course I did.”

There was a defensive ring to the overly prompt answer, and the shoulder under his hand tensed further. “Good,” said Gordon evenly. “In that case you won’t mind if I check your pills. If you’ve missed so much as one dose I’ll be most annoyed.”

“Theoretically, how annoyed?”

“How many have you ‘theoretically’ missed?”

Turning over, Nat buried his face in Gordon’s broad chest, mumbling incoherently.

“Say that again in intelligible language.”

There was no reply. Gordon repeated the question more sharply. “How many pills did you miss?”

Rolling onto his back, Nat took a deep breath. “All of them,” he said casually.  “I couldn’t find them.”

The bedside lamp snapped on and Nat blinked in the sudden light.

“What was the last thing I said to you before you got in the car?” Gordon’s voice could have challenged a north wind to a chill factor contest and won.

“You asked if I had my tablets.”

“And what did you say?”

“I told you I had everything in order.”

“So you lied to me?”

“No, I didn’t lie. I thought I had everything in order, but,” his voice trailed off.

“But what?”

“I had them in my hand at one point, I’m sure of it. I thought I’d packed them, but when I unpacked at the hotel I couldn’t find them.”

“So it was too much trouble to telephone me to arrange for a prescription to be sent to you immediately? In fact I’d have driven one down to you.”

“Leaving Paul in charge I suppose. I don’t think so.”

“I’d have gotten Amy in, or brought them all with me in the minibus.”

“It would have been the day trip from hell. Besides, I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Rubbish! Absolute tosh!”

Nathaniel’s stomach twisted at the tone of Gordon’s voice. He was suddenly very conscious of his nudity.

“I want the truth of the matter right now.”

Nat uttered a silent prayer for Gordon to have mercy on his soul, and then made his confession. “It was an experiment if you must know, a spur of the moment thing. We’ve been talking about me coming off meds for ages. I thought it was as good a time as any to give it a shot. I’m sorry. Okay.”

“No, Nathaniel, it is not okay. It is very far from okay. You know how important it is to take medication regularly. You don’t just stop them dead, certainly not on the spur of the moment. They’re not sweets you can put down when you grow tired of them, and you know that better than anyone on both a personal and professional level, or did you fake passing your degree in mental health nursing?”

“Of course not.”

“Then don’t try and play me for a fool.”

Getting briskly out of bed, Gordon pulled on a pair of boxers and a shabby, once blue, but now grey bathrobe. Unlocking the drawer on his bedside cabinet he withdrew a horribly familiar object. He then issued a command using the paddle as a pointer. “Get up and put on your robe.”

“Gordon, please. Isn’t this an overreaction?”

“I don’t believe so.” Gordon walked across to the bedroom door, unlocking it. “Downstairs.”

Nathaniel stared at him like a mesmerised rabbit, but made no attempt to get out of bed.
“If absolutely necessary I’ll discipline you here in our room, regardless of who might hear.”

Nathaniel got up at once. Discipline in varying degrees was an aspect of life at Hope House, but it didn’t mean he wanted everyone to know he was subject to it more than anyone else. Foregoing underwear, it would be superfluous, he pulled on his robe, reluctantly padding in his partner’s wake, following him down to the laundry room in the basement of Hope House. It served as more than a place to launder linen, where Nat was concerned at least. It was the designated place for corporal punishment to be dispensed. Once the door was closed, any noise made therein was unlikely to travel to the rest of the house.

Clutching his robe tight about his body, Nat watched as Gordon removed a pile of dirty towels from a sturdy Ercol chair. After seating himself he placed the paddle on the floor beside the chair and then patted his thigh, issuing a stern instruction.

“Robe off. Bend over my knee.”

Nat flushed, so it was to be nude chastisement, the most humiliating kind, intended to highlight their respective roles. Gordon, fully clothed, was confirming his status as alpha male. Slipping off his robe, Nat obediently lowered himself over Gordon’s broad lap, awkwardly arranging his semi-erect cock so it was less likely to be squashed, not that the erection would last long, not once the spanking got properly underway.

Even after all these years, Nat still experienced gut-churning anxiety at the prospect of submitting to physical punishment. Spanking as a form of discipline happened less these days, but the key questions remained unaltered by time. How long would it last and how much would it hurt? Questions soon to be answered.

Gordon’s left arm hooked around his body and Nat closed his eyes, drew in a breath and held it, expelling it only when Gordon’s right hand struck the centre of his bare buttocks for the first time. Jesus! His body juddered and he forced back a profanity, his eyes watering at the power of the smack. It was going to be bad.

Disclaimer

No real life human people or goldfish were hurt during the writing of this story.