Dylan’s life as a gay man in 1960s England is careful and secretive; the law regarding homosexuality has changed, but society’s attitudes are slow to catch up. Meeting Max - younger and less inhibited - is a vividly colourful shock to Dylan’s system. But Max is an artist, talented and ambitious, and there’s no way someone as ordinary as Dylan can hold on to him for long ... is there?
Whenever the weather allowed, Dylan went outside during his lunch break to eat his sandwiches on a bench in the public garden. This was a lovely day in April and even a city like Kinbridge, a place with little beauty to boast about, looked almost attractive when he stepped out of the office building.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned his head to see it was the new colleague.
“Do you mind if I walk with you? I don’t want to intrude if you want to be left alone, but I’m new in this part of town and so I thought…”
“Of course you’re welcome to stroll along. I’m going to the garden round the corner. You’d be surprised how few people actually visit it this time of the day.”
“Nothing wrong with a bit of peace and quiet.”READ MORE
“You said you wanted to go to art school, so I assume you like looking at nice things?” Dylan asked while he and Max walked towards the garden. He wasn’t used to making conversation, but at least he tried.
“Who doesn’t? But art is about so much more. It’s about really looking at things, at people, at least for me it is, and then somehow transform it to something more than the sum of its parts.” Max looked at him.
“You’ve got a point there,” Dylan admitted, quickly looking for an escape from those observing blue eyes. “There’s a bench, under the cherry tree. We can have lunch there.” He had to admit, this particular public garden wasn’t a prime example of botanical splendour, but the daffodils and tulips looked attractive enough between the stern stone buildings. He also rather liked the antique lamp-standard next to the bench.
It wasn’t until he had poured out his first cup of tea from his Thermos and unwrapped the ham sandwich that Dylan realised Max didn’t seem to have brought anything with him.
“I forgot. My last job was at a bakery, so you understand…”
“I can offer you some of mine. You like ham?” Before Max was able to protest, Dylan had divided the sandwich in half. “Eat! A young man needs his energy. There’s a small shop that sells sandwiches, meat pies and such, five minutes away, but I can’t really recommend them. Just about everyone at Lamarr’s bring their own lunch and eat them at their desk.”
“Then all the more thanks for the offer. To be honest, I could do with a bit of food.”
“If you drink at this side of the cup, you’re welcome to the tea.”
“Strong, with sugar and milk?”
They ate and drank in companionable silence. Dylan knew he shouldn’t make a habit out of this. Friendship made him vulnerable, easier to read. One smile too many and he became an open book. He guessed he shouldn’t be too worried that Max would lunch with him after today, not with a room full of young and attractive, not to forget single, women who wouldn’t be blind to the charms of a man their own age.
A man definitely easy on the eye. Still, it wasn’t on the plump lips, the high cheekbones or even the striking blueness of Max’s eyes that Dylan’s gaze rested, but on the tiny scar just above the right corner of his mouth. Such a sweet little detail…
Dylan shook his head as if to chase away the dangerous thoughts.
“Is there anything wrong? I understand if you prefer to lunch alone, if that’s what you’re used to.” Max stood up and sat down again as if he was in doubt what to do. “I mean…”
“I was just thinking about… that I hadn’t planned on buying groceries today, but I’m short on tea.”
“No wife to cook for you? Sorry for asking, but at your age most men seem to be married. Sorry, it’s none of my business.” Max stumbled through his words.
“That’s okay. No, I’m not married. I was almost engaged when I was about your age, but well, life turned out differently.” He shouldn’t talk about things like this, innocent as they sounded, but he found himself doing it anyway.
“I share a flat with two other blokes and it’s always a guess if the tea and sugar are gone just when you could do with a cuppa and don’t feel like going out.”
“I bet half of the time you end up putting on your shoes and coat to get the groceries.” Dylan laughed.
“You sound like you have experience with this sort of thing. You had room-mates once?”
“I didn’t start out earning enough to be able to afford a space of my own. I have a nice little place now in a decent neighbourhood. It’s certainly not Hollycroft, but I’m glad to say it’s also not Tanners Hill.”
“I want to draw them both, Hollycroft and Tanners Hill, and places like them. The houses and the people, all of it. I need to see it all and understand what I’m seeing through my art.” Max started to laugh. “I must bore you with my artsy talk.”
Dylan didn’t need to think about his reaction. “No, you don’t. In fact, I’m getting curious about your work.”
“Really? I still have to learn a lot, mind you, but if you care to see a couple of the ones I consider kind of okay, then you can.”
Dylan could have drowned in the wide-open radiant smile that graced Max’s face. If moments of perfect beauty were even possible, then this was one of them.
Max stretched out his hand and very quickly brushed over Dylan’s chin with one finger. “A few crumbs…”
Dylan couldn’t believe the touch had actually happened, because no one ever touched him quite like that, so he knew nothing better to do than to put his Thermos away in his bag and stand up. “It’s time to go back to work, or the boss won’t be happy.”COLLAPSE
"OMG! This was beautiful! Absolutely exquisite! I’m so happy I stumbled across this little gem of a book."
Length: 40,000 words/150 pages