by Minty Fresh
The TV shone an austere, penetrating blue glare across the twilight of the bedroom. The smartly dressed talking heads spoke with earnest, serious faces as they discussed the issues laid out before them. Louis Bradshaw lay comfortably across his immense silk covered bed and listened quietly. Normally he would never watch something like this; a political discussion show, but whilst channel-hopping, something had grabbed his interest. The current speaker, described as a feminist and neo-conservative guru, continued: "…it's no mystery why this is happening. Marriage has never been a partnership of equals. It has always consisted of a breadwinner and a housewife. Why should an independent and enterprising woman give way to her husband simply because he happens to be born a man? And why should a man, born into poverty, be denied the chance of a better life because of some outdated gender role? Given the choice between starvation and wearing a dress, what would you do? Gender, like everything else, should be determined by the rules of the market…"
Louis sighed and turned the television off. He was sick of hearing about poverty and "The second dustbowl." He fiddled with his pale blue baby-doll nightie a moment, then reached for the latest issue of Vogue. The magazine now ran a section catering for male wives like himself. Reading their tips for concealing your bulge in a tight dress, he mulled over the wonderful day he'd had. So exciting! Contentedly, he lay there on his front, wriggling his legs in the air. He thought of his friends and decided, suddenly, to tell them about it. He'd do it tomorrow. And who knows, maybe they'll have something to tell him…
The café stood on the corner of a leafy suburban street full of large, modern houses. The sun shone its habitual bright, Californian glaze onto the white fronted buildings, lush, green, well-tended gardens and their affluent inhabitants like the lights of a Hollywood set. A dark coloured van drove by; its occupants, employees of a private security firm, lay back indolently, growing fat. The maitré d, out on the terrace, gave them a hopeful wave, looking to attract their custom. His face wore that look of superior insolence, perfected by the French, and imitated the world over by people with pretensions of class and aristocracy. The café, with its pleasant, shady terrace and expensive colour scheme appeared, especially to him, to be the epitome of style and respectability. He liked to think of it as exclusive, whereas in fact it had been purpose built with the rest of this estate; a gated community of about 200, and survived only because of the artificially low rent it paid and exorbitant prices it charged. Today, as usual, it was near empty. Only one group of regulars sat on the terraces. A group of four "new men," housewives to the rich and famous women who lived here, sat poised and neatly groomed round a table, gossiping to one another. "What on earth could they have to talk about?" he wondered to himself with a snort, "A new brand of lipstick, I suppose."
"You're having an affair!" exclaimed Stephen.
"Uh-huh" said Lou, visibly bristling with excitement as his three companions leaned forward enthusiastically. "With the gardener; Jane."
"Oh my god!" said Candi, his eyes flaring with brazen delight. "Tell us all the gory details."
"When did this happen?" asked Stephen, ignoring his friend.
"Oh, it started last week" said Lou, "we've been flirting for ages – I've told you - then, last Thursday, we were alone in the house and… well it just happened."
"Well aren't you a dark horse" said Candi, "all this time and you've kept it quiet."
"What's she like?" asked Adrian, ignoring Candi again.
"She's fun" replied Lou, "really makes me laugh. Honestly, I haven't been this happy in ages."
"Does she have a tight snatch?" asked Candi with gusto. The others rolled their eyes. Prisses, Candi thought.
Lou began to gush about what they'd been up to, talking in whispers like a schoolgirl. Adrian leaned into him, holding his hand on the table, in a pose of confidentiality. Candi also leaned forward, across the table, eager to be a part of it. Meanwhile, Stephen sat back stiffly. He was uncomfortable with things like this being discussed so openly. He fiddled with his handbag and smoothed the lines in his tight-fitting Givenchy dress, trying not to think of the terrible events of a few months back. Adrian caught his eye and gave him a reassuring smile. He really was a diamond, his old mate Ade; he was the only one who knew.
It had happened at a party, thrown by one of the most illustrious names on the social scene: Ms Jane Gatsby. His best friend's spouse, Samantha, had taken him somewhere private and seduced him roughly, simply to get back at his own wife, Mary. He'd hidden away for the rest of the party, sobbing quietly to himself, but in the end he had thought it would remain secret. He hadn't counted on Samantha's great vindictiveness. The day before she moved out East, with his friend Pete, she had quietly dropped the bombshell in front of Mary and a table full of her colleagues. "I should have lied!" thought Stephen bitterly, blushing as heavily at the memory as he had done at the time. Mary had never been the same with him after that. Despite her protests that she didn't blame him and still trusted him completely, every conversation, especially where she asked what he'd been up to, carried a hidden subtext, an extra emotional weight.
"Not embarrassing you are we?" said Candi, acidly.
Stephen realised he was blushing. "No, no… I was just thinking; that's all."
"Thinking gives you wrinkles, you know" said Candi, laughing at himself. He had a strange sense of humour, did Candi.
"Listen guys, I've got to be going. There's someone coming round to fix the electrics and Mary wants me to be in when he comes. You know how these tradesmen are."
"Oh yes" said Candi. "One time Anne Gumbril left a plumber alone to install a basin, he ran off with both her Golden Globes. It's true."
Anne Gumbril, the actress. Candi never got tired of name-dropping her famous acquaintances.
"Well take care" said Lou, standing up. "We'll be seeing you here tomorrow I'm sure."
"Of course" said Stephen. They kissed on both cheeks. "You'll have to tell me more about your little adventure. You're seeing her this afternoon, aren't you?"
"Yeah" said Lou, bashfully. "I can't wait."
Stephen did the rounds of the table, kissing everyone good bye. He left them with a little wave, his heels making a distinctive clip-clop on the paved stone floor.
He arrived at his large, empty home with relief. He couldn't stop thinking about his infidelity and Lou's carefree attitude toward his own indiscretions left him in an emotional turmoil. He wanted to switch off to the world so he flopped down on the sofa and switched on the TV. 'Family Matters' was on. It wasn't his favourite soap but it would do for the moment. He relaxed and wondered if Shane and Beth would get it together. The programme was nearing its end when the doorbell rang.
"Good afternoon, does Mary Prentiss live here?" It was the electrician.
"Yes" said Stephen, "I'm her husband."
"Of course you are" said the stranger, "may I come in?"
Bristling slightly, Stephen stood aside and let the stranger by. She was a woman, dressed in a tight white t-shirt, khaki trousers and a baseball cap. Her hair was cropped very short and she smelt of petrol.
"So I understand you want a dimmer switch put in… sir." Her tone was teasing.
"We want one here; by the stairs, and here; by the kitchen door."
"Ok love, the staircase one will take a little while. Why don't you put the kettle on?"
Stephen resented being ordered around by such an oik, in his own house too, but he assented.
"Plenty of both please." She laughed when Stephen returned wearing a frilly apron with his name across it. "Thank you Stephen" she said taking the cup from him, "My name's Jean by the way."
"Pleased to meet you, Jean"
Stephen hovered about her as she got on with her work, trying to make small talk. "Keep an eye on her" Mary had said, "You can't trust these people."
Jean got a little annoyed with this creature pestering her all afternoon; the whole thing was so shamelessly blatant. They think I'm a thief. Still, she thought; it's a nice piece of ass. She flashed him a knowing smile and he responded by looking away, embarrassed. I might be in here, she mused. Jean liked a bit of sissy fluff from time to time, and God knows there was plenty of it about these days. The prospect of getting one over on all those rich bitches who condescend to her was appealing too.
"Could you do us another cuppa, Steve" she said familiarly, "while you're standing there."
"Sure" he said. Stephen was aware of Jean watching him as he bent down to pick the cups up. "Same again?" he asked, before walking off into the kitchen. His ass sure moves nice with those heels on, thought Jean.
Stephen, standing by the kettle, was tense with thoughts of last year when Jean touched him on the arm. He jumped and stiffened; he hadn't noticed her come in.
"Sorry to startle you love" she said, "You haven't got any tape have you? Save me going to the van."
"Yes" said Stephen, "I think so." She followed him to the drawer, so that when he turned to give her the tape they were almost nose to nose. Stephen took a step back from her, submissively, and handed it to her.
"Thank you" she said, "that's a lovely perfume by the way, what is it?"
"It's just something by Calvin Klein" he said, embarrassed, "nothing special."
"I like it" she said, simply.
Stephen was rubbing his legs together uncomfortably; he'd only worn a light restraint on his cock today, and he was beginning to get an erection. "Stupid!" he thought to himself, "with such a tight dress as well."
Jean was looking him up and down. "Look" he said, unsure of himself, "maybe you should get back to work."
"Of course… sir" she said, with a deliberate look at his crotch, "I'm almost done." Jean wandered back to her business very pleased with herself, she was definitely in here. She got a huge kick from the way Stephen hid from her in the kitchen, poking his head round the door to spy on her, and blushing and hiding again when she caught him. "I'll just bide my time," she thought. Unfortunately, Stephen's wife (or was it husband?) arrived home early to spoil things. Stephen came running out of his hiding place and almost jumped into her arms. Jean watched him with a supercilious smile on her face; he really was pathetic.
"How is everything?" asked Mary.
"Fine" said Stephen, "I think Jean here has almost finished."
"Yes" said Jean, "the only thing is; I understood on the phone you only wanted one switch fitting, not two. I'm afraid I've only brought the fitting for one of them. I've done the wiring for the second but I'll have to come back tomorrow to fit the switch itself."
"I see" said Mary, suspiciously.
"It'll only take ten minutes, and of course, there'll be no extra charge."
"Well that's no problem" said Mary, her concerns met. "I'm sure Stephen will be around to let you in."
"Ok. I'll be around sometime before lunch." Jean gave Stephen a sly little wink and began to pack her bags, being careful not to let them see the spare dimmer switch she had hidden in the bottom of her toolbox.
She arrived very late the following morning. When the door opened she had to stop herself from laughing hysterically at Stephen's clothes. Despite it being almost 25 degrees outside, he wore a thick roll neck jumper and a pinafore dress, with a long puffy skirt, supported by petticoats.
"Come in" he said, with feigned indifference.
"Ok." Jean opened her tool box and got to work. "I guess I'm not in luck" she thought, "Damn it! I could've made some money today!"
Stephen just stood and watched her impassively, curtly blocking her attempts to make conversation. Very soon she was finished. "There" she said, "why don't you try it out." Stephen gave her a stern look as he moved close to her to turn the switch, Jean just looked away. On turning it, Stephen got an electric shock which made him jump backwards, onto his behind. Jean instinctively tried to catch him but was dragged down too, landing on top of him. Then Mary walked in.
"What the hell's going on?" she roared.
Climbing clumsily to her feet, Jean began to explain. "Well Ms Prentiss, you see…"
"I see alright!" she shouted, "get out of my house!"
"You don't understand" said Jean, in her most conciliatory tone.
"Get out!!" Mary screamed. She walked briskly up to Jean and manhandled her to the door. "And don't expect a penny out of me! You're fired!"
The door closed, Mary turned to Stephen, who stood by the kitchen looking confused and guilty.
"It's not what it looked like" he said, almost in a whisper.
"No, really. What happened was…"
"Stephen" said Mary, in a tired and impatient tone, "I've got a very busy afternoon and I really don't need this right now."
"But really" he said, pleadingly.
"Just drop it will you. Isn't it about now you go meet your friends for lunch?"
"It's not for half an hour" he started.
"Why don't you run along now. Save me a headache." Stephen looked at her with reproach in his eyes. It wasn't fair. Mary went into the lounge and he walked to the bottom of the stairs, intending to go and change. She appeared again before he could ascend, saying "your bag's here Stephen. Now get going."
He hesitated, to argue with her, but wilting under her gaze, took his bag from her and walked to the door. Leaving his air-conditioned home, Stephen immediately started to sweat under the hot midday sun. His stuffy, heavy jumper clung to him like a shroud whilst his petticoats collected a miasma of sticky air between his legs making him unbearably itchy. Sweat collected round the tight chastity he'd put on this morning, as a precaution, and stung the end of his cock. "Maybe I deserve this" he thought, but he couldn't think much in the suffocating heat. He stopped under the shade of a tree, feeling faint, and wondered what to do. He looked at himself. "Oh God" he thought, "Candi's going to have a field day when he sees me like this."
Stephen decided, in the end, to try and catch Adrian before he left. His house was nearby and maybe he'd have something he could wear. Besides, he needed somebody to talk to and the others weren't going to be much help right now.
"What's going on Stephie?" Adrian asked when he saw him.
"It's a long story Ade" he said, wearily. "Have you got anything I can wear?"
Dressed more comfortably in a loose summer frock, on their way to lunch, Stephen told Ade all that had happened since yesterday.
"That's really unlucky" he observed.
"The worst part of it is; she was so cold with me, didn't want to know. Honestly, it's like she doesn't care." Ade just looked straight ahead, without saying anything. "Oh" said Stephen, realising: "I'm sorry. I didn't mean…"
"How are things? Any better?"
"Still the same."
"I'm sorry" said Stephen, stroking his arm, "maybe things will improve after the baby comes."
"Let's just not talk about it, Ok?"
They arrived at the café to find Lou and Candi already there, sitting opposite each other at their regular table. Candi, as usual, was the most extravagantly dressed; his gold and white two piece suit fitting him like a glove, the hem of the dress sitting just a little too high up his leg, his body dripping with jewellery. He saw them coming first and with the eye of a marksman said
"Oh dear Stephen, can't you afford your own clothes anymore?"
"Ha Ha" said Stephen, trying to close the subject, "how's it going, Louie?"
"Oh good, good" he said, sanguine. "Catherine was away at a conference last night, so me and Jane spent all day together."
Stephen was outraged by Lou's air of smugness. He had no right to be so proud of himself. Hiding his feelings expertly, he said "That sounds wonderful dear, I'm glad you're having such a good time."
Sensing Stephen's disdain, Candi exchanged a knowing look with Lou whilst Stephen called the Maitre d.
"Hi there Ade" said Lou.
"Hi" he said, sitting down.
"You hear about the Louis Vutton show next week?"
"Oh yeah, are you going?"
"I think so" he replied, "Can you get away?"
"I'm sure Sue won't mind" replied Ade.
There was a short, conspicuous silence, broken by Candi who, boasting, said "You'll never guess who I'm meeting on Saturday." He flicked his eyes over each of his companions then, seeing none of them was going to guess, said "Front Page!"
The rock band: Candi's wife was a record producer. "Tabby's throwing a party for them in honour of their latest album" he gushed, "I wish I could invite you all, really, but you know what Tabby's like. I'll get you some advance copies of the record for you. It'll be a real exclusive!"
"Thanks Candi" said Adrian, "that'd be great."
"No problem dear" he said, patting Adrian's hand.
"How is Tabitha, anyway?" he asked.
"Fine. She'll be working with Sisters of the Damned next week, you know; the neo-goth band. Well, apparently the lead singer keeps a Bengal Tiger as a pet and one time…"
Adrian sighed as Candi reeled off yet another story. He had tried many times to get him to talk about himself, his life, but he never let him in. It was always the same front with Candi. Nevertheless, Adrian always tried.
The lunch rolled on a long time that day, and it was with a feeling of remorse that Adrian finally left it. He dreaded going home as Linda would be there. She was his wife, Sue's antenatal consultant and soon to be nanny. Ever since she'd arrived his life had gone downhill. Sure enough, when he came in, they were both sitting on the sofa, cooing over a maternity catalogue.
"Hello dear" said Sue, "how was lunch?"
"Fine" said Adrian, standing in the hall, "How was class?"
Linda was just sitting there, watching him impassively. "How are you, Linda?" he said, coldly.
"Oh look at that!" she exclaimed to Sue, ignoring Adrian completely, "Wouldn't that look great in the nursery!"
"That's just adorable" said Sue, "and it would go with the cot nicely too, wouldn't it."
Adrian hovered in the hallway a moment, then moved to enter the lounge.
"Did you finish cleaning the bedrooms?" said Sue, suddenly to him.
"There's only the spare rooms left" he said, "I can do them anytime."
"Well there's no time like the present, is there?"
He stopped, meaning to argue with her, but instead turned and left the room, cursing to himself.
"Bye Adrian" said Linda, as he walked out. Upstairs, Adrian fumed as he went about his chores. They had no right to shut him out like that! Making him feel unwelcome in his own house! And it was his baby! Thinking this, tears started rolling down his cheeks and he had to stop and sit down. Fearing that someone might find him like this, he gulped his feelings down and finished the cleaning quickly. Then, he walked straight to his room and locked the door. He and Sue no longer slept together, not since she fell pregnant. Safely in privacy, Adrian fell onto his bed and bawled his eyes out. Once he'd exhausted himself, he reached for the bottle of valium he kept by his bed and gulped one down. Numbed, he lay down for the rest of the afternoon. No one came to see him.
He only came downstairs when it was time to cook dinner. On his way out of the room, he checked and touched up his make up so no one would guess he'd been crying. He smoothed the rumples in his white, embroidered blouse and soft-pink pencil skirt and adjusted his hair. He tried to rouse some enthusiasm inside himself for cooking – he liked his food, and Sue used to, once upon a time. He went through the motions of preparing dinner silently, as if embarrassed by any noise he made. Occasionally, the sound of laughing or excited conversation would come from across the house and it felt to Adrian like he was the subject of it, that Sue and Linda were mocking him specifically. No, he told himself, they aren't interested in me. Far from being an improvement, this new thought brought a lump to Adrian's throat, which he swallowed down, again, determined not to let himself fall apart. When Sue eventually came to talk to him, it was to ask when dinner would be ready.
"About half an hour" Adrian replied
"It's a bit late isn't it?" said Sue, "but don't worry."
"Yeah, it's fine."
Adrian turned back to the cooker silently and continued stirring, looking into space. Sue lingered awhile, watching him, as if looking for something. Finally, she said:
"Are you alright love?"
"Are you sure? You look terrible."
Curtly, and very quietly, Adrian said "I'm fine," then looked determinedly away. A hard knot formed in his stomach and his jaw, with the teeth clenched together, grew tense to the point of shaking.
Sue left the room feeling slightly uneasy, returning to where she and Linda were watching television, saying nothing of it. She hadn't thought much about her spouse lately and couldn't articulate her feeling properly, but it persisted and she found herself casting anxious looks toward the kitchen, thinking she should probably go and talk to him. Fifteen minutes later, a great crash came echoing through the house followed by a series of smashes. Sue walked into the kitchen to find Adrian throwing plates against the wall. The pan full of casserole had been tipped onto the floor and its contents now formed a broad covering across the tiles. Spying her, Adrian turned and began throwing missiles directly at her, screaming "Bastard! You fucking bastard!" Tears were streaming down his face, covered already in trickles of leached mascara, which had ran all the way to his chin and beyond, leaving dark spots on the front of his blouse. Sue, heavily pregnant, only raised her arms to defend herself and turned away. Linda came to her rescue, bursting in and shouting "Adrian, No! The baby!"
His arm froze in mid-throw and the plate it held fell directly to the floor. With his anger escaping him, Adrian just stood there helplessly, staring at the two women who now only watched him, without comprehension or forgiveness, waiting for him to explain himself. Finally, his legs gave way beneath him and he collapsed clumsily to the floor, where he sat sobbing into his arms. Sue knelt down beside him and stroked his hair to comfort him, but her eyes were on Linda, who stood in the doorway, gravely shaking her head.
"Well Doctor, how is he?"
"He's calm now, but someone ought to go and sit with him a while. He's still very upset."
"Thank you for coming."
"That's perfectly alright, I've increased his daily dose of valium, to be on the safe side; we can't have any more outbursts like that, not whilst you're in this condition."
"No. Thank you Doctor."
Sue closed the door and sighed heavily. What was she going to do? She looked up the stairs apprehensively and wished that Linda had not had to leave. Eventually, she made her way to Adrian's room. She found him sat quite still, on the edge of his bed, staring into space.
"Are you alright, darling?" she asked gently, sitting down beside him. Adrian didn't answer, or respond at all to her presence. "Adie?" she whispered, close to him.
Slowly he turned his head toward her. His face was blank; his eyes expressionless, his mouth hung open dumbly. Sue waited for him to speak, but he just sat there looking at her. He looked terrible. He hadn't washed or even brushed his hair since he broke down in the kitchen and his face was covered in smudged or run down make-up which, combined with his dishevelled hair, gave him a nasty, ghoulish appearance. "What did I ever see in him?" she wondered to herself. He had been fun when they were younger, but now? She had responsibilities now and it seemed to her that Adrian was just one more. She couldn't begin to guess what he was thinking as he sat there (in truth, he was thinking of nothing at all) and as the time wore silently on she decided to give up.
"Come on, darling" she said sweetly, "let's get you to bed." She stood up and faced him. Looking up at her, Adrian's eyes showed the smallest sign of resistance. "Come on now" she said firmly, "you've had a tiring day. We can talk tomorrow." She started to unbutton the front of his blouse. Lacking any initiative, Adrian looked downward, avoiding Sue's eyes, and let her undress him like a child. Finally, she had him down to his bra and panties, whereupon she found a nightie in his wardrobe and slipped it over his head. "There you go" she said, holding his shoulders, "all nice and snug."
Adrian slowly looked up to meet her eyes and stood there dumbly for a while. Sue smiled at him, as reassuringly as she could, and stroked a lock of hair from his face. Almost inaudibly, he said "Sue…"
Suddenly he was looking hard at her, as if he was searching for something in her eyes. With nervous anticipation, she replied "Yes Adie?"
He searched her eyes a moment longer then, not finding what he'd wanted, closed himself to her and retreated back into narcosis. "Nothing" he said, before turning away and getting into bed. He curled himself up away from her in an almost violently defensive position and closed his eyes.
Sighing, Sue left the room and turned off the light. She lingered in the doorway a moment, meaning to say goodnight. But somehow, the words wouldn't form on her lips.
Adrian woke groggily the following morning. Automatically, he got out of bed and walked to his vanity table. He sat in front of the mirror and let the fog clear from his mind. He felt a crusty starch in his panties and realised he'd been masturbating. A pang of shame struck him at the thought, which reminded him of all that had happened last night. Oh God! How would he face Susan? And worse still, Linda! She would no doubt enjoy this, the bitch! A wave of guilt rushed down him as he remembered the baby and how selfish he was being. He wanted to apologize but would be damned if he was going to. He swallowed and determined that he would face the day, whatever it might bring; he had his pride, after all.
After showering, Adrian dried and dressed himself, taking special care over his appearance. He put on a chic floral print slip, sheer stockings and pumps, before tying his hair back in a neat little bun. He lingered in front of the mirror a long time as he carefully corrected any flaw in his features; even plucking his eyebrows into two perfectly smooth lines. He moved to the full-length and admired his handiwork. Serene, he said to himself; that's what I am. His profile was like that on a coin as he walked downstairs, a tight little bubble of defiance in his stomach. His first duty was to prepare breakfast. He entered the kitchen to find Linda already doing it.
"Oh good morning" she said with contempt, "have a lie in did we?"
Adrian glanced at the clock. It was gone ten.
"I didn't see the time" he stammered.
"He didn't see the time!" she said, into space. "You sure know how to look after your wife."
Adrian stood and stared, hating her. "My wife" he said, with emphasis "is expecting me to make her breakfast. I'm sorry that I'm late but please, allow me." He walked to the cooker and, ignoring her, began breaking eggs into the hot pan.
"Ok Adrian" she said condescendingly, "I'll be in the sitting room, talking to Susan."
A small smile formed on Adrian's face as Linda left the room. He finished cooking and went to lay the table before ringing a little bell to announce that breakfast was ready. The three of them sat round the table, eating in a heavy silence which Adrian imagined himself to be dominating. The meal finished, he began to clear the table, before Sue asked him to come sit in the next room.
"Adie" she said, once they were seated, "have you taken your pills this morning?"
"Pills… I feel fine."
"The doctor said you should take two a day."
"But honestly, darling, I'm alright."
"You weren't alright yesterday, were you?"
"That was different. I'm fine, really."
"Adie" she said, with a warning in her voice. "This is serious. I want you to take these." She pulled the bottle from her pocket. Adrian realized someone had taken it from his room. Suddenly, Linda appeared at Sue's shoulder with a glass of water. Out of the corner of his eye, Adrian thought he caught her smirking.
"Now Adie" said Sue, taking the glass and handing it to him, "take them." She pressed the two tablets into his free hand. Changing tack, she continued sympathetically: "They'll make you feel better Adie. I promise." With two pairs of eyes on him, Adrian meekly assented. "There you go" said Sue softly, "that's not so bad is it?" Defeated, Adrian nodded glumly. "Now you just kick back and relax. Linda and me can take care of ourselves this morning." Sue kissed him on the forehead and got up to leave the room. As an afterthought, she turned the TV on and flicked it to a morning discussion show. Adrian turned to watch her leave but looked sharply away when Linda looked toward him. The swollen, aged face of Ricki Lake appeared on the screen and Adrian kicked off his shoes, curled himself up in a ball on the sofa and looked anywhere else.
The drug did its work and time and place seemed to fall away from Adrian. He had hardly moved when Sue appeared in the doorway and said "Aren't you meeting your friends now Adie?" He glanced at the clock. He was late! Terribly late. In a cascade of automatic movements Adrian got to his feet and rushed upstairs. The worry that he'd missed his only social of the day pierced through the fog besetting him and he was brisk and practical. He checked his face, chose a hat and bag to go with his outfit, and after placing a few essentials within, made his way swiftly to the front door. He was on his way through it when Sue called from behind him:
"Adie dear, aren't you forgetting something?" He turned round and looked at her spitefully, thinking she was mocking him. As if to confirm this, Sue was clearly holding back laughter. "Your feet dear" she said. He looked down. He wasn't wearing any shoes! With no reason to stop herself, Sue started giggling. "What are we going to do with you?"
Linda then appeared from the living room with the pair he'd left by the sofa, a look of amused contempt on her face. "Here you are Adrian" she said, handing them to him. Feeling humiliated, Adrian put them on and left without saying a word. As he walked out the door he heard Linda say behind him, a little too loudly; "Honestly, and he expects us to trust him with a baby!"
It was a cloudy day outside. A gust of wind blew up Adrian's dress making him jump. He clutched his hat with one hand, whilst holding and smoothing his skirt down with the other. Flustered, he hurried on his way, his mind awash with hurtful feelings. He'd made this short journey so many times that he arrived automatically, not needing to look where he was going. He only looked up and around him when he arrived at his destination: The terrace was empty, their regular table deserted! Where were they; his friends? His heart sank at the thought of them leaving without him and the very strength of the feeling made the possibility tangible. Not knowing what else to do, he went and sat down in his usual seat and waited there, nervously fingering the strap of his handbag. Consumed by his thoughts, Adrian just sat staring at nothing whilst the wind whipped round his delicate, exposed frame. Gradually, he became aware of a faint knocking to his left. Without curiosity, he turned toward the cafe to see where it was coming from. At the window was Stephen, giving him a teasing little wave. They were inside! Too relieved to feel foolish, Adrian got up and scampered quickly into the building, a smile on his face.
His friends all but broke into a round of applause when he walked inside. An air of stifled laughter punctuated the conversation as the three of them embraced and greeted Adrian, but it was all warm and good humoured. Each knew about Adrian's domestic situation and his valium habit and sympathised accordingly. Only Candi seemed remote from him, as he always did, going through the motions in his usual precise, elegant but mechanical fashion.
"We'd almost given up on you" said Lou, as they sat down.
"I know… I couldn't get away…" Adrian said, deliberately vague.
"You missed the big announcement" said Candi, butting in.
"Ask Louie dear. He's off on some great adventure."
Adrian turned to Lou, who looked a little embarrassed by Candi's prurient interest in his affairs. "Jane's taking me to Pasadena tomorrow" he said, in low tones. "Catherine's away for the weekend, again, so we're off into town."
"It sounds like a wicked time you're having" said Candi, in a hungry whisper, "I'm so jealous."
"I'm so excited" said Lou to Adrian, "I just can't wait!"
"You deserve a good time, love" he replied. "Have fun."
"I'm right behind you" said Candi, "whatever some people think." This was a deliberate slight toward Stephen, who showed no sign of noticing it.
"Do we get to see this mystery woman?" he asked. "What's she look like?"
"I've got a photo" said Lou, reaching for his handbag. He found the picture and passed it round. Adrian, reaching to take it from Stephen, knocked his glass of juice which tottered, before spilling its contents all over Candi's lap. Candi screamed out like he was in pain and jumped to his feet.
"You clumsy fucker!" he shouted. They were all quite stunned by this outburst, it being so clearly disproportionate, and Candi, realising that everyone in the café was staring at him, relented and sat back down.
"I'm sorry" said Adrian, timidly.
"This is a very expensive dress" he said, a touch defensively.
"I'm sorry, will it come out?"
"Sure, sure" he said distractedly. "It's nothing, really. I overreacted."
"Let me get a cloth, we can soak some of it up."
"No it's alright, I should be going anyway. I've got a party to prepare for!" With that, Candi got up and walked out quickly, barely stopping to wave goodbye. All three of his friends were left bemused by his departure and wondered if there was anything wrong. Striding away, quickly but gingerly, Candi bitterly berated himself. Disgusting, he thought. How he hated dirt and mess and stains. They reminded him of his desperate past, before Tabitha had stepped in and saved him. He'd go home and bathe and change, and he'd never wear this dress again. "Disgusting" he repeated to himself. "Filthy. Disgusting."
He arrived home relieved that the neighbours hadn't seen him. He could still feel the damp, sticky cloth against his body and he wasted no time in going upstairs and getting undressed. Naked, he draped a sheer, fur-trimmed negligee over his shoulders. After feeling so ashamed of himself, it gave him great pleasure to contemplate how desirable this item was; the sexiest piece of clothing that he owned. He cast his eye over his expensively assembled wardrobe and immediately felt better. Even the chastity tube encasing his penis (he always, by choice, wore the tightest device that would fit him) was of a designer label. His clothes were like a log to a drowning man. Feeling again like a queen in her palace, Candi slipped his feet into a pair of heeled slippers and sauntered through to run his bath. Sitting on the side, he thoughtfully fondled his pair of artificial breasts. The larger size was becoming fashionable: Should he follow suit?
Such vexed questions were a long way from Candi's mind when he emerged, clean, fresh and dressed into the downstairs of the house. Tabitha was bringing that most popular of bands; Front Page, home with her and he would be entertaining! They were the hottest celebrities to visit his home for months, maybe even years! Fretful to the point of trembling, Candi went about his preparations. The house was already spotlessly clean, though he still made fine adjustments, fluffing cushions, swatting at dust and moving the small adornments of the house; the coasters, rugs and decorations, ever so slightly, into the arrangements which nagged at him the least. There were canapés to prepare and a consequent buffet to arrange. Twenty litres of wine stood in boxes along the side of the kitchen, alongside forty cut crystal glasses to serve it in. Behind was the same quantity of whisky. Innumerable pre-rolled joints, arranged like the petals of a flower, were displayed in a beautiful, corrugated, crystal bowl. He finely sieved forty grams of high quality cocaine and placed it in tasteful fingerbowls around the edge of the large, central coffee table. Finally, with the sun casting long shadows on the front lawn, he burned an exotic incense, giving the air a thick, musky character, dimmed the lights and waited.
Tabitha had said they'd arrive by eight o'clock but Candi knew they would be fashionably late. Afraid of being caught by them unprepared, he waited by the front window, perched stiffly on the edge of a sofa, tapping his fingers nervously on his thigh. He thought eagerly about the rumours, the gossip, the acclaim in which his guests were held, and of what stories he might tell 'the girls' tomorrow. His excitement was like a toothache as he sat there, the tension he felt was almost painful but, like a toothache, he had to touch it from time to time, to make sure it was still there.
Eventually, he saw a limo pull up outside the house, disgorging a train of drunken revellers from within. Tabitha led the way, beckoning them toward the house with broad, overhead strokes of her arm. Candi noticed a second, and a third pull up before he left the window, taking a deep breath as he did so, and moved to the front door to greet his wife.
"Hello Darling!" he exclaimed, with a great beaming smile on his face. He wanted everyone to believe that he and Tabitha were fabulously happy together, Tabitha played her part nicely.
"Hey baby" she said coolly, before slipping her arms round his slender waist and kissing him full on the lips. Her eyes lingered in his for only a moment afterward, before she turned and half-shouted: "Everyone, this is Candi. Candi, this is everyone."
Candi fluttered his hand toward the crowd assembling at his front door as Tabitha beckoned them in. He stood at the door and greeted every one of them, formally, with a stiff handshake and occasionally, a peck on the cheek. His eyes roved up and down, searching for members of the band, or anyone famous at all. Halfway along, he greeted Frances Hammond, a session musician and a regular at Tabitha's parties.
"Hello again Candi" she said, smirking as she took his hand. Before Candi could reply, she pulled him violently toward her and kissed him greedily on the mouth. Candi stiffened in distaste and tried to pull away, but her arms came firmly round him and held him there, whilst one hand reached down and grabbed hold of a buttock, caressing it roughly through his dress. He went limp in her arms, his knees bending as they went weak, and abruptly she withdrew, leaving him gasping. He let out a little moan and stifled it guiltily as she walked away saying "See you later, Doll Face."
It was all he could do to regain his composure as the others filed past. Some drew away from him, giving him funny sideways glances as they hurried by. Others, mainly men, greeted him a little too eagerly, looking intently at him, questions or promises written on their eyes.
Closing the door behind the last of them, Candi stopped to take some deep breaths. The façade he'd built for himself, that he tried to believe in, was crumbling already. The music flared up in the next room, and he could smell the joints being lit. He lingered there, alone for a moment, with a futile wish to escape. There was nothing to do but keep going.
Candi returned to the living room to find the atmosphere at once more relaxed and more charged. The party had split into definite groups, talking intently in circles. He noticed that a few people had already coupled themselves and stood, or sat, apart from the rest. He spotted Tabitha waving him over and, adopting his best poise, gracefully strolled over to her.
"Where have you been?" she asked, drunkenly.
"Well, be a good hostess will you love and serve some drinks."
"Of course, I was just going to."
He walked uneasily into the kitchen. Unconsciously, he had hoped for some sympathy from his wife, though he didn't expect it. His hands shook as he poured the wine into glasses and set them on a tray. Picking it up, he checked his reflection in the chrome plated fridge and forced a smile. Then, he turned and returned to the living room, the expression held rigid on his face.
The party rolled on. Candi flitted between groups with his tray, making small talk and answering requests. By avoiding his tormentors in the hall, he even managed to relax and enjoy himself awhile. To his great satisfaction, he found himself chatting to none other than Sian Cox, lead singer of Front Page! As hostess, he had the right to ask questions of his guest without offering any gambits of his own and Candi exploited this to the full. Mentally, he catalogued all of what she said for dissemination later. He was thrilled at the prospect. Eventually, Tabitha appeared at his side and, to rescue Sian, said
"Aren't you neglecting your other guests, darling?"
Taking the hint, he responded "Yes, of course. Sian's been so fascinating though" he gushed, "It's been a real pleasure." Blushing, he took Sian's hand in his and did a little curtsey, instinctively, before waddling off to join the rest of the party.
The mood in the room darkened as the cocaine began to be taken liberally. Coke boosts the ego in the same way as aggression, and Candi noticed a lack of good humour in the jokes people made as he came to serve them. In response, he became tense and ever more frostily polite. More jarring still, Tabitha was standing in the corner of the room, in intense conversation with a young man Candi didn't know. Every time he looked over, the guy seemed to be leaning closer to her. He didn't know how to intervene.
Whilst he stood and stared across at them, Candi felt a hand brush against his arm. Forcing a smile, he turned to see a woman he'd met only tonight, called Kathy.
"Come and sit with us love" she said.
"I don't think I should" he replied "I'm supposed to be doing the hostess thing really."
Kathy giggled a little. "I think the party can manage without you for a bit." She gestured broadly toward the room, indicating the scene of indifferent debauchery laid out before them.
"Ok" said Candi, with a genuine smile of relief, tightened though, by a nagging feeling of being trapped. Fussily, he sat himself down on the sofa between Kathy and another new acquaintance, Matt.
"So…" began Kathy, drawing the sound out theatrically, "tell us about yourself."
"Well…" Suddenly, Candi noticed Frances Hammond, sitting in the nearby armchair, looking intently at him. How long had she been there? He looked at her briefly, with trepidation, then managed a struggling reply. "I was born in San Francisco, I met Tabby in LA and we moved here about three years ago."
"Why did you move to LA?"
"I used to sing – it's how I met Tabby – you know, to make it big. That was the idea."
"Didn't it work out?"
"Tabby says I could have made it, but of course she's the one with the career now, so it's kind of faded into the background."
Frances started laughing to herself; she knew this was all a lie.
"So what do you do with yourself now?"
Candi hesitated, he felt like he was under interrogation. "I look after the house, socialize, a bit of charity work – the usual."
"Ok... And what do you do for fun?"
Frances suddenly burst out laughing and Candi couldn't help blushing. Kathy looked at her with annoyance whilst Matt, maybe getting the joke, chuckled silently. A voice called Candi from the kitchen. Greatly relieved, he got up to answer, and hurriedly stepped over Kathy's legs to leave the room. Moving hastily in heels and a tight knee-length dress, he slipped on a fallen ashtray and fell flat on his face. All three of his inquisitors fell about laughing, even Kathy; with her hand over her mouth, unable to stop herself. Candi got to his feet and found that he was filthy – God knows what had been spilt on the floor.
The couple in the kitchen seemed to be looking with distaste at Candi's spoilt dress and with a pre-emptive shame he decided he'd have to change. Once they'd finally let him go, he rushed upstairs to find Tabitha on her way back down.
"Where've you been?" he asked, accusingly.
"On the phone."
"What about that guy you're so friendly with?"
"Now, Andrew" she said, with a note of warning in her voice. She used his real name to remind him of his true position. "Don't start that again. We've talked it through already."
"Then why don't you just say so?" Candi showed his anger by sucking his lips back through his teeth. Slowly, they formed themselves into a pout.
"I've got to get back to the party" she said, dismissively. "Hey, since you're changing anyway," she looked at the stain on his dress, "why don't you put something less… formal on."
"No Tabby, please. You said it wasn't going to be one of those parties."
"That little negligee I brought you back from Milan. Why don't you wear that? It's your favourite isn't it?"
"Good. I'll go and announce you."
Candi lingered on the stairs awhile after Tabitha had gone back to the party. Why did she have to do this to him? He heard Tabby announce that he had something 'very special' to show them and he heard the laughter and sarcastic applause from Frances, who knew what it was. With a great air of resignation, he trudged to the bedroom.
Some time afterward, Tabitha went up to check he was ready. A few careful modifications and many stern warnings later, she returned to the remaining dozen partygoers and turned off the music. The crowd all turned toward the door and a subdued murmur of anticipation filled the room.
The music struck up once more as Candi entered to gasps from the assembled guests. His precious white negligee hung open from his shoulders, leaving nothing protecting his near naked body. He wore only a matching pink bra and 'display' panty set underneath; these were made with a special sleeve at the crotch, through which his now erect penis was pushed through. Tied firmly to his erection, with a pink satin bow, was a leash of the same colour, the other end of which was tied to Candi's left wrist. His long blonde hair was held back from his face by a slide, encrusted tastelessly with artificial diamonds, and his face, now more thoroughly exposed, was painted heavily with make up, his eyes picked out to innocence by a moat of liner and shadow, his lips enormous and scarlet. He panted desperately as the hormones he'd been forced to take, and the electrical stimulator in his panties, whipped him up into an alarming and obvious state of sexual need. The longest time seemed to have passed but Candi had moved only a couple of paces from the doorway. He and his crowd seemed locked in a confrontation as they looked back and forth. Candi stared at each of the guests in turn, wanting all of them; male and female, young and old. Of his audience, some were excited by the spectacle, others disgusted, but all, stoked by the cocaine, enjoyed the thrill of power, the knowledge that they could do whatever they wanted to this creature before them.
Tabitha called out from the back of the room. "Don't just stand there Lovepuppet, entertain your guests!" Candi didn't hear her. His mind seemed to be floating in the water of his desire, his surroundings unreal. Tabitha changed the music. It was the same tune she always played when Candi did one of his 'displays' and his body began to move automatically, gyrating and rubbing in a self-possessed sensuality. Throughout his dance, his palms were always facing toward the audience, offering the leash to them, begging them to come and get him. The crowd sat hypnotized, rapt but unsure what to do. It was Frances, veteran of Candi's parties who took the initiative and unhooked the leash from his wrist. Tugging it gently, she guided the dancing creature to her chair. Candi followed unconsciously, his eyes closed as he felt the music on his skin. Sitting, she pulled the leash downward and Candi dropped gently to his knees. Only now did he open his eyes, to see Frances' face staring down into his, her hand coming round to cup the back of his head. "Darling, gorgeous, sweetheart" she whispered to him, "you're so sexy… so sexy" she repeated with emphasis, "make me sexy too." Frances slowly pushed his head toward her crotch and Candi realised what she wanted. Slowly, hesitantly at first, but then desperately and voraciously, he fiddled at the buttons on her trousers trying too hastily to prize them open. His long, red fingernails hampered him but after much scrambling he finally prised the garment open and tasted the sweet, forbidden fruit contained within.
Elated, Frances began to shout out her exhilaration, mainly for the benefit of the crowd. "Yes! That's it slut! Yes! Who's the boss! Fucking yeah!" Stung by this challenge, one of the men, Matt as it happened, walked over to the kneeling shemale and, lifting the hem of his negligee, smacked him as hard as he could on the ass. Candi yelped and jumped, he lifted his head, only to have it pressed firmly back down. Again and again, Matt hit Candi's helpless, jerking form, shouting to the room "You like that bitch? You want more? More!" His eyes locked with Frances' in a mutual antipathy that left them both exhilarated. Their competing voices drowned out Candi completely; his weak, squeaking little cries left no impression on the spectators, who were now jostling for position in an invisible queue. Matt looked down at the creature's ass. For the first time, he noticed an inviting hole cut into the back of its panties. He looked up at Tabitha who indicated with the slightest nod that that was indeed what it was for. Steeling himself with a gleeful determination, Matt unzipped his fly.
The party was now an orgy. Couples were shagging openly in front of everyone else whilst Candi did the rounds, his chemical sexuality giving him no respite from helpless desire. Only Kathy, who had spoken to Candi earlier, did not take advantage. She spoke to Tabitha in disbelief. "My God Tabby, where did you find that boy?"
"He was living in a dumpster in Sacramento. I gave him some money and he followed me home."
Kathy found herself disgusted by the implications of this. "How old was he?"
"I don't know" said Tabitha with a disparaging shrug, "why?"
"It just seems…" Kathy felt unsure, "like exploitation."
Tabitha stopped herself from laughing in Kathy's face. Of course it was exploitation. "Look, the guy just followed me around. When I told him to leave me alone he dropped to his knees and begged me to take him in. Said he loved me and would do anything I say. He showed me where street kids used to cut him – you can still see the scars if you look carefully, he said he'd die if I didn't. And he would have done. The silly thing's so soft and dumb it would've been inevitable."
Tabitha stopped there, as if that justified everything. Kathy felt numb. Then, without thinking about it she got up. "I'm going" she said.
"Oh come now, we're not going to fall out over this? I've seen much worse, believe me."
The party stopped just before sunrise. Candi had fallen asleep on the floor, curled up in a naked, shivering ball. His favourite negligee lay abandoned on a sofa, a great hole torn into it. When he woke, only a few hours later, he dragged his aching body to the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. He spent the morning there, trying to rearrange his senses. It had been a typical Saturday night.
The café bustled with its regular Sunday afternoon trade. This was the lifeline of the establishment; today it would take more than the rest of the week put together. It was here and now that the disparate inhabitants of this estate would meet to discuss whatever small problems they had in common, to meet their neighbours, to draw whatever sense of community they had. The meeting was perhaps like in a church. Everybody put on a public face and made the effort to appear prosperous, upstanding, happy. Husbands, (both male and female) dressing in sharp tailored suits, arrived arm in arm with their beaming, elegant wives, (male and female too) who hung off of them, displaying the conspicuous symbols of their spouses success. Some arrived alone, making excuses for their wives or muttering hypocritical complaints of their husbands. Everywhere people eyed each other furtively, peeking out from the cubicles of their own conversations. A careful observer might have suspected that a hundred conspiracies were being drawn up amongst the sea of cheerful faces and designer clothes, and he wouldn't be far wrong.
Into this melee came Stephen and Adrian. They arrived holding hands, Stephen protectively drawing Adrian as close to him as possible. The poor dear wasn't himself today, or rather; he was even less so than usual. Stephen had been alarmed by Adie's manner on the phone that morning – he was so vague and unresponsive. His fears were heightened when he went to his house. Adrian's eyes seemed to be looking past him when they talked and his mouth hung open, his shining pink lips forming an expressionless 'O'.
"Are you alright?" Stephen had asked.
"It's this new dose of valium…" he'd answered, finishing the sentence with a vague gesture of the arm.
Stephen was pained to see his friend like this and wanted desperately to sympathise, but he had problems of his own; ones he couldn't tell Lou or Candi about. Mary had been very funny with him these last few days; she had forbidden him to go to Louis Vutton this week, or anywhere else for that matter, she was asking him all manner of questions; about every smallest thing he did, and this morning she had presented him with a lockable steel chastity belt. Lockable! She had put it on him herself! It was utterly humiliating; it made him feel like a piece of meat.
He poured his heart out to Adrian as they sat in his room that lunchtime and it had come as an appalling shock to look up a find that Adrian had not been listening, his attention had wandered away and his eyes remained as blank and uncomprehending as they had been an hour before. Stephen wanted to scream, to hit Adrian in the face but he relented, ashamed, knowing that it wasn't his fault: Indeed, earlier Adrian had lost track of what he himself was saying whilst he was saying it. There was nothing to be done. Instead, Stephen leaned over and hugged him, apologising and stroking his hair. Tears formed in Stephen's eyes as they embraced, and maybe they did in Adrian's too, but if so they were much smaller, as if they were very far away. Stephen composed himself and, seeing the time, got up to leave. He pulled a mirror from his handbag and carefully touched up the make up spoiled by his crying. Adrian, though it wasn't necessary, did the same. Together, they adjusted their dresses, put on their hats and admired each other. Then Stephen took Adrian by the hand and led him, maternally, out of the house.
They found Candi sitting alone at the back of the café, looking angry and uncomfortable. He wore a matching jacket and skirt, both in severe black, and a large rimmed hat of the same colour, which he wore sitting far back on his head. Stephen thought that he looked like a widow.
"And where have you been?" he said as they walked up.
"Sorry love" replied Stephen, "didn't mean to leave you in the lurch."
"What's with the big sister thing?" Candi asked, indicating where the pair were holding hands.
"Oh that" said Stephen, feeling slightly embarrassed. Candi had a way of making you feel abashed at the smallest things. "Ade isn't feeling so well today. I'm kind of looking after him."
"Really Adie? What's wrong dear?" Candi stared intently at Adrian who stood oblivious, looking blankly at a painting on the wall. "A-dee!" Candi's voice was like a doorbell. It caught Adrian's attention and he answered dully:
"Oh, hi there Candi."
"Stephen's just been saying there's something wrong with you."
It took a moment to realise he was teasing. Candi was being unusually offensive today. "You know how it is…" he said, trailing off.
"What's happened to Lou?" asked Stephen, trying to ward Candi off.
"I haven't seen him, love. I thought he was with you." Candi managed to make this sound like an accusation.
Wearied by his hostility, Stephen tried to get Candi talking. "Tell me, how was your party? Did you meet Front Page?"
"They were there."
"Well" said Stephen, "what were they like?"
"They were alright" said Candi, and for a moment it seemed like that would be all he'd say. Then, he suddenly leaned forward with a gleeful smile and began to talk non-stop. His stories were part fact, part fiction and Candi had been preparing them all morning. They were good though: Arch, funny and exciting. The tension round the table dropped away and the three of them were soon chatting like best friends, even Adrian was actively involved.
Interrupted by the arrival of the second round of coffees, Stephen sat back a moment and wondered aloud "Whatever happened to Lou?"
As if to answer him, a sudden hush fell over the assembled patrons of the café. The three of them all looked round to see what was happening and there, at the entrance to the terrace, was Lou, standing perfectly still before the crowd, an expression of silent terror on his face. It was his clothes that had caused the scene. He wore a parody of a little girl's dress; a doll's dress really, in blue and white check, with enormous puff sleeves and lacy trim along the cuffs, hem and low neckline. The skirt was supported by layers of frothy white petticoats which held it wide and high over the white fishnet stockings he wore on his legs. Over the dress was a pinafore, decorated with pale pink hearts on a white background, bordered on all sides by ranges of frilly ruffles. He also wore white fingerless gloves and six inch stiletto heels of the same colour. The really shocking thing was his headgear: An Easter bonnet, in white, tied beneath the chin with a big pink bow; it stuck out and over his face like a trumpet, the letters S.L.U.T. written with crude, red stitches in an arc over his head. Lou stood there and trembled as the crowd watched him, waiting for him to do something, to explain himself. On the other side of the cafe Stephen stood up and caught his eye. With great reluctance, Lou began to move across the terrace, tottering slowly along with the tiniest mincing steps: It was all he could do.
His journey seemed to take forever. The crowd of people parted a long way to let him through and Stephen felt like he was watching some macabre catwalk. Impatient, people began to talk about him whilst he was still walking by. Halfway there, Lou stumbled and almost fell over. It seemed strange to Stephen that he barely raised his hands when this happened and he noticed then that there was a length of ribbon tied round Lou's arms. It held him just above the elbows and ran round his back, pulling them inwards and leaving them held firmly to his sides, so that Lou could do little more than flap his forearms about uselessly. This shocked Stephen a second time and it was with great pity that he moved to Lou and helped him the last few steps of the way. Lou arrived before his friends, tears streaming down his doll's face, too ashamed to look at them.
Adrian, instinctively trying to console him, took Lou's hand in his and asked softly "Did Catherine find out about the affair?"
Lou pulled his hand away and glared at him fiercely. It looked like his face might crack. What a stupid question! Adrian realised his mistake and looked downwards, mumbling an apology. Lou was muttering self righteous noises to himself when Stephen stepped in.
"Please Louie, sit down. Please."
The anger suddenly left him and Lou began to cry again, gently shaking his head. Quiet as a mouse, he squeaked "I can't"
"What do you mean love?" asked Stephen quietly back.
"I just can't"
Stephen looked across at Candi, unsure what to do. Candi raised his eyebrows then, with that ugly look of prurient interest on his face, leaned down to take a peek up Lou's skirts. He came back up looking pleased with himself; he'd seen what he'd expected – something protruding from Lou's ass. Stephen understood from Candi's look and, again genuinely shocked, squeezed Lou's hand in sympathy. Suddenly Lou exploded:
"She came back last night. Caught us in bed. She hit me! Again and again. Can you believe that?" He was now speaking between sobs. "Then she locked me in the bathroom. All night! God knows what she did to Jane: I heard her chasing her down the street. I didn't see her till this morning then she made me wear this! She trussed me up and threw me out the house. Now I've got to go round, door to door, and tell everyone what I did. Like this! If I don't she'll divorce me. I'll never live it down. Never!"
As Lou was speaking, Stephen began casting worried looks toward Adrian, who gasped when he caught his meaning: This was a warning, to them in particular.
Lou continued hysterically, falling further and further into self pity. "It's just cruel. She's trying to hurt me. She's a sadist – that's what she is! Making me do all these things… I do plenty for her. What did I do to deserve this? This!" He indicated himself with a downward flap of the arms. He was angry, and animated by his anger, but his costume forbade him to move more than a little, or otherwise; to stop and get comfortable. He could only stand still in his painfully impractical shoes, making small ineffectual movements whilst he cried frustrated, helpless tears. He was trembling all over. Stephen held and stroked one of his hands while Adrian, sitting, held the other, trying to soothe him.
"I'm so sorry" Stephen said tenderly, "I wish it were different."
"I just don't understand why she did it. I thought I knew her…"
"Well you were sleeping with another woman. You've got to expect her to get a bit upset."
Lou drew abruptly away from him. "What would you know, you hissy bitch" he said venomously. "Just cos you got burned once… Oh the shame! The shame!" he continued sarcastically, throwing his arms as far into the air as he could, "Whatever will they think of me?"
Stephen's mouth dropped open and he turned to Adrian in horror. He had told them his secret! For a moment he forgot all about Lou and stared with mortal offence at his best friend who sat shamefaced, averting his eyes. "How could you?" he whispered, in barely audible tones. Adrian wouldn't meet his gaze. The drama was proving too much for him; his head was spinning, he couldn't separate one voice from the next.
Stephen was distracted by Lou biting him again. "So don't you start acting all superior" he said bitterly, "or maybe you think you're better cos you didn't enjoy it."
"Well at least I didn't go round boasting about it! Like it's something to be proud of!"
"You'd rather I'd be like you: Oooh, will Mary like this, will Mary like that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Yes, goddam boring!"
"Well" said Stephen haughtily, "if that's what excitement's like, maybe I'm better off boring." Lou looked shocked at the implication and Stephen immediately regretted saying it. "Look, Lou…" he began, meaning to apologise.
"I'm not talking to you" he replied, before turning to Adrian. "You think I'm right, don't you?"
"Yeah, of course" he said, uncomprehending. Lou was disconcerted by the way Adrian looked past him as he spoke, not making eye contact.
"And you" he continued, turning to Candi, "you agree with me?"
"Absolutely darling, haven't I always supported you in this?"
There was something in Candi's tone that made Lou uneasy: Was he enjoying this? He looked round the table. Stephen was sitting, sulking; his head down, his face full of wounded pride. Adrian stared blankly into space. Candi just sat and watched him impassively, schadenfreude lingering behind his eyes. A great sense of despair came over him. Finally he spoke: "I'm going now"
"No wait!" said Stephen guiltily. "Please, I didn't mean…"
Lou wasn't prepared to give Stephen an inch. "I know quite well what you meant."
With that he turned and tottered away, deaf to their pleas. None of Lou's friends got up to stop him. None of them really knew what to do or say. Instead, they sat there in a long, pregnant silence, watching him move painfully off. The slow tapping of his footsteps was like the ticking of a clock, drowned out only by the murmurs of the crowd, who moved aside and talked after him as he wobbled precariously past. Only once he was out of sight did anyone round the table speak. It was Candi, breaking the silence with a tone of callous gossip.
"Personally, I think he got what he deserved."
Stephen and Adrian turned together and looked at their friend in utter disgust: All that time he had egged Lou on, encouraged him, revelled in his affair. How could he be such a hypocrite?
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