When Shaun stepped through into the main house, he felt suddenly shy and awkward. He regretted his impulse to pick up Kenn’s discarded clothing and stood hesitantly by the doorway not sure what to do with the armful of cast-offs.
‘Hey! There you are’ Kenn beamed, ‘Coffee’s on. Do you like milk? I don’t have any, but I may have some substitute’
‘Oh!’ Kenn laughed, ‘gimme those. You didn’t have to. I’m used to tidying up my own messes’ He grabbed the soiled clothing and dumped it in a basket to one side of the kitchen door. It wasn’t really a door more of a breakfast-bar and hatchway, that lead through to a large open plan living space. Conservatively furnished, with an old upholstered sofa and a couple of armchairs on a rug around a coffee table; it was comfortable looking and lived in. There was a huge widescreen TV with floor speakers and a sound system at one end, and a set of screen doors which led onto a deck in the rear garden.
‘You take sugar?’ Kenn asked. Shaun shook a ‘No’ and settled on a stool at one end of the bar.
‘Look! I’ve been thinking’ Kenn continued as he strode around the kitchen, completely at ease in his own environment, oblivious to how stunning he looked, his deeply tanned body emphasised by the light grey cut-offs slung around his hips.
‘Oh! Yeah?’ Shaun replied readjusting his focus.
‘How would you feel about helping me out with Old man Thornton’s place in Tivoli? It would only be for about a week. I could train you up some. It would be a real help to me... n’ you can’t go home dressed like that. I don’t wanna leave you here on your own to wait for your stuff to dry... I...’ Kenn paused. The words had sort of tumbled out of him before he’d really had a chance to put into order what he wanted to say. He took a deep breath. ‘I can call Matt Thornton and put him off for today. He’s a regular client and pretty cool.’ Pausing again he looked almost bashful and scratched behind his ear and then said, ‘We could goof off and spend some time together... I ...think we should talk.’ he ended lamely, blushing as he turned away to pour the steaming coffee into two mugs sitting on the counter.
Shaun’s heart lifted and he smiled, then, grinned brightly as Kenn managed to slop some of the coffee in his haste. ‘Sure’ he said, ‘that would be great’ and flashed a toothy smile at Kenn.
Kenn nearly dropped the mugs as he caught the smile and the flash of amusement in the boy’s blue eyes, the breath caught in his throat and he had to swallow a lump he felt there. Just the way his fringe flops in front of those eyes, he thought; what the hell is happening to me?
He managed to pass the coffee over without spilling any more, and gestured towards the sofa, ‘make yourself at home... I’ll just go call Matt’ he sauntered past the breakfast bar and disappeared into the front of the house as Shaun tentatively wandered into the living space. He perched on the couch which defined the seating area, its back facing towards the kitchen. He didn’t know what to do with the coffee the low table was too far away, so he moved to one of the overstuffed armchairs and settled against the soft worn cord fabric. The whole suite was a rich moss green, reflecting the taste in which the room had been decorated.
There was a theme of nature to the place that Shaun liked. A few samples of rock some shells and stones, an old animal skull, possum or skunk he surmised. Pieces of knobby bark and a few wave stripped branches were scattered over the walls and on shelves and lots of books that, when Shaun moved over to look appeared to all be about wildlife, photography, birds and plants. Even the few pictures and paintings were of the wild.
Amongst them was a framed photograph, taken a few years ago he guessed, of a lake, surrounded by woodland with hills in the distance; In the foreground stood a cottage made of stone and wood with a high deck. There were a couple of kayaks on a rack beneath it and sitting on the steps smiling into the camera was a pretty woman. Her auburn hair was loosely tied up on top of her head; she wore jeans, a navy and green checked-shirt, open at the neck with the sleeves rolled up. She sat with one booted leg propped up, knee bent with her arms holding it in place. It was a relaxed happy picture taken in spring he thought. The woman was obviously laughing at something that had been said by the photographer.
‘That’s my wife’ rumbled Kenn’s voice softly from beside the breakfast bar.
Shaun spun around, ‘I wasn’t snooping’ he said defensively. Kenn smiled, slightly sadly Shaun thought.
‘It’s Ok... how’s your coffee?’
‘Err... fine’ Shaun replied heading back to the couch feeling awkward again.
‘She died...’ Kenn said tightly after a silence. ‘Nearly five years ago now’ he added softly.
‘Yeah... I, I know... my Mom...’ Shaun, at a loss what to say, trailed off.
Kenn smiled again, then shaking himself took in a deep breath and gave a broad smile saying briskly, ‘But that’s enough of my woes’ and threw himself into the armchair nearest the sofa almost spilling his drink and swung one leg over the arm. As he did so, the loose leg of his cut-offs gaped, showing a broad tanned thigh and flashing his now resting genitals.
Shaun couldn’t help staring. Kenn followed his gaze and grunting adjusted his posture and the shorts until he was decent again.
They both blushed and then Kenn laughed and Shaun smiled cautiously.
‘Seen it all before huh?’ smiled Kenn.
Shaun just grinned tightly and flicked his eyebrows once.
The silence this time was companionable and stretched for a while as each man drank his coffee lost in his own thoughts. Slowly they started talking; general questions at first. Kenn asked about Shaun’s home life and he filled him in on the situation with his Mom and Dad. How after the divorce he and his Mom had moved into the smaller house. Shaun asked about the rocks and specimens’ of wildlife around the room, and Kenn shared his passion for the hills on the other side of the river, and was both pleased and surprised to hear his passion reflected in the younger man, as he described his jaunts to go rock climbing and his desire to explore further.
Kenn told Shaun about the cabin in Catskill Park which he sometimes hiked up to. ‘Middle a’ nowhere’ he sighed, ‘with air as clear as light, and fresh as a mountain stream’
‘Maybe we could go there sometime?’ Shaun blurted. Then regretted it feeling it was maybe a little presumptuous.
‘Sure. Maybe.’ Kenn replied and smiled. ‘I don’t get much opportunity with all the work an’ all. It’s a long trek not a weekender’ He asked about college and Shaun was grateful for the change of topic. He explained how he’d flunked his second year at Worcester PI, but had negotiated a year out to maybe do some travel and get his act together. It wasn’t the academic side he’d struggled with particularly, he explained. He’d enjoyed the course, but some of the other students were a pain.
‘And the whole “you-gotta party” thing, just wasn’t my scene.’
In fact, he’d had a few ‘run-in’s’ with a couple of the guys, the underlying tension to all this, ramped up by his confused feelings which were now coalescing into a reality he hadn’t prepared for. He didn’t admit this last part to Kenn, just mumbled some excuse about not getting on with his housemates and it affecting his grades.
Kenn smiled with empathy remembering his own troubled younger days, and then went on to talk, tentatively at first, about Judith. How they’d known each other since before high school and had been an ‘item’ in the town before even they were aware of it. He told Shaun about their troubles with having children, and Shaun remained silent, apart from the occasional nod and murmur of commiseration, awed and humbled by Kenn’s openness. After a while as Kenn continued to talk, it seemed to Shaun as if Kenn had almost forgotten who he was talking to; no other person had ever opened up to him like this before, not even his Mom.
Kenn was himself, surprised how easily he moved on to speaking about his former existence. He described in detail his life with Judith; their mutual love of the wild places and their long weekends at his folk’s cottage on a lake over in Connecticut. That was where the picture had been taken on their last trip there together. That had been in May. Then, in June, came the fateful scan. Without sentiment, and without any trace of self-pity, he sketched a picture of their last months. The jokey blitheness he’d adopted at first. Then the slow defeat of Jude’s immune system as a result of the drugs that failed to impede the progress of the tumours; and the final few weeks in the hospice. ‘But she fought it to the end. She was a fighter.’
Kenn looked up and was moved and touched to see tears in the younger man’s eyes. He paused, and gave a soft appreciative smile. ‘And that was the last time I ever held anyone... until today’
He fell silent and Shaun couldn’t speak, he just sniffed once and went to swipe at his nose which was leaking and mumbled, ‘Sorry’
‘Here’ Kenn chucked him a box of tissues he had lying by his chair.
‘Sorry’ Shaun said again and blew his nose noisily.
‘Hey! What did I tell you about apologising?’ Kenn grumbled, then, kindly, he added, ‘But... Thanks’.
A small plosive laugh came from Shaun as he sat back. ‘Kinda got to me... Nobody’s ever talked like this with me before’.
‘...Yeah? Hmn!’ Kenn snorted, ‘Surprised me too! ...You’re a good listener’ after a silence he added, ‘You hungry?’
Shaun surprised at the sudden change of direction smiled and stretched realising he hadn’t shifted in his seat for over an hour, saying, ‘Sure. What have you got?’
As Shaun stretched, the slit sided tank had revealed the sides of his lats and the ripple of muscle covering his ribs, a curve of pectoral and one chocolaty nipple. Kenn shivered involuntarily and stood up heading for the kitchen, as much to refocus his mind as anything. ‘Ahm... well let’s see shall we’ he grunted, and opened the big retro-style fridge. ‘ I’ve rye bread, toast, baloney, turkey, some ham and a couple of tomatoes. Any of that grab ya?’
‘Sure, whatever’s easiest’ said Shaun, ‘Erm ...where’s the...’
‘John?’ Shaun nodded. ‘There’s a bathroom through there’ Kenn indicated a door in the hall at the end of the breakfast bar, ‘There’s a shower too ...if you want one’ without making too big a point of it he glanced at the oily mess on the base of the foot that in crossing his legs, Shaun had perched on one knee, then lifted his own and grimaced. ‘You go ahead I’ll rustle up some lunch. Switch is on the outside’Next chapter