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lomax61

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About lomax61

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    Adventure
    Comedy
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    Fantasy
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    Writing, hiking, socialising, keeping fit, sleeping.

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  1. lomax61

    Meet & Greet

    KENNEDY ~ MEET AND GREET By the time they had both unpacked, washed and dressed, with Kieran getting Kennedy’s opinion on a stylish ensemble of floral shirt comprising faded pinks, oranges and blues, together with white chino pants and tan deck shoes—a look Kieran totally rocked, the cruise staff had already arrived to set up for the drinks party. Kennedy wore a simple linen combination, comfortable, of white shirt untucked over fawn pants and open toed brown leather sandals. His friends would expect no less. When he descended the circular stairs to the main floor, he noticed Kieran helping the two staff lay out finger foods and arrange glasses. “Kieran, you’re on vacation. Leave the professionals to do their job.” “I want to be useful.” And just then, Kennedy realised the truth. Kieran was nervous as all hell about meeting his friends. Wanted to impress and make sure everything went well. Once again, an overwhelming affection hit Kennedy, that Kieran was trying because of him. Before he could say anything, there came a knock at the door. Being the nearest, Kennedy went to answer. “Are we too early?” asked Steph, her head poking through the open door. “As always,” said Kennedy, pulling her into the room and into a hug. “I bet you could hear the Cosmopolitan shaker all the way from your cabin, couldn’t you? Come on in.” If Steph appeared a little tired, Laurie looked positively haggard. Not that he would tell her as much. Plus-sized and proud, they rarely dressed down and while blonde Steph wore a deep scarlet pants suit and gold accessories, Laurie had black jeans and a black silk blouse decorated with tiny red and gold Koi carp. “Before you say anything, we may not be looking our best right now—despite half an hour of emergency make-up. Flew in last night, so we’re both more than a little pooped. Might not last the night.” “Jet lag’s a bitch,” added Kieran, coming to Kennedy’s side. “I found that out the hard way. Loving that blouse, by the way.” “And who might you be?” said Steph, casting a quick quizzical glance at Kennedy, before returning her full attention to Kieran. “I’m Kieran,” he replied, throwing an arm around Kennedy’s shoulders. Kennedy grinned and looked away, not wanting them to see how much he liked the gesture. “So you’re this year’s plus one, huh?” “I am indeed,” said Kieran, detaching himself from Kennedy. “And you’re without a drink. What can I get you?” “Okay,” said Laurie, stepping into the cabin. “You’re now officially my new best friend. Steph’ll have a long, tall vodka tonic with fresh lime. I’ll have soda water with ice and lemon.” “Soda water?” said Kennedy, as Kieran headed off. “Since when?” “Since ten weeks ago,” said Steph, grinning sheepishly at Kennedy. “Oh my God, are you—?” asked Kennedy, waiting. “I sure am,” said Laurie. “Ten weeks on Jenny Craig and I’ve already lost twenty pounds.” “What he was going to ask, darling, was if you’re pregnant.” “I was not—” lied Kennedy. “Oh, pur-lease. One miracle at a time, darling man.” When Kieran returned to the laughing trio with their drinks, he joined in the conversation and clearly enjoyed their open banter. Maybe because they were a lot like Kieran himself. Listening out for the door, Kennedy almost missed Steph’s comment. “You should be honoured. You’re not his usual type,” said Steph, absently. “Most of the others looked like sticks of candy floss. With the kind of sparkling conversation you’d expect from inanimate fairground objects.” “Steph!” said Laurie, aghast but laughing. “What? It’s true.” “I am standing right here, ladies,” added Kennedy, even though he was used to ribbing from his friends. When another knock came at the door, Kennedy went to answer. To Kennedy’s surprise, not only had the piano player arrived with an armful of of sheet music, but Pete and Eric were accompanied by Leonard and another young man. The whole gang had arrived—plus one. “Permission to come aboard, sir?” asked Leonard, grinning, after Pete and Eric had moved inside. Leonard had always possessed an appealing smile. He looked good today, too, in jeans and striped yellow and maroon rugby shirt, his greying goatee highlighting dimples as he smiled. “Always more than welcome,” said Kennedy, his eyes drawn to the good looking young man by Leonard’s side. Probably in his twenties—around Kieran’s age—he appeared uncomfortable, hands punched deep into his jeans pockets. Had Leonard decided to bring his own hired help? “And who’s might this be?” “Kennedy, let me introduce you to Chip—” At that, the gaze swung in Leonard’s direction, a disgusted expression settling there. “Told you not to call me that,” he said, angrily, before turning his attention to Kennedy. From those few words of response, Kennedy could tell he was from North America. No doubt Leonard would explain more later. “You all can call me Leighton. Do you got any beer?” “Yes, I’m sure we have. Check with the waiter over there. Leonard, there’s a bottle of Krug on ice, why don’t you go help him out,” said Kennedy. As he turned, he noticed that Pete had cornered Kieran—Pete tended to interrogate rather than question—and decided to help out. “What about him, the nice old guy, Eric?” he heard Kieran ask. “What do you call him?” “Him I call dad.” “Huh? Why dad?” “Because he’s my father.” “Your father’s gay?” “Not in the slightest. But he’s been joining us ever since mum died. And because we sometimes share these cruises with the bottle blue brigade, he normally gets more action that the lot of us put together. Oh shite, is he starting on the red wine already. Here, hold this a moment.” Kieran took hold of Pete’s champagne glass and turned to smile at Kennedy. “How are you doing?” “Learning a lot about the group. Hope you don’t mind, but I’ve asked the pianist to play some oldies; Katy Perry, Snow Patrol, Coldplay, that kind of thing.” Golden oldies, thought Kennedy, then what the hell does that make me? Only then did he realise the pianist was playing a soft version of Katy’s ‘I Kissed A Girl.’ “Pete’s quite the character, isn’t he?” continued Kieran, either missing or ignoring Kennedy’s expression. “Has names for everyone. Steph and Laurie are the ‘Weather Girls’, Leonard he calls Doris because, apparently, Leonard’s last name is Day—” “What does he call me?” “You really want to know?” “Go on. I can handle it.” “He calls you Mr Happy, because he says you rarely are,” said Kieran. “And in your defence—yes, I know I’m not fighting any more battles for you—I said he might need to reevaluate that by the end of the holiday.” “By the end of which, no doubt, he’ll have rechristened you, too—” “Oh, he already has. I’m to be known as Queer One instead of Kieran. Ouch. So my cover should be good for a few more days.” Kennedy’s smiled slipped for a moment then. Being among so many gay people might well prove to be uncomfortable for Kieran, and he didn’t deserve that. “Look, Kieran, if you get hassled or find you can’t take the smack talk—” “Hey, Kennedy, I’m good. Okay? And honestly, I have a really good feeling about this cruise. Please don’t ruin it for yourself by worrying about me. Believe me, I can hold my own.” Kennedy held his gaze then, started to smile and say something inappropriate, but Kieran beat him to the punchline. “Don’t even, Ned. You know what I mean.” Part way through the evening, after Kennedy made sure everyone had a glass of something, he got all seven of them to sit together on the sofa arrangement. “Okay people,” he announced, after asking the piano player to stop his rendition of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’. “We need to talk about who’s doing what. Usual score.” “I am not doing Japan,” said Eric, Pete’s dad. “Steph?” asked Kennedy, wanting to step away from the front. “Can you take over?” Over the next twenty minutes, Steph arranged who would be attending which shore excursion. Oddly enough, Kieran had been really keen to go to the Buddhist temple in Samui, something that held no interest at all for Kennedy, and he declined. Fortunately, Steph, Laurie—who wanted to do everything—and Leonard and his partner opted in. Kennedy wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but let the thought go. Part way through the evening—they had only meant to have pre-dinner drinks and snacks before the welcome dinner, but his friends got along so well together—Kennedy stood back and observed with a feeling of happiness and pride. Kieran stood laughing with Pete and Eric, the two toughest nuts to crack in their whole group of friends. A warm wave of happiness flooded him, having all of his friends together, getting along. Not that he didn’t value the visit to his family, but friends were different; no hidden agendas, no expectations, pure fun and enjoyment. While Kennedy chatted with Pete and Leonard—his eye constantly drawn to Kieran working the room like a professional—he noticed Kieran had detached himself from the group and had opened the main door. “Who is it?” called Kennedy, laughing over Pete’s shoulder, to where Kieran stood. When he turned, something about the ashen expression stoppered Kennedy's laughter. “What is it, Kieran? Who’s there?” “It’s me, Kennedy,” came a loud voice from outside the door, one he knew only too well. “So is this pet monkey of yours going to let us in or not?” Patrick.
  2. lomax61

    Cabin Class

    KIERAN - CABIN CLASS Inside the bowels of the The Diamond Princess, despite the spotlessness, and attempt at wood panelling and plush carpet opulence, the corridors felt oppressive. Kieran kept having flashbacks to the scenes in the movie Titanic where Kate and Leo tried desperately to escape the sinking ship through one identical corridor after another. Kennedy walked in front, trailing behind the white-suited Asian steward, who had insisted on carrying his bags. Kieran had been left to bring his own. Stopping outside a large white double-door, the steward brought out the small cardboard pocket containing key cards. Before he had a chance to step inside, Kennedy put a hand on the man’s shoulder to get his attention. Taking the cards with one hand, he stuffed a banknote in the steward’s top pocket with the other. “Thanks, Simeon. We can take it from here. I’ve stayed in this room before. I know where everything is.” “As you wish, Mr Grey,” he said, his smile obsequious. “Everything is arranged for tonight as requested. They’ll come by at five-thirty to set up. But if there’s anything you need, sir. And I mean anything, day or night. Just call. I’ll be your personal attendant for the whole journey. Have a wonderful voyage with us.” His gaze barely grazed Kieran as he backed away from them. When Kennedy turned back to the open door, Kieran was sure he rolled his eyes. Without a second thought, he followed after Kennedy when he stepped across the cabin threshold and moved inside, but immediately stopped, a gasp escaping him. “Yeah, nice isn’t it? One of the ship’s six loft suites. Had to book this baby up early,” said Kennedy, dropping his bag at the door and critically assessing the space. Stately hardwood panels lined the room, opening into a two storey space with floor to ceiling windows running along one side and a bedroom with a huge super king-sized bed on the mezzanine level—the loft, Kieran supposed—overlooking the spacious living area. In the middle of the room, he did a quick three-sixty. Wall-to-wall bookcases, three double settees, a fully stocked bar in walnut, an eight-seater dining table and— “No fucking way. A baby grand? Are you yanking my chain?” “Comes with the cabin. And tonight, we’re having a cocktail party. Complete with cocktail waiter and piano player. Friends only.” Kieran didn’t want to think how much this lot had set Kennedy back. “Fuck, am I going to have to put out for all of this?” Kennedy laughed aloud, a sound Kieran was really starting to enjoy hearing. Seemed as though the man didn’t laugh enough, according to his father and sister. Funny how both had whispered parting words with almost the same intent, to come back soon with Kennedy, because he brought out the best in him, in all of them. “Nope,” came Kennedy’s voice, bring him back to the scene. “A deal’s a deal. And although I may be a ruthless bastard when it comes to business, I am an honest one. But there is one drawback. Only one bedroom and only one bed,” said Kennedy, turning and scrutinising Kieran. “Now I’m happy to get the settee here made up for you each night, if you want. But upstairs will be a lot more comfortable and I promise be a complete gentleman. And apart from me sleeping in sweat pants and tee, that mattress is huge, so there’ll be no accidental rolling over and brushing up against each other in the night. So I suggest we give it a try and, if you’re not happy, you can have the couch. Unless, of course, I get lucky, in which case those curtains will be nailed tight and you’ll be on the couch anyway.” Kieran peered up at the loft and gulped. A waist height glass balcony and heavy white curtain—currently opened—partitioned the bedroom from the living room. If Kennedy pulled someone, Kieran would be able to hear everything. “For all your bravado, you are quite gullible at times,” laughed Kennedy, heading towards the window. “Relax, I’m only kidding. The last time I got lucky Tony Blair was still Prime Minister.” Not for the first time, Kieran took in the man, and had a hard time believing he’d have difficulty getting laid. Classically handsome, and someone who clearly looked after his body, the man screamed sophistication and style, from his designer jeans to his perfectly fitted white flannel jacket. “Okay. Now it’s just you and me, I need to ask you something,” said Kennedy, turning at the window and thrusting his hands into his jeans pockets. “What did you say to my father?” Kieran felt himself redden. “About?” “You tell me.” “I’m not sure what you want me to say. We chatted about a whole heap of things.” Kennedy stared for a moment, but didn’t seem angry. After a moment of silence between them, he smiled. “Well, whatever you said, the father I just said goodbye to is not the same one I remember as a kid. And if that’s because of you, I need to thank you. But I also need you to know I didn’t hire you to fight my battles. So please, on the cruise, be yourself, enjoy yourself. I have nothing to prove in front of my friends. Agreed?” “Agreed.” “Now a few house rules,” began Kennedy, his back leaning against the window. Kieran perched on a stool by the bar. “Each day we’re onboard, we’ll have breakfast brought to the room. Part of the deal. After that, I’m not expecting you to be glued to me all day, you can go and get up to whatever you want until dinner time. But we’ll always dine together, is that understood?” “Of course.” “And if there are any special events going on—costume party, captain’s pleasure dinner, even other guests’ private parties—then you’ll accompany me as my plus one. We’ll decide on the port stops whether either or both of us want to join the excursions ashore, as and when they happen. When we’re together, I’m not expecting any touching or other displays of affection, but I do expect you to remain by my side and not flirt obviously with any other guests. And I include the female ones in that. Are we clear so far?” “Crystal.” “Any questions?” “What the hell am I supposed to do between breakfast and dinner?” “Seriously? This is a gigantic floating holiday resort. And there’ll be a lot of people your age. Okay, admittedly most of them will be gay and trying to get into your pants, but you could always hook up with a couple of nice lesbians,” said Kennedy, before pointing to the bar counter. “Right next to you, on the bar top, there’s a guide with a rundown of the whole fourteen days, with a list of excursions—if we’re docked in port—or other activities; gyms, fitness classes, cinemas, casino, swimming pools, live bands. Or you can chill and sunbathe up on deck.” Kieran peered down at the itinerary where the first port of call after Singapore jumped out at him: Koh Samui. Not only that, but a trip was offered for passengers to visit the Big Buddha Temple. “What will you be doing?” he heard himself say. “Most of the time? Probably working a little, but I’ll also hang out with my friends.” “Leonard?” Why had the name of that particular friend started to grate? “And others.” “What if I want to be glued to you? Do you have any objection if I tag along?” “Of course not. I—I just thought you’d want the freedom to explore. On your own.” “And during the fourteen days, I probably might, from time to time. But—and you may want to sit down to hear this—I enjoy your company, Kennedy. And I have a feeling I’ll like your friends, too.” Kieran had come to get a little twinge of pleasure every time Kennedy smiled, this time almost shyly. Without replying Kennedy turned and reached for a spot at the window, before sliding open a glass door and letting the floor-to-ceiling lace curtains billow into the room. “Come look at this.” Only then did Kieran realise he still had hold of his luggage handle. After propping the case against a chair, he followed Kennedy, who stood with a hand on the door. When Kieran stepped out onto the deck, once again his breath was taken away. Another eight-seater table, wooden-topped this time, had matching chairs placed around. Stunning views of the Port of Singapore met his gaze, with high rise buildings from the city centre rising beyond. “Okay, this is too much,” muttered Kieran, moving to the railing and shaking his head. “You know what? I get one holiday a year. One. The rest of the time I spend working damned hard. So if I do splash out while I’m away, if I do enjoy a little bit of luxury, it’s nobody’s fucking business but my own.” “I wasn’t criticising,” said Kieran softly, his gaze trailing out to sea. “I’m dazzled, that’s all. Never in my life did I think I’d see something as incredible as this, let alone experience it. Things like this just don’t happen to me.” After a few moments of quiet contemplation, he sensed Kennedy join him at the sea rail. When he glanced sidelong, he flushed slightly but saw Kennedy grinning fondly at him. “Welcome to the ball, Cinderella.”
  3. lomax61

    Au Revoir

    KENNEDY ~ AU REVOIR Kennedy stood hidden from view inside the shade of the open air kitchen, mug of fresh coffee held against his chest, watching in wonderment at his family and Kieran as they chatted amiably around the breakfast table. Over the past few days, Reagan had rearranged her plans, had even booked them all into the St Regis for Sunday champagne brunch—much to his mother’s delight—and had taken Kieran and her kids to Universal Studios on Monday—the day a public holiday—while his mother and father played golf, allowing Kennedy time to catch up on work and make some urgent calls. Just as well, too, because he’d heard from Karl how, just that morning, Milletto had once again requested a change of dates for the meeting, now in the middle of the last week of Kennedy’s holiday when he would be in Bali. More worryingly, Karl had an urgent meeting with their financial auditors that particular day, one he could not shrug off. At ten in the morning GMT, Kennedy got his team on a conference call to find out more, and ended by telling them he would most likely be dialling in for the meeting and to please use their main conference room. He had his reasons. Let’s see what Sloan’s next move would be. When he put the phone down, he checked his private email to see if Tim had sent him anything, but nothing had yet arrived. Determined not to let this development spoil his holiday, he finished his work and went for a punishing swim. Now, Tuesday, their last morning together, Reagan had turned up alone for breakfast to see them off, having dropped the boys off to school. Four days into the holiday and Kieran had already proven his worth. Kennedy watched Kieran talking animatedly, envied his easy nature, the way he comfortably chatted to anyone. Reagan’s kids, who rarely engaged Kennedy, already referred to him as Uncle Kieran. What the hell was he supposed to do with that when all this was over? Something in Kennedy had changed, too. He could feel as much deep down. Rarely had he enjoyed visiting his parents. Most other times he would have ended up arguing with his father about one thing or another—or with Patrick—and usually couldn’t wait to get the fuck gone. Maybe they had all mellowed with age, but seeing his sister laughing now reminded him how much he loved and missed her. “Your friend. He very nice man,” came Matty’s voice, beside him. When Kennedy turned, Matty held a tray with toast, butter, and assorted pots of Maya’s homemade fruit jam. “He come this morning to thank me and my wife for everything, said she is very, very good wife and cook—and probably much too good for me.” Matty’s laughter had Kennedy grinning, too. Yes, that sounded like Kieran. “I tell him, sorry, she not understand English.” Kennedy laughed along with Matty, which had Kieran and his sister looking over and smiling at them. Today they embarked on the next part of their journey and he wondered how Kieran would fare with his friends. “Here, let me take that,” said Kennedy, putting his mug on a counter top and taking the tray. “I need to be the good son and rejoin them. I’ll come and say goodbye before we leave.” As he approached the table, his mother singled him out. “Your father’s offered to drive you to the port.” Kennedy placed the tray in the middle of the table and gave his sister a quizzical look. All of them knew only too well not to arrange things for his father on Tuesdays, when he attended his old boy’s club—held sacrosanct in his retirement—the one day of the week he spent with his ex-consulate and other male buddies. “There’s no need. We can call a taxi.” “I’ll take you. No point wasting money,” said his father, turning a page of his newspaper. “What about club day?” “There’ll be plenty more of those. Family comes first.” Kennedy sat down heavily. Had he shifted into another dimension overnight? When he looked at Reagan, she shrugged, also looking bewildered. “In which case,” said Reagan, standing. “I need to go home, tidy up, and do some urgent chores.” She came around the table, giving each of her parents a hug, before stopping at Kieran, he stood up from his seat and hugged her. Kennedy had no idea what she said, but she whispered something in his ear, which had him grinning broadly and nodding. When she reached Kennedy, she grabbed his arm and pulled him up. “Come on. You can walk me to the car.” In comfortable silence, arms linked, they strolled towards the car canopy and stopped to face each other at the front grille of her black SUV. “Was great to see you and the boys, Reagan. Send my love to Bernie when he gets back. Tell him I’m sorry we missed him.” When they hugged, she clung on tightly, not wanting to let go. When she did, an odd expression transformed her face, part affection, part sadness, as though she wanted to tell him something. “What’s the matter?” Instead, she looked away for a moment, collected herself, and then met his gaze with a more stoic expression. “Bernie’s having an affair.” “What? Are you sure?” Finally, the undercurrent of sadness he had observed in her made sense. “The night before he left for Cape Town, while he was in the shower, a couple of pretty explicit text messages popped up on his phone. From someone called Shirl. I think it’s his secretary in Melbourne, Shirlene.” “Did you confront him?” “Honestly, I was too stunned at the time. Didn’t know what to say.” “Shit, Reagan. Why didn’t you call me? What are you going to do?” At that, a small, sad smile crept onto her face. “I know I’m a Bennett now—by marriage—but I’m also still a Grey at heart. And we don’t take things lying down. So I’m not going to ignore this. But I also have the boys to think about. Fortunately, I had the sense to snap a photo of the display on my phone, in case he tries to deny anything. He’s due back Friday, so I’ve asked mum to take the boys that night so Bernie and I can go out to dinner together. Haven’t told her anything else. But anyway, I’ll confront him then.” “If there’s anything you need from me, I mean anything, let me know.” “I don’t like to worry you—” “But you must, Reagan. Something that’s hit home for me this visit, is that I’ve been absent from your lives for too long. And that’s not healthy for any of us. Of course, I can’t be physically here to baby-sit for you or hold your hand, but I can offer both emotional and financial support, if that’s what you need. I’m your brother. I promise I’ll be there for you, okay?” “Okay, thank you,” she said, grinning broadly. “Hey, Kieran’s a catch. You fell on your feet with that one. Do you think you’ve finally found a keeper?” “We’ll see,” said Kennedy, thrown off guard by the change of subject, and looking away. “Come on, Kennedy, he’s nice,” she said, before tugging on his sleeve and getting his full attention. “What’s wrong with him?” Kennedy sighed and shook his head. How the hell did he explain to his sister that Kieran was nothing more than paid help, straight help, come to that? “Nothing’s wrong with him, I just—” “You think you’re not good enough, think he’ll leave you, too, don’t you?” “Eventually.” “That bastard ex well and truly fucked you up, didn’t he? If I ever run into him, so help me, I’ll—” Kennedy started laughing, then, stopping his sister in her tracks. “What?” “You remember what dad always told us? One battle at a time. Take on too many, you dilute your attention, and are more likely to lose them all. Sort your own shit out first.” They laughed together then, his sister finally pulling him into a final hug. “Talking of which, are you going to say anything to them, mum and dad?” he asked. “Let’s see what happens first. I’ll keep you posted, too. Enjoy the rest of your holiday. I know you don’t do social media, but email or text me some photos.” “Will do.” After she had driven away, he and Kieran spent the rest of their morning packing and readying themselves for the next leg of the vacation. Bang on ten, Matty arrived at his bedroom door, insisting once again to take his bags down to the car. After his mother bid them both a teary farewell, they drove out to the port, where The Diamond Princess towered over every other vessel. Impressive did not even begin to describe the sheer size and structure of the cruise liner. Seven stories of cabin balconies sat between other floors of restaurant or cafes or gyms—difficult to discern from the exterior. Kennedy had almost become immune to the sight, had done cruises so many times, but in the rear view mirror, he could see Kieran sitting open mouthed and enchanted. “Good heavens,” said Jeff, pulling up at the drop off point. “Looks like a floating city.” “She pretty much is,” said Kennedy. “Built to accommodate up to around four thousand passengers not including crew.” “And they’re all—you know—like you? The passengers?” “More or less, yes,” said Kennedy. He decided not to try to explain that the organisers aimed the cruise at the full range of LGBTQ, as well welcoming older guests, thin or more full bodied, and all races. Which made for a far more friendly crowd. One of the other cruises had been more exclusive, just for men, and if you weren’t ripped, in your twenties, and hot, you were essentially invisible. Without too much ceremony, Jeff helped them get their bags out of the trunk. This time around, however, instead of the formal handshake, he pulled Kieran into a hug and, just like his sister had, said something to him that Kennedy couldn’t hear. Finally he turned his attention to Kennedy. “Come and see us again soon, son. Your mother and I aren’t getting any younger.” “You know, you can always jump on a plane and come see me.” “With your work schedule? Would we ever get to see you?” “Fair point. But I’d make the time.” “Let me talk to your mother. You know how she feels about travelling and especially about cold weather. But it might be nice to spend Christmas in England.” Kennedy fully expected his father to shake his hand in farewell, and was surprised when his father almost pulled him off his feet into a fierce hug. “Look, son,” he said, still holding tight. “I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I want you to know how immensely proud I am of you, of everything you’ve accomplished. I see now that you’ve done everything single-handedly, which can be very hard on a person. So take time out for yourself every now and then. And take care of that lovely boy. He’s—he’s very special. I’d be honoured to have him part of our family.” When his father finally let them go, turning quickly and getting in the car so Kennedy could not see his face, he realised his own eyes had misted over. Something that hadn’t happened for years. Yes, he thought, things had definitely changed.
  4. lomax61

    Sleepless in Singapore

    LOL, @Akronmo, actually I’m off to India next week for work, so am not likely to post all week. One more chapter left to finish off this ‘section’ of the story, and then we’re off on a gay cruise. Woo-hoo. Calms seas? Yeah, maybe not.
  5. lomax61

    Sleepless in Singapore

    KIERAN ~ SLEEPLESS IN SINGAPORE 3:10am. Kieran sat up in bed, wide awake, hands clasped behind his neck, listening to the gentle hum of the air-conditioner and the distant, but constant nighttime sizzle of cicadas from outside. Just as he had predicted, he'd plunged into a deep sleep the moment his head hit the pillow, but found himself waking, fresh as a snowflake a few hours later. He’d already checked his phone, read and answered his messages and emails, had even tried Kennedy’s suggestion and watched television, but nothing really caught his attention. Of course, he had texted Cole and Jules about the past twenty four hours; the flight—he had kept the menu as a souvenir—the amazing house Kennedy’s parents lived in with five bedrooms and its own private swimming pool, and the amazing banquet they’d served up to welcome them. Even though they seemed formal with each other, the family had been friendly and civil to him. So much so that Kennedy’s earlier belittling of his family felt brutal and unwarranted. But then what did he know? Maybe they were putting on a show for the sake of him. Eventually he got up, went to the window and pulled aside one of the heavy blinds. Below, lights illuminated the pool still. Would he disturb anyone, he thought, if he got up and had a swim? Kennedy’s parents’ bedroom stood at the far end of the house, while Kennedy’s own bedroom was next to them. What the hell, he told himself, who would even know? In the bathroom, he squeezed back into his damp swimming shorts and grabbed one of the plump white bath towels. With the addition of a plain white tee and flip flops, he collected his laptop and headphones on the way out and made his way quietly back to the pool. For half an hour, he swam freestyle up and down without stopping, enjoying the freedom, the release of energy, and the water cooling and caressing his body. When he finally stopped, panting heavily, he hauled his dripping body out, ready to dry himself and relax alone at the small table where he’d left his things. Except someone else sat there, puffing blue smoke into the night air. “When I mentioned an early morning swim,” said Jefferson Grey, with good humour. “I was thinking more along the lines of six or seven in the morning. Couldn’t sleep, young man?” “What can I say?” said Kieran, towelling his hair. “Turns out jet lag’s real. So I thought I’d use the time to exercise. What’s kept you awake?” “Insomnia. Comes with age, I’m afraid. And then I heard someone swimming. Either my son or you, I figured. So here I am.” Jeff blew a cloud of smoke into the air and wiggled his cigar. “Which also gives me the opportunity to smoke one of these babies without being badgered. Do you smoke?” “I don’t,” said Kieran, taking a seat at the table. “Well, actually I did once—cigarettes—but label myself a non-smoker now. Sometimes I have the occasional puff—if I’m stressed. Not very often. Don’t say anything to Kennedy. He thinks I’ve never smoked.” “You’ve only just met. I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t know about each other.” “I know he can be very particular.” “Just like his mother,“ said Jeff, nodding and flicking ash into a plastic saucer. “You know, you’re a lot different to Patrick.” Kieran sat back then, wanting to take advantage of the opportunity. “Kennedy doesn’t talk about him. What was he like?” Jeff sat quiet for a moment. He appeared to be considering Kieran’s question. “Did Kennedy tell you what I used to do for a living?” “You worked for the British High Commission.” “For forty-two years. And, let me tell you, in all that time thousands of souls passed through our offices—not just dignitaries—people from all walks of life, from all nations. Something my wife will tell you about me—one of the nicer things—is my ability to sum up a person’s character. Within a short space of time, I can tell whether someone is open, honest and trustworthy. She calls it intuition, but I think it’s more a skill one builds over the years working as a public servant. Patrick was—he came across as—sullen and distant. Both times he stayed here, he barely left his room. If we managed to get a ‘good morning’ out of him over breakfast, it was cause for celebration. Not once did he thank us for our hospitality, the way you did when I met you at the airport yesterday. But they lived together, had known each other for nine years, so we assumed they were content. Their last time here, he and Kennedy argued constantly. Maybe the writing was on the wall. What I’m trying to say is, when they were here I sensed no happiness between them. I’m sure Kennedy told you we weren’t exactly thrilled with our son’s lifestyle choice, but parents still want to see their children end up happy. Five years ago, just after they broke up, Kennedy came here alone. He never told us exactly what happened between them, but I could tell that my son was changed, had put up a wall around himself. I can only assume the break-up did that to him. The whole week he was here, I don’t remember seeing him smile once, let alone laugh.” “He laughs now. Usually at me. He has a pretty cool sense of humour.” Key West, indeed, thought Kieran, remembering and smirking. “He’s different with you.” “Is he?” Why did that observation send a small thrill through Kieran? “How do you mean?” “Calmer. As though he has less to prove. As though he can trust you, I suppose.” Kieran deflated. Of course Kennedy would be calmer, Kieran was being paid to be there, a little snippet he would definitely not share with Jefferson. “And I get the impression you like him, too,” added Jeff. “I admire him.” “Admire? For what?” Kieran sighed, grabbed his laptop and flipped the top open. Within seconds he had opened a browser and brought up a number of windows showcasing Kennedy’s achievements. He’d already saved many to his personal favourites. When Jeff explained he couldn’t make out the text in the articles without his glasses, Kieran obliged by reading them out loud to him. Twenty minutes later, Jeff sat in quiet contemplation. “You know, when people ask me about my son, I have no idea what to tell them, because he’s never let me into his life. I know I was a strict father—like my father was with me—but I was equally strict with Reagan, and she never shut me out. Thank you for showing me this. We knew he ran the business capably, but had no idea he’d been this successful. And he did all this without my help, financially or otherwise.” “Hope you don’t mind me saying this, Jeff, having only just met you. But I sense that all he ever wanted from you was your approval.” “Sounds to me as though he doesn’t need it, or that it’d be too late, anyway.” Kieran tilted his head back and stared into the night sky. “I had this English Lit teacher at school, tough as nails and as straight as they came, teaching my least favourite topic. But I needed to get a good grade to get into the college of choice. For me, Shakespeare was like trying to understand a foreign language, and kept dragging my overall grade in the subject down. I could never get past a B minus. Didn’t help that I thought she didn’t like me, but at least she was consistent, because everyone else in my class thought she hated them, too. So I threw myself at the main problem—Hamlet, of all bloody plays—read everything I could get my hands on, studied weekends, evenings, saw multiple remakes of the film, and even sat through a couple of performances at the Old Vic. Kind of got to love the story in the end, got to see so many human flaws in Hamlet, the man, and so many subtle themes running through the play. And when she read out the class results of the mock exam, announced that not only had I got an A, but that my essay was something everyone in the class should aspire to, I almost burst with pride. Managed to get A stars in four other subjects, but that was the one I was most proud of. What I’m trying to say is; it’s the people we least expect to hear praise from, whose praise we value the most. Does that make sense?” Jeff stared at Kieran for a moment, before his gaze dropped to Kieran’s shoulder, and became unfocused. “For someone so young, you are wise beyond your years. Yes, what you say makes perfect sense. My father preferred to point out our shortcomings and ignore our successes—said that’s what makes a man—and I suppose I adopted the same method with my children. Looking back now, I almost feel as though they’ve both succeeded in their own way, in spite of me, not because of anything I said or did.” “You’re proud of them both?” “Of course I am.” “So I guess the only question you need to ask yourself is, do they know?” After a final toke, Jeff stubbed his cigar out repeatedly, his gaze trained on the saucer. Even though he said nothing, Kieran could tell he’d processed the question. Maybe Kieran had gone too far. “On that note, young man, I’m heading back to bed. See if I can grab a couple more hours before breakfast. I suggest you do the same.” “I will. After I’ve dried off a little.” Jeff stood and went to leave, but then hesitated and turned back. “I never asked about your own father. What does he do?” “No idea. He walked out on us when I was seven, just before my brother was born.” Jeff said nothing then, just raised his head to the heavens, gently shaking his head. “What kind of man would do that to his children?” “You see, Jeff? You’re already well ahead in the fatherhood stakes.” Jeff sighed deeply, and began to walk away, but once again, faltered. “Kieran?” “Jeff?” “I’m glad you’re here. Good to see my boy finally finding someone sociable and genuine. And I get the feeling he needs you by his side right now. To bring a little sunshine back into his life. Good night, son.” “Night, Jeff.” After Jeff departed, Kieran sat staring at the ash filled saucer, feeling like a total fraud.
  6. lomax61

    Shades of Grey

    KENNEDY ~ SHADES OF GREY Climbing the slow rise of oak stairs to his room, Kennedy remembered the sounds and smells of the old house only too well. Even though he had only lived there until the age of ten—after that he had been packed off to boarding school in the UK—he recalled the pungent smell of pine floor polish, shuttered windows diffusing the fierce daylight, the constant thrum of ceiling fans running throughout the house—now replaced by almost silent air conditioners—the unique heat of each day except when the respite of cooling monsoon rains hit, and the sound of geckos chit-chatting and toads croaking throughout the night. As memories went, they were not bad ones. But this was no longer his world—never really had been. Matius, the Indonesian housekeeper, walked ahead of him insisting on carrying his bags. Before his death, Matius’ father, Agus, had run the household. Matius would have been only twenty-five when Kennedy was bundled off to England. Now married with his own son and daughter in their twenties, he and his wife, Maya, continued to work for the family. Live-in domestic help was a way of life in Singapore—in many Asian countries—with the huge disparity in wealth between the rich and poor, and high unemployment forcing people to seek overseas jobs simply to survive. Although many of Matty’s relatives still lived in Bandung—south of Jakarta—for over two generations his family had resided in the two bedroom apartment above the kitchen in the outbuilding at the side of the house. Most houses and apartments came with what they called a wet and a dry kitchen. Usually the wet one stood unenclosed by walls, open to the elements, where wok cooking happened, allowing the potent Asian spices to dissipate into the air. Dry kitchens were used primarily to prepare food for cooking and, in the case of the Greys, to house a large oven, fridge and other electrical appliances. “My wife, Maya, cook for you tonight, sir,” said Matius—Matty—turning into Kennedy’s room, and dropping the bags at the foot of the bed. Apart from the squeals of Kennedy’s nephews playing in the swimming coming through the half open bedroom window, Kennedy could already smell the delicious aroma of cooking from somewhere outside. Matty had his trademark cheeky smile on his face as he spoke. “As you know, she is very good cook—only reason why I marry her. She cook your favourites. Satay chicken, chilli crab, tiger prawn, beef rendang, gado-gado. She even has cendol for dessert. Hope your friend will like, too. Or is he like Mr Patrick?” Kennedy smiled. On the two times Patrick had visited, he’d been singularly unadventurous with food, often requesting a simple omelette or sandwich for dinner. Local food had been a staple of Kennedy’s childhood and chilled cendol—green rice flour jelly, red beans, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup—had been a true luxury after a sweltering cycle ride home from school. “I’m sure my friend will be fine, thanks Matty,” said Kennedy, holding out a hand. Polite as ever, Matty shook his hand and bowed a couple of times. Years ago, Kennedy had given up asking Matty to call him by his given name, because Matty found three syllables too cumbersome to get his tongue around “By the way, I’m sorry I couldn’t get back for your father’s funeral.” “That’s okay, sir. I know you are busy man.” “It’s not really okay. Your father was very special, a kind and caring man. Especially to me. I’m honoured to have known him.” The sort of man a father ought to be, thought Kennedy. Agus had been his go-to whenever his own father had ridiculed or scolded him. After dinner, on the night Jeff had casually thrown into the conversation that Kennedy would be going to boarding school in England that autumn term, ten-year-old Kennedy had listened without speaking or reacting—a rule of the house for children at the dinner table—but as soon as they had been excused, he had gone straight to Agus and cried. Kennedy remembered his words well, about being strong and the importance of honouring a father’s wishes, but he knew Agus was just as upset, could not understand why a father would want to send his only son away. Kennedy missed his simple kindness. “Thank you, sir. He was very happy here.” Once Matty had left, Kennedy sat on the edge of the bed and looked about his old room. Nothing remained of his childhood except for the view from the window, showcasing the old mango tree. At one point, Agus had hung a swing from a lower bough for him and his sister—until a few weeks later, Kennedy’s father had demanded he take the eyesore down. Now his room stood unrecognisable, completely redecorated since his last visit, a guest room with the addition of a double bed and stylish antique furniture. But then Kennedy spotted a painting of his on the wall, a watercolour of his old dog Chester, a black Labrador they’d had as children. He’d been eight when he painted the picture, something Matty had helped frame and hang on his bedroom wall. His mother must have decided to keep the memory. Interesting. Showered and changed, he stood outside Kieran’s room at the far end of the corridor, at the back of the house overlooking the pool, and knocked lightly on the door. “Come on in.” Kennedy turned the handle and stood just inside the doorway, his hand still on the door knob. “Are you decent?” “Never have been, not going to start now,” quipped Kieran, coming out of the bathroom smiling, wearing a white cotton shirt and khaki chino shorts. As looks went, this one suited Kieran well. “Best behaviour,” said Kennedy, suppressing a smile. “Yes, sergeant major. I can’t believe your family house. Not only do I have my own bedroom, but it comes with an ensuite bathroom and a huge bed. Hey, I’ve got my swimmers on under my shorts. Do you think your dad’ll let me have a dip a bit later on?” “After dinner, maybe. By the way, are you okay with Indonesian food?” “I—uh—I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it before. But if that’s what I can smell cooking, then count me in.” They found his mother, father and sister sitting at the back of the house, next to the swimming pool, in a horseshoe arrangement of comfortable sofas around a Thai style coffee table. His nephews played happily in the shallows. Beneath the back porch, Kennedy spotted the large dining table which had already been set up. Kieran wisely stood behind Kennedy, while he got his hugs and hellos out of the way with his sister and already squiffy mother. After that, Kennedy introduced Kieran, who charmed them both the way he had done with his father. Once seated, they shared a few pleasantries about various general subjects—the flight over, Reagan’s boys, life of retirement in Singapore—until the inevitable fun and games began. “When’s the last time you were home, darling?” said Claire, pouring them both a long, tall glass of something opaque. When Kennedy held the glass away from him quizzically, Reagan mouthed the word ‘mojito’. “That would have been the day before yesterday. The day before I flew here.” “Don’t be smart with your mother,” said Claire, curtly, over the rim of her glass. “You know what I mean.” “Five years ago,” said Reagan. “The same year misery left him.” Kennedy flashed her a warning glare. None of his family had warmed to Patrick, found him too precious and standoffish. Moreover, he didn’t want the conversation to focus on his ex. “Where’s Bernie?” he asked. “Working, of course,” she said, irritation clear in her tone. “In Cape Town right now, covering some rugby tournament or another. So what do you do for a living, Kieran?” “Right now, nothing. I worked for an estate agent in London but times got tough, and half of us were let go. I’m punting around for work, but I’m also finishing up my master’s.” “Master’s?” said Reagan, surprise clear on her face, before throwing a glance at Kennedy. “With a focus on which particular area?” “International business management. I’ve got two modules to go before I finish the degree, and then I’m going to following through for my MBA. Another six modules.” “What would be your ideal job, Kieran?” asked his father. Kennedy was mystified by how quickly he had taken to Kieran. Both times Patrick had come to stay, the two had barely spoken. “That’s a good question, Jeff. Something I love about the master’s is that you get a chance to dip into all areas of business management. And even though I take to the finance subjects like a duck to water, the area that really floats my boat is marketing, especially e-commerce.” “Smart choice,” said Jeff. “Our group used Kennedy’s company, Grey Havens, among others, for our group assignment in marketing. An example of a well-managed, innovative family business. Quite an inspiration for would-be entrepreneurs. Best of all, we got a high distinction, and a special mention from the tutor.” “Are you serious?” asked Reagan, grinning at her brother. “Absolutely,” said Kieran. “Your brother here’s the Richard Branson of commercial security systems.” Reagan laughed aloud, and even his mother couldn’t help grinning. “Hardly,” said Kennedy, trying to downplay the compliment. He felt himself reddening, something that never happened. If Kieran had been sitting closer, he might have tapped his ankle with his foot, but perhaps the awkward silence would do the trick, help change the subject. “So how did you two meet?” Reagan asked Kieran, mischief lighting her eyes. In the short time, she appeared to have taken to Kieran, but Kennedy stalled for a moment. They hadn’t discussed how they would handle that particular question. About to intercept, Kieran began speaking. “We met in a coffee shop, of all things. I was trying to finish off an assignment and Kennedy was knocking back espressos and taking phone calls, as always. We got talking and—well—just instantly connected.” Brilliant, thought Kennedy. Stick with the truth—or as close as possible—and you can’t go far wrong. “Is that right?” said Jeff, a little suspiciously. “When was this?” “A month or so ago,” continued Kieran. “That’s not very long, is it?” “The thing is, Jeff. When you know, you know,” said Kieran, with a shrug, before turning to Kennedy, winking, and flashing him a warm smile. Kennedy found himself smiling back, something Reagan didn’t miss. Interrupting them all, Maya came to the head of the group and quietly informed Claire that food was ready to be served. Immediately, Reagan leapt up and started yelling at her brood to get out of the pool and get dressed for dinner. Kennedy missed eating outdoors, something that rarely happened in England. In his childhood in Singapore, beneath the porch, they would even sit al fresco when torrential rains hit—as long as no strong winds accompanied the downpour—pulling down the blinds to stop errant raindrops hitting them. Kennedy had enjoyed those times, the cooling rain bringing down the temperature, the clatter of rain filling the silences at the dinner table. After the excellent meal provided by Maya—something Kieran enthused about after having seconds of each of the dishes—Kennedy relaxed back on the sofa while Kieran swam and played in the pool with Reagan’s boys. His sister appeared unhappy about something, became a little distant every now and then—very unlike her—but when pressed, she laughed off his concern. That particular trick she had learnt from their mother. Most importantly, though, they liked Kieran, so that was one battle he would not have to fight. By ten o’clock, Reagan decided to drive the boys home to bed, prompting everyone else to turn in. After wishing his parents and Matty goodnight, Kennedy strolled up to the top floor with Kieran, each of them carrying a large bottle of water. “You did well today,” he said, trying not to sound too condescending. “My family aren’t the easiest people in the world to get along with, but they seem to like you.” “I like them, too. They’re easy company. Even your dad.” “You’ve been here half a day. Don’t judge too quickly. Now, if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, the remote for the television is in your bedside cabinet. Top drawer. Just keep the volume down.” “Don’t worry about me,” said Kieran. “I’m going to sleep like a demon tonight.”
  7. lomax61

    Singapore Swelter

    KIERAN - SINGAPORE SWELTER Kieran could not believe the experience of flying business. After completing his landing card, he’d managed to sleep a full seven hours of the thirteen hour flight, woken only three short times; once by rough turbulence, another to use the rest room, and the last to collect and stow his duty-free purchase. After weeks on his sister’s soft couch, the bed’s firm comfort came as a welcome relief. And he woke now to coffee aromas floating out from the galley. Next to him, Kennedy sat up still, a folder open on his chest, but his sleeping head lolled to one side. Somewhat endearingly, he appeared vulnerable in sleep, his face unlined and at peace, not the hard ass persona he gave off when awake. Kieran liked him, didn’t feel threatened by him at all, but needed to keep in mind that at the end of the day, this was simply a job; a means to an end. Theirs was never going to be a lasting friendship. After unclipping his seatbelt, and resetting his seat into a sitting position, Kieran crept to the toilet to freshen up. Even there, he smiled to himself at the opulence, finishing off by spraying an Evian mist into his face, followed by one of the array of citrus colognes. Yes, he could certainly get used to this. But was he ready to meet the Kennedy clan, he asked his reflection? And what would they make of him? From what Kennedy said, he’d never brought any of those vacuous Ken doll kids with him. But surely his ex-partner had visited? So should just be himself, or melt into the background, make himself scarce. No, he thought, standing tall in front of the mirror, he would follow the advice of Hamlet’s Polonius: To thine own self be true. When he finally returned, Kennedy had awoken. “Morning, sleepyhead,” said Kieran. “What time is it?” While sitting back down in his seat, he checked his wristwatch. “Eight in the morning.” “In London, maybe. What’s that in Singapore time?” “No idea. Shall I call one of the cabin—” “No need. It’s on the monitor. Almost three in the afternoon. Two hours until we land. Singapore’s seven hours ahead, in case you want to reset your watch.” Afternoon, mused Kieran, refastening his seat belt. Cole had warned him about jet lag, about getting used to different time zones. Jules told him that if you sleep on the flight, you can work through the change and not experience jet lag at all. Time would tell. Right then, however, he felt fresh and awake. More importantly, the cabin crew had begun to set up his table for breakfast. “Breakfast at three o’clock in the afternoon. Haven’t done that since college.” “Don’t think about it. Might take a couple of days to get acclimatised, but my advice is don’t fight tiredness. If you find yourself needing an afternoon nap, just go for it.” “I feel fantastic.” “You do now. But jet lag has a way of creeping up on you.” “Ah, but you see, I have youth on my side.” Kieran didn’t miss Kennedy’s raised eyebrow and smirk. But to be honest, right then, with his stomach full of fresh fruit, omelette and coffee, he felt ready to conquer the world. Landing and disembarking happened so leisurely—memories of fighting to get his luggage from the overhead, and being crushed and jostled off a low cost carrier flight in Ibiza still haunted him—that they were in the carpeted bowels of trendy Singapore’s Changi airport within minutes. Immigration passed in a well organised and well orderly blur until they reached the luggage claim, their bags already having arrived. Even in that short time, Kieran sensed Kennedy getting tense, noticed him peering at his phone and then looking around outside the big glass wall separating luggage claim from airport arrivals. Eventually he understood why. “Is someone picking us up?” “My father. Grab your bags and let’s go. Don’t want to piss him off before we’ve even said hello. He hates to be kept waiting.” Unsurprisingly, Jefferson Grey turned out to be an older, smaller, broader version of Kennedy. Dressed casual, as though he had been interrupted from a game of golf, he wore a grey polo shirt, grey tartan trousers, white belt and white sports shoes. Unsmiling, he gave his son a handshake followed by a perfunctory hug, the words ‘son’ and ‘dad’ being the only endearments passing from one to the other. Kieran almost smirked at the formality. After a few further banal pleasantries, Kennedy turned to introduce Kieran. When Jefferson’s face registered a flicker of disgust followed by an ensuing visual inspection, Kieran decided to go into action. “Good afternoon, sir,” he said boldly, stepping forward and holding out a hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Jefferson took his hand and Kieran provided a firm handshake. “Can I say what a pleasure it is to be here and how grateful I am to you and your wife for allowing me to stay with you. Kennedy’s told me so much about Singapore, and I’m delighted to be here.” Peripherally, he noticed Kennedy turn to stare at him, but the effect on Grey senior was instant. Very slightly, his left eyebrow lifted and his head nodded. “Uh, you’re more than welcome. Any friend of—uh—my son’s, as they say.” While Kennedy’s father flustered a reply, Kieran reached into his small backpack. “And I’ve bought you a gift of thanks, a bottle of cognac.” Kieran handed over the duty free bag to Jeff, once again to Kennedy’s astonishment. “Kennedy told me you enjoyed a tipple every now and then. Hope you like Hennessy XO, sir?” “Um, yes, I do indeed. Very much so. That’s very kind of you. And please call me Jeff.” Jeff began to lead them off towards the external doors. “Jeff it is. So Jeff, is the weather always this hot in Singapore? Or do you have distinct seasons?” “Well, we’re almost right on the equator, so it’s pretty hot all the year round. Ask most Singaporeans and they’ll tell you we only have two seasons; hot and wet. Come Christmas, there’s not a snowflake in sight, except polystyrene ones in the shopping malls. Follow me now, I’ve parked up in the short stay. How was the flight?” Kieran nodded to Kennedy then, allowed him to take over the smalltalk. As they passed through the automatic doors of the air-conditioned arrivals hall, out into the day, the humidity hit hard. Kieran had experienced nothing like the wall of damp heat that enveloped him, as though walking into a sauna. Together, they trailed their luggage into the nondescript inside of the carpark until Jeff reached a white Toyota Camry. Comfortable again in the air-conditioned car, Kieran relaxed on the back seat behind Kennedy, peering out the window of a sun bleached afternoon. Singapore appeared more like home than anywhere he had seen in Europe. Clear road signage in English, vehicles driving on the left side of well-maintained roads or three lane expressways, all bordered by lush green vegetation, exotic looking but equally well maintained. Before long, simple high-rise apartment blocks appeared on their right, Jeff explaining that on their left they followed the coastline. Fifteen minutes later and they crested a hill with Jeff pointing out a handful of the landmarks; Marina Bay Sands hotel resort and casino with what looked like a barge balanced on top of three giant blocks, the futuristic Gardens by the Bay with Martian-like tree structures, the Singapore flyer, similar to, but bigger than, the London Eye. Kennedy’s father appeared to enjoy being the tour guide, and probably did so only for Kieran’s benefit, because Kennedy must have seen the sights many times before. Eventually, they turned into a more residential neighbourhood—exclusive by the number of landed houses—until they came to a black iron gate. After picking up and pressing a small device from the dashboard, the door swung inwards, allowing them to drive up a short lane. Before them, the two-storey house lay in its own grounds, surrounded on all sides by metal fences and tall trees. “In Singapore, they call these kind of houses ‘black-and-whites’ because of their distinctive Tudor style. My father bought this one back in the sixties and we’ve had her updated a lot since them. Kennedy, you have your old room and I’ve put Kieran in the room at the back, above the pool.” Impressive did not even begin to describe the house. Set amid perfectly trimmed lawns, the front of the house jutted out on columns so that the open space below fell in shade. At one time, this must have been where vehicles drove up to the house. Now the space beneath had been fitted with striped blinds which leant themselves perfectly to the colonial feel of the structure. “You have your own swimming pool?” “We do. A fifty foot lap pool. A blessing, if like me, you favour an early morning swim.” Kieran leant forward and spoke into the back of Kennedy’s head. “Kennedy, you never told me you were descended from royalty.” Although Kennedy didn’t say a thing, next to him, Jeff chuckled. “Hardly royalty, son. But I have mixed with some famous people over the years. Come along, let’s park up, get you settled, showered and changed. Then you can come and meet the rest of the family.” They parked around the back of the house under a long canopy next to a large black four wheel drive. An older man and a young boy—Indonesian perhaps, and maybe household staff—came out of a two storey building at one side of the grounds and headed towards their car. “Reagan’s here?” asked Kennedy, peering at the Mitsubishi family car, his sister’s pride and joy. “It’s the only time she had free. As you’ve only deigned to stay for three nights.” “We’re on a tight schedule—” “Which is clearly more important than family.” Kennedy didn’t reply, but sat stiffly in his seat. And right there, Kieran sampled the initial signs of familial frostiness. Shit, he thought to himself, if they were going to survive the next few says intact, the time had come to ramp up the old West family charm. Let the show begin.
  8. lomax61

    Up In the Air

    “Usually I hand these out for a very different reason.” I’m surprised nobody’s picked up on the comment yet. Any suggestions?
  9. lomax61

    Up In the Air

    KENNEDY - UP IN THE AIR As the plane taxied out to the runway, Kennedy switched his phone off, sat back and indulged in the simple pleasure of flying undisturbed by clients or employees. Quiet moments focusing purely on the business came along so rarely, and flights gave him precious time to think ahead and strategise. Without question, Sloan had moved his first pawn—or at least that’s what Kennedy’s intuition told him. But then he enjoyed these challenges; they kept him alert, focused and firmly on his feet. No typical CEO in his right mind would ever have allowed his or her senior managers to hold a potential merger meeting without being present themselves, but then Kennedy was no typical CEO. Moreover, he would be present—even if they couldn’t see or hear him. A person who not only survives but thrives for over eighteen years in a tough business environment dealing with cutting edge security systems, does not do so without picking up a trick or two along the way. A piece of advice came back to him from his late uncle. Be generous with the rope you hand out to those ambitious souls who surround you. Just make sure to keep a firm grip on one end. Not long after take-off, wanting to get the chore out of the way as soon as possible, Kennedy began to give Kieran the low-down on his family and friends. “If he bothers to talk to you at all, my father will probably ask you to call him Jeff. He’s a pompous, miserable old bastard by nature and rarely smiles, so don’t take his rudeness personally. He’s spent practically his whole life in Singapore. Our grandfather worked for the British Government before Singapore gained independence, and continued to do so afterwards. My father only left the country once for any extended period of time and that was to go to university in Cardiff, Wales. He hated being wet and cold, and couldn’t wait to get back to the humidity and sunshine that is Singapore. Following in grandfather’s shoes, he also worked for the consulate as Assistant High Commissioner until the day he retired. Personality wise, he’s a snob, still acts as though Singapore is a colony, and thinks he should be treated like royalty. Although he’s never said as much, his disdain for me is, I think, because his only son is gay. Thinks he’s been robbed of the chance of another Grey male heir to carry forward the family name. Once you’ve finally met the rest of the Grey clan, you’ll understand what a blessing that is for the world.” “Surely he’s impressed with what you’ve achieved?” “As far as I’m aware, he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.” “How about your mother?” “Claire Hamilton Grey nee Havens. Unless there’s been an article about me in Cosmopolitan that I don’t know about—which seems to be more and more likely these day—she doesn’t keep tabs on my career. Ridiculous really, because I took the family business over from her late brother, my uncle. These days she’s a typical ex-pat trophy wife. Bridge club and coffee mornings. Although, according to my sister, she’s more partial to jugs of afternoon cocktails with the rest of the ex-pat wives these days. Can’t say I blame her. Having to live with that old sod every day of her life, who wouldn’t choose insobriety. She deserves an OBE.” “Brutal. Your father doesn’t drink?” “Of course he does. Cliché to a fault, he’s a cognac and cigar man, the latter of which my mother hates.” “Will she like me?” “They’ll both be polite. Dad will probably ignore you most of the time. Mum’s fine. She’s a fan of royal family trivia, if you know any.” “Hmm. Not really my thing. Is that it?” “There’s my sister Reagan.” “Named after King Lear’s daughter?” “Guess again. But if it helps, my father’s full name is Jefferson, and he named his kids Kennedy and Reagan.” “American presidents?” “Correct. One of his interests is global political history.” “Do they have a bulldog called Trump?” “Not yet,” said Kennedy, smirking. “But I’ll mention the idea to mum.” “So what’s your sister like?” “We get on okay. She’s three years younger. Graduated in textile design and could have done really well in fashion but she married an Australian guy called Bernie, and decided to spend her time bringing up babies. They’ve got three boys, Adam, Glenn and Dennis. Can’t remember their ages. My secretary diarises their birthdays, so they get a card and a handout from their uncle each birthday and Christmas. They split their time between Singapore and Melbourne, so no doubt you’ll get to meet them." “Is Bernie a fan of cricket?” Kennedy peered quizzically at Kieran. “Funny you should ask, he is, actually. Huge. Works as a freelance writer for a couple of sports magazines. Why did you ask that? Because he’s an Aussie?” “No, because their kids have the names of famous Aussie cricketers: Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee.” Once again Kennedy smiled. He’d never made the connection. Not that the given names of his nephews were in any way unusual, but he had always assumed they were picked at random. Which reconfirmed the sharp intelligence of this year’s companion. “You’ll have to ask him, if he’s around. Apparently he’s often travelling. Okay, so onto my friends on the cruise. Easy enough, because there are only five coming this year. Steph and Laurie are a couple I’ve known since college. Well Steph, anyway. They have their own little shop down in Sussex which specialises in antique furniture renovations and doubles as a hairdresser's. Yes, I know, an odd combination but you’ll get along fine with both of them. Then there’s Pete and Eric who are permanent fixtures. Eric’s retired and Pete is—actually, I have no idea what Pete does for a living. But he’s the one who brings us all together, so do your best to endure his irritating and persistent sense of humour. And finally there’s Leonard.” Kennedy fell quiet for a second, remembering Leonard’s kind words when he and Patrick had parted ways. “Go on,” prompted Kieran. “Last time we talked, Len had a number of companies—early on, he developed a knack for juggling a lot of businesses—and does really well. Specialist real estate, holiday rental properties, vintage cars, among other things. Of all my friends, he’s the entrepreneur, the smart, successful businessman.” “Wow, is that faint praise I hear? So he’s single, too?” “Yes, but unlike me, his partner died. Don’t think he ever really recovered, so he threw himself into his work.” “You had a partner, too?” “Patrick, yes.” “And what happened to him?” “He left me. But fortunately, he’s not going to be there, so you don’t need to know anything about him.” Thankfully Kieran had the sense not to push the subject. Kennedy did not want to talk about Patrick. “So why only five this year?” “Because the others tend to side with my ex. So if he doesn’t come, neither do they.” “Wow, sounds really grown up. Okay, is that everyone?” “That’s everyone,” said Kennedy, before turning to Kieran. “Now how about you? I suppose I ought to know something about your family. In case anyone asks.” For a moment, Kieran appeared a little uncomfortable, shifting in his seat. After taking a sip of his champagne he sighed deeply and started speaking. “Not much to tell. Got a younger brother and an older sister. Julie’s 31. Sean is 22. On the day mum announced to us all that she was expecting Sean, our father checked out. Disappeared off the face of the planet. Although we suspect he went to Argentina. He has family there. Mum was left to bring up a newborn and two young kids. Jules and I had to step up, but thank goodness we also had mum’s parents to help. Couldn’t afford to send Julie to college, but I went and Sean’s there now, finishing up his degree in Leeds. I help with his fees where I can.” “That’s got to have been tough.” “We survived. I had a couple of jobs since leaving college, but the last one in real estate started out good—lasted four years—but when times are tough nobody wants to buy or sell. So I was let go three months ago. Not long after, I split with my girlfriend who also kicked me out. So I’ve been sleeping on my sister’s couch since then. Which is why I desperately needed this sick and depraved job. Am I allowed to say that, now we’ve reached cruising altitude?” “What? About this sick and depraved job that has you sitting in business class sipping vintage champagne?” “Okay, point taken. There is that.” “Now, before I let you watch movies or sleep or whatever, I have a couple of small items for you.” Kieran appeared a little uncomfortable. “Honestly, you don’t need to—” “Hear me out. These are things I’ve given to all my travelling companions at the outset of a vacation.” First of all, Kennedy took out a small brown envelope from his pocket. “Inside here, there’s a nominal sum of different currencies for all our Asian destinations. Yes, I know this may feel as though I’m giving you pocket money, but it’s mainly because I want you to have funds in case of emergencies; if you need a taxi, something to eat or drink, or see anything you want to buy. I don’t want you to feel as though you need to rely on me to pay for everything.” “I do have some money of my own that I can change up.” “Of course you do, but I thought this might be more convenient.” Although he didn’t appear entirely happy, Kieran placed the small envelope into his track suit pants pocket. “Thank you.” “Everything on the cruise is either included, or can be signed to the cabin. Okay?” “Okay.” Finally, Kennedy took a playing card out of his shirt pocket and handed the item over. After hesitating for a moment, a quizzical frown between his eyebrows, Kieran took the card. “I don’t understand. What am I supposed to do with this?” “What card is it?” “Jack of spades.” “Otherwise known as a Black Jack. Yes?” “Yes. But why do I need it?” “Usually I hand these out for a very different reason. But for you, let’s say that if things are getting a bit too much and you need time out, or help—or as a last resort, to quit and come home, or…whatever. Just hand me the card and I will sort things out.” “Like a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” “If you like,” said Kennedy, before staring pointedly at Kieran, concern in his eyes. “But please tell me you’ll do your best to stay away from foreign prisons.” After that they barely spoke. From time to time, Kennedy noticed Kieran marvelling at the delights of business class; discovering the functions of his seat by pushing buttons to make the chair contort into a variety of positions; sitting up, eyes wide, as the pick of four choices of main course rolled up on a trolley; large headphones perched on his head, laughing a little too loud at a movie on the entertainment system. When finally the cabin lights dimmed, Kennedy switched on his reading light to continue scanning the financial reports Karl had provided. Every now and again, in between research, he peered over at Kieran who lay curled on his side in the bed, sleeping soundly. Without thinking, a tiny smile tugged at his mouth. Immediately he shook his head, and mentally stamped on the tiny bud of affection. This holiday partnership would be strictly business, Kennedy reminded himself. Strictly business.
  10. lomax61

    Hobson's Choice

    Dear all, Loving the comments here, these are really helping me to keep the story on track. I'm not going to say who, but some of you are already picking up on things (anomalies, character traits, etc) that will be explained better later on. So fasten your seatbelts, there may be some unexpected turbulence. Brian @lomax61
  11. lomax61

    Turning Left

    KIERAN ~ TURNING LEFT Skipping his studies on the Friday of their flight to Singapore, Kieran’s whole body buzzed with a combination of excitement and trepidation. Cole had arranged for him to shower at his place after finishing packing away the last of his own personal things in the large case; wash bag, beach towel, swimming shorts, sunblock, a huge bottle of aftersun, and a couple of different factor suntan lotions. Except that, while packing, something unfamiliar inside caught his eye. “What the hell’s this?” he asked, holding up a small zipped up pouch. “A holiday gift. From me to you. Emergency kit, of sorts,” said Cole, leaning against the door jamb and grinning mischievously. Despite Cole’s earlier warning, Kieran’s gay-for-pay temp job had been an endless source of amusement, and he had become Kieran’s co-conspirator and confidante. On Cole’s advice, he had told Jules the absolute minimum about the short-term contract, told her he would be an assistant to a CEO, travelling abroad, nothing more. Even storing the huge new suitcase full of holiday items at Cole’s place had been his friend’s brainwave. Had he brought the colossal thing back to the apartment, there was no way Jules wouldn’t have been curious, would probably have sneaked a peek inside when he wasn’t around. Intrigued, Kieran unzipped Cole’s gift and pulled out two packs of condoms and a tube of lube. Tilting his head to one side he raised both eyebrows at Cole. “Seriously? I hope you kept the receipt. You’re more likely to use these than me,” said Kieran, zipping the bag closed. “In fact, why don’t you keep them?” “Do your uncle Cole a favour and take them. You never know, you might get lucky.” Once he had dried his curly locks and dressed in the new black track suit and trainers Kennedy had provided—something casual for the long haul flight—he collected his case and backpack from Cole’s bedroom. In his life, he had flown less than a handful of times and then only within Europe, but remembered how cramped the seats could be, especially with his long legs, his knees usually crushed against the seat in front. Apart from the track suit, the other clothes he and Kennedy had shopped for two weeks ago already sat packed inside the case. Far too many really, but Kennedy had insisted, telling him they would be away for twenty-eight nights and he didn’t want to rely on the cruise ship laundry service. Kieran had washed and ironed the items at Cole’s, and packed them away immediately despite Cole urging him to give a couple of the CK tees or Armani shirts a test run. The only item of clothing he had baulked at was the black dress suit ensemble which included wing tip shirt, bow tie, burgundy cummerbund, and shiny patent leather shoes. Still unsure about wearing anything so formal, he had tried none of those items on in the hope that he wouldn’t actually need to showcase them when the time came. But Kennedy had insisted on the last minute purchase. Every cruise offered a formal evening at the captain’s pleasure, he had told him, and no companion of his would look out of place. He had even thrown in the huge new designer suitcase on wheels to pack everything in. After getting a text message from Kennedy, he gave Cole a hug and peck on the cheek, before heading out to the road. On the pavement outside the tenement block opposite Wandsworth Common, he stood waiting, more than a little anxious, wondering if he had done the right thing. But the Saturday they had spent together had been surprisingly pleasant. At one point, laden down with shopping bags, Kennedy had asked him if he was enjoying his Pretty Woman experience. When Kieran looked blank, Kennedy rolled his eyes and told him he really needed to brush up on gay trivia if he hoped to survive a gay cruise. That had prompted a diversion, a trip to the movie section of one of the few surviving HMV stores, and the purchase of a dozen or so DVDs which Kennedy had called compulsory viewing. Kieran half suspected that Kennedy road tested the day to see if they would be able to get along, whether they could spend time together without getting on each other’s nerves. He had booked their medical tests at a private clinic on Carnaby Street first thing so they could shop nonstop throughout the day, have lunch in a humble Italian restaurant at the back of Piccadilly, before finishing off shopping and heading back for their test results. Both had a clean bill of health, and Kennedy had dropped him off by taxi on his own way home later that afternoon. Since then they had barely been in contact and then only by text message. Ten minutes later than their agreed meeting time, he began to get concerned, wondering if he had misunderstood any of the instructions. Until Kennedy sent him a message saying he was on his way. Twenty minutes later, distracted by messages on his phone, he barely noticed as a black Bentley pulled up at the kerb, and a driver, complete with black uniform and chauffeur’s cap, stepped out. “Mr West? Let me take your bags for you, sir,” said the tall man, opening the back door and gesturing inside. “Mr Grey’s waiting for you.” Unsure how to respond, and looking around quickly to see if anyone had seen the spectacle, Kieran slipped into the back seat. Kennedy sat there in his business suit, phone clamped to his ear. Almost dismissively, he turned and nodded to Kieran while continuing to talk to someone. As they drove off, Kieran listened in on some of the conversation. “—if you could be in Okinawa on the twenty-first? We dock there overnight in Naha. Perfect. Let me know where? I’d suggest one of those small bars tucked away down the back streets. Anonymous and quiet enough to chat. Bring along whatever you have ready. Also, find out everything you can about Giorgio Milletto of Cold Steel Security, doesn’t matter how personal or insignificant. Send everything to my private account, yes? And what’s that talented techie guy’s name who works for you? Hiro, yes. Bring him with you to Okinawa. Take business class, if you have to, and bill me privately. Okay Tim. See you soon.” Once he had ended the call and slipped the device away, he turned to Kieran. “We’re running late. Been trying to clear up a few issues before the flight.” “Is this an Uber?” “Hardly,” snorted Kennedy. Without clarifying more, Kennedy pressed a button on the centre console and a disconnected voice sounded. “Yes, Mr Grey?” “Just a guesstimate will do, but how long to Heathrow?” “I’m checking the traffic cams and route master. Rough estimate, an hour and ten.” “Thanks.” Without another word, Kennedy thumbed through his phone and dialled a number. “Gina? Hello, this is Kennedy Grey from Grey—yes, the same. Look, I wonder if you might be able to help. We’re on our way to the airport, flying to Singapore tonight at 8:50pm, but we’re running late and the traffic is—well you know what Friday night traffic is like. According to the driver, we’ll probably be at the terminal around eight fifteen. Anyway, I wondered if there was anything you could do to help get us through? Sorry, say that again. Yes, we both have luggage, but I’ve already checked us in online. It’s really just bag drop and security. Two persons. Yes, of course. I see. Excellent. That would be perfect, thank you so much for your help.” Once again, Kennedy pressed the comms button on the console. “Ben, when you reach terminal two, look out for someone who’ll be waiting with an airport buggy.” “Roger that, Mr Grey.” Smooth. Efficient. Polite. No fuss. Not afraid to call in a favour. Kennedy Grey, the man. Kieran smirked out of the tinted window, wondering if this man could even request the plane to be delayed. They arrived at Heathrow airport late, with thirty minutes to spare. Outside the departure terminal, the driver—Ben—found the small enclosed airport buggy and loaded their bags. After a few private words, Ben the chauffeur headed off. When the buggy driver began to take them into the underbelly of the terminal, Kieran realised the route must be there for dignitaries or celebrities. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Kennedy Grey could pull strings. Apart from both of them being scanned at an internal security post, they did not step off the buggy until the boarding gate. By the time they reached the impossibly large plane—via a stairway to the upper deck—all other passengers had already boarded. Once again, Kennedy led the way and Kieran hurried to keep up. He marvelled at the sheer size of the plane’s body, had only ever flown small jet planes around Europe. As they stood at the cabin door, Kieran once again witnessed the Grey charm, as he smiled professionally and chatted with the cabin attendant. When she personally accompanied them to their seats, turning left towards the front of the plane, Kieran did his best not to gasp when they stopped at two huge luxurious seats. “Business class?” he asked, as Kennedy settled into the seat next to his. “Naturally. What? You think I’d ever turn right on a plane?” “Not for you, no, but I thought maybe—” “You thought I’d stick you in the back? No, not my style. And we’ve got background work to do before we reach Singapore. Get you up to speed not only about my family, but also about my friends.” Kieran had just placed his bag in the overhead compartment and taken the huge comfortable chair, when a male voice sounded from the aisle beside him. “Something to drink, Mr West, Mr Grey? Champagne?” With a friendly smile, the handsome cabin attendant indicated the tray of drinks he held. Kieran turned concerned to Kennedy, and shook his head slightly. In turn, Kennedy raised a critical eyebrow at Kieran before plastering on his executive smile and addressing the cabin crew member. “We’ll take two champagnes, please. One each.” After placing them carefully down in front of each of them, the man picked something else up from his tray. “And here are your landing cards and menus,” he said, placing them next to the drinks, before straightening up. “My name’s Eric, by the way, and if there’s anything you need throughout the flight, just call me.” When Kieran peered up, he noticed Eric had singled Kennedy out with his dazzling smile. Kennedy simply nodded professionally in return. Mildly embarrassed, Kieran remained quiet, pretending to study the menu. “I’m not sure what type of airlines you’re used to,” said Kennedy, leaning a fraction across the divider, his voice lowered. “But on this one, food and drink are included in the ticket price. And up here, the food’s generally well above average. So relax and enjoy yourself, and more importantly, order anything you want. After we’ve finished our work, you might want to check out the entertainment system. Or if you’re feeling tired, you could ask them to help make up your bed.” “Bed?” “Your chair doubles as a flat bed. The controls are on the armrest.” Kieran’s cheek reddened. Less than five minutes on the plane and already he felt out of his depth. “Don’t worry, Kieran,” said Kennedy, his head in the menu. “There’s a first time for everything.”
  12. lomax61

    Hobson's Choice

    KENNEDY ~ HOBSON’S CHOICE Nothing seemed to be going right that day. In Kennedy’s absence, COO Sloan Williamson had rescheduled an important meeting without consulting him, one that now sat slap bang in the middle of his planned vacation. On the other hand, Sloan had been the one to orchestrate the whole merger with Cold Steel Security, something that made total sense on paper. Cold Steel remained one of the top five brand leaders in home security in the States and Canada, and had begun to branch out into the UK. “Who asked for the change?” “Giorgio Milletto,” said Erin, his marketing director. So the CEO of CSS himself had requested the change. Interesting that he hadn’t contacted Kennedy directly. But if the merger went ahead—more of an acquisition for Grey Havens really—his company would consolidate their position as number one global security provider, even though CSS’s main focus was home security and only recently had they stepped into the corporate arena. “I see.” “We can’t ask them to reschedule again.” “I know that, Erin. And we’re not going to.” “Are you going to cancel your vacation?” Many of his top managers continued to voice their concerns about him being away from the business for a whole month, even though he’d done so for the past seven or eight years. Being essentially a family business, Kennedy worked early mornings and late nights, seven days a week, including public holidays. Sleeping three or four hours a day, he was essentially on-call twenty-four-seven. If he could not leave the company safely in the hands of his professional, well-paid, highly-skilled and respected managers for a month, what the hell was the point in having them? In truth, he knew he’d created the problem himself, because of his tendency to micro-manage, adopting an outdated paternalistic style of management. Of course they would always be nervous without him around, but then wasn’t that how people grew? And if push came to shove, he was always at the end of a phone or an online conferencing system. “No.” “So will you dial in? From wherever you are? Surely they’ll have wifi?” Of all his staff, Erin probably clung to him the worst. “You know that’s not an option. With something this important, I like to watch all of the faces of the people on the other side of the table, see the whites of their eyes, especially those who are not speaking. So important when we’re negotiating.” “Skype?” “Not the same.” “Then what, boss?” As though prompted, Sloan Williamson chose that moment to stride into the room. Kennedy had chosen him well. Charismatic in a movie star kind of way, he oozed confidence and sex appeal and had the staff at Grey Havens eating out of his hands. Singularly straight, at only forty-one, he was already on his third wife. Sometimes his good looks fooled those he did business with, fooled them into believing that he had no business acumen. Not a mistake they ever made twice. If you scrutinised his history, really scrutinised—and Kennedy had—you would discover a trail of broken businessmen along the way who had made the mistake of underestimating him. Publicly, they presented a united front. Privately, Kennedy had a suspicion that Sloan wanted his job. “Ah, Mr Chief Operating Officer. Your ears must be burning.” Without missing a beat, the man propped his backside on the end of Kennedy’s desk and undid a button on his Armani suit jacket. Even though Kennedy could not deny the man’s attraction, his brand of slick handsomeness did absolutely nothing for him. Erin had a different reaction, rose from her chair and smiled, her cheeks flushed, and gazed in awe as she clutched her folder against her bosom. “My ears burn all the time. What have I done this time?” “This meeting with CSS.” “Ah yeah, sorry about that,” said Sloan, pushing a lock of blond hair back over one ear. “Milletto asked for the change.” “So Erin said. Reason?” “Didn’t say.” Sloan’s stare didn’t waver as he responded to Kennedy. “Do I need to change my plans?” “Up to you,” said Sloan, with a shrug. “Or can I rely on you to deliver the goods?” “You already know the answer to that. Merger’s already in the bag. It’s just the minutiae that needs hammering out, something me, Karl and Erin here can deal with.” “Good, that’s what I want to hear. And you know if you need me urgently, I’ll have my phone on day and night.” Both of his staff members remained unmoving in his office. “Anything else?” he asked, spreading his hands out palms upwards. “Otherwise this is the part where you both get back to work.” “No boss,” said Erin, and, gathering up her things, she headed for the door. Sloan remained, clearly needing something more, but waited until the door closed. “Why do you rate Karl?” asked Sloan. Kennedy had personally headhunted Karl McDonagh, his head of legal, because the man could smell a bad deal a mile away. A wealth of experience in both finance and law, he was also loyal to a fault. Of all Kennedy’s senior staff, only Karl stood up to Sloan. Kennedy enjoyed watching the pair of them try to outplay each other, but where Sloan used his charisma and opportunism to climb the ladder, Karl relied on watertight facts and figures. Even though they hated each other, they made for a damned good management team. “You know why. He’s solid and dependable. He’s our goalkeeper.” “He’s a pen pusher. Without an original idea in his brain.” “That’s not what I employ him for, that’s why I employ you. He’s there to keep the company on track.” “By holding us back.” “By ensuring we don’t make rash decisions.” “I don’t need him there at the CSS meeting. Erin and I can deal with Milletto.” “Sorry, Sloan. Either Karl’s there, or the meeting doesn’t go ahead. Are we clear?” Sloan’s poker face remained unchanged. He nodded once and left the room. As soon as the door closed behind him, Kennedy buzzed his secretary and told her to hold his calls and appointments for the next hour. Even though he had no idea what, he knew instinctively that Sloan had a personal plan of action in mind, but as with all things in business, Kennedy had to be patient until the man showed his hand. On his laptop, he opened his personal email and scrolled down to a message he had received earlier in the day, from red-headed Ven telling him he needed to pull out of the vacation companion role for ‘personal reasons.’ Not a huge loss, because Kennedy had decided to go with Francis. Checking the contacts in his mobile phone, Kennedy scrolled down and thumbed the number. After several rings, Francis answered—on a high street somewhere by the sound of traffic noises in the background. Never one to mince words, Kennedy gave the good news in simple words and waited for Francis to speak. “Can’t go.” “What do you mean, you can’t go?” “I can’t go, can I?” came the affronted voice. “Why not?” “Ollie won’t let me.” “Ollie? Who the hell’s Ollie?” “He’s my boyfriend, isn’t he? Changed his mind. Won’t let me go on me own.” Kennedy pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why on earth did you apply for this position as companion if you already had a partner?” “We both thought of it as a part-time job. Saw no harm in trying. But Ollie changed his mind. Gets a bit jealous. He’s like that sometimes. Unless you’d consider paying for both of us to come?” “Goodbye, Francis.” Kennedy scratched the back of his head and looked down at his ‘possible’ list. Two of them would drive him crazy before they even joined the cruise. For some reason, his eye kept getting drawn back to the straight guy, Kieran. Things would be different with him. There would be no pretence at anything sexual between them. What the hell, he thought, at least this one didn’t have a whole list of demands and, more importantly, needed the job. Before he second guessed himself, he picked up the phone and called the number. “I want to offer you the job, but clearly with certain conditions. You’ll still need to play the part of companion but I wouldn’t expect anything else from you.” “Sex, you mean?” “No, I mean any public displays of affection. Sex was never a part of the deal. So are you interested?” Silence breathed from the other end of the phone. Irritation started to rise in Kennedy again, but just as he started to speak, Kieran cut in. “Look, Mr Grey, I truly am interested. I was just—I was going through your clothing requirements and, well, I don’t have half of the items listed there. And rather than waste your time, I was going to call to say I’m afraid that financially I’m not exactly in a position—” Kennedy had already begun to chuckle, which brought Kieran to a halt. “What?” “Don’t you have a module on law in your management programme?” “Yes, of course.” “Then maybe you should read the fine print. The first two lines on the beginning of page six.” Down the line, Kennedy could hear a mouse clicking a couple of times and then silence. “You’ll provide the clothes for me?” came the confused voice. “Why would you do that?” “Think of these items as your uniforms. I can hardly expect an employee to pay for clothes which, let’s face it, might not be to his taste, and some he’s unlikely to wear again. That would hardly be fair. Which is why, if you look further down, you’ll see that I need your key measurements, to make sure we get you the right sizes. Or if you’d prefer, we can go shopping together on a day you have free. Maybe the same day you get your health check done.” “Our health checks,” said Kieran, firmly. “If I’m suffering the indignity of getting tested, then so are you.” Kennedy inhaled a breath. This companion would be a challenge, but what choice did he have? “Our checks, then. And once the holiday is over, you get to keep whatever clothes you want or give them away. You decide. So I guess the only question that remains is; are you in or not?” “Yes. Yes, I’m in. Thank you very much for the opportunity, Mr Grey.” “Oh, and Kieran. That’s the last time you call me Mr Grey. It’s Kennedy from now on. Are we clear?” Kieran chuckled down the phone. “Crystal clear. Although, can’t I call you Ned? I had a hamster called Ned when I was a kid. Loved him to bits.” Kennedy found himself enjoying the banter and struck back immediately. “If you’re going to reduce Kennedy to Ned, then I’m sure you won’t mind if I refer to Kieran as Key. Can’t wait to see my friends’ faces when I introduce them to Key West.” The burst of laughter coming down the phone was unexpected, and Kennedy felt a smile tug at his face. “I think that’s your way of telling me no, so let’s keep to our original names.” “Smart boy.” “And that, Kennedy Grey, is the last time you get to call me a boy. Deal?” The comment caught Kennedy off guard and he laughed aloud. “Touché.” At the close, they agreed to meet on a Saturday for tests and shopping, before signing off. When Kennedy put down the phone he grinned happily for the first time that day.
  13. lomax61

    Thaw is published!

    Amazing! Well done. What an amazing feeling... I am so happy for you. @lomax61
  14. lomax61

    Screening Queens

    I think you know me well enough by now to know that it's likely to be all of those things...
  15. lomax61

    Research

    Love this, @Drew Espinosa. If you don’t mind, I might incorporate this into the chapter.
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