Giles eyed the compost heap warily. When Smutty had asked him to turn it, it had sounded like a simple request. Faced with the steaming midden of kitchen scraps and soiled straw, however, bile rose in his throat. Who would have thought two men and five chickens could generate so much waste in just four months?
Still, nothing like an unpleasant task to take his mind off things. Giles thrust the fork into the top of the pile and began flipping the soggy, squishy mess into the next empty section of the composting bins.
The August sun beat down on his shoulders, and Giles paused to strip his t-shirt, before using it to wipe the sweat from his brow. Glancing down at his newly tanned and defined chest, he marvelled at what a difference Smutty had made to his life. They’d been getting along so well: gardening together every morning; Giles painting in the afternoons, while Smutty practised his fire-dancing; and long nights turning the bed into a tangle of sweat-dampened sheets.
Then Smutty had made his announcement over breakfast.
“I’ll need the car this morning. Remember?” he’d said.
He did, and he still didn’t like it. That obstinate boyfriend of his hadn’t wanted a lick of help from Giles, and refused to elaborate on his plans beyond the bare minimum. Too bloody independent, that’s what he was.
Giles had almost transferred the whole heap to its new location when he felt arms circling his waist.
“Hey sexy,” Smutty murmured in his ear, “What a sight to come home to.”
Giles turned, smiling at the mention of “home” and the sensation of warm man pressed up against him.
Smutty kissed him slowly, like they had all the time in the world, but Giles knew that wasn’t the case.
“Mmm, what’s got you all worked up?” Smutty chuckled, pulling back from Giles’ insistent embrace. “Didn’t think turning compost was a kink of yours. I’ll have to remember that.”
Those merry brown eyes shone with glee, and Giles forced himself to ask the question: “Did you find a boat?”
“Oh yeah. I’ve had my eye on one for a while. Got a good deal, too. C’mon. I’m gonna need a hand. And a strong pair of arms.” Smutty’s gaze strayed down to Giles’ biceps and lingered there appreciatively.
Giles turned towards the canal, only to find his arm almost yanked out of its socket. “Not that way. How d’you think I got back?”
But if the boat wasn’t here yet, then where was Smutty taking him?
It was easier not to think too hard as Smutty pulled him round to the front of the house. Giles just let life wash over him. He was getting better at that these days, under Smutty’s patient guidance, but he was still a work in progress.
Then he saw the upturned rowing boat on the top of the car and began to laugh.
“C’mon. We’re both gonna need to carry her down to the water. Over our heads, I thought. What do you reckon?”
Giles pulled Smutty to him and landed a kiss on his temple. “I reckon you’re an infernal tease, that’s what I reckon.”
“Why? What have I done now?” But Smutty’s eyes danced as he proclaimed his innocence.
“You knew I thought you meant another narrowboat, didn’t you? It’s been bothering me all morning.”
“Worried I was gonna cruise off and leave you?” Smutty’s tone was serious, even though the light still glimmered in his eyes. “I already told you, I’m here for keeps now.” He grinned mischievously. “Think I’d run off and leave my chooks? No way!”
“You’re only staying because of the chickens?” Giles did his best to sound hurt, but his heart had swollen so much the joy leaked out into his words and curled up his lips.
“Yeah, and don’t you forget it,” Smutty teased, his arms resting on either side of Giles’ neck.
They stood there for a long time, smiling into each other’ eyes, until a beep from Smutty’s mobile disturbed them.
“It’s Rick,” Smutty said, squinting as he shielded the screen from the sun. “Is that boy ever gonna stop texting me for advice about his love life? I’m hardly agony aunt material.”
“I think you’re the best he’s got, and you definitely owe him.”
“If anyone should be asking for advice, it’s Finn.”
Giles snorted. Fabian’s sham marriage had gone ahead last month, much to their amazement and Smutty’s vocal disapproval. It was probably a good thing they hadn’t been invited to the ceremony. Giles had a strong suspicion Smutty would have spoken up at the point where the vicar asked if anyone had any objections.
Smutty keyed in a quick response to Rick’s text then shoved the phone back in his pocket. “Come on. I want to give this boat a test drive. You ever rowed before?”
“Of course. It was compulsory at school, and I was on the rowing team at Uni.”
“Yeah, I bet. You posh lot sure know how to live.” The words were as defiantly class-conscious as ever, but Giles couldn’t detect any trace of resentment anymore—just gentle teasing.
After they’d taken off the bungee cords that held the boat to the roof rack, they hoisted her off and over their heads. The oars were secured inside.
“Bloody hell, she’s heavy.”
“Yeah. Quality bit of workmanship, she is. Solid cedar.” Smutty knocked on the hull and Giles could hear the pride in his voice.
He didn’t think he’d ever get tired of hearing that.
They were halfway through the meadow when Smutty dropped his final bombshell, ever so casually.
“By the way, I had a call from Starlight while I was out.”
“Oh yes?” Giles panted, struggling with his grip on the varnished wood.
“Yeah. Says she’s coming to visit. Wants to meet this man who’s finally persuaded me to settle down. You don’t mind her campervan parked up in the drive for the winter, do you?”
“All winter? I, er, yes. I mean no, I don’t mind. Of course not. She’s your mother.” And he’d put up with anything for Smutty’s sake.
Conversation was put on hold for a few minutes as they made their way through the trees, trying to avoid knocking down too many apples. And finally they were out in the open again.
“Here we go. Set her down here.”
Giles groaned with relief as he straightened again, rubbing his sore shoulders. “We’ll have to build a boathouse down here. I’m not carrying that back again.”
“Good idea,” Smutty agreed, stretching his neck and arms. Giles would never get tired of watching him move. It was like poetry, the fluid grace of his body.
“Oh yeah,” Smutty continued, flashing that impish grin of his. “I was only joking about Starlight staying for the winter. She’ll be here a couple of weeks, tops, then she’s off to Mexico for a few months.”
Giles breathed a silent sigh of relief. “Does she need somewhere to leave her campervan?”
“Well, yeah, but she knows lots of people. She’ll find somewhere.”
“She can leave it here. We’ll keep it safe.”
“You sure? It’s a proper VW hippy-mobile. CND signs and rainbows all over the bodywork. Tie-dyed curtains and leopard print seat covers. You know the kind of thing.”
Giles didn’t, but he was willing to find out. He wanted to find out, as it was Smutty’s heritage.
“I’d be honoured to look after it for her.”
Smutty walked into his outstretched arms. “You’re just a big softie really, aren’t you?”
It didn’t need answering, as they both knew it was true.
“You can row first,” Smutty said, looking at the boat.
“Need me to show you how it’s done?”
“Nah, I just want to get a look at you doing it with your shirt off. Be like a free wank mag.”
Giles pushed his sniggering boyfriend to the ground and kissed him, hard.