“How about we go away for Christmas this year?” Jude made the suggestion in late summer, knowing that his partner always needed time to come to terms with new ideas. But Dominic was learning not to panic when faced with the unexpected, especially when it was presented by the man whose judgement he’d learnt to trust. He paused over his evening meal, putting down his knife and fork and taking a sip of wine in order to give the suggestion his full consideration. Eventually he voiced his prime concern.
“What about my mother… and your father? I’d hate to think of them on their own throughout the holiday season.”
“So would I, love. We’d have to plan the holiday so we could see them just before Christmas or at New Year. We’ve both got a good bit of leave due and I think Semdar can do without our services for two or three weeks over the Christmas period. What do you think?”
“Where were you thinking of going?”
“I hadn’t got as far as planning anything,” responded Jude with a laugh. “I was just wondering what you thought about the idea in principle.”
“I haven’t taken many holidays,” admitted Dominic with some embarrassment. “Not since Mum and I stopped going away together… not since I went to university really. I didn’t have anyone to go away with and I didn’t fancy travelling abroad on my own.” As Dominic never spoke of places he’d visited, Jude had already guessed that his partner had little experience of foreign travel. As was so often the case when he delved into Dominic’s past, Jude was saddened by evidence of the lonely lifestyle the young man had once led. But he showed no sign of sympathy which he knew would be unwelcome, choosing instead to make light of Dominic’s lack of familiarity with holiday destinations.
“I haven’t been anywhere special for a while either,” he said with a smile. “But I find it’s the company, not the place which makes a holiday memorable. I’m happy to do whatever you like over Christmas, so long as we spend it together.”
Dominic was unable to conceal his pleasure at Jude’s remark. It was through such affirmation, through such loving words and thoughtful gestures, that Dominic’s confidence had grown. Knowing that he was loved unconditionally, that he was admired and desired by a man as self-assured and successful as Jude Merrow, had given Dominic a newfound sense of his own worth. “It might be nice to go somewhere warm,” he mused, coming round to the idea of a winter holiday.
“Is there anywhere special you’d like to go?” asked Jude.
“No… no… It’s just…”
“What? Tell me if there’s something you’re not sure about.”
“Well… I was just thinking it would be nice to go somewhere where we can be together without worrying what people are thinking. A destination where no one will comment about two men holidaying together; where we could, perhaps, walk hand in hand.”
“I never knew you were such a romantic,” Jude teased but Dominic was not to be dissuaded from voicing his concern.
“I didn’t enjoy bucket and spade holidays when I was a kid so I’ve got no desire to spend time with young families now,” he responded gravely.
“I take your point, love,” Jude conceded. “We’ll need to do a bit of research. I know there are singles holidays and rambling holidays and even holidays for bridge players. There must be specialist companies catering for our needs.”
“I’ll have a look on the internet later,” Dominic said although he didn’t get around to the task until the following morning in the office. Then he was amazed to find that searching for Gay Holidays UK brought up pages of results. He’d begun following the most promising links when Sarah Powell passed his desk on her way to the coffee machine. Out of habit, she glanced over his shoulder to see if he might be ready to take a break. She’d got used to Dominic’s tendency to become so immersed in his work that he was reluctant to leave his desk and she often brought him a cup of coffee around midmorning. But one glance was all it took to convince her that her friend was not in the middle of constructing a complicated spreadsheet.
“Ogling cuties on company time?” she enquired. “I wonder what the boss would make of that?”
Dominic’s hand flew to minimise the browser but not before Sarah had got a good view of scantily clad but well muscled young men cavorting on a beach. “I was just looking up some holiday destinations,” Dominic said guiltily. “I told Jude I’d do a bit of research.”
“I’m only teasing,” said Sarah. “After all, we’re allowed to access the internet for personal use in our break times, so long as we don’t view pornography or send offensive emails.”
“I know,” said Dominic. “I wrote the company policy on internet use. I’m just a bit embarrassed to be caught on a gay site during office hours.”
“Why?” asked Sarah reasonably.
“I don’t know,” Dominic conceded. “Force of habit, I suppose. It’s not as though you don’t know about Jude and me.”
“I do know you two haven’t taken anything like your full holiday entitlement this year. I hope you’re planning a good long break.”
“Jude thought we might go away for a couple of weeks at Christmas time and I said I’d try and come up with some holiday destinations.”
“Have you discovered where to go for winter sun?”
“Well, yes… possibly. Actually, I’d be glad of your opinion, Sarah.”
“You know me. Always happy to help you spend money. Your very own personal shopper, that’s me. How about I get coffee and biscuits and we can look at the possibilities together?”
While Sarah was over at the coffee machine Dominic went back on the computer and saved some of the more promising sites. When she returned with two steaming mugs, he pulled up a second chair beside his desk and the two of them sat down, as they often did, to enjoy a convivial break together. Dominic was at ease in Sarah’s company and had got into the habit of asking her advice when he was perplexed. For such a formidably intelligent young man, he could sometimes prove woefully ignorant of worldly matters but Sarah was always willing to explain some of the complexities of social interaction. She had watched with pleasure as his confidence grew, putting his transformation down to the stabilising effect of his relationship with Jude Merrow. But her own contribution was not inconsiderable and Jude himself rejoiced that his partner had such a firm friend at work.
“I haven’t much experience of foreign holidays... or of holidays in this country, for that matter,” he admitted. “Actually, I don’t mind too much where we go. I just want to feel comfortable while I’m away with Jude.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to feel people are looking at us and wondering. You know... We’re always so careful at work and while we’re on holiday I’d like... I’d just like us to be able to show a bit of affection towards one another in public, that’s all.”
“Of course; I understand, Dominic. I presume that’s why you were looking at companies which specialise in gay holidays.”
“Yes; I’ve found a number of gay cruises,” said Dominic with sudden animation. “I didn’t know that such things existed. A gay cruise could be just the thing for us. What do you think?”
“I don’t know, Dominic. Honestly, I’m a bit out of my depth here. It’s just, well, gay cruising has connotations which, to my mind, have nothing to do with holidays.”
Dominic looked baffled for a moment and then understanding dawned. “Oh,” he said, looking embarrassed. “Am I being naive here? Do you think a gay cruise is just about... about hooking up for sex? I wouldn’t want Jude to think I’m looking for anyone else.”
“There’s no chance of him thinking that,” said Sarah firmly. “And I really think he’s the one to talk to if the idea of a cruise appeals to you.”
“I suppose I was rather taken with the idea of all the different ports of call. As I haven’t been abroad much, I thought I could see a lot of places on one holiday.”
“That’s certainly one of the big advantages of a cruise,” agreed Sarah. “I know cruises have become very popular lately, especially with the younger crowd. Let’s have a look at the ones you’ve found online.”
Dominic and Sarah turned their attention to the computer screen and tried to stifle their giggles as they both eyed up the talent. “My God, I’m going to have to put in some work at the gym if I’m going to swim on this holiday,” said Jude. “Do you think you’re obliged to wear those skimpy trunks?”
“Now you know how women feel about appearing in their bikinis on holiday,” Sarah laughed. “But don’t worry. I think the tour companies choose the beautiful people for their advertising. It stands to reason that all shapes and sizes must go on cruises. Anyway, you and Jude have nothing to worry about when it comes to parading your assets!”
“Sshh!” hissed Dominic, glancing round the open plan office but no one seemed to be paying them any attention.
Sarah continued to search through the sites Dominic had found and finally she said, “There are gay friendly cruises listed here as well. Have you considered those? They seem to offer a wider choice of destinations and the entertainment seems a little more... what shall I say?.. restrained. Would that suit you and Jude better? There’d be a wider cross section of people but I think you’d find the freedom and acceptance you’re looking for.”
“The best of both worlds, eh? You’re right, Sarah. I don’t think Jude would want to dress up for a Judy Garland appreciation night.” Dominic indicated a page illustrating evening entertainments on one of the cruise ships. “Look at those men dressed as Dorothy!” he exclaimed in amazement. “I can’t see Jude in a blue gingham frock and sparkly red shoes, can you?”
“I can’t imagine either of you in drag,” Sarah replied with a shudder. Dominic shared her sentiments and resolved to suggest to Jude a gay friendly cruise with its more mainstream entertainment programme.
That evening Jude proved more receptive to the idea than Dominic had expected. He was particularly taken with the idea of a cruise to the Caribbean where warm weather was practically guaranteed throughout the Christmas season. The varied programme of lectures on board ship also appealed to him and Dominic was grateful for Sarah’s wise advice to avoid the cruises with more riotous amusements. The decision having been taken, it only remained for them to complete the booking and then count the days until departure. Strictly speaking it was just Dominic who counted the days, torn between excitement at his first luxury holiday and worry that he didn’t have the right clothes for a cruise to warmer climes.
It didn’t take long for Jude to pick up on his young partner’s anxiety and one or two pointed questions had Dominic quickly confessing the cause of his concern. He’d long since accepted that Jude wouldn’t permit him to bottle up his worries and he’d learnt that the sooner he got them out in the open, the sooner he felt better. To say nothing of the after effects of Jude’s displeasure if he found Dominic had worked himself into a state without asking for help. On this occasion Jude was able to make light of Dominic’s worries, announcing that he too would need to purchase a new wardrobe for the holiday. He made the resultant shopping trips, which were always a source of trepidation for Dominic, an entertaining experience. By the time the two of them had tried on Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts, and laughed at themselves in the changing room mirrors, Dominic had forgotten his fear of haughty shop assistants. Not only that, he now knew that Jude enjoyed helping him to choose well fitting and flattering clothes. He’d come to trust Jude’s sartorial judgement and his confidence had grown so much that he strutted and posed in the changing room, knowing that Jude was enjoying the show despite issuing light hearted warnings that if he didn’t stop messing about he wouldn’t sit comfortably for a week.
By the time the two men arrived in their cabin aboard the cruise ship, Dominic felt confident that he was well equipped for everything from formal dinners to beach volleyball games. When he saw the limited amount of storage space in their cabin, he was grateful that Jude had helped him keep his packing to manageable proportions. There were two single beds, each with a small chest of drawers at the foot, a limited amount of hanging space in a built-in wardrobe and one small bedside cabinet for each to share. Their cases had to go under the beds and the ensuite bathroom afforded just enough space for one person to stand in front of the basin or squeeze into the tiny shower cubicle. What with the flight to Barbados and two weeks on board ship, the holiday was expensive and they’d decided to economise on the cabin, rightly assuming that they wouldn’t be spending long in it. Nonetheless, they both began to wonder if they’d have done better to upgrade until they managed to find a home for all their clothes, books and toiletries. Then the cabin began to appear cosy rather than cramped.
“Let’s go and explore,” said Dominic as he finally kicked his empty suitcase under the bed.
“Wouldn’t you like a lie down first?” enquired Jude. “We had a long wait at the airport and it was a tiring flight.”
“We’ll have plenty of time to catch up on our sleep tonight. Come on; let’s find the swimming pool and the gym. Where’s the plan of the ship?”
Jude couldn’t help responding to Dominic’s childlike excitement, especially as he ran up and down the staircases exclaiming in amazement as they found bars, restaurants, a fitness centre, a theatre and many places just to sit and relax. Seasonal decorations abounded throughout, the Christmas trees and coloured lights appearing incongruous on board ship in the tropics. When they finally got out on deck they leaned on the rail in the unaccustomed warmth and looked down at the quayside way below where passengers were still boarding the ship. It wasn’t until they strolled right to the stern of the vessel that they found the open air swimming pool in which a couple of lithe and handsome young men were already disporting themselves.
Jude couldn’t help but notice that their capers became even more athletic as soon as they realised they had an audience. They began pushing one another under the water, shouting and splashing, so that Jude and Dominic had to step back to avoid getting their trousers soaked. Dominic watched them with curiosity and when he was sure their attention was directed elsewhere he whispered rather tentatively, “Do you think they are? Gay, I mean.”
“Oh, I think so, don’t you?” responded Jude with a laugh, as they walked to safe distance from the pool.
“I don’t know. I’m always hopeless at spotting these things. How can you tell?”
“I’m not sure I can put it into words, love, but I usually know, especially with young men like that. I don’t think they’re a couple though.”
“Well, I wouldn’t swear to it but I reckon they’re two friends on the lookout for some fun. Well, maybe they’re a bit more than just good friends but I don’t think they’re in a committed relationship. In fact, I’d say they have trouble written all over them.”
Dominic stopped and turned back to watch with a rather wistful expression on his face as the two young men resumed swimming across the pool. Jude, on the other hand, turned his attention to his partner in whom he sensed a longing to join in the fun, a desire to overcome inhibitions and make new friends. That insight persuaded him to modify his judgement. “I don’t mean they have malicious intent,” he said, “but I suspect they’d be game for any stunt. We’ll probably find that they’re great fun.”
“Do you think they’ll come and talk to us?” asked Dominic hopefully.
“Oh, I think they’ve already clocked us as a couple to make contact with,” Jude assured him, resolving not to stand in the way of Dominic getting to know new people. He just hoped that his reservations were unfounded and the two young men would show better judgement and decorum than their behaviour in the pool had led him to expect.
In the event, their paths didn’t cross again until the first full day at sea when Jude and Dominic decided it was time to go for a swim. They’d completed no more than a few decorous lengths when the two young men introduced themselves by jumping in so close by that both Dominic and Jude were hit by the resultant tsunami. That provided the opening for insincere apologies and an invitation to play ball which soon developed into a riotous game of water polo as others joined in. Eventually Jude got out of the pool, spread his towel on a sun lounger and settled down to read his book. However, his attention was periodically drawn to the laughing, cavorting young men in the pool and particularly to Dominic who appeared to be having the time of his life. Jude knew that his partner had been one of the geeks at school who had taken every opportunity to avoid the embarrassment of organised team games. Looking now at Dominic’s toned body, glistening with water as he leapt to catch the ball, Jude reflected that it wasn’t lack of sporting ability which had held him back. In an environment where he felt comfortable he’d forgotten about his fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and was participating with enthusiasm and carefree enjoyment. Jude was glad that they’d chosen the cruise holiday and he hoped there’d be more opportunities for Dominic to socialise with the young crowd while they were away.
When the game ended, arrangements were being made to meet for drinks before dinner and Jude quietly joined the group as they climbed out of the pool. To Dominic’s surprise, his partner acquiesced to plans for them all to rendezvous in the Riviera bar that evening where free cocktails were to be served before the first formal dinner of the cruise.
As they were dressing after their showers back in the cabin Dominic tentatively questioned Jude about their new acquaintances. “What do you think of Bill and Harry?” he asked.
“Your two noisy playmates?”
“Yeah! They’re Americans.”
“That’s no reason for them to shout quite so loudly. Half the ship must have heard them.”
“They were enjoying themselves,” said Dominic rather defensively.
“It’s possible to have a good time without drawing attention to yourself quite so insistently,” said Jude. Then reminding himself that he was not going to be disapproving, he added, “But I suppose we’re on holiday and everyone is tolerant of high spirits.”
“Bill met someone last night,” Dominic confided. “He was telling us that they made out in the bathroom. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant at first but judging from what the others said I think they may have had sex in the toilets…. the public ones behind the dance floor.”
“What!” exclaimed Jude, shocked not only that Bill had had sex in a public toilet but that he’d been bragging about it to casual acquaintances. “I take it they were in a locked cubicle but even so, that could cause offence to other users of the facilities. Nothing ever justifies sexual activity in a public lavatory, even if you’re on holiday.”
Dominic was rather taken aback by Jude’s adamant condemnation of his new friend. “Don’t say anything,” he begged. “I wouldn’t want to get him into trouble.”
“Don’t worry,” Jude reassured him. “It’s not my job to act as arbiter of public morals. I’m just shocked, that’s all. I won’t deny that.”
“So was I… to start with,” Dominic admitted, “but the thought of having sex in a public place is a bit of a turn on, don’t you think?”
“I never knew you entertained fantasies of being an exhibitionist!” Jude laughed.
“I don’t; well, not really.”
“I’m glad of it. The other passengers have been so welcoming and friendly. It’s behaviour like that which runs the risk of confirming people’s worst fears and prejudices. This may be a gay friendly cruise but it behoves us to behave in public with an element of decorum.”
“I suppose so. But Bill and Harry are a lot of fun.”
The two young men were certainly on good form when Jude and Dominic joined the party in the Riviera lounge. The supply of free cocktails having dried up, they were buying drinks at the bar and they insisted on getting the cocktail of the day for their new English friends. By the time dinner was announced Bill and Harry were getting very merry and Jude was rather relieved to find they were not seated with the Americans in the restaurant.
Jude was soon chatting comfortably to the two married couples who were their dining companions for the evening and even Dominic was sufficiently fascinated by their tales of foreign travel to abandon his reserve in the company of strangers and quiz them enthusiastically about the places they’d visited. Suddenly, in mid conversation, he reared back as he was struck on the head by something quite soft which landed beside his plate. Momentarily puzzled he picked up a bread roll and then looked in the direction from which it must have come, only to catch the eye of Bill who was grinning, laughing and pointing at him.
Without further thought he twisted in his chair and flung the bread roll straight back but unfortunately his aim was not as true as Bill’s. The roll landed with considerable force in the plate of a woman sitting to Bill’s left and food splashed all over her dress. Her shriek and her husband’s rapid move to her side drew the attention of diners on neighbouring tables and silence fell as all eyes turned to the stricken woman and then to the person whose demeanour clearly marked him out as the cause of her distress.
The colour had drained from Dominic’s face and his hands had flown to his mouth in shock. Jude took in the situation at once and got calmly to his feet, placing a firm and reassuring hand on his partner’s shoulder. He walked across to the woman, whose husband had mopped the worst of the mess off her dress with a linen napkin, and offered a fluent apology along with a request to pay for cleaning or replacing the dress. He left his name and cabin number with the couple before returning to the table where he continued with his meal.
The crisis over, the level of noise rose as people returned to their conversations. Jude threw out a conversational gambit which was rapidly taken up by the others on their table. Everyone was anxious to end the awkward silence but Dominic didn’t join in. Embarrassment made him feel as though he remained the focus of accusatory glances and guilt took away his appetite and robbed him of all pleasure in the meal and the company. He pushed his food around his plate and even the pressure of Jude’s knee against his own under the table failed to provide any comfort.
Jude’s initial annoyance at Dominic’s thoughtless action had long given way to sympathy for the young man’s plight. He knew how much his partner hated to feel himself in the wrong and his heart ached in the certain knowledge that Dominic would be suffering agonies after such a public humiliation. All Jude’s anger was directed towards Bill who appeared quite unabashed despite having provoked Dominic into his disastrous act of retaliation. As soon as he’d eaten dessert, and before coffee was served, Jude excused them both, pleading the desire for an early night. Dominic got to his feet with relief to follow Jude out of the restaurant and return to the privacy of their cabin.
Having sat silently throughout the remainder of the meal, Dominic was the first to speak as soon as the door was closed. “What are you going to do then?” he asked in a challenging tone.
Jude sighed. Dominic’s guilt and distress were manifesting themselves as aggression and he set himself to calm his agitated partner. “Do?” he enquired calmly. “I’m going to get out of this suit and then I’m going to stretch out on my bed and watch the film on television.”
“And you’re just going to ignore the exhibition I made of myself in the restaurant?”
“What do you want me to do, love? I apologised on your behalf. We’ll pay for the lady’s dress to be cleaned. If you like, we can arrange for a gift to be sent to her cabin tomorrow.”
“And that’s it, is it? You’ve got nothing else to say?”
“I’m not going to lecture you, if that’s what you mean. What could I possibly say that you don’t already know? I’m sure you didn’t throw that bread roll with the intention of causing damage. I could see it was just a reflex action to return it after it hit you on the head. I wish you’d given a moment’s thought to the possible consequences but I don’t blame you for what happened. I blame Bill and, if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll let him know what I think of such boorish behaviour at a formal dinner.”
“So we just forget about it, then? I ruin the evening for others and you’re going to do nothing about it!” Dominic’s voice had risen in volume.
“Don’t shout at me, Dominic. I know you’re feeling upset and ashamed but taking it out on me won’t help.”
“Well, I’m not just going to sit here and pretend that we’ve had a fine evening. It’s been fucking awful and..”
Dominic got no further with his foul mouthed complaint. Without a word Jude placed firm hands on his shoulders and steered him down the narrow passage between the wardrobe and the bathroom until his nose was up against the cabin door. “You can stand there until you calm down and are ready to speak quietly and politely,” he instructed, before walking back to the bed where he began calmly to remove his suit and tie.
The whole manoeuvre had been effected so swiftly and efficiently that it took Dominic a moment to realise what had happened. When the reality of his situation permeated his agitated mind he was shocked to find himself standing with his back to the cabin. It was as dark there as in any corner at home, although he had the added distraction of a brightly coloured plan of the ship attached to the cabin door. He began to study it intently and read repeatedly through the fire instructions as a means of distancing himself from the events of the evening.
However, the enforced immobility and the silence had a calming effect, as Jude knew it would. Gradually Dominic’s stress level fell and his anger melted leaving him feeling ashamed and distinctly apprehensive. He heard Jude moving about the cabin and opening drawers as he searched for comfortable clothing to take the place of his formal dress. When he heard the bed creak as Jude stretched out and turned on the television, he knew he was in for the long haul.
Eventually his mind was drawn back to his behaviour in the restaurant. He squirmed with embarrassment as he relived the moment when all eyes had turned to him in accusation. And he remembered how swiftly Jude had intervened to defuse the situation. He felt so sorry for the woman whose evening he had spoiled and he wished he’d stepped up and made his apologies in person although, at the time, he knew he’d been rooted to the spot, overcome with shame and confusion. He remembered that Jude had offered to pay for cleaning or replacing her dress and had just suggested sending a gift to her cabin. Suddenly he thought of something he could do by way of restitution.
Totally forgetting that he hadn’t been given permission to move, he turned impulsively to Jude and said, “We’ll be in port tomorrow. I could find a florist’s shop, couldn’t I? I’m sure there’ll be exotic blooms on a Caribbean island. I could buy her a big bouquet of flowers.”
Familiar with Dominic’s rapid thought processes, Jude responded at once. He clicked off the television and sat up to smile at his partner. “That’s a great idea,” he said. “I’m sure if we asked the purser he’d be able to direct us to a florist’s near the quayside, or even arrange to have flowers sent direct to her cabin.”
“No,” said Dominic decisively. “I want to take them myself. It would give me an opportunity to apologise in person.” He paused and then added rather sadly, “You had to apologise for me in the restaurant.”
“I knew you wouldn’t be up to it at that point. I wanted to smooth things over for you as quickly as possible.”
“I know that and I am grateful; I just wish it hadn’t been necessary,” said Dominic miserably.
“Come here, love,” said Jude in a comforting tone. Dominic, who’d been standing indecisively beside the door, conscious now that he’d broken the rule that forbade him to move from his place of confinement without permission, responded at once to the invitation in that tone. In a few hasty strides he covered the distance from the door to the bed and flung himself into Jude’s arms. “Hey, hey,” said Jude who was in danger of strangulation from the strength of Dominic’s grip, “there’s no need to upset yourself.”
Dominic, who hated succumbing to tears, was controlling himself with an effort but his bodily tremor and ragged breathing betrayed the extent of his distress. “I’m sorry, so sorry,” he murmured passionately into Jude’s shoulder.
“I know, love. It’s all right.”
“It’s not all right. I behaved disgracefully in the restaurant and then shouted at you. The truth is I’m angry with myself, not with you.”
“And you just needed a bit of time to see that for yourself,” Jude gently pointed out. “I didn’t take it personally and I’m quite happy to help you come to terms with what happened. But trying to provoke me into punishing you won’t do the trick. Look at me.” Jude gently pushed Dominic away from him and the young man reluctantly lifted swimming eyes to do as he’d been asked. “You were trying to push me into spanking you, weren’t you?”
“No… no… I wouldn’t..”
“Mmn. I might have been,” Dominic conceded, ducking his head.
“Who makes the decisions about punishment?”
“You do. But I wasn’t…”
“Correct,” Jude interrupted him. “I do. And I’m not going to punish you for an error of judgement. You had no intention of causing harm and the consequences of your action were unforeseeable if unfortunate. This is not a major problem, love, even if it feels awful to you at the moment. My apology, on your behalf, was accepted. The couple were very nice about it. No one else is going to remember this tomorrow; you won’t hear it mentioned again. And your idea about giving the lady flowers is perfect.” Jude paused; then, in a lighter tone, he added, “Anyway, I couldn’t spank you even if I wanted to. There isn’t room to swing a cat in this cabin, let alone administer discipline. The lack of space would cramp my style.”
That observation drew a reluctant smile from Dominic and Jude followed it up with a very welcome invitation. “Now go and get out of that suit and come and join me here on the bed. There’s room for two if we snuggle up.” Dominic didn’t need to be asked twice. Jude’s comforting embrace did much to dispel his misery and soon he was engrossed in the film on television. By the time he felt ready for bed he was beginning to think that things would look better in the morning.
When he woke, the familiar motion of the ship was stilled and, when he got up to look out of the window, he saw that they were already tied up alongside the dock. Then he was anxious to get dressed and go enquire about the nearest place to buy flowers. Jude permitted himself to be hastened through breakfast so they could be the first passengers to disembark but he had to admit the effort had been worth it as they returned to the ship with Dominic triumphantly carrying an enormous arrangement of exotic blooms. Wanting to spare his partner disappointment, he had a call put through at once to the couple’s cabin to check they were willing to receive visitors. Then he escorted an increasingly nervous Dominic to their door.
But there was no need for anxiety. When Dominic’s victim opened the door she was confronted with an enormous flower arrangement which nearly filled the narrow corridor. Her delighted expressions of appreciation attracted one of the stewards who immediately offered to arrange the flowers in a large vase. That left Dominic free to make his apologies and he did so blushingly but with stammering sincerity. Jude could see at once that the lady was captivated by his charm although he knew with absolute certainty that Dominic had no concept of the favourable impression he was making. Finally he rescued Dominic from her protestations of thanks with a firm repetition of his request to send the cleaning bill to their cabin and he escorted a relieved and restored Dominic to the bar for a drink.
For the next few days Dominic was more subdued than he had been at the beginning of the voyage. He didn’t stray from Jude’s side, quietly reading on a sun lounger when they were on board ship, or accompanying him without question on expeditions ashore. To start with Jude thought it was just coincidence that there was no sign of Bill and Harry but eventually he decided that they were deliberately keeping out of his way. Dominic had made no effort to seek them out and eventually Jude began to regret that his young partner was missing out on some of the fun which he’d enjoyed during the early part of the holiday.
When the bill for dry cleaning eventually arrived Dominic was cast down yet again. The charge wasn’t exorbitant but, on board ship, it was considerably more than they would have paid at home. Although Jude pointed out that the cost could be added to their account to be settled at the end of the cruise, Dominic insisted on going to pay at once with his own credit card. It was as though all his guilt had been reawakened, along with a desperate desire to pay the price for his one thoughtless act. Jude began to suspect that he hadn’t been able to put the incident behind him as readily as might have been hoped.
Thus, when Dominic raised the question of an organised trip to one of the Caribbean beaches, Jude was immediately encouraging. The brochure promised beach volleyball, the opportunity to try snorkelling or wind surfing and a barbecue to finish the day.
“It looks fun, love,” he said approvingly. “Are any of your new friends going?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them lately.”
“Why don’t you ask? Judging from these pictures it looks as though it’s a trip designed to appeal to the young.”
“Don’t you want to come?” enquired Dominic in surprise.
In fact, Jude would quite like to have tried snorkelling, although beach volleyball wasn’t his idea of a legitimate sport. However, he wanted to encourage Dominic to strike out on his own socially and this seemed like an ideal time for the young man to participate in an event safely, without having his partner at his side. “I’d never live it down at the rugby club if they found out I’d played beach volleyball,” he said with a laugh. “Actually, I was looking at a tour of historic buildings with an expert on the colonial history of the islands. I didn’t think it would be your cup of tea so perhaps we could each do our own thing that day.”
When the day dawned Dominic seemed to have recovered some of his joie de vivre. He could hardly contain his excitement as he packed a rucksack with his towel and swimming trunks and Jude had to intervene to ensure that he’d also got sun screen, a bottle of water and a light jacket for the evening.
“Have a great day,” Jude urged. “Text me and let me know what you’re up to.”
“And, Dominic,” Jude hesitated, unwilling to sound like a killjoy, “Don’t behave in an unseemly manner.”
“Unseemly!” Dominic mimicked. “Who uses words like that?”
“I do, young man,” replied Jude in a tone which rapidly focussed Dominic’s attention. “The West Indies is still a deeply conservative society. We tend to forget that when we think of what goes on at The Notting Hill Carnival. Don’t do anything which would offend the local population. And don’t,” he added with greater emphasis, “let anyone else persuade you to act in a way I would be unhappy with. Do I make myself clear?”
When Jude spoke like that, Dominic had a tendency to respond very politely. “Yes, sir,” he said promptly.
“Oh, I know you’ll be good,” said Jude, sure that his message had been clearly understood. He tousled Dominic’s hair and picked up his own rucksack. The historic tour of the island was departing early so they could visit some of the colonial properties before the day became really hot. “I must be going,” said Jude, as he gave Dominic a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll see you this evening, love.”
The historic tour was fascinating and the rest of the party proved sociable and interesting. Jude had little time to worry about how Dominic was getting on at the beach although he checked his phone a couple of times in the hope of finding a new text. When no message had been delivered after a couple of hours, he decided that Dominic was probably in the water or playing on the beach with his phone lying forgotten in his rucksack. It wasn’t until after lunch that he heard the alert which signalled the arrival of a picture message. He clicked it open and read one brief sentence from Dominic:
Havin a gr8 time wiv Santa’s little helpers!
Then he scrolled down the page to view the attached picture. There was no mistaking the identity of the elves. Bill and Harry, wearing Santa hats and very little else, were immediately recognisable. For one brief moment Jude entertained the hope that the third young man, with his back turned to the camera, might not be Dominic. But the set of the shoulders, the curve of the exposed backside, even the shape of the hairline at the nape of the neck were all unmistakable. Jude would have recognised those beloved features anywhere. But this time they aroused feelings of anger and not the usual affectionate admiration for his partner’s lean and toned form. He pressed reply and rapidly composed his response:
I suggest you cover your arse before you get sunburn. But don’t get too comfortable. That arse’ll be glowing as red as an elf’s hat before the day is out.
Quick as a flash a reply popped up on Jude’s mobile: You said u can’t swing a cat in our cabin! So no fear of a sore bottom, eh?
This time Jude took a minute or two to consider what to say next. He was beginning to appreciate Dominic’s motives, recognising deliberate provocation when he saw it. Judging from the isolated spot where the photo had been taken, Dominic had obeyed Jude’s instruction to avoid offending the local population. However, the young man was in no doubt about Jude’s views on the subject of public nudity, to say nothing of allowing others to handle him intimately. The sight of the Americans with their hands casually placed inside Dominic’s swimming trunks was sufficient to make Jude growl. Dominic was angling for a spanking all right but Jude suspected it had nothing to do with making him jealous and everything to do with a lingering sense of guilt. Ever since the incident in the restaurant Dominic’s subdued manner had suggested that he still felt himself to be in disgrace. Nothing Jude could say or do to convince him that the matter was closed brought about a return of his high spirits.
More than once Jude had contemplated with regret his decision to make light of Dominic’s misjudgement in the restaurant. He’d come to suspect that a spanking, even a very mild spanking, might have been sufficient to convince Dominic that he’d paid for his mistake. Now, his initial assumption that Dominic’s apology and gift to the unfortunate woman had drawn a line under the incident gave way to certainty that Dominic was still labouring under a heavy burden of shame. That being the case, Jude knew he’d have no problem addressing the issue in the way Dominic was clearly demanding. He punched his reply into his phone and pressed send:
We’ll be discussing this tonight. Lack of space in the cabin won’t save you from a well deserved spanking.
This time there was a lengthy delay before Dominic sent a response and Jude correctly guessed that the young man was having second thoughts about the outrageous picture and the inevitable consequences of sending it to his partner. Eventually a short message popped up on Jude’s phone and it clearly signalled Dominic’s state of mind when writing. The smiley conveyed not misplaced optimism but a touching desire to placate.
You’re not angry are you? :-)
Jude decided that only an honest answer would do: I was angry, love, but I’m not angry now. Enjoy the rest of your day. We’ll sort everything out this evening. Don’t worry.
Dominic’s reply was swift and it went a long way towards putting Jude’s mind at rest, enabling him to enjoy the rest of his island tour with only the occasional thought as to how he would handle his errant partner when they regained the privacy of their cabin. The reply was just three words long but Jude knew they were words which Dominic never used casually or thoughtlessly: I love you.
Hours later, after both men had returned to the ship, showered, changed and eaten dinner in the restaurant they finally turned their attention to the events of the day. Dominic had been subdued throughout the evening meal but not seriously anxious or agitated. Jude’s calm and reassuring manner had contributed in part to Dominic’s composure but Jude also suspected that the young man felt a certain sense of relief that his sins were about to be punished and pardoned. However, Jude had no intention of allowing Dominic to skirt around his feelings and avoid facing up to the manipulation inherent in his outrageous conduct on the beach. Jude’s opening question, addressed to the penitent young man sitting opposite him on the bed brought Dominic’s head up in surprise.
“If you still felt you needed a spanking, why didn’t you say something instead of staging that stunt this afternoon?
“I… I didn’t. It wasn’t staged. I don’t understand…”
“You understand perfectly well,” interjected Jude. “I made my expectations perfectly clear before you left for the beach. You couldn’t have more blatantly disregarded my views on seemly behaviour if you’d tried.”
Dominic flinched at Jude’s straight talking. His partner was sitting so close to him on the adjoining bed that their feet were almost touching. He struggled to maintain eye contact as he tried to explain. “I didn’t behave in an unseemly way. There was no one around. I remembered what you said about not offending the local population.”
“And how do you think I felt when I saw Bill and Harry with their hands in your swimming trunks?”
Dominic gasped. “They weren’t… They were only… I didn’t think…” After a pause to collect his scattered wits he ended lamely, “I’m sorry, Jude, I really am. I wouldn’t have let them do anything inappropriate.”
“I know that, love. I never for one moment thought you were engaging in any sort of sexual activity with those young men. But that didn’t prevent me feeling jealous when I saw their hands on your bottom.”
Jude’s admission gave Dominic a surprise and also a guilty jolt of pleasure. “Oh,” he breathed and his blush made Jude laugh with ready understanding.
“It’s good to know you can make me jealous just by allowing someone else to touch you, eh?” Before Dominic could make his denials, Jude went on. “Don’t worry. I know that wasn’t your intention. But you were angling for a spanking, weren’t you? And you fixed on the quickest way of getting my attention.”
“It wasn’t my idea to pose for that photo,” Dominic tried to point out. “It was Bill’s suggestion and well, it seemed like a fun thing to do so…” Jude was looking at him so pointedly that his voice trailed away. “Okay… I knew you wouldn’t approve. But no one saw.”
“Apart from the person who took the picture and, presumably, the rest of the group who went to the beach.”
There was no answer to that and Dominic’s silence could only be interpreted as acquiescence. Jude let the silence drag on until Dominic lifted pleading eyes to his. Then he appeared to relent. “All right then. I’ll accept there was no harm done. None of the locals witnessed your high spirited Christmas caper and I know your behaviour wasn’t sexually motivated.” Dominic breathed a sigh of relief but, as Jude’s voice hardened, he realised he’d relaxed too soon. “So that just leaves me to deal with the fact that you’ve continued to labour under a sense of guilt and shame. Rather than voicing your worries you’ve struggled with them alone. Finally, you decided that you could clear the slate by forcing me into spanking you. Is that a fair summary?”
Dominic could hardly deny it. “It wasn’t deliberate,” he said falteringly. “I didn’t plan it that way.”
“But that’s what happened, isn’t it? You were still feeling guilty and you knew perfectly well how I’d react to that photo. You’ve got yourself exactly where you wanted to be.”
“I didn’t think it would be like this,” said Dominic miserably.
“I bet you didn’t, my lad. But I’m not having you try to manipulate me in this way. I make the decisions about punishment and I say that you have no need to feel guilty about the incident in the restaurant. It’s over and done with. You’ve paid for your mistake and made amends in a very acceptable manner. But you’re not off the hook now. I won’t have you deliberately disobey me and I’m not pleased that you went along with Bill and Harry when they pulled your pants down. There’s only one person you pull your pants down for and that’s me.” Jude paused and Dominic’s stomach muscles contracted in alarm at the realisation of what was coming next. “So stand up and drop them,” Jude ordered.
Dominic got reluctantly to his feet. It was true that he’d had some vague notion that provoking Jude in a light hearted way would result in a semi playful spanking which would serve to alleviate his feelings of guilt. The problem was that Jude didn’t seem to be taking the matter lightly and Dominic could see precisely why. He couldn’t now understand what had possessed him to pose so shamelessly with his American friends. He could see that doing so was not only in direct contravention of Jude’s precise instructions; it was also entirely inappropriate behaviour. What had seemed like a bit of harmless fun on the beach now seemed to Dominic himself altogether more serious with its potential to damage their relationship.
“Do I have to undress you myself?” Jude asked with some asperity and Dominic hastily pulled himself out of his reverie. His hands went to the fastening of the grey twill trousers which he’d worn to dinner in the restaurant and he fumbled with the hooks and zipper. Standing in such close proximity to his partner in the tiny cabin made it a trifle embarrassing to get ready for a spanking. Jude’s immobility and calm, relentless gaze made him feel even more exposed. His fingers shook slightly as he slipped them under the waistband of his underpants and resolutely pushed all the fabric down to his knees. Jude shifted back slightly on his narrow bed and Dominic laid himself gingerly across Jude spread knees, sparing a thought for the lack of sound proofing in the ship’s cabins.
It seemed, however, that Jude was not yet ready to embark on the punishment. Instead he spoke quietly but firmly to Dominic. “You’re here for one reason and one reason only. Can you tell me what it is?”
“It’s got nothing to do with the lady I splashed, has it?” replied Dominic, knowing he was correct and playing for time.
“You know I don’t hold you responsible for that,” said Jude firmly. “What have you done to earn this spanking?”
“I behaved inappropriately on the beach,” admitted Dominic, “…..after you’d told me not to.”
“Yes. And why did you do it?”
“I was trying to provoke you… trying to get you to deal with an issue which was worrying me.”
“What should you have done?”
“I should have told you I was still upset. I should have explained that I wanted some way of easing the guilt.”
“So why are you over my lap now?”
“Because I didn’t tell you how I was feeling,” said Dominic with sudden understanding. “Because I tried to deal with things myself. Because… because I didn’t trust you to make things right for me.”
Jude didn’t need to express his approval of Dominic’s insight in words. He just ran a firm hand down the curve of his partner’s back, into the dip at his waist and up the gentle slope of his buttocks, coming to rest at the top of his thighs. Dominic sighed audibly, shifted slightly to secure his position and then relaxed. It was the signal Jude had been waiting for and he began to administer a series of smacks which imprinted clear finger marks on Dominic’s backside, soon to be obliterated by a uniform redness.
Jude reflected that his reservations about the use of an implement in the cramped cabin were probably correct. There really wasn’t room for an effective swing. However, such considerations did not apply to a hand spanking and he felt no constraint about laying on with a will. It was Dominic who was labouring under a sense of constraint, attempting to remain silent out of consideration for their neighbours who, he estimated, could be no more than six feet from where he lay, gasping and squirming over Jude’s lap.
Matters had progressed well beyond the point at which Dominic still felt able to control his reactions before Jude stayed his hand. He’d been reduced to sotto voce begging and apologising long before the onslaught finally ceased. Then he lay, exhausted, emotionally drained yet perversely satisfied as his body thrummed with cleansing pain. Eventually, Jude made the first move by easing himself out from under Dominic’s body and allowing the young man to shift to the centre of the bed. A long day of activity in the sun and sea would, of itself, have been enough to cause Dominic’s eyes to droop with tiredness but the added turmoil of the evening’s inquisition and punishment meant that he hadn’t even got the energy to get himself ready for bed.
Jude left him alone for a little while until he was certain the sting must have diminished to manageable proportions and then he gently pulled off Dominic’s nether garments which had got tangled round his ankles during the spanking. It was then the work of moments to strip him completely, roll him under the bedclothes, kiss him and tuck him in. Dominic mumbled his thanks and to judge from the warmth of his response to that one kiss, he’d been left in no doubt that he was forgiven. Jude smiled to himself with both satisfaction and affection when he heard Dominic’s breathing become slower and more audible with the onset of sleep.
In the morning Dominic was a little more sheepish, uncertain how to approach Jude and ask the one question which still troubled him. Jude was immediately on the alert, challenging his reticence. “How are you feeling this morning? Fancy a dip before breakfast?”
“I’m feeling fine,” he insisted, “but I’m not sure if I’m fit to appear in public in bathing trunks. What’s the state of my bottom?”
“Look for yourself in the mirror inside the wardrobe door. I think you’ll find there’s nothing worse to be seen than the effects of a little sunburn.”
Dominic padded naked through the cabin and twisted and turned in front of the mirror to confirm the truth of Jude’s claim. “Okay, I’ll go up to the pool with you.” Dominic paused and Jude looked at him expectantly. There was no denying he had something else on his mind. “I suppose…. I expect you want me to stay with you today.”
“I don’t remember asking you to do that.”
“No… but you won’t want me mixing with the others. Not with Harry and Bill… not after yesterday.”
“I thought we agreed that I decide on punishments. It’s not up to you to dictate penalties.”
“I know,” Dominic agreed hastily. “It’s just that I thought… I thought…”
“You thought I was going to ban you from socialising with the young crowd. Of course I’m not. I may not approve of everything they get up to but I’m not responsible for their behaviour, thank God. I do, however, expect you to make wise decisions if they propose conduct which you know I’d disapprove of.”
“Oh,” said Dominic, with some surprise, “thank you. I did enjoy myself yesterday and in future I won’t do anything against my better judgement when I’m with them.”
“I should hope not,” concurred Jude with mock gravity which didn’t deceive Dominic.
“I hope you’ve deleted the offending text,” he said with twinkle in his eye.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Jude blandly. “You’d better check my phone.”
Dominic unplugged it from the socket where Jude had left it overnight to charge and the screen immediately lit up. There was the picture which until that point Dominic had done no more than glance at in bright sunlight. He couldn’t help thinking it was a rather good photo which showed off the tan he didn’t know he’d acquired. He must have admired it a moment too long because Jude laughed and said, “Yes, I thought it was rather festive too. I’ve decided to use it on my home screen… well, at least until we’re back at work. It might cause consternation in the office but, for the moment, I think we can fling propriety to the winds.”
Dominic didn’t realise how literally Jude was to take that seemingly frivolous observation until the final night of the cruise. By then the two of them had had a wonderful time, forgotten all the pressures and problems of work, acquired a deep winter tan, made new friends and seen places they had only ever dreamed of.
“It’s our last night on board,” said Dominic rather wistfully.
“I know. It’s going to be hard to settle down to real life after this adventure.”
“I wish we weren’t going home tomorrow. It’ll be cold back in Britain and we’ll have to get up in the dark to go to work.”
“So let’s go out on deck now,” suggested Jude unexpectedly. “It’s late but it’ll still be warm. Just grab a jacket.”
The stairways were deserted as they climbed upwards. Even the bars were nearly empty as passengers returned to their cabins to pack and get an early night. On deck the stars shone brightly in the clear sky and the gentle slap of waves against the bows of the ship was just audible. Dominic and Jude spent a long time leaning on the rail, enjoying the balmy breeze and talking quietly about their favourite ports of call on the cruise.
“Shall I tell you what I liked best of all on this holiday?” enquired Dominic rather shyly.
“Go on,” encouraged Jude.
“That day when we visited the island and walked hand in hand along the beach. We’ve never done that before… at least not where anyone could see us. It felt so good to show people that we belong together.”
“We belong to one another,” Jude affirmed, bending to kiss Dominic on the lips. It was clear that he too appreciated the freedom, afforded by the gay friendly cruise, to show affection in public. Dominic’s arms snaked round Jude’s waist and the two men exchanged a hug of pleasure and satisfaction at the end of a perfect holiday.
On their way back to the cabin Jude halted abruptly outside the gents and, after a quick glance down the corridor, pulled Dominic inside.
Standing with his back to the door he issued a brief instruction, “Go into that cubicle, drop your pants, place your hands on the cistern and bend over.”
“What?” gasped Dominic, hardly able to credit what he was hearing.
“I don’t intend to repeat myself,” came the firm response.
“B..b...but someone might walk in.”
Jude discreetly leant even more firmly against the door. “So,” he asked, “is that any reason for refusing to obey me?”
Dominic’s breath caught in his throat and his pulse quickened. Fear of public exposure gave way to arousal at Jude’s masterful display. The prospect of indulging in sexual activity in a public place tapped into one of Dominic’s long held fantasises, although he seemed to remember Jude stating that sex in public lavatories could never be condoned. However, as Jude’s eyes darkened with a combination of lust and impatience Dominic began to think he must have misremembered the conversation. Obediently, he walked into the cubicle and unfastened his trousers. Then, taking a deep breath, he slipped his fingers into the waistband of his underpants and pulled his clothing down below his knees. Hobbled by the bunched fabric, he spread his legs as widely as possible and leaned over as instructed. Only then did Jude remove his shoulders from the outer door and walk silently into the cubicle to stand close behind Dominic, locking the door as he did so.
Dominic shivered with anticipation as Jude’s hands touched his flanks and moved slowly up his torso, pushing his thin shirt up his back. Naked from armpits to knees, his body was totally open to Jude’s questing fingers and he gasped as those fingers fluttered over his belly and encountered the rising evidence of his excitement. He could feel the fabric of Jude’s clothing rubbing against his naked buttocks and thighs and he could hear Jude’s ragged breathing against his ear. He pushed back against his partner, silently signalling his consent and urging Jude to make free with his body. Jude needed no further assurance of Dominic’s willing submission.
The whiteness of Dominic’s taut buttocks contrasted attractively with the golden tan he’d acquired from the hips upwards. Jude spread the pale cheeks with firm fingers and ran his thumb over Dominic’s puckered orifice which contracted temptingly at his touch. “Remember what I said about behaving with decorum in a public place?” he enquired and Dominic could hear the laughter in his voice. “Don’t make a noise.” And with that terse instruction he plunged one spit slicked finger deep inside his partner.
Dominic gasped at the sudden intrusion but otherwise managed to remain silent. On reflection, he was sure he hadn’t misunderstood Jude’s absolute prohibition on sexual activity in a public place so he was forced to conclude that Jude was intentionally disregarding his own ruling. The knowledge that any noise would alert a passing visitor not only to their presence but also to the nature of their activity just added to his excitement. He gripped the edge of the cistern more tightly as he heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper being lowered and then felt the familiar nudge of blunt, questing manhood. Fleetingly, he registered the fact that Jude must be setting aside a deeply held principle in order to enact his lover’s fantasy as a final gift on the last night of their voyage. Then he was rendered incapable of rational thought as he abandoned himself totally to the eroticism of the moment.