A Place of Safety ~ Chapter 4: Safe Home

After falling into an exhausted sleep during the afternoon, from which he only woke in the early evening, it was hardly surprising that Dominic had a restless night. Jude had left both bedroom doors open and he heard the young man thrashing about for a long time after they’d turned out their bedside lights. Eventually both men must have dozed off because Jude was woken with a start some hours later by a sharp cry followed by incoherent shouting. He was immediately out of bed and on his feet, pausing only to turn on the landing light before rushing through to the spare bedroom.

The illumination was sufficient for Jude to see that Dominic was in the grip of a nightmare. Jude sat down on the edge of the bed, unsure what to do for the best but opting to rest his hand lightly on Dominic’s shoulder and to speak quiet, reassuring words. It seemed to do the trick and Dominic calmed down without waking. Jude moved to the chair to watch over his houseguest until he was certain that the young man was sleeping peacefully. By then Jude had become chilled, as he was sitting in just his pyjamas and had nothing on his feet, so the desire for warmth, as well as the need for a good night’s sleep, forced him back to his own bed.

The next disturbance was even louder and when Jude rushed into Dominic’s bedroom, he found him sitting up in bed, his eyes wild and his body shaking. He was obviously awake but the horror of the nightmare was still with him. Jude sat down on the bed again and pulled Dominic into an embrace, registering the tension in his body and the resistance to being touched. Jude continued to hold on tight, rocking Dominic in his arms until he felt the young man begin to relax.

“It’s alright, Dominic. You’re safe here. You’re with me.”  They seemed trite words of comfort but Dominic responded by laying his head on Jude’s shoulder in the ultimate gesture of trust.

“Don’t leave me.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m just across the landing.”

“I keep dreaming that I’m still in that room, that he’s coming towards me and I can’t move.” Dominic shivered and then added in a whisper, embarrassed to confess his fear, “I’m frightened to go back to sleep.”

“Would it help if I lay down beside you?”

“Would you mind?

“Just give me a second to get my dressing gown and a pair of socks.”

When Jude returned he was dressed more warmly. Dominic was lying down again, gazing sightlessly at the bedroom wall. Jude stretched out on top of the quilt and spooned up against the young man’s back, throwing one arm over his shoulder.

“Close your eyes and relax,” Jude instructed firmly. “You’ve got nothing to be afraid of now. I’m right beside you. If you have a bad dream, I’ll wake you and everything will be alright.”

Apparently it just needed a confident tone and body contact to reassure Dominic. It didn’t take long before a change in the rhythm of his breathing signalled that he’d fallen asleep. Jude had intended to watch over him while he slept but he too was soon overtaken by exhaustion.

When Jude woke again light was streaming round the curtains but it wasn’t the morning sun which had woken him. He was in such a sweat that he thought for a moment he must be ill. As he shifted his position he realised he was wearing his dressing gown over his pyjamas and was snuggled underneath the quilt with his bedfellow pressed closely against his chest. Jude’s slight movement disturbed Dominic and the young man lazily opened his eyes and gazed guilelessly into those of his companion. Their faces were inches apart and Jude took a moment to marvel at the coloured flecks in Dominic’s hazel irises before dawning embarrassment made Dominic avert his gaze and shift rapidly over to the other side of the bed.

Jude made light of the situation. “I don’t know how I finished up under the quilt,” he laughed. “I feel like I’ve been boiled alive.”

“It was my fault,” said Dominic, shamefacedly. “I asked you to stay with me.”

“Quite right, too. You slept soundly for the rest of the night with someone beside you. Never be ashamed of asking for help when you need it. Now, up you get. We’ve got a lot to do today.”

“I need to get back to my flat,” said Dominic briskly, trying to reassert some control. “I want to collect clean clothes for work.”

“Fine,” replied Jude evenly, ignoring the hint of a challenge in Dominic’s tone. “I’ll drive you round there after breakfast.”

“There’s no need for that; I’ll take a taxi. I don’t want to make you late for work.”

“Don’t worry about that. They know I’m not coming straight into the office this morning. I’m getting you sorted out first.”

“I don’t need you to sort me out,” said Dominic angrily. He didn’t quite understand why he was snapping at Jude. It was just that he was feeling ashamed and embarrassed about the events of the last twenty four hours and, whereas he had turned unhesitatingly to Jude in his hour of need, in the cold light of day he was trying to distance himself emotionally from his rescuer. He was so used to managing on his own that he felt uncomfortable about the closeness which had developed so quickly between the two of them and, deep down, he was afraid to give way to his burgeoning feelings for fear that any gesture of affection on his part would be unwelcome.

Jude did have some understanding of the confused emotions which were threatening to overwhelm the young man. He correctly read Dominic’s hostility as a defence mechanism designed to dissociate himself from someone who had witnessed more than he would willing have revealed. Jude also realised that his talk of sorting Dominic out had been seen as patronising and he resolved to handle the volatile young man with greater care in future. Dominic had a temper. Jude had seen him struggle with it at work but in his current fragile state he had less control.

“I’m sorry,” Jude said in an openhearted way which could only win Dominic round. “I didn’t mean to suggest that you needed sorting out. I just want to spend some time with you today, help you get things straightened out. It would be a pleasure, as well as a privilege, if you’d let me help you.”

“Okay,” replied Dominic a trifle sheepishly. “I suppose I don’t really want to get a taxi wearing your track suit and a pair of mules which, by the way, are not my size. I’d be glad of the lift.”

“Good. Now we’ve got over that little misunderstanding, let’s go downstairs and get some breakfast.”

Jude was happy to spend however long might be necessary to get Dominic ready that morning. He didn’t want breakfast to turn into any sort of confrontation but he was determined that Dominic was going to eat a proper meal before going out. He managed to achieve his aim by eating so slowly himself that sheer embarrassment forced Dominic to pick up his knife and fork, for want of anything else to do, and begin eating the cooked breakfast Jude had prepared. Once he got started he realised he was starving hungry and the fried eggs, sausage and bacon, all as good as his mother made, proved to be the ultimate comfort food.

The car journey to Dominic’s flat was embarrassing to start with. There was a slightly acrid smell in the company car which reminded them both of the state Dominic had been in the previous day. Jude defused the situation by pointing out landmarks and chatting about the places they drove through. Eventually Dominic relaxed enough to ask a few questions and a comfortable conversation ensued. It was a revelation to Dominic that his boss, who commanded such respect at work, could reveal a caring and compassionate side to his nature, coupled with a lively sense of humour. And Jude himself realised that Dominic was learning to view him in a different light, having only known him as his boss prior to the traumatic events of the previous day.

When they finally parked outside the nondescript block of flats in south London, Dominic made an unsuccessful bid to persuade Jude to remain in the car while he ran in to change into a suit for work. Jude didn’t enter into an argument; he just got out of the vehicle and accompanied Dominic to the communal entrance and up four flights of stairs to his flat. When Dominic opened the front door, a smell of rotting garbage filled their nostrils. The young man embarked on an embarrassed apology, explaining that he hadn’t had time to take the rubbish bag down to the wheelie bins in the back yard. Jude followed his nose towards the kitchen and, with one glance, took in its untidy and unhygienic state. The rubbish bin was full beyond capacity with its lid propped up on the congealed remains of takeaway dinners. There were dirty plates in the sink and dirty mugs on the worktop. Jude came to a rapid decision. “Go and pack a suitcase, Dominic. You’re coming to stay with me.”

Dominic offered a half hearted protest. “It’s okay. I’ve been a bit busy at work recently… well, you know. I’ll clear up here at the weekend. I’m fine, really I am.”

Jude opened the fridge and Dominic blushed. There was a piece of cheddar cheese curling at the edges, some yoghurts past their eat by date, a tired looking lettuce in the crisper compartment and a plastic bottle of milk. Jude unscrewed the cap, sniffed the contents and poured the sour liquid straight down the sink. However, he chose to make no comment about the mess and the lack of provisions. Instead he said, “I don’t want you here on your own, Dominic. You’ve had a very unpleasant and traumatic experience which gave you nightmares last night.” Taking in the implications of the mulish expression on Dominic’s face, he rapidly shifted his tack, framing his next instruction as a question. “Will you come and stay with me for the next few days? I would be so glad of your company and, well, I’d enjoy having someone to cook for.”

It was the diffident admission that Jude enjoyed cooking, when it clearly wasn’t one of Dominic’s skills, which won Dominic over. “Alright,” he agreed, “just for a few days.” And then, in quieter tone which left Jude wondering whether he was even meant to hear, he added, “I suppose it would be nice to have some company.”

“Off you go then and get a suitcase packed. I’ll tidy up in here.”

Dominic looked a trifle uncertain. It didn’t seem right to have his boss dealing with the mess in the kitchen and he made to start gathering up the dirty coffee mugs. This time Jude expressed himself in no uncertain terms. “I told you to get your stuff packed. What are you waiting for?”

Dominic recognised a rhetorical question when he heard it. He abandoned his plan to help out and headed straight for the bedroom, leaving Jude to start the washing up. By the time older man had dried the dishes and cutlery, wiped down all the surfaces, emptied the fridge and bagged up all the rubbish Dominic had changed into a suit and filled a suitcase with assorted clothes, shoes, books and electronic equipment. Coming in search of him, Jude stood for a moment outside the bedroom door watching with affectionate amusement as the young man tried to force his toilet bag into the case which was already full to capacity.

“What about all this stuff on the floor?” asked Jude as he entered the bedroom.

“Oh, that’s all dirty. I’ll take it to the launderette when I get back.”

“Haven’t you got a washing machine?”

“You’ve seen the size of the kitchen. There isn’t room for one.”

“We’ll take it with us then and run it through my washing machine.” Jude began to pick up the stray socks and underwear which littered the floor.

“Don’t,” said Dominic sharply, “There’s no need for you to pick up my dirty clothes.” Then, rather shamefacedly, he explained the cause of his embarrassment. “Mum always told me to wear clean underwear in case I got run over and taken to hospital but she never warned me about the boss finding my dirty underwear on the bedroom floor.”

“Well, now you’ve learned always to be ready for room inspection,” Jude countered with a laugh which took any sting out of the observation. He lifted the open suitcase onto the floor, expertly stripped the bed and used the quilt cover as a laundry sack, filling it with all Dominic’s dirty clothes. He then took the shoes out of the suitcase to make room for the toilet bag, closed the case, flung the improvised laundry bag over his shoulder, picked up Dominic’s shoes and said, “Let’s go,” leaving Dominic to scamper after him, wheeling the suitcase and dragging the rubbish bags.

Once they got into work, Jude left Dominic to make his way to his desk but kept a discreet eye on him through his open office door until he was sure the young man was settled and engrossed in clearing his backlog of emails. Then he telephoned Clive Green, the caretaker’s line manager, and set up an immediate meeting. While waiting for his colleague to arrive, Jude went quietly to invite Sarah Powell to join him in the office, aware that she had done more checks on Chris Wilkins during his absence. Jude was hoping that the evidence unearthed by Sarah would be sufficient to launch an investigation into the caretaker’s employment history, without him having to divulge any detail about Dominic’s ordeal.

“I’m so relieved to see Dominic back at work,” Sarah said as soon as the door was closed. “Is he alright?”

“Physically, yes… and that’s all thanks to your vigilance and sound instincts. But I don’t know how long it will take him to get over the mental trauma.”

“What happened?”

“It wasn’t very nice, Sarah. I don’t want to go telling anyone about it. I’ll leave it up to Dominic himself. Ask him. I’m sure he’ll say if he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

At that point the caretaker’s line manager knocked on the door and they both stood up to greet him. Mr Green then joined them round the conference table and Mr Merrow began by expressing his concerns in general terms, backed up by Miss Powell who itemised the gaps in Chris Wilkins’s employment history and outlined the doubts about his references. Either because he felt his competence as a recruiter was being called into question or because he felt Chris Wilkins wasn’t being given the benefit of the doubt, Mr Green proved rather uncooperative at first. Mr Merrow had to state, without going into detail, that the caretaker had already behaved inappropriately towards a member of staff and there were concerns about the safety of the workforce. He evaded Mr Green’s request for evidence to back up that accusation and suggested instead that his colleague question the caretaker prior to undertaking further security checks. Mr Green, who was beginning to worry about safeguarding the staff, agreed to summon the caretaker to a meeting in order to verify his experience and qualifications.

By the time Mr Merrow was ready to leave at the end of the day, he had established that Chris Wilkins had failed to report for work and attempts to contact him at home had been unsuccessful. He felt only relief that there had been no prospect of Dominic encountering the caretaker anywhere in the building and he spared a moment to wonder whether the man had decided not to return to his job. Driving home in a newly requisitioned fleet car, with all Dominic’s luggage in the boot, he decided not to mention anything about the caretaker unless Dominic asked. Consequently, it wasn’t until after dinner that he tried to get Dominic round to the subject of what had happened at Chris Wilkins’s house. He was sure Dominic would benefit from talking through his traumatic experience and he wanted to judge whether the young man might require professional counselling. In addition, Jude felt he needed to assess the likely threat Chris Wilkins posed to other members of staff.

Despite having resolved to unburden himself to Jude, when presented with an opening Dominic’s nerve failed. Although he had spent the day in front of his computer, his mind had frequently returned to the scene in the caretaker’s playroom and he had begun to compulsively examine and re-examine the train of events which had landed him in such a terrifying and shameful situation. He couldn’t help but conclude that it was all his own fault; that it was his naivety and stupidity which had led him to be taken in by Chris Wilkins. He did recognise that Jude wouldn’t blame him for being naive and a poor judge of character but honesty compelled him to admit that there were other factors at work.

It wasn’t just loneliness that had drawn him to Chris Wilkins; he was attracted by the very characteristics which made the man so dangerous. Not only that, he had been aroused by the bondage and discipline he had witnessed in the club and had willingly submitted himself to the restraints which had proved his undoing. There was no way he could bring himself to confess all that to the man whose good opinion he so much valued. Nor could he delude himself into believing that Jude would be satisfied with a bare recitation of the facts. He would want to understand causes and motives and would end up feeling only disgust for a man whose perverted desires had resulted in such humiliating captivity.

Dominic curled his feet under his body and sank a bit further down in the armchair on one side of the fireplace. Jude was sitting on the sofa which was angled to face the television set but it hadn’t been turned on and Dominic didn’t like to ask if they could watch. Jude wasn’t pressing for answers but his last question had pointedly asked if Dominic felt ready to talk about what Wilkins had done to him. The only easy way to avoid answering was to plead tiredness even though he didn’t want to go to bed, fearing another disturbed night with horrible dreams. He really wanted to remain with Jude for as long as possible, where he felt safe, secure and something more, something he couldn’t really define. Maybe he was just cautious about putting a name to it but sometimes, when Jude looked at him, Dominic felt admired, desired or even loved. He knew he was hopeless at reading other people’s emotions; he wasn’t even sure that he had correctly divined Jude’s sexuality, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a spark between them, an unacknowledged sexual charge. However, in desiring to establish a relationship with Jude, he faced a dilemma. How was he to reconcile his desire to tell Jude exactly what had happened in the garage with the certain knowledge that, once Jude knew the truth, he would want nothing more to do with a man who had got himself into such a situation in the first place?

Dominic yawned ostentatiously, announced that he didn’t feel up to talking any more that evening and asked if he could go to bed. Jude sighed resignedly and escorted him up to the spare bedroom to help him unpack his case and check that he had everything he needed before leaving him alone to use the bathroom and get into bed. When Jude went upstairs an hour or so later, he checked on the sleeping man, left both bedroom doors open and the landing light on before getting into bed himself. But if Dominic suffered any nightmares, he didn’t shout out and he didn’t wake Jude. He claimed in the morning to have slept well although there were dark rings under his eyes and he fell into a fitful doze during the drive to work. They would be travelling home on public transport and Jude resolved that they would leave work early and tackle the contentious subject as soon as they got back. He wasn’t going to let Dominic torment himself over Chris Wilkins for one more day.

Beginning his third evening in Jude Merrow’s home, Dominic recognised a subtle change in the atmosphere. In some indefinable way Jude seemed more fully in charge than he’d done before and Dominic began to get anxious; he sensed that Jude wasn’t going to let him off the hook again. His boss guided him to the sofa and sat down beside him, giving him the freedom to avoid eye contact if he wanted but not to evade capture if he tried to move away. He then made it abundantly clear that he expected Dominic to start talking. Instead of giving way and accepting the inevitable, Dominic began to raise his defences. Unable to outmanoeuvre Jude verbally, he resorted to the childish stratagem of refusing to speak, gazing at the ceiling and engaging in a full blown sulk.

It was a tactic which Dominic had employed against his mother when he was living at home and it was a measure of how safe he felt with Jude that he resorted to his tried and tested method of avoiding issues he didn’t want to discuss. The trouble was that Jude recognised the tactic for what it was, a form of passive aggression, and he was always going to challenge such behaviour. “Right young man, if you’re not going to co-operate you can jolly well go upstairs until you change your mind. Come on.”

It never crossed Dominic’s mind to refuse. He followed Jude upstairs, expecting to be taken to the bedroom which he was occupying as a houseguest but instead Jude continued along the corridor to a small box room which appeared to double as an office and a storeroom. There was a single bed pushed against the wall but it had box files stacked at the foot. There was an office desk and chair with a computer and printer, and a bookshelf containing a selection of technical volumes and works of popular fiction.

“When you’re ready to talk, give me a shout,” said Jude shortly. “You’re not to leave this room for any reason other than to go to the bathroom. Do you understand?”

There was something about Jude’s tone which drew a reluctant, “Yes, sir,” from Dominic.

“And you’re not to turn on the computer or touch any of my books or files. Is that clear?”

“Crystal,” came the snide reply.

Jude didn’t respond; he just turned and left the room, closing the door on the way out.  He understood that Dominic was feeling torn between obedience and defiance and needed time alone to resolve his internal conflict.

Left to himself, Dominic walked up and down the room a couple of times, a distance he could cover in three or four strides. He stopped to look at the titles of the books, mindful of the prohibition on touching. The letter of Jude Merrow’s law didn’t extend to photographs so he felt entitled to pick up some of the framed prints which showed a laughing couple and a young boy who was clearly Jude in his schooldays. Having exhausted the entertainment options in the small room, Dominic sat down on the bed and then cautiously stretched out, taking care not to dislodge the box files stacked perilously close to his feet. He lay with his hands behind his head for about three quarters of an hour before serious boredom set in and he became uneasily aware that Jude wasn’t giving him a brief timeout. The man meant what he said, he wasn’t coming back to release Dominic. The ball was well and truly in Dominic’s court and nothing short of capitulation would change the situation.

In the end it was hunger which drove Dominic to take action. He opened the door and shouted to Jude, “Can I come out now?”

“Are you ready to talk?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Fine. I’m cooking dinner right now. We can eat after you’ve talked through what happened with Chris Wilkins.”

Although Jude replied in a calm, even tone he was beginning to worry about how long Dominic would hold out. The silence from upstairs had been unnerving and Jude had embarked on preparing the evening meal in order to distract himself from the image of Dominic banished to the box room. He’d been uneasily wondering whether he was subjecting the young man to a rerun of the confinement he had suffered in Wilkins’s garage and asking himself if his own actions might be construed as equally abusive. On the other hand, Dominic had accepted his restriction without protest and even, Jude suspected, with a certain element of relief. He seemed to respond positively to firm handling and Jude believed that Dominic was now testing him in order to explore the limits of his resolution.

Jude was aware that the two of them had reached a defining moment in their relationship and he had no intention of losing this particular standoff. Ever the pragmatist, he tried not to give way to doubts about his handling of the situation. He could see that Dominic was obsessing over the mistreatment he had undergone and he was certain it would do him good to unburden himself. Having made the commitment to a resolute course of action, he was going to see it through, however long it took.  He stood still in the kitchen, listening intently for any reply from Dominic which might indicate a weakening of his resistance but there was only silence followed, a minute or so later, by the sound of the box room door being slammed shut.

Jude went back to chopping carrots and Dominic flung himself down on the bed, dislodging the box files as he did so and scattering paperwork across the floor. He hadn’t done it deliberately but it gave him a certain satisfaction to know that Jude’s meticulously filed documents were now in a mess.  He lay there fuming, telling himself that he didn’t have to put up with any of this treatment. The more he focused on that thought the more the truth of it was brought home to him; he didn’t have to stay in that pokey little room with nothing to occupy him apart from his despairing thoughts. He could pack up and go back to his flat whenever he wanted. He knew Jude wouldn’t stop him if he tried to leave the house. On reflection, though, he didn’t fancy making the long journey home by public transport, especially as he’d had nothing to eat. The alternative was just to go downstairs and refuse to co-operate with Jude’s absurd method of forcing him to speak. He knew with absolute certainty that Jude would not touch him, would not manhandle him back upstairs. He would be permitted to take his seat at the table and eat dinner in silence if that was what he chose to do. The choice was his: to speak or to remain silent, to co-operate or to refuse to bend to Jude’s will, to pack his belongings and go home or to stay in the place of safety which was Jude’s home.

It was precisely because he had been left free to choose, precisely because Jude remained calm and non-confrontational, that Dominic got more and more angry. In some way that he couldn’t quite fathom, Jude seemed to have outmanoeuvred him. Going downstairs and announcing that he wasn’t playing this ridiculous game anymore felt like an impossible option and, in his heart of hearts, he didn’t want to defy Jude. The alternative was to open the door and shout that he was ready talk, but the longer he left it, the more difficult it seemed to share his shameful secrets with the man whose good opinion he feared to lose. He was in an impossible situation, facing an impasse, and it was all Jude Merrow’s fault.

His anger came bubbling to the surface and he allowed the powerful emotion to overwhelm him. He leapt off the bed and lashed out at anything within reach. The books he’d been forbidden to touch went flying off the shelves, the lamp on the bedside table was overturned and the pillows on the bed were flung around the room.  One of the pillows swept the ornaments off the windowsill and the sound of breaking glass brought Dominic to his senses. He was momentarily frozen with horror at what he’d done and then he went over to the window to investigate the damage. There were shards of glass on the floor from a broken vase and pieces of porcelain from the figurine of a dog which he’d found rather twee when he’d first noticed it. He bent to try and gather up the pieces of glass and porcelain as, with a sinking heart, he heard Jude’s tread on the stair.

“Stand up and don’t touch that,” Jude instructed quietly when he entered the room. “You’ll cut your hands.”

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Dominic stammered. “I didn’t mean…”

“Don’t worry. We’ll sort this out. Stand still while I go and get a dustpan and brush.”

Jude returned within minutes carrying a red plastic dustpan with a brush clipped to the handle. Dominic wordlessly held out his hand for the cleaning set and Jude decided it was best to let him deal with the mess he’d made. While Dominic swept up, Jude spread out some newspaper in which to wrap the broken pieces of glass and porcelain.

“I’m sorry,” said Dominic again as he carefully tipped the contents of the dustpan onto the newspaper. “It was an accident. I really didn’t mean to break your things.”

“I know you didn’t do it on purpose,” Jude said. “You just lost your temper,” he added, taking in the disordered state of the room.

Dominic went back in search of pieces which had fallen under the desk and under the bed. “I’ll buy you another vase, a nice one. I take it you don’t want another of those porcelain dogs.”

“Some things are irreplaceable,” observed Jude, evenly.

“Don’t tell me you liked it. It was hideous.”

“A boy’s tastes are not always what he would choose as a man.”

“What do you mean?”

Jude was aware that he’d said too much not to finish the story but he hesitated. Part of him felt that it would do Dominic good to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. On the other hand, he took a moment to consider whether he was being too brutal, especially as Dominic was in a fragile mental state. In the end, it was the need to teach Dominic the importance of controlling his temper which led him to tell the unvarnished truth.

“That dog was the last present I ever gave to my mother. I chose it for her birthday when she was already in the hospice. One of my last memories is of her lying back on the pillows and smiling as she clutched it.”

Dominic paled and his grasp slackened on the dustpan. Jude reached to take it out of his hand before the last bits of glass and porcelain slipped to the floor. He emptied the fragments onto the newspaper, carefully folded the paper to enclose all the sharp edges and then hastily deposited it in the metal waste bin under the desk so that he could turn his attention to Dominic. The young man had backed towards the bed, sat down rather jerkily and dropped his head in his hands. He looked up when Jude rested a hand on his shoulder.

“I… I didn’t know,” he stammered.

“Of course you didn’t know,” responded Jude evenly. “How could you? My mother died when I was twelve. I just keep one or two of her things in here, things that I can’t bear to get rid of.”

Dominic looked up at Jude, his eyes wide with shock and remorse and, before the older man’s astonished gaze, those expressive eyes filled with tears which slowly overflowed down his cheeks. Dominic hated anyone to see him weep but he made no attempt to hide his distress from Jude. However, he didn’t break down and engage in a bout of crying; it was as if his tears flowed independently of his will. He swiped the back of his hand across his face once or twice but he continued to talk.

“I’m sorry, so sorry. Oh, my God, I can’t believe what I’ve done. It’s my temper, my damned temper. I just lost my temper and flung that pillow. I didn’t mean to break your mother’s present. What are you going to do?”

“Nothing. We can’t stick it back together again. And you’re quite right; it was hideous.” Jude hoped to lighten the atmosphere with a touch of humour but Dominic was beyond comfort. He hated being in the wrong and, although he was capable of outbursts of temper when things didn’t go according to plan, he always berated himself mercilessly for his misconduct as soon as he came to his senses.

“I’ve behaved dreadfully all night,” he cried, “and now this. Please, help me. I can’t bear it.”

“What can’t you bear?”

“The guilt. I feel so guilty. I know we can’t put your mother’s ornament back together again but I need to do something to show you how sorry I am. Please, Mr Merrow. I need you to forgive me.”

“I do forgive you, Dominic. It’s not a big deal. There are some things I need to leave behind. It was probably just as well that the ornament got broken. Mum’s telling me to move on, to find someone else to love.”

“No. I need to pay for it. I don’t mean with money… you know what I mean.” Dominic wanted Jude to assert his authority, to impose a penalty which would help restore his peace of mind. Having defied Jude he wanted to offer his submission and demonstrate his remorse with something more than mere words. He prayed that Jude would understand his unspoken needs and he continued in an embarrassed rush, “I need you to punish me. I know I won’t feel right until you’ve made me smart for this.”

Jude did know what he meant but it wasn’t an area he wanted to get into at this stage. He was still waiting to hear Dominic’s account of what he had suffered at the hands of Chris Wilkins but he already knew that Dominic had undergone physical abuse, maybe even submitted to it willingly. It didn’t feel like the right time to introduce any form of discipline into their relationship, let alone physical discipline.

“Punishment isn’t always the answer, Dominic. You’d be best reflecting on the importance of mastering your temper.”

“I’ve spent half my life reflecting on the curse of a bad temper,” admitted Dominic. “It hasn’t done anything to improve my temper and when things get to me I just lose control. I need something to act as a break, someone to keep me in check. I’m always so miserable after I’ve done something I regret. I think it would be a relief this time to pay the penalty and be able to put this behind me.”

Dominic’s tears had dried up. He still looked forlorn but he was speaking much more calmly and thinking rationally. Jude paid him the compliment of taking him seriously and respecting his opinion. He took a moment to consider the possible options and decided that if he was going to administer any correction it would have to be immediate and it would have to be swift. Realistically that left him with only one choice.

“I’m not going to punish you for breaking my mother’s ornament. That was an accident.”

Dominic nodded. He understood that. “It’s my temper. I worked myself up and let it get totally out of control. I went mad in here. It’s a wonder I didn’t do more damage.”

“What were you angry about?”

Dominic hesitated. “You. I was angry at you.”

“Because I confined you to this room?”

“No, not really,” Dominic was working out the answer as he went along. “I was angry because you were making me choose, because you were leaving it up to me.  Because I want to tell you what that man did to me but I’m scared about what you’ll think of me if I do. Because I want you to take charge and not leave the decisions up to me.”

“I am taking charge, Dominic, and you know that I’m not going to let you dodge this issue. You are going to tell me what Chris Wilkins did to you and nothing you say is going to make me think any the less of you.”

“But I’m still angry,” Dominic interjected. “I’m angry with myself because I behaved so badly and broke your precious things. I want you to deal with me firmly, to make me feel I’ve paid the penalty so I can forgive myself. I don’t know how to explain,” he added in shamefaced confusion. “I can’t seem to find the words to tell you what I need.”

“I think you just have, Dominic, I think you just have. I can deal with your temper tantrum and its consequences by imposing a penalty… by administering corporal punishment, if that’s what you feel you need. It will be firm and it will be quick but I’m not going to do it without your consent.”

Dominic just nodded his head, grateful that Jude had picked up on his hints, and looked at his feet in embarrassment. “I need to hear your answer, Dominic,” Jude pressed.

“Yes, sir,” Dominic responded, lifting his head to look into Jude’s eyes with self conscious sincerity. “I’m willing to accept corporal punishment from you.”

There was a slight emphasis on that final ‘you’ which conveyed a world of meaning to Jude’s attentive ear. He correctly interpreted Dominic’s assent as applying only to him, with the clear corollary that anyone else lifting a hand to Dominic would be committing abuse. The young man clearly understood the difference between consensual discipline and the abusive treatment he’d received at the hands of Chris Wilkins and that gave Jude the confidence to proceed. “Come here then and we’ll deal with what went on up here and then you and I are going downstairs to have a really serious talk. Okay?”

Dominic stood up and bravely nodded his head. Jude took his place on the bed and pulled Dominic towards him, reaching to unfasten his trousers. “I’m going to spank you, Dominic. I’m going to put you over my knee and I’m going to spank you. I’ll use this plastic brush; that’ll be particularly fitting, I think. And you’re going to be getting a short, sharp shock. We’re not messing about here; it will hurt but once it’s over we’ll say no more about your temper tantrum and maybe you’ll think twice about behaving in the same way again. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

Jude looked into the young man’s eyes to gauge his reaction.  If there had been any sign of fear or shock he would, even at this late stage, have found some other way to punish Dominic. Their eyes locked and Dominic seemed to know what question was being asked. He maintained steady eye contact and did his very best to convey the message that he was all right with what he had coming, nervous but not afraid. Jude gazed beyond the startling colours of those hazel eyes and in their depths he read acceptance, relief even, and a boundless trust.

Reassured, Jude reached up and grasped Dominic’s wrist. Dominic responded to the gentle pressure and lowered himself awkwardly across Jude’s lap. His long legs reached the ground on one side and his upper body lay along the bed with his head resting in his folded arms.

“With your permission, Dominic, I’m going to lower your underwear. I need to see what I’m doing. I don’t want to overdo it with this brush; it’s plastic and I reckon it’ll pack quite a punch. I’m planning on giving you six.”

Jude slipped his hand under the waistband of Dominic’s briefs and waited to see if there was any protest. Dominic took an audible breath but he made no objection, lifting his body slightly to enable Jude to slide his underwear to his knees. Jude ran a hand over the perfectly rounded, muscular bottom which trembled slightly at his touch and then lifted the red plastic brush from the bed. It was about a foot long and the handle fitted comfortably into his palm. The business end was flat and narrow with a rounded end.  He smacked it experimentally against his other hand, just to test its capabilities, and Dominic’s buttocks clenched involuntarily at the resounding crack as Jude winced in pain. The implement clearly needed no more than a flick of the wrist to make itself felt.

Without further warning he brought the improvised paddle down smartly on Dominic’s backside. The young man’s body jumped reflexively but he made no sound. Jude watched as a perfect imprint of the brush blossomed on the pale flesh. The second stroke drew a hiss but, knowing what to expect this time, Dominic remained perfectly still. Jude worked his way round the firm bottom, the clear red marks guiding his delivery to ensure even coverage. Having requested the punishment, and with a fierce resolve to demonstrate his contrition, Dominic was determined not to cry out. Only his laboured breathing and his fingers clenched in the bedcovers gave evidence of his distress. Jude paused before the final stroke which was delivered squarely across the lower curve of Dominic’s buttocks, just above his thighs. It was more powerful than the previous five and it broke through Dominic’s reserve. He responded with a yell which sprang as much from astonishment as pain and he flung back a hand to rub frantically at his bottom.

“All finished. It’s all over,” said Jude soothingly. “You did well.” He took over rubbing Dominic’s bottom for a minute or so and then said briskly, “Up you get. We need to talk and dinner is in the oven.”

Dominic got rather stiffly to his feet and disguised his embarrassment by taking his time pulling up his briefs and fastening his trousers. Jude made it easy for him by recovering the parcel of broken glass from the bin and taking it downstairs and outside to the wheelie bin. Dominic took advantage of the brief period alone to hop from one leg to the other and jiggle his bottom in a vain attempt to lessen the intensity of the sting. A few well chosen obscenities, muttered under his breath, were equally ineffective but they served to relieve his feelings. He smiled to himself, recognising that he felt less tense than he had all day. He took a deep breath and his lungs expanded as though a band had been loosened round his chest. There was something odd about the fact that it took a painful spanking to get him to feel so much better. He was no longer angry with himself or with anyone else. He no longer faced a difficult decision. The matter had been taken out of his hands and he was going to have to sit down and talk to Jude about all that had happened with Chris Wilkins. He turned and walked purposefully downstairs, anxious that Jude would think he was unwilling to honour his commitment if he delayed any longer.

He began hesitantly at first. Sometimes Jude prompted him with a question and at other times he waited for Dominic to find the words. They were seated side by side on the sofa but even when Dominic wasn’t looking at his companion, he was aware of his sympathy, his understanding and his close attention to all that was being disclosed. When it came to it, he found he could tell Jude things he couldn’t bring himself to repeat to another soul: the shame of wetting himself, the terror of the cattle prod, the agony of the cock and ball torture. He was able to recount them in a relatively objective manner, surprised at one point to notice that Jude appeared more affected than he was himself.

He began to struggle when Jude asked him gently whether he went willingly into Chris Wilkins’s playroom. He heard the question as an accusation, one which he knew was deserved.

“I know it’s my fault,” he confessed shamefully.  “He saw I was turned on by some of the things we witnessed at the club. When he offered to tie me up, I agreed. He said he…”

“How is it your fault?” Jude interrupted forcefully. He placed his hands on Dominic’s shoulder and turned him round so they were face to face. “It’s not your fault that Wilkins imprisoned and abused you. You never consented to any of that,” he said with all the sincerity of which he was capable.

“I wanted to see what it’s like to be restrained, to be tied to that wooden cross,” said Dominic, bowing his head to escape Jude’s piercing gaze. “I think I agreed to let him use the flogger on me,” he added, his cheeks flaming. When there was no immediate response from Jude, he looked up fearfully expecting to see disgust in Jude’s eyes. Instead he encountered an expression that was so surprising he thought at first he had misread Jude’s reaction. The man appeared to be smiling and his eyes sparkled in a very suggestive way.

“So?” he asked. “What’s wrong with that? Plenty of people like a bit of bondage and domination. I like to play that way myself sometimes.” When Dominic’s eyes opened wide with surprise he elaborated further. “Never on the receiving end, mind you! So it seems, young man, that you and I could be very well matched.”

Dominic was lost for words; he was only able to utter an amazed, “Oh.”

Jude dropped the teasing demeanour and the laughter left his eyes, to be replaced with an expression of infinite tenderness. “There’s no need to be ashamed, Dominic. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Wilkins abused your trust as well as abusing your body. A safe player would never tie you up and leave you alone. And you should have had a safe word so you could call an immediate halt to proceedings when you needed to. If Wilkins did things you didn’t want, things you didn’t consent to, then he is the guilty party.”

Dominic wanted to believe that he wasn’t at fault but he needed more reassurance. “Was I stupid to go out with him?” he asked shyly.

“Of course not. He was a colleague from work; he should have been a safe date. I’m sure he was very plausible.”

“He was kind to me when… when things weren’t going too well at work. And, well… I was lonely and it was nice to have someone to go out with at the end of the day. He seemed so masterful and confident and I like…” Dominic was just too embarrassed to go on.

“You like confident, dominant men,” Jude finished for him and then paused. “Do you think you could like me?”

Dominic looked up to check that he hadn’t misinterpreted the question but it was abundantly clear from Jude’s expression what he was asking.

“Yes,” said Dominic breathlessly. “Yes, I could like you; I do like you. I’d love to get to know you better.”

“You understand what you’re getting into? I’ll be taking charge and you’ve already had a taste of what’s in store if there are any more sulks and tantrums. And we’re not talking play here; it’ll be deadly serious, I can tell you.”

“Don’t I know it!” responded Dominic, wriggling theatrically. “But I’ve always dreamed of finding someone who would take control in a relationship, someone I could look up to and who would take care of me. I just never imagined it would be my boss from work.”

“I’m not your boss here, Dominic. I’m just Jude, and I want to be your friend, your lover and your partner. Will you let me love you and take care of you?”

“Yes, Jude,” said Dominic, using his given name for the first time. “Yes please. It’s taken me a while to understand my own feelings but now I know that you’re the one for me.”

Jude’s face lit up with delight at learning that his feelings were reciprocated. “So how about sealing our new relationship then?” he asked.

Dominic looked baffled so Jude just pulled him into his arms for a kiss. The young man might be clueless about some aspects of social interaction but his wholehearted response to the embrace was all Jude could have hoped for.