A Place of Safety ~ Chapter 5: Misunderstandings

By the time dinner was over, Dominic was fading fast. He’d had a long drawn out and traumatic end to the day and his eyelids were fluttering with tiredness.

“Up you go and get ready for bed,” said Jude. “I’ll finish up down here.”

Dominic opened his mouth to claim he wasn’t tired but closed it rapidly when Jude stopped stacking the dirty plates and looked at him pointedly. Dominic remembered just in time that he had, that very evening, accepted Jude as his top and, although they hadn’t yet discussed precisely how their new relationship would work in practice, arguing over bedtime didn’t seem like a good way to start out.

“It’s not late,” he observed as a way of asserting his independence, “but I suppose I am feeling a bit tired. Perhaps an early night will do me good.”

“I’m sure it will,” agreed Jude, suppressing his amusement at the poorly disguised capitulation. “I’ll be up to join you when I’ve cleared away the dinner things and started the dishwasher.”

As he went upstairs, it suddenly dawned on Dominic what Jude had meant. He cursed himself for being so slow on the uptake when clearly the object was to get him into bed. It had taken Jude’s announcement, that he too would soon be coming upstairs, to draw Dominic’s attention to the sexual invitation. This was something he’d been fantasising about and then when the moment arrived he’d nearly missed the cue. He went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, cleaning himself thoroughly in preparation for sex. His hands shook very slightly as he towelled himself dry and there were butterflies in his stomach. It seemed that this handsome, caring, and capable man, who had once seemed so unattainable, was about to take Dominic to bed for the first time and all Dominic could do was worry that he’d prove a disappointment. He’d had so little experience with other men and intimacy had always proved unsatisfactory for both parties. Dominic lived so much in his head that he found it difficult to let go in the presence of another person. His inhibitions made him tense and penetration inevitably became difficult and uncomfortable.

Now, when he’d finally found a partner with whom he could imagine reaching the heights of fulfilment, his one worry was that he would spoil their first night together with his nervousness and lack of skill. When he came out of the bathroom, wearing clean pyjamas and still towelling his wet hair, he stood, irresolute, on the landing. He didn’t know whether he should go and get into his own bed, fearing that it would look unwelcoming to do so, but he didn’t feel he could walk into Jude’s bedroom either without an invitation. He was spared further anxiety by the sound of Jude’s tread on the stair so he just stood still and waited for guidance.

One look was all it took to alert Jude to Dominic’s discomfiture but he couldn’t immediately work out its cause. Instinctively, he knew not to ask; there was something about Dominic’s expression which conveyed a very private embarrassment. Instead he wordlessly held out his hand for the towel which Dominic handed over without question, and he calmly and competently continued drying Dominic’s hair. Jude watched the young man’s shoulders drop as the head massage did its soothing work. Dominic had not experienced a sensation like this since his mother had dried his hair as a little boy. The towel covered his head and face, and the vigorous rubbing had drawn their bodies close together. The tension melted out of him and he leant against Jude’s comforting strength as the powerful fingers worked through his thick hair.

“We’re going to have to get you a haircut. Either that or I’m going to have to invest in a hairdryer.” The gentle teasing reminded Dominic that this was a man he trusted and was learning to confide in. He was screened from view under the all enveloping towel and that gave him the confidence to try and tell Jude what was worrying him. Nonetheless, he spoke in a whisper, as though to himself.

“I’m not very good, I’m afraid. I haven’t done it that often.”

Taken out of context, Jude would never have worked out the meaning of this cryptic utterance but in view of Dominic’s embarrassment and the fact that he was dressed for bed, Jude realised, with a rush of compassion, that his partner was worrying about how his sexual performance would measure up. He needed to put Dominic at ease and he knew just what needed to be said.

“Neither have I,” he responded with a laugh. “When it comes to our first time, we’ll just have to fumble through together.”

Dominic lifted the towel from his face and stepped back to get a good look at Jude and gauge whether he was being serious. He couldn’t believe that such a confident, good looking man hadn’t had a great many sexual encounters and it seemed unlikely that he wouldn’t want sex that night. Dominic’s quizzical expression amused Jude but he also felt relieved to see that the young man’s tension and embarrassment had passed.

“Okay, okay,” he admitted. “I’ve probably done ‘it’ more often than you but I’ve only had three sexual partners in my life. I don’t want to share such an intimate act with someone I don’t love. And I love you, Dominic. I want to have sex with you and that will happen when the time is right and we’re both ready.”

“When will that be?” asked Dominic, perversely regretting that sex wasn’t on offer, now that his initial panic had subsided.

“Oh, you’ll know, my boy, you’ll know. Tonight, you can share my bed if you wish. It won’t be the first time we’ve slept side by side, will it? But this time I want to wake up with you in my arms.”

That sounded like an attractive prospect and Dominic followed his partner into the master bedroom where Jude turned down the coverlet and invited him to get into bed. Warm from the shower and relaxed from the impromptu head massage, Dominic snuggled under the quilt in the strange bedroom and watched as Jude got ready for bed. It was a homely and restful spectacle. Jude was sparing of his movements but meticulous about hanging his clothing in the wardrobe and placing underwear, shirt and socks into the laundry basket. He undressed unselfconsciously but, somehow, Dominic failed to see as much of Jude’s naked body as he would have liked. A clean tee shirt reached to the top of his thighs and preserved his modesty while he pulled on a pair of sleep shorts. Jude gave no indication that he was aware of the young man’s avid attention as he disrobed but he took care to reveal as little bare flesh as possible. If Dominic was still nervous, then the less sexual provocation the better and if he was interested, then nothing could be more arousing than curiosity about the unseen. Jude Merrow knew how young men’s minds worked and he had no desire to rush things with Dominic McAvinchey.

Joining Dominic in bed, he reached out and gently pulled the young man towards him. After momentary resistance, Dominic rolled against him and his head settled on Jude’s chest. Jude dropped his chin onto the top of Dominic’s head and felt the soft, sweet smelling strands of newly washed hair brushing against his cheek. He ran his fingers through the heavy locks which curled slightly at the ends and decided that Dominic had almost certainly worn his hair in this style throughout his student days. His hair was so thick that it fell in long swathes across his face and reached below his collar at the back. A professional stylist would almost certainly want to thin it out and cut it shorter and Jude could well imagine that such a style would add body to Dominic’s hair and accentuate the fine lines of his face. On the other hand, he was certain Dominic had never considered paying for a professional hairstylist, preferring the services of a traditional barber, and would be unlikely to know what to ask for in a fashionable unisex salon. It was an issue Jude was determined to address but he knew he would have to handle it tactfully. The last thing he wanted to do was to embarrass his partner or make him think that there was anything wrong with his appearance. He strongly suspected, too, that Dominic would not take kindly to interference with his grooming and dress. He was dealing with a strong willed young man, and while there were certain areas of their life together in which Jude had every intention of establishing control, it was no part of his plan to stamp on Dominic’s individuality or impose his own choices on Dominic’s personal expenditure. He would just have to take his time and work out the best way to win Dominic round. It would be all part of the process of getting to know one another’s likes and dislikes, of learning how to communicate emotions and desires and how to establish the comfortable intimacy which each yearned for. Jude knew he was looking forward to building a very special and lasting partnership with Dominic. He suspected that it would not always be plain sailing with the hot-blooded young man nestled beside him, but he knew he would enjoy the journey.

There seemed to be something so right about having Dominic in his bed. His heart swelled with protective pride as he considered his partner’s bravery and resilience in coping with the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of the caretaker. The more he thought about the trust Dominic had shown him earlier that evening, the more grateful and humbled he felt. He wouldn’t ideally have chosen to spank Dominic so early in their relationship but the young man had pushed for it. It had seemed to settle him and allow him to open up about his dreadful experience. It had taken all Jude’s self control to listen calmly to that disclosure, knowing that Dominic would be reassured by talking to an unruffled listener. But inside he’d been screaming with anger at Wilkins’s cruelty and had felt ready to weep with distress at Dominic’s ordeal. He resolved to pursue the issue at work and make sure that Wilkins’s employment at Semdar was terminated immediately. The question of whether anything could be proved against Wilkins was no longer an issue. There was no way Jude wanted the caretaker to have any access to Dominic. Quite apart from the trauma of coming face to face with a man who had kept him restrained against his will and abused him for his own gratification, Jude feared for Dominic’s safety and that of other employees. If Wilkins had further plans for Dominic, they didn’t bear thinking about and his victim’s escape could well be the trigger for a dangerous attempt at retribution. Jude’s arms closed involuntarily around Dominic’s shoulders as he shivered with horror at the thought of what might have happened without Sarah’s warning and his own luck in finding and releasing the hurt and humiliated young man.

Dominic shifted against his partner’s chest in response to Jude’s tightening embrace. His head seemed to fit naturally beneath Jude’s chin and he could hear the slow beating of the older man’s heart. He had never shared a bed with another adult just to relax and fall asleep and he luxuriated in the closeness and the comfort. Hesitantly, he lifted his own hand and stroked Jude’s arm which had tightened around his body, and he experienced a brief thrill of triumph as he felt Jude’s tense muscles relax beneath his caressing hand. Although he wouldn’t have recognised it as such, he had just learnt an important lesson about the nature of their relationship. Much as he derived strength and comfort from Jude, he had the power to return that same strength and comfort in full measure. It was in caring for and protecting Dominic that Jude would find fulfilment, and it was in the shelter of that love and steadfastness that Dominic would grow in confidence and find happiness.

For the moment, however, he just savoured Jude’s proximity, absorbing without conscious thought the distinctive smell of the cologne on his partner’s skin, the swelling muscle of his biceps, the prickle of dark hair on his chest and the long legs which were entwined with his own. The sheer weight of his bedfellow — the powerful physicality of his presence — was so unfamiliar to Dominic that he fought off sleep to try and accustom himself to the delightful novelty of it all. He nuzzled closer to Jude and turned his head to tentatively press his lips to the warm body on which he was resting. The gentle touch on his neck and throat made Jude’s pulse flutter. There was something incredibly erotic as well as deeply satisfying about those tiny kisses which expressed, when words could not, what it meant to Dominic to be lying in Jude’s arms. Jude very carefully rolled over so that he was lying on top of Dominic with his weight resting on his forearms. Dominic looked up at him questioningly and Jude’s response was to lean down for a deep kiss which took the young man’s breath away.

Dominic had tried kissing one or two girls when he was a schoolboy but he’d found it rather a trial and certainly not a pleasurable activity. During his infrequent sexual encounters with men, kissing never seemed to be on the agenda and Dominic had concluded that it wasn’t a pastime for adults. Nothing had prepared him for the joy of surrendering to the man he loved, for sharing his breath, for feeling his lips and tongue against his own and for knowing that he was being emphatically claimed. He moved his hand from Jude’s chest to reach lower but Jude caught his wrist without breaking off the embrace. Clearly kissing was all that was on offer but it was more than enough. Dominic gave himself up to the exquisite sensations, marvelling at Jude’s skill which seemed to draw from him an effortless and entirely pleasurable response. In the morning Dominic couldn’t remember when the kissing ended and sleep overtook him. He travelled to work feeling more relaxed and contented than he had for a very long time.

“You’re looking happy today.” Sarah Powell’s observation drew Dominic out of his reverie. He realised that he’d been gazing at his computer screen for some minutes without taking in any of the information in front of him. He’d lapsed into a mental rerun of the previous evening in bed and had been smiling stupidly as he recalled Jude’s understanding, restraint and chaste lovemaking.

“Yeah, I had a good time last night.” He laughed at his own understatement, and at the remembrance of his tantrum and subsequent spanking. “Well, it turned out well in the end,” he amended. Yet even as he said it he realised that he regretted very little of what had taken place the previous evening. Even the spanking had established a clear understanding between Jude and himself, and afterwards he’d been able to speak of his imprisonment and hear that Jude didn’t blame him in the least for going to Chris Wilkins’s house. His one regret, and he suspected he would carry it until his dying day, was that he’d broken Jude’s treasured porcelain dog.

“I take it you’re happy with your new partner then?” Sarah observed astutely, pulling out a chair to sit down beside him at his desk.

Dominic didn’t know how to respond. It was so early in their relationship, he hadn’t had time to ask Jude what to say if anyone asked about it at work. He didn’t know whether it was acceptable to acknowledge his relationship with his boss or whether it was something they would have to keep secret. Lacking the social skill to come up with a polite and non committal response, he blushed and looked uncomfortable.

“Sorry,” said Sarah quickly. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s up to the two of you, of course, if you want to keep your relationship private.”

“Who told you?”

“No one told me, Dominic. I didn’t need to be told. Not when I heard how distressed Mr Merrow was when he got to Wilkins’s house and found you. I suddenly realised I wasn’t talking to a man who was worried about a member of his staff. I was hearing the boss distraught about what had happened to the man he loved.”

“I think you worked it out before me then. I’m a bit slow on the uptake over things like that.”

“I take it Mr Merrow has made his feelings clear to you now.”

“Yes, he has,” Dominic confirmed happily. “Er… Sarah, did Jude… Mr Merrow, I mean… tell you how he found me… the state I was in? You know… round at the caretaker’s house.”

“No, Dominic, he didn’t. I did ask but he said it wasn’t his place to be telling people about what had happened. He suggested I asked you and you’d say if you didn’t want to talk about it.”

Dominic took a moment to digest this piece of information. It was heart warming to discover the extent of Jude’s protectiveness but, on reflection, he felt he might like to tell Sarah something of what he’d undergone. He had felt better after unburdening himself to Jude but it had been difficult initially to come to terms with his guilt: the sense that he only had himself to blame for getting into such a dangerous situation. Jude had taken time to reassure him on that score but he felt it would be helpful to get Sarah’s take on Chris Wilkins. It was a novel experience for Dominic to have a friend in whom to confide and he was beginning to trust Sarah.

“It was awful, Sarah. Chris Wilkins took me up to a room in the roof of his garage where he tied me up and… and he abused me.”

Sarah looked horrified. “He didn’t rape you, did he?” she asked.

“No, no, not that. He hurt me and humiliated me but no, he didn’t rape me.”

“Maybe that was because Mr Merrow got to you in time.”

“I think I’ve got you to thank for that, Sarah. Jude said you were the one who noticed my absence and worked out where I must be.”

“I wouldn’t have put two and two together if it hadn’t been for Mr Merrow. He was the one who decided to drive out to the caretaker’s house.”

“Do you think I was stupid to go out with Chris, Sarah? Was I just too dense to recognise the danger?”

“Of course not,” responded Sarah with vehemence. “How could you possibly foresee that he would kidnap you?”

“He didn’t kidnap me,” admitted Dominic shamefacedly. “I went with him willingly and… and… I let him tie me up,” he finished in a rush. He didn’t dare lift his eyes to look at Sarah. He had a fair idea that she would have read more into his embarrassing admission than he really wanted to disclose but he badly wanted her opinion and so he needed to give her the full facts so she could make an informed judgement. However, he hadn’t bargained for her reaction. Her hands closed on his shoulders and she shook him slightly to get his attention.

“Dominic McAvinchey,” she said fiercely, “how dare you blame yourself for what happened? If Wilkins did things to you that you didn’t want, that you didn’t consent to, then he is the one at fault, not you.”

“That’s what Jude said… several times.”

“And you didn’t believe him?”

“Yes… I believed him but…”

“But you wanted a second opinion.”

Dominic laughed a trifle shakily. Sarah seemed to understand him very well and she had the knack of communicating effectively with him.

“What am I going to do with you?” she asked affectionately. “Your boss tells you that you’ve made a splendid start in a new job and I have to explain to you in words of one syllable what he meant. That same man, now your partner, tells you that you mustn’t blame yourself for what Wilkins did to you, and you need me to reinforce the message.”

“I know. It’s not sensible. It’s just that I’m not too good at picking up on what people mean and I sometimes misjudge social situations. I was just wondering if Jude was being.... you know… just being kind to me, softening the blow a bit.”

“Absolutely not, Dominic. You’re the victim here. Have no doubt about that. And it sounds to me as though Wilkins is criminally liable for what he did to you.”

“I don’t want to go the police,” said Dominic in a panic. “I’ve told Jude I’m not reporting it. I wasn’t injured and on the face of it, it looks as though I consented to what went on. I’m not taking it any further. If it went to court, I’d be humiliated and I doubt if any prosecution would be successful.”

“I can understand how you feel,” said Sarah with feeling. “Think of the disgracefully low conviction rate for crimes of rape. Women are pilloried in court and made to appear responsible for what happened to them. Trusting someone and going home with that person doesn’t mean you lose the right to say no, but juries don’t always understand that.”

“I shouldn’t have trusted Chris Wilkins though, should I?”

“Why ever not? He was a colleague from work. What safer place is there to find a date? Semdar was supposed to have checked his employment history and taken up references. No one here had raised any concerns about him. How could you possibly have known he wasn’t to be trusted?”

“I suppose there was no way I could have known he would be a danger,” said Dominic cautiously, beginning to believe in Sarah’s assurances.

“Of course not. No one expects to encounter trouble when they go out with a colleague from work. Have you any idea how many people meet their spouse at work?”

“It looks as though I’m one of that number now,” said Dominic, thinking less about his ordeal and more about the future.

“Well, you certainly won’t be the first person to move in with the boss, although I suppose it does complicate matters at work.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Mr Merrow won’t be able to continue as your line manager, will he?”

“Why not?” Jude was looking worried. “He’s the project manager and I have to work for him. My job entails planning and implementing IT upgrades for the company and he manages that budget.”

“I expect Mr Merrow has thought about that,” said Sarah soothingly. She was beginning to regret mentioning an issue which had sprung to her mind immediately, working as she did for Human Resources. It clearly hadn’t occurred to Dominic that there could be a problem although she would be willing to bet that Mr Merrow had not only seen the difficulty but was working on a solution. “Ask him about it tonight. I’m sure he’ll have worked something out which will be acceptable to Semdar. And while you’re about it, tell him that you’re still worrying about what Wilkins did to you. You can’t expect him to be a mind reader. He’ll understand that you need a bit more reassurance.”

“I don’t want him to think I’m a wimp, Sarah.”

“Trust me, that’s the last thing he’ll think about you.” Dominic still looked uncertain so Sarah added, “If you don’t tell him you’re still worried, I’ll tell him myself.”

“You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t dare.”

“I’m not scared of Mr Merrow anymore. He just looks intimidating but no one could be kinder or more understanding. I can’t believe I was worried about reporting you missing. When I finally plucked up courage, he gave me his full attention and took me seriously. We’ve been working together since then, along with Clive Green, the line manager for support staff, to terminate Wilkins’s contract. Mr Green has to follow employment procedures but I don’t think Wilkins is going to make any complaint about unfair dismissal. He hasn’t reported for work since the day you went missing and all attempts to contact him have failed.”

“That’s a relief. I’ve been scared to leave my desk in case I ran into him in the corridor or the men’s room.”

“Oh, Dominic, why didn’t you say something? Don’t worry about things by yourself. Talk to Mr Merrow. Talk to me. You’re not on your own anymore.”

Dominic pondered Sarah’s advice throughout the day. It was rather nice to have someone to consult and he respected his new friend’s opinion. He’d been in the habit of confiding in his mother, whom he telephoned and visited regularly, but he didn’t want to upset her by telling her about his frightening and humiliating experience at the hands of Chris Wilkins. It was a new and pleasant experience to have someone at work he could chat to, someone with whom he could share his uncertainties and ask for advice about his new relationship. He was conscious that Sarah now knew rather a lot about his private life but he was sure she would respect his confidences. He decided that she was right to insist that he confide in his partner. It just didn’t come naturally to him to be open about his emotions, although he knew it was something he would have to work on in future. He had the feeling that Jude would be less than happy to learn that his partner was concealing the fact that he was still worried and if he had to learn of it from Sarah Powell then the consequences didn’t bear thinking about.

He was trying to work out how he could raise the subject with Jude that evening when the door to their open plan office was forcefully flung open. A number of heads were raised from behind the carrels to check out the angry man who had made the door crash so loudly against the doorstop. Mr Merrow, who had taken to leaving his office door ajar so he could keep a discreet eye on Dominic, stood up to gain a better view of the new arrival whom he recognised as one of Semdar’s sales managers. The visitor was scanning the men and women sitting in front of their computer screens until his eyes fell upon Dominic who had not turned round, remaining oblivious to the noise and disturbance. But Dominic’s peace was to be short-lived.

“Mr McAvinchey,” the sales manager shouted across the office, immediately drawing the attention of anyone still engrossed in their work. “I thought I asked you to get our computers up and running. How are we supposed to get orders processed if you can’t do your job properly?”

Dominic blushed and pushed his chair back clumsily as he got up to speak to the man. Mr Merrow was on the point of walking out of the office to remonstrate with the colleague who had addressed a member of his staff so rudely but at the last moment he hung back. He understood only too clearly the cause of his hesitation. He was unsure whether he was motivated purely by a boss’s regard for a team member or whether his powerful instinct to protect Dominic was leading him to intervene when he wouldn’t do so for another member of his staff. While he hesitated Dominic addressed the enraged sales manager, unaware of Jude’s presence on the other side of the half open door.

“I’m sorry, Mr Whitehead,” he began, remembering the magical effects which could be achieved with an apology, even though he was inwardly seething at being so publicly called to account. “I was under the impression that the technical team had installed your new software but, clearly, the problem hasn’t been resolved so I’ll come down myself right away and sort it out.”

Expecting a hostile response — Dominic had something of a reputation as an irascible colleague — the conciliatory and helpful reply rather took the wind out of Mr Whitehead’s sails. “Thank you,” he said a trifle stiffly. “We’re under a lot of pressure in the sales department at the moment. We can’t spare the time to mess about with this newfangled software.”

Dominic’s cheeks were still flaming with embarrassment and a certain degree of anger. He’d been publicly accused of failing to provide IT support to the sales department. In one short sentence, Mr Whitehead had just revealed that, not only were their computers up and running, the software had also been installed by the technicians just as Dominic had arranged. This looked like it was going be a classic case of operator error. Uneasily remembering Mr Merrow’s reaction the last time he’d told a colleague it wasn’t the job of the trainee IT manager to teach people how to use the software, he responded as he’d been instructed. “My job is to make your job easier, Mr Whitehead. Let’s go and sort out your problem.”

As he walked out the office, he was aware that most people had lost interest in the confrontation and gone back to their work. Those who were still looking seemed to be directing their attention to Mr Whitehead who wilted somewhat under their hostile gaze. Dominic didn’t quite know how to read the situation but he knew that he was still consumed with embarrassment at being challenged so publicly. It wasn’t until he caught sight of Sarah Powell, giving him a discreet thumbs up, that he realised he’d handled the situation better than he’d given himself credit for.

That realisation was reinforced an hour or so later when he returned to the office, having patiently sat talking through the problem with the sales team to establish what they needed from the software, and then adjusting the settings so that the program ran in a way that suited their requirements. He was about to resume his seat when Mr Merrow came up quietly behind him and invited him into his office. It was the first time Dominic had been in the boss’s office since his appraisal interview and he felt a bit uncomfortable now that his boss was also his partner. He didn’t really know whether that would change the relationship they had at work.

“Well done, Dominic,” said Jude, making clear that with his office door closed they were on first name terms. “I overheard what went on out there and I’m so proud of how you handled it. You’ve certainly taken on board all we discussed about being a team player. That man behaved disgracefully. I’m half inclined to have a word with his line manager.”

“Please don’t,” said Dominic hastily. “He made up for it, really he did.”

“Did he apologise?”

“Not in so many words. But he said how helpful I’d been… and… and how he hadn’t expected such immediate and courteous attention.”

“Ah,” said Jude, understanding at once why Dominic was uncomfortable. “You think that maybe you brought that on yourself?”

“Well, you told me off during my appraisal for being unhelpful to people who need assistance with the software.”

“I wouldn’t describe that as a telling off, love, more a bit of helpful advice. And it seems to have paid off. I take it you fixed the problem. I reckon you’ll have the sales department eating out of your hand from now on.”

“Yeah, it was really just a case of operator error but,” he added with a smile, “I didn’t tell Mr Whitehead that.”

“You’re learning, my lad. But that doesn’t excuse Mr Whitehead though. That was an appalling display of bad manners. You’ve got nothing to feel guilty about as far as he’s concerned.”

“You seem to be telling me that a lot recently.”

Jude was silent. He saw Dominic’s face cloud over and it didn’t take enormous insight to guess he was thinking about Chris Wilkins.

“Sarah said I should talk to you,” Dominic finally confessed, “tell you what’s still worrying me.”

“Sarah is a very astute and sensible young lady. I’m glad you’re listening to her.”

“She’d said she’d tell you herself if I didn’t talk to you,” Dominic admitted.

“Oh oh, so she’s worked out how to get you to open your mouth and share your worries, has she?”

“Actually, I think you’re the one who’s done that. I didn’t like to think what you’d do if Sarah had to speak to you about things I’ve been keeping to myself.”

“Want to tell me what they are?” asked Jude lightly.

“Not really. Can we save it for tonight?”

“And have you worrying for the rest of the afternoon about how you’re going to broach the subject? No. I’ve got time now. We can at least share the basics of the problem and we can come back to it tonight knowing how we both feel.”

“Okay,” said Dominic reluctantly. “Actually there are two things I ought to tell you. Can I start with the easiest first?”

“Whatever works for you.”

“You know my appraisal.”

“Yes,” said Jude encouragingly, willing Dominic to keep talking.

“I feel so stupid telling you this. You spent so long with me, explaining things and being so positive and helpful.”

“You had an excellent first year summary report, one of the best I’ve ever written.”

“I didn’t realise that.”


“I thought I’d done badly. I thought I’d let you down, failed as a team player because of my lack of people skills.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No, that’s what Sarah said.”

“Sarah seems to have been acting as your guardian angel for some time, doesn’t she? When did she set you right over your appraisal?”

“She took me out to lunch straightaway to celebrate my pay rise and bonus. She went through the appraisal documents and told me what they meant.”

“Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?” asked Jude. He was incredulous at Dominic’s failure to comprehend how well he’d done. “You’re one of the brightest young men we’ve ever recruited. How could you fail to understand what we discussed at your appraisal interview?”

It was hard to say the words but Dominic knew that Sarah’s explanation was correct. “Sarah said I was a perfectionist, that I ignore my successes and just focus on my mistakes. She’s right. I’m so used to coming top, winning all the prizes, at least on the academic front, that I take no notice of success. I just get very upset when I get anything wrong. It preys on my mind. I can’t leave it alone. It’s like the mistake I made with Chris Wilkins. I should have known, I should have seen…” Dominic was getting upset, gulping and swallowing down his tears. He hated anyone to see him cry and he wasn’t going to break down in the boss’s office, even if Jude had already seen him at his most vulnerable and distressed.

Jude understood that and did his best to remain calm and objective, although he would dearly have liked to pull Dominic into his arms. “So, although I’ve told you again and again that none of what happened to you was your fault, you’re still worrying that you’re the one to blame.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t believe…”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Dominic. I’ve told you that you were Wilkins’s victim, that what happened was not your fault and was beyond your control. If you still feel guilty, if you’re still blaming yourself, that doesn’t mean you don’t believe me when I tell you you’re the victim here. These things are beyond logic. It just means that it will take time for you to work through this. You suffered a massive shock; Wilkins abused you emotionally and physically. You need to keep talking to me and telling me how you’re feeling.”

“That’s what Sarah said.”

“I take it this is the issue she threatened to bring to my attention.”

“Yes,” Dominic nodded. He was feeling relieved now his worry was out in the open and he was beginning to breathe more easily as his tears dried up.

“Why did Sarah need to threaten you in order to get you to do what you know I would want of you?”

That was quite a challenging question but Dominic took a deep breath and answered honestly. “I was afraid you’d think the less of me for obsessing about this.”

“In which case I think we need a rule in our relationship that you tell me whenever anything is worrying you or when something is on your mind which is making you feel uncomfortable. I’m never going to think any the less of you for sharing your concerns with me. I only want to help lift the burden. Will you promise to share your worries with me in future?”

“Yes, Jude,” said Dominic obediently, feeling relieved that, from then onwards, he would have no choice but to overcome his scruples and talk to his partner.

“And make no mistake, as you’ve agreed to this, there’ll be consequences, unpleasant consequences, if you try to hide your worries and concerns from me again. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” It was by no means the first time he’d uttered the polite affirmative to his boss in this office but both of them knew the phrase had very different connotations in this context. Jude’s cool exercise of authority had calmed and reassured Dominic more than words of affection or physical comfort could have done. It confirmed that Jude was taking charge of the part of Dominic’s life that he found most difficult to manage: his emotions, his uncertainties and his confusion over personal relationships. Dominic felt a sense of relief that he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with bottling up his feelings until anger, shame or despondency threatened to overwhelm him.

“You’ve got the difficult bit out of the way now,” said Jude kindly. “You’ve told me how you’re feeling and we can come back to some of these issues tonight. I promise you we’ll do whatever it takes to have you feeling better. Remember that time is a great healer too. You will feel better about this, Dominic, but don’t expect to be able to put it behind you all at once. It’s quite natural for you to be getting flashbacks and to be thinking about what you said and did with Wilkins. I want you to talk to me about all of that. Don’t try to suppress what you’re thinking; share it with me and we’ll work through this together.”

“Okay, I’ll talk it through with you again tonight.” Dominic was already feeling better at the thought of Jude’s help and his confident assertion that together, they would get past the recent trauma. “Thanks. I hope you’re not going to get fed up of looking after me.”

“Never. The chance to look after you is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Dominic smiled with pleasure at that admission and looked shyly into Jude’s eyes. Jude suddenly came to a decision. There was something he’d been planning to take his time with but all at once he knew that he could deal with it that afternoon. It would be a shared experience for the two of them as well as a bit of fun and indulgence. Best of all, it would mean that Dominic would be feeling very much better about himself by the time they arrived home. “How much work have you got to get done this afternoon?” he asked.

“Well… there’s nothing I absolutely have to complete today. Why?”

“Go and pack up. We’re leaving early today and if I can fix it for this afternoon, we can both have a little treat on the way home.”

“What’s that?”

“Wait and see,” Jude replied laughingly. “I want to give you a surprise so there’s to be no arguments and I’m paying for everything. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Dominic excitedly. He liked the idea of being whisked off for a special treat so he went off happily to gather up his papers and close the programs he was running on his computer.

Jude picked up the phone and telephoned his hair stylist to book an appointment for two in half an hour’s time. The usual cut and blow dry for Jude himself and a restyle and blow dry for a new customer: Mr Dominic McAvinchey.