A Place of Safety ~ Chapter 8: All Tied up for Christmas

“Have you done all your Christmas shopping, Sarah?” Dominic enquired as they were taking a coffee break in the office.

“Most of it. Why?”

“Well, I haven’t got much experience of present buying and I could do with a bit of help.”

“Great. Any excuse to hit the shops. When do you want to go? Lunchtime? After work?”

“Whenever you want.”

“How many presents have you got to buy?”

“Not many but I’d really like you to help me choose a piece of jewellery for my mother. Jude has already pointed me in the right direction but we thought a woman’s taste might be helpful.”

“Jewellery shops! Just up my street. We could start this lunch time. What else have you got to buy? What are you getting for Mr Merrow?”

“To be honest, I could do with a bit of help with that too. I’ve got something in mind but it’s rather ambitious and I just don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off.”

“Sounds intriguing. What is it?”

“Do you know anything about auctions, Sarah? Would you be able to help me bid?”

“I’ve bought furniture in auctions. It’s not that difficult. You can leave a maximum bid on a lot if you don’t want to go in person and the auctioneer will bid on your behalf, up to your set limit.”

“I understand that, but the trouble is, I don’t know how much this will go for and I’ve set my heart on just one item.”

“What is it?”

“I can show you the catalogue but you mustn’t say anything. Promise you won’t tell a soul.”

“Cross my heart.”

Dominic walked back to his desk and rummaged in his briefcase until he found a fine art catalogue. He’d looked at the object of his desire so often that the book fell open at the correct page. He handed it to Sarah who studied the details for a long time without saying a word. Eventually, Dominic could stand the silence no longer.

“I know it’s a bit out of the ordinary. Some people might think it’s a bit kinky. But I’ve got my reasons.” Then, when Sarah still didn’t respond, he added in testy self justification, “He’s a famous potter, Sarah. His work is very sought after.”

“I know that, Dominic,” Sarah replied soothingly. I remember when he won the Turner Prize. His work commands huge prices. Have you seen the reserve on this?”

“It’s not one of his major works. It’s an early piece and quite small compared to some of his recent pots. I’m hoping the bidding won’t go too high.”

“Even so, Dominic, you can’t afford this.”

“I think I can, Sarah. My mother recently handed on my grandfather’s legacy. I want to use it to buy this one thing.”

“As a present for Mr Merrow? Dominic, love, are you sure he’d be prepared to accept such a valuable present? It’s great that you want to be so generous but have you really thought this through?”

“Yes, I have, Sarah. This money was meant to help me get my foot on the property ladder but now I live with Jude I haven’t needed to find funds for a deposit. I pay my share of the mortgage but Jude wouldn’t let me buy out half his equity so this money will just sit in my savings account earning a derisory rate of interest. A piece of artwork like this could turn out to be a far more profitable investment.”

“But you’re about to give it away. Does your mother know what you’re planning to do with your legacy?”

“She told me the money was mine and I could do with it what I liked. She gave it to me when Jude and I went to visit her. She said she wanted me to have it now because I’ve started a new life with my partner. This is how I want to mark that new start. Will you help me, Sarah?”

“Well, if you’re sure,” she agreed hesitantly. “I know a guy who works as a curator at The Tate Modern. He might be able to give us some idea of what this piece might fetch at auction. Come to think of it, he might be prepared to bid on your behalf. He’s had a fair bit of experience in the fine art world.”

“Would you ask him? Would you mind? I so much want to get this for Jude and I really don’t know how to go about it?”

“I’m sure Michael would be pleased to help out. He’d certainly do it if I ask him.”

“I don’t want him asking me questions,” stipulated Dominic. “I know this piece isn’t to everyone’s taste.”

“Don’t worry about that. I should think most people know about Grayson Perry, the transvestite potter, and his fascination with sado-masochism, bondage and child abuse,” replied Sarah cheerily.

“Well, I don’t like the images of abuse but there’s a reason why I like this particular plate.”

“It does grab your attention and I love the colours. It’s not until you look at it closely that you see those images of people tied up. Actually, I think some of them are naked. Are you sure it’s going to appeal to Mr Merrow?”

“Oh, I think he’ll like it alright and I have a special reason for wanting to buy him a piece of pottery. It’s a replacement for something I broke.”

“I never pictured Mr Merrow as having a collection of ceramics.”

“He doesn’t but, trust me, Sarah, he’ll like this plate.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. I’m seeing Michael tonight so I’ll ask his advice. Can I borrow the catalogue?”

“Don’t lose it, Sarah. I didn’t realise the auction houses charge so much for a catalogue. And it’s only a couple of weeks to the sale so I’m going to need an answer soon.”

“Don’t worry, Dominic. I’ll let you know the outcome tomorrow. Now are we on for that lunchtime shopping expedition or not?”


Standing outside the third jeweller’s shop they’d passed, Dominic sighed. “There’s so much more to choose from in these shops than we saw in Salisbury. I don’t know where to start.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Jude suggested getting something in silver, possibly a brooch with a Celtic design.”

“That’s a good starting point. Let’s go in here and get them to show us what they’ve got.”

“I won’t know what to ask for though and they might think I’m buying something for you.”

“They can think what they like, Dominic. Let’s have a bit of fun selecting something nice for your Mum. Have you got an upper price limit in mind?”

“I’ve got some idea of what a silver brooch might cost. We saw some nice ones in Salisbury but that was before Mum gave me Granddad’s money. I’d like to get her something really nice now.”

“Does it have to be a brooch?”

“No. It’s just that Mum usually wears one of her mother’s brooches on her jacket.”

“Do you think she might like a necklace?”


“Then let’s look at those as well. If you want to spend a bit more we could look at Celtic designs in gold. The advantage of gold jewellery is that it doesn’t tarnish, even if you don’t wear it all the time.”

That was news to Dominic and it just served to convince him of the wisdom of enlisting Sarah’s help. In the end, and after much thought, Dominic made a purchase and Sarah had the pleasure of knowing that the choice was all his own. The jeweller had brought out a tray of Celtic gold crosses and Dominic picked out a delicate design in filigree work which Sarah thought was exquisite. She helped him choose a chain and advised him to request the gift wrapping service. Privately she thought that Mrs McAvinchey would treasure the piece and her opinion was firmly reinforced by Dominic’s halting admission as they left the shop, “That’s the first present I’ve ever bought for my mother.”

“What? You mean to tell me you’ve never bought her a Christmas present or a birthday present before?”

“Oh, yes. I never forget to give her the money for a present but she’s always gone out and bought it herself.”

“Didn’t you enjoy making the choice yourself this year?”

Dominic thought about it. “Yes, I think I did. I suppose I’ve never known what to ask for before and the shop assistants can be a bit intimidating. Thank you so much for helping me buy something really nice for Mum this Christmas.”

“You’re getting the idea, Dominic. Buying presents can be fun. I’ll turn you into a shopaholic yet! And I promise you, your Mum will love her present. Make sure she knows it was all your own choice.”

“I don’t know whether to post it. As it’s our first Christmas together, Jude and I decided to spend the day at home. We’re going to lunch with my mother on Boxing Day and Jude’s father is coming to us for New Year.”

“My advice would be to take your present to your mother on Boxing Day. You’ll get the pleasure of watching her open it and I think you’ll see how delighted she will be with a gift you’ve chosen yourself.”

With half his Christmas shopping complete Dominic went home happy. In the morning he couldn’t wait to hear what Sarah had found out from her friend who worked at The Tate Modern. It was only on the train to work that he recalled the conversation in which Sarah had said her friend Michael would do any favour she asked of him. Dominic wasn’t much given to puzzling about relationships, having long since concluded that he was hopeless at spotting the clues which seemed obvious to others. Now he began to speculate about the nature of Sarah’s friendship and wished he’d thought ask Jude’s opinion before his partner left to attend a breakfast meeting with clients. He wondered whether it was acceptable to ask Sarah if Michael was her boyfriend or whether it was rude to ask such a personal question. He remembered how often Jude kept telling him to ask if he was unsure about feelings or relationships but he wasn’t certain whether that injunction just applied to the two of them. He didn’t want to do anything to embarrass Sarah or to jeopardise a friendship which he realised had become important to him.

When Sarah arrived in the office she came straight over to Dominic’s work station to return the borrowed catalogue. “Good news,” she announced. “Michael is really keen on your project. He’s happy to bid on your behalf. The auction house knows him and he thinks you have a good chance of getting your plate. It will depend on how much interest this sale generates but Michael reckons there aren’t many lots to attract the serious dealers. What he needs to know is how much you’re hoping to pay and how high you’re willing to go at a pinch.”

“That’s what I’m not sure about. I know I can’t afford to get carried away. I’m not stupid when it comes to money but I do think this could be a good investment.”

“How about talking it over with Michael?”

“Is that possible? We’d have to arrange to meet.”

“No problem. I’m having lunch with him the day after tomorrow; come and join us.”

“Would that be okay? I don’t want to intrude. I mean, you and he... are you? I’m not...”

“Is he my boyfriend?” Sarah supplied, helping Dominic over his embarrassment. “I’m not sure. It’s early days and I don’t like rushing into things. We’ve been on a couple of dates, if that’s what you want to know.”

“I don’t… I mean… It’s just that if I’m meeting him I don’t want to get anything wrong, make a mistake…”

“It’s alright, Dominic. It’s perfectly okay to ask about him. To be honest I’d be interested to see what you think of Michael. He’s very keen to impress which always makes me a bit wary, to be honest. It’ll do no harm for me to turn up to lunch with a drop dead gorgeous guy in tow.” When Dominic just looked baffled Sarah had to explain. “With you, Dominic. With you.” He blushed and looked so overwhelmed that Sarah could totally understand the powerful protective instinct which had drawn Mr Merrow to this guileless young man.

Sarah had further evidence of Mr Merrow’s care for his partner later in the day when he finally arrived in the office after his early morning meeting with clients. Sarah and Jude didn’t generally have much cause to interact at the office as they worked in different departments, but after their shared efforts to rescue Dominic from the caretaker they had developed a close understanding. Sarah was no longer in awe of Mr Merrow but she understood exactly why it was his practice to keep a professional distance. He didn’t want to advertise his relationship with Dominic at work and so he was meticulous about maintaining his role as Project Manager and Dominic McAvinchey’s boss. That also meant he didn’t generally seek out Sarah for a chat but she suspected that he had engineered his arrival at the coffee machine to coincide with her need for a drink.

“It was so kind of you to help Dominic with his shopping yesterday,” he began. “We decided that it needed a woman to choose a piece of jewellery and he was so pleased with himself for going out to buy something for his mother.”

“It was entirely his choice, I promise you. I only needed to point him in the right direction.”

“Well, you encouraged him to spend rather more than I thought he could afford but it’s worth it to see him so triumphant.”

“Don’t worry; he’s splashing out this year.” The words were out of Sarah’s mouth before she’d considered their significance but Mr Merrow was quick to grasp the implication.

“I hope he’s not planning to spend a lot of money on me,” he said darkly. “Has he asked your advice about that purchase too?” Sarah shifted uncomfortably, uncertain how to respond. “Miss Powell, are you aware of my partner’s intentions regarding my Christmas present?”

Sarah might feel comfortable in Mr Merrow’s company but when he looked at her so intently and addressed her with such formality she felt her customary self assurance melt away. “He’s talked to me about it, yes. He asked me to help him buy something for you but he made me promise to keep it a secret.”

“I won’t ask you to break your promise, Sarah,” he said in a more kindly tone, the use of her given name alerting Sarah to a shift in the tenor of the conversation. “Come into my office so we can talk more privately.”

“When they were seated side by side at the conference table in Jude’s office, Sarah began hesitantly, “I don’t know what I can say Mr Merrow. If you really don’t want Dominic to spend too much on you, I think you should tell him that as soon as possible.” She felt that Mr Merrow wouldn’t miss the hint she was giving him.

“I don’t want to spoil his plans, Sarah. I was the one to convince him that he would enjoy buying gifts for other people. If he wants to splash out, to spend some of his bonus on me, who am I to ruin his pleasure?” Sarah looked acutely uncomfortable. “What is it, Sarah? What’s bothering you?”

“I hate to say this Mr Merrow, I feel so disloyal but I think you should know that Dominic is planning on spending more than his bonus, a lot more.”

“What do you mean a lot more?”

“Look, I’m only saying this because I don’t want to see Dominic hurt. He’s so set on this, so sure you’re going to love it.”

“Sarah, you need to tell me what he’s planning. How can he afford to spend more than his bonus? He hasn’t got any other money?”

“Yes he has. He’s got his grandfather’s legacy. He’s planning to use that to buy you something very special.” Sarah eyes were filling with tears as, unprompted, she gave away part of Dominic’s secret.

Jude placed a hand on her arm. “Don’t upset yourself, Sarah. It really is for the best that I know what Dominic is up to. He will never know that you told me, I promise you.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m not sure.” Mr Merrow took a moment to consider the best course of action. He was determined to respect Sarah’s confidence and he didn’t want to spoil Dominic’s pleasure in selecting a costly gift. “Would you feel comfortable telling me whether you consider his choice a sensible gift or a waste of money?” he asked finally.

“I would never have agreed to help Dominic if I thought he was likely to be wasting his money. I think he’s planning to make a good investment and so does the specialist advisor who is helping us.”

“Wow, it sounds as though you’re going about this purchase in a very professional way.”

“Just calling in a few favours but I don’t think you stand to lose over this.”

“I want to be sure that Dominic doesn’t stand to lose. Is this something which could be a sound investment for the two of us? Could he get his money back in the future?”

If you’re asking me if this gift could be sold at a profit, the answer is yes. It could make you both a lot of money if you’re willing to wait a few years.”

“I get the picture. I swear to you I’ll say nothing to Dominic about this. You’ve done the right thing to tell me, Sarah, and it could save a lot of upset on Christmas Day. In fact, I think I can use the information you’ve given me to my advantage.”


“Believe it or not, I’ve been wondering how to spend quite a bit on Dominic’s Christmas present without embarrassing him or getting his back up. I want to have a couple of suits made for him. He’s not going to want to cooperate with that idea, as you can imagine, but I think he’d look magnificent in a well cut, tailor made suit.”

“Oh, yes. He’s got no idea how to dress to show off his physique. I don’t think it’s even occurred to him that personal display is one of the objects of dressing well,” Sarah laughed.

“You understand my purpose precisely, Miss Powell.” This time Sarah was in no doubt that the use of her surname was meant to amuse. “I think we can both of us conjure up an image of Mr McAvinchey in a perfectly fitting bespoke suit!” They both of them took a few seconds to contemplate the pleasing prospect.

“He’d look stunning,” breathed Sarah.

Despite being certain about his choice of gift for Dominic, Jude was gratified by Sarah’s enthusiastic approval. That evening he launched his plan of action as he and Dominic were relaxing over coffee in the sitting room after dinner. “I need to borrow you for a couple of hours on Saturday,” he announced in a light hearted tone, hoping not to alarm his partner.

“Oh, yes?” responded Dominic with an interrogative lift of his eyebrows.

“I wish I could surprise you but my Christmas present is going to need a bit of input from you in advance.”

“I like surprises.”

“I know you do and there’ll be a few little surprises for you under the tree but I need you to be involved in the selection of your main present.”

“Are we getting a tree? Can we have a real one?”

“Of course we’ll get a tree and I like real ones too even if it does mean digging pine needles out of the carpet until Easter. But don’t try and change the subject. We need to fix a time for you to come with me to the tailor.”

“Why are we going to the tailor?” asked Dominic suspiciously.

“Because I want you to choose some fabric and then I want to get you measured for a couple of suits.”

“No,” said Dominic decisively.

“What do you mean: no? I want to buy you two good suits for Christmas and I want them tailor made to fit.”

“I’ve got suits for work. I don’t need any more.”

Jude had anticipated this reaction and he embarked on the explanation he’d carefully planned. “I know you have suits but I want to give you something you can’t buy off the peg.”

“What’s wrong with buying suits off the peg?”

“Nothing, Dominic, nothing at all. It’s just that they’re designed for a standard size which doesn’t do anything to enhance your physique.”

“Are you saying I’m not a standard size?” Dominic was beginning to get angry.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” responded Jude with a laugh which was designed to defuse Dominic’s anger. “The standard Brit is shorter and stockier than you are. A jacket which fits your wide shoulders doesn’t taper enough to skim your narrow waist and hips. And you need slimmer fitting trousers than the ones you’re wearing now.”

“I didn’t realise that my appearance offended you to that extent,” said Dominic with heavy sarcasm, “but you’re just going to have to get used to it because you’re not dressing me up like some frigging toy boy.”

“That’s enough,” said Jude in a tone which signalled very clearly that Dominic had overstepped the bounds. “I will not be spoken to like that. Get up and go and stand in that corner until you’ve calmed down. I suggest you think very carefully about the offer I’ve made and how you want to respond to it.”

Dominic flung the chair back and glared at Jude as he stood up, although he didn’t dare escalate hostilities any further by uttering the obscenities which were on the tip of his tongue. His fury had boiled up out of nowhere but when he got into such a state he lost the power of rational thought. He stomped over to his designated corner, folded his arms, slouched with his weight on one leg and allowed defiance to radiate from every pore in his body.

Jude sighed. This was just the outcome he had hoped to avoid. He had immense sympathy for Dominic and his insecurities, and had been prepared to tolerate a deal of reluctance and opposition in order to achieve his aim. He had hoped that offering Dominic new clothes under the guise of a Christmas present would enable the young man to accept an update to his wardrobe with good grace. He was in no doubt that Dominic’s confidence would get an immense boost from the inevitable improvement in his appearance. The fashionable haircut, into which Jude had slyly manoeuvred Dominic, had already gone some way to achieving that goal. The new style had drawn admiring glances at work and it hadn’t escaped Jude’s notice that Dominic had booked further appointments at the salon to maintain the look. He had deliberately refrained from making any comment about the regular haircuts, nor had he said anything about the tub of hair gel he found in the bathroom, but he occasionally ran his fingers through Dominic’s thick, spiky locks and complimented him on his appearance, making the young man blush with pleasure.

Now that same young man had deliberately pushed Jude into taking a stand. He’d used the most provocative language he knew, confident that his top couldn’t ignore it. Jude forced down the hurt he felt at being accused of treating his partner like a toy boy. He knew the words weren’t seriously meant and would be bitterly regretted when Dominic came to his senses. He knew, too, that the current standoff was partly of his own making and he couldn’t help feeling that if he’d approached the issue more tactfully he might have won Dominic round. Now he had no alternative but to enforce the discipline which Dominic often craved but to which, at that moment, he was clearly signalling his resistance. Jude decided that Dominic would benefit from some time alone. Without the provocation of his partner’s presence behind him, his outraged stance would become pointless and he might settle more quickly to calm reflection.

Jude picked up their abandoned coffee cups, still half full of liquid which was now stone cold, and carried them through to the kitchen. There he busied himself clearing the remains of their meal, loading the dishwasher and tidying the worktop. With the kitchen returned to its customary state of order and cleanliness his own stress level fell and he knew he was ready to deal with Dominic firmly but kindly. Opening the door to the living room he stopped on the threshold, astounded to find that the young man wasn’t standing in his allotted place. He walked swiftly to the bottom of the stairs, convinced that Dominic must have gone up to the bathroom, and shouted his partner’s name. When he received no reply, he took the stairs two at a time and, seeing at once that the bathroom door stood wide open, made an immediate search of all the bedrooms, starting with their own. By the time he returned to the ground floor Jude was convinced that he was the only occupant of the house but he conducted a thorough search before going to the coat hooks in the hall and discovering that Dominic’s jacket was missing. He opened the front door and saw with relief that his partner’s car was still on the drive, blocked in by his own vehicle which was parked behind it. Wherever Dominic had gone, it was on foot and that thought gave Jude some comfort, although his emotions alternated between anger at Dominic’s defiance and anguish at the thought of him wandering the streets in a distressed state.

Dominic himself had no understanding of the emotions which were boiling up within him. He was just driven by a powerful urge to get away from a situation which he found overwhelming. He walked fast and with a blind indifference to direction, slowing only to rummage for his phone when he felt it vibrating in his pocket, and then turning it off without looking at the caller display. Before long he had strayed way beyond the area he knew and found himself entering a small park. The adrenaline which had powered his headlong flight was draining out of his system and he walked towards a children’s play area and sat down on a seat to watch a couple of teenagers, who were far too big for the equipment, enjoy a ride on the swings. It was a calming scene and he breathed deeply as Jude had taught him, starting to examine his feelings and consider his options.

Slowly he became conscious of an overwhelming sense of shame. He recalled, with cringing embarrassment, the vile accusation he had levelled at his partner in response to a kind and generous offer. Then, rather than stay and face his just desserts he had run away like some wayward teenager. He wasn’t quite sure why he’d reacted so badly and allowed the confrontation to escalate out of control and, more to the point, he had absolutely no idea how to rectify matters. Out of habit rather than a desire to communicate, he pulled out his phone and listened to its welcome chime as he switched it on. The display informed him that he had four missed calls and two voicemail messages and he didn’t need to check the call log to know that they were all from his partner. He couldn’t bring himself to listen to the messages but the knowledge that Jude had been trying to contact him filled him with longing to hear his partner’s voice, to ask for his help and beg for forgiveness. He opened his contacts list and found Jude’s name but, with his thumb hovering over the call button, his nerve failed. Instead he scrolled slowly down until his attention was caught by Sarah Powell’s name. He’d quite forgotten that she’d given him her mobile phone number and he’d never had occasion to ring her but it suddenly occurred to him that she might be the person to ask for advice.

Sarah answered the phone almost at once and as soon as she heard Dominic’s voice she knew there was a problem. She had a sort of sixth sense which warned her that he must be upset over Jude’s planned visit to the tailor and the tremor in her friend’s voice revealed the extent of his agitation. She kept her voice even in the hope of keeping him calm and getting him to explain the difficulty. “What can I do for you, Dominic?” she enquired.

“I don’t know what to do, Sarah. I’m sorry to bother you but I didn’t know who to ask.”

“You’re not bothering me. Tell me the problem and I’ll see what I can do.”

“There’s nothing you can do, Sarah. The problem is me. I’ve had a row with Jude and… and… I walked out. I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay. I take it that you regret the cause of this row and you want to go home.”

“Yeah, yeah, I suppose so,” responded Dominic hesitantly. Put like that the solution seemed simple but, in practice, Dominic still didn’t see a way forward.

“Where are you now?”

“I don’t know.” Dominic’s honest but unhelpful response left Sarah momentarily frustrated before she decided to try another tack.

“What did you row about?” she asked.

“It wasn’t so much a row, more a case of me mouthing off. Jude doesn’t go in for rows.”

“No, I can’t see Mr Merrow rowing,” Sarah agreed. “So what was it that got you so wound up?”

“He told me he wanted to take me to a tailor; get me measured up for a couple of suits. It was going to be my Christmas present.” Even to his own ears, this now sounded like a very feeble reason for making such a fuss. Sarah didn’t spare him either. She understood Dominic well enough to know that he would respond better to plain talking than to spurious words of comfort.

“So Mr Merrow wanted to spend a lot of money on you and get you something really nice, did he? He must have spent time planning this and been looking forward to giving you a nice surprise.”

Dominic might be slow to pick up on unspoken messages but, even over the phone, he couldn’t mistake Sarah’s meaning. She was reminding him, none too subtly, of the vast sum he was planning to expend on Jude’s gift and the pleasure he was deriving from the thought of purchasing something very special, something which would be a lovely surprise for his partner. His breath caught in his throat, “Oh God, I’ve been a total bastard about it, Sarah. What on earth am I going to do now?”

Sarah knew at once that she had Dominic where she wanted him, ready and willing to follow her instructions. “You get in touch with Mr Merrow — with Jude — at once. You tell him you’re sorry and you want to come home.”

“I don’t know… I don’t think…”

“What are you doing now?” enquired Sarah crisply.

“I’m sitting on a park bench.”

“Right. Stand up and walk to the nearest road, find the street name and then ring Mr Merrow. Can you do that?”

“What am I going to say?”

“You tell him…”

“Wait,” said Dominic urgently. “I need to find a piece of paper to write this down.”

Sarah stifled her impatience. “It’s one sentence, Dominic. You’ll have no trouble remembering it. Just say this: I’m sorry; please come and get me. Make sure you tell him the street name so he can programme it into the sat nav.”

“He’s going to ask me why I walked out,” objected Dominic. “He’s going to want to know why I was so upset about visiting the tailor.”

“He’s not going to ask any questions when you ring. Trust me; he will want to get straight in the car and come and find you. He’ll be worried sick about you. All he’ll be thinking about is getting you home.”

It was beyond Dominic’s comprehension how Sarah could be so confident about Jude’s feelings and behaviour but he followed her instructions.  When the car drew up outside the park and Jude got out to open the passenger door it seemed that her predictions were accurate. Dominic stepped forward hesitantly only to be enveloped in his partner’s welcoming embrace but all Jude said was, “You’re cold, love. Jump in the car and we’ll get you home.”

The journey back didn’t take long. Jude turned the heating up and Dominic sat silently, uncertain how to begin the conversation he knew they needed to have. However, it seemed Jude was content to accept his partner’s silence and when they were back in the house he quietly suggested that Dominic go upstairs to take a hot bath and get ready for bed. At least, it seemed more of a suggestion than an order to Dominic but, in his anxiety to make up for his earlier defiance and insolence, he hastened to follow instructions. He didn’t linger in the bath but the hot water uncoiled some of his tension and, by the time he walked into the bedroom with a towel wrapped around his waist, he was feeling ready to answer for his earlier conduct. However, he wasn’t expecting to find Jude already in bed, holding a reading book in one hand and a cup of hot chocolate in the other. Not only that, he saw that Jude had laid out a clean pair of pyjamas on his side of the bed and brought a second mug of hot chocolate which was standing waiting for him on the bedside table. Jude made no reference to either, he just said, “I thought we’d both be more comfortable in bed. Hurry up and get in.”

Dominic pulled on the pyjama bottoms before he discarded the towel and then shouldered into the jacket, buttoned it up and tucked it in. He climbed under the duvet, propping his pillow against the headboard so he could sit up and drink the hot chocolate. It was steaming hot and smelt strongly of chocolate with a milky froth on the top. He didn’t often have hot chocolate and Dominic always regarded it as a treat - the ultimate comfort drink. “Thanks for making this,” were the first words he’d uttered to Jude since returning home. “I was thirsty.”

“We didn’t finish our coffee,” remarked Jude and, although it wasn’t intended as a rebuke, Dominic stiffened and hung his head. “Don’t worry,” Jude continued, sensing Dominic’s withdrawal, “we’ll sort everything out in the morning. Everything is going to be alright. You don’t need to worry.”

“It’s not alright, though, is it?” exclaimed Jude with sudden vehemence. “I said something awful and behaved dreadfully. You can’t just ignore that.”

“Of course not. As I said we can sort it all out in the morning.”

“We’ve got work in the morning,” Dominic objected.

“No we haven’t,” responded Jude calmly. “I’ll ring the office first thing and tell them we’re both taking the day off for a domestic emergency. That’ll give us plenty of time to discuss what went wrong this evening and to sort things out. We’re both too tired and wrung out to get to grips with it all tonight.”

“But I can’t… I can’t…”

“What, Dominic? Tell me what’s the matter.”

“I can’t just lie down and go to sleep knowing…”

“Knowing you’re in trouble,” Jude supplied.

“No, I don’t care about that,” cried Dominic vehemently. “It’s knowing that I said something awful to you, that I was so unkind, that I threw your generosity back in your face.”

“I know you didn’t mean it, Dominic. I won’t deny that your words were hurtful but I knew, even as you uttered them, that you would come to bitterly regret what you’d said. Tomorrow we’ll talk about what got you so upset to react like that in the first place.”

“What are you going to do now, though?” asked Dominic plaintively.

“Have you finished your chocolate?” enquired Jude as he placed his own empty mug on the bedside table. Dominic hastened to drink the remainder and then leaned over to place his mug beside Jude’s. As he drew back Jude captured his wrists. “Now, young man, I’m going to lie down with you in my arms and we’re going to get comfortable and go to sleep.”

Dominic slid down the bed in response to Jude’s gentle tug, and relaxed with his head resting on Jude’s shoulder. When Jude turned out the light and the room was plunged into darkness he drew a deep breath and tried to say the things he had to get off his chest if he was to have any chance of sleep. Jude seemed to understand his need because he drew back and his eyes glittered in the darkness as he focused all his attention on his young lover. “You’re being so kind to me and I don’t deserve it,” Dominic whispered with heartfelt remorse. “I accused you of treating me like a toy boy. I don’t even really know what that means. I just wanted to hurt you… get back at you; I’m not sure quite why. I’m sorry; I’m so very sorry.” His voice began to tremble and, to avoid breaking down, he switched to more formal language. “I do apologise and I need to ask you to forgive me. I want you to know that I’ll take whatever punishment you think is appropriate.”

If Jude was still unclear as to what exactly had brought Dominic to such a state of anger and frustration earlier in the evening, he fully understood the young man’s emotions at that point. He recognised that Dominic needed an assurance that he was forgiven and a promise that due penalty would be imposed. There was no point in trying to get Dominic to wait until the morning when some matters were so pressing that they needed immediate resolution. Jude had already tried assuring his partner that he knew the offensive words were uttered in anger and were not meant to be taken seriously but clearly that wasn’t enough to satisfy him so, picking up on Dominic’s more formal language, Jude responded in a similar vein. “Thank you for your apology, Dominic. I appreciate your honesty and your sincerity. I know you didn’t mean what you said and I understand that you were hitting out in a way which seemed easiest at the time. I do forgive you. There really are no hard feelings but tomorrow you’ll pay the penalty which will also serve as a reminder never to use language as a weapon.”

Dominic had been listening so intently to Jude’s words that he’d been holding his breath and when Jude stopped speaking he exhaled so loudly with relief that Jude smiled. It seemed that it needed the promise of future to punishment to get Dominic to relax but once that promise had been given Dominic then wanted further clarification.

“Are you going to spank me?” he asked hesitantly and with a touch of embarrassment.

“Oh, I think so, don’t you?” replied Jude firmly.

There didn’t seem any way to refute that assumption. “I suppose I deserve it,” Dominic conceded.

“Are you going to lie awake all night worrying about it or are we both going to be able to get some sleep?”

Dominic didn’t reply but turned onto his side which was his favoured sleeping position and closed his eyes. In truth, he wasn’t so much worried about the spanking, although he suspected that Jude would not be inclined to let him off lightly. It was the preceding investigation which worried him and the inevitable questions about the cause of his anger and his reason for running away. He decided that he’d better get things clear in his head and come up with some answers while he still had the opportunity for unhurried reflection.

In the event, that was his last waking thought. The trauma of the evening had exhausted him and he fell almost at once into a deep sleep from which he didn’t wake until just before the alarm was due to go off. He lay still in the half light waiting for the ringing which would awaken his partner but, when the hour passed in silence, he realised that Jude must have turned off the alarm the night before. He carefully turned back the quilt, swung his legs to the floor and got up slowly so as not to disturb his sleeping partner. In the kitchen he put on the kettle and dropped a couple of slices of bread into the toaster. Then he began preparing a tray with the intention of taking Jude breakfast in bed. If it was going to be a hard and difficult morning for Dominic himself, it struck him that Jude too might find the forthcoming interrogation stressful and a little treat to start the day might do him good.

It seemed that Dominic’s uncharacteristic empathy and forethought were much appreciated. Jude was stretching and yawning when Dominic entered the bedroom carrying a tray with a steaming mug of coffee, a bowl of cereal, and a plate of toast plus a small jug of milk, a jar of marmalade and a butter dish. He balanced the tray on the chest of drawers while Jude sat up and then he shifted the tray onto his partner’s lap.

“This is a treat to start the day,” exclaimed Jude with pleasure.

“Well, I thought it might make things easier… If you’re going to have a tough morning, you can at least start out with breakfast in bed.”

“I think you’re going to have a tougher time than me so where’s your breakfast?”

“I’ll get something in the kitchen.”

“No you won’t. Go and make up a tray exactly the same as this one and we’ll have breakfast together in bed. As we’re not going into work we might as well have a gentle start to the day. I’ll ring the office and leave a message while you’re getting your breakfast.”

It hadn’t been Dominic’s intention to make breakfast for himself but he judged, quite rightly, that it wasn’t the time to argue so he went downstairs and hastily flung to together a similar but more frugal meal for himself and brought it upstairs to join his partner for breakfast in bed. Jude noticed what small portions Dominic had provided for himself but he passed no comment. They ate in silence for a while and then Jude said conversationally, “I obviously upset you yesterday when I asked if I could take you to get measured for new suits. I’m really sorry about that, Dominic.”

Dominic didn’t know how to respond to that overture. It didn’t feel right having Jude apologise to him when he knew he was the one in the wrong and he took a hasty gulp of coffee to cover his confusion. “I promise you now,” Jude continued, “that if you really can’t face a trip to the tailor’s I won’t force the issue but I do need to know the reason why the idea spooked you so badly.”

“I don’t know,” Dominic mumbled. “I just don’t like the idea of going to be measured. I’ve got plenty of suits anyway,” he added with a touch of truculence which was sprang from embarrassment.

“We’re not discussing whether or not you want to accept my offered gift,” said Jude firmly. “I’m asking you why you got so upset and angry when I invited you to come with me to the tailor’s. We’re not going to discuss your subsequent behaviour until I have a clear understanding of how you were feeling, so you’d better take some time to think it through while we finish our breakfast.” That instruction was enough to put Dominic off eating altogether and he pushed his tray away. Jude leant over and took the single piece of toast on his partner’s plate, buttered it and handed it back. “I’m enjoying my breakfast in bed so please keep me company and eat your toast,” he said in such a reassuring way that Dominic took the proffered slice and absentmindedly bit into it.

When Dominic turned his mind to a problem it could consume his full attention. Resolving a fault on the computer, he could expend hours without noticing the passage of time. It was a novel experience to turn his enquiring mind inwards to explore what had gone wrong with his own thought processes. It was generally something he avoided as it was likely to result in further confusion and distress, but his partner wasn’t giving him a way out.

Jude became aware of the young man’s stillness and the languor of his movements as he ate his toast, in marked contrast to his earlier nervous agitation. These were indicators that the young man was deep in thought and Jude took care not to disturb him as he finished his breakfast in comfortable silence. It was only when he was ready for his shower that he broke into Dominic’s reverie. “You can continue your thinking in the bathroom,” he said. “Put on a bathrobe and come with me.”

That instruction jerked Dominic upright with an enquiring expression on his face. Jude didn’t expect Dominic to appreciate what he was about to do but he didn’t intend to explain his instructions nor tolerate any objection. What Dominic saw in his partner’s face must have convinced him that delay would be inadvisable so he hopped out of bed, grabbed his bathrobe and followed Jude into the bathroom. “Sit there,” said Jude, pointing at the bathmat in front of the shower stall. Dominic didn’t move but it was incomprehension rather than dissent which rooted him to the spot. “On the floor, cross legged, there, where I can see you,” Jude explained. Dominic blushed as comprehension dawned. He interpreted the comment as an oblique reference to the fact that he’d run away when last left to think things through. He found it humiliating enough to be sent to stand in the corner, although he would reluctantly concede that the immobility and sensory deprivation did settle him and help focus his thoughts. But having to sit crossed legged on the floor like some naughty infant, and in the confined space of the bathroom, seemed like a crushing indignity. Too mortified to argue he ducked his head and sank to the ground straight into a cross legged position, moving with an ease springing from his youthful agility. He clasped his hands in his lap and tried to still the clamour in his head but he found it impossible to recapture the focus and tranquillity which he had briefly enjoyed in the bedroom.

Gradually he became aware of Jude removing his pyjamas and then stepping across to the toilet. He hastily averted his eyes, knowing that he himself would be embarrassed to be watched while urinating naked, but Jude seemed quite unconcerned and relieved himself noisily before shaking himself off and walking around Dominic to turn on the shower and test the water temperature with his hand. When he was confident that the water had turned warm he stepped into the shower cubicle and began lathering his body with shower gel. There was something about the way Jude was quietly humming to himself, enjoying his morning ablutions without being discommoded in the slightest by the presence of his errant partner, which made Dominic feel better about his enforced proximity. It seemed more like a situation they were sharing rather than a restriction imposed solely on him. No one had ever behaved in such an uninhibited way in his presence before and it made him feel loved and trusted. More than that, it served to remind him that he should return some of that love and trust by trying to share his perplexities and fears with his partner. He didn’t have to have all the answers, he didn’t have to have it all straight in his mind, he just needed to start talking and Jude had made it clear he would do the rest. It seemed such a simple solution to the problem he was wrestling with that, at first, he was reluctant to let go and stop worrying but his body seemed to respond faster than his brain and his clenched hands fell apart to rest palms upward in his lap and his breathing slowed and deepened as his head came up.

All it took was one glance as he stepped out of the shower for Jude to know that Dominic was ready to start talking, but he saw no need to hurry things along. He took his time towelling his hair dry and then turned towards the sink to begin shaving. Dominic didn’t feel obliged to avert his eyes from Jude’s back and he enjoyed the view from floor level with his partner’s sturdy legs stretching endlessly upwards to the pronounced curve of his muscular backside. Water glistened on his shoulders and ran down his back and legs, the rivulets finding narrow channels through the fine hair on his thighs. The movement of his head and hands as he shaved was mirrored in the flexion and extension of the powerful muscles in his torso and arms. Dominic was enjoying the view and was caught out when Jude turned round unexpectedly and grinned at him with appreciative understanding although all he said was, “Up you get. You can take your turn in the bathroom while I get dressed.”

Their discussion was continued a little while later in the living room where Dominic was the one to open the conversation. “I’m sorry I’ve been so slow to answer your question. I really haven’t got a phobia about tailors or anything like that. I couldn’t really have told you yesterday what the problem was. I’m not even sure I understand now.”

“Just do your best, Dominic. Help me try and understand what upset you.”

“I hate shopping; you know I hate shopping,” he said emphatically, as though that explained everything.

“You enjoyed yourself yesterday with Sarah,” Jude pointed out.

“Yes,” agreed Dominic reflectively. “I think that was because she helped me, she did the talking and didn’t let the shop assistant fluster me.”

“Did you think I’d leave you on your own with the tailor?” enquired Jude gently.

“Oh, no; I knew you’d be there. It’s just… well, it’s just that being measured is so much more personal, isn’t it? I don’t like the idea of someone I don’t know getting that close to me. Do you have to undress? I didn’t know and I was worried.”

“And you couldn’t have asked me to explain exactly what would happen?”

“I was embarrassed. It’s so pathetic to be frightened of shop assistants but they always seem to be looking down their noses at me and I never know what to say or what to ask for.”

“So how do you manage to dress at all?” asked Jude laughingly.

Dominic smiled at him, appreciating his attempt to lighten the atmosphere. “Well, Mum buys my socks and underwear… and some of my shirts… and sometimes she buys me a tie,” he confessed with an increasing sense of the absurdity of having his mother kit him out. “It’s only since I started work that I’ve had to buy my own suits. I don’t think I’ve always chosen the best fitting ones. I do know that and I’ve lost a bit of weight recently and they’ve become a bit looser.”

“You’ve lost weight?” queried Jude sharply.

“Oh, not much,” Dominic reassured him. “It was just during that business over the online exam. I got a bit worried about what might happen at the disciplinary hearing and I sort of lost my appetite.” Jude hadn’t noticed his partner missing meals and he stored that bit of information away, determined to keep a better eye on Dominic’s diet, especially if he ever appeared to be under stress.

“Will you let me buy you a couple of suits which fit you better?” asked Jude gently.

Dominic just nodded, hanging his head in embarrassment. “I know I let you down when we’re together. I think that’s why I got so angry and upset… and said something awful. You look so sophisticated and well dressed and I’m just a geek.” The next thing he knew Jude’s hand was under his chin lifting his head so that he had no choice but to look directly into his partner’s eyes.

“What on earth gave you that idea? Don’t you know how good looking you are?” Jude spoke earnestly and Dominic began to suspect he wasn’t just motivated by pity. “I want to help you dress well to show you off; you have the physique of a catwalk model and the handsome features to go with it. You’re not a geek! Hasn’t anyone ever told you how fine looking you are?”

“They called me a geek at school,” Dominic revealed shamefacedly.

“You’ve grown up since then. Haven’t you noticed that the ugly duckling has turned into a swan?” Jude added in a lighter tone.

Dominic smiled, calling to mind what Sarah had said and, in the interests of honesty, he felt bound to repeat it. “Well, Sarah did say I was drop dead gorgeous but I didn’t realise at first she was referring to me!”

“That woman just goes up and up in my estimation. She does seem to have the knack of getting a few home truths into your thick skull!”

“I’m sorry. I know I’ve got this all wrong. Can I go back to where we were yesterday?”

“What do you mean?”

“I want to reply to your offer and say that I appreciate your generosity and I’d like to accept the gift of new suits for Christmas. I’m a bit anxious about having to select fabric and be measured by the tailor but I know you’ll come with me and look after me and it’ll all be alright.”

“Thank you so much for that, love,” said Jude solemnly. “I promise you it will be a better experience than you can possibly imagine and I can guarantee you’ll love the results.” He held out his arms and Dominic leaned into his forgiving embrace. Eventually, Jude shifted back on the sofa and Dominic sat upright again, acutely conscious of what was coming next. “So we just have to deal with your rudeness, defiance and your running away, all caused, if you’ll allow me to point it out yet again, by your failure to confide in me, to trust me to understand your difficulties and be able to help you overcome them.”

“I know I’m not very good at remembering to talk to you when I get myself in tizz,” conceded Dominic.

“That’s why I intend giving you such a powerful reminder that you’re unlikely to forget ever again. Stand up.”

Dominic jumped up hastily, partly out of nervousness and partly out of a desire to signify his consent by showing no sign of reluctance.

“Drop your jeans.”

Dominic’s hand moved automatically to the fastenings although it was clear to him that Jude was handling this familiar scenario in a new way. Normally Jude took total charge, lowered his partner’s trousers and helped get him get in position across his lap. This time it seemed Dominic was going to have to do more for himself. That impression was reinforced when Jude added, “Take down your underpants as well.”

That instruction came as a shock; Dominic wasn’t comfortable with nudity outside the bedroom and Jude knew it. He looked appealingly at his partner but received no answering response, so he slowly lowered his jeans and underpants, stopping when they were half way down his thighs so he could remain slightly bent to surreptitiously pull his tee shirt over his genitals. “Take your pants right off,” Jude instructed, hardening his heart to his partner’s obvious discomfort. Dominic was standing in his stockinged feet, not having bothered to put on footwear, so he was able to push his jeans and underpants to the floor and step right out of his clothing. He looked miserably at Jude for further instructions but the older man just shifted back on the sofa, lifted his arm and waited for Dominic to take the required position.

Dominic responded at once to the unspoken invitation, glad to lay himself face downwards and gain some respite from Jude penetrating stare. His long body took up the full length of the sofa and he turned his head to one side as he reached out to take a firm hold on either side of the seat cushion. His legs were stretched out rigidly towards the other end of the sofa where his feet, clad in white socks, were pressed up against the arm rest.

Jude was determined to take his time and make this a punishment to remember. He didn’t want to be unkind but he wanted to put a stop to Dominic’s habit of clamming up when faced with a problem or a worry. He suspected that the young man would accept a penalty as just retribution for past mistakes but that penalty failed to act as a deterrent the next time he faced a similar situation. A punishment was something to be endured, maybe it served as a way of paying off a debt or helped to assuage guilt but it certainly wasn’t leading to a change in behaviour.

Jude lifted Dominic’s tee shirt and tucked it up across his back. He surveyed the tense body stretched out beneath his hand and noted the rapid rise and fall of Dominic’s chest which revealed his anxiety. In fact, Dominic’s anxiety sprang from a desire to take his punishment without protest, to show by his immobility that he recognised that he had defied and hurt his partner and that he wanted to make amends. But Jude needed no display to tell him how sorry Dominic was for his intemperate language and precipitate flight. Nor did he require Dominic to make any amends. He had a very different aim; his intention was to break through Dominic’s defences, to get him to open up at a primal level so that he would find it much harder in future to shut his partner out. Jude intended this spanking to make a real difference to the way Dominic thought about their relationship and how he behaved when faced with difficulties.

He began spanking lightly, covering Dominic’s entire backside and getting it to pink up uniformly. Dominic breathed a bit more easily when he realised that the spanking was going to be bearable and he mentally distanced himself from the process in a way which he’d found easy in the past. The trouble was, Jude didn’t show any sign of stopping. Not only that, he began to concentrate his attentions on just one spot until Dominic couldn’t stop himself shifting slightly to ease the pain caused by the calculated repetition. Without breaking his rhythm Jude adjusted his swing to take account of Dominic’s small change of position and continued to land blows on his chosen spot. Soon Dominic’s breath was whistling through his teeth and he was having to exercise all his self control not to jerk away from the powerful slaps which were descending just where he was sorest. When he was beginning to think he could take no more, Jude moved his target elsewhere. Dominic sighed with relief and tried to focus his mind on his next project at work but he found it impossible to concentrate as the pain began to intensify in the newly inflamed spot. Soon Dominic was gasping and squirming, unable to think of anything other than the overwhelming burn in his backside and the impossibility of tolerating much more. Either the spanking was getting harder or Dominic was getting sorer but his determination to accept the punishment without resistance was rapidly crumbling. He began twisting his hips in order to try and present less tender portions of his backside to Jude’s relentless hand. Finally, to his shame, he flung back his hand to intercept Jude’s swing only to find his wrist grasped in a firm hold and his arm pinioned to his side in way which prevented any further movement of his hips.

And still Jude continued to spank him. He felt the tears well up in his eyes and he rapidly blinked away the evidence of his weakness. He’d taken a measured decision to accept his punishment without struggle and he recognised that his resolution had failed. The one thing still left to him was his pride and he was determined not to cry. However, he was still prone over Jude’s lap taking the worst spanking he’d ever endured. The punishment was being administered entirely on Jude’s terms and not according to his own preconceived plan. He was finding it increasingly difficult to distance himself mentally from what was happening to him and his whole being was engaged in the struggle to hold out.

And then it dawned on him that, in trying to hold out, he was still resisting his partner’s authority. If it was his intention to demonstrate his contrition then he needed to surrender to Jude and not try to disguise his emotions and reactions. He wasn’t consciously aware of any change in his behaviour as he reached that conclusion but Jude felt his taut stomach muscles relax as his whole body slumped more heavily on his lap. The release of tension also allowed the tears he’d been fighting to run unchecked down his cheeks and his shoulders shook as he took one shuddering breath which he released in a sob which sounded as though it had been torn from his body. That was the point at which Jude knew the punishment had done its healing work. He delivered half a dozen more sharp slaps to the flaming red buttocks and then stopped.

Dominic’s crying was heart wrenching. Jude knew that he hated to let down his defences in front of others and yet he was shaking with uncontrollable sobs. His bottom showed spots of purple bruising and Jude suspected that the skin might blister, but he knew Dominic’s powerful reaction wasn’t a response to pain. Jude had found it necessary to take the punishment way beyond anything he would normally be prepared to administer just to get his partner to the point of surrender. He felt confident that their relationship had been moved to a deeper level and that Dominic would, in the future, feel a greater sense of connection to and trust in his partner. He gently rubbed the young man’s back and murmured words of comfort and reassurance until the storm of tears had passed. Then he coaxed Dominic onto his feet and guided him upstairs to the bedroom without bothering to recover his discarded clothing.

“Lie down here for a while. You’ll be feeling shattered and you were up so early this morning.”

Dominic needed no persuading to lie down on his front and accept being covered by the quilt. He closed his eyes and sighed. He was feeling drained, very sore and anxious to remain close to Jude. “Stay with me, please,” he murmured.

“I’m here,” said Jude reassuringly. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay here with you.” He pulled the chair over to the bedside and picked up the book he was reading. It was some time before the rhythm of Dominic’s breathing indicated that he’d fallen into a fitful doze. When he began mumbling in his sleep, Jude got up to run a calming hand across his forehead and noticed, with a rush of compassion, the single teardrop still clinging to his long eyelashes and the dried tearstains on his cheeks. It had been a distressing and painful morning for them both.

By midday, Dominic had woken up and been persuaded to have a sandwich lunch which he’d eaten standing up in the kitchen. Jude was amazed at his resilience and moved by his touching desire to please. By tacit agreement nothing more was said about Dominic’s misbehaviour or subsequent punishment but the two men remained physically close, reconnecting and gradually recovering their customary ease and intimacy.

“What are we doing this afternoon?” Dominic enquired eventually.

“Nothing. I thought we could have an idle afternoon enjoying the unplanned break from work.”

“What about going to see this tailor of yours?” suggested Dominic unexpectedly.

“Are you sure?” asked Jude in amazement. “There’s no need for us to go today and you won’t want to be sitting in the car.”

“Why not? I can take a cushion, can’t I? It’ll take my mind off the state of my behind! Anyway, you know what I’m like, once I’ve set my mind on doing something I want to get on with it straightaway.”

“Really, Dominic? There’s no need for us to do this today.”

“I want to get it over with.”

“You make it sound like a visit to the dentist. I promise you it will be a good experience. If you really want to go now I’ll give the tailor a ring and make sure he can see us this afternoon.”

Dominic had been expecting some snooty Savile Row salesman but instead Jude took him to a small shop where they were seen by a friendly man in a back room. The process of being measured was nothing like as intrusive or embarrassing as Dominic had feared and the only thing which brought a blush to his cheek was the tailor’s observation that it would be a pleasure to make suits for such a tall and perfectly proportioned young man. He was invited to try on a variety of jackets so the three of them could discuss the relative merits of slim versus relaxed fit, two versus three buttons, single or double vent and a variety of other design features which were a revelation to Dominic. He soon forgot his nervousness and entered into the debate, expressing his preferences clearly when the options were explained to him. He enjoyed handling the swatches of fabric but found it difficult to choose between them until Jude subtly suggested that they select something formal for work and something more lightweight which would do for summer and for social occasions. Eventually, with the tailor’s advice, they settled on a charcoal pinstripe and a lighter weight grey fabric, both in fine wool. By the time they left Dominic was relaxed and happy, eagerly looking forward to the next appointment when he would have his first fitting.

The next day at work he decided to spend the morning checking the inventory of computer equipment at Semdar’s head office. It was a boring job and one he usually delegated to a technician but he felt he ought to take personal responsibility for it once in a while. He did admit to himself that he’d chosen a task which kept him on the move all morning just to avoid sitting on his hard office chair which would only exacerbate the lingering soreness in his backside. As a result of his tour of the building, he only met up with Sarah Powell just before the two of them were due to leave for lunch with Sarah’s friend, Michael.

His initial impression of Michael was of a man out to impress with his superior knowledge and experience, but when he began talking about ceramics his enthusiasm overcame his tendency to brag. Dominic was too excited about the prospect of buying his dream present to allow Michael’s air of superiority to intimidate him and once Michael was assured of Dominic’s ability to purchase the plate he’d set his heart on, the two of them entered into an earnest discussion about Dominic’s upper price limit. Hesitantly, Dominic raised the question of Michael’s professional fee only have his query brushed aside. Michael admitted that he’d rarely had the opportunity to bid for such a piece and would welcome the opportunity to act on Dominic’s behalf. The three of them hastily finished their meal so as not to overrun their lunch break and made arrangements to meet again at the auction house. Michael wanted Sarah to see him in action and Sarah was determined to accompany Dominic either to celebrate his success or commiserate over failure.

In the days approaching Christmas a number of presents mysteriously appeared under the sweetly scented pine tree which Jude and Dominic had installed in their sitting room and taken much pleasure in decorating. When Jude wasn’t around Dominic had tried prodding all the gifts with his name on and had had no difficulty in identifying the two suits which were very loosely wrapped. He’d seen them nearly finished at the final fitting and had had to restrain a wild desire to pose and prance in front of the fitting room mirror when he saw how stylish he looked. He realised that he couldn’t wait to try them on and found himself imagining the reaction at work when he turned up looking so smart. In view of his earlier hostility to the whole idea of new clothes, the irony of his excitement didn’t escape him and he resolved to show Jude how pleased he was with his presents. He didn’t know when Jude had gone to collect the suits and he had no idea how much they had cost. He hoped that his partner hadn’t spent too much on him in total; there seemed to be quite a number of additional gifts under the tree but, despite his prodding and shaking, they all remained a mystery to him.

On Christmas morning Dominic was awake and raring to get out of bed long before his partner was ready to face the day but Dominic’s childlike excitement soon overcame the older man’s desire for an extra hour’s sleep. While Jude made coffee in the kitchen, Dominic started rooting under the tree to pull out his suits.

“Can I try them on?” he shouted.

“Don’t start opening those presents until I get in there with you.”

“I’m not opening anything. I’m just asking if I can put on one of my suits.”

“It’s not sensible to wear a suit today. We’ll be cooking Christmas dinner and you don’t want to get a mark on the fabric.”

“I don’t want to wear a suit all day; just for a bit, to see what I look like.”

“Of course you can try them both on,” said Jude warmly, as he carried two steaming mugs into the sitting room and placed Dominic’s well out of harm’s way on the coffee table. He sat down to drink his coffee and watch his excited young partner tear at a carefully wrapped gift and take out the pinstripe suit. His obvious delight made all the previous anguish and distress over visiting the tailor pale into insignificance. Dominic shook out the garment and fingered the superfine worsted appreciatively before laying it over his arm with the intention of going upstairs to put it on. “Hang on,” said Jude. “Open a few more of these parcels before you put the suit on.” Jude put down his mug beside Dominic’s untouched coffee and selected two or three more parcels which he offered to his partner. Opening the biggest first Dominic found a beautiful pale pink shirt in the softest Egyptian cotton. The next package contained a pure silk tie in toning colours and finally he opened a pack of socks in shades from light grey to dark charcoal. “Now you’re ready to go and try on your suit,” said Jude.

While Dominic was upstairs Jude went back to the kitchen and began making toast. He was determined that they would both eat a light breakfast as it would be many hours before Christmas dinner was on the table. The toast was cold and Jude was beginning to wonder what was keeping his partner when a slow tread on the stair alerted him to Dominic’s return. He walked to the kitchen door ready to admire the young man’s new outfit but he was quite unprepared for the sight which met his eyes. Dominic was walking slowly down the hallway, with a relaxed stride. His head was held high, his shoulders were back and he’d slipped one hand in his pocket, turning the jacket back at that side to reveal the silk lining. He was wearing the new shirt and tie with the top button undone and the tie slightly loose. He looked like a model in a photograph for a glossy lifestyle magazine and, best of all, he knew it. “Oh, wow,” breathed Jude.

Dominic grinned; he knew what an impact he was making. “Thank you so much for the most fantastic Christmas presents,” he said.

“I could only give you the clothes,” replied Jude. “You’re the one who is making them look fabulous. I’m just delighted that I could give you something to bring you pleasure… although I don’t think I can let you out of my sight looking like that!”

Dominic did a catwalk twirl to show off his outfit from every angle. “I’m not going to be prancing around like this for anyone else,” he assured Jude. “This show is just for you.” Then, rapidly tiring of his preening, he said urgently, “Come into the sitting room. I want to give you your present.”

Jude came and sat on the sofa as Dominic directed, accepting the gift wrapped box which Dominic had retrieved from behind the tree where he had laid it for safety. He stood anxiously waiting as Jude carefully removed all the packaging to reveal a small, highly coloured pottery plate with very explicit decoration. Jude lifted it carefully out of its box and looked enquiringly at his partner.

“I wanted to get you something to make up for breaking your mother’s ceramic dog. I’ve never got over doing that; it must have meant so much to you. I know I could never replace it but this is something special, something ceramic, something to say how much I love you and how much it means to me to be loved by you.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Jude wonderingly. “Thank you for such a special and meaningful present.”

“Do you like it?”

“It’s striking, amazing, unique and, I suspect, very valuable. Dominic, love, is the artist who I think it is?”

“I’m so pleased you’ve recognised it. It’s so distinctive, isn’t it?”

“How on earth did you manage to acquire an original Grayson Perry? His work goes for thousands.”

“I’ve got my grandfather’s legacy. Mum transferred the money to me that weekend we went to see her.”

“Oh, Dominic, I’m sure she didn’t mean you to spend it all on me.”

“She said it was my money to spend as I wished. And anyway, I haven’t spent it all on you.”

“This must have cost a great deal of money.”

“I got it for a fair price and it should be a good investment. What else would I do with my money but leave it in the bank where it will hardly make any interest.”

“I don’t dispute that this may be a good buy. I just don’t see how I can accept something so valuable.”

“You made me accept the suits which I said I didn’t want,” Dominic pointed out astutely.

“That was different,” Jude tried to object.

“It’s not different at all,” asserted Dominic with confidence. “I want you to have this. I was so excited when I managed to acquire it for you. Nothing will give me greater pleasure than knowing you like it.”

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for us to possess. Can we agree to own it jointly? It will have to go on our house insurance. Can we say it belongs to us both?”

“If that will make you happy. I want us both to enjoy having it but in my mind it will always be my gift to you.”

“On that basis then, I’m honoured and delighted to accept your gift. We might have to be selective about who we show it to, though. Have you seen some of these images?”

“Yes, they’re fun aren’t they. I don’t think that guy will be going anywhere fast!”

“No, he’s pretty effectively immobilised. Grayson Perry must know a bit about bondage.”

“That’s why I wanted to get this piece for you. I’d already thought of Grayson Perry but when I saw this plate was up for auction I knew it had to be the one.”

“Did you, love? I wonder why,” observed Jude wickedly, his innocent expression deceiving Dominic totally.

“Well, I thought… you and I were… it seemed…” he blushed, unsure about how to describe an aspect of their dynamic which they’d never really discussed.

Jude took pity on him and went to retrieve another package from under the tree. “I was saving this one for last but I think now is a good time for you to open it.”

Dominic was glad to be rescued from his confusion and readily turned his attention to the ribbon and wrapping on the large and bulky gift which he’d prodded and shaken without becoming any the wiser as to what was inside. When the contents finally spilled out he remained momentarily baffled and then raised amused and delighted eyes to smile at his top. The package contained a collection of soft, white ropes in assorted lengths and thicknesses, all neatly bundled up. Dominic ran his hand over the thick, cotton cord and whispered, “Can we try them out?”

“I thought you wanted to wear your new suit,” Jude teased. “Surely you don’t want to undress again so soon.”

“You were the one advising me not to get my suit dirty,” said Dominic, cleverly turning Jude’s words to his own advantage. “I can’t imagine a better way to spend Christmas morning than tied up and at your mercy. I’m so glad we decided not to go to Mum’s until tomorrow.”

“Come and have some breakfast first. I’ll make some fresh toast and coffee. And we need to think about getting the turkey in the oven.”

“I’m not hungry and we don’t need to have Christmas dinner until this evening.”

“You’re having breakfast,” said Jude firmly, “and we’re not rushing into this until we’ve got one or two things very clear.”

Dominic risked a pout but followed Jude into the kitchen without further protest. He rummaged in the kitchen drawer to find their best linen napkins while Jude made a fresh pot of coffee and dropped sliced bread into the toaster. When Jude turned round he was amused to find Dominic seated at the kitchen table with one napkin tucked into his collar and another spread across his lap to protect all his new clothes. “Are you sure you’re ready to try something as heavy as bondage?” Jude enquired as he poured the coffee.

“You know I am. You’re not going to frighten me or give me flashbacks to that time with the caretaker, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I am worried about that. And you don’t know how you’ll react when you’re actually tied up. You need to be very clear about what to do if you feel uncomfortable or get in a panic.”

“I won’t”

“We either do this my way or not at all,” interrupted Jude firmly.


“No buts. You follow my rules on this. Is that clear?”

From the way Jude was looking at him, Dominic recognised that only one answer was acceptable. “Yes, sir,” he said with conviction and the traditional words of obedience served to settle him into a compliant frame of mind.

“I’ll try something very simple to begin with and if you want me to stop at any time you only have to say. We need to agree on a safe word and I’ll have a pair of bandage scissors ready to hand to cut you out quickly.”

“What kind of word?” Dominic enquired.

“It has to be a word that we wouldn’t generally use in conversation but which neither of us will forget. When you say it you can trust me to stop what I’m doing at once and, if necessary, to release you as quickly as possible.”

“But I do trust you.”

“I know that, Dominic, and thank you for saying it. But a safe word isn’t just for you. It means that we can both of us play comfortably, knowing that we won’t take things too far by mistake.”

“I see. Then how about Grayson? It’ll serve as a reminder of the day you got the bondage plate and I got the bondage ropes.”

“Grayson it is then.”

Dominic absentmindedly buttered his toast and coated it with marmalade as he imagined, with rising excitement, the forthcoming scene. Jude had to encourage him to eat and he waited until Dominic had consumed two slices and drunk all his coffee before he issued the instruction which the young man was waiting for. “Go upstairs to our bedroom. Get undressed and then kneel beside the bed to wait for me.”

Dominic ran up to the bedroom and hesitated as he took in the stark glare of the winter sunlight shining through the window. He decided that he would feel more comfortable with the curtains pulled so he turned on both bedside lamps and began to relax in their muted glow. He carefully hung his new clothes in the wardrobe and when he was stark naked he knelt upright, in full view of the door, with his hands behind his back and his head bowed. Jude had given him no specific instructions but the stance shifted him into his submissive headspace and he felt instinctively that this posture would appeal to his partner.

Jude gave him plenty of time to get ready and, by the time he came upstairs, Dominic had quite forgotten that he had chosen his position to impress his top, but his ploy still was successful. Jude halted in the doorway, with his arms full of ropes, just to admire the lithe and muscular body which glowed in the dimmed light. Dominic did not raise his head or shift his position and Jude experienced an intense thrill of pleasure at the sight of his partner demonstrating his readiness to offer total submission.

“Get on the bed and lie on your back,” he ordered and Dominic complied without hesitation. He laid out the ropes on the bed and selected the second longest which he doubled and looped around Dominic’s ankle. He worked fast and efficiently, pinioning Dominic’s legs together with an elegant set of restraints which stretched from his feet to the top of his thighs. Dominic relaxed totally throughout the process and allowed Jude to lift and move his limbs as desired. When Jude stepped back, Dominic was surprised to find that he was quite incapable of separating his legs, even though the ropes did not feel unduly tight.

Next Jude lifted his partner into a sitting position and tied his wrists behind his back, taking the opportunity to caress his upper body and murmur words of endearment, encouragement and praise. Then, taking the longest length of rope, which he again doubled, he wove an elaborate pattern of loops and knots around Dominic’s torso and arms, laying him gently down on his side when he had finished. He checked his partner’s extremities for any sign of chill which might indicate a restricted blood flow and he ran a finger inside all the bonds to check for undue tightness or chafing. When he gazed deeply into Dominic’s eyes for any indication of distress all he saw was a faraway look which showed that the young man was deeply immersed in the eroticism of their play.

Having finished the complex task of tying Dominic up, Jude was free to admire his own handiwork. The ropes were tight enough to make slight indentations into the fleshier parts of his partner’s body and Jude admired the play of his muscles as he shifted slightly in his symmetrically placed bonds. Dominic was enjoying the sensation of being totally immobilised, as well as the thought of being entirely at Jude’s mercy. His excitement was being communicated to the one part of his body still free to make unrestricted movement and Jude watched in fascination as the young’s man’s penis, which had been resting in a flaccid state on his thigh, gradually rose to a fully erect position without the benefit of any external stimulation. That gave Jude one more idea. It wasn’t what he’d planned for their first experiment with bondage but Dominic looked so beautiful and was so clearly enjoying the experience that he decided to complete the task.

He took the shortest and finest rope and attached one end to the bonds encircling Dominic’s hip, then wound it carefully around the top of the young man’s taut scrotum, making his balls stand proud of his body. When Dominic’s penis twitched in response to his partner’s light touch, Jude ran a firmer hand up and down the underside of the shaft before encircling the tip with his fingers to fully retract the foreskin. Picking up the rope again, he encircled the base of Dominic’s penis and, weaving back and forth, he looped it around the centre of the shaft and finished with a tie beneath the coronal ridge which served to accentuate the purple, engorged head.

Dominic was no longer in a state of detached fantasy but fully present in the moment. His ragged breathing betrayed his level of arousal and his eyes begged Jude to bring him to climax, although he remained determinedly silent. Jude took his time. He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hands over Dominic’s torso and thighs before using the tip of his index finger to rub away one sticky droplet which oozed from the tip of his lover’s penis. Dominic writhed and groaned but Jude didn’t touch him again, just talked to him quietly, describing in the most erotic language just how beautiful and desirable he looked, restrained and erect. When Jude touched Dominic’s genitals again, it didn’t take long before the pressure of his hand against ropes and flesh triggered such a powerful orgasm that semen spurted right across Dominic’s chest.

As the young man’s body slumped and his erection began to fade, Jude methodically untied the knots and unravelled the ropes which restrained him. Dominic’s torso and limbs were a dead weight to move as he lay in a state of sated exhaustion. Jude let him lie undisturbed as he rewound the ropes and then went to fetch a wet flannel from the bathroom. The touch of the damp cloth against his skin caused Dominic to open his eyes and grin delightedly.

Jude recognised his mood and asked light-heartedly “Are you ready to come and help in the kitchen? I’m feeling inspired to go and get that turkey trussed up!”

“Stuff the turkey and get into bed with me,” responded Dominic promptly. “I’m the one that needs stuffing.”

“What a very uncouth invitation for Christmas morning,” Jude objected but he was already getting undressed. Sometime later, when Jude himself lay in a state of contented lethargy, he could only marvel at a young man’s power of recovery as Dominic suddenly sat up and swung his feet to the floor.

“Come on,” he urged. “I’ve still got one more Christmas present to open.”

“But you know what’s in it,” Jude pointed out.

“I know but I want to try on my other suit now.”

“There’s no hurry,” Jude objected.

“Yes there is. I want to see what it looks like. I’m planning to wear it when we go to Mum’s tomorrow.”

“Do you really think it’s the best choice for a visit to your mother?” Jude asked gently.

“I don’t care. I want to show her how good I look in it. I want her to see I’m one of the cool guys now.”

Dominic’s unaffected joy and delight warmed Jude’s heart. It was the best Christmas gift of all.

 Pottery by Grayson Perry