— TUESDAY 8 JULY —
“Heeeeyyyyy…!” exclaimed 45-year-old Hortense in her joy as she turned and hugged the young student who had sidled up behind her on the station platform and tapped her on her shoulder. “I didn’t see you get out of the train. You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that, you know. Oh, you’re looking so well. We’ve missed you so much!”
21-year-old Stephen let his suitcase drop to the ground and returned her hug, then pulled back from the embrace. “Alright, alright,” he protested. “I’ve only been gone three months.”
“Right, and you’re not a spotty teenager anymore, so you don’t have to be embarrassed about hugging your mums,” retorted Hortense, playfully pushing the lad in his typical student attire of white teeshirt and grey sweatpants. “Linda’s back home cooking our supper anyway, so you don’t have to worry about getting smothered in kisses in front of a whole station full of people.” Hortense nonetheless stole a quick kiss on Stephen’s cheek and then let him go with a grin. “I guess you’re saving the kisses for Mr. Right when he comes along, are you?” she enquired. “Alright then, Prudy-prues,” she continued as Stephen responded with a slightly withering, but still friendly, glance. “Come on, then. The car’s round the back there. We’ll catch up with everything you’ve been doing on the way home.”
“Got a postage stamp? I’ll write it down for you,” replied Stephen as he picked up his case again and followed his companion around the corner in the direction of the station’s car park. His attitude was only one of mock-surliness, Hortense knew that, and he knew that she knew. Stephen’s relationship with Hortense had always been more easy-going than the way he got on with his biological mother, and Hortense’s partner, Linda. While Linda had always been just as caring and just as dedicated a parent as Hortense was for the son whom they had brought up together for the last twenty-one years, Linda could also be a trifle overbearing with Stephen, sometimes worrying about him needlessly and occasionally too nosey about what he was doing. Hortense had always functioned as a buffer between Stephen and Linda whenever this excess of parental concern had led to friction.
“No boyfriend to tell me about, then, Stevie?” asked Hortense as she drove the car out of the station and onto the road in the direction of their home. “Well, you’ve disappointed me. But Linda will be relieved. She’s been worrying about whether you’re using condoms.”
“Oh for goodness sake,” replied Stephen, and the two of them exchanged an amused glance.
Considering that his parents were themselves a same-sex couple, Stephen’s coming-out to them as a gay man had been less fraught with worry beforehand about how they would react than that of many of his friends in his college LGBT society. He had actually chosen to drop the information casually to his mothers at their wedding-day celebrations the previous December. Somehow the occasion of his parents now at last legally marrying each other, and therefore in a position to be treated on a completely equal basis in law as with any other couple after so many previous years of inequality, seemed a natural moment to inform them that he, too, would likely end up spending his adult life with someone of his own gender. His joyful newly-wed parents had reacted predictably with support, pride and hugs for Stephen in front of all their guests, and while the extra champagne was being summoned in the wake of Stephen’s announcement his biological mother Linda had whispered to him that she had always known he would be gay.
Hortense changed the subject. “What are your plans for the summer before you go back, then, Stevie?” She already had a good idea of what Stephen’s reply would be, and she had her reasons for hashing the subject out now in the car before Linda would have any chance to inadvertently scupper the idea which the two of them had for Stephen by being too overbearing and putting him off, as she was prone to doing.
“I want to make a serious effort to find another summer job,” replied Stephen. “Earn some more money.”
“Yeah, I guess financing the famous ‘gay lifestyle’ has got more expensive these days,” said Hortense dryly in a reference to the mythical phrase so often used by opponents of LGBT equality. “Any particular type of work in mind?”
“Well, I thought I’d hang around Grosvenor Park after dark and sell my body to all the dirty old men there,” said Stephen.
“Oh, Linda will be so proud of you! Yeah right. Come on, mate, give us a serious answer.”
“What do you expect me to say?” said Stephen. “I have to take whatever I can find, don’t I? It’s not as if there’s a casual summer job just waiting for me to walk into in every restaurant and shop on the High Street. I guess I’ll register with a few job agencies and see what they can find for me.”
“Do you reckon you’ll find something which pays – oh – say thirteen-fifty an hour selling merchandise at busy locations in the city, with nice daytime working hours?”
“Thirteen-fifty? Get real,” responded Stephen whose summer job at a bar the previous year, finally found after nearly two weeks of fruitless applications, had paid barely half of that rate.
“You’d take a job like that if you could find it?” persisted Hortense.
“Of course. I’d snap it up. What are you getting at?”
“Okay. You remember Benjy Jefferson from the year above you at school? Linda ran into his mother at the shops last week. Apparently he had a summer job last year selling merchandise, you know, teeshirts, mugs, books, that sort of thing, from mobile stalls in the streets in town. It was when that five-week drama festival was on at the Horton Centre, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. Go on,” prompted Stephen, his interest aroused. The Horton Centre was a huge complex which hosted large events just outside the city attracting crowds of visitors at its various festivals.
“Well, this summer there’s a big rock music festival there instead, starting in a couple of weeks and lasting most of the summer. From next Monday they’re already starting to sell all the fan merchandise for the bands which will be playing there. The items get sold from mobile stalls in the city centre to the crowds of shoppers. Benjy will be doing it again this year. He’s been promoted to a supervisor because they know him from last year, and apparently they’re looking urgently for students like you to fill the sales teams at the stalls. They’re expecting it to be really busy. Benjy’s mum is sure you can get a job there. There’s a meeting tomorrow afternoon for interviews and taking on new staff, and a general training day on Friday at their city offices…”
— FRIDAY 11 JULY —
Benjy Jefferson gulped nervously and kept his mouth shut as the trainer’s latest question was met by complete silence in the classroom.
“Come on, seriously,” insisted Rachel Sturper as she surveyed the blank expressions on her class of young trainee supervisors in their neat new uniforms. She repeated her question. “Think about it. What is the worst thing that you’re likely to hear from one of your staff members when you’re all up to your eyeballs coping with the crowds at the tills, keeping your stall stocked and making sure the money is coming in?” Her eyes focussed on 22-year-old Benjy who had provided more of the correct answers to her previous challenges than the other class members had. “Tell us, Benjy.”
This time, however, Benjy was looking as nonplussed as all his fellow trainees as they fidgeted in their seats in the warm classroom, the sunlight streaming in through the open window. “Um… How about ‘I’ve just given a customer too much change so my cash till will be wrong’,” he offered.
Actually Benjy privately had a good idea of the correct answer which Rachel had in mind and knew that this was not it, but he had his reasons for being unwilling to utter the words which his trainer was looking for.
Rachel shook her head. “Not what I had in mind. And we’ve covered what to do about money discrepancies already, haven’t we?” she admonished. “Something a bit more to do with your staff members themselves and the condition they’re in while on duty.” Her eyes rested on a female trainee. “Anna?”
“Someone might say they’ve forgotten their uniform hat,” suggested Anna.
“Well, that would have been obvious when they arrived for their shift, wouldn’t it?” said Rachel. “You’d have sent them straight back home to get it if there was time, or you’d have found a spare one for them to wear. No, it’s something more personal, more physical shall we say, than that.” Her eyes focussed on the lad who was sitting in between Anna and Benjy. “Kevin?”
Kevin glanced at his friend Benjy next to him with what seemed to be a slightly apologetic grin before supplying the answer whose gist Rachel had been anticipating. “You might hear: ‘I’ve got to go for a piss!'”
Anna, Derek, Simon and Josephine all laughed. Benjy cringed and avoided everyone’s eye. Rachel nodded her head. “Right, that’s what I was looking for. Though if he or she said it as crudely as that in front of all the paying customers, you’d need to reprimand them. Whatever, if someone tells you quietly that they really can’t wait until the break or the shift change and they need to go to the toilet now, you’ve got a problem. It will be luck of the draw if the relief crew are not too busy and can get to you in the van with a spare staff member, take the offending person to the toilet and bring them back again. They will not be pleased with either that person or you, given that they are just as busy as you are dealing with all the other problems as they arise.”
The general laughter had still not abated. Rachel put one hand up to quell the amusement and continued: “Okay, calm down everyone, it’s not that funny. It happens occasionally, even though all the staff are young adults who should be able to last out for a stint of two and a half hours. So, what do we …?”
She was interrupted. “Benjy, have you ever known that happen?” Josephine asked the lad sitting opposite her next to Kevin.
More laughter greeted this question. But Kevin, anxious to defend his friend who was now in danger of being the butt of the joke, intervened: “Leave it out, Jo,” he admonished. “It might happen to you one day, or to any of us,” he added, giving Benjy a supportive pat on his shoulder as he spoke. “And now that we’re supervisors I guess we’ll just have to wet ourselves in front of everyone and carry on working while we stand there in our puddle, because the relief van won’t be bringing another stall supervisor to take our place. Right, Rachel?”
Derek and Simon stopped laughing and both gulped slightly as they contemplated this scenario. The idea of being in charge of a busy stall and all of its staff, the stock and the cash takings, out in the middle of the city, another hour of your supervisor shift still to go, and finding that you could not hold your pee in any longer and would have to wet your smart supervisor-uniform trousers in front of all your staff and the crowds of customers, was not a pleasant concept to put it mildly. Everyone’s attention returned to the class trainer to see what she made of Kevin’s suggestion.
Benjy responded to Kevin’s pat on his shoulder with a brief, grateful glance back at his friend as he saw that the general amusement, which had been directed towards him, had been abruptly snuffed out. Even so, Benjy felt the blood rush to his face as he recalled the events of that morning the previous year when he and several of his current fellow trainees had been ordinary staff members working at the same mobile stall selling paraphernalia for the Horton Centre at a central location in town. As he had been driven out to their posting with Kevin, Josephine, Simon and one other staff member who had not come back to be a supervisor this year, Benjy had suddenly started to regret his large mug of tea at breakfast. During the first subsequent busy hour of work at the stall, his initial resolve to keep quiet about his discomfort and hold on for the full two and a half hours, before they would be taken back to base for a break, gradually changed into a nervous, clammy realisation that he would not be able to hold on for anything like that long. When he finally plucked up enough courage, clamped off his now very full bladder once again, blinked back the tears of pain and, at a moment when he had no waiting customers, sidled quietly over to his supervisor Jeanine and explained his problem, she reacted angrily, attracting the attention of his colleagues and a few customers at other tills as she asked him loudly why on Earth he had not “gone before”. Josephine and Simon both seemed to find it funny as Jeanine berated him and Benjy pleaded with her. The furious Jeanine finally summoned the relief vehicle on her mobile phone, sending the abject and red-faced Benjy back to his till at which a new customer had appeared in the meantime. The van took nearly a quarter of an hour to arrive with a reserve staff member during which time Benjy had become so desperate to relieve himself that he could not stand still at his till anymore. The short journey in the van back to their base was agony for Benjy, who was unable to respond properly to the driver’s friendly attempts at conversation, and then when the van drew up at the base and Benjy opened the van door ready to scramble out and run inside the building, he involuntarily released a long spurt of pee into his pants while he was alighting. The rest of the flood, barring a few more brief premature squirts on his mad dash into the building, cascaded into the toilet in a lengthy, explosive release barely thirty seconds later, but there was little to be done about the obvious wet area on his red uniform trousers which extended part-way down one leg as well as around and underneath his groin. This large wet area was noticed at once to general hilarity amongst his colleagues when he was finally brought back in the van. His friend Kevin helpfully made a large pile of some of the merchandise in front of Benjy and suggested he should keep himself hidden behind it so that the customers could not see his wet pants, but Benjy’s humiliation was total. Josephine and Simon then later spread the word of Benjy’s little accident around the workforce, so that Anna, Derek and many others all came to hear about it.
Kevin’s suggestion now, that as supervisors they would have no option but to wet their pants on duty if they could not wait during a shift, drew a nod from Rachel. “Right, you won’t get any relief as supervisors. But you’re not going to let yourselves get into that situation in the first place, are you? And you’re going to try to make sure that none of your staff get caught short on duty either, so you don’t have to bother the relief crew who might be too busy to help anyway.” She paused, then asked: “So how are you going to make sure your staff can wait for their breaks or the change of shift without having to use the toilet while on duty? Derek?”
“Tell them to go for a piss when they arrive for work,” said Derek.
“Right,” said Rachel. “It sounds embarrassing, I know, but I do recommend that you do it. Before you all set off to your stall, ask the staff members who have been assigned to you if they still need to go to the toilet first. Sometimes staff, especially if they are new, will not mention that they need to go, and they will be quite grateful if you suggest that everyone goes before you head out.”
Simon asked for some further clarification. “Alright, but suppose you’ve warned them to go beforehand, you’ve done everything you can, but then during the shift some guy still comes up and tells you he needs a pee. Do you call out the relief van for a replacement, or do you just tell him to hold it?”
“Use your discretion,” replied Rachel. “If you think he’s genuine and in distress because he really can’t wait, then call the van out. We don’t want any wet pants on duty, after all. But don’t let them think they can just get an extra break whenever they like by going to the toilet. Toilet breaks are at shift changes, that’s how we work. You are fully within your rights to tell them to wait until then.”
In another room of the same building, Stephen’s attention was snapped back from his surreptitious observation of the way the tight polo-shirt of the guy of his own age sitting next to him showed up his pecs and how the bulge in the lad’s groin filled out the soft trackies he was wearing as he heard the trainer Paul say his name and realised that he had been asked a direct question. Paul had chosen him at random from the group of sixteen new recruits all being trained in the same room.
Two days earlier, on arrival for his interview and contract signing at this building which was a short walking distance from where he lived, and where they would all also be congregating before starting work the following Monday, Stephen had noticed this same lad being interviewed for the job and had exchanged a friendly word with him. The guy had introduced himself as Liam. On spotting Liam again today and realising that he would be in the same group, Stephen had made sure he sat next to him.
“Er… yeah, I guess so,” replied Stephen uncertainly, his short-term memory having registered sufficient details of the structure of the trainer’s question to realise that it was intended to be answered by either “yes” or “no”.
A groaning noise emanated from a number of the other trainees with whom Stephen would be working, and he immediately realised that he had plumped for the wrong answer. “I mean no. No, of course not,” he corrected himself hastily, self-consciously avoiding the amused looks from the other fifteen trainees.
“Right,” confirmed Paul. “And why not? Why is that something you should never do?” Then, as he realised that Stephen was floundering, he added impatiently: “Come on, Stephen, we covered this half an hour ago. Tell him, Emma.”
As the female sitting opposite responded with the answer which Paul had been looking for, Liam turned towards Stephen and stared at him with a quizzical grin on his face. Stephen smiled back at Liam, putting on a hopeless expression, lost for a moment in the handsome features of the hot guy sitting next to him, and then changing his hopeless expression into a responding grin as Liam smiled. Stephen suspected that Liam had by now cottoned on to the fact that he had the hots for him, considering that Liam had looked back at him occasionally while Stephen had been staring at him during the training session, and if that was indeed the case then Liam’s continued friendliness now might just be the promise of good things to come.
Paul, however, was by now putting another slide onto the overhead projector, Liam was turning back to pay attention, and Stephen realised that he had better do the same and concentrate on repairing the impression of incompetence which he had just given if he wanted to avoid being dismissed from his new job before it had even started.
Paul was just winding the hour of training up with some closing remarks when there was a tap on the training room door. Paul glanced through the glass of the door and observed his colleague Rachel Sturper and a small group of last year’s staff members, this year’s new supervisors, all ready and dressed in their new uniforms. “Bang on cue,” Paul remarked. “I see your supervisors are here ready to meet you and organise you into the separate groups which you’ll be in when you start on Monday.” He raised his voice: “Come in!”
Stephen and Benjy instantly recognised each other, and each said a brief “Hi” as they set eyes on the other. They had been fellow pupils at the same school before they had each gone their separate ways on reaching the age of eighteen some years before, though they had not been especially close friends even when still at school. However neither had changed much in appearance in the meantime, so they were able to identify each other at once. The fact that each lad’s respective mother had informed him of the likelihood that the other would be there also aided the recognition process.
It quickly became clear that Stephen would be one of Benjy’s own proteges who would be starting for a short half-day shift of three hours on Monday afternoon. And so, to Stephen’s delight, was Liam. Benjy seemed a little nervous in his new role as supervisor as he brought his new group together, consisting of Stephen, Liam, Emma who had supplied the correct answer when Stephen had made a fool of himself in the training, and a guy of about twenty-four called Daniel. By the time the introductions had been made and Benjy had told his new group where they would be working and what they would be selling, there was a slightly awkward silence as Benjy appeared unsure what to say next, so Stephen kept the atmosphere light by suggesting a meet-up before their first shift on Monday. “I’m staying with my parents just a couple of minutes’ walk from here, at number seven Lifford Lane, so how about we all meet up there first for a bite to eat before coming on here for work? Linda does some really nice home-made lemonade. Real lemons and all. She makes it by the jugful! It’s great for hot weather and will set us up for our shift. Would you all like to come round at, say, twelve o’clock?”
Benjy declined, explaining that as a supervisor he would need to arrive at work earlier than the others to set things up. Privately, however, Benjy was motivated by his awareness, from bitter experience, of the dangers of drinking lemonade, tea or anything else just before a shift during which toilet visits would be out of the question. But Emma, Daniel, and – to Stephen’s particular delight – Liam, all accepted the invitation. And when all the staff had finally been issued with a uniform in their size, an outfit consisting of a red and yellow patterned shirt, red linen trousers, and a colourful hat depicting the Horton Centre’s logo, this all being a rather less dignified ensemble than the more soberly smart uniform which Benjy was wearing as their supervisor, the new recruits were finally dismissed with the prospect of meeting up again in three days’ time for their first working day together.
— MONDAY 14 JULY —
Stephen’s heart leapt as he heard the doorbell. “You’ll want to get that, Stephen!” he heard Linda calling from downstairs. During the previous five minutes he had been staring at himself in the mirror, trying to get his Horton uniform to sit just right over his chest, groin and buttocks, and wondering to himself if he looked as good as Liam surely would in his uniform. Stephen had spent three days almost obsessively thinking about Liam, recalling his friendly grin, the firm-looking muscles under the tight shirt, the tantalising bulge in the tracksuit pants. “Don’t worry about him, he’s just nervous about starting work,” Hortense had assured Linda who had remarked on Stephen’s general withdrawn demeanour, but in reality Stephen had hardly been contemplating the demands which the new job would involve at all. Only Liam, and the prospect of seeing him again and working with him, mattered to Stephen now.
To Stephen’s private disappointment, the two people he encountered standing on the doorstep after he had rushed down the stairs were Emma and Daniel who had turned up together in their similar uniforms to Stephen’s, but he greeted them affably and got them both seated in the kitchen in front of a big plate of fresh sandwiches and a large jug of Linda’s lemonade which she had agreed to make provided that Stephen went out and bought the lemons. Stephen was just beginning to fret that Liam would not appear when the doorbell sounded again and Stephen left his two colleagues talking to Hortense and Linda while he ran to open the door. As he greeted his idol with a slightly shy grin, Stephen could not resist gazing at the much fantasized-over muscles and contours, this time clad in the red and yellow Horton uniform, before bringing the lad inside to join the others.
The sandwiches and lemonade were duly appreciated, and Linda refilled the jug as Stephen’s guests ate and drank. “You seem to like that,” she remarked at one point to Liam who was about to pour himself a third glass. “It’s fine, there’s plenty more, have as much as you want,” she continued as Liam looked apologetic for a moment. Thus encouraged, Liam helped himself liberally once again, later on taking a fourth glass of the lemonade and complimenting Linda on the refreshing taste as he did so. The forty-five minutes before they would all have to leave for the short walk to their work passed very quickly in the friendly atmosphere.
But when it was finally time to go, everything suddenly went wrong. Linda, her maternal instincts engaged, looked at Stephen in concern. “Now, Stevie, you’re going to do what you’re told at work, aren’t you?” she said in front of everyone. “Take care with that money in the tills, and keep your uniform clean, won’t you?”
Hortense tried to intervene. “Linda, he’s a grown adult, he knows what he’s doing…” she began.
Stephen had ignored Linda’s remarks and was attempting to usher Emma, Daniel and Liam out of the room ready to head outside. But Linda then unwittingly delivered the hammer blow. “Oh, and have you been to the toilet?” she asked him.
Stephen looked back at her in horror. Hortense snapped: “He’s not a child, don’t embarrass him!” But it was too late. Stephen cringed and smarted as he saw that Linda’s last question had resulted in all three of his new friends turning away and snorting as they tried to stifle their amusement. Liam, Stephen noticed in his mortification, was doubling over in an apparent fit of choking as he shared Emma’s and Daniel’s mirth. Hortense attempted to repair the damage, wishing all four of the young people good luck with their new work as she accompanied them to the outside door, but the subsequent conversation on the short walk to work was dominated by the general hilarity caused by Linda’s parting question to Stephen. Liam in particular was imitating Stephen’s mother’s voice, saying “Have you been for a wee-wee, Stevie?” and similar variations on the theme. Stephen attempted to shrug it all off with a sheepish grin at his three colleagues, but the switch of tone from the friendliness during their light lunch to this teasing now, especially coming from the beautiful, hot guy about whom Stephen had been fantasizing for the entire weekend, cut deeply into him.
The ribbing only finally died down as the four of them rounded the corner and approached the Horton premises where they would be reporting for work. A question from Daniel to the other three about where they all thought they might be posted this afternoon for their busy work selling items of interest to music fans, succeeded in wiping the grin from even Liam’s face. On entering the building and encountering a nervous-looking Benjy who kept double-checking that the boxes of merchandise on the floor agreed with the items on a list which he had clutched in his hand, the conversation about the work they would be doing that afternoon continued by way of quizzing their harrassed young supervisor. Stephen relaxed and got into the spirit of the work, which initially involved loading the boxes into a van, enjoying his role of helping Liam carry the heavier items and watching Liam’s uniform shirt ride up to expose part of his bare back as he lifted boxes. All trace of the hilarity surrounding his mother’s parting question had been forgotten.
Stephen was then especially frustrated and angry when Benjy, who had ascertained that all the stock was loaded and the driver was ready to depart to take them all out to their sales stall, recalled an instruction from Rachel’s supervisor training the previous Friday, nervously adjusted his uniform tie, put on his best authoritative voice, and enquired of his group: “Now, does anyone need to go to the toilet before we set off? I suggest…”
Benjy was startled to be interrupted by a squeak of laughter from Emma, an astonished and amused “Not you as well!” remark from Daniel, and a glare from his former acquaintance from school, Stephen. Liam, clearly of the opinion that the joke had not yet worn thin, then repeated his imitation of Linda’s voice with another rendition of “have you been for a wee?” in Stephen’s direction. Stephen hoped that the smile which Liam gave him as he said this could be seen as continuing the friendliness which had reignited between the two young employees while they had been carrying the boxes of stock together, and that Liam was not just laughing at him too blatantly. Stephen tried to smile back at the lad he fancied so much, but the atmosphere was indisputably dominated by the general amusement at Stephen’s expense.
Forty minutes after the group had arrived in the van and stocked and opened the stall, and a total of about an hour and twenty minutes into their working afternoon, Benjy locked the safe in which he had deposited the banknotes from all four tills, handed Emma a couple of bags of coins to replenish her till which had run short of change, and then approached Stephen who had just finished a sale of a couple of teeshirts. The next customer in Stephen’s queue waited patiently as Benjy interrupted the proceedings and spoke to Stephen. “Alright, Stephen, would you like to take over from me now? You know what to do? Just keep circulating by all four tills, keep everyone’s working area stocked up, and when you spot someone selling anything large, or obviously a gift, then go and help them wrap it. Start with Liam over there: I think he’s almost through his stock of CDs.” Benjy turned to the next customer in Stephen’s queue as Stephen nodded and obediently relinquished his till to his supervisor. “Hello, sorry to keep you waiting, what can I get for you?”
Stephen wandered over to Liam who was just taking a twenty pound note from the woman at the front of his queue and opening his till to extract her change. Stephen helped Liam by picking up the small desktop ornament which the woman had chosen, asking her “Would you like it gift-wrapped?” and grabbing a sheet of coloured paper and a twist of sticky tape when she nodded her head.
“Cheers,” muttered Liam to Stephen as he saw that Stephen was wrapping the purchase, and then he turned back to give his customer her change and move on to serve the next one. Stephen was gratified at this brief communication from Liam, taking it as a sign that Liam was not intending to use the embarrassing parting words from Linda as a sign that he should disrespect Stephen. It was possibly even an indication that Liam actually liked him. However, Stephen detected a distinct uneasiness about Liam in his general demeanour, and this prompted him to express the rapport he felt he had with the guy by touching him gently on the back as soon as he had finished with the next person in the queue and speaking to him again. Perhaps Liam was finding the work exhausting or boring, or maybe the hectic, non-stop nature of their work was simply getting to the lad, thought Stephen. Whatever it was, Stephen felt a powerful urge to support Liam and help him feel okay again.
“Benjy said you’re nearly out of CDs, Liam. Shall I get you some more from the back?”
Liam nodded shortly, replied “Yep,” and turned to the next person in the queue.
Stephen reinforced the friendliness which he felt he was reigniting with Liam by giving him another pat on his back before turning away and going to collect a selection of the various recordings of the rock bands who would be appearing at the Horton Centre during the coming weeks. When he returned with an armful of CD boxes, Liam was busy explaining the different prices of various printed bath towels to someone, so Stephen simply squatted down to one side of his colleague and started placing the CDs, sorted by artist, in the various boxes on the shelf in front of Liam’s knees as he stood there behind his cash till.
The close proximity Stephen now had with Liam as they both worked was allowing Stephen to get a scent of him, and he could not resist pausing in his stacking of the CDs in the boxes to take another look at the way Liam’s nicely rounded buttocks and bulging groin filled out the red linen uniform trousers, this time from close up, as Liam continued to attend to his customers’ needs, oblivious to the fact that Stephen was looking at him. As Stephen turned back to continue stacking the CDs he felt his shoulder then brush against Liam’s thigh. The touch was not in any way rough, and Liam should not have been overbalanced by it, but to Stephen’s surprise Liam seemed to react as if he had received a slight electric shock, moving sharply away from Stephen and banging his groin into the side of the work surface in front of him. “Sorry,” said Stephen automatically, then watched for a moment in silence as Liam ground his crotch against the formica surface, twisted his body, then bent his knees slightly, his legs clamped unnaturally together, his groin still pressed against the surface. Someone then evidently handed him another payment because he opened the till, necessitating a move of his body backwards away from its position up against the formica to make way for the till drawer. As Liam placed the money in the till with one hand, he then used his other to continue applying the pressure in his groin, this hand concealed from his customers by the till but in full view of Stephen down below who continued to stare while he stacked the shelf.
“Anything else you need, Liam?” asked Stephen as he finally stood up, the new CDs neatly stacked in the appropriate boxes. Stephen had the distinct impression that something was not sitting right with Liam, and he wanted to give the guy a chance to say anything he wanted to.
Liam had just finished with another sale, and the next person in his queue was just looking at the various items, unsure what to buy. “Well,” said Liam, “any chance you could take over from me for a bit?”
“Take over?” repeated Stephen. “Isn’t Benjy supposed to decide that? He’s put me on stocking shelves and general support.”
“Yeah, but I’m going to have to go and find…” began Liam. However his customer had just made up his mind and was approaching him again with his choice of purchase, interrupting what Liam was saying to Stephen.
Stephen reluctantly took his leave, noticing that both Emma and Daniel were equally busy at their tills and would presumably be able to use his support, and that Benjy was glancing across at him as if he was wondering why he was spending so much time with Liam. Asking himself idly what it was that Liam thought he had to go and find, Stephen did the rounds of the other three tills for some five minutes, stocking their shelves and wrapping a few purchases. He was just delivering a box of souvenir mugs to Benjy’s till when Benjy turned round from his customer and addressed him briefly. “Go and see if Liam needs anything, will you?” he said. “I spotted him moving away from his till a moment ago when he still had customers waiting. I don’t know what he was playing at.”
Stephen glanced up and looked across at Liam. If he had been absent from his till a moment ago as Benjy had said, he was back there now, selling teeshirts and CDs as before. Stephen made his way over to him. The merchandise by his workplace looked adequately stocked, so Stephen guessed that the problem had something to do with what Liam had started to tell him when he had been interrupted before.
Liam glanced round as Stephen came up to him. “My colleague will take over,” he said to the young woman at the front of the queue who was choosing a CD from the selection.
“What is it, Liam?”
“Take over, will you? She wants you to see if we’ve got any…” began Liam.
“Liam, I can’t. Benjy put me on support duty and the others need me too. What’s the problem, anyway?”
Liam dropped his voice to a whisper. “I’ve got to run and find somewhere to pee,” he hissed. “I can’t last out any longer. Please, man.”
His last two moves were uttered in a particularly urgent and pleading tone, and he then made to leave, but Stephen took control decisively. “Hold on, I’ll tell Benjy,” he whispered back. “He’ll phone for a reserve. We can’t leave the stall understaffed.”
The girl had set her eyes on a particular boxed set to which she was now pointing. “Can I see that one, please? ‘No holds barred’. That’s one of their early collections, isn’t it?” she enquired.
Liam gave Stephen a last pleading look, but Stephen touched him on the arm, murmured “I’ll be right back”, and left him with the customer.
Benjy was busy wrapping a purchase when Stephen hurried back over to him, but he looked up enquiringly. Stephen spoke in a low voice. “Liam needs to pee very badly,” he said.
Benjy could not conceal his annoyance and dismissed the problem brusquely. “He can wait till we finish. I told you all to go before. You go and help Daniel!”
“But can’t you phone for…?” began Stephen. He could see Liam glancing over at him and Benjy, a panicked expression on Liam’s face.
Benjy cut Stephen off by presenting his customer with the wrapped item and turning his attention to the next person in the queue. Stephen paused for a moment and then persisted in a low voice. “Well, are you going to say that to Liam yourself, because I don’t actually feel like telling a guy who’s absolutely bursting for a piss that he can’t go to the toilet for the next hour or two.”
“Then don’t tell him. Go and help Daniel, his queue’s far too long!” hissed Benjy before returning to attend to his customer.
Stephen turned away. He started to make for Daniel’s till as instructed, but at that moment he locked eyes with Liam again. The lad about whom Stephen had been fantasising for the entire weekend was staring at him like a deer caught in the headlights. His customer was looking at Liam quizzically and trying to point to her intended purchase, but he had turned away from her. As Stephen watched, Liam then bent his knees and descended slightly into a semi-crouch, all the time staring back at Stephen with the same desperate expression on his face.
Stephen observed that the process of selling the merchandise had temporarily stagnated in Liam’s vicinity and acted quickly, ignoring Benjy’s instruction and hurrying back over to Liam’s till. Liam’s customer was pointing at a hat with the name of a music artist emblazoned on its rim. “Have you got that in anything other than green?” she asked Stephen. “Red suits me best.”
“Yes, I think so,” replied Stephen. “I’ll have a look for you.” He moved in front of his colleague who had frozen in his position, then crouched down in front of Liam’s till to investigate the box of hats. He spent a few seconds rummaging in the box.
The frozen figure in the red and yellow uniform standing behind Stephen soon brought himself into action again. “What did he say?” Liam had crouched down with Stephen in front of the shelves under the till, and his question, referring to their supervisor, was whispered into Stephen’s ear.
Stephen stared back at Liam’s handsome face and hesitated, unwilling to be the bearer of news with which his desperate listener would not be able to cope. Liam’s expression, as he observed Stephen’s hesitation, then changed from the anxious, pleading expression of before to a grimace of agony. He bit his lip, knelt down on the floor, then buried both of his hands into his groin.
Stephen gulped as he observed the evident crisis which Liam was now dealing with, felt his own bladder twitch in sympathy as he watched Liam’s hands pressing to fight against the obviously overwhelming urge to pee, and then instinctively wrapped an arm around Liam’s shoulders as his good-looking colleague continued to kneel there. Then Stephen imparted a slightly toned-down version of Benjy’s unfavourable reaction. “He said we’re a bit too busy right now, Liam.”
Liam’s response was to drop his head down in resignation. Stephen watched for a few more seconds, just long enough to observe the first jet of hot pee manifest itself on the crotch of Liam’s red uniform and spread rapidly to one side, then he grabbed a red hat from the box in front of him, gave Liam a supportive squeeze around the shoulders, ruffled the hair on the back of Liam’s head briefly, stood up, completed the sale of the hat at Liam’s till, and moved on to the next customer. He could see out of the corner of his eye that Daniel, Emma and Benjy were stealing glances in his and Liam’s general direction, unlike the customers who were mercifully oblivious to what was happening down behind the central cash till and the small lake spreading out over the floor around the still kneeling Liam.
Stephen remained on support duty for another half an hour before, under Benjy’s instruction, swapping places with Emma. Having ushered the soaking wet Liam back up to a standing position, after the latter had spent a minute or so wetting his pants, and then having handed the customers at the till back to him, this half hour was long enough to grab a large pile of free Horton Centre newspapers and spread them surreptitiously around the floor in the vicinity of Liam’s feet to absorb the large puddle, then to help Daniel with the wrapping to speed up his queue, next to spend some time restocking both Emma’s and Daniel’s shelves in front of them, and finally to attend to Liam once more about twenty minutes after he had left him. This latter task became necessary when Stephen’s sharp ears picked up a slight splattering noise while he was giving Emma a box of mugs for her to sell. He traced the source of the noise and spotted that Liam was now releasing another lengthy cascade straight into his red uniform trousers and getting them even wetter all down the legs while he carried on serving his customers. Stephen acted quickly, grabbing another pile of newspapers from the stock and hurrying over to Liam to add them to the saturated newspaper already covering the floor, then giving Liam a quick hug and muttering “don’t worry about it, mate” as Liam stood there wetting his pants for a second time while taking the customers’ cash as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary was happening.
After closing the stall and loading up the van with the unsold stock, all five salespersons were fairly quiet during the short journey back to base in the van. Liam simply shut his eyes in shame and blocked all other senses out as he sat there on another Horton newspaper in his sopping wet uniform, and while Emma, Daniel and Benjy all seemed embarrassed about the situation and unwilling to chat very much, Stephen felt enormous compassion for the soaking lad sitting next to him and an overwhelming desire to comfort him. Stephen himself had once, a year before, wet his pants sitting in the middle of a row in a crowded theatre during a lengthy performance of a Shakespeare play, the attendance of which was part of his set work at college, and he could vividly remember the panic which he felt when he realised that he could not hold on any longer followed by the crushing shame as he felt all the pee come out into his underwear and jeans as he sat there. Having experienced that, Stephen was well aware of the hell which Liam was going through now.
Stephen was not surprised when Liam plunged straight into the men’s toilets on arrival and remained in there, and he reluctantly decided to leave the lad alone for a while and give him his privacy. But after Stephen had spent about twenty minutes chatting with various other new colleagues who had also finished work for the day, colleagues from both his own group and from a couple of other groups led by the supervisors Simon and Josephine, and after hearing from those supervisors a certain story about Benjy which tied in with what had happened that afternoon, Stephen then finally took his leave and entered the toilets to find Liam.
Stephen put his head round the door of the kitchen. “Hi,” he said to his two mothers who were seated at the table, an expectant look on their faces after having heard their son coming in through the front door.
“Well?” said Hortense. “How was your working day?”
“It was okay. Busy,” replied Stephen. Then he added: “Liam’s here.”
“That’s nice,” said Linda. “He’s after yet more lemonade, I guess. Well, don’t leave him out there. Bring him in here!”
“Um, no,” replied Stephen. “I don’t think he wants to come in.”
“What?” said Linda.
“Actually the lemonade came out the other end at the wrong moment when we were at work,” explained Stephen to his puzzled parents. This was greeted by a silence. Stephen filled it with some more information. “We were rather hoping we could use the washer-dryer. Liam’s not in any state to get the bus home at the moment. He tried to get his trousers dry under the hand dryer in the toilets when we got back to base after we finished, but that hasn’t really worked.”
Hortense was the first to understand what Stephen was talking about. “I see. Poor guy. Alright, take him up to your room, get his wet things off him and leave them outside your door. I’ll pick them up in a bit and put them through the wash. Let him shower if he wants to, and give him your dressing gown to wear. Oh, and tell him it’s nothing to worry about.”
“I’ve already said that,” replied Stephen with a smile. “Thanks, Hortense.”
Upstairs in Stephen’s bedroom, Liam waited until Stephen had shut the door, then he covered his face with his hands and burst into tears. The emotions which he had been holding back for a full two hours since his disaster now manifested themselves in several deep, racking sobs as he felt his colleague’s arms wrap round him and hold him tightly. Stephen had shown so much care and compassion towards Liam since the unthinkable had happened that continuing to hold back the tears just seemed unnecessary.
As he buried his face in Stephen’s shoulder, Liam’s sobs died down sufficiently to listen to what his colleague was saying. “You don’t need to worry, Liam,” Stephen was saying earnestly. “Everyone’s just sorry this happened to you. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And you couldn’t help it.”
“I can’t go back tomorrow,” mumbled Liam through his tears. “I’ll have to chuck the job in.”
“Nonsense, of course you can go back tomorrow,” said Stephen. “Did you know the same thing happened to Benjy last year?”
“Benjy peed himself on duty last year, just like you. Everyone knew about it at the time. But then they still promoted him to supervisor for this season.”
Liam stopped crying, raised his head and looked at Stephen in bewilderment. “How do you know?” he asked.
“I got talking to a couple of other group supervisors after we got back to base, while you were in the toilet. You know Simon, the supervisor of the group that was staffing the stall in Linton? Well, when he heard about what happened to you, he told us that Benjy had to get his supervisor to call the van out last year when he needed a piss very badly while he was on duty. And when he got back to work after being taken to the toilet, everyone could see he had wet himself. Maybe he did it in the van. He certainly didn’t last out till he got to the toilet, anyway. Frankly I’m amazed that Benjy refused to call the van out for you today, considering that he knows all too well what you were going through.”
Liam wiped his eyes. “It would have been too late anyway,” he muttered. “I’d never have made it back to base in time. By the time I told you about it, it was pretty much about to come out already. That’s why I wanted you to take over my till. I needed to run into an alleyway before it was too late.”
“Well, you get your wet things off now,” said Stephen. “And try to relax. You’ve had a horrible afternoon and I’d say you deserve a bit of TLC.”
— FRIDAY 5 SEPTEMBER —
Stephen stretched out on Liam’s bed next to him, then winced and squeezed himself in the groin while Liam watched him intently. “I think you’re going to win this time,” he said to his boyfriend. “I can’t hold on much longer.”
“Yes you can,” said Liam. “I’m the one who’s going to burst. We’ve still got another can each to drink up, anyway. You’re not allowed to pee until you’ve drunk that one!”
“Hey, did you notice that Daniel got off the bus about four stops too early?” said Stephen, regaining control of his bladder for the moment and changing the subject. “He lives further on by the library. Did you think he had to pee and couldn’t wait any longer.”
Liam nodded. “Yes, I’d noticed him squirming about on the bus-seat and looking worried. I reckoned he’d had too much beer.”
“Did you count how many times he went for a piss in the pub?” asked Stephen.
“At least four, I reckon.”
“And did you see any evidence of leakage in his jeans when we were on the bus afterwards?”
“Not really,” said Liam, touching his boyfriend gently in the groin area. “I was too busy looking at you.”
The two lads had just returned from an evening out at the pub with Emma, Daniel and Benjy. The five summer workers, whose group had remained intact for the entire seven weeks of their contract, had been celebrating the end of their working summer together. But Liam and Stephen had further plans to continue their evening together in the manner to which they had already become accustomed.
“Aaaghh! Don’t do that. I’ll piss all over your bed!” exclaimed Stephen, wincing in agony. Liam had replaced the gentle fondle in Stephen’s groin with a firm squeeze.
“No you won’t,” replied his boyfriend. “You can hold it longer than I can. Let’s drink the last cans now.” He pulled the ring on each of the two cans of drink which were sitting next to a large selection of empties on his bedside table. Then he looked at his friend with misty eyes. “You know, I don’t know what I’ll do when you go back to college next week. I’ll miss you so badly.”
Stephen looked back at him lovingly. “Don’t be silly, we’re going to see each other every single weekend,” he remarked.
Then Stephen winced again. “I can’t drink that, you know,” he said firmly, referring to the can of drink which Liam was proffering. “You’re going to win this time.”
Stephen got up stiffly from the bed, stumbled over to stand on the towel which had been placed on the floor under Liam’s bedroom mirror, and then shuddered as his boyfriend ran his hands all over him.