The cobbled alley was slippery with salt spray. This was the oldest part of the town, and no amount of heritage grants would straighten out its winding lanes or level off their treacherous plunge from the main street to the docks. Falmouth’s dark old heart beat strongly here, and it seemed an appropriate place for Lee Tyack – TV psychic, medium, bartender and, since October, Gideon Frayne’s lover – to have made his home.
He had a flat above the big marine chandlery, accessible only by this lane. The Christmas lights had made it down here too, but reflecting off the wet cobbles and the varnished paintwork of the chandlery’s two huge ship’s figureheads – staring eyes and startling bosoms – a different atmosphere prevailed, a mermaid’s idea of Christmas perhaps, ethereal and strange.
Gideon stopped for a moment, resting one hand on a figurehead’s tumble of carved curls. Yes, the lights were on in Lee’s flat. Doubts assailed Gideon, a shoal of hungry fish. Lee’s first formal visit to Gideon’s home up in Bodmin – to visit his dog, ostensibly – had been a success. His second and his third had gone so well that Gideon had had to invest in a new bedframe. A fourth, and he’d been anticipating roof repairs, but before that could happen, Lee had been called away to a conference in Holland. From there he’d gone straight to London to take part in a TV series on paranormal investigation. He’d known he’d be back sometime early this week, and so Gideon had booked his leave. But Lee hadn’t texted him to say he was home. It had been almost six week. If Gideon hadn’t been a big hard-headed copper, he’d have been feeling shy.
An odd thump resounded in the lane. It shook the windows slightly in their frames, although it hadn’t been loud, more like a sudden change in pressure. Then a voice began. It was harsh and hectoring, rapidly rising to a shout.
It was coming from Lee’s flat. Gideon’s concerns about his welcome evaporated. He ran for the street door.
He took the steps of the concrete stairwell three at a time. The voice stopped as soon as his fist hit the door, and a few seconds later Lee opened up. “Gideon!” he said, with a kind of explosive relief, as if he’d been expecting something much worse. “I’m so glad to see you. Come in.”
Gideon followed him into the living room. The flat was plain and modern, open plan, and as far as he could see, it was empty. “Are you okay? I thought I heard someone shouting.”
“You... You heard that?” Lee gave himself a shake and smiled, closing the door behind them. “Er, yeah. I had the radio on.” He looked Gideon over. “So, if there had been someone in here shouting, you’d have come blazing in ready to thump them?”
Gideon hoped he would have spoken to them first, reminded them about noise nuisance and domestic affray, but he wasn’t sure. Lee looked pale and tired. “If necessary, yes.”
“You’re so bloody perfect. Do you know that?”
Gideon strode to meet him. Lee was an inch or so shorter than he was: strongly built but on a lighter scale, and it was no trouble to Gideon to lift him till his spine crackled, hoist him off his feet and swing him gently round in a half circle. “I’ve missed you,” he said, voice muffled in Lee’s hair. “I was in Falmouth seeing my parents, and I saw your lights, but I wasn’t sure – ”
“Didn’t I tell you to come here any time? I’m home sooner than I thought I’d be, or I’d have called you.” He gave Gideon a breathtaking squeeze in return, pulled back far enough to kiss him. “How are they – your mum and dad?”
“Oh, he won’t change much now, unless it’s to get worse.” Gideon blinked away memories of his father’s care-home bedroom and breathed in Lee’s warm scent to drive away the smell. “My ma, though – we’re talking more than we have done in years. She’s almost getting used to my casual chat about my boyfriend.” He hesitated over the word. It didn’t seem quite apt, for the very adult man in his arms, but he was short on terms. My gentleman companion might have worked a century ago, but even Falmouth wasn’t that far behind the times. And partner – no, not yet, not after two intense Halloween days and three visits by a man to see his dog.
Lee didn’t seem to mind the label. He was watching Gideon – not for the first time – as if he were a source of intense satisfaction to him. “Not too casual, I hope.”
Oh, no. Gideon had to clench his fists and steady his voice every time he pronounced Lee’s name. “Far from it,” he said hoarsely. “How was London?”
“Good. Sympathetic production crew. We did a few private homes and a historical site or two. I had to come back early to do a stage show tonight – Old Petroc Hall rearranged me.”
“Oh. Tonight? I’ll get out of your hair and –”
“Don’t you dare bloody move.” Lee backed up the command with a firm grasp of Gideon’s jumper. “It isn’t until seven. We can grab a couple of drinks, have some dinner, or...” Their eyes met. Lee’s pupils had expanded in the lamplight until their unsettling jade green had almost disappeared. “Oh, Gid. It’s been a long six weeks.”