Changes 13

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The weeks which followed Ian's return to work, and his 'outing' of himself to a couple of young associates at the firm, were busy to say the least. Although his workload wasn't all that great, thanks largely to the overseeing of Maggie Jones, the young solicitor was constantly on the hop nonetheless.

Dave Johnson had immediately launched into the process of having Ian apply to be granted Letters of Administration over Geoff's estate by the Supreme Court. The necessary advertisements had been placed, and Dave had compiled a list of Geoff's assets from searches at the Land and Property Information Office and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, as well as enquiries directed to all the major banks and the Stock Exchange. Ian whistled when he was shown the Inventory of Property.

"I am still amazed that he had this much behind him!"

"There's probably more," Dave commented. "But this is as much as I've been able to locate so far. Some of the corporate holdings are a little complicated, so there's further digging to be done on them. And we still have to factor in the various bank accounts in false names. I'll be working with the police on that front, although I don't know if we'll see much of the proceeds."

"That's fine," said Ian, a little sadly. "That money should rightfully go back to the State anyway, to help pay for some of his illegal activities. There's more than enough left over."

Dave was also working hand-in-hand with Jim Rogers, the criminal law specialist, who in turn was in regular contact with the authorities. Jim had confirmed that in his opinion, although the police needed someone appointed as Geoff Carruthers' Administrator, they were anxious mainly from the point of view of making an application to garnishee the bank accounts under the Proceeds of Crime laws; although, in his opinion they may have some difficulty in being successful in just such an application. Jim had been keeping an 'ear to the ground' at the same time over the official attitude towards Ian, and his involvement with Geoff.

"As far as I can tell, they've accepted Ian's version of events, and see him as nothing more than an innocent party. Besides, they're still relying on Ian's testimony concerning what Mr Carruthers told him," Jim reported to a meeting with Maggie Jones and Ian one morning.

"Will they be able to use it?" Ian asked quickly.

"Difficult to say," Jim replied. "I know if I were acting for the defendants I'd certainly be challenging the admissibility of your evidence, but I also know I'd be damned worried about it. It all depends on the judge they get."

"How about the murder trial?" Ian said quietly.

Jim smiled wryly. "That one is about as open and shut as you can get. The police have an eyewitness - you. And your being a lawyer is going to make it damned hard for the defence. I wouldn't be surprised if you find that they plead it out, and you never have to go to Court!"


In fact, Ian had that very probability confirmed only a few days later. Michael Sciutta telephoned him at work and asked if he could see him. Ian agreed readily enough, and when Michael arrived at his office, Ian greeted him warmly.

"Detective Sciutta, how are you?"

"Well, thanks," Michael responded, pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of Ian's tone.

"What can I do for you?"

"Well, I actually have a bit of news for you, and an update if you like. As you know, I've been acting as a liaison officer for your matter with the Federal Police in relation to the murder case ..." Michael looked at Ian closely, concerned about his reaction to the mention of Geoff's murder, but was relieved when Ian appeared calm. "The prosecutor in Canberra phoned me this morning, and asked me to let you know that the defendants have pleaded to slightly lesser charges - they'll still be going down for around 15 years each, but it means you won't have to re-live the whole thing in the witness box."

Ian felt a huge weight lift off his shoulders. It was only then that he realised just how much he had been dreading the re-hashing of the events in the Capital in minute legal detail before a judge and jury. "Thanks," he said with feeling. "I wish the term was longer, but I'm so relieved not to be facing that trial. You said there was something else?"

Michael relaxed as well, surprised that the lawyer was taking it so easily. "Yes, just an update on the other matter - we'll be formally arresting and charging several people today over the information we got from Carruthers' records and your statement. Any trials will still be a few months away, but I thought you'd like to know that some action is taking place."

"I am, thanks!" Ian said. "Detective, ..." he began.

"Please, 'Michael'," smiled the cop.

Ian smiled back. "Michael, I just wanted to say thanks for all your help. I know you're just doing your job, but you've been really good to me, and I haven't always appreciated it, or let you know. Maybe it doesn't mean much to you, but it has certainly meant a lot to me."

Michael Sciutta's heart leapt into his throat. Could the solicitor actually be starting to see that Michael might be a real human being, and not just a cop? Was there some chance that ...? The detective coughed awkwardly at this new twist to his thoughts, and was about to say something when Ian's intercom buzzed. Surprised into silence, he simply nodded as Ian responded to the interruption.

"Yes, Jill?"

"Call for you on line 3, Mr Sterling," came the electronic voice.

"Okay, thank you." He turned to face the policeman who still stood, a little uncomfortably, before him. "Will that be all Detective?" he asked, a little dismissively.

Coming back to reality, Michael nodded dumbly. "Uh huh. I'll let you know of any more developments."

"Thanks, again," said Ian as he ushered Michael out of the door, and turned back to pick up the call.

With a combination of embarrassment and renewed anger - at himself - Michael hurriedly left Ian's office and made his way back to the Police Centre. 'Business and pleasure - they just don't mix!' he told himself, over and over again.


If the truth be known, Ian had no idea that Michael may have been interested in him from anything more than a purely professional point of view. As far as Ian was concerned, Detective Sciutta was simply the cop assigned to the case, and Ian was grateful that he had been 'discreet' in his dealings with the young lawyer. It never even occurred to him that Michael might be gay!

Ian's lack of perception was understandable. He was still coming to terms with the whole issue of his own sexuality. He had only just 'come out' to his closest friends - before beginning his relationship with Geoff, Ian had been very much in the closet, and even now he remained unfamiliar with many things which someone who had more experience would have understood completely. Despite his determination to be open about himself, he was still somewhat unprepared for becoming the centre of attention over something as political as gay rights, but the incident with the two researchers had resulted in the entire staff becoming quickly aware of Mr Sterling's sexual preference - nothing matches the office grapevine for efficiency in spreading gossip. And this was juicy gossip indeed!

The manner in which his newly confessed preferences affected Ian at work came as something of a surprise as well. He had guessed that he may be subject to some scorn, possibly even ridicule and ill-feeling. There was certainly a hint of that in the air, but it was much less frequent, and much less open than he had anticipated. Apart from one or two people, whom he had long suspected of bigotry, avoiding him or making furtive comments to each other when they thought he wasn't aware, Ian found himself less the subject of dislike than he had believed would be the case. Instead, he seemed to be attracting more notice amongst the staff for his opinions on issues for which he was completely unprepared.

People seemed to want his thoughts on every matter from the sublime to the ridiculous, for no other reason than that he was gay. He found himself being stopped in the corridors and asked his opinion on everything from the reasons behind the demise and bankruptcy of the Gay Mardi Gras to one young female clerk who wanted to know whether he thought she should wear dark shoes or light shoes with the skirt she twirled in front of him. His look of complete loss must have been hilarious, and when he finally asked, dumbfounded, why on earth she thought he would know, he was blithely reassured that 'gay guys are sooo more fashion conscious than anyone else!'. He was still shaking his head at the latter when he walked past Jill's desk into his office.

"You okay, boss?" she asked at his confused countenance.

"You won't believe what I've just been asked," he said, still perplexed.

When he repeated the conversation to her, his secretary carefully stifled a laugh. "It's the old stereotypes," she smiled knowingly. "There's almost no way to avoid them."

Ian was about to reply when a knock sounded at his door, followed by the face of one of the young interns, Eli Jacobsen, who backed off quickly when he saw Ian was speaking with Jill.

"Yes, Mr Jacobsen, what can I do for you?" Ian summoned him back again.

"Ah, well, Mr Sterling, you see, I'm doing a dissertation as part of my studies, on the inequities between heterosexual and homosexual couples under the law, and I was wondering if you had any opinions I might quote on the issue of gay marriage?"

Ian's mouth fell open in surprise, while behind him it was all Jill could do to hold back a snigger.

"I ... uh ..." Ian stammered, lost for words.

"I mean, do you think that having the right to marry would be as important for gay couples as, say, the right to inherit superannuation benefits from their partners, or the right to adopt children? Is being able to get married such an important issue that gay couples really would want to fight for it before other matters?"

The young man looked earnestly into Ian's face, full of expectation.

Ian looked at him, then around to Jill for support, but found none there, then back to the young man seated before him. "I, uh, can't say that I've given it a lot of thought," he finally stammered out.

"But what about on a personal level?" Eli persisted. "Would it be more important to you to be able to marry your partner, or to be able to pass on any rights to him for a share in entitlements after you died?"

"As I said, I hadn't really given it much thought," Ian repeated. "I don't have a partner, myself, so it hasn't become an issue for me personally." His face began to cloud as he thought again about how he was declaring to the Courts and the world that he and Geoff had been partners. Catching sight of the student opposite, still waiting for some words of wisdom, Ian felt a sense of annoyance, of anger almost, rising within.

"Mr Jacobsen, I am hardly the person to be asking about these issues. I am not a 'gay lawyer'. I am a lawyer, who happens to be gay! Gay rights and gay issues are not my field of expertise under the law, and just being gay hardly gives me the standing or even the right to comment on them."

The intern's face fell, and he began to fidget with his hands. "I'm sorry, Mr Sterling," he stuttered. "I just thought ... uh ...I hope you don't think I was prying into ... uh, oh gosh, I'm sorry," he repeated.

Ian's mood softened again, as he looked less harshly on the young man. "Mr Jacobsen," he began, then stopped. "Eli ...". The other man looked up again, his expression brightening. Ian went on. "I'm not saying these aren't important issues. They are! But my opinions are no more or less valid than anyone else's. I'm not an expert in the area. Hell, I haven't even formed my own opinions on a lot of these matters yet, so I doubt that I should be used a source for comment in your studies."

"Yes, Sir, I see," Eli murmured. "I'm sorry to have intruded."

"Don't get me wrong, Eli!" Ian continued. "There are solicitors in this office who are very much qualified to give opinions on such things, but I'm not one of them. I am very happy to hear that you are looking into these issues as part of your curriculum, and I wish you well." Eli's face brightened again, and he permitted himself a smile, which Ian returned warmly enough. "But perhaps you and your colleagues might do well to remind yourselves that simply being gay does not make someone an expert on gay related legal issues. In this office, I am a lawyer first, and gay second. And out there in the community, people are people first, whether they are gay or not. I'm sure there are just as many points of view amongst gay people as there are amongst straight people - being gay doesn't define you, its just a part, sometimes a very small part, of who you are."

As he finished, Eli looked again into his face. "Thank you, Mr sterling," he said sincerely. Ian looked a little blankly at the surprising response. "Do you mind if I use that?"

The solicitor chuckled. "No, of course not. Feel free," he smiled.


As Eli Jacobsen excused himself, Jill sighed out loud.

"See what I mean?" Ian asked. "Am I the only gay person in this entire firm?"

"Oh no, not by a long way," she answered, "but you are the 'man of the moment' so to speak. And you are rising to hero status among a number of the younger staff members, so it's logical that they will come to you for your advice or opinion."

"But can you see why I feel so exasperated by the whole thing?" Ian pleaded for her understanding.

"Yes," she grinned, "but I can also see that that young man has a serious crush on you!"


"Oh, come on, Ian," she remonstrated with him. "He was hanging on your every word. His attention was complete, and involved a lot more than just wanting your opinions. I saw serious infatuation in those eyes. All you needed to do was click your fingers, and he would have been yours. If you wanted a little romance, a quick note to our Mr Jacobsen would guarantee a date, I promise you."

"Oh, shit!" Ian said with vehemence, before looking up quickly.

Jill held out her hand. "Don't apologise. I know he's not for you. But the idea of seeing someone may not be such a bad thing ...?"

Ian groaned. "No way! I couldn't face that."

"Maybe not yet," Jill acceded, "but the time will come. You can't cut yourself off from love forever. Geoff has gone, and you need to get on with your life, and the longer you leave it, the harder it will be." She watched with difficulty as Ian grimaced, feeling something of the hurt he had known already.

"I don't know if that time will ever come," Ian said quietly.

"It will, Ian, it will!" she promised soothingly. Then to lighten the mood, she stepped away and stood at the door, about to leave. With a barely concealed grin, she threw a parting comment at him. "You may not realise it, boss, but when you came out you broke the hearts of more than a few of the younger female staff ..." she waited for her words to sink in, and added, "... but I suspect there may be more than a couple of the junior males who suddenly saw a whole new world of happy possibilities opening up!"

"Out!" he shouted at her, but grinning as he did, crunching a sheet of paper into a ball which he threw at the empty space where she had stood. He allowed himself a smile, before shaking his head yet again, and wondering if he would ever get used to the changes that his life had undergone.


Jill wasn't the only person close to Ian who believed it was time he started to get out and about, to meet people again. Nick and Tina had come to the same conclusion, but knew that they needed to be very careful in how they went about broaching the subject with him. He was still quite fragile, and they certainly didn't want to upset him. But they also felt that Ian's determination to lock himself away from social interaction, to avoid any chance of meeting another man, just wasn't healthy.

It had taken some time, but over the months after Ian returned to work, Nick had managed to persuade him to re-start their regular Friday evening drinks. Initially, Ian would simply stand and let Nick do all the talking, which was kept very much to neutral topics like football or the weather, but slowly Ian began to liven up, and with Nick's silent, careful encouragement, he was becoming more like the old Ian, at least in terms of their conversations. Nick could now safely count on some animated discussions on political issues, or boisterous laughter at shared jokes, as long as he kept away from the taboo topic of Geoff Carruthers, and any suggestion that Ian should be on the lookout for a romantic interest in his life.

The first time that Tina came home from one of her 'girls-nights-out' to find both her men at home, sleeping off the effects of too much alcohol, she was overjoyed. Nick was snoring loudly, sprawled across their bed, partially undressed but under the covers. She smiled widely, and carefully opened the door to the guest room. Sure enough, Ian was curled up as well, his clothes relatively carefully folded over a chair in the corner. The following day, Tina tried to make a good show of being annoyed and disgusted at their antics, but she simply couldn't hide her pleasure at this return to the good old days.

The next morning, she was the first awake, and made sure she had plenty of strong coffee, toast and juice at the ready when she started on the two of them.

"C'mon, Leonidis," she called harshly through the open bedroom door. "Get yourself out of bed and face the music!" To Nick's growled harrumph she grinned widely, before turning the handle on the other bedroom door. "You too, Sterling," she yelled. "Don't try to hide in there, it's time to get up!"

Ian appeared a few minutes later, looking sheepish and dishevelled. "Coffee?" he begged.

"Help yourself - you know where it is!" Tina declared. "Nick, get up NOW!" she shrilled, as Ian covered his ears and directed a baleful look at her.

"For fuck's sake, woman, have you no pity?" Nick hissed as he bumbled his way to the table and sat heavily in a chair, his face falling into his hands.

"Nope!" she chuckled. "If you can't handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen!"

"I don't want to be in the kitchen," Nick muttered. "I want to be back in bed!"

"Tough," said his wife. "If the two of you want to go out drinking then you have to be prepared for the consequences."

"Sorry, Tina," Ian spoke at last. "It was my fault. We just seemed to keep going and before I knew it, we were back here and in a pretty bad way. I should have known better. I guess I just needed to let off a bit of steam."

At that, Tina could continue her charade no longer. She threw her arms around Nick's neck, hugging him to her, then let him go and did the same to Ian. "It's okay, boys. Truth is, I'm just so happy to see you back to your old tricks, I couldn't be happier!"

Ian smiled weakly at her. Nick lifted himself from the table long enough to look carefully at his wife, before grumbling. "Well, do you think you could possibly be happy AND quiet? My head is killing me!"

Finally, she took pity on him, delivering both men hot coffees, and glasses of water with aspirin to ease the pain. She looked from one to the other, unable to keep the smile from her face as she sat down and made them confess all the details of their drinking session.

"Well, at least I know you looked after him," she clucked in mock disapproval to Ian, nodding her head in Nick's direction. "You could always have just left him to get home by himself, and heaven only knows where he would have ended up."

"You know I'd never just leave him by himself," Ian said reprovingly.

"Maybe you should," Tina responded. "It might teach him a lesson. And besides, you need to think of yourself for once."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you can't spend all your time watching over my husband. You should go out for yourself occasionally ..."

"Huh??" Ian said, not comprehending.

"Ian, you're not likely to get anyone wanting to start up a conversation with this big lug hanging around, are you? Especially in the kind of bars you two frequent."

"Meaning?" said Ian suspiciously now, although he had a pretty good idea where Tina was heading.

"Meaning that you might want to spend some time in one of the gay bars." Before he could give voice to his indignation, Tina quietened Ian with her hand. "I'm not saying you have to find 'Mr Right', but maybe a one night stand couldn't hurt, to let off some steam, as you said yourself."

Ian's anger subsided quickly enough, and he sighed. "No, I'm not ready for that yet. I couldn't face the whole pick up scene. Besides, Nick and I still have a few bridges to mend. I don't know about taking him into a gay bar." He smiled at the thought.

"Hello ...?" Nick said at last. "I'm a person too, you know, and I'm right here! Who says I couldn't handle a gay bar?"

Tina winked at Ian, her face at an angle where Nick couldn't see the signal. "Might do him the world of good," she mused. "Show him he's not the irresistible god he thinks he is!"

Ian grinned back. "Either that, or he might end up being taken home by someone, while I miss out!"

"Enough, both of you," Nick said with pretended outrage. "Or 'Mr Neanderthal' here will hit you both over the head with his club!"

The three friends shared their joke and settled into comfortable silence as they sipped at the coffees and let the headache pills do their work. Eventually, Ian looked up at the couple sadly.

"Guys, I know what you think, and I know what you're trying to do. But I'm just not ready yet. It's too soon ..."

"It's okay, Ian," said Tina. "Just take your time, but remember that we're here for you if you want to talk, or want some support. And you might be surprised at how someone new can help you heal after what has happened."

Ian looked doubtful. "I don't know," he said. "I don't think I could ever let someone get that close to me again. I'd always be wondering if they were going to just leave me, like ... `he' ... did."

"You have to take that chance," Nick joined in. "Geoff's been d..., - he's been gone almost four months now. If you sit around moping, you run the risk of going back to the old ways, when you were always alone, always the odd one out. But you're not going to avoid that if you don't go out, and go out to the kind of place where you can meet someone. If you want me to come along I'd be honoured. All jokes aside, I don't have a problem with us drinking in gay bars ..."

"I know you don't, mate," Ian said with a smile of accepting friendship. "And I appreciate the offer. But not yet. It's going to be hard enough to find someone who can measure up to Geoff anyway."

Nick opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it. This wasn't the time to remind Ian of just how low an opinion Nick had of Geoff Carruthers. Fortunately, Tina stepped into the breach, suggesting a morning walk along King Street for some 'retail therapy' before brunch in one of the cafes. Both men groaned at her in false dismay, and soon the three were in convivial disagreement over how to spend the day, Ian's love-life shelved yet again.


"A party!" Tina declared to Nick when Ian had left them to make his way home later that afternoon.

"What? What are you talking about? What party?" Nick answered.

"That's how we get Ian back into circulation," she replied. "Without it being too obvious. We have a party, and invite a few 'eligible men' who might interest him."

"He'll see straight through it!" Nick pronounced.

"Not if we're careful," she disagreed. "We'll use my birthday as an excuse - it's just a few weeks away. But if you pretend it's a surprise party, and get Ian to help organise it, he'll never suspect."

"How do you figure that?" Nick asked, although he was beginning to warm to the idea.

"Because the party is for me, you'll have to invite some of my friends from work. That way we can quite innocently include David and ..."

"David!?!" Nick interrupted. He knew Tina's workmate well enough. "He's not just gay, he's so ... camp! Surely you don't think Ian would be interested in him?"

"No, of course not! But if we invite David, I can arrange for him to ask a friend or two along, who may be more Ian's style. I'll let David in on the plan, and I'm sure he'll know some people who are possibilities. Besides, Ian knows David as well, so there's a connection there already."

"Hmmm," Nick mulled over Tina's plan in his head. "I see what you mean. We'll still need to be careful. If Ian thinks there is any kind of set up, he'll bolt!"

"I know. Even if it doesn't work, though, we might still get Ian thinking along the lines of finding a new friend. That's the most important thing."

"Okay, we'll do it!" Nick decided.

"Great," Tina replied.


Nick contrived to ring Ian at work during the following week, following the rehearsed story he and Tina had concocted. He casually mentioned that he was thinking of throwing a surprise birthday party for Tina, but that he wasn't sure if he could manage it. Ian thought it sounded like a wonderful idea, and instantly volunteered to help. That was exactly what Nick and Tina had hoped - it just added to the whole deception. Ian could hardly accuse them of setting him up if he involved himself in it. Nick and Ian got together the next Saturday to plan the event, with Nick going over his ideas - it would be a fairly simple party at home, with pre-cooked food on trays for guests to help themselves, and a generous spread of various beverages to keep the conversation well-oiled.

"What about the guest list?" Ian asked.

"Umm, oh, the usual crowd," Nick answered off-handedly, but eagerly waiting for Ian's response.

"No, we'll need to do better than that!" said the lawyer, thinking aloud. "You'll have to ask her other friends - the girls she still sees from school, even some of her work people."

"Do you think so?" Nick asked innocently, all the while congratulating himself.

"Sure. You get onto um - what's her name? - the one who still lives with her parents?"

"Melissa," Nick said.

"Yep," Ian went on. "You get onto Melissa and ask her to ask the others from that group. If you want, I'll call that guy she works with - David - and get him to ask the people he thinks she'd like to have at the party."

Nick couldn't believe his luck. This was going better than he had hoped. "Okay, if you think that's best," he said non-committaly.

Later, when he told Tina, Nick could barely restrain his laughter. "It was so strange, Tina," he said. "here I was, wondering how to raise the subject, and instead, not only does Ian do it for me, he even volunteers to ask David!"

"Wonderful," Tina said. "I haven't said anything to David yet, so I'll leave it as a surprise - that way the reaction will be genuine when Ian speaks to him. Then I can fill him in on the plan."


Ian rang Tina's office the next day, and asked to speak with David. When the other man came on the phone, Ian suddenly found himself a little nervous. David had always made him feel uncomfortable, possibly because he was so openly and obviously gay, back when Ian was still trying to hide it.

"Hello, David, I don't know if you remember me, but my name is Ian Sterling. I'm a friend of Tina Leonidis ..."

"Oh yes, of course, how are you?" David enthused. "Tina mentions you all the time. In fact, I hear you've finally managed to throw open those old closet doors, darling! Welcome to Oz, Dorothy! Now what can I do for you?"

"Unhhh ..." Ian stuttered. He was completely unprepared for David's effusive babble. Slowly, he regained his composure. "Actually, it's about Tina's birthday ..." Quickly, and without giving the other man much time to speak again, Ian outlined the plan for a surprise party, and asked David if he would come, and if he would ask some of the people he worked with, the ones he felt Tina would like to have attend, to come as well. "Remember, this is supposed to be a surprise, so don't let on to Tina!" he finished.

"Faaaabulous," came the response down the line. "I'll be there. And I know just the ones to ask. You can count on about 10 of us, luv, if you're taking numbers."

"Oh, no not really, it's more a drop-in type of affair, but thanks anyway," Ian replied. He quickly went on to give David the details, time and date etc. "Okay, so we'll see you there then."

"Looking forward to it, daaarling!" David shrilled as he rang off.

Within minutes, Tina caught David giving her a wide grin. Quickly she cornered him.

"I'm guessing you've spoken to Ian Sterling in the last hour or so," she said without preamble.

"Who?" David answered, his eyes wide.

"God, David, it's lucky this is no surprise party after all. You're hopeless! Remind me to never let you in on a secret I don't want repeated," Tina laughed.

"But, I thought ..." David now looked genuinely shocked and confused.

Tina sat down with him and outlined her plan for Ian. "Of course it IS my birthday as well," she finished. "So there is a real party."

"Ooh, this is even better," David chuckled, clapping his hands together with glee. "So, what kind of man do we think Ian likes?"

Tina stopped to think for a moment. "Mostly quiet, I guess, but with a bubbly side to him. Someone who isn't too 'over-the-top', but not in the closet either. Someone who knows when to be discreet, and when to take the lead, and draw him out of his shell. Ian's a lawyer, and a bit on the conservative side, so he's not going to want a party animal. My guess is that he's going to fall for the strong silent type ... David, are you following me?"

"Yeah," he said, his voice quieter than normal.

"What's up?" asked Tina.

"It's just occurred to me, darling - that you definitely are NOT describing moi, are you?"

Tina smiled gently, and put her arm around David's shoulder. "I'm afraid not sweetie. But I didn't think you would have been interested anyway."

"Not interested? Girlfriend! That lawyer friend of yours is one dishy package. Who wouldn't be interested?! Handsome, homey and well off. Dammit, with my luck he's probably hung too! Oops, mustn't talk like that in front of the het girls."

"Oh, Davey, darling - don't be disappointed! I'm sure there's a man out there for you. I didn't even know you were looking." Tina laughed with her friend as she sympathised with him.

"Maybe I haven't been looking in the right places," David wondered out loud, then brightened again into his usual persona. "Okay, so the solicitor likes his men bootch - we can do that. You just leave it all to me, honey. They don't call me the yenta of Oxford Street for nuthin'! Here comes 'queer eye for the gay guy'."

"Thanks, darling, I owe you," Tina grinned as she kissed his cheek.

"Remember that when I come to collect!" David laughed.


The day of the party arrived quickly enough. By arrangement between themselves, Nick stayed at home to prepare the house and to greet the guests, while Ian asked Tina to come with him to look at some new sofas he was thinking about buying. It was a fairly lame excuse, but Ian was just relieved when Tina agreed, and he didn't think to question how easily she accepted the invitation. He managed to keep her away from the house until the appointed hour without difficulty, and congratulated himself on a job well done as they drove back to Tina's home.

A little self-consciously, Ian held back when they arrived at the house, as Tina unlocked the front door and wandered inside, calling for Nick. With a rush of noise and clapping, the word 'Surprise!' resounded from within, and Tina was engulfed by a mini cyclone of enthusiastic well-wishers. Apart from herself, Nick and David, everyone else truly believed that it was indeed a surprise party.

David raised an eyebrow at her as he drifted in to offer his congratulations. Leaning close, he whispered in her ear. "Great acting! If I didn't know, I would have sworn you really were surprised!" She winked knowingly at him, before being swept away again. He continued his journey through the sea of smiling faces, until he found Ian standing with Nick near the main entrance.

"Hello, gorgeous!" he said in a bad imitation of Barbra Streisand.

"Hi, David," Ian and Nick replied in unison.

"Wonderful idea. I always love a party, don't you?"

"Sure," grinned Nick.

"Thanks for coming," Ian said, a little nervously.

"Oh, I wouldn't have missed it, handsome," David grinned. "Now save me a spot on your dance card for later on, alright?"

Ian smiled uneasily. "Uh, yeah, sure," he answered.

"Good, now that's a promise, and I'm gonna hold you to it!" David warned.

"Okay, but I should get back to helping with this party," Ian said, excusing himself and making his escape into the kitchen. For the next hour or more, he busied himself with getting food on trays and offered around to the guests, or checking and re-filling drinks, or just generally trying to make sure that Tina's party was a success. Feeling exhausted, and a little crowded, he made his way through the laughing groups to the back door where he found some quiet on the verandah, and sat down for a rest with a drink in hand.

Tina spotted Ian making his way outside, and cornered David. "Okay, so what have you done?" she asked with a grin.

"Well, my dear, observe yonder group," David exclaimed with a flourish, indicating three of the girls they both worked with, chatting to a tall man Tina didn't recognise, but who appeared just a little uneasy. "Voila Morgan, a good friend of mine, who is currently an unattached, relatively straight acting, nicely conservative queen. As ordered!"

"What have you told him?" Tina asked worriedly.

"Not much. I just asked if he would like to join me at a party for a friend. If I'd told him I was setting him up for a date he wouldn't have come. Now, watch the master at work!" David looked again to where his friend stood, and caught his eye, motioning him over. "Morgan, this is Tina, the birthday girl."

"Hello," Morgan said politely. "Thanks for letting me come."

"You're welcome," said Tina, "The more the merrier. Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Yes, thanks, even though I feel a little out of place - don't know anyone other than David here."

"Sorry about that handsome," David jumped in. "Listen, get yourself another drink and find us a seat outside on the verandah. I'll be out in a minute and give you a break from the small talk."

"Okay," Morgan smiled, making his way toward the bar.

"See?" said David with an exaggerated wink. "They'll be best friends in no time."

Unaware of the set-up, Morgan followed David's advice and poured himself a drink, before making his way outside. As he stepped through the doorway, he caught sight of Ian sitting lazily on the edge of the deck, leaning against a support pole. The handsome young man immediately caught his attention.

"Um, sorry ..." he coughed. "Didn't mean to intrude."

Ian looked up and smiled. "No, you're fine," he said. "I was just taking a break from the chaos, catching my breath."

Morgan risked a longer, more intense look. He liked what he saw. "Mind if I join you then?"

"Be my guest."

"It gets a bit difficult in there sometimes, doesn't it?" Morgan mused. "Making small-talk, trying to look interested when you don't really follow what the crowd is talking about. I can't tell you how often I feel like a shag on a rock at these parties."

"Yeah," Ian chuckled. "I know exactly what you mean. It's like there's some kind of 'in-joke', and you've missed the punchline or something. That's when I just have to get away, collect my thoughts."

'I'll bet!' thought Morgan. "So are you hiding from your wife, girlfriend, out here?" he fished, suspecting the answer. His instincts were working overtime, concentrating on the attractive man lounging beside him.

"Oh, no," answered Ian, becoming distant again. "I'm definitely single. Tina's husband, Nick, is my best friend. We put this surprise together for her, and I'm just slowing down now after all the panic to get it going."

Morgan was sure his feelings about Ian were correct. "I'm Morgan," he said, offering his hand.

"Pleased to meet you. My name's Ian."

As they shook, Ian felt a warmth in the firm grip, and looked upon this man with renewed interest. There was something about him that Ian just couldn't place ...

"Do you work with Tina?" he asked.

"No, just met her," Morgan replied. "I'm a friend of David, who works with her. He asked me along."

"Oh, I see," Ian said, realisation dawning. "Are you David's partner then?"

"Oh, no, not at all," Morgan laughed quickly. "Just a friend. But you know how it is, sometimes you like to know you have a 'kindred spirit' around."

"Umm, yeah, I guess so," agreed Ian, not quite understanding exactly what was implied.

The two men began to talk, sharing stories of feeling out of place at various gatherings, and moving on to discover a mutual interest in movies. They had been chatting together for almost half an hour, when Morgan offered to replenish Ian's drink.

"Thanks - Scotch and Dry," Ian said, as he handed his tumbler to the other man. While Morgan made his way inside again, Ian tried to examine his feelings. There was a strange sensation in his mind. It was almost as if Morgan were trying to pick him up. 'But how can that be', Ian asked himself. 'How would he know I'm gay?' Maybe he's just being polite, and I'm reading too much into it. Besides, I don't know if I could do anything if he is interested.'

When his newfound acquaintance returned, Ian smiled up at him, still confused about his feelings. But Morgan easily relaxed him, made him feel good, confident. It was as if he felt that Morgan was complimenting him with his interest, and it made Ian feel special, important. He hadn't felt like that since ... since Geoff!

Their conversation went on, as they became more affable, laughing and joking now, both exhibiting all the signs of a new friendship being born. First David, and later Tina, sneaked a look onto the verandah, and both happily reported that Ian and Morgan appeared to be getting to know each other. It looked as though the plan had worked, and beautifully.

For more than two hours, Ian and Morgan had talked and laughed together on the verandah, oblivious to the crowd inside, or the passing time. Occasionally Ian felt a nagging doubt, a flicker of uncertainty, but it was overwhelmed by the feeling of contentment he experienced at finally being able to relax so completely with someone he didn't know, but who seemed to share his feelings and his worries. He was warming to Morgan quickly, more than happy to have met him, and in such unexpected circumstances. As they talked, the two men moved imperceptibly closer together, until they sat side by side, their legs rubbing together, the warmth of each felt by the other. Morgan was paying close attention to Ian now, confident that he had found a bed partner for the evening, hopeful even that there might be more to develop later on.

In a moment of easy silence, he looked up, then lazily rested his arm across Ian's shoulders.

"Look at that, you don't often see the stars so brightly in the city! Aren't they beautiful," he whispered.

Ian looked up and nodded, surprised at how right Morgan was. He lowered his gaze again, and turned his face towards his new friend, so their mouths were but centimetres apart. Their eyes locked in a long stare, and slowly but determinedly, Morgan moved forward until his lips met Ian's. His eyes closed then, and for a second, the other man returned his kiss as a wave of excitement washed over the pair.

But suddenly, the lawyer pulled away, coughing and spluttering, panic written across his face.

"I'm so, ah, sorry, Morgan, I shouldn't have ... I don't know what I was thinking ... I, I just can't!" he spluttered, backing away and looking around as if checking to see whether they had been caught.

Morgan's confusion was as complete as Ian's. "But, ... I mean ... I thought you were ... oh shit!" He looked down for a moment, then back to Ian again. "Hey, Ian, I'm really sorry. I misread your interest. I thought you were like me - I guess the old 'gaydar' must be on the fritz."

"What?" asked Ian, even more confused. "What are you talking about?"

"I thought you were gay too. I would never have tried anything if I had realised you weren't."

"But ... I .." Ian fought to find the words. "What is 'gaydar'," he finally asked.

Morgan laughed dejectedly. "It's that sense you get, that feeling that you know someone else is gay. I don't know how to explain it, but I'm sure it exists. Usually I'm pretty good at telling whether or not someone else is gay like me, but I obviously got it wrong this time."

Ian sat down again, calmer now. He reached out and took a newly surprised Morgan's hand, looking him squarely in the face. "No," he said with a hint of sadness. "Your 'gaydar' is working just fine. I'm gay alright. I'm just not ready for this. You see, I lost my partner a few months ago, and it's still too soon for me to ... you know."

With a sigh that spoke of both relief and concern, Morgan touched his finger to Ian's chin. "I understand," he said. "Thanks for telling me. I know it can be hard. My partner and I broke up six months ago, and it was a nasty separation. You feel like you'll never want to step outside the house again, but trust me, that passes."

"Maybe," said Ian, "but I doubt it. I'll never find anyone as wonderful as he was. He loved me so much, but he hurt me too. I could never trust anyone again the way I trusted him."

"Do you want to talk about it? I'm a great listener."

"I've talked and talked - to counsellors and psyches and friends. It's past the time for talking. I loved him so much, and he dumped me, walked away without any explanation. Then I met him again, and he wanted to get back together, but I turned him down, told him I didn't love him anymore. And he was killed, murdered, saving my life. I never got to thank him, or to tell him how much he really meant to me."

"Shit!!" Morgan reached for him, drawing him close. "When did all this happen?"

"He was killed just over four months ago now."

"Oh, Ian, you've got to let him go, get on with life."

"I don't think I can."

Morgan looked longingly and sadly at the other man. "Are you sure he was that wonderful? I mean, he walked out on you, just dumped you without a reason why. Are you certain that he was coming back to you for the right reasons? It's damned hard to criticise someone when they're dead, or even to see their faults."

Ian stiffened. He didn't want to hear these words, especially from some guy he'd just met. Because he'd wondered them himself a few times now, late at night, when he couldn't sleep. And it was the doubt, the fear and the chance to see anything bad or wrong in Geoff, which worried him the most.

"No, you're wrong," he said, shaking himself free of Morgan and standing up. "I'm sorry if I led you on. I shouldn't have. But you're wrong about Geoff, and you're wrong about me." With that he fled, back into the house, leaving Morgan lost and alone.

With tears in his eyes, Ian slipped into the house and tried to wend his way through the remaining guests. He gathered his things together quickly, and made ready to leave, when Tina caught him in the kitchen, Nick close behind.

"Ian, what's wrong?" she asked.

"Mate, are you okay?" Nick added.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," Ian lied, his eyes blurred and his voice shaky. "I just have to get home, I need to get some rest!" he declared as he almost ran to the door.

Tina stood in stunned silence, as Nick exclaimed "What the fuck?" Together they rounded on the group, to see David whispering seriously with an upset Morgan.

"What has happened?" Tina asked her colleague.

"I have no idea," answered David as Morgan also made a hurried exit. "But whatever it is, I think we may be back to square one! I don't think things went quite the way we wanted."

Read next part

This story is a fantasy, it is not real and only happened in my imagination. YOU MUST REMEMBER that in the real world, you can DIE from having unsafe sex. It is your right and your duty to make sure that condoms are always used, whether you are giving or receiving. It doesn't matter how good looking or how ugly he is, and it doesn't matter whether you are top or bottom, USE A CONDOM!