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By Sarah Hapgood

"Anyway, so Julian hears the water from the standpipe going this morning and rushes out there, thinking he's going to catch Ketts in the nuddy", said Joby "And instead he finds Monene washing his feet!"

"Serves him right, at his age", said Kieran.

"Oh he said he just wanted to stand and admire", said Joby "Says he's getting too old for anything else".

"I'll believe that when I see it", said Kieran.

They were both sitting on the beach at Magnolia Cove the following morning, looking out across the sea. It was another blisteringly hot day, although the resort was beginning to get a faded end-of-season air about it.

"Apart from getting attacked by knife-wielding madmen, have you enjoyed your holiday, Joby?" Kieran asked.

"Yeah I have", said Joby, adjusting his cap and leaning back against the sea-wall "Anything's an improvement on the City, and we all seem to get on better cooped up in a tent than we do cooped up in a house!"

"Gives us more of a sense of freedom I suppose", said Kieran "Perhaps we're all gypsies at heart".

"Wouldn't surprise me".

"Would you like to stay a bit longer?"

"What did you have in mind?" asked Joby.

"Stay here until the weather turns", said Kieran "Probably the end of October I expect. It might help to make the winter seem shorter when we get back to the City".

"And be better for Adam's chest", said Joby "I get quiet upset sometimes, the way he has to walk around with respirators on back home. Do you think he'll end up with a tap in his chest? I've heard of that happening to blokes who have conditions like his ".

"None of us knows what's waiting round the corner", said Kieran "I know I'm a coward, but sometimes I just don't like to think of it, what might happen to Adam".

"Saying that, he looks pretty good at the moment", said Joby, who had spotted Adam in the distance walking towards them across the sands "I hope I look as good when I'm his age. Mind you, it might help if I looked as good now!"

"Kiss my shoulder and I'll tell you how good I think you look always".

Joby obliged by nibbling on his friend's bare shoulder.

"You look fantastic, Jobe", Kieran giggled "If no one else wants to stay here for the next two months, would you stay with me?"

"Course I would", said Joby "In fact, if you put it like that, I might start trying to encourage that lot to go home!"

"Adam could have visiting rights though couldn't he?"

"I hope nothing happens to him in the near future", said Joby "We'd be all alone then, Kiel".

"I know", said Kieran "Just you and me, all that's left of the three".

"I suppose we'd just have to cope", Joby sighed.

"One day someone's going to have to be the only one of the three left".

"Well it won't be me", said Joby, robustly "If anything happens to you and him, that's it, I'm throwing in the towel".

"Don't talk like that, Joby", said Kieran.

"Why shouldn't I? I'm nothing without you two".

"Joby!" Kieran wailed "That's a terrible thing to say".

"What is?" said Adam, who had neared them "What dreadful things are you coming out with now, Joby?"

"Just saying to Kieran, I'm nothing without you two".

"Any one of us three could say that as well", said Adam.

"That certainly isn't true", said Kieran "Even if something happened to Joby and me, you'd still have Julian and Lonts".

"Yeah, you'd do alright", said Joby.

"I happen to need you two just as much as I need them", said Adam "Sometimes I think back to the very early days, when we were in prison, and then travelling to the Loud House and across the marshes. It all seems like a hundred years ago. And then I remember we're still together, and I realise what a bond there is between us. You two are a part of me".

"In that case you'll stay with us here until Hallowe'en?" said Kieran.

"Sounds a wonderful idea", said Adam "I'll stay gladly".

"Hadn't you better talk it over with the others?" said Kieran.

"Julian will stay to keep an eye on me", said Adam.

"You're spoilt", said Joby.

"'Fraid so", Adam laughed.

"What about Lonts?" said Kieran "Where is he anyway?"

"With Ransey and Hillyard up on the prom", said Adam "One thing I can trust Ransey to do is keep an eye out for Laser Eyes. I'm sure Lonts will love to stay here. Provided Monene and Ketts make themselves scarce".

"I'll second that", said Kieran, with feeling.

"Lo-Lo's not at all happy with Ketts's presence".

"Can't take a bit of competition", said Joby.

"To be fair I don't think it's just vanity", said Adam "Lonts is getting increasingly uneasy around strangers. He's only completely comfortable when he's with us. This morning he got into a terrible state because he didn't want Ketts to see him in his nappy. The poor little thing was ordering me to unpin it, in case Ketts walked into the tent. I can understand how he feels. I found myself getting like it back home with my respirator mask. Hated going outside in it because everyone stared".

"Now you know what I've had to put up with all these years", said Kieran "There can't be any bit of me the public hasn't seen or doesn't know about".

"That's another good reason for staying here", said Adam "A few weeks out of the public eye will do you good at present, particularly with Gorth getting more peculiar by the day. It'll be much better for you not to be in the City during the run-up to his wedding".

"Not half", said Joby.

"We'll make a flying visit back for that when it happens", said Kieran "And then we'll find somewhere else to hide".

In order to avoid spending the evening around the camp-fire listening to Monene, they all went to a nightclub, which boasted the attraction of having eunuchs dancing on the counter-top. This was all very well, but it meant you had to order your drinks whilst dodging a forest of moving bare legs.

"Is the vicar planning to stay with us long?" said Julian "Only if we have to go out every night because of him, it's going to end up costing us a small fortune".

"Well you don't have to come out with us, Jules", said Adam "I'm sure Monene would love to give you some religious counselling".

"As the old jokes goes, there's enough material there for an entire conference!" said Kieran.

"I'm sure your mother would be pretty appalled by your current attitude, Tinkerbell", said Julian "Going to a nightclub rather than staying at home and talking to the vicar, she would be quite horrified".

"He's the sort that would be only too keen to talk to her I expect", said Kieran, sourly.

"Oh dear, is this a skeleton rattling in your family cupboard?" said Julian "Was the local priest too generous with his sympathetic ear when your father wisely ran off?"

"Julian!" Adam snapped "Pack it in. If you moan or sneer at anyone just once more this evening I won't be responsible for my actions".

"How's he gonna communicate then?" said Joby "He doesn't know any other way!"

"I think this show's really stupid", said Lonts, staring up as a eunuch on the bar-top began to disrobe.

"That's a bit rich coming from someone who had a mania for tearing his clothes off when he was younger", said Hillyard.

"No I didn't", said Lonts.

"Yes you did", said Joby "I remember the day Gabriel died, you ran through the old Ministry building, tearing 'em all off. Adam had to run after you and get you dressed again".

"Best part of the day that was", said Kieran "I should've joined in, instead of taking Gabriel's head onto the balcony".

The eunuch peeled off his few remaining clothes, to the accompaniment of some very aggressive piano music. With a gesture of disdain he flung a sequined bra-top in Joby's direction.

"What do I do with with it now?" said Joby, holding the garment and looking perplexed.

"Don't tempt me to offer suggestions", Julian muttered.

Adam instantly hustled him off the stool and in the direction of the lavatories.

"Hey, if he's gonna give him a good seeing-to, perhaps we should go and watch", said Hillyard.

"You'd be safer staying out of it", said Kieran.

"Yeah, too much like clash of the dinosaurs", said Joby.

"Why does he have to be like that, Finia?" asked Hillyard.

Finia shrugged and held up his hands.

"Born that way I guess", he said.

"Not hugged enough as a child", said Kieran.

"Who the bloody hell would've wanted to hug him when he was a child?" said Joby "I bet he was a right vicious little sod. The sort who bites babies in their prams, and twirls little girls around by their hair. Anyway, do I get to keep this bra or not?"

"You want it do you, Joby?" said Kieran "I must say it'll look real fine and dandy under your string vest!"

"You haven't got anything to fill it", said Hillyard.

"No, you have though", said Joby, tartly.

"Perhaps we could use it to store our eggs in", said Kieran.

"Nah, make a hat for Lonts instead", Joby fastened the bar round Lonts's head "Very pretty".

"Well come along Mr Macho", said Julian "Do whatever it is you're going to do to me, I'm all eager anticipation".

"I've brought you in here to give the others a break mainly", said Adam, who was busy trying out the selection of free aftershaves and lotions laid out on a shelf in the wash-room "This is a good idea isn't it? Although I'm surprised they don't all get pinched".

"You are such an old poofter, Adam", Julian sighed "You make a big show of dragging me in here, and then stand there trying on perfume!"

"It's not perfume, it's aftershave", said Adam "Anyway, as I said I've brought you in here to give the others a respite from you for a few minutes".

"You should've been a woman, Adam".

"Yes, my father used to say exactly the same thing, funnily enough", said Adam "Why do you have to be so unpleasant to people, Jules?"

"I'm not", said Julian "I have an abrasive sense of humour that's all".

"What does this one remind you of?" said Adam, holding out a bottle.

"Insect repellent", said Julian, after sniffing it "I'd put some on if I was you, help to keep the mosquito's at bay".

"Yes, you're right", Adam laughed.

"Anyway, you used to be just as abrasive as me", said Julian "Until you let went and let God into your life, a.k.a the poisonous little squirt from Killarney".

"Why are you suddenly picking on Patsy?"

"Jealousy", said Julian, bluntly "I know you'd rather be with him than me. You certainly always side with him".

"Jules, what's brought this on?"

"Nothing, it's just .." Julian sighed awkwardly "I'd like to spend some time alone with you. I miss those weeks we had together last autumn".

"Why didn't you say so?" said Adam, putting his hand gently on his friend's neck "We could book a room at that hotel on the front for an afternoon".

"An afternoon?" said Julian, sarcastically "Oh well, I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies. I know how greatly in demand you are!"

"It's not that, it's just that I think Lonts would like to be more alone with me too", said Adam "I was thinking of doing the same sort of thing for him, booking a room. It'd be a little treat for him".

"Quite", said Julian "So which one of us gets to go first with you?"

"Ooh, age before beauty I think".

"Cheeky soddo", said Julian.

"I'll make it all worth your while".

"Yes I'm sure you will, you little tart".

"I love you", Adam whispered, and they brushed their lips together softly.

They were pushed apart by a man coming in to use the urinals.

"Tomorrow suit you?" Adam whispered.

"I'm not so old you have to give me twenty-four hours notice!" Julian exclaimed.

"No, but I am", Adam giggled.

They emerged back into the bar area, and peered through a fug of cigarette smoke at their own party.

"Are my eyes deceiving me?" said Adam "Or is Lonts sitting there with a bra on his head?"

"It's probably some ancient Kiskevian fertility rite", said Julian "Either that or he's joined the Freemasons".

"Did you know this thing's got holes in it where you can poke your nipples through, Adam?" said Lonts, when they got near them.

"Really", said Adam "Well unless you've suddenly started sprouting nipples in your head, I don't see why you need to wear it there!"

"He likes it, don't you Lonts?" said Joby.

"I wish you'd find someone else to tease", said Adam, unclasping the bra from Lonts's head.

"I'm alright, Adam", said Lonts.

"You're drunk that's why", said Adam.

"And loving every minute of it", said Joby.

They took a few stone jars of beer up onto the headland to watch a firework display that was going on in the bay. Lonts slept through most of it, and Kieran did the same, after being violently sick first.

When he woke up the following morning he found himself back in the tent, having his head stroked by Joby, who was kneeling by him and reading a battered paperback novel.

"I was wondering if you was ever gonna wake up", said Joby, putting down the book "You've been out like a light for hours".

"I can't remember coming back down from the cliff", said Kieran, blearily "I can't remember after ... being sick, oh God how embarrassing!"

"Hillyard carried you back down", said Joby "I bet you made his night".

"I wasn't sick over you was I, Jobe?" said Kieran "Tell me if I was and I'll was your clothes for you".

"Missed me by a matter of inches I'm glad to say", said Joby "Wouldn't matter anyway. Wouldn't have been the first time I'd been vomited over. My brother did it once after eating a Chinese take-away, and he didn't offer to wash me clothes for me. I was finding cold king prawns for ages after!"

"He was charming wasn't he?" said Kieran.

"Yeah, he's one of the reasons I'm glad I'm now living in the fifth millennium. I can honestly say I have not once ever missed him".

"Do you ever miss your parents?"

"Me Dad sometimes", said Joby "I wonder if he's noticed I'm missing yet? I can just imagine him waking up on the sofa one afternoon and saying to me Mum, haven't heard much from our Joby lately have we? I expect your Mum misses you though".

"That's the biggest thing I regret", said Kieran "Sometimes I wish there was some way we could let them know we were alright. They must think some terrible fate happened to us. I'm so glad I didn't cross over alone".

"So am I", said Joby "I doubt I'd have lasted a year here on me own".

"I certainly wouldn't have done", said Kieran "I know that for certain".

"Wouldn't it be easier if you took it off?" said Lonts, watching as Ketts struggled to wash himself under his cassock.

"I-I can't", Ketts mumbled, blushing violently as he spoke.

"Doesn't Monene like it if you undress in public then?" said Lonts.

"It's not that. He doesn't have any hang-ups", said Ketts "I just don't like to, that's all".

"You'll get your smock wet if you try washing that way", said Lonts "Why don't you go into the bushes and I'll pass the hose to you".

"It's a cassock, not a smock", said Ketts "But alright, I'd appreciate it if you would".

Ketts went back into the bushes, and Lonts passed the hose from the stand-pipe over to him.

"Turn your back", said Ketts, before taking off his cassock and passing it to him.

"You're being so secretive about your body that some of the others think you're a girl", said Lonts, when he heard Ketts swilling away.

"I can assure you I'm not", said Ketts, shortly.

He didn't speak again for a couple of minutes, but carried on swilling. Lonts decided to risk a tentative look in his direction. When he did what he saw shocked him so much that he drew in his breath sharply. Ketts gave a gasp of acute annoyance, dropped the hose and snatched his cassock from Lonts.

"Who did that to you?" said Lonts, looking at the brutal red whip marks which covered Kett's back and stomach "Was it Monene? Did he punish you for something?"

"It wasn't Monene", said Ketts, hurriedly dressing "They're old marks".

"They don't look old to me", said Lonts.

"They're old I tell you!" Ketts exclaimed "And if you tell a single soul about this you'll rot in Hell, do you understand me? Do you understand fully what I'm saying?"

"Of course I do!" Lonts cried "I know where Hell is. Kieran's been there, with Joby, Hillyard and Ransey".

"Well unless you want to go there as well, I'd advise you to stay silent. Promise me!" Ketts hissed.

"I promise", said Lonts, feeling utterly confused.

"Good", said Ketts, snidely "That means you and I can stay friends then, doesn't it?!"

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