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DescriptionSet in the very English suburbia of 1962 where everyone has tidy front gardens and lace curtains, Junction X is the story of Edward Johnson, who ostensibly has the perfect life: A beautiful house, a great job, an attractive wife and two well-mannered children. The trouble is he’s been lying to himself all of his life. And first love, when it does come, hits him and hits him hard. Who is the object of his passion? The teenaged son of the new neighbours.
Edward’s world is about to go to hell.
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Excerpt:I suppose the cliché beginning should be “It was on a day just like this,” but that’s just in books. The truth is that the day couldn’t have been more different.
Today the hail hits the window in a tattoo of cold. Up to now…it’s been summer, hasn’t it? I look back over what seem to be centuries that stretch between the first day I saw him and today. And Alex? Oh, Alex changed outwardly with the times and the fashions, donned the motley, but inside he was the same from the first moment to the very last. I certainly don’t recognise me. How could I? Blue serge, black serge, bowler hat. I was the product of my youth—the jelly-baby man he accused me of being. Pre-fab Ed. A million of us: getting up, getting fed, getting on trains, getting to work, doing the hours and coming home. I was just like all the others.
Or I thought I was. No. That’s not true, and if I’ve learned anything in the time we’ve had, it’s the value of truth. I knew I wasn’t like that. Oh, I went to work with the others; I had the nice house in the nice district. Valerie was the envy of my colleagues for her Nordic beauty, her fame, her talent and her ability to throw together an impromptu fondue night for bosses or colleagues with a mere hour or so’s notice.
I fitted that mould he talked of exactly—exactly—and I had the image so pin-stripe perfect that most people looking at it would only have seen Ed Johnson, the man with the pretty good—if not perfect—life, and been convinced by it. All most people would have seen was the stockbroker with shiny shoes. They would never have guessed the secrets behind the suit and the earnest expression. It’s so easy to fool people.
As I crawled out of bed that morning and yawned my way to the bathroom, there should have been portents. There should have been a dead raven on the lawn or a comet livid and bloody searing the sky. But, of course, there was nothing more epic than sparrows and starlings squabbling over the last crumbs.
In the shaving mirror I saw Valerie float past the open bathroom door, and I realised that it was going to be another one of those mornings. She had that glittering hardness to her face, and she was wearing the red-and-orange housecoat that always spelled trouble. It seemed my penance of sleeping in the spare room had not papered over the cracks of the night before and battle dress was the choice of the day. Camouflage, for Valerie, came in clashing colours.
From the end of the hall, I could hear the twins preparing for what sounded like a campaign to take over the world rather than getting ready for the first day back at school. Mary seemed to have the upper hand, judging by John’s screams, so I left them to it. Mrs. Tudor would sort them out after I’d left. If Valerie wasn’t going to get involved, neither was I.
As I thought back on the night before, I realised that the battle might have been won, but the war was still raging, a cold war which was worse than any frontal assault my wife could rage. Pursed lips, the slightest frown between those delicate brows and a hard stiff cheek to be kissed at the front door as she did her wifely duty and saw me out of the house. Unless I gave in, there would be days of this.
I sighed. Wiping the last of the soap from my face, I grabbed my tie from the hook and trotted downstairs, pondering my campaign choices.
I stopped on the landing, using the reflection of the window to arrange my tie. The front garden was looking a bit crushed by the last few weeks of sun. As I made a mental note to speak to the gardener at the weekend, a movement caught my eye. Crawling along the wrong side of the street was a large removal van. One of the men hung his head out of the side window as if he was checking the house numbers. It stopped, as I had half-expected it to, next door. Finally, I thought, as I made my way down to the dining room, all thoughts of Valerie’s skirmish pushed aside. It looked like we’d be getting new neighbours at last.
“Good morning, darling,” I said, firing an opening salvo as I slid onto my chair. Valerie’s face was a mask of ice, but she handed me The Times and a cup as Mrs. Tudor appeared from the kitchen with the coffee pot and my breakfast. Then she buried herself in the Telegraph, for which I was grateful. I didn’t want a re-engagement in front of the help.
Mrs. Tudor poured out some coffee and placed a plate of eggs and bacon in front of me. I gave her a secret grin, unseen by Valerie, and Mrs. Tudor’s bushy grey eyebrows rose in mock despair. I wondered if hostilities were going to be extended all day, whether Valerie would take her vitriol to the tennis club and expend it or whether I would come home to the same cold shoulder I was experiencing now. My stomach winced in complaint. I had planned on playing squash that evening. Perhaps it might be better to ditch the idea and come straight home.
After filling my wife’s coffee cup, Mrs. Tudor retreated into the warmth of the kitchen with an audible, irritated sigh. Mrs. Tudor and Valerie were not the best of friends. In fact, if it had been up to Valerie, Mrs. Tudor would have been replaced with someone called Inga or Helga, an au pair, like her friends had. She considered Mrs. Tudor to be old-fashioned and Not Quite The Thing.
But to me, Mrs. Tudor’s old-fashioned ways were part of her charm. I wanted the children to have someone in their lives the way I’d had. Mrs. Tudor reminded me of my nanny; she had smelled of flour and polish and she was big enough to wrap her arms around the world. Mrs. Tudor had been John and Mary’s nanny and, now that they didn’t need her full-time, she came in for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the evening. It wasn’t perfect—she was exposed to Valerie too much, for one thing—but the alternatives were worse. Strangers who might steal? No, thank you.
Mrs. Tudor’s ways were the way of the Victorian nursery: high tea, the children changing clothes when they got in from school, and the “seen, not heard” ethos. Old-fashioned, yes, but it was how I liked things.
That morning, however, the children were certainly being heard, even from the dining room. I wondered if Valerie even knew how good she had it; the mythical Helga would be more interested in finding English boys than making sure that the children were brushing their teeth or not ripping each other’s ears off. The escalation of noise caused Battleship Tudor to sail past in the direction of the stairs and I relaxed a little. In a few seconds there would be blissful silence again.
I watched Valerie over the rim of my coffee cup, pondering the best way to breach the barricades. I decided on daily news; that seemed safe enough.
“There’s a removal van pulled up outside next door,” I told her with a practised forced cheerfulness. My stomach gave another brief twinge, as if something inside was as sick of these frosty mornings as I was. “Looks like someone is moving in at last.”
Valerie didn’t look up from her Telegraph, but she made a non-committal sound. I amused myself by putting more butter on my toast than she would have approved of, had she been paying attention. Not that she had been doing a lot of that, recently. As I sat there chewing, I found that I couldn’t remember the last time she had.
I wondered, as I piled thick-cut marmalade on top of the sinful butter, what the new neighbours would be like at number seventy-eight. Phil and Claire, who had owned the house previously, had been good friends to us, and I missed them. It would be good to have a new family in the road. I hoped that it would be another couple, with the man of the pair liking the same things I did: golf, squash and cricket.
I’d commuted with Phil for four years, since we had first moved to The Avenue. Commuted with him, played tennis with him, shared holidays with him. He and Claire had been our best friends for so long it had been a shock when they told us that they were moving. They had slotted into the social life of The Avenue so easily, but then Phil was like that, fitting effortlessly into whatever life he found himself.
After Phil’s promotion, they’d moved to a bigger house on the seafront. The house next door had been empty since they’d left. This had surprised most residents of The Avenue, as usually any house up for sale on this street was snapped up, with new owners moving in straight away. However, since Phil and Claire had moved out, the house had remained empty. Soon, the gardener had stopped coming, the lawn had sprouted to knee high and the roses had grown suckers—much to the disapproval of local residents. The neglected garden was a constant reminder of how much of a hole Phil’s absence had left in my life.
I hadn’t seen Phil since his promotion, although allegedly he was still my best friend. Promotion meant that he had to get an earlier train up to town. Once or twice I had considered catching it, just to see him, but pride had kept me away. He was the one, after all, who had said that nothing would change between us (or between the four of us), but still he’d only managed to ring a couple of times and, despite promising, had not invited us round to the new house. Another thing he had promised was that the first game at The Sands Golf Club, (which had been a deciding factor for buying a house nearer the sea), would be ours—his and mine. He had given me assurances in that airy casual manner that drew all towards him: “As soon as my membership is confirmed, Ed—I swear. We’ll set the place alight! The old stick-in-the-muds won’t know what’s hit them when they see your drive!”
I missed him. I was sure that with a new job and a new house, there were a lot of things to organise, but still—I couldn’t help being hurt and not a little bitter. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite our four-year friendship, despite the holidays together, the tennis matches, the golf tournaments, Phil stretched himself too thin, and he was never able to meet all his commitments. His popularity and complete inability to turn anyone down meant that I saw less of him than I liked; the few times he had rung, he’d been ringing to cancel an engagement made in the previous phone call.
However, that morning was just like a thousand others. Valerie wasn’t speaking and I had to get to work, so I finished my coffee and made for the door. Immediately, Valerie rose to accompany me as if she were the most attentive wife on the planet. With hypocritical implacability, she did what she did every single morning I left for work; she followed me to the door, handed me my overcoat and umbrella, watched me put on my bowler hat and kissed me on the cheek, her lips cool against my newly shaved face. The only indications she ever gave that she was not the model of wifely devotion were the glazed fixed stare and a certain hardness of expression.
That morning—I don’t know why, exactly, maybe the annoyance I felt at still being snubbed by Phil—I tried the smallest of revolutions; I decided not to kiss her back. I was less than half-way to the Junction before I regretted that decision. I knew she would make me pay for that rebellion when I got home.
As I joined the growing throng of commuters on the platform that morning, I tried to put Valerie’s petulance out of my mind, but I knew it was hopeless. I knew that it would surface in increments throughout the day, niggling at me with guilt because one didn’t treat one’s wife that way. I knew how it would end—the only way around it would be to sacrifice squash and to buy her a present on my precious lunch break, and then try and make it up tonight. I just wished I knew what it was I’d done wrong.
I was deep in such gloomy thoughts on the platform when a hand poked me in the back and I turned around sharply to find Phil behind me. “You old bastard,” I said with a grin. “What’s this, slumming?”
Phil looked disgustingly tanned; the wisps of brown hair showing under his bowler were tinged with gold, denoting much time in the open air. The open air of The Sands Golf Course, if I was any judge.
“Eddie!” he said. “I got Claire to drive me down instead of taking the earlier train.”
“Won’t that make you late? Doesn’t the new boss have to set a good example?”
Phil’s face split open with a white toothed smile, and he made a noise like a cat being sick. “They won’t even notice,” he said. “Truth be told, I’d rather be a minion again, following orders.”
The train could be heard in the distance, making the rails rattle like dice in a cup, and I turned back towards the track in Pavlovian motion. “So,” I said, as we watched the train curve around the track. “Life in the executive washroom not all it was cracked up to be?”
“Oh, it’s all right,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. The perks are great, really great. I could even have a company car if I wanted one, but I prefer to get an early start and get some work done on the train.”
I hit him with my Times. “Oh yes, you really are the new brown-nosed boy, aren’t you?”
The train pulled up, and the doors burst open all at once like a well-used Advent calendar. Phil pushed past, entering the carriage first, like he always had. As he slipped by, he whispered, “You should know.”
My heart leapt guiltily. I had to stop myself from looking around before I stepped into the carriage and closed the door. We stowed our cases and sat down. We had the carriage to ourselves this early in the journey, but a few stops down the line, it would be so packed that there would be men hanging onto the straps in the ceiling.
Phil was still grinning abominably, his teeth looking impossibly white against the healthy tan of his face. “Eddie, don’t make that expression. No one heard me.” He threw the bowler hat up on the rack with a practised ease that I had always envied.
Phil swam through life as if it were his own personal pool, effortlessly cutting his way through business and family life, hardly raising a ripple of discontent. He had no children to disturb his peace; his wife was as even-tempered as he was and they shared a sense of humour. At work, he’d caught the attention of the higher-ups with alarming speed. In no time at all, he was the youngest member of the board. Not even the sky was going to be the limit for Phil Carter.
The strange thing, I thought as I leaned back and watched Phil smirking at me in that annoying but charming manner, was that if it had been anyone else, I would have been much more bitter. But Phil had won me over me very early on. Try as I might to be angry with him, I was only pleased for his success.
“I haven’t forgotten about the golf club,” Phil said, placing his paper on the seat next to him.
I glared at him, snapping open my own in mock irritation. “Really.”
Phil put his head on one side as if he were going to apologise. Then he raised a finger to his lips and changed seats, sitting next to me. “This visit was supposed to be my way of apologising, Eddie.” His lips were too close to my ear and I stiffened instinctively in my seat.
“I’ve missed you, Eddie.” Phil’s hand moved to my lap and cupped my cock, sleeping safe and sound in pristine Y-fronts and dark blue wool. “We’ve got eight minutes before the next stop. Please.” He was unzipping his own trousers, pulling his cock from its pinstripe prison. “Please.”
I tried to resist for a hundred thousand reasons. I always put up a token resistance; it was a game we played. A game I always lost—or won. I could never decide. I shuffled along the seat, belying my own cock, which had woken like a prince on an enchanted bed, and made a conscious effort not to look at Phil—not at his hazel-gold dancing eyes, not at his wide pink lips, and certainly not at the swollen thing in his fist.
He pursued me until I was pinned in the corner.
“I said no, Phil.”
“You don’t mean that,” he said, standing, his fingers curled in my hair, his fingertips ghosting over my ear. “You never mean that. You want it. Suck me quickly, Ed. I’ve missed you.” He pulled my head towards his cock and I was lost, as I always was. I opened my mouth wide, used my tongue to gather him in and let him fuck my mouth until he came, hot and thick, his groans making me as hard for him as he’d been for me.
“Oh God,” he said, as he softened in my mouth. “Oh God, Ed. If only I could get Claire…” He collapsed next to me on the seat, his arm still around my neck, his pants and trousers around his knees.
“For Christ’s sake,” I snapped. “Do yourself up, unless you want to get us both arrested at South Holt.” As usual, I felt disgusted with myself for allowing him to swan back into my life after all this time, for allowing him to use me like this, and for loving it, for loving the taste and feel of his cock in my mouth, when all he wanted was a replacement for a wife who wouldn’t suck him off. My cock ached, wanting something I couldn’t bear to think about. I wanted more and I had no way of knowing how to get it. I only knew I wasn’t getting it from Phil.
Junction XBy: Erastes