Finding Out by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon's character looks forward to a lad's holiday in Spain with his housemate, but unexpected tensions roil under the surface.

I open one eye, squinting as the streams of sunlight flood through the gap between my curtains. I get up on autopilot, stretching exultantly before yanking them open. The warmth of the sun hits my sleep fuddled face, and I remember, today's the day. Finally, Saturday morning: holiday time, Spain awaits!

I look in the mirror, I look pale and knackered. That's a harsh reality for a twenty-two year old. My hair is wild and out of control, like an Irish werewolf. I pull a face, stick my tongue out, then bare my teeth. Bring it on: Viva Espagna.

I am desperate for a break. I work too hard, burning the candle at both ends. Sleep is a luxury. Two years into my media degree at college, and working twenty-five hours a week at the Indi Cinema to keep body and soul together (whilst still getting into a shitload of debt). I never seem to stop, except on occasional Friday nights when I go out with some mates after work. A few beers, then bed, I'm hardly grooving through as a dissolute student: chance would be a fine thing.

Still keeping busy has its upside. I don't really get myself. Weird and wired, that's me, and I really don't want to look too closely at what it all means. I feel stressed in my own skin. I get unexpected jolts of yearning that don't fit. I try not to scratch away at it all. 'Keep busy' is my mantra. As the Christian Brothers said when I was a kid at school, 'The devil finds work for empty hands' (ditto empty heads).

My folks in Dublin always ask me about women. Have I met anyone special? It's a source of consternation to them that I've managed two years in Birmingham, and still not a hint of romance. To be honest I've tried the girlfriend thing. Some fun dates but they always walk away after a while. They seem to think that I'm a bit boring, a reluctant lover. Hand on heart I'm not really that bothered. My brothers, at home, attract the women with ease. Well, maybe all that will come later?

So back to important things, my holiday, how did it come about? Well, I've been house sharing with Bryan for the past six months. He's doing his PhD, and sometimes drinks with my crowd on Fridays. He needed a tenant to make up his mortgage payments. Our paths don't cross that much at home, but the arrangement works ok, no falling out over cleaning the toilet and I pay my rent on time.

I went on holiday to Ibiza with five of the lads last year, and Bryan was one of them. We all had a good laugh, and I'd been hoping we'd do it again this year. I was well pissed off when I realised that this wouldn't be happening. It became obvious as far back as Easter that the lads had other priorities. Job losses, the purchase of Macbook Airs and even the birth of a kid, had variously taken their tolls on my bros' precarious personal finances. So, no jollies this year.

One night in the pub a month ago, Bryan sat next to me. We started whinging in a drunken, melancholic sort of way; bemoaning the prospect of a summer with no real heat, aka no real holiday. Bryan went quiet for a bit, started rubbing energetically at a stain on his jeans, then muttered into his pint, 'We could go anyway, alone.' He looked up at me, flashing his eyes excitedly. 'We could share a room to save cash.' This flustered me. I felt the seductive undertow, without being able to name it. I put my discomfort down to the booze. I was definitely up for a holiday, and now it was on offer. We agreed to go ahead. A week in Spain, and Bryan offered to sort out travel and accommodation.

Now, alone in my bed, I feel uneasy. Sleep tiptoes haltingly into my brain, blurring reality with dreamy phantasmagoria. An image slaloms through my mind of Bryan coming out of the bathroom, his towel around his middle, barely covering his dick. As we two passed on the narrow landing, the towel slipped and I saw it all, his hard-on, displayed with pride. Deja vu: a sight that I recognised from earlier wanderings in my private nocturnal world. I writhe, hot and sticky my narrow bed. Ecstasy explodes through me. A brief and visceral release soothes me profoundly, for now. In the morning light I will work hard to forget it, and deny it.

Bryan is quick to move forwards and activate our plan. What's not to like about a week in a small hotel in the hills inland from Malaga? So here we are today, on our way. I check my luggage for the last time and add in some condoms. Then that's me, all set. I take the stairs two at a time. My spirits are high, and I feel, I feel, I feel what exactly? Like a young man off to meet his lover? Well hardly, but it's a good buzz anyway.

We've arranged to meet at the airport at midday. Bryan wants to do some last minute shopping. I arrive first, feeling deliciously nervous. Airports always intrigue me and thrill me, seducing me with their promises of adventures in foreign places. When Bryan arrives, he is dressed to kill. My stomach somersaults.

We settle down and have a few bevvies whilst we listen carefully for the announcements on the PA system. We're anxious to get going. Then we hear our flight is delayed. Well nothing to do but wait, and why waste good drinking time? As time passes, our drinks morph from pints through to Jack Daniels. We tell each other stories, tales of our adolescent un-doings, sending ourselves up something rotten. We're inebriated by this new intimacy and trust, as much as the alcohol. Roars of laughter draw mildly irritated curiosity from our fellow passengers. We laugh, joke and mess about together. Then together, as if by an unspoken agreement we quieten down. Our shared glances become longer. They linger as our eyes stroke our bodies. I feel braver mostly, but my eyes cannot hold his gaze completely. My shyness persists as we flirt with new possibilities and clear intent.

After a couple of hours of waiting Bryan inevitably and finally puts his arm around my shoulders. He states the obvious, but nonetheless I am astonished, 'I've fancied you for ages'.

I stutter and flounder, I sound like a twelve year old. 'Go on - you're having a laugh - well you are - aren't you?'

'No,' says Bryan, 'I'm serious, and I've seen you looking at me too.'

I feel a deep scarlet creeping up my neck into my face. How is it that this man can read me so easily when I struggle to make any sense of myself? I suppose that it's true that I have had the odd fleeting thought, and more. The dream returns with explosive force. The stirrings in my groin say 'Go on, it might just be fun...' I wonder, 'Dare I do this?'

Eventually the announcer calls the flight to Malaga, and we board the plane. We promptly fall asleep, lolling onto each other's shoulders. I awake just in time to squeeze into the tiny facilities to relieve my bursting bladder before the seatbelt sign goes on for landing. I feel safe with Bryan now; we are at last on the same page. My shyness persists, but it no longer intrudes.

We go through Arrivals, reclaim our luggage, in a daze. The booze has left my mouth dry and gritty, and a headache flutters around the edges of my vision. Bryan, older and wiser, steers our trolley towards the café in the airport reception area. 'We need fluid and carbs,' he directs. A bottle of water and a café solo apiece, with manchego and olives, revive us. The next step, a taxi ride up into the mountains: then we reach our destination.

An old woman, in arcane widows' weeds greets us kindly. She shows us up to our room at the top of the hacienda. We have a balcony overlooking olive groves. Once we are safely inside, I become unexpectedly brave. I circle my arms around Bryan's waist and draw him to me. That first kiss unleashes improbable kinetic surges of desire, stronger than life or death. I die and am reborn. When open my eyes at last, I see Bryan appraising me in a bemused, slightly mocking way. Before I process this further, he pulls me towards the double bed. 'Come here little prince; show me what you've got!' And so begins the night.

The next morning I wake up first, full of confusion. Bryan sleeps on by my side. I need to be outside, to be alone. I creep down the stairs, craving to avoid human contact. I find a path through the olive grove, and come upon a brook. The sky reflects in the water of the running stream. Scattered, glinting jigsaw pieces, never still. Then, now and tomorrow, together but fractured.

I remember the night before in vivid detail. Sexual, sensual, raw and brimming over: orifices opened, fluids intermingled with delight. In the height of passion and joining with this man, I found myself at last. So many years of confusion and self-delusion had been blown away for ever. But it had all turned sour. As we lay exhausted, spent in the grey light of dawn, Bryan turned towards me. I expected some kindness. He said, in a voice thick with determination and threat, 'You're mine now, and don't you forget it.' I had laughed, thinking that he must have been playing the fool. I reeled with shock as his arm swept over my prone body: his hand slapped me hard across the face.

Sitting by the water I finger my face, it stings and feels spongy and swollen. I walk back through the grove, and go back into the hallway. I walk over to the mirror and stare: there's an unsightly purple welt across my cheek. Pathetically tears well up, and roll uncontrollably down my cheeks. Suddenly I feel scared: I've never been an aggressive kid. I detest violence, it sickens me to the core.

I return to the bedroom. Bryan is sitting on the edge of the bed, his back to the door as I enter. I wait for him to speak, expecting something, I don't know what. He turns and grins sheepishly, 'What's up? Cat got your tongue?' I stand stunned, what does he expect? He finally picks up on my dismay. 'Look love, sorry about last night. It won't happen again, I promise. You need to understand, I can't be messed about. I won't have it. I can't deal with it. If I want someone, they have to be there for me. Now you know, you'll get it and we'll be fine.' He stands up, comes across the room. His hand reaches towards my face. I flinch lightly and he stares displeased. Then he speaks quietly, sweetly, 'Trust me, I'll look after you, poor boy: like you've never been looked after before.' I shiver involuntarily.

No more assaults or aggression. Against the odds, the holiday passes reasonably pleasurably; but I never quite relax. Even with plenty of sun, confoundingly good sex and yes the inevitable sangria, I am vigilant. It becomes clear that Bryan has his own plans for our future, but he does not consult with me. There is no room for negotiation. I do not want to let him down. He is, after all, my first real lover. I am terrified of provoking him.

We return to Birmingham after a week in Spain: a week that has spun me through eternity into a different universe. So much has happened. The realisation of my sexuality relieves me of a massive weight. I am gay. This liberates me. I know that I can love and lust with passion. I don't have to live my life in grey any more, dancing around half truths for fear of punishment.

What extremes to juggle though: Bryan's need to control devastates me. I don't know what sense to make of his attack on me. I am in danger of thinking, 'Maybe I asked for it?' Ironically, as I have come alive, I feel that I am surrendering, my will expiring. I need time to think. As we unpack back at home, I suggest that I might visit Dublin for a few weeks, until the start of term, see my folks again. Bryan spitefully spits out venomous words, 'When your family know that you're queer they'll cut you out. And it's only fair they know the truth, I might call them.' I feel tears of hopelessness and helplessness drowning me. Then Bryan lays his final bait: 'I'm your only real friend, if you did but know it. If you go home, it's obvious you couldn't give a monkey's for me! Best I take some pills, enough to put me out of my misery for good. Then you'll regret being such a hard hearted little prick tease.'

I cannot be responsible for this, for the death of my lover. I am not a mercenary, self-seeking bastard. I do care. I feel pressure tightening around my neck like a lasso. I am caught, reeled in, out-manoeuvred. I have to stay, enslaved. Have I moved from one prison to another?


  1. vivid and convincing depiction of the cruelties and confusions of a burgeoning relationship. innocence enslaved by desperation and cunning.
    really first class

    Michael McCarthy

  2. Aside from the emotional descriptions and the well played depiction of inner turmoil, I like the rhythm and pace of the writing. Nicely done

  3. I would like to have read more. 'Finding Out' flowed well.

  4. Highly-accomplished prose.
    My cousin took his own life after being threatened with blackmail following the discovery of his gay relationship (this was 1961). For many years I felt that it couldn't happen now because of the change in the law. But as this story amply illustrates the issue is not one of legality or being found out. Gay or 'straight' it doesn't make any difference, it's all about personality and power. Bryan's pathological need for control over the narrator through violence and cruelty is finally surmounted with his most deadly weapon; psychological blackmail. I would call Bryan's bluff, let him pop his pills, it's the narrator's life I fear for!
    A great read, engaging from start to finish.

  5. Thank you for all your kind reviews, and for taking the time to read my work. I really appreciate being able to access this community of writers through Charlie's site, hopefully we can all extend our frontiers with support from others.
    Best wishes,

  6. I was caught up in this story as I read it, feeling the excitement of the narrator as he discovered more about himself through his relationship with Bryan, and then my heart fell when Bryan began to be abusive and controlling. I agree with irihapeti that this could definitely be expanded into a longer work, which I would greatly enjoy reading. Well done!

  7. Wow that was intense! I was hooked from the start because you capture the protagonist's voice and character so well. Enjoyed how the drama really builds up towards the end too. Well done!
    Charlotte Hayden

  8. Compelling reading if slightly chance of being distracted though...vivid scene setting and character evolution...culminating in a denouement of distinction.