Jump to content

stuyounger

Author: Author
  • Content count

    56
  • Joined

  • Last visited

Community Reputation

419 People Like Me!

About stuyounger

  • Rank
    Member

Recent Profile Visitors

1,939 profile views
  1. stuyounger

    Aftermath. June 2010. Adam.

    The sun was high in the sky over Heaton Park on the edge of town. Thomas and Cameron appeared in the distance and gradually got larger and larger, approaching the group of them sitting on a picnic rug, munching crisps and sipping wine from plastic glasses. They were far enough into the park that there was no sound of traffic, and the only distractions were the invisible buzzing crickets and three guys in shorts and nothing else, kicking around a football seductively. “I wonder how you chose this spot” Cameron said as soon as he got close enough, glancing over obviously at the footballing torsos. The two of them joined the group, offering a couple of bottles of bubbles. Ali got to work opening up the first bottle, and the cork was quickly flying through the air over their heads. Cameron laughed. “It’s funny. That sound always takes me back to this time in an underground club in Berlin. “Cam, don’t even…” Ali started. “Honestly, the look on his face when that cork flew out…” “So is everything sorted out with your old flatmate?” Thomas asked, once they had settled down and poured the wine around. Adam nodded, and swallowed a mouthful of the prosecco. “Yeah. I mean, we haven’t heard much more since seeing his parents. All I got was a text to say he came back, they spoke to him, and they’re going to sort out all the bills. Simon got his money back straight away too. I guess Paul’s going to be working off that debt for a few years.” “So all’s good with the world now?” Adam nodded, slightly half-heartedly, and Thomas raised an eyebrow. Ali rolled her eyes. “He’s spent the last half hour moaning about the poor supply of nice men in Manchester.” Thomas nodded. “You don’t have to tell me”. “Seriously though. I’ve been single for almost a year now, and the number of credible dates I’ve been on has been, oh, now, let me count them, erm, that would be, none.” “No harm playing the field a bit” Cameron suggested, his eyes dancing mischievously. “Exactly, Cam’s been doing it for twenty years” Thomas added, and received a light hit on the arm. “I actually think I might be ready though. I’m kind of done playing the field. I’ve had my fun. I’m ready for something slightly more serious than a few alcopops, a quick shag and an early morning walk home”. “So what does your ideal guy look like?” Nancy asked. She was sitting on the opposite side of the picnic blanket, her right hand in James’ left. Adam shrugged. “I mean, you can’t overthink these things. You never know who you’re going to fall for. But, I don’t know, he’d probably be about 6’, blond, maybe like a strong jawbone. Deep sexy voice, but probably with cool arty type glasses. Bit of a geek maybe, but he’d be pretty athletic, strong arms, big thighs, maybe like a runner. And I reckon he’d have a creative but also quite technical job. Some kind of designer or something maybe.” “It’s so messed up” Ali said. “Nine months and you still haven’t met someone that meets those very basic criteria…” James and Nancy started to jointly tell the story of their up and down relationship and Adam watched his flatmate. He knew that James wasn’t going to tell them the whole story. He doubted that would ever go far beyond him and Nancy. He had been so much better though since he’d told her all about what happened. When she touched him now he didn’t flinch. Or if he did, he covered it expertly. He had been seeing a counsellor again, and she had started attending too, which had improved things a lot. He looked so comfortable with her now. She knew that when he freaked out about something that it was probably not about her. They were such a handsome couple too, and just had that connection between them. That spark. God, he wanted that. “So, Mr Delaney” Ali said. “You’ve been here 45 minutes, and you still haven’t told us about your rocketing to the seat of power”. Adam watched Thomas laugh modestly and deny any sort of influence, but he could see beneath that a new self-belief in his friend. The election had been a disaster for the Liberal Democrats in many ways. All but one of their candidates up for re-election lost their seat, but one man came through it. The electoral swing against the party was huge, but it was a national party problem. The same thing had happened across the country. There was nothing that the local politicians could do about it. But Thomas’ vote remained steady. He lost a few, but he held on. Suddenly local voters had something new and fresh to get interested in. He was saying things that people actually responded to. People had actually voted for the person, not the party. The next day, amidst the gloom of the defeat and the triumph for Labour that was on the front pages of the local paper, there was a big article on page 6 about the emergence of a new leader. The local journalists knew that something interesting had just happened, even if it wasn’t quite headline news. That was a month ago, and since then Thomas had taken the party by the scruff of the neck. Their old leader had been deposed in the election, and gone into retreat, and so Thomas stepped up. Within a week the party had voted with a two thirds majority for Thomas as the new leader. Adam never fully understood what happened with the guy from Australia, Ciaran. Ali told him all about their reunion after the big speech, and the obvious bond between them. He gathered they’d been old lovers, but then the guy just disappeared off again. Thomas seemed to be doing ok with it, but it had to be tough finding a guy that was perfect for you, and then having to accept that you couldn’t have him. Adam tuned back into the conversation as Thomas brought up the airport development with Ali. “Man, I don’t even want to hear. It’s just another chapter in my year of shit.” “No, no, you might like this.” Ali looked sceptical. “The whole thing has ground to a halt. It turns out there was a bit of a problem with one of the guys involved in raising the funds. A lot of the arrangements have been made through tory old boy connections, but it turns out there was a weak link. They’re trying to keep it under wraps because it’s not going to look good if it leaks out into the press. But the upshot is the whole thing will be pushed back at least a year. They’re calling it site readiness issues, I think.” Ali was grinning. “So what’s the real reason?” “Well, this is the good bit. Apparently this guy had got involved providing some informal legal advice. Quite a young guy, a high flyer. Worked at a big tobacco firm”. “You’re fucking kidding me?” Ali said grinning wider. “Paul?” Adam said, obviously. Thomas smiled and raised his eyebrows affirmatively. Ali shook her head. “You might have just made my year.” James got onto questioning Thomas and Cameron about the old days and the beginnings of Canal Street. Daniel suggested an ice cream, and Adam was the only one to take him up, so they got up and left the others to talk history. “You’re going to meet the right guy you know” Daniel told him. “You just have to give it time, and, you know, enjoy the interim.” Adam made a non-committal noise. “How long since you were with a guy you could see yourself staying with?” Daniel thought about it for a second. “It wasn’t so bad with Carl…” “What?” Adam said, ready to launch the case against Carl. “No, I mean, it wasn’t right. At all. But he was on the right track I mean.” Adam looked unconvinced. “Look, it’s hard, obviously. But it only has to happen one time.” Adam nodded. “So how about this guy you’re seeing now?” “Oh, Aled? No, I don’t think he’s a long term one” Daniel said shaking his head. “But damn, his arms are like rainforest branches”. Daniel gestured with his hands as he got into the description. “Veins bulging out like creepers running along them. Oh god, and he goes at it like a ma-chine, it’s like the hottest…” Adam laughed. “I get it!” Daniel smiled. “So hey. It can be good to be single for a bit too. You can come watch box sets with Ali and me on Friday nights too. Eat Mexican food and drink gin.” Adam laughed, and in his head planned to never become part of that. Daniel went off to the toilet block as Adam queued for the ice creams. He picked up a pair of extravagant three-scoop ice creams from the van and turned to head back. As he took a turning step away from the van, the guy behind took a step forward, and then realising their momentum towards one another, both quickly chose a direction to step towards in order to avoid the collision. They both went the same way, and Adam couldn’t pull back in time. He watched in slow motion as the top scoop of honeycomb ice cream, already lubricated from the sun’s heat on it, slid forwards and made the 10 cm jump from the cone in his hand that he was desperately trying to pull back towards him, onto the bright white t-shirt of the guy in front of him. It splattered right around the guy's stomach, before sliding down to the floor with a slop. “Fuckfuck” Adam said hopelessly, then looked up into the green eyes standing before him, and felt as though the air had been squeezed out of his body. “Don’t worry, it’s my fault” came the deep, kind voice. Adam was lost in the rash of blond hair swept across his forehead and the designer stubble clutching that strong jawbone. “I’m so sorry, let me get you some water to clean it off”. “It’s fine man” the guy said. “It’s getting hot anyway”. He took off his backpack and pulled the tshirt over his head, carefully folding it so the stain was on the inside, then placing it in the top of his bag. He stood back up and Adam tried not to be distracted by the six pack”. The guy looked at him strangely for a second. “Do I know you from somewhere? I feel like we’ve met before.” “I don’t think… erm…”. His gaze caught on the superman logo on the skimpy royal blue shorts the guy was wearing. “I don’t know. Maybe”. His heart was seriously thundering. This guy was…unexpected. A few seconds seemed to pass and Adam knew something had to happen. Their eyes were definitely making contact more than you’d expect. But two guys couldn’t just hook up in the queue for an ice cream van in a Manchester public park in 2010, could they? “Ok” the guy said, smiling and raising his eyebrows in conclusion. “I’m going to go get myself one of those.” “Or you could go on a date with me?” Adam blurted out. What the fuck am I doing? “Maybe I could do both?” the guy said, raising his eyebrows before his face broke into a relaxed smile. Goose pimples rose across Adam’s whole body. “What, really?” The guy laughed, pulled out his wallet, fished out a business card and slipped it into Adam’s back pocket. “Call me”, he said, then raising again those beautiful curved eyebrows, “soon.” Daniel strode back up as Adam started to walk away from the best moment of his year so far. His heart was in overdrive, trying to bounce its way out of his chest. Daniel grabbed the card that had been slipped into Adam’s back pocket. “Wow. Liam Silversmith. Liam with the ridiculously beautiful body. Liam the architect. Honestly. Who cruises a bloody ice cream queue?” Adam smiled. It only had to happen once.
  2. stuyounger

    Election. May 2010. Thomas

    Thomas stared into the long mirror, hanging over the sink in the dimly lit Town Hall washroom. The thick wooden door was closed behind him and the chamber reverbated with an ominous hum that rang through his ears, suffocating the rest of the world outside. His face was as blank as whitewashed brick, but behind it the cogs were whirring. All of them trying to answer one question. What the fuck am I supposed to do now? He closed his eyes and reopened them 11 days earlier. It was a fresh spring day. Sunny, but not especially warm, as the city often was. The trams were bustling around Piccadilly gardens, chugging and clacking their way through the centre of town. A guy with dreadlocks offered them a paper, and they simultaneously raised their right hands to decline it, without interrupting the conversation. “So tell me you didn’t fly all the way across the world because Jenny told you I needed cheering up?” Ciaran laughed. “Well…” he said, pausing, as if wondering what it was that did make him return. He shrugged, “I was due a visit to the folks anyway.” “But you came on your own right?” Ciaran nodded. Thomas wanted to ask about the Australian guy, but he couldn’t find the words. They reached the bar they were heading for and slipped inside. It was early in the afternoon so the bar was quiet. Ciaran had been shattered the previous night, so they agreed he would go and sleep and have a lie in, and they would save all of their catching up for a long afternoon today. They got a seat and whiled away the first couple of hours catching up on all the niceties, the friends and families, what everybody was doing, the births and deaths. Only after they had exhausted this did they move onto the real topic of conversation. “So what did Jenny say to you then?” Ciaran looked deep into his old friend’s eyes. “She told me you were down. Like how you used to get at Uni sometimes. Except she said it had been going on a while now.” Thomas made a half laughing pffft sound and waved his hand, suggesting that this was an exaggeration, but Ciaran was unfooled. “I don’t get it Thom? You’ve always been the guy who has everything. The looks, the brains, the charisma. You can do anything.” Thomas turned his face a little, shying away from the words. “What’s more, you’re a bloody politician. You’ve got the pedestal. If something makes you angry, you can do something about it.” “What does it change though?” Thomas said. “It all seems so pointless”. Ciaran sat back in his chair as if he’d been slapped. “You ever heard about Australia?” “What?” Thomas asked, not sure what he was getting at. “In an age where every civilised country in the world recognises same sex unions, Australia is still living in the dark ages. And their stupid bloody macho culture and legal denial of what is a normal and natural human condition means millions of people over there think homophobia is completely fine.” Thomas remained quiet. “And you want to know why it’s so much worse over there? It’s because there aren’t enough bloody heroes out there fighting these battles. The stonewall rioters and the Harvey Milks and Peter Tatchells and Ian McKellans of the world. Those people that campaigned and fought and made change happen. People like you”. “Shut up” he said gently. “I’m not a hero. I’m a jobsworth.” “I remember that day you stood up in full Council and accused the deputy leader of the Council of homophobia when he was pushing to cut Pride week down to a single weekend. The whole of the village knew that day they had someone out there watching their backs.” Thomas smiled at the memory. “I heard about what happened with the group. Well, with it all”. Thomas nodded. “I’m going to lose my seat to Labour.” “You don’t know that. You were rocking that hall last night” Thomas smiled. “It was my last hurrah. It’s time to move onto other things.” Ciaran sat back, had a drink and smiled. “Look, I want whatever will make you happy boyo” he said. “If politics isn’t working for you, then that’s fine. Time for a new chapter. But don’t ever think by being brave and standing up for what you believe in, that you’re not making a difference. You always made me believe.” Back in the dimly lit bathroom, Thomas turned to the left a little to look at the side of his head in the mirror. He spotted a bit of wax that he hadn’t rubbed in properly and dealt with it. It was strange looking back. How his life that afternoon had lain so much in the hands of somebody else. If Ciaran had said then and there that he wanted them to be together in Australia, he would have dropped everything and followed him back across the world. No question. Ciaran didn’t though. And there was no way Thomas could have asked. He closed his eyes and opened them again ten days ago. Jenny was sitting in his apartment on the edge of the sofa, chattering away excitedly about the event from two days earlier, as he nursed his thumping head and sipped at an aspirin and Berocca mix. He didn’t even remember where he and Ciaran had ended up last night. “So if nothing else, it shows that you’ve still got it. You can light up a hall of people when you talk. I mean fifty people signed up to support us. Fifty!” Thomas made a grunting sound. “What?” Jenny asked. Thomas cleared his throat. “50 votes won’t stop me getting booted out though.” “No, but it’s a good start.” “I’m not going to win Jenny. Not nearly.” “You could try. We can still finish what we started. All you have to do is scrape through, then with a reduced party group, assuming it goes as everyone’s predicting, there’ll be enough chaos and unrest for you to step in and say…” “Jenny” he said quite firmly. “I just don’t think I want it any more.” She stopped dead in her tracks. “But tell me the other night didn’t feel amazing.” He smiled. “It was unbelievable” he said, then looked into her eyes, “Thankyou”. She stood up. “I don’t want your thanks Thom. I want you to give a shit”. She picked up her coat, turned and left. He looked into those 35-year old eyes reflecting back at him. It felt like a long time since he’d known what he wanted. How long? At 16 he could remember wanting to be an architect, that dream of building something big and fantastic. Something that would live longer than he did. At about 20 he knew he wanted to be a politician. University opened his eyes to the world, and there was so much he wanted to make better, and politics was the way to do it. By 24 he was well on his way with those ambitions, and more of his attention turned to men and getting all the action he possibly could. Canal Street became a hunting ground for him. Everything seemed within such easy reach a decade ago. There was nothing he couldn’t do. But then somehow, at some point over the last few years, the men had started to drop away, then the career had seemed less interesting, and finally the politics had become a futile way of whiling away his days. He had stopped believing in everything he’d ever wanted. He shut his eyes and it was six days ago. He was sitting in the bar at the Cornerhouse arts cinema, sipping a cappuccino and reading through the evening news. Page four showed an awful picture of Helena Hodge, standing uncomfortably in front of the foundations of some new building with a construction hat on, attempting to smile for the camera. She looked like a poster girl for a trapped wind remedy. The story asked whether hers was perhaps the most vulnerable seat for the Lib Dems at the upcoming election. The story anticipated that around half of the Lib Dems standing would lose their seats. Of those standing Thomas’ was one of the more marginal, and in the table of candidates shown in the article, his seat was marked red. An expected loss to Labour. It was hard not to take it personally, but he was coming to terms with it. Whether he wanted it or not, his political career was into its final hours. His eyes opened at the sound of somebody trying to open the washroom door behind him. “Busy” he shouted, and he heard a muffled sound, followed by feet trudging away. His mind ticked back to 45 minutes earlier. The returning officer had begun to read aloud the results ward by ward. 32 councillors were up for election, of which 12 were Liberal Democrats. Amongst the first five wards, they had already lost three councillors, including Helena. Her face looked like agony as the result was read. Thomas almost felt sorry for her. But this was the moment to restore a bit of party confidence. All eyes were on Gordon Stead, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group, and holder of that seat for the last 32 years. He looked a model of confidence and calm as the result came through. Then, like the fall of a guillotine blade, the officer read aloud that with a majority of 632 votes, the elected councillor for Didsbury East was Alison Newton, Labour. Thomas’ jaw dropped with those all around the room. If Thomas’ coffin was not yet fully sealed up, then this was surely the final nail. If the leader of the group couldn’t win, then nobody could. His mind wandered back to eight days earlier, Ciaran was round at the flat, as Thomas made dinner for the two of them. This was Ciaran’s last day in Manchester before heading back to Wales to visit his family. They’d seen a lot of each other over the last few days, but somehow neither had broached the subject of Lucas, the Australian boyfriend. Ciaran was staring at the photo of them that sat on Thomas’ shelves when he came through, tasting the edge of a roast potato that was straight out of the oven. “You remember that night?” Thomas asked, with a little trepidation. Ciaran smiled gently. “Sure. The night I told you I was buggering off to the other side of the planet.” Thomas didn’t answer him. He finally summoned the courage to ask. “So are you and Lucas still…going well?” Ciaran looked up and caught his eye, and then nodded. Thomas put down the potato. “Jesus, I’m sorry I didn’t ask before. I’m such an idiot. It’s just, you know…” “I know” Ciaran said quickly. “I guess I always thought…” “Me too” he said, confirming what neither of them had ever said. Thomas smiled. “I suppose I was hoping you’d say…” Ciaran smiled again. “Yeah, I guessed maybe so. That’s why I didn’t say anything these last few days either”. Thomas nodded. “The roasties are ready.” He went and served up, returning a few minutes later with the food, and they both sat down in silence and took a mouthful. Thomas poured them each a glass of wine. “I care about you a whole lot you know?” Thomas said, finally. Ciaran nodded and put down his cutlery. “Thom, i’m always going to love you, it’s just that…” Thomas held up a hand. “You don’t have to say it. I wasn’t asking. I just needed to say that out loud. When I think back, I wonder if I never did tell you.” Ciaran shook his head. “You never had to boyo. Some things you don’t have to say out loud”. “But I think back to the mixed signals I used to give. The way I’d always end up going home with someone else”. “But that’s who you were then. And I couldn’t have loved you any more for being that person. Thom, those were the most magical days. I think they always will be. But then life moved on, and I needed it. Moving out there has been amazing for me.” “You’re happy?” Ciaran beamed. “I really am. It’s not at all what we had, but it’s different and exciting and it feels like I have control in my own life”. Thomas took a big glug of wine. “So it’s time for me to put down this candle and move on?” Ciaran locked eyes with him. “Come on. You’ll never get away from me. We can have all the boyfriends and husbands we want, but I’m always with you.” Thomas gulped down the lump in his throat and nodded. “Me too” he said softly. “Anyway, you and me, we’re way bigger than that boyfriend nonsense. No arguments about the ironing are going to bring us down. We’re forever men boyo”. There was a tear in his eye. Thomas raised a glass and a clink sealed their promise. A telephone was ringing as his mind moved forward to just five days ago. The final Saturday before the election. “Jenny. What’s with the early call?” It wasn’t even 8am. “Ok Thom, don’t be mad, but we have 28 students converging outside the student union at 10am today in Liberal Democrat colours, ready to spend the day campaigning. For you.” “Ok.” “Look, I know what you said, but how can you turn down… wait, was that an ok?” “Yeah. I’ll be there” “Really?” “Yes..” “You’re not just saying it to get rid of me?” “I’ll be there” “Wow, ok. Listen, you need to be inspiring. Channel MLK, you know”. That afternoon Oxford road became a sea of yellow. Over 40 students turned up in the end and lined right the way along the strip from the city centre, down past the BBC building, past the University, past the takeaway with the Lemn Sissay poem about the rain in Manchester, right down to Whitworth Park. Armed with flyers and enthusiasm unbounded by reality, they talked about a better city changing the world. The yellow army went to work promoting a new vision of what the city could be, and one man that could make it happen. Thomas rested his arms on the washbasin. He turned on the tap and splashed some water over his face, reliving in his mind the moment ten minutes ago. There had been a recount in his ward, and so the returning officer had held it back to report at the end. They had been waiting a few minutes for the result of the recount, the losses of the party weighing heavy in the hearts of the gathered Liberal Democrats. Every one of the candidates standing had lost today. 11 councillors wiped out. He was surely heading the same way. But then what was a successful outcome for him? He was ready to let life decide. And so he stood there, just as last time, unafraid of the outcome, lacking the nerves that had dogged the faces of other candidates. He needed a decision about what to do with the next years of his life, and this was it. If he was released from this duty, he marvelled at all the new interests and campaigns he could take up. He was ready for that outcome. More than ready. “And now the final result of the day, for the Hulme ward. With a majority of 49 votes, the councillor for Hulme ward is Thomas Delaney, Liberal Democrats.” Jenny, by his side let out a screaming cheer and was joined by shouts of the previously distraught Liberal Democrat contingent. Thomas stood there stunned, nodded to the returning officer, who moved to wrap up proceedings. A procession of the party faithful crowded him, hugged him and shared words of kindness and desperate relief. As quickly as he could, he found his way to the bathroom stall, along a quiet corridor of the building, and locked the wooden door behind him. He stood and looked into the mirror. He realised how little he had expected this. How little he was prepared for this outcome. But maybe how much he had needed it. A second knock came at the door. “Councillor Delaney” came the sounds of a smug Jenny. “There’s a bottle of champagne out here with your name on it. Now can you shift your arse. We’ve got a city to sort out.” A smile crept across his face. “Maybe he was ready to be a hero”.
  3. One of the wonders of living in the centre of a huge city is the realisation that descends on you after a little while that, actually, it isn’t such a huge city after all. In fact it’s a small village. It’s just that it’s a small village that’s rammed with exciting things to do and see, and that has tens or hundreds of thousands of tourists passing through each day. But actually, like any village there are little everyday coincidences. The people you meet who know other people. Or the people you date who have dated other friends. Or the places you go and bump into people you never expected to see. One of the things you never realise though, is that for every coincidence there is an equal and opposite effect. Liam Silversmith was sitting in his flat on the second floor of Cotton Tower. He was a little bored, but not to the extent that he was willing to get up and unpack those final boxes that had lain stubbornly unopened for the two months since he moved in. Man, he wanted a good date. He wanted one of those dates where at least a small part of his heart believed it could actually go somewhere. It had been too long, and, truth be told, it was a little disheartening. He was 5’11, a regular triathlete, with the build that goes with that. He had a good jawbone, strikingly blond hair with designer stubble, and bright green eyes that people could pick out from across the room. He was passionate, and adventurous, and caring, and although he would never say it, if you asked his friends to describe perfect boyfriend material, most of them would think about him. And yet, no good dates. He picked up his laptop, marked with the giant superman logo across the top, lifted the lid, and clicked onto Gayzer as soon as it loaded up. He had been on here too often these last few weeks. As ever, he looked first at his inbox and today found three flashing new messages. He opened up the first two and found that both correspondents looked old enough to be his father. The third message was an inane hello from a blank profile. He sighed, and clicked onto the local search. Only a few hundred metres away was the profile of a guy that looked around his age. His profile showed him standing on a sunny beach, his shirt mostly open, revealing an admittedly appealing chest. He clicked into the profile and read the description. Adventurous guy into music, travel, nice beers and nice bums. Always up for a chat. Short but sweet. He looked a second time at the photo. This guy looked familiar; he was sure he’d seen that face before. He tried hard to think back. A few hundred metres away, Adam was clearing up the mess from last night’s dinner, his iPod on random, singing along to classic Ash tunes under his breath as he contentedly tidied. James stumbled into the kitchen-lounge. “Oh wow” he said, looking at the iPod. “It’s like a flashback to when you guys over here knew how to make music.” Adam smiled. “We heard back from Paul’s stepdad yesterday. They’re sorting everything. I think it’s actually over.” “No way! That’s so amazing. So did they tell you anything more? Like why or how he managed to do it all? Or if they know what’s wrong with him?” Adam shook his head. “I guess that’s going to remain one of life’s mysteries. I doubt we’ll ever see him again. And even if we did I’m sure he’d never say a word about it. It’ll all just be left to our imaginations now, like it was all a weird dream.” “So this is like the first day of the rest of your life?” “It feels like it. I’m so ready for a fresh start.” James raised his eyebrows, waiting for more. “I’ve invited Ryan over. I think I’m going to break it off”. He could see James trying to hold back a smile. “Yeah. I know.” Adam said, noting the ill-disguised glee. James excused himself and soon afterwards discreetly headed out to do some shopping. The next hour swept quickly by and before Adam knew it, Ryan was there in the flat, and he was having that conversation again. “So, I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t think it’s going to work out. In the long term, you know?” He looked across at Ryan, hoping this might not end up being too painful. Ryan’s expression didn’t dip. Instead, he broke into a grin and grabbed at his crotch. “I reckon I can convince you otherwise”. Adam squeezed his eyes shut. He needed to develop his breaking up skills. This was just awkward. “Ryan, shut up. I’m serious.” “Babe…” he said, looking almost more confused than upset. “Look, you’re a great guy, but…” “Whatever, come here and…” “Ryan” Adam said seriously. “It’s over.” Suddenly the light in Ryan’s eyes switched off. “You’re serious aren’t you?” He said it like he was affronted by the suggestion. Adam looked relieved that the message had got through. “I’m sorry man. You’re a great guy but…” “You know I fucking knew this would happen” he said, his voice snapping. His face screwed up, almost folding in on itself, and his body twisted unnaturally like his blood had turned to lemon juice. “I. FUCKING. TOLD. PAUL. THIS. WOULD HAPPEN” Adam took a cautious step backwards and away from Ryan. He felt chills up his spine. “What are you talking about?” Ryan laughed like he was unhinged. “I knew Paul. Me and Paul were buddies. Oh, didn’t you know that?” Adam eyed him cautiously, maintaining a distance like he was trapped in a room with a rabid dog. “Oh yeah, it all started a few months back. One night in town when we met in a club, about four in the morning. He told me a little bit more about his life than he really meant to”. Adam’s eyes opened wider. “What are you saying?” Ryan ignored the question, looked round the room for a second, then decided he wanted to make himself comfortable. He took a seat on the sofa and lounged back. “Get me a beer” he demanded. “Um, no, fuck off” Adam said, as calmly as he could. Ryan stared murderously at him for a few seconds then stood up. “Ok, so you want me to go?” He stood there and you could see in his eyes he knew he was holding all the cards. Adam could get rid of him right now if he wanted, he knew that even if Ryan resisted he could force him out. They locked eyes in a stand-off. Adam didn’t want to concede, but the curiosity was too much for him. “Ok, wait.” He reluctantly went to the fridge, got a beer out, opened it and put it on the table in front of the sofa where Ryan had returned. Liam sat and tried to think about it. Where had he seen that face? An idea came to him. That day in the Loom Inn, months ago. The end of last summer in fact. He’d had that awkward conversation with Matt, the guy with the terrible breath, breaking the news to him after two dates that he didn’t think it was going to go anywhere. He smiled thinking back. As if to rub salt in the wounds, Matt had caught him checking out the new guy that had walked in, with that figure hugging white t-shirt on. He had to look away when Matt called him on it. But then, before they left, Matt had gone to use the bathroom, and he was free to sit and glance across at the pretty boy with the ruffled hair, chatting with that girl. Then when he got up to go to the bar, the way those jeans wrapped round his ass. Liam couldn’t have been the only one checking that out. It wasn’t just the way he’d looked though. There was something about the way he listened to his friend, caring what she said, but then constantly cutting in with something funny that would made them both break into a smile. He had been very watchable. Ryan took a swig of beer and continued. “So there we are at five in the morning, he’s completely off his face on K or some shit like that. I’d watched him for a bit. He was dancing with anyone and everyone, and as soon as he saw me looking he was all over me. We went and sat down and, man, he could not stop groping me. So I kissed him for a bit, but then there was, like, this wave of tiredness came over us both, like you often get after you sit down on an all-nighter. And that was when it all started spilling out from him. He started telling me how he had this flatmate who paid his rent and bills for him in this fabulous flat. How he didn’t work and just lazed around, read books, and drank and got off his face. Obviously I thought he was bullshitting me, so I made him tell me more. He was reluctant, but I was like, come on, I’m a tweaked random in an all night club. I’m not even going to remember meeting you tomorrow, never mind our conversation.” In spite of himself, Adam wanted to hear every detail. Needed to, almost. “Course, I was lying. I’d only had a few beers. But it made him relax. So then he tells me about the different strings he’s pulling. He’s got this flatmate who doesn’t even realise he’s paying bills for both of them, he’s keeping the letting agent at bay about the rent, he’s got friends lending him money, who he can fob off for a while yet. And all of this is paying for his awesome lifestyle. “So I ask him how he convinces people to lend to him. I mean, why would they trust him? “And then he tells me about the fake life, and how he maintains it. Credibility and confidence are the key things he tells me. Credibility is number one though. People had to believe him. Because if even one person doubted him, they could check up on what he’d said, and it could be all over. So he tells me how he’s made himself this tough-talking lawyer character. He’s read up about it in detail. Serious detail. He knows how to be this person exactly. He’s so convincing as this no-shit, right-wing tory, immoral tobacco lawyer guy, that no-one would question what he claims to be. And that way he’s credible. “But he has to match that with confidence, because he needs to be seen as successful. He has to be likeable enough that people want his friendship, but also tough enough that people trust and respect him. And that means he has be open about his life, he has to have hilarious anecdotes, he has to be sex-crazed and drug-fuelled, so he can be this fun-time high-powered fucked up party animal. And if he carries that off, enough people will love him and everyone will respect him”. “So it was totally pre-meditated” Adam uttered, halfway between a question and a statement. “He’s also an incredible liar. He tells me the hardest thing is keeping track of all the stories. He has to build this world in his head where all the stories he tells become part of the truth. The lawyer world is the world his mind actually spends most of its time in. He tells me that sometimes he wakes up in the morning and for a few seconds he’s not sure which world is the truth. “And then, he tells me, in a few months, he’ll disappear. Vanish without trace. No-one will have a shred of evidence they can use to track him. He’ll go somewhere new, maybe abroad, and start all over again.” Ryan smiled and leaned forward to take a gulp of beer, like it was the end of the story, and Adam struggled to know what to say. Before he could reply though, Ryan swallowed the mouthful and carried on. “So I was like, surely your room-mate realises you’re not working? Surely you can’t completely bullshit someone you live with and see every day?” Adam remained straight-faced. He knew Ryan was looking for a rise but he wasn’t going to get one. He wouldn’t give Ryan the satisfaction. “So then he gets his phone out and shows me a picture of you, and starts laughing. Look, this is why, he says. The thing is, he tells me, my flat-mate is a classic fuckaholic. New to the city. Just broke up with a boyfriend. I saw what he was the first day we met. All he thinks about is the next shag, so there’s no space in his head for thinking about bills or money or any serious shit. Of course, I recognised the photo of you from our one date, but I didn’t tell him that yet. “Seriously? I asked him. “Oh yeah, he tells me. Two drinks and any guy can get him in bed he says, waiting a second for my reaction, then we burst out laughing together”. Adam felt sick inside. “So then I start to smile, and he asks me what I’m smiling about. And that’s when I tell him that I know you. That I already bought you a couple of drinks. And I already shagged you. And I have your number in my phone. “Then he starts to look at me differently. His smile fades a bit. It’s like he’s suddenly sobered up. You’re not still seeing him though? he asks me, and I shake my head. He thinks he’s too good for me, I tell Paul. Then the smile comes back on his face. “I never thought that” Adam interceded. “Whatever. Anyway, he turns to me and says. Well, then I’m sure we can come to some arrangement”. “So, what, he paid you to keep quiet?” Ryan looked at him and smirked. “Jesus, he was so right about you. He didn’t pay me anything dumbass.” Adam looked confused. “Then what?” “He gave me you”. Liam looked at the profile picture again. Another though crossed his mind. That day before Christmas, when the Winter fair was on in Chester. He was home for the weekend and had taken his mum into town. They were slavishly following round that architectural tour of the city, led by his uncle, in the freezing cold. They’d passed by a bar and he’d glanced in the ground level window, and seen that group of twentysomethings at the table below. The guy at the back was taking off his scarf and his pale cheeks were glowing red from being outside. They matched his pretty lips. He remembered that Tintin t-shirt the guy was wearing, and how he’d played out the story in his mind. The guy must be an adventurous type, definitely someone into travelling. He’d thought about going in for a beer, so they might bump into each other, and find out they got along well, and who knows, maybe got together. And then some day gone off and explored the world together, learned about new cultures, met amazing people, had wild, beautiful sex on every continent… Liam had tried to think of an excuse to walk back past the window, but hadn’t been quick enough to think of something. Instead he had moved on to find out more about the foundations of the Guildhall. “What the hell are you talking about?” Adam demanded. “So he tells me you’re easily manipulated. He tells me that if I forget everything about tonight, he can make sure I hook back up with you. Then he tells me that when he disappears, your head will be all over the place. He knows what happens when he vanishes and leaves people behind. You’ll cling to me he says. You’ll be desperate to hold on to anything real. And I’ll be able to keep on nailing you night after night”. “This is crazy, how could he possibly have done that…”. Adam’s brain couldn’t comprehend it. Ryan laughed. “It was pretty easy. He gave me the heads up when he was about to disappear, he told me the things I should say to you that night in the club, he got it all right, everything, right up til now.” “Alright, I’ve heard enough” Adam said, standing up, suddenly decisive, “You can fuck off now.” “He said you’d be mine for at least six months while your head was all over the place”. Adam started to move towards him, and Ryan stood up. “What’s wrong with you?” Adam asked. Ryan moved round the table as Adam approached. “Wrong with me? What’s wrong is how easy you are. And I wasn’t going to turn down a free regular shag.” Adam advanced on him and he backed towards the hallway. Ryan laughed at the disgust on Adam’s face. “Anyway, having that power was too much fun.” Adam reached him and started marching him towards the door. He didn’t struggle but kept on talking. “Paul saw exactly what you were about. It must have been so easy for him. I bet he couldn’t believe his luck finding a flatmate so easy to manipulate.” Adam opened the front door and pushed him through. Ryan gave a last cruel laugh. “Well. It was fun while it lasted pretty boy.” Adam slammed the door shut and raced through to the bathroom. He was sure he was going to be sick. Or maybe it was the other week, Liam considered. That guy who almost rammed into the back of his car at the lights on the ring road. It had all happened so quickly but that guy he had seen in the rear view mirror had distracted him so much, he had almost forgotten to drive off again. He shook away his thoughts, looked again at the profile, and started to write a message. Hey, like your profile. Want to chat sometime? Adam heard the door to the flat open but didn’t move. He was lying on the floor of the bathroom, resting against the rim of the toilet with the lid open, but wasn’t quite sick enough to hurl. He was relieved to hear James’ voice. “Shit man. Are you ok? I saw Ryan storm out. What the hell happened?” Adam looked up. He felt drained. “Did he do something to you?” James asked, sounding angry. Adam shook his head and sat back. He gradually recovered enough to retell the highlights of the story. James knelt down as he listened, and moved to a seated position leaning back against the sink. “What the fuck man? How could anyone be like that?” Adam shook his head. “How could I be stupid enough to let him.” “No way man. This isn’t on you.” “It’s true though. Since I’ve been in this city, all I’ve done is have sex with different guys. I probably deserved this.” “Will you shut up?” James said angrily. “You can sleep with who the hell you want, when you want. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. It’s not hurting anyone. There are sick, screwed up people in this world, but that’s not your fault.” Adam looked up at him, gratefully. “I’m serious. Paul was a piece of work, and he fooled everyone he met. You were one of many. I mean, sure, you trust people, but how else are you going to live your life?” Adam was sitting back against the bath, across from James. “Six months I’ve been here, looking for guys I like, and guys I could see myself with. Ryan was as close as I got. And it turns out he was a fucking nut job” “There are going to be better guys” Adam shook his head. “I don’t know. I haven’t found any. Maybe relationships are not for me. I mean, maybe fundamentally, a regular relationship between two guys can’t work”. James gave him a disapproving look. “That’s obviously bollocks” “I’m serious, maybe it’s true.” They both went quiet, lost in their thoughts. “You knew in the back of your head it wasn’t right though, didn’t you?” James asked. Adam looked up. He thought about the question. “I don’t know” “Well, could you ever see you and Ryan getting married?” Adam laughed. “No” “Ok, so I think somewhere in there you knew. I mean, like, I knew”. Adam waited for him to go on. “I’m just saying, on some levels, he was what you needed in the last few months. You wanted someone you could shag around with, and cuddle and, whatever. But you weren’t ready for a real relationship. It was too soon after your ex.” “So…” “So, I’m saying that what he said is bullshit. I don’t think they made you do anything you didn’t want to. You were getting what you needed. You were using him, the same way he was using you. So yeah, it’s seriously, seriously fucked up the way he was thinking about it, and what he was doing. But you guys were never serious anyway. So what he says can’t hurt you. I mean, tell me I’m wrong?” Adam’s face lightened slightly, and James smiled. “Ok, that’s more like it. Come on, let’s go get tea. On the upside, you never have to see that asshole again, or your asshole ex-flatmate. And hey, who knows, the guy of your dreams is maybe just one message away on that dating site of yours.” Liam looked again at the Gayzer message, his finger hovering over send. Hey, like your profile. Want to chat sometime? Was it a bit generic. He hated getting thoughtless messages like that. He clicked back onto the profile for inspiration. It was a short profile description though. There wasn’t anything there for him to comment on. Maybe it was because this guy was too shallow to have anything interesting to say? He looked again at the photo. I mean, it was definitely hot. He could imagine kissing this guy. Ok, and a lot more than kissing. But that wasn’t enough, there had to be more than that. And actually, was this guy a bit of a poser? The open shirt, I mean, it was a bit obvious. Maybe this guy wasn’t right. He thought about it for a second, then returned to the message window, deleted the text and closed it down. He didn’t need the disappointment of another date that would go nowhere.
  4. stuyounger

    Crossroads. April 2010. Thomas

    Following Ali’s introduction, Thomas stepped out and saw a full hall before him. There had to be 200 or more people out there. His head was suddenly light and it felt like he was going to trip over with every step he took towards the centre of the stage. He managed to thank Ali, but then experienced a strange wave of panic as she headed back towards the side of the stage. He thought of his mother withdrawing, the first time she gave him a push and left him to glide along on a bike without stabilisers. Ali had left a note on the lectern with a few prompts in case he lost focus, but it wasn’t helping. He tried to focus on the training he’d had years ago. His gaze rested on the clock at the back of the hall. Don’t look at their faces. He stumbled over an introduction, and there was a nervous silence around the room. He’d given a hundred speeches before, and there was usually more noise than this. He looked down again at the note Ali had left, but couldn’t make sense of where to start. His mind flashed back to that assembly in Year Nine. Standing proudly in front of everybody in the year group, trying to explain about this new theory that scientists were talking about: the greenhouse effect. But he couldn’t get the words out right, and the boys at the front heckled him the whole way. Then Jamie Nafferton, four rows back shouted out let’s stick Delaney in the greenhouse and the whole assembly bust out laughing. He’d wanted to die. And here he was again. All those eyes on him, and he couldn’t get the words out. Suddenly all that learning, all that experience he’d gained fell to nothing. This was why he was giving it up. Thomas tried to gather himself together. He couldn’t go down with such a whimper. He tried to focus on at least being professional about this. “I’m here today to talk to you about climate” he stated, but his voice was still faltering a little. What was the party line here? One last shot for the team? “So I’m coming to you from a Liberal Democrat point of view here...we have a stronger position on the climate than most of our rivals…however this has to be balanced with other goals.” What am I even saying? “Like by caving in to the airport developers” a voice shouted from down near the front. Thomas took a nervous breath, glanced at Ali’s note and then sideways to where she stood at the side of the stage. He saw her gesturing in a circle with her hands. What was she doing? “That’s certainly not our position” he continued cautiously, “but, of course, we do recognise that for the good of the city, we have to balance economic and environmental goals”. He felt uncomfortable saying the words. But however bad Gordon and Peter were, they would still do more for this agenda than Labour. He could hear the mutters around the room. He glanced back at the side of the stage and saw Ali was holding a sheet of paper and miming flipping it over to the other side. He looked down at the note, then up at the dissatisfied audience, and then down again to the note. He flipped it over, and on the back a short note was scrawled. Just tell them what you bloody think. He looked up at the clock at the back of the room which revealed only five agonising minutes had passed since he came onto the stage. He looked back again at Ali, who gestured furiously with her eyebrows for him to get going, grinned at her and returned his gaze to his audience. “Oh do you know what, sod it” he said, ripping the note in two and throwing it over his shoulder. “Shall I tell you what I really think?” A few positive sounds came from the floor. “Look, climate change is basically the biggest booby trap our earth has ever laid for us. And you smart young people here are going to be the leaders of our future, so you are going to get passed this thorny baton, and you will have to run with the task of facing up to the biggest challenge we have faced as a species in all of our history” A few claps rang round the room. “Because those massive enchanting glaciers we see floating magnificently at either end of the globe are only glimpses of the scale of our frozen planet. Those bloody giant icebergs floating on our waters only reveal about a tenth of themselves to our above-sea human eyes. Imagine it. As huge as those icebergs you see on TV are, there is another 90% of them lying right beneath the surface. So while your eyes tell you that you’re seeing the full body of a snake coming out of the water, always remember that it isn’t a snake at all, it’s only a hair on the head of a frozen Medusa below”. His mouth was still dry, but those looked like enraptured eyes around the room now. “Yes, these floating ice cubes in our overfilled glasses of martini… ”. He walked to the side of the lectern and leaned more casually against it. “…those ice cubes are the biggest threat to life on earth. Because as the room gets warmer, and the ice cubes melt and shrink, drip by drip, so the glass starts to fill and fill, and as the level reaches the rim, it starts to drip on down over the edges, onto our mahogany tables. And as the cubes gradually diminish, millimetre by millimetre and the liquid drains over the edges of the glass, so will the seas over our lands”. “People, this is what is happening now, and this is what has been happening for 100 years. And 100 years in the future, if the same thing is still happening, then we are going to be facing absolute global catastrophe. And unless my generation, and your generation, and every generation from here on in becomes guardian to this threat, then 200 years from now, our species might not be here at all. This is the scale of the challenge”. Cheers and claps erupted at every emphatic point. He took a drink from the glass of water on the lectern. “Alright, so let me tell you about what my generation has done so far. Let me tell you about broken promises by successive governments, about blundering attempts at global agreements, about smoke and mirrors with energy-intensive industries moving overseas and air travel emissions excluded from calculations, and let me tell you about absolute global failure to meet even basic targets”. Once he was done and the applause had died down, Thomas pulled up a seat and took questions from the audience. “So where does it all start? Who acts first to trigger global movement on this?” A man at the front asked. He took a few seconds to absorb the question. “Well look, my view has always been that this is too big a problem for any one leader to take on. There’s no time for anyone to wait around for others to start this. Basically, every leader, at every level of government, in every country needs to take this on. Needs to drive our response forward. This is something everyone can be part of. Everyone has to be part of.” “So how can we make sure our Council is a leader?” somebody asked from the right hand side of the room. Thomas shrugged. “Look, it’s a great question, and it’s a question every person here should ask their election candidates. If I was running the Council, I can tell you it would be the uppermost question in my head”. He paused for a few seconds, checking himself. This was all big talk. He had always been good at big talk. But it was all pointless, because he couldn’t deliver on it. He had failed at being a politician. “Look, I’m sure you’re all aware the Liberal Democrats are already a minority party in the Council and, well…” he paused again, trying to find an acceptable way to say the words, “…look, to be honest, if forecasts are to be believed, it might be even smaller again in two weeks’ time.” A few grumbles sounded around the room. “Look, I’m on your side here. I want this to be number one priority. But I think it’s unlikely that I’m going to be the man to lead this.” “Why not?” another voice shouted up. “So you’re passing the buck too?” came another. Thomas stood up. “I’m not passing the buck. But I’m currently in a very unsafe seat. I might not even be a local councillor in two weeks’ time. I don’t think I’m the right person at the right time for this fight”. He looked across again at Ali who seemed disappointed. But she didn’t understand. She was sold on the big talk like everyone else, but she didn’t get that he wasn’t the man to deliver on it. “You sounded pretty good just now” a girl shouted up from front left. He smiled, and picked up the glass of water, but realised it was empty and put it back down again. His mouth was dry. “Well, look you’re very kind, but I don’t think I’m the leader you need here.” He looked across to the side of the stage for Ali to come and rescue him. “Oh yes you are” roared a Lancashire voice from the back. Thomas walked back round to the side of the lectern, and looked up cautiously at the room. He sighed. “No. Really, I’m not” The room was alive with belief though. They weren’t going to let him off the hook. “Oh yes you are” came the collective voice. What the hell was this? Thomas smiled. He turned again to Ali at the side of the stage, whose raised eyebrows told him to listen to them. He turned back to the audience. His face reflected the two minds he was in. “You actually want me to be the man to fight for this?” Affirmative noises shouted out round the room. “Am I seriously being pantomimed into action here?” More cheers. Ali joined him on stage, the noise continuing around the hall. “Ladies and gentlemen” she said, above the racket, “thankyou so much to our first speaker, for setting the scene incredibly well for the rest of the day, and for showing us that local politics can be relevant to the things we care about.” He smiled appreciatively, and properly scanned the crowd for the first time. His gaze stopped on the smiling, applauding figure of Jenny, standing at the back of the room. What was she doing here? He looked at Ali who was smiling wide, and it struck him for the first time that there might be a conspiracy afoot. “Everyone, we’re going to take a short break before our next speaker” Ali told the crowd, “but let me point you to sign-up sheets at the front down here. If you want to get involved in the last two weeks of campaigning ahead of the election, for our city’s best environmental champion, Councillor Thomas Delaney, then sign up, and make sure you show up at the weekend. We need every man, woman and child we can find for this fight.” The clapping continued and a queue quickly formed behind each of the sign-up sheets. Ali grabbed Thomas’ hand and pulled him back and off stage, then round and down the side of the hall towards the back. She was taking him towards Jenny, and Thomas saw now that Cameron was also standing there by her side. The Lancashire voice shouting earlier, he realised now had been Cameron’s. Seeing their warm expressions amongst the buzz in the hall, everything that had passed between them over the last few weeks seemed to evaporate. Then as he got within a few metres, they turned slightly and somebody else stood up from a chair right behind them. Jenny and Cameron parted to let the figure through. Thomas stopped dead. At first, for a split second, he didn’t recognise the figure, but then, like a dam bursting, a swell of emotion, memory and history hit him. Heady nights together, drinking and dancing down Canal Street, kissing and groping everything that moved; lazy summer afternoons lying in Whitworth park with a bottle of prosecco and the world to put right; the way he smelt of swimming that morning he showed up at 8am on the doorstep, weeping into Thomas’ shoulder because useless Jake had broken up with him again; the day his Catholic mother had turned up unexpectedly and Thomas had spent the morning pretending to be a plumber, finding more and more inventive pipe-related problems to resolve, to maintain the charade; that evening preparing for Thomas’ first job interview at that awful architects practice in Stockport, where he insisted on playing the role of interviewer as Liza Minelli. And then that night. That night they were together, in a stranger’s flat with the whole sky of stars up there looking down on them. If his life flashed before his eyes, this man in front of him now would be the first and last image he’d see. Maybe he would be the only image. Suddenly he couldn’t believe what his recent memories told him about his own life. Who the hell was this whisky-swilling, unshaven depressive, shouting at the walls of his own flat? Who was the shrinking goose, giving up on his career, on politics, on happiness? Suddenly it was five years ago, and his whole world was back, and things made sense again. He looked into those ocean blue eyes, and that Australian tinged Welsh accent made the hairs on his arms stand up on end. “And they told me you’d lost your sparkle” Ciaran said, his face lighting up as he opened his arms for the longest and dearest of embraces.
  5. stuyounger

    Showdown. April 2010. Adam

    Adam and Ryan fell back onto the bed, gazing up at the ceiling, and panting from the exertion of the last fourteen minutes. Adam’s face was flushed pink, and Ryan was whispering expletives between heavy breaths. “Fuck…FUCK!...That…was so…fucking…hot”. Adam had a grin across his face that was reaching for his ears. He waited a few seconds for his breathing to calm. “I told you it feels awesome that way up.” “You know you have to stay here and fuck all day now” Ryan said, turning his naked body towards Adam. It looked like he was ready to go again. The boy was insatiable. “Mmm, you know I would”, he said, staying on his back and stretching his arms behind his head, enjoying the afterglow like the feeling of summer sun on his face. “But the boys are coming to get me at 10.” “Screw ‘em, they can go hunt out Paul on their own.” Adam shook his head. “Come on” he said starting to sit up, “I need to shift my ass.” Ryan grabbed his arm tightly, curled up his body to anchor himself to the bed, and held on tight. “Seriously” Adam laughed, “I do need to get ready.” “Seriously mister” Ryan said, his face emerging from underneath Adam’s arm, “we need to spend all day fucking” Adam gave him a teacher death-stare, half in jest, but with enough truth to be clear it was time to stop. “Nope” Ryan persisted. Adam ended up half tickling, half wrestling with his boyfriend to free himself, eventually pushing Ryan firmly back, and landing awkwardly on his feet outside the bed. Ryan lay like a wounded animal on top of the sheets. “Fine. If you want to hang out with a bunch of ugly fucking tory boys” he muttered. “I don’t want to. But we have to find Paul.” Ryan curled his lip up. “Fuck him. Stay with me. You won’t find him anyway. I don’t know why you’re bothering.” “You remember this is the guy that left me with five thousand pounds of debt?” Ryan raised his eyebrows for a fight. “Oh, and that’s more than I’m worth to you is it?” Adam’s eyes narrowed, waiting on the smile to reveal this was a joke, but it didn’t come. “Yes. It is. I’m going to go get a shower”. They successfully navigated their way out of Manchester and were well on their way southbound on the M6, Simon behind the wheel, Adam in the passenger seat and the hyena in the back. “So when I come off at this next junction, do I want the A5182 or the B5038?” Simon asked. Adam looked at him. “I, seriously, have no idea.” “Don’t you read maps?” Simon said, picking up the A to Z off the dashboard and thrusting it at Adam. “Um, no. I live in the centre of a city.” The hyena grabbed the map from Adam’s hand. “Alright, where in Shrewsbury are we heading to?” Silence rang round the car. “Great” Simon said. “No-one fucking checked where the address was?” “It’s on my phone” Adam said, grabbing it out. “Ok, the turning’s coming up” Simon said urgently. “Is it left or right?” Adam grabbed the map back. “Alright, hang on.” “I really can’t hang on. The turning’s coming up.” “Shit, erm, Shrewsbury, so if we follow this red road up…” “Ok, I’m going left” Adam’s finger stopped at the junction. “No, right.” The car veered across to the right lane, dust flying up as they cut across the white lines. A van behind them flashed its lights in irritation. There was a silence for a few seconds before the hyena picked up their earlier conversation. “Ok, so what if Paul’s parents turn us away?” “Then we keep going” Simon replied. “They can’t avoid us forever.” “Ok, and what if he denies everything we say?” Adam shrugged “We’ve got to tell them everything and show them the proof we’ve got.” “That’s all we can do” Simon agreed. “Ok”. He paused. “And what if he answers the door?” the hyena asked. Simon looked across at Adam, and Adam to the back seat. None of them knew quite how that might go. The noon news was coming onto the radio as the three of them pulled up outside the address written in the top right corner of the CV in Adam’s hand. “Number 89. This is it.” Simon, guided his sporting green VW Golf into a space across the road from the small terraced house on the generic modern estate, and turned off the engine. They all looked over to the building across the road. There was no sign of life. “Somehow I thought it would be bigger” Adam said. Simon made an assenting sound. “Shit, he might only be about 20 metres away from us right now” Mark said quietly. “So, you want me to do the talking at first?” Simon asked, taking on the role of big brother. The others nodded, and they got out of the car. He led the way down a narrow slab path, cutting across a small front lawn, and gave two knocks at the white upvc door. Adam stood behind him, and Mark at the back. A man quickly answered, pulling the door half open. He was tall, maybe 6’4, broad and with dark hair and a beard. He looked to be in his late 50s, and would probably have been very strong a few years ago. He wasn’t overbearing though, the opposite if anything. He looked humble and keen to help three strangers on his doorstep. “Hi” Simon said, more warmly than Adam had expected. “We’d like to speak to you about Paul”. Simon was going in on the front foot, cutting off any opportunity for wavering or denying knowledge of Paul. He had been thinking about that opening line. The man looked uncertain for a second. Did he know already why they were here? Was he weighing up whether he could get away with saying Paul didn’t live here? “I’m afraid he’s away in London this weekend” the man said. “Can I pass on a message?” Adam felt himself breathe a sigh of relief. He realised how unprepared he would have been to see Paul. Simon didn’t flinch. “Actually, we’re here to talk to you about him. We’re friends from Manchester, but we’ve had some problems…” The man looked cautious, and it seemed his grip tightened on the handle of the front door, like he didn’t want anybody else in the house to hear the conversation. “…money problems” Simon concluded. The man stared at Simon a couple of seconds, then his eyes briefly seemed to cloud over. He seemed to be struggling to decide what to do next. “Please, we’ve travelled down from Manchester this morning to speak to you” Adam chipped in. “It’s important that you hear what we’ve got to tell you”. The man paused, but then relented and pulled the door open. “Very well then. You’d better come in”. In the cosy lounge of the terraced house at 89 Laburnum Close, Simon, Adam and Mark sat in an uncomfortable line on the chintzy beige sofa, each balancing a china cup of tea in their hands. Paul’s stepfather, Tony, sat solemnly on a matching armchair across from them, as Paul’s mother, a lively, gregarious lady with thick curly black hair fussed around offering them shortbread biscuits. “So, Mrs Griffiths, about Paul…” Simon began, trying to cut through the fog of hospitality that was suffocating their mission. “Call me Anna, please. It’s so lovely to meet Paul’s friends finally, I can’t tell you. Mark, here take one of these. So you must be the politician, and the one with the funny laugh I think Paul said? And Simon in the middle, the deputy head teacher I think? And Adam, the lecturer at the university at the end. Did I get that right?” The three of them looked at each other with the same creeping recognition. Their lives had received the embellishment treatment. “Oh this is fabulous. Honestly, I can’t imagine how you youngsters get such senior jobs…”, she paused, “…or who you must sleeping with!” “Did you get the letter I sent to you?” Adam asked, cutting through the performance he recognised well from her offspring. She turned to him. “No dear.” “I wrote to you about a lot of money that he owes me, and about money that he also owes to some of the others.” “Well, why would you tell me dear? He pays off his own debts. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how much you earn, there always seems to be more to spend it on doesn’t there? He’s just like me. It won’t be a problem though.” “I’m not so sure”. Adam said, and pulled out the bills from his back pocket, passing them across to her. These are all bills he’s left unpaid. I’ve been paying him money each month for them, and he’s just been pocketing it. He also hasn’t paid for his rent on our flat for the last six months”. She was finally done fussing, so took the papers off Adam and sat down on the final armchair next to Tony, who was sitting quietly, letting her do the talking. She didn’t even look at the papers. “Well I’m sorry dear but you’ll have to speak to Paul, I’m afraid I don’t know which bills he has and hasn’t paid. But he earns more than the two of us put together, so he won’t have a problem paying for anything he owes”. She smiled sweetly. “There’s more I’m afraid” Mark said. Anna turned to him. “I’m sorry dear?” “Your son stole money from the young Conservatives bank account” Simon said, sternly. Anna laughed. “Nonsense. Paul loves his politics. Goodness, the things he’s told me about going along to functions, meeting Kenneth Clarke MP and sharing a cigar as they talked about the tobacco industry. He gives a lot of his income to the party too. There must have been a mix up.” Simon pulled out the accounts from his bag. The regular monthly withdrawals to Paul’s account could not have been more plain. Anna reviewed them, and for the first time, looked confounded. “Well i’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. I’ll give him a call” she pulled out her mobile phone. “No.” Simon said quickly. “What dear?” “Please don’t call him yet. Tell us first, does this all honestly come as a complete surprise? I mean, think about it. Has he borrowed any money from either of you lately?” “No, why should he? He doesn’t need my money”. She didn’t even consider the question. “Except he disappeared this weekend with your credit card” Tony said, speaking for the first time since they arrived. “Oh shush Tony.” Simon’s gaze darted to Tony. “Has he been using it?” “It’s nothing” Anna interceded. “There’s a perfectly good reason for it, I’m sure.” “Anna” Adam said, “I think you need to take seriously the fact that…” “Actually I think you can call me Mrs Griffiths again please” She picked up her mobile again, and started to type. “Don’t text him Mrs Griffiths, please” Simon said. “Let us finish.” “Sent” she said, looking up. “We’ll soon clear this up, he probably needed to borrow it for work”. “You know he doesn’t work for United Tobacco Mrs Griffiths” Adam said. “Well, for another two weeks he does” she said, as if correcting Adam’s grammar. “No” Simon said. “He doesn’t…” “What happens in two weeks?” Mark asked. “He has a new job. Head of legal services for a firm down here”. She seemed pleased of the chance to return to speaking proudly of her son, instead of defending him. “He never worked for United Tobacco” Simon concluded. “He’s been lying to us all” Adam confirmed. Anna looked from one face to the other, and then started to smile. “This is a set up isn’t it?” She turned to Tony. “This is you? Come on.” Tony raised his eyebrows, shrugged and shook his head, indicating that if so, then he knew nothing of it. A solemn silence passed around the room. “I wish it was” Mark said. “But we called the company. He’s never worked there. No-one of that name has ever worked there”. Anna turned to Tony, then back to them. “Well this is ridiculous. I know where my son works. He tells me every week about the cases he’s working on, the battles he’s had to fight in New York with idiot American lawyers. I’ve seen magazine articles written about him with his photo at the top of the article. Now why would they have written those articles if he didn’t work there?” The three looked at each other. They weren’t making any headway. Anna suddenly looked a little fearful. “I think you must be fantasists, the three of you”. She stood up. “Look, I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here, but I think it’s time for you to go now”. Before Anna could shoo them out, a brown-haired girl wandered into the room. She must have been in her early twenties, and with enough of Paul’s features to identify her as his sister. “What’s going on?” she asked casually. “These are some people that your brother knows from Manchester, but they’re leaving dear.” “Oh right, is one of you the investor guy? I’ve been trying to get an update of how my money’s doing.” “No love, I don’t think so” Anna said. “Anyway, they’re just going.” “What investor?” Mark asked. “Paul helped get my divorce settlement invested. It’s going to turn eight thousand pounds into ten over two years” “You see, this is the kind of man by son is” Anna said, almost spitting it at the three of them, still sitting resolutely in a line on the sofa. “Have they made the investment yet?” Mark asked, his voice and his face betraying the same sick feeling that Adam felt in his stomach. “Yeah, I transferred the money a couple of months ago, why?” “And have you got the paperwork?” The girl looked surprised by the intensity of his questions. “No. Paul’s dealing with it.” “So you’ve seen no paperwork?” Simon asked. “No. Mum, what’s with these guys?” “Mrs Griffiths, you need to listen to us” Adam said again, even more intently. “Come on” Simon added, “first disappearing with our money, then your credit card, and now this divorce money too.” Anna looked uncertain, and Adam thought for a second she was beginning to hear them. The next second her mobile buzzed and she lifted it to read a message. She emitted a short gasp, then turned the screen for Tony to read. “What is it?” Adam asked. “You” she said threateningly, raising a finger towards the sofa. “You…devils. Coming here to poison a mother against her own son. God! And I’ve had to force out of him something he didn’t want to tell us. Something he wanted to protect us from.” “What?” Mark asked, at a loss for what Paul might have written that could have had this effect. “Well now I know the truth at least”. She turned a sub-zero stare at the three of them. “He borrowed the credit card because he needed it to pay for treatment”. She glanced again at the message. “Treatments that cost £2,000 a time. My son has AIDS.” Her voice silenced the room for a few seconds, before the three of them on the sofa exchanged sceptical looks. “Mrs Griffiths, he doesn’t have AIDS” Simon said confidently. “Just leave” she replied through gritted teeth. “He’s right” Mark agreed. “Treatment for that would be free, and you wouldn’t need to go to London.” “And we would absolutely know if he had AIDS” Simon said. “We also know he’s lied before about having a terminal illness” Adam agreed. “We’ve spoken to friends who told us he’s claimed before that he has cancer”. “Cancer?” Anna cried, clearly anguished. “Why are you making all this shit up about Paul?” his sister asked. “I wish we could prove to you what we’re saying is true” Mark said, softly. Anna turned on him. “You’ve got no proof because it’s all vile lies. You’ve come here to stir things up. You probably knew he was ill already. Or maybe you’re trying to scam us somehow. Well that’s a joke. I’m a teaching assistant and he’s a builder”, she indicated vaguely to Tony, “so we haven’t got two pounds to rub together. Or maybe you’re jealous of him, and spiteful. Somebody more funny and charming and successful than you are. I don’t know. But I know my boy, and I know he works for United Tobacco, and I know he’s leaving for a new job – his offer letter is right there on the mantelpiece, and he’s rich, and clever and has a wonderful life ahead of him, so you can all pack your bags and get out of my house”. The three of them sat looking at the mantelpiece. “What are you looking at?” Anna demanded. Adam stood up and walked across, picking up the front letter addressed to Paul. “Is this the letter?” Anna came across and snatched it from him. “Get your hands off it. It only came through today. He’s going to open it when he gets back tomorrow.” “Open the letter” Simon said. “What?” “That’s the proof” Adam said. “It’s been sitting right there all afternoon, looking at us.” “No” Anna said defensively. “Why would we lie about all of this?” Simon asked. “Open the letter. Then you’ll know” She turned to Tony, who shrugged. “Then you’d know, I suppose.” She scowled at him, and held the letter close to her chest. Paul’s sister, who had been leaning against the wall, pushed off, grabbed the envelope from her mum’s hand and ripped it open. “No Tara…” She pulled the letter out, and scanned the front page. “Fuck.” “Tara…” Anna said, and Tara passed the letter to her. She scanned down the page. “But… they’ve made a mistake”. She looked up at Adam and the others. “This doesn’t prove anything. You probably planted this.” Tony came across, looked at the letter, and put an arm around her. “Anna…” “Shush Tony.” “We can’t bury our heads in the sand love” “I’ll bury you in the bloody sand.” “Mrs Griffiths” Simon said, reaching the end of his tether, “you know that he never went to university. You know he didn’t even get an A at A Level Law. Your son is the fantasist. He’s lied to us all, and he’s stolen from us all.” She collapsed backwards onto the armchair and stared at the letter. Tony stepped forward. “Lads, it’s maybe best to leave this with us for now yeah? I think we’re going to need some time.” “Why would he lie to me?” Anna said to herself. She seemed half in a trance. “He lied to us all Mrs Griffiths” Mark said. His eyes looked even closer to tears than hers. She glanced up at him, distracted. “But you’re not his mother.” “Look, we need to speak to him, and sort this out” Tony said, shepherding them from the sofa. “Don’t worry about your money, we’ll make sure you’re not out of pocket. Come through and give us your contact numbers”. They followed him out to the hall, leaving Anna with tears welling in her eyes. They filed out of the house, and Tony thanked each of them as they left. It felt like completely the wrong thing for him to be saying. “Don’t confront him on the phone” Mark said on his way out. “Make sure you get him home first. God knows what he might do otherwise”. Adam took a last glance across to Anna, perching on the armchair, staring at the letter which revealed that her son’s new job was not the six-figure head of legal services job he had described to her in no doubt excruciating detail, but instead a £21,000 a year legal secretary job. There were tears rolling silently down her cheek and he heard her utter a few words to nobody in particular. “It had seemed like being such a sunny day too.”
  6. stuyounger

    Making it Happen. April 2010. Ali

    Ali pressed hard on the entrance buzzer for the third time, and pulled out her phone as she waited. She opened a text from Adam wishing her luck for today, then checked her watch. Right now he would be on his way to Shropshire, hunting down his ex-flatmate. She had followed the development of the story closely. He had received nothing back from the letter he sent down to Paul’s mum, so they were taking things into their own hands. Ali would have loved to be there for the moment Paul opened the door, but there was no way Adam would have let her go along. She pressed for the fourth time on the entrance buzzer. In spite of the apparent evidence, her face remained as expectant of a reply as at the first attempt. A young woman with a pushchair approached the entrance door from the inside of the building, and for the courtesy of holding the door back to let the woman through, she gained access to the lobby. She zipped up the single flight of stairs to his floor and hammered hard on Thomas’ door. After the third heavy knock, there was no reply but she remained steadfast. She knew he was in there. A door across the corridor opened, and an older lady with grey beehive hair and a floral purple nightgown peered out, appraising the noise-maker in her hallway. “Sorry” Ali said quietly, conscious that it was still relatively early on a Saturday morning. The lady looked across sourly, spotting the door she was waiting outside. “You’ll be lucky to get anything sensible out of him at this time of the day”. Her voice was brittle and her nose twitched like she sensed an allergy coming on. “He’s become nocturnal”. She said it like she was accusing him of war crimes. Ali nodded noncommittally, and returned to knocking. Bloody busybodies. The brittle voice got louder. “He’s becoming quite a hazard”. She was clearly hoping he would hear this. “Last weekend he and his friends clattered their way down the corridor at 3.30 in the morning, waking up half of South Manchester on the way.” Ali tried to ignore her. Her voice grew louder still. She was looking straight past Ali, clearly directing the words at Thomas’ door. “If you ask me, I’d question what a man of his age is doing, prowling the city streets at all hours.” Ali turned back to her, scowling. What the fuck did she know about his life? “Well no-one did ask you did they…” her gaze settled on the dressing gown, “...Barney the tossing dinosaur.” The lady looked taken aback, put a hand to the front of her dressing gown, made an indignant harrumph and disappeared back into her flat. Thomas’ door opened a crack, and then slowly widened, revealing a cautious smile. “Barney the dinosaur?” “It was purple…the dressing gown. Look, don’t start…” “You know, I just don’t have your knack for witty ripostes.” She shrugged and stepped past him, “I practice it in the mirror for just such occasions. Anyway, why aren’t you answering your door?” She slowed as she started to walk through. The air was thick with the odour of single male. “Thom, what the fuck…” she said turning. “Oh, don’t look in…” he started to say, looking across the hallway, but it only drew her eyes into the bedroom, where a pale, shaggy twentysomething ginger man was sprawled out, asleep on the bed. She saw his head drop. This was presumably not a regular new guy in his life that he was going to introduce. The table in the kitchen-lounge was littered with spent beer cans and an empty bottle of whisky. The clutter all around the room made her feel itchy. It looked as though he hadn’t properly cleaned the place in weeks. Thomas followed her into the lounge and shut the door so as not to waken the sleeping figure. “We need to go in half an hour” she said plainly, her eyes conveying her disappointment in him. “Ali, you know what I’m going to say. I already texted you.” “Yes, and I told you that’s bullshit. I know that you know exactly what you’re going to say to them. So you’re coming. Even if I have to drag you down there.” He sighed, and his eyes looked like defeat. “Ali, look. I’ve been thinking about things lately. A lot. I don’t know that I’m up to being a politician any more.” She gave him an unimpressed look. “After this election I think I’m done. I can’t win. And I don’t even want to any more. I’m not cut out to be a public speaker or a politician. Ten years ago I lived in a kind of bubble of my own making. I thought I could be some kind of hero figure that could help people, but I’m not. And I can’t”. Ali wanted to slap him out of this depression, talk some sense into him. But this wasn’t the time. She shrugged and crossed her arms. “I don’t give a shit about all that. I have a University event to run, and you’re on the bill, so you’re coming. Even if you have to stand there and ramble for 30 minutes. I’m not going anywhere without you”. Thomas’ will was quickly broken and Ali waited downstairs in the car for him to tidy up his affairs. Thom eventually stumbled down, along with the ginger guy who he pecked on the cheek and bade farewell to, before climbing into the car. Despite everything he said, she still had a strong sense that this was going to work. With ten minutes to go they were backstage and Ali was straightening Thomas’ tie, and brushing down his suit. She knew she had done a remarkable job making him presentable and getting him into position within about 90 minutes. Her part of the mission was almost done. Thomas glanced in the mirror at the side of the stage and looked almost surprised at what he saw. He turned back to Ali. “Thanks” he said, looking her in the eye for the first time that morning. “Well, you know, your tie was a bit skewiff.” “No, I mean…” he started, but paused, realising she knew that wasn’t what he had meant. “You know this will almost certainly be the last speech of my political career” he continued. “I’m glad you made me do it right.” She smiled and patted his arm. He looked nervous though. There was a lot of noise coming from the hall out in front of the curtain. She hoped he wasn’t going to freeze up when he saw how many people were here. “Sounds like there might be a few more out there than I expected” she said. Thomas turned towards the sound, seeming to register it for the first time. “Yeah. A handful of students in Greenpeace t-shirts you said?” She shrugged. “You’re never sure with these things”. She took a breath. “Ok, I’d better go get us going. You ready?” He nodded, but didn’t look convinced. Ali stepped out in front of the crowd of one hundred or so, and the noise in the hall died down. She gave her introductory spiel about the itinerary, fire alarms and thankyous, and then welcomed on stage their main guest speaker of the afternoon, Councillor Thomas Delaney. She waited for him to make his way across, then headed back to the edge of the stage, just out of sight of the audience. She looked back to centre stage as he prepared himself and looked up to the crowd. “Good afternoon everybody. My name is Thomas Delaney. From the Liberal Democrats.” He paused as if forgetting his lines. “I’m here to talk to you about climate”. Ali squeezed her eyes shut at the awkward opening. This wasn’t the same man on stage. She scanned the back of the room for Cameron and spotted him. He had promised if she could just get Thom up there, then he would make sure of the rest. Cameron had come up with this idea a couple of weeks ago when she mentioned this event to him. Thom was breaking down he told her. Fighting for what he believed in was all he had ever known and done, but his confidence was shot. Cameron was worried he might do something terrible. But he also knew Thom wasn’t going to accept any help from him or from Jenny at the moment. So he hatched this plan. From the first time she met Thomas at the airport protest, he reminded her of her dad. Something about his passion and his way of seeing the important things that everyone else failed to. She thought now of an essay she had written for A Level English. It was about a poem by a black writer who was hitting back at racial stereotypes. The poem was intentionally challenging and controversial. It had been so weird reading words like honky and caucazoid in a poem, and in a lesson at school. Her English teacher had made it clear that she didn’t approve of the way this poet was responding to racism. She didn’t feel it was a constructive solution. Ali disagreed though. You couldn’t change the way the cards were stacked without throwing them all up in the air first. She spent ages trying to figure out how to make this argument in the essay without going completely against her teacher’s views, because she needed a good grade. One evening, she sat down with her dad, stuck as ever in his wheelchair, and talked him through how she was planning to approach it. She would hold back some of her views, but felt she could still say just about enough to make the case she wanted to make. Some of the points she could gloss over to avoid causing an issue with the teacher. When she was done explaining all of this, he smiled at her, picked up the paper she had written this note on and screwed it up into a ball, tossing it into the bin. “Darling, sometimes some things are more important than grades. Just tell them what you bloody think.” She watched Thomas take a nervous breath and glance down at the note she had left for him with a few prompts. He looked concerned. “So, I’m coming to you from a Liberal Democrat point of view here” he started. “I’m sure you all know that as a party we have a stronger position on the climate than most of our rivals. However, we also recognise that this has to be balanced with other goals to create sustainable and economically successful places”. He looked across to Ali again. She couldn’t work out why he was toeing the party line. The crowd were getting restless. They wanted a passionate advocate, not a waffling politician. She was down to her last shot. She gestured to him to turn over the sheet of paper with the prompts on. He gave a confused look and turned back to face the room. Somebody heckled him from the audience and he started trying to defend the party’s position. This was all going wrong. She looked again to Cameron at the back of the room who had one hand on the back of his head and looked nervous as hell. She saw him turn and speak a few concerned looking words to another man beside him, somebody Ali hadn’t seen him with before. “That’s certainly not our position” Thomas was saying, “but, of course, we do recognise that for the good of the city, we have to balance economic and environmental goals”. Thomas looked across again to Ali. This time she grabbed a piece of paper, lying on a table next to her and mimed flipping it over to the other side. Finally, Thomas looked down at the note, then up at the dissatisfied audience, and then down again to the note, which he flipped over. He spent a second looking at it, then glanced up to the clock at the back of the hall, then back to Ali again. She gestured furiously with her eyebrows for him get going and he nodded, finally seeming to acknowledge what she was saying. Still keeping her gaze, he looked suddenly intense, then he grinned, gave her a wink, stood fully upright and turned back to the audience. Something had changed. It looked like Thomas might just be back in the room.
  7. stuyounger

    ignore - please delete

    ignore - please delete
  8. stuyounger

    The Canadian. April 2010. James

    James was lying on his bed, turning the page of a thriller he’d picked up the other day. His phone buzzed but he carried on reading as he reached across to the bedside chest. At the end of the page he paused, opened the text message, read it twice, and grinned. He jumped up and raced through to the lounge. Adam was lying on the sofa, his head resting in the lap of Ryan, this new guy he was dating. Adam’s cheeks were a little flushed, like they might have just been up to something, but he ignored the thought. “You’re not gonna believe it.” James said excitedly. Adam half sat up. “What?” “I got a couple of free tickets for the Innoculators, tonight.” Adam sat up further. “No way.” “Who?” Ryan asked. Adam gave him a look. “The band…” Ryan’s face was blank. “Anyway, amazing, how come?” “Oh, there’s this girl I used to work with. She bought them ages back, but now has to head to London tonight.” “Cool. But, just two tickets right?” “Yeah”. James looked a little apologetically across at Ryan and back to Adam. Adam looked round to his boyfriend who rolled his eyes and waved it away. “It’s cool” Adam’s eyes lit up and he turned back to James. “Awesome.” “It’s some venue at an old brewery” James said, slightly uncertainly. “In town?” “Right.” He looked at Adam for a moment, unsure if he was confirming he knew the place, but deciding that must be what he meant. “Cool.” Adam’s phone started to ring, and he picked it up and looked at the dial screen. “It’s Simon, I’d better get it. Might be about Paul.” “Have you got hold of him yet?” James asked. “Nothing yet. I wrote to his mum like a week ago.” Adam said, starting to head for the door so he could take the call privately. “But no response yet”. He disappeared and James turned and smiled at Ryan. He had struggled to find common ground for idle conversation with Adam’s new boyfriend. Ryan didn’t return the smile. He gave James a shifty look. “I know what you’re doing” he said quietly, his mouth making strange shapes as he overexpressed the words with camp malice. James raised an eyebrow, and a half smile crept onto his face. Ryan seemed liked an odd character, but not one to be taken too seriously. “You do?” he asked. “Just keep your hands off him, you bloody Yank. He’s mine.” James tried to come up with a witty retort to assert his real nationality, but before he could find it, Adam returned. Instead he shot a withering look at Ryan. “Nothing to report” Adam confirmed, and rejoined Ryan on the sofa. “I’m heading into town” James said, directly to Adam. “You want anything?” “No, I’m good man. So what do we need to be there about 7.30?” “Yeah.” “So we can head off about seven?” “Sounds good. I’ll see you later” James said, heading back to his room to get ready. James returned to the flat later and was glad to find Ryan gone. Adam was typing away at something on his laptop, and James got a beer and slumped in front of the TV. He whiled away a lazy afternoon, watching the box, downing a few beers and playing a few albums to get them in the mood. Before they knew, it was 6.30, and they were both slumped lethargically on the sofa. “It’s 7.30 doors right?” Adam asked. “Yeah, I think”. Adam gave him a look that seemed to demand more certainty than was possible from their current position. James lifted himself reluctantly from the horizontal position, emitted a sound like a disgruntled elephant seal, and got to his feet. He wandered through to his room and re-emerged. “Yep, 7.30 at the Brewery” he said, passing the tickets to Adam. “And this place is in town right?” “I’ve no idea man. I thought you said you knew where it was?” Adam half sat up. “No. Didn’t you say it was in town?” “I thought you said that?” Confusion spread across both of their faces. James grabbed his laptop and searched for the venue. “Shit. No, it’s not. It’s way out.” Adam checked his watch. “Fuck. We’ll have to drive.” James looked at the can in his hand and back to Adam. “I’ve had quite a few, I don’t think I can.” “It’s cool, I can drive. If you don’t mind me driving your car?” James looked uncertain for a second. He wasn’t a big fan of sharing his car. But this was an emergency. “Ok, fine.” “We can leave the car there. Get it in the morning.” He definitely wasn’t a fan of leaving his car overnight in a dodgy part of the city. But it was an emergency. “Ok, fine.” They both stood for another couple of seconds, looking impotent in the face of a need for sudden action. “Shit. We’d better get ready then” Adam concluded. James put down the half-drunk can, and they both went into speedy prep mode. Adam walked quickly to his bedroom and without even closing the door peeled off his t-shirt and jumper as if they were one item, unbuckled his belt and ripped his jeans down and off. James went to his room and pulled off his t-shirt, throwing it on the bed. He saw Adam race through into the bathroom in just his boxers and heard the spray of anti-perspirant and the brief sound of his electric toothbrush. James came in with only his jeans on, waving the fumes out of his face and grabbed the after shave, applying it liberally to his face and neck. Adam grabbed his own and did the same. James raced back and rooted in the wardrobe for that awesome tshirt with the surfer girl on, Adam went back and emerged in his now favourite jeans, the ones Nancy commented on, and a tight polo shirt. Both returned to the sofa and pulled on their trainers. And ten minutes after it started, they were done. “Ready?” James asked, handing Adam the car key. “Ready”. They raced down to the car, started it up quickly and got onto the inner ring road. It was gone 7.00pm, and there could be traffic, so Adam was driving as quickly as he could. At the red light James could he see him getting distracted by a broad-shouldered strikingly blond guy driving the car in front. He was slightly late seeing the lights change, then not wanting to lose any time, Adam revved hard and the car flew forward. They turned a corner, and found a queue of traffic at a standstill almost immediately upon them. He was going too fast round the corner, so had to slam the brakes hard. “Brad, fucking stop” James yelled, seeing the oncoming collision. His mind was a cloud. He felt like a deer frozen in the headlights. He was 17 again. The car stopped just in time, but James couldn’t get his breath back. A little steam came up from the tyres and the guy in front had turned fully around and was gesturing to check that they were ok. Adam gave the signal to say that they were and the guy started to move away. James stared at the superman bumper sticker in the back window as it slowly disappeared. “James…” James opened his eyes. “Let’s just get there man”. They got to the venue and could hear the warm up act already starting. Adam parked the car and navigated them quickly inside. James got control of his breathing again but couldn’t find the words to say, and Adam seemed to understand that. Instead they stood and enjoyed the music, gradually edging their way further forward in the crowd until it started to get uncomfortable. James felt his body start to relax, and fall in with the music. The electric guitar rang through his body, and all of the other thoughts in his head faded out. He became absorbed in the sound and the feeling through his chest, and the five illuminated guys on stage. At the end of the warm-up act, the lights went up, and the crowd opened out, spreading back to the bar. James and Adam followed the tide, then fought their way through to get a beer, before moving away to the least crowded area they could find. James could tell this was the moment. “So come on then, what was the whole Brad thing about?” Adam asked. James took a deep breath. How could he explain what he’d done? He knew this could be the end of the friendship, but Adam deserved the truth. “Ok. Brad was like my best friend at high school. In fact, from about age five” he shouted over the background noise. “We grew up together, did, like, everything together”. He looked at Adam, whose eyes were like glassy pebbles on a beach, calm, unmoving. James was happy with the silence between them. Despite the expectation in the air, saying nothing at all seemed easier than saying this. He swallowed something inside though and leaned in closer. “We were in a car crash”. Adam nodded solemnly. This was the worst place to have this conversation. As they couldn’t talk easily with all the noise, half the conversation was going on between their eyes. But now he’d started, he had to carry on. “What happened to him?” Adam asked, leaning in again. “We were at a party. Some guy in our grade opened up his parents house in the summer while they were away, and everyone from school went. Of course, everyone got pretty wrecked. We were like 17. Brad offered to drive us home. Said he felt ok.” He leaned back to check Adam had heard this. Adam nodded again. “So, did he survive…” “He was paralysed. He’s been trapped in a fucking wheelchair for seven years now”. “Shit” James grabbed their empty bottles and put them back on the bar. The lights were starting to dim a little. The band were coming back. He still hadn’t told Adam that it was all his fault. “Come on” he said. “Sometimes I need to forget for a bit.” They squeezed their way forward and reached about the same spot as before. The band were on within ten minutes, after the noise from the crowd built and built. The set they played was awesome. They were a gawky but kick-ass kind of goth band and the songs embraced outsider-ness, self-obsession and casual sex to paper over the cracks in your life. All things he could relate to. But they were so alive and defiant and androgynously beautiful, you couldn’t help but be swept up in it. James emerged ninety minutes later feeling strangely calm. Like things didn’t matter anymore. Like he wasn’t on his own in feeling his life was a total mess. They went and got another drink from the bar, and the music was quieter now so they could talk more easily. “Brad wasn’t the only other person in the car” James said, without prompting. Adam stopped drinking. “Ok” “Carly. My girlfriend.” Adam nodded. “The thing was, Brad and me, we had this big stupid argument before we got in the car. I was sure he was trying to come onto my girlfriend, Carly, which of course he wasn’t. He was just winding me up, like he’d always done. “I was so mad at him though, I’d pushed him back against the car at one point. And he was pretty mad with me, but he was too good a friend just to leave me there. So then the atmosphere in the car was so tense, and he couldn’t concentrate properly.” Adam watched with sad eyes as he spoke. “So what about Carly?” “Carly was my total high school crush. It took me like three years to finally make her interested in me. We were in a band together”. He smiled as he thought about it. “She was the most beautiful girl you’d ever seen. Anyone that saw the band went away only remembering one person in it. Seriously, she was incredible” He could see Adam picked up on the past tense. “She was in the back, sitting in the middle seat. She’d taken out her guitar and was playing the latest track we’d written together to try and lighten the air. It was such a stupid song as well, total cliché teenage lust stuff”. He trailed off, and pictured the moments in his mind. “We were heading down the hill to some lights, looked like we’d sail through them, but I guess we were further away than we thought. They started to change, and I guess Brad thought he could make it. We were going too fast to stop anyway. Then this massive 4x4 van thing came out from the road on the right, turning into us, and didn’t see us coming. Brad tried to stop, but he couldn’t. She wasn’t belted in. She flew through the air, and her scream just filled the car. Never had a chance”. “Fuck.” “We ended up smashed into a lamppost. She was lying there on the bonnet. Brad was mangled up around the steering wheel. But I was still conscious. I looked round and saw the pieces of broken guitar smashed up on the back seat”. “Jesus”. The venue staff started to circle the room and demand people move on. “Hold on here a second” Adam said. He went across to another group with drinks who were gathering their coats and seemed to be making plans, then returned to James a minute later. “Ok, there’s a place round the corner that’s open late”. They followed behind the group, walking for a few minutes before entering a doorway with a sign painted out front onto a whitewashed brick wall. They passed along a corridor, dimly lit with a green light, and could see a bar at the end. Picking their way through a group of students sitting on the floor on either side of the dark corridor, like it might be a drug den, they made their way into the bar area. It was a small room and the bar took up about a third of the space, with the rest filled by ramshackle wooden tables and chairs, mostly occupied. They got a drink and went up a wooden staircase to a landing with three more rooms coming off it. One of them was empty and had a couple of tables and free chairs inside. The room had big windows looking out over the canal and was chilly. “I should never have drunk” James said, picking the conversation straight up again. “And I should never have laid into Brad like I did. Or I should’ve said no to the lift. It was impossible for him to drive properly after me pushing him round and shouting at him. At the least I should’ve made sure she was strapped in. She was my girlfriend”. He could feel the tears in his eyes. “I did everything wrong, I caused everything that happened, and the worst thing was, they let me off scot free”. Adam’s face looked harrowed, but he couldn’t find any words to say. At least now he knew who he was sharing a flat with. “Her family never liked me, and I guess they were right. The day of her funeral, they wouldn’t let me help carry her”, he paused, and swallowed, “you know, in the…box. “I told them if I could press a button so that it was me that died and her that walked away…” he swallowed hard, and struggled to say the words, “…i’d do it in a flash. “Her mum looked at me like I was, I don’t know, dirt or something. She didn’t even hesitate. She just said ‘Not as quickly as I’d press it’. “Fucking hell. How can anyone…” Adam had tears in his eyes too. James shook his head. “Why wouldn’t she. I killed her only daughter.” He saw Adam’s eyes open wide. “James, you didn’t kill anyone”, his voice was raised. “No-one chooses to be in a car accident. Just thank fuck that any of you made it.” “I could’ve stopped it.” “So could any of you. You all went equally into that car.” “But we didn’t all walk out equally.” He could hear her mum in his head as he spoke the words. Adam touched his forearm. “You can’t blame yourself for being alive.” James was quiet, and they looked out at the dark sky. The stars were out, and you could see them better from here that you would from the centre of town. “I’ve never been the same since. I went to a psychologist for ages. He told me I needed to talk about it. Then when I couldn’t talk about it, and I couldn’t deal with it, he started searching for all these other issues.” He paused again and Adam waited. “At one point he made me think I was gay, because I couldn’t develop relationships with girls.” “Yeah?” James looked at him, and for a second a tiny smile crept onto his face. “I’m not. Just to clarify”. Adam smiled back. “Does it get any easier with time?” he asked. “Honestly, no. Everything about me is fucked up. Like, I’m so fucking horny all the time. And with Nancy, man, I wanna explode just thinking about her. I wanna do so much stuff with her. But my body just…doesn’t respond. It reacts, it shies away, it…fuck man, it won’t perform. I’m such a fuck-up”. “Do you still see a psychologist?” Adam asked. James shook his head. “Not regularly. I think they figured I was a lost cause, and so did I. It wasn’t going anywhere.” “So, am I the first non-medical person you’ve told all this to?” James looked at him. This weird sex-crazed gay guy, he realised, was already the closest friend he had in the world. He smiled faintly and nodded. “Step one then” Adam concluded. They sat and looked out at the stars some more. “James?” Adam asked after a couple of minutes. “Yeah.” “Can I ask one question?” “As many as you want tonight bud.” “It’s just…what was up between you and Paul. You met one time for coffee”. James was confused. How could he know that – unless Paul had told him? Not that it mattered. Adam deserved to know. He deserved to know it all. “He knew about it” James said finally. “I didn’t tell him, but he knew. I think one time I must have checked my emails on your laptop and left them open. He must have looked back through. He must have combed everything looking for something to hold over me. Then he left an email in my inbox before he signed out. Letting me know what he’d discovered, and telling me to meet him. So I did. He guessed obviously that nobody knew, and that I didn’t want people to find out. So he asked me for £50 a month to keep quiet.” Adam shook his head, at the further twist. “Oh god.” “That wasn’t all. He wanted me to let him know if you confided anything in me that he could find useful.” Adam laughed. “This is so messed up.” “Adam, I’m so sorry. I wanted to tell you and help you. I don’t know what I was thinking…” “What? No, i’m sorry.” “I let you down.” “Come on, it’s my fault your paths ever crossed.” “If I wasn’t so pathetic, you might have known about him sooner though”. Adam laughed. “Come on. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Tell me you didn’t pay him?” James shook his head. “I probably would have paid the money, but then he never followed up. I figured he forgot about it or something better came along. At your birthday, when he was with that new guy, I figured maybe he had mellowed him or something. I don’t know. I wouldn’t have told him anything about you though. I promise.” “You don’t deserve what’s happened to you” Adam said. James shrugged. “I don’t know if I believe that or not” “I’m going to make you” Adam said, slapping his arm. They both took a few drinks of their beer and stared out some more at the black urban landscape beyond the window. “You know that first night, you asked me what made me come here, and then stay here so long?” James asked. “Yeah” Adam said, as if to say, I understand it all now. “I was running away”. He took another swig of beer. “I’ve always been running away.” “Well no better place than a big faceless city” Adam replied. James took another swig of beer and looked thoughtful. “You know the other week at the flat-warming, when we were all sitting round at the end. I remember looking from face to face, and thinking, wow, aren’t we all running away from something?” Adam looked thoughtful. “What am I running away from?” James gave him a look. “Come on. You’re running away from commitment. Pretending for a while that you never want it again and that you’re all about random sex.” “I’m serious, I’m over relationships.” James nodded but he knew this was crap. “Ok, but you were running away from the last guy, and from your life before.” Adam nodded again thoughtfully. “I guess you’re right. “What about Daniel then?” “Daniel? He’s the most obvious. He grew up in some small community I assume, a place where he was never going to be able to explore his full sexuality. He came here to escape the small-minded community” “And Ali?” Adam asked. James shrugged. “I’m not sure exactly. The big family maybe? Escaping from just being a cog in the family machine. Wanting to be something in her own right?” They both sat and drank, not saying anything for another minute or so. “I guess maybe you’re right” Adam said eventually. He looked up and caught James’ eye. “What do you think happens when we stop running?”
  9. stuyounger

    Sleep Deprived. April 2010. Adam.

    After waiting a while until it reached a decent hour, Adam took the number, and borrowed Daniel’s room so he could make the call privately. The phone rang five times before it was answered. “Hello?” a deep inquisitive voice answered. “Hi”. Adam said abruptly, suddenly realising he had no plan mapped out for this conversation, and that he hadn’t slept in 24 hours. “Can I help you?” “Yes” he said confidently. “Maybe”. He was stumbling already. “Yes. I hope so”. The man on the phone waited patiently. “Sorry. My name’s Adam. Umm, this is a bit of a strange call.” The man breathed heavily. “It’s not uncommon for me to get strange calls.” “Good. Ok. Good.” How to phrase this delicately? “Are you training somebody up to be a dog?” The man paused. “That’s a strange question.” “Yes, it is I suppose. But, the fact you haven’t hung up already gives me some hope.” “Of course you know what a strange question invites?” “A helpful answer?” Adam said hopefully. This conversation was already more weird than he had anticipated. “You’re curious about being trained yourself then?” “Trained? What? Oh. No!” He hadn’t considered that the conversation might take that turn. “Oh. An overly keen denial. Curiouser and curiouser.” “Look, can you just tell me if you’ve got a human dog?” “Well aren’t we all dogs and all dogs the same as us? Didn’t Mark Twain say the dog is a gentleman?” Adam’s face turned to confusion. “What? Look, somebody I know has disappeared, and we think Steve might know where he is, and I’d really like to speak to him if there’s any way that would be possible?” There was a pause on the line. “I don’t see how that would help” the man answered, measuredly. “Why not?” “Have you ever tried asking a dog a question?” “Ok. Fine. But you do know Steve, and you know where he is?” “Yes and no”. “What? Look, his ex-boyfriend has stolen thousands of pounds and completely disappeared. If we don’t find him, it’ll be the police knocking on your door next and they’ll want him in for questioning. Please, I just need Steve, for an hour to see if there’s any way he can help us find this guy.” “His name is Wolf” the man replied calmly. “What?” “My dog is called Wolf.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “Ok.” “And in return for an hour of his time, will you commit yourself to an hour of training?” “What?” Adam’s fuzzy brain thudded, trying to compute the question. “No!” “Ah well. It was worth asking.” “So can I come over this afternoon?” “Very well”. The amused lilt in the man’s voice vanished. He gave the address quickly to Adam, who frantically grabbed the nearest pen and wrote it on his hand. “Be here at three. I’ll give you one hour out of my training time. That will be all”. The phone rang off. Adam collapsed back onto Daniel’s bed and shut his eyes. He had a headache already. Adam decided to go alone to see Steve. The block was only ten minutes’ walk across town, and the fresh air helped to open his sleepy eyes a fraction wider. They had spent a soporific morning drinking tea and half-heartedly playing cards as they killed time until the meet. When he got there and buzzed up, the front door to the building opened without any greeting from the intercom. He took the lift to the fifth floor and found the door to the flat he was seeking. His heart was pumping hard. There was no knowing what to expect. He’d left the address with Ali and Daniel in case anything happened. He thought of that Baz Luhrmann song from way back. Do one thing everyday that scares you. Baz probably hadn’t meant this though. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door. After a few seconds it slowly opened wide and Adam was invited into the corridor by a silent gesture. He stepped inside and the door started to swing shut behind him. The man walked down the corridor towards a room at the back, leaving him standing alone in the hall. The front door thudded shut making him jump. His nerves were all over the place suddenly. With the door closed, he noticed how dark it was. The blinds must have been down in every room and his eyesight didn’t adjust quickly to the dark, making him feel even more vulnerable. And that pervasive smell, what was it? Some kind of smell of dog, he concluded. Dog food. That was it. The weird mashed up generic processed meat smell. There was no getting away from it. Then there was the heat in here, why did it need to be so hot? And the clutter all around, rainbow flags and leather accoutrements, random papers and what looked like dog toys, littering the floor in the hallway. It amounted to an intensely uncomfortable space. His head was pounding. He wanted to get out. The man reappeared and behind him trotted a young guy on all fours, wearing nothing but a jockstrap. The man looked at his watch. “Okay. This is a time out from training.” Adam wasn’t sure who he was addressing. “You’re going to help this man, but you’re to be back here in one hour. Don’t be a minute late, or someone will have a very unpleasant evening”. Steve looked unhappy, but with that, the man disappeared into the back room and shut the door. Adam checked his watch. It was 3.05pm. The figure on the floor looked up and Adam saw the familiar face. “Jesus Steve, go put some clothes on, quickly. Let’s get out”. Steve looked up and scowled, but reluctantly went through to the other room and Adam heard him dressing himself. By ten past they were out on the street. Adam spoke as they walked, retelling the whole story about Paul, trying to get his words out in a rush, in between worriedly checking his watch as the minutes dropped away. They passed a couple of cafes which Adam suggested they head into, but each time Steve indicated that they should carry on. At everything Adam told him about the story, he seemed to nod his head and look unsurprised. It was 3.21pm when they reached a place that Steve indicated he wanted to go into. He still hadn’t said a word. They went inside the dark jazz bar. As they first walked in, Adam thought they must be the only people in there, but as they waited at the bar for two teas, his eyesight adjusted to the low light and he saw a few figures sitting alone or in pairs in the booths around the back and side. There was background jazz music playing, but no live band until later in the evening. “Steve, you know you can speak now?” Steve looked at him, hardly seeming to understand. “You’re out of that…world, for an hour at least. I really need you to speak.” He nodded, but failed to utter anything. Adam looked at him expectantly but there was nothing. He looked at his watch. 3.25pm. He took the drinks and they headed for a free booth. As they walked past, Adam failed to notice the lone man in the booth to his right, but then a familiar voice spoke his name. Adam shook his head like coming out of a daydream. “Thom, hi. What are you doing here?” He looked down and saw both of Thomas’ hands carefully nursing a large glass of whisky, but hardly registered how early it was for such a large measure. Thomas looked sheepish. “Oh, just passing the time of day…” he nodded his head firmly, “…you know”. Adam looked at his watch again. 3.27pm. There was no time. Thomas looked up at Adam’s friend. “Have we met before?” Steve smiled for a second, looking almost smug. He stared into Thomas’ eyes and gave a short barking sound. Adam saw Thomas’ eyes widen in realisation. “Right. Sauna. Yes”. He gulped. “What?” Adam asked, looking suspiciously between them. “Nothing. Long story. Well, not long, but weird. Maybe another time”. “Yes” Adam said, seizing the opportunity. “We’ll leave you to it.” They found a booth at the far side, several away from Thomas’. “Steve, please, this day has been fucked up in so many ways. Please say something.” Steve shrugged. “Ok” Adam’s eyes shot open. “You spoke. Oh, thank fuck.” “I haven’t spoken any words in the last week. He’s been training them out.” Adam looked pitifully at him. Steve screwed up his face. “Don’t give me that look. It’s what I asked for. I wanted this. Maybe not forever, but for now”. Adam felt beyond understanding. “I don’t exactly care what you think. But it’s amazing to give up everything and not have to worry about human problems.” “But isn’t it… I mean, don’t you…” He realised he had no framework upon which to have this conversation. “When I’m in puppy mode, I don’t think about rent, or bills, or making dinner, or going to work, or cleaning, or washing, or keeping up with friends, or remembering people’s names, or anything. I have a master who takes care of everything and all he expects from me is loyalty and obedience. And they’re… easy.” Adam shook his head. There was no way he was going to get his head round this. Especially not today. “Can we talk about Paul?” “I don’t have to think about Paul either when I’m with Master.” “Yeah, ok, well, I see the advantage of that”. Adam looked at his watch. It was 3.34pm. He shook his head. “Steve, we’ve got like, no time, but is there anything you can remember from when you guys were dating that seemed suspicious? Or that might give us any clues on the real story, or where he might be?” Steve paused. “If there was, why would I choose to help you and not him?” Adam exhaled. Why could nothing be easy? “I don’t know. Because he robbed his friends of thousands of pounds and lied to everybody, about everything.” Steve looked unmoved. “I don’t exactly judge my boyfriends on usual standards.” This was frustrating. Adam’s face hardened. “Well how about the fact that he treated you like shit. He constantly criticised you and undermined you. He used you and he tossed you away when he was done. He lied about you and then he made out that you were the liar. Why would you do anything for him?” Steve’s face hardened back. “I knew the person he was and I chose to date him. I’m not a victim Adam. I choose the life I choose”. Adam put his face in his hands. “It’s almost quarter to four” Steve said. “I have to go in five minutes. I’m not getting punished tonight. Especially not for you”. “Steve, I need more time. We’re at a dead end. Would it kill you to be late?” Steve looked him in the eye. “He’ll punish me. I’ll get beaten.” Adam had barely slept in the last 30 hours and his already rocky emotional state was shaken again. A feeling of nausea passed up his body. “For fuck’s sake, why would you go back for that?” “I choose what I choose Adam. He won’t harm me, just enough to teach me. It only works because we both give up a lot. He takes on running two people’s lives. All I have to give is obedience. I’m not going to be late”. Adam returned his face to his hands and breathed out deeply. This was a waste of time. He put his hands back on the table. His hair was all sticking up from the number of times he’d run his hands through it. “You know what? You’re right. I give up. I’m nothing to you. You have no reason to care. I guess you have to stick with the people you know in this big stupid city. And if you’re new here and you put yourself at the mercy of strangers, then sometimes they’re going to take advantage, and sometimes you’ll regret it. I guess that’s just what happens. Come on, let’s go”. Adam started to stand up, but Steve didn’t move. Adam slowly returned to his seat. Steve was quiet for a moment. His gaze seemed to examine Adam for a few seconds, then his face relaxed. He gently put a hand on one of Adam’s. “They don’t always take advantage”. Adam smiled and nodded. If nothing else, then maybe this was peace with the whole affair. “Have you got your phone?” Steve asked. Adam nodded and pulled it out of his pocket. “It’s 3.48pm Steve. You should get back to your man.” “Can I borrow it for a second?” “Sure.” Steve took the phone and rapidly moved through the screens, typing away. He looked utterly engrossed in something. Presumably he didn’t get to do much IT geeking on all fours. After two minutes he returned the phone to Adam. “Check your emails when you get home. This is one for the kindness of strangers. I fished it from Paul’s inbox one day. He never knew. I have to go now though”. Adam walked out with him, and Steve quickly said goodbye and raced off down the street. Back at Ali and Daniel’s Adam quickly had his emails loaded up on Ali’s laptop, and they all gathered round as he opened the mystery document. The silence in the room was thick with possibility. Ali was first to react. “Paul Griffiths - CV” she read aloud, sounding a little disappointed. “Yeah” Daniel said, intrigued. “That seems less dramatic than what I was hoping for.” “Shit, but look at this stuff”. Adam said, scanning down the two pages. “This might be the first shreds of truth of his life. Where he went to school, employment history…” “Why would it be real though?” Ali said, unmoved by the new evidence. “If he was applying for jobs, I guess” Adam reasoned. “And look, none of this is the stuff he told any of us”. Daniel grabbed his laptop and fired it up alongside Ali’s. Ali moved in closer. “So he was working for a law firm, called Coopers”. “Shit, Coopers” Adam said. “He talked about doing some work on the side for them.” “Check this though. He worked full time for them as a fucking legal secretary” Ali said. “What level is a legal secretary?” Adam asked. “No idea, but it’s got to be way below a lawyer.” Daniel typed it into google. “They’re fairly high level, but yeah, they don’t have lawyer qualifications.” “Wait. He never even went to Uni.” Adam said. Daniel looked across. “Really?” “Yeah, look.” “He was only 24 as well” Daniel said. Adam looked for a date of birth. “The school years” Daniel said. The sum took twice as long as it should, but Adam got there. “Shit, you’re right.” “The confusing thing though”, Daniel said, “is the address.” Adam looked at the address in the top right corner, listing a property in Shrewsbury. “What do you mean? It’s got to be his mum and dad’s place hasn’t it?” “Yeah, you’d think. That’s what I was just looking at though. I searched the electoral register online. But the registered name there is Diamond. Not Griffiths”. “Oh Jesus. So we’re right back where we were six weeks ago. Without a sodding clue”. Adam pushed the laptop back, then stood up and walked across and collapsed on the sofa. Only adrenaline was keeping him alive at the moment. “So what next?” Ali asked. “Fuck knows” Adam said shaking his head resignedly. “Maybe the whole thing is a double bluff. Maybe he knew Steve would check his inbox and so he threw a curveball in there by writing a CV with an entirely fake address on. I mean, he’s already invented a press article and recreated work emails on his computer, for my benefit. Maybe evil masterminds actually really exist, and you find them lurking on gay bloody roomshare adverts in Manchester. I mean, who knows how far it goes. Maybe Steve was in on the whole thing. Maybe the dog guy was too. Maybe everyone is. Maybe this is all a TV show and I’m the unwitting star and millions of people around the world are watching and laughing at how ridiculous it is, and how fucking stupid I am that I haven’t guessed that none of it’s real yet. He looked up and saw Daniel smiling. “Am I being hysterical?” “Little bit”. “I don’t know. I’m beginning to think we’re just not going to win this fight. He’s too smart for us.” They each looked at one another and contemplated it. This was surely the last clue. The last step on an adventure, which was now sure to end in failure. “Wait one second” Ali said, slowly. She went back to the laptop and started typing. Daniel looked at the screen. “Land registry?” “Yeah baby, i’ve used it at work before. I’m sure you can get information on properties here”. She clicked on a link on the front page, and then typed in the postcode and house number listed on the CV. Daniel stood behind her, watching intently. “Ok, it costs £4”. “Here” Daniel said, bundling his debit card to her. She typed in the details and sent the order. The confirmation screen came up with a single small file. “This is it” she said, opening the attachment and scrolling down the one-page summary. “Shit” she said, conclusively. “Adam, come look…” Daniel said. Adam expected nothing, and so was surprised at the reaction. He stood and stumbled across to the table. The attachment didn’t say a great deal, but two thirds of the way down the sheet, it explained that the address listed on Paul’s CV had been bought in 2005 for £110,000 by Tony Diamond and Anna. Diane. Griffiths. Ali and Daniel both turned to Adam, who was shaking his head. “Shit the bed” he said. “You’re a genius. We’ve bloody found him.”
  10. stuyounger

    Victory. April 2010. Daniel

    Daniel was sitting on the balcony of his flat, staring at a luminous pink pigeon which was intermittently squawking at him as it groomed its feathers. He wasn’t feeling entirely afraid of it, but at the same time he didn’t feel quite safe enough to edge his way to the door and back into the flat. It was a strange sort of noise the bird was making too. It wasn’t a squawk actually. More like the noise from a quiz show when somebody knows the answer, or the noise you hear when something goes wrong in the game Operation. Or the noise of a door buzzer. The sound of Ali’s voice in the hall woke him from his dream. “Oh it’s you. Yeah, sure, come on up.” A few minutes later he heard Adam’s voice say a tired hello. “Adam, it’s ten to fucking nine” Ali said. “What are you doing here? Has something happened?” “Daniel texted me last night – told me I had to come over first thing. Isn’t he up?” Daniel glanced at the bedside clock. Why had he invited Adam over? “I don’t think so” he heard Ali reply. “Come on through anyway, you look like shit by the way”. Daniel gave it a minute, then dragged himself out of bed, pushed his way through the two doors into the lounge, heaved his bedraggled body slowly across the floor, and crumpled onto the sofa. Without even asking, Ali switched the kettle on. “Wow. You look fucking rough too” she said cheerily. He looked slowly up at her, summoning every bit of energy available, his eyelids feeling very heavy. But then silently, the skin across his face relaxed and a grin gradually spread across the full breadth. “I. Am. Victorious” he said, maintaining eye contact with every word. Adam laughed. “Someone got laid.” “You look like you hooked up with Matt Damon” Ali ventured. “Better.” “Well it definitely didn’t start well” Adam said. He filled Ali in on the potential nightmare scenario of Daniel being stuck in the club with Jay, his high school suitor and Nate, the predatory best friend of his ex. “In fact the last I saw of you, the student had one hand on the back of your neck.” “What, and you did nothing about it?” Ali asked, turning to Adam. Adam looked shifty. “I was, otherwise engaged…” Daniel laughed and picked up the story. “No, there was nothing going on there, I promise. The first thing I did was tell Jay in no uncertain terms that he was never going to flirt with me again or I’d speak to every bouncer on Canal Street and make sure they knew to look out for his fake ID. I sent him to get a glass of water and I watched him drink it, before anything else. “Then, seeing that Adam was fully occupied, I decided to take some action. I walked up to Nate who was coming on to some guy in a far corner of the bar. I grabbed him by the front of his shirt, and pulled him away and against the wall. And I said to him. You’ve got one chance with me, and that’s right now, tonight”. Daniel laughed, hardly believing what his memory told him. “Then I said to him, how badly do you want it?” “Oh god” Ali said, “you watch way too many porn films.” “I know. And he was like, come on then fuck-puppet, let’s go. “So we stumbled our way back to his, stopping in every doorway to kiss hard and grab each other all over, and we had honestly the most mind blowing athletic sex until about four in the morning. Then I cleaned myself up, and walked to the door. He was still trying to grab me again, but I smiled and pushed him away and left.” “Wow” Adam said, shaking his head in wonder. Daniel thought back to school and to Jordan McKenzie and the football guys, all athletic, and muscular, and brutal. He had lusted after them for so long, even though they had taken no interest in him at all. Those guys had always made him feel powerless, weak and inadequate. But last night with Nate he was the one in control. It didn’t matter how broad and muscular and sporty Nate was, he stopped being the bully, or the unattainable footballer. He became just a guy, a body to get pleasure from; a notch on the bedpost. It didn’t matter that Daniel was the bottom. That wasn’t what it was about. He had been in control. It was like an awakening. “I was so awesome”. “So are you going to see him again?” Adam asked. “No way. I fucked him and chucked him. No apologies. No repeats. I win.” “My boy wonder” Ali said proudly. She turned to Adam. “So what about you?” “Oh yeah” Adam said, seeming to remember something. “I think I’ve got a boyfriend”. Daniel turned to him. “That’s amazing. So what, you chucked Ryan into the long grass and got chatting to some hot stud in the bar?” “Ryan?” Ali asked “Yeah, you remember that sleazy guy Adam went on a date with…” Ali tapped his arm. “…he was there too, with his excessive hair gel and…” Ali hit his arm harder and he turned to see Adam looking a little uneasy. “Oh no.” “Yep” Adam confirmed. “The new boyfriend is…” “Yep.” “Shit. Look, I mean, Ryan has his good points…” “It’s fine. I think he’s different when you get to know him a bit.” “Yeah…” Daniel said, trying to sound optimistic. He shot a look across to Ali, which Adam saw. “Ok, I know what you’re thinking but he shags like a bunny, so I don’t care.” Ali smiled. “Good then”. She finished making tea for them all and brought it across. “So, what are you doing here at this ungodly hour?” Adam looked across to Daniel. “Oh, right, yeah, the news. Sorry, I totally forgot I texted you. I might have been a bit drunk.” “If it’s not important, I could come back after we’ve all slept a bit more?” “No, no, it’s important. Well, maybe. Nate told me something last night. Between bouts of sexual bliss.” “Yeah?” “Ok, so Nate is also into the whole power play kind of stuff. He knows a load of guys into pretty hardcore S&M, and he was telling me about this guy he knew who was… okay, this is going to sound odd.” “It’s fine. I’m not Mary Whitehouse” Adam replied. “Okay, well this guy was being, like, trained up to be a human dog kind of thing.” “Okay…” Adam said, cautiously. Ali looked confused. “What the fuck does a human dog mean?” “Honestly, best not to ask. But this training started a few months ago. Nate obviously thought it was hilarious that someone would do that. But the guy being trained is about our age and he was previously some kind of software engineer.” “Right…” Adam said, still apparently having no idea where this was going. “Well, don’t you get it? This process takes people out of their normal lives. It might for example make it seem like they’re a missing person.” “Oh…” Adam said, the relevance dawning on him. “And most importantly, the guy being trained, he used to be called Steve”. “Aha” Adam said, his eyebrows raising. “What’s he called now?” Ali asked. Daniel stared at her, his half-functioning brain suddenly stumped by the unexpected question. “I don’t know. Rover or something?” Adam leant forward, keen to move the conversation on. “So you think this might be Paul’s missing ex?” “It’s got to be a possibility, hasn’t it?” Adam looked to be stewing all of this over. “So how do we get in touch with this guy? Did you get his number from Nate?” Daniel paused. It was his turn to look stumped. Did he get a phone number from Nate? The truth slowly dawned on him, and his hangover-death-face returned. “Oh no” Adam said, a smile creeping onto his face. “You didn’t ask him for the number” Ali said. Daniel shut his eyes, hoping they would reopen to an alternate reality. “No apologies. No repeats” Adam said, shaking his head. Daniel picked up his tea. “Fine. I don’t need my dignity. I’ll call him again.” Daniel showered, dressed and returned to his room, waiting a few minutes until the clock turned 10am before making the call. His heart was beating hard in his chest. It rang a few times, and he blindly hoped that there would be no answer. But then there it was. That cocky, spine chilling laugh that he hated and adored. “Fuck Danny boy. I text Dean when I woke up and bet him £20 that within two days you’d be crawling back for more. Fuck though. Less than 12 hours. You must have really loved it.” Daniel gritted his teeth. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think about how he was feeling during sex last night. “Fuck yeah. I’m so horny for more…” “Mmm. I know you are Danny boy.” “Nate…” he said, ready to move on to his real motive. “Be here 9 o’clock tonight right. And don’t even think about wearing underwear”. He could hear Nate’s grin down the phone. He couldn’t help it. Hearing that voice again, he knew he did want more. There was nothing to stop him though. He could sneak out of the flat later on, no-one would know. Maybe he’d been wrong about Nate. Maybe that sexual aggression could be compatible with a caring, respectful relationship. Maybe Nate wanted to settle down and they could be a regular couple. And they could fuck like that every night. “Ok, sure”. “You better be. Alright, I’ve got to go…” “Nate…” he said again, remembering once more the reason for the call. “What?” “You remember the guy we talked about. The dog guy?” Nate laughed that arrogant belly laugh again. “Danny boy… you’re even kinkier than I thought” “No, it’s not for me”, he said earnestly. “I just wanted his number…for a friend”. This sounded so lame. He hadn’t thought it through at all. “Is that ok?” Nate paused, and Daniel was sure he was going to say no. “I guess so” Nate said finally. “He’s always on the look-out for new boys. Don’t you go calling him though. I’m not up for sharing my fucktoy. Not yet anyway”. That arrogant laugh again. A switch flicked in Daniel’s brain. What had he been thinking? Nate was still the same arsehole he’d always been. He grimaced and said nothing though. It was just another hammer blow for his self esteem. Nate read the number and Daniel grabbed a pen and pad and wrote it down. He read it back to check. “That’s the one Danny boy. So I’ll see you at nine yeah? You know there’s no escape from me now?” Daniel inhaled deeply and summoned his last reserves of energy. “Actually no” he said. His voice was solemn and without malice. “I’ve changed my mind. I walked out earlier because you’ve always been a dick to me, and you always will be a dick to me. So for once I’m choosing no dick. Today, for once, I win.” He ripped the phone from his ear and pressed the call end button, as if it was the defuse button on a bomb. Out of the ashes at his feet came the glorious flapping wings of a phoenix. Daniel opened the door to head back to the lounge and immediately outside found Adam and Ali standing proudly, each of them holding an arm aloft for a double high five, which, after initial hesitation, he dispatched. “I don’t even need to be angry about earwigging today” he said and floated back through to the lounge.
  11. Before an earthquake there is quiet. Pressure builds and builds, but the rocks don’t move. They stand their ground, trying not to shift. They close their eyes tight and try desperately to hold themselves steady under the increasing force against them. But then eventually, inevitably, a rock somewhere crumbles, and then another and then another. The quake is still a way off, but there are tremors. The week that followed the party, there were tremors. Sunday (Adam) Adam awoke to the mess of the post-party flat. James had gone out for an early morning run and, unable to face cleaning on his own, he arranged to head across to Ali and Daniel’s. They brought him tea and all sat down on the sofa looking like a vertigo sufferers group after a rollercoaster ride. “Man, my head hurts” Adam summarised. “How are you guys?” Ali shrugged. “Still powerless to the rolling tanks of capitalism crushing the world we love around them.” Ali replied, taking a sip of tea and placing it down on the table. "Bit of a headache too”. Adam nodded and looked to Daniel. “Yeah, pretty much still without boyfriend and depressed about life in general” he answered. “We should probably head down Canal Street sometime. You know, to rectify our boyfriendlessness” Adam suggested. Daniel looked up from his tea. “Totally. Do you have much luck pulling in the bars down there?” “Nope.” “Me neither.” “Excellent” Adam said smiling. “So…we never heard the latest on the disappearing flatmate yesterday” Ali said, changing the subject. Adam rolled his eyes. “Oh, it’s all getting a bit crazy. So, you know Simon, Paul’s friend?...” he asked. “That one you ruthlessly slept with?” Ali asked. “Yeah, and which we agreed never to mention in front of anyone else.” Ali nodded. “Yes, ok, that one”. “Well, he seems to be leading our amateur investigation. It appears that Paul’s previous boyfriend Steve has gone missing and hasn’t been seen since Paul split up with him. So now Simon is going kind of crazy and speculating that Paul might have…” He paused. This sounded too stupid to even repeat. “What, done him in?” Ali asked, smirking. “Well, yeah.” “That weedy sprout killing someone?” “Exactly, it’s ridiculous. Now his latest theory is that Paul had some kind of accomplice in all of this.” An odd look passed between Ali and Daniel. “What?” Adam asked. “It’s probably nothing” Daniel said, “definitely nothing to do with that first theory. I just remembered something the other day”. “Yeah?” “It’s probably nothing at all. It’s stupid. Probably. It’s just, a while back in town I remember passing by a coffee shop, and seeing Paul in the window having coffee with someone. This is maybe four or five months ago...” Adam looked confused. “How did you recognise Paul?” Ali laughed. “Don’t even go there”. Adam looked at Daniel, then back to Ali, blinked and shook his head. “Ok”. “Yeah, so then at the Loom Inn at your birthday, when I met James, it took me a while to figure out where I recognised him from, but later on it came to me. I’m sure James was the coffee shop guy.” Adam looked even more confused. “That makes no sense at all. They didn’t know each other. They still don’t really. They could only have met maybe once at the flat, in passing.” “Yeah, I thought it seemed strange when I made the connection. I’m sure that’s who it was though. I have a great memory for faces. It’s a teacher thing”. Adam was quiet. From beneath the dull headache his mind was racing. Monday (Thomas) Thomas sat at his desk with a glass of whisky. He glanced at the clock which read 10.30. He should head to bed soon. He clicked through his mobile again to the answerphone and placed it down on the desktop. It was already set to loudspeaker. You have. No. New messages. And. Three. Saved messages. First. Saved. Message. Received. On. Tuesday. 30th of March. At 9.45. A.M. Then her voice cut in for the first time. Thom, look, I want to talk about this. Maybe I did get it wrong back then, but I don’t think I was the only one at fault here. But… look… I want to sort things out. We’re a team. Let’s work this out. The message stopped. Thomas leaned forward, placing his face in the palm of his hand, his elbow resting on the desk for support. Second. Saved. Message. Received. On. Friday. 2nd of April. At 7.12. P.M. Thom, if you remember, it was you that got back in touch with me. You know I’d moved on, I was happy with where I was. It wasn’t me that asked you to start raking up old graves. I’m not going to get in touch again, so call me if you want to talk this through and move on. Silence again. He lifted his head and looked up at a print on the wall; Nighthawks, by Hopper. A stranger sitting at a warm street-side café on a quiet night in the city. The man nurses a drink and looks like he has all the weight of the world on his shoulders. Yet, despite all that, his only focus is listening in to the conversation of a troubled looking couple a few metres round the bar. Wondering if they feel as alone as he does. Thomas idly rubbed the unshaven stubble around his mouth. Third. Saved. Message. Received. Today. At 8.02. P.M. His shut his eyes and his body tensed. Well fuck you then. There are no more messages. To hear your messages again… Without even looking his finger found the button to end the call. He looked down at the phone, a tear gently slipping from his eye. Tuesday (James) Those first moments of new, pure daylight bursting out from behind the city’s skyline were truly the one and only gift to the insomniac. James sat at the dining table, an opened diary page in front of him, staring out at the dawn show. It would be a couple of hours before Adam was up, so the perfect time to think, and to write. He breathed in deeply, picked up the pen and put it to paper. I hate what i’ve done to him. He doesn’t deserve everything that happened, and he doesn’t deserve my lies. But what can I do? If I tell him about Paul, then I’ll have to tell him about everything and that’ll be it. Friendship over. He sat back and remembered that day in the coffee shop and that chill that ran through him as Paul revealed what he really was. The kind of guy that would plot against his own flatmate within a month of moving in. Paul had known exactly which buttons to press though. He knew so much about James’ past, or at least seemed to. And once Paul had started, everything from that college party had come flooding back. The anger that had been building all evening as Brad wouldn’t let up flirting with his girlfriend. He knew himself that he was struggling to handle all that beer and vodka inside him. “You guys want a lift back in my car?” Brad had asked. He took every opportunity to remind James and the others that he had a car before anyone else. “Sure, right, and I guess you’ll want to drop me off first before escorting Carly back?” James had replied. Brad had given a teasing half smile. “Well, your place is closer so I guess that makes sense.” Carly was ignoring them, obviously. She was the only one of them with any sense. She had leant into the back from one of the side doors, and was placing her guitar across the seat. “I’ll sit in the back so you studs can bicker in the front” she said, emerging from the car. James had been so mad. “You don’t seriously think I’m going to let him drive you home, just the two of you together, do you?” Carly shook her head. “Stop being an asshole James, just get in”. He looked across and Brad had been grinning like a school boy. And after that exchange, the rest of the events unfolded. The moments that changed his life. The rest of that evening was all such a blur. What was the point of trying to remember it anyway? He returned to the diary. I didn’t do it. That’s what matters. Paul asked me, even tried to blackmail me. Maybe I thought about it, maybe I came close, but I never did it. That means I’m not complicit, so how would it help telling all that to Adam now? No. Nothing’s changed. Just like I was told before, I need to leave it in the past. Forget it. Move on with my life. They were right, that’s the only way. Wednesday (Thomas) Thomas was in the kitchen setting the microwave minutes on a drab looking cottage pie when the buzzer rang. There hadn’t been an uninvited visitor to the flat in more than a year, so he ignored it at first assuming somebody had typed the wrong flat number into the keypad. When it buzzed a second time, he went through and picked up, seeing Cameron’s face looking into the camera on the intercom. “Good evening, come on up” he said, somewhat surprised, and buzzed to release the outer door. He walked quickly back to the kitchen to turn off the microwave and hide the packaging, before returning to open the front door, holding on there for the minute or so that it took Cameron to get up the stairs. Cameron appeared along the corridor and raised his eyebrows in greeting. “Now what brings you all this way?” Thomas asked, opening the door wide to let him through. Cameron smiled and revealed a bottle of Jameson. “I thought maybe you might fancy some company”. Thomas’ eyebrows scrunched up like gathering rain clouds. “I don’t want to talk about Jenny”. Cameron held his hands up. “Fine by me. I‘m here for you mate.” He’d always had such an honest face, so Thomas relented. They went through to the kitchen-lounge and he grabbed a couple of whiskey glasses. “Sorry.” Cameron poured them each a healthy measure, and they sat down at the table and took a healthy slug. “I’ve never been worried about you before” Cameron said. “Not even that weird blue period at Uni. But now…” Thomas closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’m fine, it’s fine. Life’s just a bit…complicated at the moment.” “That’s what I mean though.” Cameron paused long enough for him to open his eyes. “Life’s as complicated as you let it be. When it gets too crazy, you’ve to give yourself a break. Stop being hard on yourself. And on the people who love you” “Dammit Cam, I told you not to raise it.” “This isn’t about Jenny. It’s about you.” “Bullshit. Look, she screwed up, and she’s too proud to even say sorry for it. Tell me I’m wrong.” Cameron was quiet. “What, really?” Thomas asked, more aggressively. “I thought you didn’t want to talk about it?” “No, no, come on, now we’re on it, let’s not sit on the fence here, tell me what you think?” Cameron took a deep breath. “Look, I know what he meant to you, but when I look back, I remember it the same way she does. The boy never knew if he was coming or going”. “Nonsense.” “Sometimes it were both in one evening.” Thomas stood up decisively. “Well thanks for this interlude, but I can assure you I don’t need you saving me Cameron”. “Well maybe someone needs to” Cameron replied, standing up too. “I mean, how many years of your life are you planning to spend moping around, drowning your sorrows and fucking away your life with strangers in saunas. You should be doing so much better for yourself.” Thomas laughed. “Right. Says the barman.” Cameron smiled like he’d taken a left hook in the face. “What’s my brother’s name?” Cameron asked suddenly. “What?” “Just tell me, what’s my brother’s name?” “Robert” “And my mum’s name?” “Kathleen” “And what fags does my dad smoke?” Thomas waved his hand, trying to think of the name. “I don’t know, those godawful cheap menthol things.” “And if all the people you’ve had over in this flat in the last year asked you those same questions, how many do you reckon you could you answer?” Thomas gave him a long look. “I’m not really up for games” he said finally. Cameron nodded and looked thoughtful for a second. “Look. I know I’m nothing much, that’s ok with me. I’ve got that pub, and I’ve got good people around me, and I’m happy. For fuck’s sake, whatever happy is for you, work it out and let us help you get there”. “I’ll be happy when I’m alone.” Thomas said stubbornly. Cameron nodded gently, fished in his pocket for a scrap of paper, handing it to Thomas and walked to the door. “Call me if you need me, yeah? Any time.” Once Thomas heard the front door close he unfolded the scrap of paper and read the three numbered points. 1. Robert 2. Everyone else just calls her Kath 3. The menthol things you hate. He put it down on the kitchen table, took a seat and stared out of the balcony window. He couldn’t help a small smile creeping onto the edge of his face. Thursday (Ali) Ali was strolling back through town after another dreary day in the office. The fluorescent lies of election posters were pasted up in windows everywhere she looked. It was only about a month away. Walking through Market Street she could see a crowd up ahead and TV cameras focusing in on something. The local news often filmed there. As she got closer she saw the leader of the council giving an interview. She stopped and listened for a few minutes. “But Mr Clark, how do you respond to the liberal democrat councillors who say that unemployment is rising and you don’t know how to fix it?” He smiled confidently to the camera. “Well, you see, the liberal democrats lack the experience in office for this situation. Of course we have a lot of plans in development to create jobs, not least the airport extension, which alone is expected to create hundreds of new jobs in the city over the next three years…” “At what price though?” Ali said. This had felt like an internal thought. Judging by the reaction of people around her though, perhaps it had come out a little louder than anticipated. Actually, quite a large part of the crowd had turned to see who had spoken. The leader of the Council glanced across and then back to the camera, hoping this intercession would be ignored, but the camera turned, and under its gaze, Ali felt compelled to say something more. “How about our environmental future?” she asked. The councillor looked irritated as the camera returned to him, and he tried to wave away the comment so he could continue with the interview as planned. Ali thought of that night, so many years ago, back in their ramshackle home on the outskirts of Chelmsford. She was 12 years old and had been sitting telling her mum about a project she was working on all about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. As ever, mum had been busy making dinner and doing ten other things at once, uttering occasional ‘oh’s and ‘great’s to feign listening. Ali heard movement at the door, and knew her dad was coming in. He worked long hours, fixing roads and was always tired when he got in. Still, she raced through to the door to greet him. She was one of six siblings so never got a lot of attention, but that evening he sat with her and listened to every word about her new project. “Sounds like my little girl’s gonna save the world” he’d said proudly. She could still hear his voice now. One of the rare times growing up she ever remembered feeling like she had made him proud. It was three days after that night that he stepped out from behind a road work barrier and was hit by a silver Mercedes speeding through the works, and life was never the same again. Ali saw the look of disdain on the councillor’s face and felt a rush of bitterness over the airport affair. She shouted up again, intentionally this time. “What are your plans for cutting carbon?” The camera was quickly upon her again. “What happened to your plan for Manchester to be the greenest city in England?” she said. The reporter turned back, and the camera followed. “Do you want to respond to that Mr Clark?” He definitely didn’t. “Look, with respect, I’m not sure who this young lady is, but I don’t think this is the point of the interview.” “Course you don’t” Ali replied and the camera was back on her. “Cos finally someone is speaking up about that troublesome green agenda that you usually push to one side to be dealt with in the next election cycle. Like everyone else has for the last 20 years. Because it’s going to be 100 years before parts of this country go underwater isn’t it. So who cares, right? And anyway, it’s central government’s problem isn’t it? I mean what can you do to stop global warming? And how much difference will one little airport extension make anyway? And science will probably sort out the problem anyway, won’t it?” “Look, this is a large and complex challenge we face…” he began. “Well science hasn’t, and isn’t and won’t solve it Mr Clark. Not alone. Everybody has to act on this, at every level, and a city the size and importance of ours needs a proper plan to reduce environmental impact. It’s about time people realised what a bloody shambles you’re making of it”. The cameras turned back to him, and he gave the typical politician fluff about plans being worked up and the priority given to this, and blah blah. But she had struck a blow. Back at the flat they watched the local news at 10.30 that evening, and Daniel grinned through the three minutes of footage. When it was done he went across and hugged her. “My girl”. Saturday (Ali) Ali knocked on the bathroom door and shouted bye to Daniel who had been locked in there for half an hour making himself look pretty, ready for the night out with Adam. She headed quickly through town, and saw a familiar figure heading her way, pacing the streets with his head down. He would’ve walked straight past if she hadn’t touched him on the arm, making him swing round in surprise. “Ali. Hi, sorry. World of my own. How are you doing?” Thomas said. “Ah, you know, just about recovered from the party last weekend.” He laughed. “I enjoyed your cameo on the news the other night.” “Yeah, I’m not sure what came over me”. “It needed saying” “It did. I think you’d have made a better job of it than me, but…” “Not at all. It was perfect.” She smiled gratefully. “Listen, I’m glad I ran into you, I wanted to ask a favour. I’m arranging a talk at the uni next week on climate change. It’s probably only a crowd of like ten people in Greenpeace t-shirts, but it’d be cool if you could come along. Maybe say a few words?” He looked unsure. “I’m not sure I’d be the best person.” “Please” she urged. “I’m in a bit of a bind – I promised to sort this and I don’t know who else to ask, I’ve totally bitten off more than I can chew on this, I’ve already had a couple of people back out, and I know it’s something you actually care about.” His face broke into a smile. “Ok, ok, I can do it. Send me the details over.” She agreed to, and they parted. That was a very good job done. Cameron would be pleased. Saturday (Adam) Adam and Daniel both turned up exactly 10 minutes late to the bar where they had arranged to meet, and so were able to walk in together. They had a couple of drinks around the village and ended up, slightly tipsy, in Popscotch, a bar-cum-nightclub that was terrible and brilliant, in a way that only gay nightspots seemed able to achieve. The place was dark and cavernous, decorated badly with various gaudy gold and silver walls separated by bare red brick. It was also young and lively, played non-stop danceable pop, and was packed with single men. They got drinks and walked over to the viewing balcony above the dancefloor, scanning the room. Daniel made a noise like he’d just dropped something over the balcony and Adam turned quickly. “What?” “Nothing. No, its fine. It’s just, do you remember I told you about that guy Nate?” “Yeah, the dickhead friend of Carl’s?” Daniel indicated with his eyes. “Yeah. He’s right over there”. Adam looked over. “In the black top?” “Yep that’s him.” “Wow, he’s ripped.” Daniel gave him a look. “Don’t even go there.” Adam laughed. “Well, hey, it could be worse. It could’ve been that student with a crush on you”. Daniel shook his head, still looking out across the room. “Now that would not be…” Adam looked across again as Daniel’s words trailed off, and saw his face had dropped. “What now?” “This can’t be happening” “What, not the student?” Daniel subtly pointed across at a young guy throwing some big moves on the dancefloor, a tight vest top showing off some well worked arms. “Wow, what are the chances the two males you most want to avoid in the world would both be here in the same room on the same night as you?” “Oh god. Welcome to my personal hell.” Adam laughed. “We can go?” Daniel shook his head. “No. No. We paid £10 each for the pleasure of this place. I am not leaving because of any boy”. They worked their way downstairs, and Daniel found a place to lean and wait, as Adam went to get drinks. As he placed the order, he looked across to see Nate approaching Daniel, and saw them exchanging a few words before Nate backed off again. Adam was totally ready to find himself a boyfriend that night, but he somehow seemed to repel anyone who came remotely close to being what he wanted. As Daniel went to get the next drinks, he was approached by a cute guy with scruffy brown hair, but somehow spent ten minutes chatting with him and had got stuck talking about their first pets. It took Daniel coming in to rescue him to escape the horror of awkward flirting. Another beer later and Adam was back at the bar. As he was placing his order at the bar, Adam felt a hand on his bum and turned to see Ryan, the one night stand from a few months back. Ryan had been another terrible date, but admittedly awesome in bed. He wasn’t sure how exactly, but Ryan managed to quickly convince him to come dance. He deposited a beer back with Daniel, then was dragged away to the floor. “Just a couple of songs I promise” he said in Daniel’s ear. Several songs later he was totally in his dancing shoes, and across the bar he saw Daniel talking with the student from his school. Adam could see them laughing together, and then the guy’s hand was on the back of Daniel’s head. He knew he should go and intervene and stop Daniel making a terrible mistake, but Ryan’s groin was pressed closely against his, and then suddenly a pair of lips were on his lips. It turned out to be the last he saw of Daniel that evening.
  12. stuyounger

    Flat Warming. April 2010. James.

    It was 6 o’ clock on a Saturday morning, and the flat was silent. So was the building and so were the streets of the city below. All so poisonously quiet. James tried again to close his eyes and will himself to doze some more, but it was no good. He lay there for another hour, hoping in vain that the relief of sleep would come, before giving in and getting up. He slipped on some joggers and stepped silently through to the lounge, perching himself on the edge of the sofa and staring out at the still city. His mind went back once again to the day of the funeral. The looks he got from the assembled family members which told him everything. They knew he had done this and he would have nowhere to hide. He knew it too. Yet somehow the minutes and hours had passed and then the days. The police were doing nothing. Somehow they couldn’t pin it down to him. It took James several days to realise that they weren’t going to send him to prison. They probably should have. Instead they sent him to a psychiatrist. He had no idea how much time had passed in the flat, but he stirred back to full consciousness at the sound of footsteps behind him. “Morning” Adam said groggily, and came across to slouch on the sofa. James summoned the energy to put on a happy front. With Adam it wasn’t so hard. He got up and walked across to the kettle. “Hey there. Coffee?” “Bollocks, we have to make a party happen tonight” Adam muttered. From the moment they took the lease on the new flat, they had started talking about a flat warming party and had quickly chosen a date and let friends know, but somehow three weeks had passed without any planning and now it was upon them. “We do. Coffee?” “Our flat is a total tip.” James looked around at the clusters of still-packed boxes lying in the lounge, and beyond those to the boxes in the hallway. “It is. So, coffee?” “And we don’t have any food in, or beer, or decorations, or, like, any remote plan of what we’re doing.” “All of the above is absolutely true. You want some coffee?” Adam rubbed his eyes and looked across. “Coffee would be good”. After the caffeine boost they headed out to shop and in a couple of hours they were back and James was beginning to blow up balloons while Adam showered. His mind wandered back again. Back to the fateful party in college. It was one of those parties in summer when some college kid’s parents were away, so he’d packed away any breakables and just turned the music up loud, stacked up crates and crates of beer and invited everyone over. It was the first time James had turned up to something with his new girlfriend. It had taken so long to overcome his fear and get it together with Carly. He adored her, and he’d do anything not to lose her. He remembered making out with her in the hallway at this party, with everyone walking past, jealously looking across, and those yellow and green balloons all around their feet. His best friend Brad walked past and touched them both on the shoulder, killing the kiss. Brad was a great guy but he was a real player, and James knew he liked Carly too. Everyone liked Carly. But he always worried that Brad might try something with her. He’d always come up and touch her arm, or kiss her cheek, unnecessary stuff. Just getting too close to your best friend’s girlfriend. “Me next, right?” Brad had said grinning, and blew her a kiss as he walked on past. She laughed and stared just a little too long after him. It was such a stupid thing, he should have ignored it, but he was anxious back then. Even worse than he was now. For the rest of the evening it seemed to carry on. Just little exchanges or looks across the room. James was sure there was something going on, or that Brad was hoping there would be. James became really short with him all evening, then when Carly told him to just relax, it annoyed him even more. “Oh, so you’re defending Brad over me?” “If you’re being an asshole, then yes” she had replied, and disappeared to get a drink. He had stamped hard on one of the green balloons, recoiling slightly at the gunshot sound as it burst under his foot. After it was all over, the trips to the psychiatrist began. Every session had been impossibly awkward, you just couldn’t reason with the guy. He had seemed so sure that James was innocent and so desperate to make him normal again. For James it had made him doubt what he knew about the events of that night. Some of the things the psychiatrist said had filtered through and taken root though. Things about moving on, making friends, exploring love interests, gaining a new focus. He’d heard those words in his head the first evening he met Nancy, and then again the other week when he ran into her again and suggested they give it another try. The doorbell rang and James raced through. He saw Nancy on the screen and buzzed her up. She was looking incredible, as always, in a cute flowery dress, cut pretty short with her long legs stretching down to some mean heels. By now Adam had joined him in blowing up balloons and Nancy came and sat with them as they worked. James watched as she chattered away charmingly about friends and travels and art and music. She was so effortlessly perfect, he could just watch her forever. She told them about her rich uncle in the music industry, and told them stories about glamorous parties around swimming pools with beautiful dresses and intricate canapes served by waiters in immaculate outfits. Then whenever you spoke to her, her eyes lit up and followed every word you said, as if this was the most important news she’d heard all week. There was a pause in conversation and he asked if she wanted to help tie the balloons, offering her an inflated but not yet tied balloon. Without speaking, she raised one hand, displaying a set of long decorated fingernails, and eyed him sceptically. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.” He looked at the clock. People would be here in the next three hours and there still felt like loads that needed doing. “Well, how about helping with putting the balloons up” James asked. There was a pause. “Babe” she said, more sharply than before. “I have £400 heels on. They weren’t made for climbing on chairs and putting up children party balloons”. Adam got up, clearly feeling the tension. “I’m just going to put some of these up in the hall” he said, grabbing a few balloons. “Look I’m sorry this is just a regular house party and, like, Cameron Diaz isn’t going to show up, but can’t you take off your diamond studded slippers for a bit and help?” She gave him a filthy look. Maybe he had crossed a line, but why couldn’t she just muck in? Couldn’t she see he was getting stressed? He refused to back down, instead holding her stare. “You know what?” she said, getting to her feet. “Fuck you, and fuck your party. And fuck your stupid intimacy issues. I’ve had enough”. This felt horribly awkward with Adam right outside. “Babe…” “Don’t call me babe” she said. “In fact, don’t call me”. She disappeared out into the hallway towards the front door. “Goodbye Adam” he heard her say, calmly. “Your ass looks great in those jeans by the way.” The front door swiftly shut and all that was left was her perfume lingering in the air. She was right of course. Compared to her life, this party was pathetic. He was pathetic. Whatever made him think he deserved someone like her? James was sitting on the sofa staring into space as Adam came through and put a hand on his shoulder. “Coffee?” Ali and Daniel came across early to help them finish up preparing, and in half an hour everything was party-ready, so they grabbed a beer and all relaxed on the giant sofa. “So when’s this new lady friend coming over?” Ali asked James. He couldn’t find the words, but Adam stepped in quickly and gently explained to them about Nancy and that she was now unlikely to make an appearance. Daniel, who had seemed quiet up to that point, sat up and pulled out his phone. “Well, since we’re sharing bad news, I might as well get this one in the open”. He passed the phone across for James and Adam to see. There was a message on the screen from Daniel’s boyfriend Carl. James had met him once at the Loom Inn, the day of the football trouble. Don’t think its workin out lets call it a day yeah c u round Adam raised his eyebrows. “That was it?” “Yeah.” “He’s such a twat” Ali summarised. Adam smiled. “This is turning out to be an awesome day for a party then”. By 9pm, the party was in full swing. The beer was flowing, friends were mixing successfully, and their crafted playlist of 90s hits was taking James back to a time when life was happy and simple and normal. Adam came over and stood with him at the breakfast bar. “We did it” Adam said smiling and clinked his beer bottle with James’. “It’s a pretty cool party eh? Hey, who’s the guy in the corner talking to Ali?” Adam looked over. “Oh, that’s Thomas. Friend of Cameron’s, you know, the guy who runs the Loom Inn? I know him a bit from there, and Ali knows him a bit. I didn’t really think he’d come to be honest.” James nodded. As he looked round the room he realised that most of the people there were friends of Adam’s, or joint friends at best. How could he feel like a stranger at his own flat warming party? By 11pm a few people started to head off, and they found themselves down to the last ten or so. Ali emerged back from a trip to the bathroom clutching a box in her hand. “Who’s up for Twister” she said, with drunken enthusiasm. “Where did you find that?” Adam asked. “It was just lying around” she said evasively. “It was hidden under a box, under my bed” Adam said shaking his head. “Not hidden well enough then” she said grinning back and opened it up, spreading the mat across the floor. James went across and grabbed another bottle each of red and white wine. “Ok, James then, you’ve got right foot yellow”. He eyed her cynically. “Really? We’re really playing Twister?” She stared defiantly at him. “Right foot. Yellow.” “Fine. My day can’t get any more ridiculous”. He put down his wine and obligingly placed his right foot on the appropriate coloured dot. Mindless things at least distracted him from other thoughts. “Good. Right, Daniel”. She flicked the spinner. “Left hand blue”. He followed the direction, squatting to place his left hand on the dot. “I’m down and I’m blue”. “I’ll drink to that” Thomas said on the sidelines, mainly to himself, but everybody else in the room with a drink in their hand seemed to simultaneously raise their glasses. “Right” Ali continued. “Sam, are you in?” James looked over to the young guy who had been dating Adam’s ex flatmate. “Way over my head.” “Ok, well, you’re right hand yellow.” He downed half a glass of wine and then took position. Lisa, a girl who used to work at the University with them, was last to engage, and in a few moves each, they were quickly intertwined. Daniel wobbled behind James’ rear as he tried to shift his left arm from red to green. He brushed it on the rebalance. “Shit, sorry.” Daniel said quickly. “Inadvertent bum touch.” “Hey, don’t worry man. I’ll take the action where I can.” Daniel laughed. “Tell me about it. Who needs relationships anyway when you have twister?” “Sam, right hand red.” “I am so over relationships” Sam said, chipping in. “Especially with possibly psychotic fraudsters”. “Wow, sounds like I need to hear that story” Lisa said. “James, left leg red.” “You know all I was saying was she could relax a bit more. I mean, like, Lisa would you be offended if I asked you to take your shoes off?” “Lisa, right foot red.” “They’re already off” Lisa replied. “No, that’s not really what I meant...” “Daniel, right hand green.” Daniel tried to reach across but slipped, falling into the others, and the inevitable human collision followed. By 2am, only Thomas, Ali and Daniel remained as well as James and Adam. All were slumped back on and around the sofa. The room was a mess of empty glasses and the remains of popped balloons and discarded party whistles. The empty twister mat had been shoved unwanted to the side of the kitchen. James looked around at the others. Thomas was staring hypnotically at a small amount of port at the end of his glass that he was swilling round and round. Adam was next to him, lying back on the sofa with his eyes closed. Not asleep, but not fully awake. Ali was over on the armchair, staring into space, occasionally turning her head around the room to glance at the state of the place. Daniel was sitting on the floor, leaning against the armchair. He had his eyes shut, and was letting Ali give him a half-hearted head massage. Thomas stirred. “I should probably head home and leave you guys to party.” James laughed. “Right, yeah, this is party central.” Adam sat up. “No” he said, waving away the idea. “Stay and enjoy the circus of misery” Ali picked up one of the balloons resting at the side of the sofa and started to laugh. Everybody glanced up at her. “Who the fuck bought these?” she asked, holding up the ‘Let’s Celebrate’ balloon. “I mean do any of us here have a single thing to celebrate after these last few weeks?” Adam glanced at the balloon and a smile crept onto his face. “Ok, I’ll go.” He reached down for his glass and took a sip. “Well, I would like to celebrate being ridiculously blind and naïve, failing to notice that my Harry-Potter-lookalike flatmate, who I saw and spoke to every day for six months, was an evil genius and has managed to disappear, never to be seen again, having built up thousands of pounds of debt in my name.” James thought back to that afternoon in the coffee shop with Adam’s ex-flatmate. “I know all about you Allerton” Paul had opened. “I know exactly what you did to your girlfriend and your best friend. You know you really shouldn’t leave your emails open where there are prying eyes”. “What the hell is this?” he had asked. He just wanted to forget that stuff. That smile on Paul’s face. “I think we could help each other out”. James patted Adam on the shoulder. “He fooled everyone man. I only wish there was some way I could help”. His insides churned as he said the words. He was lying to the closest friend he had. For a second he thought he saw a look pass from Ali to Daniel. Could they tell something was wrong from the way he said it? Part of him wished they did knew, that everyone knew. He didn’t deserve secrets. Adam raised a glass. “So a toast to my dear flatmate conman” Ali gave a wry smile, and cleared her throat. “Harry Plotter”. “Okay, my turn then”, Ali said, being next in the circle. “Here’s to a week when our politicians finally caved in, leaving us, the environmentally concerned citizens powerless to stop plans for the airport extension, which will condemn our city to environmental ruin, and pour another centimetre of water onto our already high global sea levels, that they might drown us all.” “To bloodsucking developers” Thomas suggested, raising his glass. “And to screwing the world for a quick buck” Ali concluded. James raised his glass with the others and they drank. More alcohol helped. The room was quiet for a moment. Daniel took a second to realise they were all looking at him. “Oh, right, me now?” He took a sip of wine. “Ok, well I got dumped by text message today. I don’t know, I might have mentioned it already?” He glanced up at the sympathetic smiles. Daniel seemed like such a nice guy, he deserved better. Ali’s touched the side of his head with her hand. “Seriously, a text message. I mean, he didn’t even use punctuation”. “Guys are shit” Adam said, consolingly. Daniel stared down into his glass, weighing something up. “You know what’s really shit though, is trying to date like, top guys. Like…” he paused, trying to find the right word, “…like more dominant type guys”. He said it quickly, and then looked up cautiously to see the reaction, obviously unsure whether he was crossing a boundary here. James was fixated on him, that controlled, concentrated honesty. “Cos you see, I can’t help that I’m attracted to guys like that. It’s just me, it’s who I am. But I’m also a smart guy, and a sensitive guy, and so I can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone unless they’re, you know, sort of, on my intellectual level. And the problem is that all the dom guys I meet seem to be, kind of, morons or psychopaths…” “Carl was a moron” Ali chipped in. “Welcome to the five-months-too-late-agony-aunt, thanks for coming” he said with a smile, turning his head to look up at her. She threw up her hands in playful defeat. “…and then all the intelligent, interesting, could-go-somewhere guys that I meet are, well, you know, just not…” he gritted his teeth together and gestured with his hands. “rough enough?” James suggested. Daniel looked across, slightly bashfully. He cleared his throat. “Well, umm, yeah, that”. Their eyes connected for a second and James felt like he understood the guy completely. “I swear” Adam said, grinning, “for a city built around the textile industry, this place is useless for boyfriend material”. Ali shook her head and threw a party whistle at him. “So, to smart and rough boyfriends” she suggested, her glass held aloft. “Yeah, and to them being single and looking for a cute art teacher” Daniel said, and he led the drinking. Thomas looked at the expectant eyes which had turned to him next. “Oh god, you don’t want to hear all my secrets.” Ali looked sternly at him. “Play the game Mr politician” He smiled. “Ok fine. Well actually it’s Mr soon-to-be-ex-politician”. He took a deep breath. “I guess it turns out that I’m a less convincing public speaker than I thought, and by trying and failing to overthrow our hopeless leaders, I’ve thrown away eight years of investment in a political career in about eight impetuous weeks. Now everybody is predicting that there’s going to be a Labour whitewash at the elections and the Lib Dems will lose a lot of seats, including mine.” “You stood up for what you believed in though” Adam said. “That’s worth something”. “Yeah, and you kicked ass in that radio interview at the airport protest. We need people like you”. Thomas smiled gratefully. “The truth is, it turns out that I’m suddenly in my mid-thirties and I realise I’ve never made time or effort to have a serious relationship. In fact the only man I’ve ever been able to see myself with currently lives on the other side of the world with his Australian boyfriend. And when you reach this age, the gay world stops taking an interest in you. Nobody wants a worn out old bear”. James watched his expression. He spoke in an offhand manner, but the sadness and regret was impossible to mask. Why did life do this to people? Like the others, James lacked the experience to know how to respond, and so they all sat in silence. He hadn’t ever thought about being in his mid-thirties; about what happened next. It seemed such a long way off, like everything important would be sorted out by then. Like he would no longer be this person that he hated by that age. But what happened if he still was? Thomas was giving him a strange look and he realised he’d been staring for too long. “Why are you a bear?” James asked, diverting attention. Daniel laughed. “A bear just means a well-built gay guy who’s very hairy”. James nodded, appearing to reflect on this. “Although if he’s in his twenties, he’s probably a cub” Daniel continued. “You have to check their age before you decide which animal they are?” Ali added. “Yeah” Adam replied. “That happens at gay initiation college, year one.” James smiled, despite himself. “So what other animals can you be?” “You can be an otter” Ali suggested. “I think that’s like a tall, slim, hairy guy?” Daniel suggested, looking to Adam for confirmation. “So, wait, what if you’re not hairy?” James asked. Ali, Daniel and Adam all looked at each other blankly. “I don’t know” Daniel said. “What animals aren’t hairy?” Thomas coughed. “Oh right” Ali said, cutting them off. “Back to Thom”. They all turned back. “So I was saying, when you reach this age, the gay world stops taking an interest in what you’re saying…” “Oh come on…” Ali said laughing, “enough with the self-pity.” Thomas grinned. “I don’t know. Maybe life is just supposed to start getting quieter at my age. Maybe I need to find some hobbies and stop trying to work so hard. Accept that I’m not good enough to be a politician and find something a bit more in line with my abilities”. James shook his head. “Life can be whatever you want it to be man, whenever you want it to be. Sure, you can take the easy route and do whatever society tells you, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you”. The psychiatrist might as well have been right there in the room with them. Thomas nodded uncertainly. “Ok, well here’s to not always taking the easy route.” “To being a maverick” Ali said, and they all raised their glasses and drank. All eyes turned to James, the last in the circle. “That just leaves one then” Adam said, “flatmate?” James shrugged his shoulders but felt a tightness in his chest. Part of him wanted to say it, admit it. At least then he could stop pretending he was one of them, make them realise he wasn’t their peer or equal, or even worth kicking dirt at. He couldn’t say it though. “Ok, well how about I’m a crap boyfriend who can’t hold down a relationship for more than a few days with this girl that I’m totally frigging crazy about, and who is so far out of my league it hurts. Adam touched his arm. “To train-wreck relationships all round?” Adam said, raising his glass for the last time. “And to a total crap-package of a month” Thomas seconded, smiling, and they all reached in, clinked their glasses, and downed the contents. James swallowed down the rest of his wine with a lump in his throat.
  13. Adam lay on his bed, turning his mobile slowly over and over in his hands, staring blankly out of the window as he mulled over the text message that had come through. The door to the hallway was shut, leaving him enclosed in his blank white box room. He switched the phone screen on again and read the message for the fifth time. Can you come over this evening, about seven? Now confirmed that Steve has been missing for months. We need to talk. On the other side of the closed door he could hear the voices of James and Nancy. They had bumped into one another in a club a week ago and had started up again. The noises in the hall were unmistakeably flirtatious and he realised he was going to be captive here until that all cleared up. The muffled noises took on extra life. It sounded like it was moving towards foreplay. He moved across to flick his iPod on, but then the noises changed. There were harsh words, Nancy said something about being fucking frigid, and James replied with something he couldn’t hear. Then followed a noise like James had thrown a bucket of ice water over her, and shortly afterwards, the sound of the front door slamming after both of them. The flat went silent. He looked at the message one more time, then replied to confirm he would be there. Adam approached the small golden light that was cutting through the evening mist at the far end of the car park, marking the entrance to the block of flats he was heading for. He could see a figure at the doorway speaking into the intercom, and as he approached, the blurred figure took the shape of Sam. “Hey” Adam said as he drew close, his voice creating vapour clouds. “Guess you got the same text I did”. “I guess so” Sam replied. He pushed open the door as they were buzzed in. “All a bit mysterious.” They arrived at Simon’s apartment and found that Mark, the hyena, was already there, relaxing back on the armchair with a glass of wine, looking somewhat tipsy. Mark looked different from before, more tense and older somehow. It took Adam a few moments to realise, but then it struck him that the characteristic smirk nestling across his features, ready to break into laughter at any time, was absent. “Please, sit down, make yourselves comfortable” Simon said, gesturing to the sofa. “Thanks for coming at such short notice”. Adam and Sam took a seat, but Simon remained standing, walking across and leaning his bum against the wooden table that stood between the lounge and the kitchen. “Guys, it’s been three weeks since Paul disappeared, but according to what I’ve found out, it’s been about four months since anybody last saw Steve. His disappearance seemed to come totally out of the blue, right after he split-up with Paul. There’s nothing else to show that the two disappearances are related, but from where I’m standing it looks suspicious”. He looked from face to face of the seated guests. “I actually think we need to start seriously considering the prospect that Paul might be in a lot more serious trouble than we’ve realised so far”. Sam’s face was a map of confusion. “Simon, I’m not really sure what you’re saying”. Simon breathed deeply. “Ok, I think we need to start wondering whether Paul might have done something a lot worse than just fraud”. A silence descended and hung in the air for several seconds. Adam, Sam and Mark exchanged glances, which were a mix of shock, uncertainty and scepticism. “This is fucking ridiculous” Mark said reaching forward to put his wine glass down on the coffee table. He gestured to Simon, before turning to make eye contact with the other two. “She actually thinks Paul killed his ex-boyfriend.” Simon raised his eyebrows to confirm this was exactly what he was thinking. Mark rolled his eyes. “You’ve been watching way too much fucking Poirot on daytime TV love. This is what working from fucking home does for you”. Sam smiled. “Sorry Simon, but i’m with Mark on this. There’s no way Paul could have done that. If he was capable of something like that, then we’d have known”. “Right, like you knew he was capable of inventing a false life and stringing us all along.” Simon and Sam stared at each other for a few seconds. Mark turned to Adam and raised an eyebrow, and the other two also turned to get the fourth view on this. Adam shrugged. “I don’t know. I think maybe we have to accept that this guy is not at all the person we thought he was. I honestly feel like whatever friendship I had with him is meaningless. It was all a lie. So honestly, who knows what he might have done?” Mark stood up and minced across to the kitchen, grabbing a couple of wine glasses and bringing them back across to the table. “People don’t disappear for four months” Simon said. “Something has happened to Steve, and I don’t think he was the suicidal type. I think we need to draw together everything we know that might throw up a clue about what happened” Mark poured the glasses full of wine from the open bottle on the table and handed them to Sam and Adam. “I think you’re going to need these gents. This could be a long night of who-fucking-dunnit” “So what are we talking about here?” Adam asked. “How deep have you looked?” “I’ve been everywhere” Simon answered. “I’ve gone through Steve’s online profiles - his Facebook and his Gayzer. Both had regular updates right up ‘til November last year, then stopped dead. I’ve been to his flat, and I’ve tried him at the weird little office he worked out of, underneath the railway arches, and he’s never at either. I tried knocking on neighbours’ doors at both, and nobody has seen him in months. I’ve messaged some of his friends off Facebook, not that he has many, but the ones that replied said the same. Nobody has heard from him since November”. “I think he’s probably gone off travelling” Mark said offhandedly, clearly an argument he had put forward to Simon already. “Really? For four months? Without ever mentioning it to anyone or posting any updates online?” Simon said. “I don’t think so.” Adam watched as Mark shrugged and took a healthy slug of wine. Mark could still vividly picture Paul’s laughing face, sitting back with a gin and tonic in hand on the rooftop balcony of Kweer bar. The two of them met there regularly to gossip about conquests and bitch about opposition councillors. A lot of the time they didn’t invite Simon, and it was just the two of them. It felt exclusive. They had been the closest of friends, from soon after they first met. Paul was the closest thing Mark had ever had to a best friend. The kind of intimate, loyal best friend that everyone used to have back at school, but that Mark never did. He had always been the weird kid, not helped by being short, freckly, bespectacled and hopelessly unathletic. He had always known he was the weird kid, but knowing it hadn’t seemed to help at all. In fact he had carried on being the weird kid as he became an adult. It wasn’t an easy mould to escape from. But finally, after 26 years of life, he had found in Paul somebody who was entirely on his wavelength. Someone who was an outcast just like him. Someone whose eyes saw the same world that he did. He remembered talking with Paul about Steve, soon after the dinner party. “Poor fucking Steve” Mark had said. “Having to meet us awful Tory boys, and then having you being a total cunt to him all evening”, he giggled over the glass. Paul almost spat his mouthful of gin and tonic out and looked up at Mark over his glasses. “Well he’ll have to get fucking used to that if he wants to stick around” Paul said and emitted his guttural snigger. “You think he will stick around then?” Mark asked, trying not to sound like he was too concerned. Paul rolled his eyes. “Oh, fuck knows. He is a little fucking lapdog though, so he might be pretty hard to shake off.” “Well, you might have to get him put down then” Mark had said and they had both fallen back laughing. He didn’t share this story with the others. It had been nothing more than a stupid joke. They had both been laughing. Mark tried hard to remember it. They had definitely both been laughing. “I can’t buy that he was some kind of psycho” Sam said. “I mean, he was a bravado kind of guy, sure, and so all the lies is… well, I mean, I’m struggling to get my head round it, but at least I can see that he was capable of that. But killing someone? Without any reason? I can’t see any way that that was in him.” “Well maybe there was a reason. Maybe there was a good motive.” Simon said. “Maybe Steve knew something. Maybe Paul had confided everything in Steve, and Steve was going to give him away.” “Fuck me” Mark said, “this is Paul and Steve. It’s not a psychological crime drama.” “Simon, if you’re serious about this” Adam said, staring intently at him, “why don’t we take it to the police?” Simon shifted uneasily, and Mark sat forward again putting his glass down, the smile dropping from his face. “I don’t think that’s a good idea” Simon said. “There’s nothing firm to go to them with.” Adam’s eyes narrowed. “Are you that bothered about protecting your party from a possible bad news story that you’d hold back information about a serious crime?” Simon’s face was stern. “Of course not. Look, if we had any kind of real evidence, I would be straight down there. The fact is there’s no evidence that anything happened here, but I can’t be the only one that feels a bit uneasy about it?” Adam looked sceptical but he didn’t pursue the point. “And” said Mark, “if the police are involved it means she can’t carry on being fucking Hercule any more”. “So basically, we’re back to the original problem” Sam said. “We need to find Paul, to get to the bottom of this”. Simon opened another bottle and brought it across to the coffee table, pulling up a chair on the far side so he could join the circle. “Ok” Sam said, “how about we go through everything that we think we know about him. There must be some kind of lead in all of the things he’s told us. Mark, you’ve known him longest, how about you start?” Mark turned his nose up. “Get her to start” he said wafting his hand in the direction of Simon. Simon looked irritated. “For fuck’s sake Mark, don’t you want to solve this?” As the two bickered, Adam’s mind wandered back to those first days after he had moved out from the old flat, and the story was beginning to unfold. It had taken a couple of days for the internet connection at the new place to go live, but as soon as it did, Adam had found himself glued to his laptop. He had spent hours trawling Paul’s profiles on Facebook and Gayzer, reading through every message posted up from Paul’s clubbing friends, his political friends and all the students that he must have met through various boyfriends. He read every word of the forty-something comments that had been posted on the Paul is Missing page that Simon had set up, and he befriended and exchanged online messages with Paul’s friends, whose varied interests in the case ranged from concern, to curiosity, to debt reclamation. He had used several search engines to check every derivation of Paul’s name and keywords relating to his work and his hobbies, and had found snippets of references to him in all kinds of places. It had felt invasive, analysing so closely the detail of the online information about a person, even though it was all displayed publicly. You could find out a whole lot about a person from snippets on the internet. Somehow it felt like reading Paul’s diary or rooting through his clothes drawers. Like it was crossing some kind of line. There was a kind of intrigue in having that license to do it though. One thing that his search had done was to refresh his mind of the various stories Paul had told about his life, things that were probably a mixture of truth and fabrication. The story of his childhood in rural Shropshire, his rich family and successful parents, his excellent academic background and first-class degree, the progress through United Tobacco and so on. One thing that had struck him though was that the friends on his profiles almost all seemed to be based in Manchester or nearby. There was nobody there from earlier in his life. No family members or school friends from Shropshire, no university friends or old work friends from when he was in Bristol. There were hundreds of people listed as friends, but they all seemed to be Manchester people, or friends of Manchester friends. It was like his life had only begun three years ago. For the most part the online searching had given nothing away. But there was one thing he remembered that puzzled him. Somebody had asked Paul a few months ago how his treatment was going. He never replied to the question. “So what we’re fairly sure of”, Simon was summarising, “is that his name was Paul Griffiths and he was in his mid-twenties. He talked to a lot of people about his home in Shropshire, which makes me think that’s likely to be true. He always talked about a rural village out there, but I don’t think he ever told anybody what it was called…” Simon trailed off. “What about his job?” Adam asked. “I mean obviously he wasn’t doing the job he said he was, but he must have worked in law?” Simon shook his head. “I checked the register of lawyers. There’s no Paul Griffiths registered. He definitely wasn’t a lawyer”. Mark gulped down a mouthful of wine. “She’s investigated everything Adam”. Simon shot him a dirty look. “But what about all his law books? And that article about the case he was working on?” “And the young lawyer of the year prize” Sam added. “The article I guess he must have faked. The prize doesn’t even exist. I checked it.” Simon answered. “Come on, that’s elementary Sam” Mark said, and gulped another mouthful of wine. “For fuck’s sake Mark, are you done with the detective references?” Mark stroked his chin and adopted a Columbo voice. “Well there’s just one more thing I don’t get…” He waited to see the nonplussed look on Simon’s face and then fell back laughing. “There’s not much I do get” Sam said. Simon looked across to him. “Well the money. I mean, he lived in this great apartment, bought expensive clothes, we ate out all the time and he always paid. I mean, I know he owes you guys, but it still doesn’t explain how he lived this life for two and a half years. He must have been earning somehow?” Adam nodded slowly. “You think maybe he was dealing?” “No way” Mark said shaking his head. “He was way too off his face on the drugs at weekends to be able to sell the fucking things”. “I think he probably inherited” Simon concluded. “I think his family are rich, and they’ve let him live this lifestyle. They probably don’t give a shit what he’s up to”. Sam nodded. “Guess you’re probably right”. They were all quiet for a few moments, before Adam spoke again. “On Facebook somebody posted on his wall a few months ago asking how his treatment was going. Do we know what that was about?” He looked to Sam whose face was blank. “To be honest” Simon answered, “I’ve heard a whole lot of lies he told people about his health, from speaking to his friends these last few weeks.” Adam sat up suddenly. “Wait, shit, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. Someone told me he’d had a heart attack last year, a couple of months before he moved in with me.” “Oh no, that one was true” Mark piped up. “I was there. It was only a minor one. Too much fucking Ketamine. God I wish I had some K on me now”. “Oh” Adam said, slightly disappointed, and turned back to Simon. “He told a couple of people he had cancer, so maybe that’s what the comment was about. It’s a nasty lie to tell people”. “You’ve done your homework” Adam said, impressed. Mark gave a withering look. “She’s hardly done anything else but this for the last three weeks” “Maybe the cancer was real?” Sam said, staring into space. They all turned and looked at him. “If he has a terminal illness, then maybe that’s why he did it. Maybe he wanted to try a new life. Escape his reality, you know?” They each mulled over the thought. Sam thought back to a Sunday morning in January. Paul was home from clubbing earlier than normal, maybe about 3 or 4am. Sam was working the following day so he had left around midnight, but he’d invited Paul back to the flat after. He remembered being woken as soon as the front door opened, and Paul fumbling noisily through the flat, into Sam’s room. Sam was in a half-sleeping stupor and wanted just to welcome Paul quickly into bed and drop straight back to sleep. Paul had come stumbling into the room though, holding his forehead with one hand and a bent pair of glasses in the other. Sam had immediately sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Paul’s face was in shock and his glasses looked destroyed. “Babe, what the hell happened?” he had asked. Paul had rolled his eyes, held up a hand, and pretended to be entirely unconcerned. “It’s fine, it’s fine. It looks worse than it is. I was walking back with a stupid fucking multi-coloured feather boa from the club round my neck. Then these three brainless twats decided they didn’t like the boa, so they punched me in the face and took my wallet”. “Shit. Let me see?” Paul sat at the side of the bed, and Sam examined his patient. Paul had a big lump on his forehead, but there didn’t look to be much else in the way of scratches or bruises. “Is it hurting?” Paul had smiled weakly, “I’ll live”. “Did you get a proper look at them?” Paul answered the question by holding up the bent glasses. “You know what, shit happens” Paul had concluded. “It’s just a pain in the arse, because my bank’s not open tomorrow and I need to get over to Leeds. Come on though, let’s get to sleep.” Sam had woken early the next morning to go out and withdraw cash for Paul to see him through. When he thought of it, he couldn’t remember ever getting that money back. In fact there were other things that had never seemed quite right about that night. The bump on his forehead. If he had been punched in the face, why was there a bump on his forehead? And the glasses, they were bent out of shape. Why would somebody bend them like that? Wouldn’t they just throw them on the floor, in which case they might be scratched or smashed? He didn’t want to question it though. Because, that moment had been real. When he had put his arms around his boyfriend and comforted him and cared for him, it had been genuine. Their friendship and when they laughed together, those things were honest and real. That night, they had spooned, and Sam had stayed in that awkward position until he felt Paul’s body relax and drop to sleep. Paul had needed that love that night. Sam had felt it. It wasn’t something you could fake. Paul might have lied to the rest of the world about a lot of things, but not their relationship. That part was real. He had to believe that had been real. “You know what” Mark said, “more than anything else here, I hope he’s ok, wherever he is”. Mark sounded as sober as he had all evening. Adam saw the same look in Mark’s eye that he saw in Sam’s. The same crisis of emotions, the same love, and the same sense of betrayal. “I hope so too” Sam said. Adam stayed silent. Although he had lived with the guy for six months, he honestly felt like they had never known each other at all. He glanced across at Simon, whose face was stormy. Simon took the last sip of his glass of wine and put it down on the table. “Well I don’t give a fuck how he is. I hope he’s lying in a shop doorway somewhere rotting”. It had been three weeks, but Simon couldn’t stop the video of that afternoon in the bank, looping round in his head. He had waited more than ten minutes in the long queue at the bank on Piccadilly Gardens, the account book for the LGB Young Conservatives in his hand. And there he was, staring into the pitiful face of the middle-aged woman behind the counter, unable to find the words he needed. “I’m sorry Sir, but I’ve double checked and the balance I’ve given you is definitely correct. She passed him the list of transactions from the last year. We have your signature on all of the transactions. If you don’t remember making any of them though, then I’ll need to arrange for you to meet with our fraud team.” He had been put on the spot. He knew the consequences if something like that got out. But there it was in black and white in front of his eyes. Paul had been transferring money month after month to his own account. He was livid, but he had to control himself. He couldn’t afford to give anything away. He tried to focus and think of the words he needed to get out of this situation. There were tutting noises behind him. He turned and saw that the queue had got even longer. Further back the face of a Conservative councillor from Cheshire, a friend of his father’s, gave a nod of acknowledgement and looked expectantly on at him. He turned back to the clerk. “I’m sorry sir, but there is a long queue behind you. If you can’t recall co-signing for any of these transactions, then you need to let me know, and I can pass you through to one of my colleagues”. He blushed crimson, a facial response he thought he had left behind in puberty. “No, erm, no, it’s fine. No, actually, I think I do remember them after all. I’m sorry to waste your time”. She smiled at him like he was a moron. “Ok, is there anything else I can help with today?” she said, repeating the scripted line, but really meaning get the hell out of my queue. He thanked her, mumbled an apology to the people waiting behind him, and walked quickly away. All he could think about was finding Paul and getting some answers. “We’re not getting anywhere here” Sam concluded. “Let’s face it, he’s a master at covering his tracks. He’s left no trace”. Sam’s face betrayed a certain pride in the art of Paul’s disappearance. “Maybe this is what he does” Adam said. “Goes somewhere for three years, makes new friends, lives the life, borrows money, then disappears off the face of the planet”. “Well fuck that” Simon said angrily. “Not this time”. “Simon, it’s a fucking dead end. It’s all dead ends” Mark said. “I think it’s time we all move on.” “What, you think I’m going to let him get away with it?” “You’re fucking obsessed love. None of us can move on, until you accept that he’s outsmarted us. He’s gone.” “Maybe he’s right” Sam said. “Maybe it’s time to let it rest.” “Well, it’s easy for you two. He didn’t run off with thousands of pounds of your fucking money” Simon spat out. “Well it’s your own stupid fucking fault for loaning it to him in the first place” Mark replied. “Face it, you’re never going to see him again”. Mark’s tone had changed. He almost sounded like he was defending Paul. Or protecting him. In the three weeks since Paul’s disappearance, Mark had single-handedly drunk his way through four bottles of gin, two bottles of vodka and two bottles of rum, as well as countless bottles of wine at Simon’s. The empty bottles were lined up around the kitchen bin in his lonely flat, just across the road from where Paul and Adam had lived. He couldn’t face the quiet solitary evenings that had become his new life. He felt like he had lost a partner. Not that Paul was ever his boyfriend. In fact dating Paul would have been a sure fire way of losing his friendship. Paul wasn’t a boyfriends person. What they had was better. Friendship, companionship, a voice to chat to every day about the crap at work and the funny stuff that happened. So losing him had felt like losing a boyfriend. It had sent him spiralling back to three years ago when he was nothing more than the misfit with the big specs and the stupid laugh. The last thing he had heard from Paul was a text, which he worked out must have been sent shortly before Paul’s phone had been disconnected. He hadn’t shown it to Simon or the others. All it had said was: Don’t worry about me, and thanks for the memories. X He knew then that he would never see Paul again. Adam excused himself and went to the bathroom. He could hear Mark and Simon continue to argue and the sound of Mark stomping down the corridor and out the door. When he returned to the lounge, only Simon was left. “Sorry Adam. Mark stormed off and Sam went after him. I’ll sort it with them tomorrow”. He sighed deeply. “I don’t think we were getting anywhere with it anyway”. “You’re pretty angry about Paul still.” Simon shook his head despairingly. “I had him Adam. I had him after I found out about the account, and then I let him feed me more lies, and I ate them up all over again. I don’t see how we’re ever going to find him again.” Adam gave a sympathetic smile. “And what about Steve?” “Fuck knows. Maybe I should let the police know he’s a missing person. Or maybe it’s none of my business and I should leave it alone. Maybe he did just disappear off for a bit to get some space after they broke up. Maybe people do that. To be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve been in a relationship, I can’t even remember what it’s like splitting up” Adam slumped back down on the sofa. “Tell me about it. I’m so sick of dating”. Simon came over and topped up his glass with wine. “I know, it’s bloody awful. Hey, can we stop talking about fucking Paul and just have a moan about men instead?” Adam smiled and cleared his coat off the sofa seat next to him, and Simon sat down by his side. “Happily. You know I was told this city would be like a gay man’s funfair when I first moved here.” “Yeah? Well I keep ending up in the house of horrors” Simon said straight faced. Adam laughed. “Do you know, the last guy I dated”, Simon continued, “we got on well, and we chatted quite comfortably, and everything, it was all looking so promising. And then we went back to my place, started getting down to stuff, and he whipped down his boxers, and it was just like - I should say, I’m not a size queen or anything - but it was like, it didn’t reach beyond the end of his pubes.” Adam laughed again. “Man, I’ve been there too. And guys with B.O., guys with no sense of humour, dumb guys, guys who are much older than they claim, guys who are much shorter than they claim, guys who show up late and don’t even apologise…” “Tory guys?” Simon asked, arching an eyebrow. “No actually, not yet” Adam said smiling, noticing again the nice frame of Simon’s torso. He looked up and saw how close they were sitting on the sofa. Simon’s smile dropped away. “Maybe we should rectify that then”. They paused a second, then moved their lips in together and started to grapple the backs of each other’s heads. Seven minutes later, the bedside lamp in Simon’s room was projecting a shadow puppet drama across the canvas of the white bedroom wall, as two sets of clothes lay strewn across the floor and they christened the beautifully crisp newly washed sheets.
  14. Ciaran was leaning a tanned arm against the side of the jukebox, carefully avoiding the sticky patches left from spilt bottles of WKD, as Thomas scrolled through the who’s who of homo-pop caged up in the miniaturised menagerie. They were going to need some music to get through an evening with the elders gathered incongruously in this lifeless bar. Thomas stopped at the senior Minogue, and Ciaran smiled. “You know what, Confide in Me was an exceptional track, but it’s got to be said, it’s starting to look like that’s going to be our girl’s last big hit” Thomas tilted his head from one side to the other, ruminantly. “Life doesn’t end when you hit 30 you know” Ciaran’s expression turned to clowning scepticism. “That’s not what I’ve heard” he said laughing, and pulled Thomas across to the almost-empty dance-floor. “Anyway, you’re going to hit it about six months before I do boyo, so you can warn me if I should just kill myself at 29 and three quarters.” Jenny was watching them from across the room, her left elbow propped up on the bar behind her and a raspberry daiquiri nestling in her right hand. Around her were several clusters of Lib Dem politicians hovering at the sides, looking distinctly uncomfortable at having been pushed into hosting this political rally at a bar in the gay village. Thomas had been increasingly active in the party since leaving University and had pushed for this venue. He knew he was looking certain to get candidacy for a winnable city centre seat in the 2002 elections. Peter, the deputy leader of the party was standing on his own, on the far side of the room, his black hair speckled increasingly with grey as each day passed. Thomas watched the senior figure as his gaze lingered a little too long on a Nordic looking twenty-something mincing past. Jenny was always telling him Peter was a closet case. Thomas sidled up next to her at the bar, and shouted across for a beer. He glanced across to see the Nordic guy had stepped in and was making shapes with Ciaran on the dancefloor. “So what do you think of it?” Thomas asked, looking around. She smiled wryly. “You’ve definitely pulled them out of their comfort zone” He glanced across again at Ciaran and the chiselled blond he was dancing with, before flicking his eyes back and catching the mischievous gleam in Jenny’s eye. “I know. This place is pretty bad though isn’t it? I never realised how horrific a gay bar could look without the party lighting and excessive alcohol consumption”. “The place is great Thom. This was all about pulling them into the new century, and asserting your voice at the table, and we’ve done both of those things already” He smiled gratefully. “Thanks Jenny. Just wait til I’m elected. They’re not going to know what’s hit ‘em.” He glanced across again. Ciaran’s arms were round the guy’s waist and their hips were twisting as one unit. The guy whispered something in Ciaran’s ear, then pulled back and they were both looking into each other’s eyes and laughing. Thomas’ brow furled. “Thom?” He glanced back to Jenny. “You have no idea what I asked do you?” “Sure, yeah. Ask me again though, just to be sure.” She shook her head. “It does look like Ciaran’s bagged himself a stud for the evening”. She seemed to examine Thomas’ face for a reaction. He glanced across once more and turned his nose up. “He can do better”. A decade of politics seemed to have aged Thomas more than the years that had passed. He sat in the back room of the Loom Inn, his head buried in his palms, and his fingers clamped across his face like thick curtains keeping out the dark. Cameron sat on the opposite side of the table, and Jenny at the head. Nowadays the three had over a century of life between them. “So I take it things didn’t go entirely to plan then?” Cameron asked gently. They had returned minutes earlier from the second of the two election speeches Thomas had given. Thomas felt and no doubt looked weary and defeated, and so Cameron had quickly pulled them through to the back room, leaving young Luke out front to man the fort. Thomas couldn’t find the words and so relied instead on emitting deep morbid breaths from beneath the hands across his face. “It honestly wasn’t that bad” Jenny said. “Neither of the speeches were. He’s beating himself up because there was no standing ovation.” She never knew when to just say nothing. “So was there a good turnout?” Cameron asked. “Yeah, good. More than a hundred at both events” Jenny replied. “There was a very positive…” “We’re all a bunch of fucking idiots, so it makes no difference anyway” Thomas said without moving. “Ok, not everyone was positive…” Jenny agreed. “We’re all a bunch of idiots…” “This was the view of one of your esteemed audience members?” Cameron asked. Thomas lifted his head slowly, like a great iron portcullis lifting. He locked eyes with Cameron. “I talked to them about my vision of a new, practical politics. A politics where we weren’t scared to make unpopular decisions and we weren’t even scared to lose elections if that’s what it came to. A politics where being in opposition matters just as much as being in power, and where all politicians can contribute and can make a difference. I talked about the obsession of politicians to stay in power, even when it came at the cost of sacrificing what they went into politics to achieve”. “It was powerful.” Jenny interrupted, “People were sitting up in their chairs.” Thomas eyed her uncertainly, then switched back to Cameron. “I talked about a new type of politician. I said I want informed debates inside and outside the Town Hall, and I want people to understand the different sides of complex matters and why we reach the conclusions and the decisions we do. “I said to the businesses tonight that I want politics in Manchester to matter. I said I think it’s depressing how few people in the city can even name their local councillor. That people are deciding which local councillor to vote for, based purely on what they think of the three national party leaders. I said that come election time I want people to know who their candidates are and what they represent – across all parties. I said I want people to make properly informed decisions about how their city is being led. This is the politics I want in our city.” Cameron nodded. “Yeah…” “Then this man on the right-hand side, halfway back shouts out they’re all a bunch of idiots anyway, so it makes no difference.” Cameron shrugged. “It’s just one dickhead isn’t it?” Thomas breathed out slowly and tossed the question round in his head. “But it’s what people think, and I don’t know how I can change it. In fact I don’t think there’s any way I can change it”. “What you can do is keep saying it” Jenny said firmly. “Some of them were listening. Some of them heard it. And the more you say it, the more they’ll hear it”. Thomas shook his head. He turned to Cameron again. “I said to them tonight that I wanted to make sure councillors are visible and vocal, explaining the decisions they make on your behalf, clearly and openly. I said they should be intelligent people. And if they’re not, then people should find that out. They should be people who understand the world, and can lead our communities. Can advise; can counsel; can shape a better city for us all. “The same guy shouts out good luck with that mate”. Jenny was shaking her head, but he wasn’t done. “The other day at the Women’s Institute I spoke about diversity, and wanting councillors to properly represent the range of people in our communities. One woman raised her hand in the Q&A afterwards and said to me Look love, politics has always been grey haired men making decisions in locked rooms. We’re not going to change that in our lifetime and neither are you. All we want to know is how much cash you’re going to be pushing our way. She got the biggest cheer of the night”. “She got one or two cheers Thom, that’s all” Jenny argued. “I talked about green energy and putting a hold on limitless new airport development, because we need to be thinking about the bigger picture and how our city can lead the world in facing up to climate change. One old lady asked if that would mean they wouldn’t go ahead with the cheap flights to Fuerteventura that she’d been reading about”. He threw open his hands in despair. “Thom, they really didn’t go as badly as you’re making out” Jenny said, sounding frustrated. He slumped his head back down into his hands. The last bars of Shania Twain were fading down, then mixing back up into the latest Britney track and Thomas lifted his head from on top of his folded arms at the wood panelled bar. Across the room he could see Ciaran mouthing born to make you happy to Cam and Jenny, who were battling hard to keep up with his moves. The dance floor beneath their feet was a gaudy patchwork of glowing coloured squares. It was late in the evening and their veins were all pumping gin. Ciaran tried to beckon him over but Thomas instead rested back on the bar and blew him a kiss. As the song ended the three of them came across and variously collapsed across the bar, recovering from the exertions of a five-song diva marathon. Thomas draped an arm round Cameron and Ciaran who stood either side of him. “Boys” he said seriously, “I fear we’re standing at the edge of an abyss tonight. Here we are at 25, each of us at the height of our sexual prowess. The clock reads 2.30 on a Saturday morning, and as things stand, each one of us is heading home to a cold, sexless bed. Without immediate action comrades, I fear that terrible day when we start our descent to mere mortals could soon be upon us.” “Well I’m only 24 actually” Ciaran said with a grin. “still on the way up”. Cameron looked across the bar, caught the eye of a scruffy blond in grey tracksuit bottoms and gave him a wink. The guy smiled back. “Catch up with you in the morning then boys.” Thomas watched the smile break widely across Ciaran’s face as Cameron patted the two of them on the back and headed away. His eyes were full of wonder at something he would never have had the balls to do himself. Thomas gazed into those beautiful snow globe eyes as they turned back to him and Jenny. The alcohol had dampened his self-consciousness, and after a few seconds Ciaran glanced away embarrassed, and Thomas realised the look had gone on too long. Jenny quietly excused herself to visit the facilities. Ciaran turned back and looked again into Thomas’ eyes, then reached out slowly and took his hand. “Just the two of us single boys left then. What are we to do?” Thomas’ heart beat hard in his chest. God, how amazing it would feel for the two of them to collapse into a thick duvet and do nothing but lie and touch and stroke and whisper and doze together, all night and then all of tomorrow. How easy and beautiful and normal that would feel. But it had consequences, and he wasn’t ready for consequences. Thomas pulled his eyes away and looked across to the edge of the dancefloor where another two guys stood finishing their drinks, clearly on friendly but not intimate terms. “How about these?” he said and pulled Ciaran gently by the hand, letting go once they were in motion walking casually across the bar. Thomas smiled and leaned his forearm on the table by the two guys, revealing his heavily worked bicep. “Looks like you boys might be needing a couple of dates for the rest of the night, eh?” Thomas glanced back across as Jenny returned to the empty bar. She gave him a look of mild disapproval then picked up her coat, and disappeared into the night. “I’m serious, I think that, overall, the speeches went well. This was always going to be about the long game”. Jenny wasn’t giving up. Thomas reared his head up once more. “Did you see the looks on Gordon and Peter’s faces? They’re going to get a restraining order on me if I ever set foot near a microphone again.” “Maybe they needed to hear it too. Look, there were five journalists across the two talks, and I know at least two of them are going to be saying positive things. The ideas you set out and the passionate delivery, they made an impression.” “What about the other three?” She paused. “Well, the other three are more likely to reflect the immediate mood of the audience. But still, it was a start”. He rolled his eyes. “It was the end.” “Thom, come on. They were tough audiences.” “You picked them”. He couldn’t help the resentment, spitting out at her. Jenny looked injured. She narrowed her eyes. “Well maybe if you hadn’t cut me out of your life these last four years we might have come up with something a bit more effective. Jesus, Thom, you should have been leader of that group already. You would’ve been if you’d have stuck with me. You chose to throw that away.” The reservoir of bile in his stomach churned over. “Well what did you think I’d do after you fucked up my whole life”. The words burst out like vomit, and he looked away embarrassed at the mess that he should have kept inside. The room was silent. Thomas couldn’t lift his eyes to her, but glanced up at Cameron, whose face was as blank as printer paper. “Well what the hell does that mean?” Jenny demanded. “Nothing” he muttered. “So what, you’re telling me that these last four years were no accident? That I’ve been in exile for a crime I don’t even know about? When was my fucking trial?” She turned to Cameron, who held up his hands, in surrender. Her expression demanded an answer but he wasn’t yielding. “Jenny, this isn’t for me…” Thomas dropped his head into his palms once more. “Thom, stop hiding your fucking head away and tell me what terrible thing I did to you four years ago, that apparently undid all our years of friendship” She wasn’t going to stop without an answer. “Look, if you can’t even…” “You fucking set them up” Thomas said, springing suddenly up in the chair like a jack in the box. “What?” “Ciaran. You set him up with that fucking Australian.” “So?” Her voice was quieter and her face still struggled to comprehend. Thomas rubbed away a tear from one eye. “Ciaran is happy isn’t he?” she said. “You set him up and you told him to go.” “Ciaran is happy” she said again, her voice more brittle. Her confusion was turning to understanding and then back to anger. “Fuck, is that what this has been? Four years exclusion, because I helped your best friend find happiness? Because I saved him from a lifetime of unrequited love for you? Can’t you be happy for him?” Thomas sat and shook his head hopelessly, tears starting to roll down his cheeks. “You took him away from me.” “Thom, he wanted you so much, but you were never going to take him. You led him on. You always did. I lost count of the number of times I thought it was going to happen, but it never did. You wanted to sleep with every guy on Canal Street before him” “I was in my twenties.” Thomas said with a hollow laugh. “Of course I was going to sleep around. But I was always going to settle down.” “You were in your thirties when he left. Tell me Thom, when exactly were you going to settle down?” He shook his head and wiped his eyes again with the back of his sleeve. “I don’t regret setting him up Thom, and I don’t regret telling him to go out there and get on with his life. You were never going to take him. He looked across at her with emptiness in his eyes and when he spoke his voice was suddenly quiet and cracked, like he was talking on his deathbed. “I was always going to take him”. He wiped away more tears, but it was becoming futile. “Every single version of my life that I ever contemplated was always going to end up with him and me. It was maybe the one thing that was sure in my life”. “Thom…” she said, her voice caring but unbelieving. “You’re right. I wanted to sleep with every man on Canal Street before him. Because then when it was me and him, that would be it. It would be us”. Jenny looked silently at him. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking. Thomas stood up. The tears wouldn’t stop and his mind was a storm again. “I need some air”. He wiped his eyes and headed out of the door without looking back. Minutes later he was paying entry at the bottom of the dark staircase below the neon sauna light, and then disappearing into the steam. He derobed and wrapped a white towel around his waist. The sauna was quiet this evening, and he took refuge on a leather sofa in an empty room, letting his heavy eyelids drop. It turned out that the two guys that night were flatmates and Thomas and Ciaran went back to their place after the bar. They drank some more and each fooled around with their respective partner. Ciaran and his guy disappeared off to one of the bedrooms leaving Thomas and his to the lounge. They were so drunk and tired that the affair didn’t amount to much, but both were satisfied, and crashed out on the sofas in the lounge. At about four in the morning, Thomas was sleeping badly, so he was easily woken by movement at the edge of the room. Ciaran had crept out and was making his way to the free bed in the other room. Thomas hesitated for a few seconds before getting up from the sofa as quietly as he could, and stepping thief-like through the flat after Ciaran into the second bedroom. The flat was in full darkness apart from a dim glow of moonlight shining in through skylights in the roof. A clock ticked persistently in the hallway, and outside a car revved up as it passed by on the street below. Ciaran seeing the shadow at the door, and realising who it was, folded back the duvet with a flashlight smile shining across his face. They didn’t say a word out loud, just laid side by side, their half-naked bodies rising and falling with earthly breaths. Ciaran touched Thomas’ arm and as their eyes met, he indicated to the skylight above them. They stared up at the twinkling magic of the dark, starry sky, and Thomas could feel his heart rate slowing and finding peace. Ciaran gently placed his hand into Thomas’ and they fell asleep that night together. A man in a leather harness walked into the room, stirring Thomas from his thoughts. Behind him followed another guy, crawling on all fours. The walking man sat on a sofa opposite Thomas and his friend continued and rested on the floor by his feet. “Good puppy. You done well tonight boy.” The man smiled across at Thomas who returned the acknowledgement. “Sometimes I wish I could give it all up and do that” Thomas said, indicating to the submissive pup. “Stop thinking about everything you know. Let somebody else do the worrying”. The guy raised his eyebrows. “Always got space for another mate” Thomas smiled. “I think this old dog is beyond taming.” The man’s expression indicated he thought otherwise. “I’ve got a bit of a reputation for teaching an old dog new tricks.” Thomas looked at the guy on the floor. He could only be in his early twenties. The man followed his gaze. “Not this one of course. He’s new in training. But I’ve leashed plenty your age. And beyond”. Thomas nodded, an amused look still across his face. “I think knowing too many tricks has always been my problem, if you follow my meaning.” The man nodded, amused. “Ah well. I know all about that sort of trouble. It can all lose its magic once you know every trick in the book, eh?” “You know, I think I’ve reached a point where I’ve had my fill of tricks and I’m ready for a treat.” “Maybe I can give you a hand with that at least then” the man said. “Pup, why don’t you go help out our friend over there, eh”. Thomas began to raise a hand to refuse, but then somehow it felt easier to let it happen. He sat back, closed his eyes and felt the rush of air hit his legs as the towel fell away.
  15. stuyounger

    Schooldays. March 2010. Daniel

    Daniel walked through to the lounge, threw his heavy bag of marking down and slumped onto the sofa. Ali put down the magazine she was glancing through at the table. “Good day stud?” “Ugh.” “Wow, that good?” “I’ve had better. How about you? Anything exciting?” Ali raised her eyebrows. “Well, you could say…” She spilled out the story of the missing flatmate that Adam told her over lunch. Daniel watched her eyes blaze brightly as she explained that Paul wasn’t even a lawyer and that his whole life story was a concoction. She was radiating righteous mistrust. It couldn’t have been more obvious what she was thinking if she’d got an all-male ballet troupe to parade around the room with I fucking told you so tattooed across their torsos. “Poor Adam” Daniel concluded. “What?” she said, like he had reached entirely the wrong conclusion from the story. Daniel loved his flatmate for many reasons, but her inability to sidestep an opportunity for self-congratulation was not foremost amongst them. “Well, he’s going to have all of that debt land on his shoulders right?” She looked at him and blinked a couple of times, before her face seemed to absorb that perspective. “Yeah, I guess so. Paul really screwed him over.” Daniel stared past her into space for a few moments. He was thinking back to the many evenings he had spent chatting with Paul on Gayzer. It had been an odd secretive friendship, talking endlessly online but never mentioning it to anyone else, or even acknowledging it on that one day that they met face to face. He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell this story, but given the circumstances it probably needed outing. He took a big breath. “I knew him a little bit you know.” Ali looked at him, surprised. “What, like, you knew him?” “No, not like that.” She raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Ok, well, kind of like that. I never slept with him though.” “So how did you know him?” “Online” “What, Gayzer?” “Yeah. We chatted quite a bit actually. He was into…certain things.” “Oh” she said, her eyes wide with understanding. “Shut up” Daniel replied, shaking his head. “One of your bdsm kind of boys?” “Well, that kind of thing, yeah.” “Shit, I can’t believe you never told me this.” Daniel paused. This had been a lot of information to take in. It was true that he had never done anything with Paul, but they had spent hours and hours chatting. In that semi-anonymous online place, they had shared intimate things with one another and he felt uneasy breaking that bond. So maybe in normal life the guy was a liar and maybe he did invent a job and a background, but that didn’t mean that those other parts of his life that he shared with Daniel had been lies. “Come on, details” Ali pushed. Daniel relented. “Ok. Well, one of the reasons I never tried to meet with him was that some of the stuff he was into was more…extreme…than I would go for. He talked about all kinds of stuff. Rubber masks, breath control and auto-erotic stuff, electro stimulation, dungeon play”. He paused. “Some of that stuff scares me, and especially the way he talked about it sometimes.” “Wow.” “I’d figured out he must be the lawyer flatmate before Adam’s party, so I was a bit nervous about going – especially with Carl coming too. I just hoped he wouldn’t say anything. Then in the event he brought along his new boyfriend and acted like he didn’t even recognise me.” Ali shook her head. “What a dick.” “Mm” Daniel said half-heartedly. The thought of that day at the Loom Inn triggered another memory. “There was something else that I thought was strange that day actually.” Ali looked across at him. “He didn’t seem to acknowledge James either.” Ali looked confused. “Should he have?” “Yeah, well, I think so. I’d never met Paul before, but I had seen him once, out in town. It was a few months back, soon after we started chatting and I thought I recognised him sitting in a coffee shop window. I stopped for a little while, sitting on a bench in the square, at first trying to see if it was actually him, then watching him. You know, just to see what he seemed like. What his mannerisms were like.” “Ok” Ali said uncertainly. He waved a hand. “Whatever. You already know I’m crazy.” Ali smiled. “Well anyway, he was sitting with another guy when I saw him. And that day when I saw James at the Loom Inn, I thought I recognised him, but it didn’t click with me until a couple of days later. He was the guy who had been sitting with Paul”. “That’s weird.” “I know. I’m sure of it though. I never forget a handsome face”. “Well why would Paul have met with Adam’s workmate for coffee?” “That’s what I thought. It’s probably nothing.” “Yeah” Ali said, distractedly, “probably”. Daniel glanced up at the clock. “Shit, I’m already late for getting to Carl’s”. He jumped to his feet and started grabbing the stuff he needed from around the room. On the way across, the thoughts of Paul and of the difficult day he’d had at work were swirling. He was looking forward to a quiet evening and falling asleep on Carl’s chest. When he reached Carl’s flat, he let himself in, and could hear straightaway a conversation and laughter in the lounge. His heart sank at the sound of Nate’s voice. Breathing in, he lifted himself up tall and walked through. Nate was sitting at one end of the battered old red sofa, and Carl entered the room from the kitchen, which curved off to the right through an arch at the far end of the room. He had two bottles of beer in his hand, one of which he handed to Nate before coming across to kiss Daniel on the cheek, then taking a seat on the single armchair. “Is there one for me?” Daniel asked, trying not to sound annoyed at being overlooked. Carl looked up. “Yeah babe, there’s loads in the fridge”. Daniel dropped his bag by the side of the table and continued to give Carl a stare that even he would surely recognise as dissatisfaction. Carl eventually caught the look. “Alright” he said reluctantly, and raised his eyebrows to Nate’s amusement. “Maybe I could go get you one.” Carl disappeared through to the kitchen and Daniel turned to see Nate, patting the seat on the sofa next to him. He had managed to avoid Nate since the evening on Canal Street, and still felt awkward about it. Nate seemed entirely unembarrassed. His legs were spread shamelessly macho-wide as he eyed Daniel up and down, clearly appreciatively. Daniel took a seat at the far end of the sofa from Nate, and Carl returned with his beer. “So how was your day babe?” Carl asked. He didn’t want to have this conversation with Nate there, but he needed to unload what was on his mind. “It was pretty shit actually. I’m worried about that kid, Jay, again.” “The gay kid? The one you didn’t want to tell me about?” Daniel decided to ignore the swipe. “Yeah. Some kids were giving him some shit in art class today. The thing is he tries to stick up for himself but there’s a group of them in this little hitler gang, and I’m sure they’re saying stuff and threatening him, but I can’t pin anything down”. “Sounds tough babe. Can’t you give ‘em some shit back?” “I don’t know…it’s like… they know exactly how to avoid crossing the line on school grounds, you know, so I can’t do anything…” Carl was nodding and making vacant mm and yeah noises. “…it’s like, they just know exactly where the line is drawn, and you know, they know how to walk right up to the edge of it…” He glanced again at Nate who was lifting the sleeve of his t-shirt and stroking his bicep as he looked across, disinterested. Daniel gulped without meaning to. Carl was still looking supportively at him, waiting to let him finish, but he was distracted by Nate’s arms. “…and they, like, know they can chuck, like, stuff over the line. When I’m not looking. And then, like, when I turn around again, they’re still right there…behind the line still…” Daniel glanced over and saw Nate adjusting his crotch and smirking. “You know what I mean?” he said, shifting his gaze back across to Carl. Carl nodded without any degree of conviction. “Totally babe. It’s tough. You’ll work it out though, you’re the smart one”. He stood up and headed through to the bathroom. “Back in five minutes guys.” Daniel rolled his eyes at this lack of subtlety. “You know this kid is probably getting off on it don’t you” Nate said, as soon as he heard the bathroom door close. “Gay boys at school always go home and jerk off about the bullies”. Daniel took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to rise to this. “You know it’s true. I bet you were the same. Jacking off thinking about the football team stripping down after the match, all those sweaty chests everywhere. Even though they called you gayboy and pushed you around in the corridor”. If this was a theoretical conversation, he could ignore it. But this was an actual 16-year old kid they were talking about. This was a good looking, mixed race guy. A guy who always had a warm grin on his face; who played tennis for the school; who had great academic potential, even if he tried to hide it. In fact, it didn’t matter about any of that. This was a good guy and he didn’t deserve this. Daniel stood up. He needed to get away. He hated what Nate was saying, and he hated the reasons he was saying it. And worst of all, he hated how much he wanted Nate to jump on him and rip his clothes off. The smirk was all over Nate’s face. That supervillain grin curling up his cheekbones as he baited a reaction. “Bet you’re getting hard thinking back to those days eh?” Daniel gritted his teeth and without warning swung round, pivoting on his left ankle, as he arced his right leg rapidly through the air towards Nate’s shin. He desperately wanted to cause pain. Words were useless against Nate. Nate was too quick though. He saw the movement early and reached quickly forward, grabbing Daniel’s leg at the ankle and holding onto it, leaving him balancing on his other leg. Somehow the smirk reached even higher up his cheeks. “You’re such a fucking dick you know” Daniel said, almost spitting out the words. Nate laughed, glanced down at his crotch and then back up to catch Daniel’s eye. “I know you can’t say no to a good dick though” he said, and released Daniel’s leg with a push so that he fell backwards a few steps. Daniel breathed deeply again and walked directly through towards the bedroom, just as Carl was returning from the bathroom. “Hey, where you going babe?” Daniel tried to control his voice. “I’m gonna leave you guys to it.” Carl sighed. “Babe, can’t you at least try to get on with my mates?” Daniel desperately didn’t want a fight, but this was too much. “He’s a total twat Carl, I don’t want to get on with him”. Carl’s face turned as sour as a drill sergeant. “You know what, Nate’s right, you’re so fucking precious.” Carl stormed through to the other room, pushing the door heavily closed. Daniel shut the bedroom door behind him and lay down on the bed. The duvet was soft and fresh and smelled of Carl. He wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but he didn’t have the energy for anything but to lie back and envelop himself in it. The most painful, flesh creeping part of it was that Nate wasn’t all wrong. Daniel was the shy, quiet, gay kid at school. He could still remember lying in bed at night thinking about Jordan McKenzie and the way he looked in his football kit. His overriding memories of that period though were not the sexual feelings. Not that they weren’t strong. They were. But they came and went. The memories that really stood out were the hours of his life spent worrying and wishing he wasn’t…this. One night at home in his bedroom, he could still picture himself sitting on that blue swivel chair by his desk, next to the Friends poster, looking out from the lamplit room to the sky, and trying to make a bargain with whatever god might be up there. He wasn’t even slightly religious, but that was what he would become. He whispered the words, barely audibly, offering to go to church every weekend, to kneel and pray every night, if only he was given the power to stop feeling the way he did. To be normal. To be like everybody else. But it never came. He had no role models, no cool gay aunt that ever told him that being gay, or even being different, was ok. There were no teacher he felt able to speak to. He faced it all alone. Day after month after year of teenage anxiety, fear and self-hatred. He was so scared of being rejected by the people who said they loved him; so afraid of being the freak, of being lonely. It took so many years to begin to unpick the emotions of those years, and he still wasn’t there yet. Not nearly. Now Nate was the cocky athletic kid come again, and Daniel was the 12-year old boy retreating back to the incarceration of the bedroom. Nate was the thing he hated and adored. He closed his eyes and wished he was anywhere else. He fell into a deep sleep that night, not even waking up when Carl came through to join him. The next day at school, after fourth period, Daniel was heading across to the staff room for afternoon break, when he saw Jay up ahead emerge from one of the maths rooms, some time after the rest of the class had dispersed. Jay looked up at him and gave a half smile, but even from a little distance Daniel could see something looked wrong. His body seemed hunched and he didn’t turn fully to face Daniel, as if he was trying to hide something. The boy turned to walk away but Daniel called him back. As he got closer, he saw the grazed skin and bruise on Jay’s right cheekbone, just below the eye. “Jay, what happened to you? Is this to do with that stuff in art class yesterday?” Jay dropped his head and said nothing. “Come into the classroom a second” Daniel said, opening the door to one of the maths rooms, and quickly checking it was free. He gestured for Jay to sit on one of the tables and he perched on the edge of the one opposite. “Who did this?” Jay lifted his head up. “I walked into a door” he said simply. He said it as a euphemism rather than a genuine attempt to pass off the lie. “I’m really asking Jay. I want to know. I want to help.” “Fine Sir. Some guys started on me, calling me a fucking queer twat or some shit like that, so it led to a…disagreement.” Daniel’s face was grave. “Have they called you that before?” He was reluctant to go down this route because Jay was only 16. Daniel knew he was at an age where he might be questioning his sexuality but he probably didn’t know yet whether he was gay or not. If he was, he probably hadn’t come to terms with it. But if this was a homophobic attack, then he needed to know, and he would have to react to that. Jay shrugged. “Well, obviously, I am gay. But I’m not having someone call me a twat”. Daniel stopped dead in his tracks. Jay smiled mischievously. “Come on Sir, you must’ve realised? The way I’m always checking out your arse in those tight trousers you wear?” Daniel was definitely going to ignore that comment. And buy some looser trousers. “Jay, look, I went through something similar when I was at school and I know what it’s like…” “I knew you were gay Sir” Jay said, a little triumphantly. He raised his eyebrows. “Man it’d be hot if you and me should…” “DON’T even say it…” Daniel said, quickly raising a warning finger. Jay smiled to himself. Daniel had lost track of his thoughts, but tried to regain his composure. “Listen, what I was saying is, I know it’s a tough time coming to terms with who you are, and thinking about who you can talk to about it. I know how stressful it is, and how lonely it can be…” Jay was smiling, and Daniel lost the thread of the sentence again. “What’s funny?” “Sir, it’s not the 1980s. Gays have been round quite a while you know”. Daniel was adrift. Maybe he should give up. This kid didn’t seem to need his antiquated advice. Had things changed that much? He looked again at the bruise on Jay’s face. “This is still happening though” he said, pointing to the mark. Jay was quiet. “Look, I know you can stand up for yourself, but punching your way out of this isn’t the best way.” Jay twiddled his thumbs, but didn’t look up. “The school can help…” “Bullshit” Jay said, suddenly looking up. “The school does nothing. Every kid here knows that. The kids here say what they want about queers, and the teachers do shit about it.” “The teachers are on your side. If you tell me who did this, we can get them suspended.” “Right, my word against theirs. And what if you do? They’ll come back, and get me harder next time” Jay said. “Nah, fuck that. I’m not gonna show them I’m scared.” Daniel was trying to hold down the knot in his stomach. “Jay, let me help.” “No man” Jay said, a tear in the corner of his eye. “I’m grateful Sir, serious, but these kids are brutal. They’d end up getting you too if you got involved. Then what am I gonna look at in art class?” the grin shone through his sad face. There was a tear on Jay’s cheek, and Daniel stood up and moved to reassure him. The boy stood and wrapped his arms around Daniel crying into his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye Daniel saw a figure pass the doorway then do a double take on seeing who was in the room. He looked across, but didn’t catch who it was before they moved on. Jay eventually pulled away and wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. “It’s Rhys Nashton and his boys” Jay muttered. “But don’t do anything, please. I got him pretty hard back. I don’t think he’ll try anything again”. Daniel nodded. “Listen, tell me if anything else happens. I’m always here to support you, ok?” Jay nodded with a half-smile and gathered his things. As he walked past he glanced down at Daniel’s tight trousers again and then up to catch Daniel’s eye, smiling wider as he disappeared on his way. By the time Daniel got away from staff meetings and back to the flat it was after 6pm. He was dying to talk everything through with Ali, but found a note on the kitchen worktop saying she was out all evening. Not being able to think clearly in the silent flat, he grabbed his coat and headed out for some air. He walked a fair way eastwards along the dusky canal route. The paths were narrow, and the vegetation all along the edges was overgrown. Behind the thick bushes at various stretches stood old disused Victorian factory and warehouse buildings. There were few people around, and little movement at all except for occasional families of ducks sailing nonchalantly past. He knew why Jay didn’t want any interference. He remembered feeling the same at that age. That fear that outside meddling would make it worse. And maybe it would. He couldn’t be sure that he could stop Rhys. He was pretty intimidated by Rhys and the guys he hung around with himself, so for a 16-year old, it must be terrifying. But he had to do something. And then there was Jay flirting with him. Was there a mutual attraction? No. That was a mental wall that had to stay up. But was it interfering with his judgement on the bullying thing? If Rhys Nashton came up to him with a bruised face, would he treat it the same? Thinking made him tired, and lately whenever he was tired his mind wandered to Nate. As much as he tried to resist it, the sound of Nate’s deep powerful voice in his head stalked like a tarantula. He pictured himself standing there in the back yard of the pub. Nate was coming out of the door with a glass full of beer and calmly walking across to him. As he approached, he started to lift the pint into the air, and Daniel knew what was coming but didn’t move. That grin was all over Nate’s face as he tipped the glass and poured every drop right over Daniel’s head. The first splash landed hard on the crown of his head, before the liquid soaked his limp hair, then ran down turning his clothes to sodden rags. And all the while there was that smirk on his face and echoes of cruel laughter all around. The memory of a conversation with Paul gate-crashed his brain. I’d love to see how it feels to choke a sub guy within an inch of his life while I’m fucking him. Then to let go just as I orgasm, like my pleasure is what let him live. Daniel tried to shake his head clear. He had walked out of town for about half an hour, and decided it was time to turn and start back towards the flat. Darkness had fully descended and although there were lights along the canal, they were spread far apart, so it was darker than he’d expected. It had gotten cold, and he wanted to get home. He picked up his pace. Up ahead he saw a group of people approaching, maybe 200 metres away. As they got closer he saw it was four figures, all in hoodies. By their size and gait he guessed they were all male. His stomach churned. It could be Rhys and his gang. He couldn’t forget the fear he saw in Jay’s eyes this afternoon. Then he thought of the figure that passed by the door as he was hugging Jay. Maybe word had got back to Rhys. Maybe they were after him. He slowed his pace and looked about him for alternative routes. The path was so narrow, he’d have to walk right alongside the group if he carried on. He scanned the long derelict building to his side, but it was impenetrable. There was no other direction; it was straight on or a full about turn. The four were getting closer and he could hear deep voices talking and laughing at something. His heart was beating fast. If it was them, they weren’t just going to let him pass. God knows what they’d try. Maybe they’d carry knives. What the hell was he thinking walking by a dark canal-side in the middle of winter? He tried to walk tall and look as tough as he could, so they might pass by and not start anything. They were only 50 metres away now. He squinted to try to see their faces as they passed under a light. He couldn’t make out much, but they looked young. It was too late to turn back. The group was quickly upon him. Once they were within ten metres he saw their faces. They were complete strangers, university students by the look of them. The one nearest to him smiled and nodded as they passed. He shook his head and walked on. How could he be so scared of nothing? He was 24 years old. It was about time he got a grip on himself.
×

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..