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The walk from Jamie’s to the bar had helped the copious amounts of gin flood Toby’s blood stream. He could speak perfectly well, and he was walking, so in his mind he wasn’t drunk, it was just a light buzz. However, he was starting to feel numb from the neck down, never mind from his waist down.
‘Are you okay?’ Jamie asked.
‘I’m good, drank too much gin, but then, you know, it’s a night out.’
Even after a few night’s out recently Toby still wasn’t used to the scene again. His partner had believed that the gay bars were only a place for pulling and if you went as a couple you were clearly after a threesome. Early on in their relationship, Toby thought that perhaps some people just liked to go and have a dance, but he had never pressed the point, and they had rarely ventured out.
‘Perhaps tonight you should take it easy once we get in there,’ Jamie said, his tone tentative as no one ever takes ‘you should drink less’ very well.
‘Probably a good idea, it’s just that most gays are evil and judgemental – it helps if I’m full of gin.'
Jamie nodded and said, ‘pretty much everyone is evil and EVERYONE is judgemental, and you manage the rest of your life without being full of gin.’
‘That’s because I’m cunning. Also, if I had the choice I’d be drunk all the time but I’ve found that doesn’t go down too well at work.’
‘That’s very true; though a few of my lecturers appear drunk half the time but perhaps it doesn’t apply in Uni?’
Cheesy pop music met their approach to the bar along with several pairs of eyes. The eyes being attached to men stood outside smoking. A rope barrier kept them separated from the street, though it did nothing to contain the smoke.
‘I’m not sure it’s a great step up the fact that you have to enter everywhere through a cloud of smoke these days,’ Toby said as they passed the group.
‘Don’t start that again. You hate smoking, I know,’ Jamie replied, this was a common moan of Toby’s and he didn’t want to have the discussion yet again.
‘Tonight, let’s concentrate on you not running off when someone says “hello” and leave your pet hates outside’.
‘I’m not promising, but you never know,’ Toby said as they walked inside.
It was still early as Toby had insisted that he wasn’t going to wait until one in the morning to go out just because ‘that’s what everyone else did these days’.
‘I told you nobody would be in here,’ Jamie said as they walked over to the bar.
‘Are you saying that because there are no twinks? Or are you drunk and can’t see the guys in here?’ Toby looked around the bar. A couple of men in their 50s sat on bar stools in animated conversation. Their girthy backsides threatened at best to collapse or, engulf at worst, the stools rocking beneath them. In one of the booths sat a man nursing his pint, he looked like he had been there a while. A couple of beer mats sat in pieces on the table in front of him a testament to how uncomfortable he looked. Perhaps this was his first time in a gay bar – a decision that had taken months to decide.
The man looked up from murdering his third beermat and met Toby’s eyes. Toby looked away, a mix of guilt that he couldn’t muster a smile that said, ‘it’ll be okay’ and a wave of gratitude that he had met Jamie.
‘Fine, you’re right, it’s pretty empty, and I have to say I’m just not drunk enough for this place,’ Toby said and then when the barman came over he ordered two double gins.
‘Let’s get a seat and go through your phone before Carl arrives,’ Jamie said and walked quickly over to a booth.
Catching up with him, Toby shouted over Kylie’s bouncy track ‘Spinning around’ and said ‘I wish you’d warn me when Carl’s coming out – you know he hates me.’
‘He doesn’t hate you,’ Jamie said ushering Toby into a booth and then taking a seat on the same side as him so they could both see Toby’s phone. ‘He hates himself and then just takes it out of everyone around him. Just think, if he's mean to you, you’re actually making him feel a little bit better inside.’
Toby really didn’t care if he made Carl feel better inside. The notion of making Carl feel anything at all made him feel a little nauseous. He took a slug of his gin to help the imagery pass.
‘If you could just keep him away from me the best you can that’d be great,’ Toby said and got out his phone. He wasn’t too happy that Jamie was on his side of the booth as that was always a trigger for Carl’s vile mood.
‘You’re a grown up, I’m sure you can handle Carl. Just try and get to know him a little rather than bite at every mean thing he says.’
‘You know he only says mean things, right?'
‘If you could try that would be easier. I know getting hammered and ignoring him is the other option, but we’re aiming to stay a little more sober tonight,’ Jamie said, then finished his drink and wondered if now was a good time to go and get another – ‘hammered’ being a relative concept and all. He decided it probably wasn’t and instead said, ‘let me have a look at your phone then.’
After unlocking his phone, Toby handed it over to Jamie. Normally, he would rather lose a finger than pass his phone over to someone else but there wasn’t anything his mobile that was likely to shock his friend.
‘My god there are some ugly looking men in this city,’ Jamie said scrolling through Toby’s messages on Grindr.
‘And all of them feel the urge to message me. Worse than that, they say “hi” and then send me a pic of their arse. I don’t think I’ve ever had a “hi” arse message and the guys not had an arse that looks like a sack of potatoes.
‘My god, what is that?’ Jamie said holding the phone screen up for Toby to see.
‘Why! Why would you do that. Or for that matter, how would you do that.’ The picture was of a man’s anus held wide open. ‘I swear you can see what he had for breakfast – surely you have to be pretty sick to think that’s hot?’
A wry smile came across Jamie’s face.
‘Please tell me you don’t recognise that hole,’ Toby said and then finished off his drink.
The smile on Jamie’s face grew larger, and then he said, ‘I’ll go get us another drink.’ Before Toby could protest, Jamie was up and away, taking Toby’s phone with him.
At the bar, Jamie flicked through Toby’s messages. There was the usually bunch of messages that just said ‘hi’. Jamie never wasted his time on this kind of laziness unless the guy was truly stunning. There were a couple of ‘hi anus’ messages.
Jamie deleted all the ‘hi’ from all but a couple who looked fit. The ‘hi anus’ messages just had to go as did the ‘how the fuck did you get that angle’ messages and then moved on to a few that looked more promising.
There were a couple that Toby had been chatting to, not conversations that would pass in the real world, but for Grindr anything that wasn’t…
‘Hey, how are you?’
‘Good thanks, you got any pics?’
…was a bit of a miracle.
To reinforce the messages, he had sent out earlier, and to invite a few new guys to come over, Jamie sent out a bunch of messages along the theme of ‘remember if you see me out tonight say “hello”’.
‘You know you shouldn’t take a man’s phone,’ Toby said when Jaime returned with the drinks.
‘You have three dick pics, which all look the same I have to say, and far too many pictures of you trying to smile,’ Jamie replied handing back Toby’s phone and this time sitting opposite him in the booth.
‘Guys always ask for a second dick pic, and you know I either look like The Joker or insane when I smile, I’m just trying to get one that looks normal’.
‘Wasn’t The Joker insane?’ Jamie asked as he scanned the room for any new arrivals.
‘I’d imagine so, why?’
‘Well then in your smiling pics you look insane, or insane, which makes no sense’.
‘But you do think I look insane when smiling?’ Toby asked, his eyes too making the round of the room.
‘I think you sound a little insane now if that’s any help to you?’ Jamie said, then as Toby was unable to reply due to gulping his drink, Jamie added, ‘anyway… I’ve messaged a bunch of hot guys for you.’
Thinking about that for a second Jamie added, ‘well hot by Grindr standards… well, they didn’t open with a dirty anus shot and managed more than a “hi” – I messaged those guys back.’
The man on his first visit got up and went to the bar. Toby watched as he pushed his way out of the booth. Not because he was drunk, he appeared to have only drunk one beer, though he could, of course, have gotten wasted before he arrived. More, Jamie thought, it was a means of bolstering his confidence to leave his seat.
Distracted, and trying not to think about what random strangers might come over to him tonight Toby said, ‘he’s taller than he was sat down.'
‘You know most people are taller when they stand up, right?’ Jaime replied as he watched the guy stride his way across the bar.
‘I know most people are, my point is that in his seat he looked small and, well, almost frightened. Yet, look at him, all tall and stuff.’ Toby picked up his glass to take a gulp but then as he worked out what he had just said, he limited it to a sip.
‘Do you like him? Is he your type? – please tell me we’ve finally found someone you like.’
‘No, he’s not my type, of course not,’ came a quick, practised reply from Toby.
‘Okay, mate, but if a-n-y-o-n-e was your type, is he the kind of guy it could be?’
After several night’s out and dozens of conversations about guys on Grindr, Jamie had grown bored of Toby never hooking up. He wanted some gossip, some drama, plus he had never met a man in any more need of sex than pent-up Toby.
His glass lingered at his lips and Toby tried not to answer. He hated this kind of question; it was almost as if just thinking about other guys was a betrayal of Paul’s memory.
Jamie knew the look, sad eyes filling with tears. He normally changed the subject or didn’t push in the first place, but there was no fun in that.
‘Mate, I’m pretty sure that if Paul loved you, he would want you to carry on with your life.’
Taking another quick sip, Toby put the glass down and said, ‘but does that mean having sex with guys?’
‘It certainly does unless you’re thinking of becoming a priest? Though I think these days most priests are having more sex than you.’
‘Fine, whatever, yes, I do think he’s pretty hot, or if not hot there’s something manly about him.’
After grabbing another beer, the first timer was back in his booth continuing his work on his beermat massacre.
‘I think that something manly thing is because he’s a virgin, at least with guys,’ Jamie said.
‘THAT’S what I think,’ his enthusiasm a little loud for the near empty bar even with an ABBA classic blasting away.
When the few guys in the bar had stopped staring at his outburst, Toby added in a more subdued tone, ‘how come you think he’s new?’
‘I’m not sure, there’s just something about him. This is a small city, if he was on Grindr, I’m sure he would have messaged one of us.’
‘Perhaps we’re not his type?’ Toby asked though he knew Jamie would never entertain such an idea, at least not out loud.
After smirking at such a stupid suggestion, Jamie continued, ‘plus he looks terrified. I bet if one of us went over to talk to him he’d wet his knickers.’
Before Toby could say that he doubted the guy was actually wearing knickers a thundering voice moved their eyes away from the first timer and up to Carl’s ruddy face.
‘Who’s the fresh meat,’ he said as he shoved his way into the booth at the side of Jamie. The benches in the booth could comfortably seat three. Jamie filled one, and now Carl, his girth and his oversized goth jacket filled the rest.
‘Dressing down tonight?’ Jamie said as Carl squashed in against him.
‘Oh, this old thing? I just threw it on.’
‘Thrown on’ perhaps, thought Toby, but the word ‘just’ wasn’t needed, given it was clear Carl’s make-up alone would have taken hours.
‘Did you come from some kind of convention?’ Toby asked without thinking. Then wondered if this was perhaps the kind of comment that Jamie had suggested he avoided when he’d said to ignore Carl.
‘No, Mr Freeze, I didn’t come from some kind of convention,’ Carl snapped.
‘Don’t call him that, Carl, it’s spiteful,’ Jamie chimed in. Not that he had told Toby, but Jamie had let it slip about the death of Toby’s first love and the issues he now had with other men. Carl had nodded solemnly at the news though all the time he had been storing the information as ammo. He had fired his first bullet on their next night out, Mr Freeze, and had been reloading the same bullet since.
When that bullet stopped hurting, he would load up another.
Ignoring Jamie’s call for leniency, Carl continued, ‘so is the newbie about on your level? You know, you’re pretty much born again gay, and he looks newly gay given how he’s clinging to that pint, perhaps you were made for each other.’
‘Perhaps we are…’ Toby said, but before he could deliver any kind of retaliation, Carl continued, ‘well if you are, why don’t you go and talk to him?’
The smug look on Carl’s face felt like a dare. Toby heard his inner voice tell him he had two options, sit here and trade blows with Carl or accept the dare and go over and talk to the first timer.
‘Fine, whatever,’ Toby stood up from the booth strong and confident. He pointed his body towards the new guy, and just as he was about to take a step in that direction, he found a third option. Run off to the loo.
‘But I don’t need to go to the loo,’ Toby muttered under his breath, adding ‘coward, turn around.’ He stopped, turned around and he had just about found the courage to move when a tall, strapping man stepped in front of him and said you’re Toby right? You told me to say hello.’