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‘I bought five tops,’ Toby said when Jamie answered the door.
‘You did what, now?’ Jamie replied as he let his friend into the flat.
‘Well, you’d know if you’d answered any of my messages,’ Toby said as he walked directly over to the small kitchen inside the studio flat. He had been here a couple of times now and had soon learned that, if he wanted a cup of coffee, he had to make it himself.
‘I was entertaining,’ Jamie said as he sat back down, adding, ‘no, help yourself to coffee.’
‘Oh, mate, if you could put your phone down long enough to make me a drink I wouldn’t have to help myself.’
‘You know your own phone is in your hand, right?’ Jamie said at the slur on his hosting skills.
‘I was just checking to see which bird-like skinny boy you were entertaining. You send me so many pics it’s hard to keep up.’
‘It wasn’t worth telling you about, really, I should just get a flesh-light I think for what fun sex is of late – everyone on Grindr looks the same,’ Jamie said holding up his phone for Toby to see.
‘Isn’t that because you have Grindr filters set to 18 – 22-year-olds and they often look the same at that age? At least the gay ones do.’ Toby brought his drink and sat on the two-seater sofa across from Jamie. The flat was tiny. In Toby’s mind, it wasn’t a huge step up from Japanese Pod Living. It was marketed as a ‘self-contained, one-bedroom studio’, but it was really a square room with a kitchen in one corner, a settee and chair in another and a drop-down bed. The bathroom was the only separate room and was disproportionately large.
‘So, tell me why you have five tops, though I have to say I’m glad you’re not going out dressed like that.’
‘Rude!’ Toby said, glaring over his coffee.
‘What? I don’t mean that you look bad, but you don’t look like you are dressed to go out.’
Pulling at the hoodie, he was wearing Toby replied, ‘you mean that I can’t go out like this because it doesn’t fit me like I sprayed it on?’
‘You know that the gay scene is a meat market and men are visual beasts, so if you want to get any attention at all it pays to show the herd what you have to offer.’ Jamie was smirking as he spoke, but it was clear he believed what he was saying.
‘But what if I don’t want attention?’ Toby replied.
‘Well you seemed to try really hard our first night out, that was a great top. It’s a shame you were so drunk you couldn’t’ take it off properly and just ‘Hulked’ your way out of it. No wearing that one again.’
‘I was very drunk, which was your fault, it took me three days to get over that hangover as you well know.’
‘I remember all too well, I had to put up with endless “my head hurts” messages and then lots of girly talk about how we shouldn’t kiss ever again because it’s better to be friends – I think that whole affair must be what it’s like to be a straight man.’
‘I put up with you sending me disgusting pics of you and skinny twinks, I think we’re even.’
‘On that note, what do you think about this one?’ Jamie said holding out his phone.
‘I think he looks like the rest of them and please don’t invite him out tonight,’ Toby looked into the empty mug; he wasn’t keen on hanging around with one vapid lad after another. They so rarely had anything to say and just because Jamie had asked them to come out was no guarantee he was going to fuck them, which made for some awkward ends to the night.
Ignoring Toby’s plea to not invite the boy out, Jamie messaged ‘you should come out tonight.’ Then, moving back to an earlier subject, he said, ‘so, these five t-shirts are they more fitted than the stuff you’ve been wearing recently? You work so hard in the gym that it does seem wasteful to not show all that off.’ Then, before Toby had time to rebut the compliment, he added, ‘Plus did you do what I said and say to a few guys from Grindr that you’re out tonight?’
Toby looked over at the bag of shirts and replied, ‘they are much tighter, stupidly so if you ask me, though you won’t ask me and you’ll think they are fine. That’s true about the gym, but whereas you see, well, I don’t know what you see, but something nice, I hope, I see a fat teen. And, I did, I did as you said, I told a couple of different guys my plans for tonight’.
Jamie laughed at the fat teen remark and said, ‘I think you look great, you know I wouldn’t train with a lump, it would just make me look like I didn’t know what I was doing.’
‘So your body would then just be luck? You know you’re such an arse,’ Toby said.
‘Yes, but it’s a really fit arse otherwise guys wouldn’t keep trying to get in there. On that note, have you decided if you’re going to bottom when any of these Grindr guys find you? Given the whole dead from the neck down, you keep telling me you feel.’
‘I wish you’d spare me a drop of sympathy, you know, just for a second.’ Realising that staring at his empty cup was not going to get him another drink, Toby got up and reboiled the kettle.
‘You’re not a victim, mate, I’ve told you this before. A bad thing happened, it was awful, really awful, but the longer you dwell on the past, the more of your present you lose.’
‘You’ve been watching Oprah again, haven’t you?’ Toby said as he spooned a little too much coffee into his mug.
‘I have, I’m a student, it’s what student’s do. It’s true, though, mate, as meme-esque as it sounds, you have to deal with this moment and what it brings. And right now, you’re really fit, guys are all over you when we’re out, and you can pretty much have your pick. That is not going to be the case forever.’
‘That’s really tragic,’ Toby replied
‘It kind of is if you dig into it, but it’s the way of things. If you want to have sex with decent-looking guys, then you need to take advantage of that now.’
Finishing making his drink, Toby walked back over and sat down. He sipped the too hot coffee, wished that he hadn’t as his lips started to tingle and said, ‘but what if I don’t want to have sex with lots of guys?’
‘Then don’t, but I’m pretty sure you want another boyfriend and to get one of those you are most likely going to have to dig your way through some shit to find the treasure.’
‘What happened to dating and getting to know guys a little first, and then having sex?’ Toby asked and, as if a glutton for punishment, he took another hit of his coffee.
‘Grindr happened and location-based apps that let you know there is a fuck within ten metres of you. I’m sure there are other guys out there who just want to date, but even they get horny, and when they do, it’s all about the fucking. And it’s not like sex is a bad thing, as much as some people would have you believe. So, why not make it clear on your profile you’re after a boyfriend and then, if you do end up having sex, perhaps you can meet them again and go from there.’
As he spoke, Jamie had a way of checking his phone, but he managed it in such a practised way that he was still able to hold a person’s attention and make them feel like he was only talking to them.
‘But perhaps I don’t want a boyfriend, I’m not sure I should rush into getting another.’
‘You should probably stop the coffee and move onto the gin because you’re in that kind of annoying mood where you don’t make your mind up.’
‘Will you not make me that drink either?’ Toby said raising his eyebrows at his friend’s inability to host.
‘We should walk to the shops, get something in, time is getting on,’ Jamie said, clicking send on another message. ‘I’ll find my trainers, and we can go. Check your phone and see if any guys are persistent and we can have a look at them on the way over to the shop.’
Though spring was coming to an end, there was still a chill in the evening air. Toby had a jacket on, but Jamie couldn’t find his and instead hugged himself as they walked to the corner store.
‘You have goose-pimples,’ Toby said, and without thinking, he started to rub Jamie’s arms to bring some of the heat back.
‘I’ve told you before if you want to touch me you only have to ask,’ Toby ignored him, rubbed a little more until the arms felt warm and then pulled out his phone.
‘So, we going to do this then, there’s quite a few of them.’ Toby opened the app and started flicking through the images.
‘Show me the ones who you’ve said to come out tonight, the ones who have replied at least. That’s a start.’ Jamie was now hugging his own arms and wishing he hadn’t said anything to put Toby off the task.
Very quickly, Jamie flicked through all the guys Toby had liked and then, after looking at the last one, he stopped abruptly, turned to his friend and said, ‘now you know I don’t say this normally but, OH MY GOD what are you doing?’
‘What do you mean?’ Toby said and nudged his friend to keep walking. They had stopped right next to a play park, and countless parents were now looking anxiously between the loud man and their child.
‘I mean…’ Jamie said, moving again, ‘not one of those guys is fit. Some of them have okay faces, and it looked like at least one could form a sentence, but they aren’t fit.’
‘Yeah, but they seem nice,’ Toby protested.
‘You don’t fuck nice, though, and guys that don’t look after themselves generally learn to be nice – they have to, but if they don’t look after themselves now, what they going to look like in a few years’ time?’
‘But they could still be nice in a few years’ time while perhaps the fit ones aren’t very nice.’
‘This might well be true, and you deserve someone nice. But you like the gym right? And you like talking about training and dieting right?’
‘And you spend hours in there each week making sure that you look as good as you do. And you’re a nice guy.’
‘I am, not sure about looking as good as anything, but I do my best’.
‘That’s it, you do your best, you put in the effort to be nice and to be fit, why should you give that away to people who are too lazy to look after themselves? 67% of guys in the UK are fat. 67%! That’s shocking, but you make an effort, and they can’t be arsed.’
As he spoke, Toby could almost see the soap box that Jamie was climbing on. He knew this rant wasn’t really about him. His friend liked sex, and he liked getting to have sex with his choice of guy and to do this, he kept himself in great shape. So it bugged the crap out of him when guys came on to him who didn’t put the same level of effort in. And being a PhD student and general overachiever, he knew countless statistics to back up his arguments.
After letting him rant on a little further, Toby said, ‘so what you’re saying, is I should find someone nice who is also fit?’
‘Pretty much yes, though I said it better.’
‘You certainly said it with more words that’s for sure.’
‘I don’t think you’re man enough, to be honest mate,’ Toby replied and hurried inside the shop before Jamie could retaliate.
Jamie caught up with Toby in the booze aisle, though before Jamie could throw his wonderfully planned retort, Toby stole his thunder by saying, ‘I concede, you’re right, help me find ones that are fit and nice and I’ll message them.’ Toby knew that his friend loved to be right and conceding worked like a charm.
‘Oh, right, okay, that sounds like a plan, let’s buy something here, and we can do it back in the flat.’
At the flat, Toby poured them both a large gin and cloudy lemonade and reluctantly handed his phone over to Jamie.
‘Don’t message anyone without telling me.’
‘You’re not fun sometimes,’ Jamie said as he took a large slug from his glass.
‘I’m letting you bully me into finding fit guys, what more do you want?’ Toby said after doing the same with his gin. ‘I don’t know how you drink this crap.’
‘Two things then, it’s not a hardship that I’m helping you find fit guys rather than ones who look like potatoes. And we drink gin because I like it and you can tolerate it. I hate that brown muck you prefer to drink.’
‘That’s the one, but if I got a bottle of gin and you a bottle of rum for pre-drinks, we’d both be hammered and probably never leave the flat’.
‘Fine,’ Toby again conceded. He took another swig of his gin and this time tried not to pull a face.
‘This one is okay? And this one, and I quite like this one.’ Toby looked at the guys, and they were indeed fit… ‘You know all of these guys are in their early 20s?’
‘I do, they have facial hair, though, you like facial hair, and not one of them looks like a bird-boy.’
‘But, still, that’s a pretty big age gap.’
‘That’s true, but the sad fact is, most guys over 30 just don’t keep themselves in shape, and so many seem to have never held down a relationship which appears to make them into cynical man haters. At least with younger guys, you’ll benefit from their enthusiasm, and they’ll look forward.’
‘Look forward?’ Toby questioned.
‘Well the older most of us get, the more time we spend in the past, which is a bad idea, as life is often shit as you know.’ Toby nodded.
‘But younger guys, certainly those still in Uni, are often looking forward, towards the next thing and it’s much more interesting.’
‘Well, you’re selling it now,’ Toby said. He had only dated and gone out with guys around his own age before, but as the gin went to work, he was in a much more “what the hell” kind of mood.
‘Well, I’m glad I have as I’ve just messaged them all.’
‘You’ve done what now? How did you even manage that without me seeing you?’
‘I’ve just messaged “hey, looking hot there, if you see me out tonight come and say hello” – nothing wrong in that. And I think you’re so used to seeing me mess with my phone while we talk that you didn’t notice.’
‘Well that’s just great,’ Toby said.
‘Well, now I’m going to have lots of random lads coming up to me and saying hello. Worse, they’ll be acting as if we’ve already had a conversation.’
‘Well, you can always do what you’ve been doing for the last few weeks when guys talk to you and just brush them off. Or, like with messaging these new guys, you can just smile, blame me for messaging and then have a conversation with them. That’s when you talk to them and be nice, rather than glare.’
‘Okay, smarty pants, fuck you.’
‘I think you’d need to decide if you’re top or bottom first, or if you’ve managed to get any feeling yet from the neck down.’