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Several months earlier, Toby and Jamie’s very first night out.
Toby stood at the bar, he felt out of place. He knew he was fit for his age, in fact, he was fit for any age, but he hated standing on his own.
The night had gone okay; his new acquaintance Jamie had the potential to become a new friend, and he was in real need of a few more of those.
‘Wear something tight,’ Jamie had texted to Toby that afternoon.
‘I don’t have anything tight… my gym kit is tight, but I’m not sure that’s suitable.’
‘It’s not, and what kinda gay man are you that you don’t have any tight tops?’ Jamie texted followed by a series of emoji that looked a mix of shocked faces and insults.
‘Never been much of a gay scene type TBH – not 100% sure I even want to go. It’s not like you need me out with you.’
‘Can you try to be less needy, princess? Tonight will be fun, I don’t need you there, but I’ve only met that one guy in the city I can go on a night out with and tbh he’s super creepy, so it’d be good to have better company. Just get yourself off to town, head to TK Maxx, ignore the commoners’ smell, grab a bunch of t-shirts the size smaller than you wear and pick one of them.’
Toby had, and now he felt like a trussed-up turkey. The shirt fitted, just about, it was indeed a ‘fitted shirt’ and, as long as he didn’t move too quickly or sit down, he thought it looked okay. Or at least he had thought so back at home before he’d come out.
Jamie had said he looked okay – which seemed about as complimentary as Jamie managed when he wasn’t talking to twink boys. He did at least point out several guys who were apparently giving him the eye. Toby hadn’t noticed any of them, but it had bolstered his confidence just enough until the alcohol kicked in.
Stood at the bar now for the third time that evening, Toby thought it was time to call it a night. Not that much of the night had passed yet, it was still well before midnight, but Toby hated standing alone.
‘Why would he need to make three phone calls in the evening, on a night out? I should just go and see what he’s actually doing,’ Toby said to the man at the side of him who wouldn’t stop staring his way. The man looked shocked, but Toby didn’t bother to wait for a reply. Instead he marched out of the bar.
The crisp March air gripped Toby’s body with a blanket of ice. How was he out without a coat when it was still clearly winter? The countless whiskies helped stave off the cold long enough for Toby to spot Jamie, who was indeed on the phone.
Toby pushed his way through the crowd of smokers who were collected around the door. The bar was on a back street. Its black-painted façade and neon sign reminiscent of a different time, a time before gay men realised they could go to any bar as they always had Grindr on their phone for when it came to hooking up. Finally, they could take advantage of drinks offers rather than overpaying in gay bars.
As Toby walked towards him, Jamie looked increasingly uncomfortable. This was clearly a private phone call, and if it weren’t for the whisky Toby would have hung back until he’d finished.
But Toby was drunk, so instead, he walked up until he was well into Jamie’s personal space, which only served to heighten Jamie’s uncomfortable stance.
Seeing it was clear that Toby wasn’t going anywhere, Jamie sighed and carried on his conversation.
‘No, babe, I’m here, I’m just out with a friend. No, it’s not a gay bar, it’s just a bar, he’s some straight dude from my course. We’re bonding, you know how straight guys like to do that. It doesn’t look good if I have to keep coming out to call you… No, of course, I want to talk to you, but I can call you tomorrow. Okay, I’ll call you when I get home.’
Toby backed away a little. He’d had a lot to drink, but his body was doing that thing where when something important was going on it forced you to sober up a little. Not that Toby knew what was going on. He thought Jamie was single, he had never mentioned a boyfriend, and though they’d known each other less than a week, their Whatsapp chats had been interrupted several times by Jamie’s random meets.
When Toby couldn’t back off any further, he leant against a wall that prevented any further escape. A sheepish smile crept over Jamie’s face, and he put his phone away and slowly closed the gap between them.
‘So, then, there’s that,’ Jamie said as he moved into low voice range. The nightclub and voices of the patrons outside echoed along the back street meaning the two men had to get within inches of each other to have a quiet conversation
‘You mean you having a boyfriend? Bit odd, not that it’s anything to do with me, but you know, bit odd.’
‘We’ve been together nearly four years, he lives in London now; we lived together in Uni for a while,’ Jamie replied.
Unsure how to reply, as he was mostly unsure what he thought, it wasn’t his place to judge, it just seemed odd that such a crucial piece of information hadn’t been mentioned sooner.
Toby went with, ‘okay’.
‘We’re exclusive, I’m not meant to see other guys, but I’m sure you see how well that’s been going.’ Through the whisky haze, Toby wasn’t sure if Jamie looked sad at his misgivings or, as he more suspected, smug.
‘But why didn’t you mention him, it’s not like I know him or, for that matter, would over what you do with your sex life.’ Toby really wanted to sit down, the thump of music from the club felt like they were vibrating through his spine making him just want to slump to the floor.
‘It’s not so much you, I wasn’t going to tell anyone here. You know what gays are like, vindictive gossips and if Bryon ever did want to visit then…’
‘Sorry, can I just stop you there? He’s called Bryon! Your boyfriend is called Bryon, Jamie and Bryon. What a strange name?’ Toby interrupted.
‘Oddly, not at all important right now,’ Jamie replied.
‘Yes, true, though can I just say it one more time…’
‘I’d rather you didn’t…’
‘Bryon, that’s such a strange name, cool though I guess in a made up US sounding way’ Toby said. He was squinting his eyes and looking around; he really wanted to sit down, and for that matter getting another drink. But all he could see were wheelie bins and what he thought might be a rat.
As if reading his mind, Jamie suggested, ‘did you want to carry this on inside? It’s freezing out here, and I think we need more drinks.’
The bar was a bit of a mishmash, on the ground floor of the nightclub upstairs. The bar looked like it had been recently spruced up.
The booth that Toby slid into had shiny red fabric that squeaked underneath him as he sat down. The garish look of a 50s American diner ran through the rest of the bar, but TV screens on the walls played current music videos rather than camp classics.
Nodding to the covered over windows, Toby asked: ‘Do you think they were going to rip off the boarding and open this place up for dinner, but decided better of it?’ Jamie slid in on the same side of the booth as Toby.
Before Jamie could reply Toby added, ‘why don’t you sit on that side? There’s more room that way.’
‘I don’t need more room and I’m not shouting across a booth.’
‘Yes, that two feet of table would make all the difference, you’re right, anyway, fine.’ Toby was not one to have his personal space invaded. It had been a long time since anyone had sat this close to him, so close in fact that their knees were touching. Toby could smell Jamie’s sweetly scented aftershave and a flood of memories from a different time washed over his mind.
‘Are you okay?’ Jamie asked, though he didn’t wait for an answer, he just pushed the double whisky into Toby’s hands, clinked their glasses and they both drank.
‘Apparently, the owner has a huge thing for 50s kitsch, which explains the decor. There was no intention to open the place as a diner, it just turns out that he bought a job lot of retro junk at an auction once and this is how he chose to display it.’
‘What’s upstairs like? And after you’ve told me, can we get back to talking about your boyfriend?’ Jamie replied.
‘Upstairs is your typical nightclub: dancefloor, black-painted walls, dripping with sweat, the usual. It does have a cage if the urge takes you to dance in one of those.’
‘I’ll try to refrain,’ Toby Replied, deciding that perhaps his cage dancing days were behind him.
‘So… the boyfriend, it seems fair enough that you wouldn’t want anyone here to know. But, it does strike me as a little dodgy that you’ve been with him so long and you’re shagging so many other guys.’
‘I’m not shagging any of them, they’re shagging me,’ Jamie replied, ‘and can we not call it shagging, I know this place looks like the 1950s, but still.’
‘What are you twelve?’
‘Fine, call it what you want, though, as much as it pains me to say, I’ve seen the Snapchat footage, you were clearly topping.’
‘Yeah, but I’m not a top,’ Jamie replied, then took a drink of his whisky while trying to look innocent.
‘You do get how this whole fucking thing works right? If you put your winkie in them, that makes you the top – them’s the rules.’
‘You find the name Byron funny and then refer to cocks as winkies, you know that’s madness right.’
‘Semantics, but you’re still a top.’
‘I’m a bottom who tops,’ Jamie replied and then, to change the subject before Toby could have another go at winning the conversation. He said, ‘anyway, well, you know some secret stuff about me, tell me something about you – something big you haven’t shared yet.’
Thinking for a second, then hesitating for a second more, Toby said, I’ll get another drink, and then I guess I have something that fits the bill.’
Five minutes later and holding his drink close to his chest, Toby said, ‘you know I mentioned an ex? Well, he’s not an ex in the sense that we split up. Paul, he’s an ex in the fact that he smashed his car into a tree.’
‘Shit, dude, I’m sorry, how long ago was this?’
‘A year or so. Can’t say I’m over it, can’t say I’ll ever be, and to make it more like some tragic soap opera, we’d had a huge row the last time we spoke. Paul thought we should have a more open relationship and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t enough for him – messy really.’ Toby tried not to cry. He rubbed his eyes, took a drink, and said, ‘Yeah, I haven’t met any guys since and perhaps this is why you and I have become such fast-friends… because we’re both broken toys.’
‘A little harsh, but yeah, perhaps,’ Jamie replied and then leant forward and kissed Toby. Toby’s mouth met his and for a brief second, the conversation, the noise and chaos, it all disappeared.
‘Jeez, you didn’t waste much time, so much for keeping this one as a friend’ A tall weighty goth, complete with heavy eye makeup and near floor-length black coat loomed over the two men.
Toby and Jamie pulled apart. Toby looked like a scalded child, he picked up his drink, closed his eyes and took a gulp and, as he opened them, he was disappointed that the scary guy wasn’t just a figment of his imagination.
The look on Jamie’s face told a different story.
‘Carl, I’ve told you before, you really don’t know what a guy is like until you’ve kissed them. I’ve kissed all my friends – I’ve fucked most of them, too, but Toby and I are going to be proper friends, so no fucking, just occasional kissing.’
Carl tutted his way through Jamie’s speech though Jamie deliberately spoke quickly to stave off interruptions. When he’d finished, Jamie picked up his drink and waited for the inevitable barbed comment.
Being forced to wait had turned Carl’s face an unfortunate shade of purple though that did match his black lipstick more than his usually pallid tones.
‘Well, you’ve never kissed me. I take it you don’t care what I’m like. Is it that I don’t look all fit like that?’ Carl gestured towards Toby who, rather than responding to being called a ‘that’, just picked up his glass and took another drink. Now his glass was empty, Toby thought about getting up to get another drink, but that meant pushing past the aggressive monster blocking his way.
‘I’ve told you before, if I wanted to get covered in lipstick, I would kiss a woman. Now stop being a dick and be nice to Toby, it’s his first night out.’
The thunder on Carl’s face dropped a little, and he said to Toby, ‘Ah, yeah, sorry about that mate, I’m just a snappy fucker at times, let me get you a drink.’
‘We’ll both have double whisky and coke,’ Jamie said and handed Carl both their glasses. They both watched Carl as he barged his way through to the bar.
‘So, who the fuck is that?’ Toby said once Carl was out of earshot, which actually wasn’t that far as the DJ had just cranked the music up so loud that conversations had to be almost screamed.
‘Yes, I got that, but he’s a rude fucking dick, how come you didn’t mention him?’
‘I did, I told you I’d met a guy here my first night, and he’d chatted to me,’ Jamie said.
Toby thought for a second and then said, ‘Ah, right, that’s true, you did mention someone, though I didn’t realise he’d be SUCH a freak.’
‘Oh, he’s not that bad, and he’s buying us drinks – what’s not to like?’ Jamie offered a smile. Toby huffed and then said, ‘and you kissed me – I tell you about my dead ex, and you kiss me?’
‘What else was I supposed to do?’ Jamie asked.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I’m not a counsellor, I’m not great with words that aren’t either sarcastic or overly academic, and I’m great at kissing, so I thought I’d go with that.’
‘That’s err… fair enough… I guess, or at least it’s fair enough from you as you do seem a little insane.'
Feigning shock, Toby said, ‘I’m not the one who hasn’t had sex in over a year, I bet you must have blisters on your palms.’
‘I’m pretty much dead from the neck down, to be honest. Losing ex-partners will do that to you – I think it falls under the - things that kill the horn?’ Toby said, pointing his words slightly.
With a bright smile, Jamie said, ‘Okay, princess, calm down if you want to let your cock fester and fall off that’s fine by me. Perhaps what you need is just more whisky to get the fires started?’
Both men watched as Carl’s glare cleared him a path across the room. At well over six feet tall and resembling something that you’d see on the US show “Obese – a year to save my life” – tiny gays scurried to get out of the monster’s way.
‘Excellent,’ Jamie said as he took his drink and handed Toby his, ‘let’s get these down us and go see if we can find a touch of kindling.’