День рождения: 11 ноября 2004 года

О себе

She's gone. I flex my right hand, and vow to change the sheets in the morning.

Tomorrow, Dan'll be in my bed, and not going home.

That's a bit more than a hobby. Still, seeing Laura in a month, having at that lush curvy arse that she's made clear she wants me to fill… that'll be a fun afternoon. I wonder, if me and Dan will still be seeing each other by then?

I try to imagine us in an ongoing relationship, and fail, because I can't imagine anyone else wanting that with me. So it never occurs to me to think about whether he'd mind about my bet with Laura.

I wonder if he'd want to fist me, sometime. The other way round, I doubt it, seeing he's leery of even a finger. He did say, though, that he wants to be enjoying it up the arse again. Maybe next weekend we can take some time to getting him to begging for it? Really leisurely, teasing him for hours…

* * *

It's Sunday morning. Dan texts to check I'm awake -— my cue to shove bedding in the washing machine -— then he wanders down with one IKEA bag of magazine holders full of papers, and another of beer, frozen food, fridge contents, some wine and an opened bottle of vodka, with hangover to match.

«I wasn't leaving any of my booze for her to drink," he explains. I follow him back upstairs and help schlep the rest of his work, all the notes and papers and pens, downstairs. My office looks OK, desk end now cut off from his man-cave by his long printer and the screen. His desk in the lounge and the folding bookcase are covered with everything he needs for work tomorrow.

While he does that, I pull out the box we didn't unpack earlier and start rigging up his Xbox to work on my telly.

We've more than earned ourselves more mugs of tea and a few rounds of Formula One.

„So, those vital co-living questions," he says. I realise we've both lived with a partner for a couple years; longer, for me. Dan's been cohabiting again with Max just now. He knows it's the little things that build up to big conflicts. "Who's gonna shower first in the morning?“ he asks. „I'm not going in the office."

"Me neither. I usually get up at 7:30, start work just gone eight -— started having eggs for breakfast thanks to your stop-smoking advice, so it takes longer than my old cereal… I'm not long in the bathroom, not like I need to shave if I'm not going to work -— god, you're going to find out all my scummy habits…"

"OK, you hit the bathroom first, I'll moan and groan about getting up but promise I'll stick the kettle on by the time you come back. I might go down the gym some mornings, come back here for the shower -— yours is much better."

I grin. "It is, isn't it? OK, just to make clear how anal-retentive I am and how I couldn't cope without modern tech, I've got alarms telling me to have a break at eleven, lunch at one, tea break at four… I know this week is going to seriously need them, it's just mountains of stuff with a huge deadline in two weeks. You'll probably hardly see me."

"So if I haven't seen you by eight, extract you and shove tea -— dinner -— in front of your face?"

"Oh god, that would be great… I mean, I try to escape by six normally, but these two weeks aren't going to be normal, I know it. At least I cleaned yesterday, so the place won't get too bogging for a while…"

"Right. I'll be out Tuesday night, football, maybe meet some people from work on Thursday, but I've got no real plans beyond that."

"Cool. I might be in the office any day -— d'you want me to let you know if I'm disappearing?"

"Mm. Maybe a text, useful to know. I'm usually at our place Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but again, it varies."

"No worries. Guess we'll find out how many meals we end up having here and whether we like the same kinds of meals.

Dan grins at me. I eat anything. If it's not too burnt. I'm no chef but I can do the basics. Pasta or rice, some veg possibly from the freezer, some meat or something to go with, job done."

"Add potatoes and steak and you've got my repertoire. I'm a dab hand at reheating, though."

"We'll live. In the meantime…"

A meaningful look, and he's stripping off and dragging me to the bedroom. Our bedroom. Any fear over that is alleviated by his convincing me that him being in my bed is a very good thing.

A very good thing indeed.

* * *

It works out fine the first day -— he pokes me just before eight and asks if I prefer pasta or the chicken'n'mushroom pie that's in the fridge. We watch Only Connect. On the Tuesday he finishes work and I happen to see him get changed for the football. He leaves some food in a pan for me and calls at half-time to remind me to eat it.

Dan returns home about half ten, earlier than I expected, and he's tight-lipped, clearly in a foul mood.

"What's up?“ I offer him a beer; he takes it, silently.

I wait a bit. It occurs to me I've not really seen the guy pissed off before. He was annoyed by Gemma but not proper angry. He's quiet and coiled; I get the impression he's ready to spring, but only when pointed at the right target. Or himself.

He sips his beer a bit, puts it down on the coffee table, and sighs. Then he reaches round and pulls me into the most passionate snog I've had since… well, recently, but it's still more than I'd expected on a Tuesday night.

I raise one eyebrow when he lets up.

"Sorry. Just, there have to be perks to being gay, right?"

"Course. My sweet body. But you knew that. Why? What disadvantages just hit you?"

Soon as I say it, I know them all. He hasn't been in a fight, which is good…

He knows I know, and grunts. "Footie lads hadn't clocked I was a poof."

He's the least poofy gay man around, but whatever. "Thought you said you told the captain, before you started?"

"Told Paul, yeah. Who 'valued my privacy' — see, he just texted me with apologies -— so turns out, when I mentioned I'd moved in with my boyfriend last weekend, this was a shock to their little systems and time for all the don't-turn-round-in-the-shower jokes, don't drop the soap, no wonder I'm a good striker with men behind me… I think that one was supposed to be a compliment, weirdly, but that was when I walked out."

He sighs and looks up at me. He's so slouched, not his normal tall self. "I'm just tired of it. It's not like my old work where I had to put up with it -— new work are fine -— but these guys are my main friends in London, y'know?"

"I know.“ I fight down my panic at being called 'boyfriend', he's exaggerating for effect I'm sure, and think what to say to him. „D'you think they actually have a problem with you, or are they just saying stupid shit because their gobs run away with them, like?"

He thinks. "Probably just being funny. Simon started it, he might be a bit… but the rest of them don't really mean it. That would involve actually using their brains…"

"Huh. You'd best polish up your witty comebacks for next week, then."

"Don't think I've got any."

"The classic, 'In your dreams! You've got nothing to worry about, I've got taste,' might be called for."

The side of his mouth twitches in a weak smile. "That'd be true, all right. Simon's way too…" Dan makes a shape with his hands, bit short and podgy, I'm guessing, then he adds, "straight… As in wanting two-point-three kids and half a Labrador in the suburbs, boring-straight."

"Aye? Try saying that with as much sarcasm as you can, then. Could always go, 'yeah, I've seen you all in the showers but there wasn't anything worth looking at,' — I know, you don't look-at anyway, whether they're worthy or not, but they'll need the banter to get their daft heads to that point…"

Dan gets another text. "Paul again. Says the lads are sorry for taking the piss too much and don't want to lose their star striker. They'll stand you a pint next week, and your chap if he wants to drop by."

"Tell him to make it two. And a chaser."

He's dithering. "Go on. I'll come if you want, but don't want to cramp your style, the old man with a bunch of lads in their twenties."

"They're not. Well. I think Pete's younger than me, but the others are all about thirty, thirty-three maybe? All prime shacking-up and having kids age.“ He sends the text. „You don't have to."

"Fair enough. Don't want to drop friends the first time they're a bit shit. I should know! I suppose, after a few times, you do need to think if you're getting anything back to compensate for them being shit…"

"That Laura one didn't seem the type to put up with crap. You cooked her dinner, didn't you say?"

"Mm. She said once, my train-wreck life provided entertainment value. Guess that entertainment turned into civilised dinners with me and Diane, now just me blethering on…"

"Eh, stop it. Putting yourself down. Now, you ready for bed, seeing as you're getting all togged up tomorrow?"

"Suppose. I'd normally watch telly to about midnight."

He shrugs, doesn't argue, simply starts removing his clothes.

All of them.

"When you put it that way, maybe you're right it's bedtime."

He straddles me in bed and rubs our cocks together up and down, aggressively. Furiously embracing the perks of being gay, I can tell, but I don't mention that.

It's probably not much before midnight when I brush my teeth and turn out the little light, but having spent myself, I fall asleep quickly.

He gives me precedence in the bathroom in the morning, and danders back into the bedroom with an indecent towel round his waist -— it's for getting properly dry, not coverage, he claims.

"Nice duds!“ he breathes.

I've done my suit trousers, shirt and tie, and am wrestling with an annoying cufflink. I hold it out to him to do before remembering he's not Diane, but he chuckles and just slips it through the starched cuff for me, his towel falling to the floor. I sit down, hitching the trouser legs up all proper so they don't start bagging at the knees -— another lesson from Ali, or was it Stu? — and tie my shoelaces. Add the jacket, comb my hair, bit of gel, wee slather of moisturiser, job done.

„Whoa. You look like James Bond! Just need the hanky in the top pocket, there."

"One does not require a 'pocket square' for a mere repeat meeting with a twatty client, I assure you.“ I use my best posh English accent, which is channelling Stuart, his Midlands boarding school and all. I reach down into the pocket. „Got one, but doesn't match the tie. Next Friday, that'll be the whole three-piece, pocket square, concealer, polished Oxfords, the lot."

"I'm getting hard just thinking of it."

"Aye, well, I'm not, I'm shitting myself! Mountains to be moved before then. Best get to it. See ya, love."

I hope he didn't see me cringe after I said that. 'Love' is one of those generic terms, like 'pet' or 'duck', right?

"You're not cycling in that fab get-up, are you?"

"My Tom Ford suit? Certainly not! It can cope with the 188, though. If it's too stupid late when I come back, I might get a cab. I'll be back by round midnight, don't wait up."

"You serious?"


"Very. It's all hands on deck these two weeks, sorry. Izzy will make sure we eat, don't you fret about us!"

"She'd better. Off you trot, improve the looks of the bus stop no end."

"You silver-tongued charmer, you."

"Yeah, well, after this fortnight's over I'll show you what I can do with my tongue…"

I do like the way the lad thinks. "I will take at least a day off on the weekend, promise."

"Good. Git your arse out the door and get to it, then!"

It's intense at work, but the team is solid, Sam calmly prioritising and taking all calls he can about existing work, Kerry and Mike and Gary shouldering their side, Naz taking all the bits I can give him and returning competent drafts marked where he has questions, Izzy fuelling us all with coffee or tea, lunch, mid-afternoon cake, and finally pizzas.

"It's the first long night. Pizza's good for morale. You can all pretend you're slackers in Silicon Valley. It'll be healthier tomorrow, maybe that Lebanese place two streets down?"

Izzy's also ensuring all the printers are filled with paper -— we try to be paperless but it just doesn't work -— filing all the issues arising, and has an epic chart on the wall showing who's doing what. Iz even has got Gary to show her how to set Lissa up on the IT, meaning Naz is filling the poor lass's email account with documents to read when she arrives.

Thing is, while Naz has come on hugely in the last year and can do a lot of the data harvesting, all the modelling calculations still have to be me. He's practising on some of the figures, but early stages -— he's only just signed up for his Master's. So when the others head home around nine, I stay until near eleven, leave the jacket on the coat-stand, change into the old trackies from my bottom drawer, and flag down a cab. Twenty quid; worth every penny.

Which means it's half eleven when I find Dan decanting bolognese into various plastic boxes, Pulp playing loudly in the background. He's singing along to Mis-Shapes when he notices me.

"Whoa, bit of a come-down!“ He indicates the saggy tracksuit bottoms.

„Left the suit at work, just in case some client turns up tomorrow. Means I can wear jeans and cycle it."

"Fair enough. Two of these in the fridge, two in the freezer, you reckon? Each box is meal for two if you add pasta."

"Try three in the freezer, just in case. But thanks. I'll get these off now…"

"Good. Off to bed with you."

I don't argue.

Thursday goes much the same, me cycling in, in black jeans and a shirt, and returning home to find Garbage playing, the TV paused, and Dan's on the sofa, one ankle over his other knee, another sketchbook on his lap.

He just acknowledges me silently and keeps scribbling. I come look, and see his unfinished drawing of Jonny Wilkinson, England's well fit rugby captain. It's rather good. The page also has a recognisable Jeremy Paxman and some newsreader I know but can't remember the name of.

Jonny's hair gets filled in, a bit more shading added to his shirt, and Dan calls it a day, flicking off the TV and shutting the book.

"Good portraits, those."

He shrugs. "It's just a hobby. Drawing."

"So? Hobbies keep you sane. Speaking of sanity, I swore I'd take Saturday off. There's this new exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, landscapes, don't know if that's your thing, but you'd be welcome to come with?"

Pursed lips, thinking. "I'll give it a go. Cycle down there, hang out in the park with a couple beers -— drinks -— if it's warm enough? I can always people-watch in the café or look at the other galleries, if you want to spend longer staring at green hills and that."

"See how it goes."

"Got any other plans for the weekend? Apart from a bit of work on Sunday?"

"Other than hitting the dry-cleaner and Tesco's, you mean?"

"You don't get food delivered?"

"For one person? No point."

"Sure there is -— monthly, at least. Stock up the freezer and cupboards with all those heavy and bulky things, add enough beer to qualify for free delivery… Then you only need to pop in for the odd fresh thing."

I nod. It's not a bollocks plan. "OK. If you want. See if there's a slot for Monday -— you're at home, right?"

He taps away. "11 am. That'll do. My usual orders… untick Max's shite… I'll add to this and email you, then you tell me what else you want by midnight Saturday, right?"

"Email my work address.“ I give it to him. „Actually…" I go to my office and pick up a business card, so he's got work's phone numbers and all.

"MA, MEng, CEng, MIEE, MCABE? Very smart!"

"Age and experience, mostly.“ I snort. „Like Laura says about her PhD -— stands for 'Piled Higher and Deeper'. And paying for the professional memberships. Hey -— one thing -— did you switch the delivery address for that order to this flat?"

"Shit!“ He pokes his phone again. „It's OK, still have Monday morning, 11.30. Phew!“ He grins at me. „Told you you were clever."

"Clever enough to know it's bedtime. For me, at least. Don't feel you have to."

"May as well turn in. Hit the office early tomorrow.“ He grins, that happy face I'm coming to really enjoy seeing regularly. „That'll surprise them!"

I feel kinda embarrassed, giving him a quick kiss then just rolling over to fall asleep, but he just pats my arm and does the same. He's lived with someone before, still gets on with her, even; he knows it isn't sex every night.

Just as well.

Friday, I'd hoped to avoid the office, but Naz needs a hand and Sam has questions, so I head on in. Izzy's clearly decided we need healthy food, producing a Lebanese buffet with many salads, a fruit basket on her filing cabinet, and a selection of herbal teas have appeared, though that's possibly because Naz has been overdoing it on the caffeine. I make a note to myself not to let him near my Red Bull.

We're getting there, first draft of a report taking shape, to present next Friday. But it's half eleven when I decide to quit, and the cab gets stuck in all the drunks being kicked out of the pubs, so it's gone midnight when I get home. Dan's dozing.

He looks adorable when he's asleep, golden curls lit by the bedside light. I have a pang of sadness for how Diane looked when she was sleeping, but given she's gone, I'll take this.

I sit and check the news on my phone while drinking an end-of-week celebratory drink. A large Caol Ila warms my throat nicely and then I creep into what's becoming my side of the bed. He stirs, grunts, wriggles against me then settles again, and I sleep too.

It's nigh eleven when I wake. I needed that. And then I notice there's a mug of tea by my bed. No longer steaming, but warm, and truly appreciated.

Oh boy. I might have a boyfriend, and I might just like it. I start swigging my tea to calm my heart rate down.

Dan wanders in, faded jeans but barefoot and topless, which seems to be his default when it's warm enough. I certainly appreciate the sight. "Oh, you're awake! Thought I'd leave you as long as you needed. When did you want to go out? I'll do us some brunch, if you like."

We cycle down to the gallery in Dulwich Park, lowering the proportion of yummy mummies and posh families. The exhibition is interesting, but not outstanding, so I don't blame Dan for wandering off. He texts me that he's copying some portraits in the room by the café. I find him half an hour later, a few people admiring over his shoulder.

It's started pissing it down, so the cafe is rammed. I fetch us cream teas -— height of civilisation -— and he's found us places at a bar table looking out the plate-glass window into the grey rain. I lower the tray and squeeze into the stupid high chair next to his.

He efficiently sweeps our crockery and cutlery onto the table and ditches the tray down the back. The boy gets stuff done. The Army were daft to lose him, I reckon, but their loss, my gain. Dan brings his arm back up and his hand brushes mine. He gives it a small squeeze before letting go.

Dan puts jam on his scone before the clotted cream. I knew he couldn't be perfect.

"Philistine," I tell him.

"The jam's thick, the cream goes on top like whipped cream."

"No, the cream's a butter substitute. You cut it with a knife, it's practically butter, so jam on top. Even if this isn't runny proper home-made jam."

He sniffs. "I don't care. I know one way is Devon, the other Cornwall, but buggered if I can remember which is which."

"Ah well, they've managed not to need a peace wall across the Tamar; I'm sure I can cope."

He grins, sort of relieved. Then he's hesitant again.

"Ade? What's your take on… PDAs?"

At first I think he's asking about Psion organisers (grand, shame they stopped making them) versus Blackberrys (shit), but then I realise. He's trying to be subtle and asking about public displays of affection.