It wasn’t even really a shag, actually, not in the way they usually want. But it was something bigger than it was, if you get my meaning, which I’m not sure I even do. It’s hard to put into words.
I’d seen him around, owing to working around the same few clubs in Soho, where I can always hope for a bit of business. Posh in an old fashioned way, not flashy; I never saw him in the clubs, but I always reckoned he was gay, what straight bloke would wear clothes like that every day? And it’s Soho, ennit? Anyway, I only ever saw him walking along, always looking as if some secret thing was making him smile in a kind of dotty way. Just part of the local color.
It was one evening about two, three weeks after the world went wonky for a bit, you know when I mean? I don't know how it was elsewhere, but round London we’ve all had the same dreams – fire, and a feeling like everything holding its breath at once. It’s some of the psychic warfare stuff you read about in the magazines, my opinion. Gaz who tends bar down the Crumpet (that's what we all call the place anyway), he swore he had a vision in broad daylight of the kid from The Omen on a girls’ bicycle with his eyes all lit up, but then he likes a smoke when he watches those old movies.
So nothing actually changed, but a lot of people felt like something had, they’d talk if you listened. When he came up alongside me I almost thought he was going to go there. “It’s a lovely evening, isn’t it?” he said. “An exceptionally lovely evening. It’s so easy to forget how blessed a simple twilight can be.”
See, it was earlier than I usually get anyone, I wasn't even looking yet. You get to know the rhythms; I been on the game a while, I guess it goes back really to when I was just gone seventeen, after Micky’s Mam found us in the shed and told him he wasn’t to see me ever again if he wanted to keep living with her and go to Poly. He was two years younger than me but loads smarter, he belonged at Poly. And, well, she meant it; I called round the next day and every day after that, no one ever answered the door. I saw Micky a week later in the High Street and he didn’t look at me, and when I got home I found his Mam had told my Mam, there was a big scene and Mam turfed me out.
Now looking back I think she’d have taken me back after a few days, she didn’t know what to do, but I’d already had a fella come up to me in the train station and pay me good, he was nice too, a lot like this one really, some sort of shy law clerk or that who only wanted to go down on me in the car park behind the station. Where my Mam yelled at me he was sweet and thanked me, and I was proud, so I came down to London.
Of course I found out they’re not all nice, and it’s not always easy to make rent even with my flatmate Nicky pitching in when he can – he comes and goes, according to who he’s picked up with. I’m not as popular as some of the other lads – still thin and gangly, guess I’ll never grow out of it, and if I try working out like they do I just get leaner. These old sods mostly like muscley arms and a cheeky arse and a baby face. I’m ginger, though, and there’s those as go for ginger. I grow it out a bit, to make the best of that.
This one, I could see he was eyeing my hair. I was pretty sure now I’d seen him stop to look at me before. Well how about that.
I got a good vibe from him, so I said, “There’s a place round the corner we can get a drink, if you want.” Gaz would give me a ribbing about my vintage catch, but no matter. “Oh, a drink would be lovely,” he said, and I started to straighten up from where I’d been leaning against a closed shopfront, “but those places are, you know, so noisy. Would you feel comfortable coming back to my shop? I’ve got some marvelous reds cellared in the back.”
I like to chat them up somewhere public first, but he just felt safe. “Got a wine shop, have you?” I asked, falling into step with him. “That doesn’t sound half bad.”
“No,” he said, “a book shop, actually.”
“Not that museum at the corner?” I’d seen it. Never been in, of course; not a big one for books myself, and seemed like they were never open.
“That’s the one. I have some remarkable first editions.”
Well you always know what they’re getting at. “Go in for the pricey stuff, do you?”
“Oh, I do think we can probably agree about price.” Funny: he said it canny and hesitating at the some time, something you’d barely notice, unless you’d done this. Now and then you get one who’s never picked up a lad before, and they’ll admit it later, and it’ll be can I see you again and for a while it is and that’s good bank, so you go with it, till they realize you aren’t theirs, never going to be. Most of them take it all right, though I had one came down the Crumpet and made a fuss till Gaz gave him a huge girly drink and sat him down and let him sniffle it out and told him I wasn’t worth it. Which doesn’t sound like a favor but it was. He’s a good mate, Gaz.
The shop was bigger than you’d think, stuffed with old books, a regular maze going off every which way, glassed in like on the top level so you could see the last of the sunset before he got the lights, and smelling like every schoolroom I ever had to sit in. There were squashy old leather chairs, and back in an alcove a loveseat covered with chintz, queeny as you could ask for, and a rug you could just sink into. “Nice,” I said before I caught myself.
“It suits me,” he said. He was fussing in a cupboard behind a huge old-fashioned desk, brought out some crystal glasses like Mam used to keep in the special sideboard and never used, and a big decanter. “Do you prefer dry and dusty or fruity and dark?” I didn’t get what he was saying at first and then realized this was wine snobbing, and cracked “Oh, I do well with fruity, if that’s no offense.” But I don’t think he caught the double meaning, which is just as well.
“It’s a bit heretical then, but I’ve this California blend that’s positively stuffed with currants and blackberries.” I was going to make a joke on “stuffed,” too, but I started to feel this was someone you didn’t joke with like that, much as he smiled and sweet as he seemed; he had enough baby face for the both of us, you couldn’t tell his age really. At first I thought the hair was white, but in the lamp it was blond, and he had worry lines between his brows but smooth skin. I could get to like him. I leaned back into the chintz while he went somewhere and brought out a bottle, pulled the cork and poured it ever so fussily into the decanter. “Always better for a bit of air,” he said, and asked me a bit about how long I’d been in London, he could hear my accent, while he got a two-bar electric fire going. Smelled a bit dusty, but it was getting cool out, so I didn’t mind that.
“Now I – ahem – believe it’s customary to discuss, well, emoluments beforehand?” he said, meanwhile swirling the wine around in its big glass jug, holding it into the light.
I wasn’t sure what the word meant but took a stab. “Well, there’s some things I don’t do –”
“Oh, I will certainly respect that. I meant, well, fees...” I told him, and he laid some notes on the blotter, half again what I’d asked. I just nodded and let him fill my glass; touched hands a bit as he passed it. Fuck, he was shaking a little. He really hadn’t done this before, not with someone like me. Lost someone, I started to think; someone died, or left him, and he’s lonely and doesn’t know where to start. I tried the wine.
“That’s amazing, that is,” I said, because it was. He relaxed a little, kind of proud. “I’m so glad you enjoy it. It’ll be even better when it’s breathed a bit more.”
It certainly put anything I’d ever drunk to shame. I looked round; the place was full of everything everywhere, so you couldn’t be sure if he was selling books or antiques or what. “So you’re Mr. Fell?” I asked, taking a risk, because sometimes they want to use a fake name, but there it’d been, right over the door.
“Yes, well, I mean the shop’s been in the family since – since you would probably say forever.” He was still jumpy, saw the glass shaking in his own hand and put it down on a table full of gewgaws. “”We really only fell to the corrector, I mean, sell to the connector – "
I took his hand at that and put it against my cheek. He needed help, he did.
“You don’t need to be nervous,” I said, “what d’ye like, then?”
“What a dear boy.” He relaxed a bit then. He had a soft touch, and ran a finger along my eyebrows; tickled a bit. “Would you wear something if I asked you?”
“Dunno why not.”
I don’t know what I was expecting, but he went round to the desk and out of one drawer brought an ordinary pair of sunglasses, nice ones, but still, that was all. I took them, put them on, leaned back on the couch to look up at him. “Like this?”
“Oh yes. Oh my dear. That’s perfect.”
Now I could hardly see anything but the light from the electric fire and the lamp over the desk, but it was what he wanted and it seemed harmless. I chatted a bit more about anything I could think of, I wouldn’t get asked back if he was too nervous to enjoy whatever he wanted to do, even though it was a bit catching and I almost kicked myself when I realized I’d just asked when was the last time they made clothes like that.
“At my tailor’s, whenever I ask,” he said, but then he smiled. “The world goes by so quickly, doesn’t it? Sometimes you just want to slow it down.”
“Right you are,” I said, thinking how it seemed a lifetime ago but also yesterday I’d gotten off the train from home.
“I have some lovely little gateaux here – would you like one? From that Belgian place. Here we are, here we are.” He held out a box with little choccy and iced cakes, so small you know they’re expensive. You don’t think of having that with red wine, but it was brilliant. I didn’t want to drop crumbs on the chintz and sat forward to catch anything in the other hand.
“Oh my boy, never mind. Be comfortable. Sprawl out a bit if you like.” I couldn’t think how anyone sprawled on furniture like that. “You needn’t be so cautious and careful. That’s... for me, you know.” And he touched his fingertip to my lips, right where I could still feel a bit of the icing from the little cake. I was starting to feel fine from the wine, not watching the time like I’d do mostly, and besides, that was a nice bit of dosh he’d laid on the blotter. I got the feeling he actually enjoyed my chaffing him a bit about being so old fashioned, felt a bit cheeky and dropped the glasses a tiny bit to look over them, saying “Give us a kiss, then.”
I don’t usually like to kiss them, except once in a while there’s one I fancy a bit. This was different in a way I can’t name. He bent in and took that last bit of icing off my lip with the tip of his tongue. It gave me a jolt, somehow. He smelled lovely, a nice change from some of them, like walking by the door of one of those Body Shop places, only even lighter and more, I don’t know, delicate, a scent to make you remember something beautiful you’d forgotten. I let him go on with the tongue, it was nice, very tender and gentle, not shoving at me the way you get used to. He was all over my face, hands in my hair, lips on my ears, cheeks, taking the glasses up over my forehead and asking me to close my eyes while he kissed them too, then ever so carefully putting the glasses back. Whatever he wanted. I was feeling warm and happy – it must have been the wine. I took another of the little cakes when he sat back to look at me, had a bite and kissed him with my mouth full of the chocolate.
“Oh, you lovely boy,” he hummed, and fed me another bite after breaking the kiss, smashed a bit so I had to lick it off his fingers. “Bite a little,” he said. I could do that. He licked the fingers that I’d licked, and pushed up my shirt, counting off my ribs – it tickled a little, but I remembered Micky doing almost the same thing, saying he could play the piano on my ribs. He could play a piano, too, he was dead clever in so many ways. I was beginning to fly a little, and had another go at the wine glass while he kissed me on the belly.
“Let’s get you out of these awful shoes, can’t we?” he said. I was glad I’d had a long bath just that afternoon, nice as he was. He dropped to his knees and pulled off the boots and socks as if he’d been doing it all his life, stroked up my foot and the cord of my ankle in a way that made me shiver, and went for the belt buckle. I though he’d want to just blow me then, like the shy law clerk, but he stood me up to get the jeans down, running his hands back and forth over my hip bones. They stick out like coat hooks, honestly, but he seemed to like it. I reached in my jacket pocket then and handed him a condom. He seemed baffled for a moment.
“Oh, yes, that is considered a basic courtesy nowadays, isn’t it?” Nowadays? How long had he been out of the game? “Well, we may need it, or not.”
He undressed me the rest of the way, slowly and gently, ever so carefully, leaving the sunglasses on. For a long few moments all he could seem to do was look at me – it felt awkward, like I should be doing something, and I was half hard by now, without having to think about anything but what was happening, which it isn’t always easy. “I know,” he said as if he’d just remembered another thingy from a gourmet shop, and hopped off somewhere leaving me wondering what? and taking the moment to pour some more of that wonderful stuff out of the decanter. He returned carrying one of those old fashioned mirrors you see in the period shows, where the lady’s maid tilts it just so, and set it facing the desk. “Come here, my dear,” he said, and pulled me over till he could sit up on the edge of the desk and turn me toward the mirror, so it reflected almost my whole length, shadowy through the sunglasses, but clear enough when I looked over them. Standing face to face I’d been a bit taller; this way he could see over my shoulder into the mirror. He kissed the back of my neck, pulling me to him, stroking over my front. Ah well, I thought I saw where this was going after all, it’s not my favorite but I can do it all right, and he did take the condom. Only he just kept stroking as if he was going to draw a map of me. “I want you to feel pleasure,” he said.
Well, you get that sometimes too. I can act with the best of them, and it’s not that hard to blow your load, I think of what gets me off. Except that this was different, the hands were gentle, and loving, almost made me want to cry, as if someone thought I were valuable, thought I was deserving. He didn’t go for my bum, except to pull it against him with his hands on my hipbones, and God’s truth I caught myself almost wishing he’d want to do it that way. But he just kept mapping me with his hands, pushing the hair aside to nip the back of my neck so that the hairs on my arms stood up. Never even took off his coat.
He cupped my two veg, what I like, he couldn’t have known that but it always feels safe to me somehow. Tugged them a little, and then traced a finger up from the root of my cock, not along it but up my belly, a tease, making me think how it’d feel if he did that along its length. I was dead hard now, like you are when you’re thirteen and you nearly explode just thinking about what you want. I couldn’t help how I was moving, back against him, forward trying to work myself against his hand somehow. He ran his other hand up my chest to my lips, whispering in my ear to bite again. I nibbled, then took two fingers in my mouth all the way. I’m good at blow jobs, this was like showing him what I could do, with my cock out there in air straining for something to grip it, me licking in that little web between the fingers, I could tell he felt it from the way his breath hitched. And finally the hand on my belly wrapped around my cock, pulling up slow and tight from the root to the tip, thumb rubbing, then down and up again, like someone working a pump. I couldn’t help myself, my teeth clamped down on his knuckle but he only hissed a breath in my ear and kept on going, just that little bit too slow, to make me want to beg for it. It was so simple, schoolboy even, like a couple of lads who are just figuring out what they want, except for how he did it. He let me go for a moment, brought the hand that had been gripping me up to my mouth, and I knew what he wanted and licked it wet. He went back down to wrap around me, squeezing and slick, little strokes at that bit where it comes out of the skin and the feeling goes right to your backbone, and pumped four five six seven times and I could feel the whole bloody solar system exploding up through me, didn’t even know I was howling until I heard myself, and I was spurting and pumping out over his hand, surprised like it was my first time alone in bed in the dark wondering what had happened to me.
I don’t cum a lot like some of the young ones, but he couldn’t seem to get enough of dabbling it over my belly, purring in my ear, slicking me up. “Oh, my darling,” he said, sounding as if he’d come too though I knew he hadn’t, “I so wanted to make you do that. Wanted it so badly. For so long.” I was still a bit dazed, and wondered if he wanted me to finish him off – I’d been feeling him through the pants and all right along, hard as a hoe handle up against my bum. But he just brought out a silk handkerchief to clean me up, a real gentleman’s snotrag, as if I was the only thing that mattered, and that broke me down somehow, I can’t really explain it.
And that was when the pounding at the door started.
The startle made my knees go funny for a moment, and I felt him jump a bit, but he only said “We’re closed, I put the sign out.” He was still holding me, going soft now inside the beautiful silk, somehow now clean and dry, if silk can do that now I know why people pay for it, and I was still shaky and letting my weight go back against him when there was another sound, like thunder and a wrecking ball and a Tube train braking all at once, and the other man came blazing in.
“Angel!!! Are you all right? What happened? I could feel you halfway to Mayfair, have they – “ Then he rounded the end of the stack, and stopped dead.
I expect anyone would need a moment to take it in, me there tottering back against my Mister Fell in his Downton bleeding Abbey kit with the plaid tie, myself wearing nothing but a pair of sunglasses and the silk hanky he was holding over my tackle. And him, he must have taken a bit longer, because he was wearing shades exactly like the ones I had on. You could hardly have told us apart, if he’d been starkers too, that is – lean, leggy, ginger hair just that bit longer than mine, a mess like he’d not thought of combing it in weeks.
“What the fuck, angel,” he said. I was right there with him. What the fuck. I felt my pretty toff’s grip loosen a little, tried my weight on my feet.
“This isn’t what it looks like – “
“Aaaaahhhh nooo, I think it’s exactly what it looks like.” His voice dripped with snark, and he put a hand to the shades he was wearing, and suddenly I didn’t want him to take them off. I felt a little cold, even more when he looked me up and down. Bloody hell, we could have been brothers. I could tell he was wrapping his mind around the same thing. I started to get half an idea what was going on, but only half. He lowered his hand. His voice was quieter when he spoke again.
“Why couldn’t you just tell me, angel?”
Hear, hear, I thought, if they’re already calling each other things like “angel” why drag me into it at all? I was looking around for my clobber, which had gotten tossed every which way, trying to work out a way to pick it all up and dress without looking a prat.
“I was afraid for you -- I felt – like France that time – it felt like you needing me, and I thought they – “
There were my Y-fronts. I thought for a moment as I snatched them up, you hear about people setting up a scene like this, it could have been some kink of theirs, but… I had managed to lose the shades, and I couldn’t help glancing from one to the other, and I had seen that look, the look on Micky’s face when he first knew I fancied him, the look they were both wearing now. It was as if I wasn’t in the room.
“And you… came to save me, darling, just as you always do?” I could tell the little bookseller was almost in tears, but smiling too. I could only find one sock. In the crap lighting, every frond and curlicue on the bloody rug and upholstery looked like my bloody sock. ”Right through all the locks and wards?”
“Well, then next time you want something you won’t wait to tell me till I have to miracle your doors half off the bloody hinges, have to put them right yourself, you will. I’m knackered.” And this time he did take off the glasses, but I was a bit behind him now so I didn’t have to see – what? He frightened me, but the voice when he spoke the next time was soft.
“I didn’t think you -- wanted --”
“You… didn’t think?”
Sock, under one of the fallen cushions. It got tangled up in my toes.
“If I didn’t get… just a bit of a hint from you, angel, after all that…”
“And I thought you'd -- you'd tempt me if you felt that way, you old serpent!” "What did you think I was -- " "--afraid I'd ruin everything --" They were starting to talk over each other, and I finally found my keys under the loveseat where they’d fallen out of the jacket pocket, along with a couple more condoms, waste not want not.
“I thought you said I went too bloody fast for you!!!!” Now they both sounded as if they were going to have a good old cry, and my head was halfway through my shirt which I considered possibly leaving that way while I edged out.
“I meant that you drive like -- like a demon!!!”
“Just exactly when we were free… no more hiding and looking over our shoulders. You great heavenly idiot.”
A moment’s silence. “My love… can you forgive me?”
“That’s rich, one of your lot saying that to one of my lot... ‘Course I can.” Trying hard to sound flip. Now I was stuck with one boot half on, bought them too bleeding small. I don’t know why I remember it all so exactly, because it was daft nonsense by now, like a Python skit, but it was like the way you remember everything about the day you got really good or bad news, or, well, the day you fell in love. Which was sort of what it seemed like was happening right in front of me in a way that was getting more awkward by the second, if I wasn’t meant to be there, which I still wasn’t sure, so I said “Ah – can I leave now? I mean, I can leave, only I – “
The tall one turned half toward me, then saw something that stopped him, stepped toward the desk. “Is this what he was going to pay you?”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet and slapped another wad of notes on top of what was there, then pushed the whole lot at me. “Here. Now fuck away off with my eternal, and I do mean eternal gratitude, and oh, never come near this shop again. Oh all right, zip up first.”
”Young man -- ah -- I’m afraid I’ve been terribly unfair to you,” said my gentleman. Well. Clearly not mine. No repeat calls there. The other actually growled a little in his throat and said “He knows that, doesn’t he? Been unfair to me too. And I’ve been unfair to you. Apologies all round!!!!" He waved his hands in all directions. "Now you? Scarper.” And just like that my boots were on and I scrambled up, and sure enough when I came round the end of the bookshelves the doors were open and not looking quite right, like one of them might take a mind to fall over any minute, and there was -- I can't quite describe it, an echo around them, like something big had happened and was still settling. It slowed me down, so I could still hear the one in the shades saying “You didn’t have to go looking for me somewhere else. If I’d known… I’m here now." The voice wavered. "I’ll always be here.” I glanced back and saw them pulled tight together, the light from the desklamp falling across the messy ginger hair and the white blond, and --
I still can’t say what I saw next. It was like the things people remember from that one day, like the dreams Gaz talks about. There was a sound like when the wind snaps into a kite, or blows out a flag, and the space below the big dim skylight filled with huge feathery shapes, black that was bright from the inside, somehow, and glowing white with every color you could name trying to break out of it, however mental all that sounds, rising and beating, the black and the white curving and crossing over each other, beautiful enough to break your heart.
I ran then. I didn’t look back.
I got back to my rooms I don’t know when, I don’t know where I walked. Nicky was out. He stays away three-four days sometimes. He’s got a bloke in Richmond I think. It might last this time.
I’ll have to call him, because I think I’ve done this for as long as I care to. It’s not that I’m ashamed of anything I done, 'cos I’m not. Nor that I'd ever try to find Mr. Fell again either; it’s just something that he did for me. I can’t find a way to put it. Sometimes I’ve felt like I was being, for the shy ones, some sort of Angel of Mercy as helped them live with themselves. He was another kind, somehow, teaching me what I needed.
I need to go home. I need to love someone like those two loved each other – I’d say it was one of the crazy dreams people had, if I weren’t sitting here looking at this silk hanky, clean as anything, soft, beautiful.
I need to look up Micky.
And yeah, my Mam.