9 Heddon Street.
It was all he was given by his client as a lead to follow on when he was hired to tackle his case to find out the activities that an individual by the name of an Owen Carvour gets up to when it’s off hours. His client had come to him sounding off about how he has suspicion his coworker has been up to some criminally dangerous activities and poses a threat to the reputation of the publishing company they both worked at which lead to him seeking Curt for his detecting expertise.
And he was told to dress elegantly for the occasion which sparked the few indications he might be heading to some place ritzy.
Turning a corner away from Regent Street, he skidded to a stop.
Curt's eyes widened in recognition at the dip between two railings which leads down to a swanky looking entrance, laying a few feet in front of his path, with a golden plaque that glinted underneath the moonlight, stuck on the side of the right railing reading 'The Cave of the Golden Calf'.
He's not oblivious to the happenings within the gay community and he certainly isn't out of touch with keeping the names of the very few covert pubs in town to himself. When he first set foot on British soil, he had taken the initiative to get familiar with the establishments near his stationing. He had no plans to visit nor have the time to but it was a comforting thought to have knowing he isn't alone in a foreign country.
But he certainly wasn’t anticipating the location his client has sent him to survey is a joint haunted by the aristocrats and men like him. It’s a blessing and a curse, realising at once what his client had meant ‘criminally dangerous activities’ and ‘poses a threat.’
Two men stumbled out of the establishment, not so subtly lacing their fingers together as they looked at each other with doled eyes. One leaned over to whisper something, lucratively, judging by the reaction the other man is giving. He grinned smugly as they picked up the pace and left dissolving into the night.
Curt felt nervous. His bowtie suddenly felt too restrictive and he couldn't help the beating of his heart against his chest as it picked up pace. First time is always the hardest they say and venturing into a high end pub is the utmost difficult.
It's nothing, he just has to tail his objective and do absolutely nothing. Perhaps the Carvour guy’s greatest sin isn’t even being homosexual, there could be something else incredibly vile such as dealing in drug cartels that he wouldn’t regret tailing him in the first place. Adamant in his final thought, he loosen the tightening on his bowtie.
"Wisen up, Curt," He blew out a shaky breath. "You can get through this."
He re-entered into the light, lamp posts guiding his journey and made his way down the pathway till he's at the entrance of the pub. A spiral staircase with golden railings and draped in dark red carpeting greeted him, he can hear the faint sounds of jazz music coming from above.
Curt walked in slowly as he made his way up the stairs. Every twist and turn increases the volume of the music till he's getting treated with the full experience of the live house band.
The dance floor is filled with a few couples dressed rather fancifully; it almost made him look underdressed, dancing ecstatically and gleefully to the lively tune, twisting and jiving like a live wire whilst on the other end of the room are where the tables and booths situated and there sat couples who are engaged in conversation while some communicate through public intimacy.
Curt has never seen anything like this, not once back home. People are so bold here, that he had noticed. A hopeful smile graces his face as he realizes something incredible: People like him are actually happy and they didn't have to hide in this space. A man wearing wire rimmed glasses approached him, "Look who just blew in! I noticed you were frozen in place and thought I'd come to help. First time?" The man looked at him amusingly. Curt chuckled embarrassingly, "You can say that. I'm here looking for a friend actually." The man raised a brow, unconvinced by his answer. Ah, Americans. Never not once did a passing one stay to engage in a chat with him, it's always 'mind your own business' and never 'pleasure to meet you'. "Hmph, I see. Well, I hope you'll have a good time here nonetheless, and if you can't find your friend then," The man leaned in real close to his ear and whispered, "I can make your time here still worthwhile." He winked and turned back mingling in with the dining crowd.
Curt tilted his head down in utter embarrassment as he tried to fight the fierce blush that's forming across his face. This is going swimmingly for him . He laughed weakly to himself as he found a deserted booth at the far middle of the room and took a seat.
Alone at last. He took a peek at the booth beside him and saw the intense necking session happening. Blinking in disbelief, he quickly looked back down at his table.
It really does take some getting used to around here.
A waiter came by just then asking if he wanted anything to drink, he asked for a glass of sherry and the waiter left to fulfill the order. He took this moment to retrieve the photograph of his objective from his coat pocket and placed it under the low light of the room, Carvour's face brightened in existence.
Curt stared at the photograph intently, registering his notable features and such. Eyebrows, kind eyes, a smile that will draw you in too deep- he banished the last thought and amended his observation. A smile that will draw you in and snuff you out.
"Here you go, sir." The waiter returned with a glass, condensation forming on the edges of the cup. Curt nodded in response and stuffed the photograph back inside his pocket. He curled his fingers around the glass and brought it to his mouth taking a sip. As he does so, his eyes scanned his surrounding area latching onto patrons that may or may not be his person in question.
Just then, the music slowed.
The quick stepping, fast dancing couples slowed down in pace and started swaying with each other as new additions joined them on the dance floor, one of them who is Carvour.
His person in question who’s dressed in a navy tailcoat dragged his partner by hand and pulled him into a close embrace, hands resting on his partner's hips as they swayed to the smooth music. A coy smile graces his face.
Curt felt his heart skip a beat and at the same time took a nosedive, realising he could never pursue a relationship like this in his line of work. And Carvour is taken.
Hold that thought . He covers his face in disbelief. "By Christ, I'm here on business purposes, not a time to fall for my objective. Get a grip."
He psyched himself up by downing the entire glass of sherry then made his way down the rows of tables till he reached the dance floor. He has never felt more like an outsider here sticking out like a sore thumb, a loser. Everyone was too absorbed in their own little bubble to pay Curt any mind,
Except for Carvour, who has his partner's back faced to the front as he glanced over his shoulder to Curt. Eyes that somehow burn with a dangerous glint, unsettling and knowledgeable. He knows something he doesn't and it unnerves Curt a lot. He felt lightheaded, unsure if it was the side effects of having a sherry too quickly, being flirted against by a stranger or getting increasingly flustered by the person that he's supposed to be nabbing valuable information from but instead he's longing for a love he'll never experience. He hasn't a clue and had made an attempt to leave when he felt a tap on his shoulder in which he whipped around to find Carvour smiling radiantly at him.
Just his luck.
"May I?" He swept the dance floor with an inviting hand.
"I, uh, I-"
"I see you're having troubles with words, I'll just take that as a yes if you don't mind." He led Curt to the less crowded part of the floor and coaxed him close. Hands encircled his neck and Curt naturally placed his hands on the small of his back.
Done so awkwardly he should say.
Curt tried to look over his shoulder for his previous partner and immediately found himself looking at a gloomy face with envious eyes staring right back at him. He successfully pissed off a stranger, great.
Carvour redirected his gaze back to him by voicing his concern, "You alright there, love?" Curt looked at him, momentarily forgotten he was locked in this embrace. "Oh, I can't help noticing your partner glaring at me at the back," He admitted sheepishly. "I really don't mind opting out of this dance if it would lessen his worry of the threat I pose in which I'll potentially steal your heart and make it mine."
His subconscious did a mental slap on the forehead.
"Uh- what I meant to say was..." He trailed off. "I don't know what I'm trying to say here."
Carvour chuckled, "That's alright, dear. I perfectly understood your worry and let me quell it by justifying that he," He jerked his head at the direction of the glaring partner "Is just a dance partner I'd pick when I'm here, beyond the doors of this establishment, we are nothing. So you have absolutely nothing to worry your pretty little head over." He smiled.
Under the dimming lights, that smile appeared more radiantly than it should've and he was ever so mesmerized by it, time almost lost its grip on him if it weren't for Owen speaking up.
"Name's Owen by the way and you are?"
He really debated if he should stick with his cover but he thought with his heart rather than his mind and that's where it was a losing battle as his heart was already won over by the charms this man has over him.
"Curt " He answered with an urgency that it's something that must be spoken into existence.
"Glad to make your acquaintance, Curt."
They rotated around the room. It would be nice to just enjoy this dance on its own but it was inevitably time to start asking the hard questions.
Curt cleared his throat, "So, what do you do for a living?"
"Coming on a little too hot now aren't you?" He stated amusingly. "You're unpredictable, Curt."
"So are you," Curt retorted. "I noticed your 'dance partner' has a golden manacle on their finger and why, look at that, so do you."
For the few moments that passed between them swaying gently to the tune, Owen didn't utter a single syllable, he just gazed at Curt, an unidentifiable look clouding his eyes, lips pressed into a thin line. It read like danger was emerging on its surface and he was well prepared to face any blows that might rain upon him.
That was till Owen just started chuckling to himself. "Oh, you're a real laugh. Curt, love, if you had just taken a second to take a closer look at your surroundings, you would have noticed how most of us own a golden cuff? It's not an exclusive piece of jewelry only reserved for the selected few. I wasn't taking the mick when I told you that, he really is just my dance partner."
Curt scrunched his eyes in embarrassment. This was swell. He reopened his eyes and the sight of Owen immediately made him want to close them again. "I am so sorry. I say things without thinking them through sometimes." He groaned, cowing his head in on Owen's shoulder, "You must think me an idiotic fool."
The other man's hand stroked through his hair in soothing motion. "It's really alright, you did no harm there."
Curt nodded, lifting his head up.
"Say, how would you like to accompany me for a side conversation later? We can sit out somewhere and converse properly this time if you'd like? It's no pressure but I would like to learn more about you." Owen asked, a tinge of hopefulness evident all over his entire person. Curt, despite himself found his heart picked up in pace and this time round it wasn't from any negative feelings, it's one which is the bee's knees, the berries, pure joy.
Curt returned a shy smile, a smile which Owen reciprocated and they swayed back into the center of the room, merging with the others that are dancing to the same tempo. Slow, intimate and in their own universes as time rotated by, seconds turning into a millennia of heads resting against shoulders, hands that are wrapped around warm bodies and hushed words that were uttered in between persons.
Everything blurred out of existence.
They were the last to leave the establishment. The dance floor has long been deserted and the live band were almost done packing their instruments, tables and booths are eerily silent now as if the lively environment which existed till twenty minutes ago were something of an illusion. When Curt suggested they leave with the trickling crowd, Owen insisted they'd stay to help clean up which Curt came to learn is something Owen would do every time he visits. A true gentleman. The owner, a man in his fifties, hugged the both of them farewell and thanked them earnestly for their helping hand which Owen waved off as doing a good deed for a dear friend.
They stepped out into the crisp night air and felt the gentlest of breeze circulating, rustling the fallen leaves on the ground. "Sounds like a downpour is on its way." Owen observed. Curt hummed in agreement, "Do you have any place in mind we can hide out for a talk? I live rather far away." "If you don't mind, my flat is just two streets down, we can hole up in there momentarily."
"Oh." Inviting a man you barely knew back into your private sanctuary for a casual chat doesn't seem like the most ideal situation, for all he doesn't know, Curt could potentially be a private eye hired by someone to extract potentially life threatening information from.
Which he was.
But, that wasn't what's staggering him. It's the fact he's being invited by a handsome man he unknowingly grew feelings for like the sap he is and just met face to face over four hours ago on the dance floor to follow him into his flat. And who knows what could happen in the flat!
"If you don't mind, I'll just take that as a yes again." He winked and walked off down the road, Curt's brain whilst short circuited knew to quickly follow in his footsteps and off they went en route to The Flat Where Nothing and Everything Could Happen.
Owen switched on the lights, illuminating the room that lies ahead. He sheds his coat and hooked it on the coat stand before making his way over to his small kitchen opening up a cupboard. Curt hesitantly stepped into the flat, lingering by the doorway, it felt forbidden to step inside without full permission. Owen abruptly poked his head from behind the cupboard to look confusingly at him. "Is something the matter?" "Huh?" "Why are you standing in the middle of the doorway? Come in then, you sod." "Oh, right." Curt, feeling like a total dunce, walked in and shut the door behind him. Owen retrieved two mugs from within and set them on the countertop, grabbing two satchels from the open box labelled 'Twinings', he placed each in both mugs and filled them with hot water from the kettle.
Curt had already found himself a spot on the couch idly looking at the various possessions in place. A painting, Michaelangelo Caravaggio's Basket of Fruit hung above the grey woolen couch. The first object in the room to enrapture his attention as it spanned halfway across the wall, taking up most of its space although it's not the size of the frame which piqued his interest but the fruits depicted in the art was what confuses him the most. They looked perfectly healthy at first glance but upon closer inspection, it showed cracks upon the peels, fruits that have slowly gone into its decaying stage little by little as mold festers over the once clear and bright surface besmirching it to its core.
Definitely an unconventional painting to adorn your humble abode with. Curt shook off the rising chills and looked away.
A record player sat on a corner table against the edge of the wall with a tower of records stacked underneath the table. He could spot the likes of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. The sleeve for Dorsey's 'I'm Getting Sentimental Over You' lies barren leaning against the wall, the vinyl most likely on the player having been spun recently.
And a well loved bookshelf sat right beside it.
He sure does possess a lot of books noting the two piles of books on the ground which had no space left to be fitted in with the rest on the shelf. Impressive, Curt has only managed to get through a book a year.
"Ah, does my collection of literature interest you? I work in a publishing company so some of what you see here are those which I’ve binded myself." said Owen, settling down on the seat beside him as he placed the mugs on the coasters. Curt nodded his head in response, "Have you read all of them?"
"Not particularly, the ones on the floor are those which I've yet to go through."
"Are you a reader yourself?"
"Mm, not really if I'm to be honest but I am trying, my fastest track record at finishing a book is a year. And I know... It's slow."
"Immersing yourself in the words?"
"Not exactly that either, I have a lack of concentration. No matter how hard I try to focus I'd get distracted easily."
Owen gave him an encouraging pat on the knee, "At least, you're making progress." He grabbed a mug off the coffee table, "Here, be mindful it's hot." Curt muttered a thanks and proceeded to take minute sips from it. Owen took the remaining mug but didn't drink from it instead letting the heating surface warm his hands.
The next minute or so passed by in an interchange of sips and silence.
Curt brought the mug up to his mouth, prepared to take down another sip when nothing flowed out. It was empty.
"Is this a ploy to steal my British identity? You love tea more than I do."
Curt scoffed, "Please, I would never want to be British. I can't keep up with your unnecessary amount of accents."
"Says the American with an unnecessary amount of states."
"Alright, enough of that," Owen said in mock indignant. "Tell me what brings you here from America?"
Curt mused about this, he really did. He's faced with the dilemma of whether to let Owen in on the truth since he feels he owes him that much (He really don't, it's his heart talking again) but on the other hand, he's still a detective in the field and a detective doesn't have a say in this, only clients to satisfy. He already let slip his real name, blowing his cover too would be too far gone.
"I needed a breather in my life, I guess." A truth masked as a lie. "I was getting tireless back home; the same routine, same sights, same people and the prospect of having people I've known for most of my life be around me most of the time was starting to feel suffocating. I never got any alone time and I'm obligated to satisfy everyone's needs before mine... so, I made the decision one morning to take the leap. I've not regretted it even a bit. I've never felt this freeing in my life." He grinned. Owen can't help smiling as well seeing Curt doing it so widely that dimples appeared on the edges of his mouth. It was infectious, inexplicably so.
A thought niggling at the back of his mind mocked him, How ironic.
And he's sharing in the joy that Curt got to do something for himself.
You never did the same for him.
"Aren't your loved ones worried about you that you just went up and disappeared?"
I was worried for you.
"Believe me, they know about it. I may be impulsive but I have a heart. I couldn't just up and disappear, my poor mum would be having a fit by now. So, I told them of my decision one fine morning and although they were irritated with my suddenness, they understood my needs in the end and allowed me to pursue this escapade."
If only he had not been so stubborn.
"That's... nice." His voice deflated.
Out of all days, nights, situations and moments it just has to be this moment and night for the supposingly buried securely under lock and key memories to burst open onto the surface. Dousing him with the all too familiar feelings of regret.
You should've done better.
"Is something the matter, Owen?" The grin disappeared and Owen wished he didn't cause it so. "You reminded me of my partner, Christopher."
"...Is that a good thing?"
"And bad. I just-" he sighed tiredly. "I said some god awful things back then that I still regret terribly to this day."
Curt frowned, inching closer to him to shield him from the rest of the room, dead set to not allow any intrusive eyes to look upon Owen in his vulnerable moment. Even if they're alone in here.
"I wouldn't think what you said in the past could be anything thoughtless."
Owen's lips lifted up in a sad, reminiscent smile as he rubbed the ring on his finger with his thumb.
"It was 1914, Christopher had been vocal about wanting to volunteer, expressed his desires to help end that dastardly world war. When I first heard his unwavering determination to join up, I thought he wouldn't go through with it and had only vocalised it because he was caught up in all the call to arms going on which fueled his keenness to help. He was always all mouth but no trousers, claiming he'll do this and that to impress the people around him. That idiot."
Owen huffed sadly, "It was foolish of me to think so and it was even more foolish of me to think I could convince him to not enlist. He had woken me up the following day, all smiles as he broke the news to me his application to enlist got accepted. I didn't take the news well. I lashed out my frustration at him that he didn't run it by me beforehand and he didn't respond all too well to my outburst in fact getting irked by it that he called me too demanding and never letting him do anything without first having to get an approval from me. I told him this is a life or death matter and I didn't want to face the possibility of losing him somewhere far away where I wouldn't even get to be there to save him. The situation just got blown out of proportions even further." He set the mug down on the coaster a little too heavily emitting a dull thud, eyebrows hung aloftly on his head recalling the next course of action. He continued, "Christopher and I were well pissed off with each other by then and for different reasons, and he told me he can't even stand continuing communicating with me anymore so he stormed off and didn't return till early morning where he hastily packed the few essentials and left to report for duty. He didn't even bother waking me up to say goodbye. I was devastated. We left on unresolved anger but every day I thought of him and my love for him never wavered, you know? The quarrel was long gone from my mind and nothing but love for him remained burning brightly in those uncertain times."
Curt fiddled with the mug handle, sitting still doesn't feel right in this moment but neither does this action. He doesn't know why Owen is letting him in on something this personal, he could've chosen not to share that but why did he? This type of information requires confidentiality and trust and Curt is just a man who recently stumbled into his life. After a couple moments of uncertainty, he lets go of the handle.
"I loved him, unfortunately, my love wasn't sufficient enough to prevent his untimely death."
He doesn't know if he's allowed to but he placed a comforting hand on top of Owen's anyway who shot him a grateful look. "On the very last day of September, 1916, a uniformed military man arrived on our doorstep flanked by a medic. That's when I knew right off the bat, something has gone horribly wrong. I clutched the doorframe in distress as he told me what I was exactly afraid to hear," Owen's voice goes a pitch lower as he recited the damned words, "I have been asked to inform you that Christopher Whigham of the Kitchener's Army has been reported dead on the Somme in France at 8:05 p.m.. He was wrongly caught in the ruse set up by the enemies and died from the blast on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt to the north. On the behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I extend to you my deepest sympathy in your great loss." His voice was barely audible now.
"Hey," Curt's voice was soft and sympathetic as he encased his wobbly hand in his, warming his hold. "What happened was unforeseeable and it's definitely not your fault, I know you two left on bad terms but I'll be damned if he didn't love you still and thought about you daily as he fought in the war. You were just incredibly worried for him and trying to exercise caution by asking him to step down, that's love." He said it firmly. Catching Owen's gaze in his, he nodded to assure him he meant what he said. Owen smiled back.
"That was a decade ago now... and although I am doing much better than when I was back then and have for the most part, moved on. A small part of me would always be reminiscing the times we spent together and I've accepted it as it is." A small fond smile graced his face.
"That's good. It isn't necessary for you to move on completely, some individuals just stay with you forever, they become a part of you because you love them so much... It's beautiful that; human connections."
Owen was quietly gazing at him with a newfound curiosity. Eyes a bit teary from getting too absorbed into his past, he saw presently through the clouded vision of his, who Curt is as a person.
"Your heart is too vast for your own good, Curt. I haven't been this honest and open with anyone since a decade ago. And I only just met you this evening." He chuckled in disbelief. Curt felt a pang in his chest, not from hurt, no. It is of gratitude and validation, he hasn't heard a single positive comment from the people around him for as long as he can recall, so much so he just accepted them like bullets. "That's something I don't hear often, most of the time I'm being told I'm too uncaring. Or infuriating. A good for nothing mess up."
"I haven't a clue who told you that but they couldn't have been farther from the truth. The man that was with me tonight, the Curt I got to learn and observe through his charming yet awkwardly shy demeanour, his tendency to prove he's brighter than he looks to be and his compassion... Oh, it's never ending. I do realise the briefness of the time frame I've got to know you but take my word when I say that, you are well above the degrading remarks being tossed at you. I firmly believe it."
Owen squeezes his hand in confirmation to cement in the fact he meant every word. His eyes were looking upon him so intently and full of trust, Curt could almost weep openly in this very room were it not for the fact he's supposed to be consoling Owen. Even with that thought in mind, here he was, letting a tear slip. A pure, unplanned accident. It brimmed at his right eye as it filled up and overflowed, a droplet of liquid rolling down his cheek till it was not as a thumb came to brush it away. Amidst the warm sensation of being held by a gentle hand, he closes his eyes and ravishes in the tender, vulnerable moment.
"Curt?" Owen had whispered rather softly. "Yes?" He whispered back.
"Is it acceptable if I do what I plan to do next?"
"I believe so."
One moment he was embraced with the feeling of warmth against his cheek and the next, the warmth too claimed his lips. Gentle movements, spreading warmth and the feeling of being so appreciated and loved. It's a foreign combination, one Curt hasn't had the chance to experience firsthand but seen through observation of romantic partners in public. It was a mystery how two individuals in love could unwind each other and break them down to their rawest and caring form, a state that leaves one feeling light-hearted and freeing. Curt had doubted it could be that extraordinary, it's a basic form of showing affection after all. But, no one had let him in on a secret. The secret which turns a simple kiss into countless things; a conversation, an embrace, a declaration, an art, a relief and an immense amount of euphoria.
Owen stopped, breathing lightly with his lips poised against the side of his, a hand still holding his cheek. "You're wonderful, so wonderful."
"I could say the same about you." Opening his eyes, he is met with the gentle pair of Owen Carvour who is looking at him in awe.
"Would you care to stay the night?" He murmured. "With me?"
Curt took hold of his hand that's still on his cheek and guided it towards him, intertwining them till their palms were pressed against each other, fingers brushing lightly.
The lights in the living room turned off.
Two silhouettes entered the bedroom.
Laying there in the dark, facing each other, neither speaking just basking in the mutual silence they're sharing. A renewed lightness returned into his life, one he had been desperately searching for as long as he had breathed as the other man for the first time in a decade, felt his wounds starting to recover at a gingerly pace and his façade he has so carefully built over the years crumbled.
Rest came easily.
Hands still intertwined together, no one quite wants to let go.
Their breaths evened out.
The painting in the living room gleamed brightly against the moonlight drifting in through the window and if anyone were to take a closer look, they'd notice the fruits were ripe and whole. No trace of the cracks and mold were seen again. Some might argue it's a trick of the eye on whether or not there had been any blemishes to the artwork but it really does fall on the belief of an individual and how determined they are to stand by it. If one believes they are whole again then their strong belief would turn it into a reality as it's never about what you see but what you believe it to be.