“He called himself The Prince on HIM,” Freddie told them.
“We had a dog called Prince, when I was little,” Jeff said.
“They were probably related,” Freddie replied.
“Was Prince his real name?” Vee asked.
“No. It was Eric,” Freddie said, his voice dripping with distain.
The four of them were sitting at one of the tables in The Steaming Pot of Coffee. They had headed straight there after college, having agreed to do so at lunchtime. They each had their different drinks in front of them and were sharing two generous slices of cake. The coffee shop had been almost empty when they arrived, with only a few other customers dotted around at other tables. The man behind the counter, the same tall man with his hair in the same top-knot, had smiled his welcome at them.
Simon liked this place, as it felt warm and comfortable. But most of all he liked the company of Freddie, Vee and Jeff. Almost the moment they had sat down, Freddie had begun a story about a man who’d messaged him the night before via the HIM dating app.
Simon took a sip from his hot chocolate, which he had bought because he had never liked the bitter taste of coffee. He was leaning forward, resting his elbows on the table, enjoying Freddie’s story.
“This Eric just messaged me out of the blue last night,” Freddie said. “My mother was watching this crap documentary on the telly about some sad slapper who made a career out of reality TV. Really sad. So when this Eric messaged me I was so glad of the distraction.”
“My mum wanted to watch that documentary, too,” Vee said. “I wrote my essay about leadership styles while it was on, I was that bored.”
“This Eric sends me the usual message: how am I, what am I doing, what colour underwear have I got on? And he sends me his dick pic,” Freddie said.
“Why do men always send each other dick pics on these dating apps?” Vee asked. “Women don’t send each other pussy pictures.”
“It’s a kind of gay Tourette’s,” Jeff said.
“It is?” Vee asked, bouncing on her chair with interest.
“I don’t know,” Jeff said. “But it sounds good.”
“My story, please,” Freddie said, tapping his finger on the table.
“Do tell us more,” said Vee, smiling back at Freddie.
“I get chatting to this Eric. Well, messaging on HIM. Then, really out of the blue, this Eric asks me if I want to be mummified?”
“Like the ancient Egyptians did?” asked Simon.
“No, he wanted to strip me naked, wrap me in cling film from head to toe, with only a little gap over my mouth so I could breath. Then he wanted to wank over me.” Freddie explained.
“That sounds as bad as what the ancient Egyptians did,” Vee said.
“What do you get out of it?” Simon asked.
“If you’re into it, then a hell of a lot. But if you’re not, fuck all, and not even a fuck.,” Freddie said. “The idea did nothing for me, so I told him to fuck off and then I blocked him. I mean, I’m into a bit of role-play and a bit of arse smacking to get me in the mood, but not bondage with someone I don’t know. I mean, I’m not letting some total stranger tie me up and tie me down to a bed. I’d be totally helpless and he could do with me whatever he wanted; fuck me without a condom, mess up my hair, anything. If I’m shagging around with some hook-up then I want to be in control of all my limbs. If he tries on something funny that I don’t like, then I can pull my underpants back on, tell him to fuck off and leave. I can’t do that if I’m tied to some unknown perv’s bed.”
“We get it,” Vee said, waving her fork over their piece of chocolate caked.
“That HIM app is only good for finding hook-ups, it’s no place to find a boyfriend,” Jeff said.
“But hook-ups can be so much fun,” Freddie said, smiling.
“And without them you’d have to go back to complaining about your parents,” Vee said.
“And that is so last year,” Freddie added. “And I nearly forgot to mention about going to Hades the Friday after next.”
“Don’t say you’d forgotten that we’re going? Don’t say you’re losing it?” Jeff laughed.
“I hadn’t forgotten. But we haven’t invited Simon.” Freddie said.
“Hades? The gay club in town?” Simon asked.
“That’s the one, and it’s fabulous,” Freddie told him.
“Freddie would have us go every week if we could,” Jeff said.
“If my dumb parents weren’t so funny about it,” Freddie said. “My father goes and reads one online article about it, and by some holy-roller nut job, and he thinks the place is Sodom and Gomorrah. I get the third degree every time I want to go.”
“And it’s not as if Hades is that exciting or anything,” Vee said. “It’s certainly no Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Not even when they had half price drinks,” Jeff added.
“I think it’s fabulous. Well it’s as near as we’re ever going to get to it around here,” Freddie said. “What about Simon? We need to take him to Hades with us next Friday.”
“Do you want to go to Hades?” Jeff asked, smiling broadly at Simon.
“I don’t know.” Simon replied, doubt pushing the honesty into his words.
“Have you ever been to a gay club before?” Jeff asked.
“No. Never,” He told Jeff.
“Nothing bad will happen to you in Hades,” Vee told him. “Nothing bad ever happens there.”
“We’ll be with you,” Jeff said.
“The worst that has ever happened to me there was that some guy I didn’t fancy tried to pick me up. You just have to tell them to fuck off, that’s all,” Freddie said.
“But will they let me in? I’m not eighteen.”
“None of us are eighteen and we easily get in,” Jeff said.
“They never check IDs as long as you look right,” Vee told him.
“But I don’t look right. I just look like this. I don’t have any party clothes.”
Simon admitted the truth. All the clothes he had were the ones he wore for college. His mum didn’t hide the fact that they didn’t have a lot of money, so he didn’t think he could ask her for money for expensive clothes just to go to a gay club in.
“I can lend you some clothes,” offered Jeff.
Simon felt a momentary rush of excitement. He could be wearing Jeff’s clothes. Clothes that had been next to Jeff’s skin would be next to his. It was a silly fantasy, because that was probably the closest he would ever come to Jeff’s body. Handsome and confident, Jeff wouldn’t be interested in him as a boyfriend. But at least he had Jeff as a friend.
“A makeover! Oh, I’m so up for that!” Freddie exclaimed with delight. “Simon, I’ll make you look fabulous!”
“He’ll have to borrow clothes off Jeff. Your clothes will be too small for him,” Vee told Freddie.
Simon felt a momentary rush of excitement again. Vee was supporting him, and he could get to feel Jeff’s clothes next to his skin.
“It’s one of the many things I got off my parents. Wonderful genes,” Freddie said. He then turned to Simon. “But I’ll make you look fabulous. You'll turn every head in Hades.”
“You’ll make him look like a Rent Boy,” Jeff said.
“It’s a look,” Freddie protested.
“I’ll sort you out something to wear that’ll make you look great,” Jeff said.
“Thanks,” Simon said.
“Fabulous,” Freddie told them. “A group outing!”
“God, you make us sound like a junior school trip,” Jeff said.
“My school trips were never that much fun,” Freddie replied. “You’ll be going to your first gay club. You’ll have a fabulous time. We'll make sure you do. And we’ll easily find you a new boyfriend there.”
“I don’t know if I want a boyfriend,” Simon replied. “Not at the moment.”
“Of course you do!” Freddie exclaimed. “We all want a boyfriend. Even Vee wants one now and again.”
“Thank you,” Vee said, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
“Maybe Simon doesn’t want a boyfriend. Maybe he just wants a good night out,” Jeff suggested.
“We’ll certainly make sure you have a good night out, trust me on that,” Freddie said.
“Thanks, but I don’t really drink,” Simon admitted.
“Neither do we. The price of drinks in that place are astronomical. We just drink diet cokes,” Freddie said. “Anyway, I like to keep a clear head when I’m trying to hook up. I’m a no trolls zone.”
“We’re not drinkers either,” Jeff said.
“Thanks,” Simon replied.
Their words were reassuring, but also exciting. They were involving him in their lives. They wanted him to be part of their group and he had barely known them a week. He liked this feeling of friendship. He liked it a lot, and it felt so safe.
“Talking about class outings,” Vee said. “The Fire Station is showing Brokeback Mountain all next week. We should go and see it, all of us after college one afternoon.”
“I’ve never seen Brokeback Mountain,” Simon admitted without thinking.
“You’ve never seen Brokeback Mountain?” Freddie exclaimed, his voice rising in shock. “Where have you been?”
“We don’t have Sky TV at home,” Simon said.
It was the shortest explanation he could offer. He didn’t want to explain the years of living with his Grandma, where television was limited and highly censured. His Grandma would have never let him a watch a film like Brokeback Mountain. When he had moved into Niki’s home there weren't the same restrictions, but Brokeback Mountain wasn’t one of the DVD’s she owned. Money wasn’t abundant, though, so Sky TV and their movie channels were something Niki and his mum couldn’t afford. Nor had he watched it when he’d lived with his parents in their own house, before moving into Grandma’s house. He heard enough about how wonderful Sky TV was from the other kids at school. It was just another thing that he kept silent about, because it made him feel different from the other kids there. He’d heard about Brokeback Mountain, though. He'd heard that it was good, but it still hadn’t pricked at his interest.
“It’s only the best gay film they’ve ever made,” Freddie said.
“You say that about every gay film you like. Especially if there’s a decent amount of male nudity in it,” Vee said.
“I like a lot of films but Brokeback Mountain is one of the greatest,” Freddie said. “Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are fit and fabulous as cowboys. And they’re in love.”
“It’s a really good film about two cowboys who fall in love in the nineteen-sixties but they can’t be together because of all society's prejudices and homophobia back then,” Jeff explained. “It really is a good film.”
“We could all go together next Wednesday after college. They've got a five o’clock showing,” Vee said, consulting her phone as she spoke. Obviously she was looking up the screening times on it.
“Sounds good to me,” Jeff said.
“Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger? Sounds fabulous to me. I’d happily ride the range with a cowboy like them. Just me, a hunky cowboy, the open prairie, and no one nosy around. Ride me cowboy!” Freddie said, delight and fun dripping from his voice.
“Down boy, down!” Vee said. “God, it’s not porn.”
“I know. It's art. Porn is what you get for free with a decent internet connection,” Freddie replied.
“Great. We’re not just going to sit on our arses every afternoon,” Vee said.
“And there’s the Youth Group Simon knows of,” Jeff continued. “We should go to there as well.”
“God, yes,” Freddie added. “I’ve checked out their website and they look really fun. And there’s some really fit guys there.”
“Is your mum’s girlfriend still willing to give us all a lift?” Jeff asked him, turning .to face Simon.
“Yes. She said so,” Simon replied.
At that moment Simon’s phone let out a loud beeping noise. Hurriedly he pulled it out of his jacket pocket. But he didn’t need to open it to know what the text was about. The home screen told him it was from his dad, and the first line of the text told him what it was about. “The Release Trust” were the only words he needed to read.
“Who’s your admirer?” Jeff asked.
“Just my dad. Nothing important,” Simon replied, quickly trying to dismiss the text.
Freddie gave him a quick but a strange look. It was as if Freddie, too, knew what was in the text. But he didn’t say anything, just gave Simon a little nod. Simon gave him a quick smile, and pushed the phone back into his pocket as Vee started talking about a new television program she’d heard about.
A big thank you to @Marty, who has done a wonderful job editing this story. Please check out his profile and his stories here.