Adrian heads back from the pub mulling over seeing Lenny Day again.
Adrian Lamperton strolled the street towards his flat, his taupe and mandarin backpack dangling from his right shoulder, downcast eyes scouring the pavement. Lenny Day’s face haunted his thoughts. Angry Lenny—the moody junior at Cranmer Secondary—back then already a good looking boy, he had truly grown into a fine looking man. He sported a full head of salt and pepper hair and a matching goatee, both well groomed, which made him even sexier. One of the untouchables, unfortunately. Even if there had been a remote possibility of Lenny being attracted to other men, he was well out of Adrian’s league. Too good looking, too smart, and more than likely successful bearing in mind the way he dressed and how comfortable he seemed in his own skin. No, Lenny Day was light years from anything Adrian had to offer.
High school had been a long time ago. Lenny had been one of the few who didn’t hero-worship Adrian, had openly scowled at him during his early years there, every time they passed each other in the corridor. To this day Adrian had no idea why. Which is why he’d dropped his gaze earlier when they walked past each other. Not that Lenny would remember him. Adrian raised his head when the sign for Hope Street came into view, and breathed out a chuckle. No hope, more like, he thought, and then wondered what had brought Lenny back to town. Most people who managed to escape Drayton rarely returned.
Caught on a rogue breeze, odours of fragrant fried food caught his stomach’s attention and had his mouth watering. Turning a corner, he faltered to a stop outside one of Drayton’s two Chinese Takeaways, Hong Kong House, and peered inside relieved to find the waiting area empty. As soon as the door pinged on opening, a cheeky young Asian face shot up from behind the counter.
“Lemme guess,” said the son of the Malaysian Chinese owner who was far too young to be working there, but enjoyed bantering with customers. “Sweet and sour chicken balls in batter, special fried rice, and crispy spring rolls?”
Adrian, caught off guard, wondered if he was becoming predictable, whether he should choose something different. Absently, he walked to the counter, picked up a copy of the laminated menu and scanned both sides. But he already knew he’d order what he always did. Uncle Pat, who had taken him in and found him a job after the events he never wanted to remember had gone down, had once called him a ‘creature of habit’. At the time, Adrian hadn’t understood the expression, but now he could see how insightful his uncle had been. Putting the menu back down, he nodded to Bernard.
“Thought so. You’re one of our reliables, Mr Ralph,” said the boy, scrawling the order onto a notepad, as if he could hear Adrian’s thoughts. Since his first time to the takeaway, the boy had referred to him as Mr Ralph and he’d never asked why. Until one of the young bar staff at The Red Lion had overheard him mentioning the fact and started laughing, told him he was being compared to the lead character in an arcade game called Wreck-It Ralph.
“Hey, why don’t you download our app. If you order online, it remembers your past orders, so you just press repeat each time. And we’ll have everything ready for you to pick up. Or we can even deliver straight to your home, save you a trip.”
Adrian rubbed a hand across his mouth to cover his grin. The way the world continuously sought out ways to streamline everything in life and, in doing so, avoid human contact, he’d never have to step outside his front door again. Oddly enough, that simple thought simultaneously warmed and terrified the hell out of him.
“Don’t even know how to operate the camera on my phone.” That wasn’t strictly true, but he enjoyed seeing the look of shocked disgust on the boy’s face. “If I had my way, I’d still be using my old Nokia 3310.”
“They’re back in production, did you know? Nokia’s resurrected them. Sick retro styles in bright colours, but all fitted with modern apps and add-ons. Pretty damn cool, actually.”
Adrian shook his head and breathed out a sigh of exasperation.
“Ha! I bet you still have one of those Sony cassette things—”
“—and a crappy old black and white television the size of a packing crate?”
“Just put my order in, please,” said Adrian, firmly, but smirking. Although he didn’t have a Walkman, he did have an old fashioned colour television, not a modern flatscreen.
“Hello, Mr Lamperton. Don’t worry, love. I already prepare your order,” came the cheerful voice of the boy’s mother, only her mouth and nose appearing in the small kitchen hatch, before she issued a scary screech. “Bernard! I tell you before. Stop annoy customer.”
“Yes, ma,” called the boy, while sharing a conspiratorial grin with Adrian.
Adrian paid up the usual amount, and as he took a seat on one of the chairs dotted around the walls, his mobile phone rang.
“It's Pete,” interrupted the familiar voice of his pal, Pete Ross.
“Hey, mate. What’s up?”
“Job’s off next week.”
“Oh,” said Adrian, unable to mask his disappointment. “I see.”
“Old man Mackerson pulled the plug. Says he doesn’t have the funds right now.”
Adrian cursed silently under his breath. He’d been relying on work at the Mackerson property mainly to keep him busy but also to help top up his depleted current account until May, when better weather usually meant business ramping up. Work in the building trade had almost seized up since before Christmas and the Mackerson job—laying the foundations and building the extension at the back of the house—would’ve kept him busy and in credit for the next couple of months. Now he only had a couple of odd jobs to tide him over.
“Have you forked out for any gear,” Adrian asked.
“Partially. But nothing I can’t re-use, if he pulls out entirely.”
“Okay. Well, thanks for letting me know.”
Pete stayed on the line, probably sensing Adrian’s disappointment.
“Look, if anything else comes up in the meantime, I’ll call you.”
“But you know what it’s like this time of year.”
“Of course I do.”
With the call ended, he threw himself back in the chair. Somehow or another, he needed another plan of action, not really because of the money—he hadn’t touched a penny of the funds in his savings account, the sizeable inheritance from his grandmother—but because too much time alone and being inactive might threaten to put Adrian back in a dark place. And he never wanted to go anywhere near there again.
“Were your ears burning last Friday?” asked the boy, Bernard, peering over the counter.
“Your ears. Mrs Sullivan at 26 Collywell Lane was in here nonstop talking about you. I think she fancies you.”
Adrian dropped his gaze to the floor and grinned. Septuagenarian Eileen Sullivan had been widowed for two years. When his mother mentioned any of her church friends having problems about the house—Mrs Sullivan’s being her broken central heating—Adrian took that as a cue for him to help out. The poor woman had spent most of the winter in one room under a blanket, using an ancient electric heater to keep her warm. Adrian knew most heating systems and, by trial and error—checking the thermostat, boiler pilot light, and bleeding the radiators—got her system back up and running. Payment for helping any of his mother’s friends out always came in terms of a nice mug of tea. One of his builder buddies told him he was too nice for his own good, and would make a hopeless businessman.
When he looked up, a bag of food sat in a white plastic bag on the counter. Standing, he went to the counter and found Bernard playing some kind of arcade game on his phone.
“This mine?” he called out.
“You see anyone else in here?” said Bernard, without even looking up from the game.
Adrian huffed out a sigh, picked up the bag and headed out, but stopped to hold the door open as a young couple walked in, hand in hand. For a few seconds he stood there, envying their closeness, before flipping up the collar up on his jacket and heading for home.
Barely a soul inhabited the high street on his way back. From time to time, cars hissed by on the damp tarmac, their wheels slick with the recent rain. As he turned the corner into the road where his apartment block lay, he stopped abruptly.
Parked on the road behind his truck sat a tell-tale white Ford Fiesta, the number plate instantly recognisable. Inside, the driver’s silhouette had already spotted him, because the driver’s door began to open. Annoyance spiked in Adrian, even though he tried to tell himself to remain calm.
“What do you want, Nick?” he called out, remaining where he stood.
“Come on, Ade. Is that any way to greet a mate?”
“You’re not my mate. Go home to Janice. She needs you.”
“Like hell she does. She won’t let me near her.”
Nick leaned against his car, and even with a hand braced on the bonnet for support, he still swayed. He’d clearly been drinking.
“She must be about due, so of course she’s irritable. Go home in case she needs you.”
“Bollocks. She don’t even want touch—want me to touch her. Told me to leave her alone—”
“How much have you drunk?”
“What do you care? Fuck all else to do these days.”
Adrian let out a deep sigh. Six months ago, one Friday night, he’d made a classic mistake. Usually when he needed to let off sexual steam, he would board the two-hour express train to London, book into one of the bulk standard hotels he knew so well for the weekend, and trawl the abundant gay scene for a random and, most importantly, anonymous hook-up. Exorcise the demons, so to speak. Best of all, he could do so and disappear in the morning, knowing he’d never have to see or hear from the person again.
Why he’d wandered into the small gay bar in Norwich—Chappies—tucked away down one of the backstreets, he couldn’t say. Rule number one in his book: never hook-up on your own doorstep, because even as a city, Norwich was simply too small. But he had broken the rule and there at the bar he’d stumbled upon handsome Nick, who bought him a drink and chatted amiably, and then eagerly accepted the offer to come back to Adrian’s apartment. A voracious bottom, Nick had pushed all the right buttons for the no-strings hook-up—no foreplay, kissing or intimate touching, just a pure sexual workout—and then disappeared. With hindsight, he should never have agreed to swap numbers, or to subsequent casual sex.
And then, two months ago, they bumped into each other at midday on the pedestrian crossing on the high street in Norwich. Nick pushed a young boy in a pushchair and had a beautiful but heavily pregnant woman on his arm. A clearly flustered Nick quickly introduced Adrian as an old friend from school and then presented his wife, Janice, and son, Todd. Since then, Nick had turned up twice to Adrian’s home and been told in no uncertain terms where to go. Adrian had taken only one of his calls, where he’d apologised profusely until Adrian had quietly accepted before telling him to have a good life. At first, he’d also blocked Nick’s number, until the man started ringing his shared site office, leaving messages with his workmates.
“Look, I just want a chat. Don’t have anyone else. Five minutes. And looks like you got enough grub in the bag for two.”
“Nick, you’ve got to stop this.”
“I’ll just stay for a minute, I promise.”
“And you’ll get a cab home, if I call one? You’re not driving in that condition.”
“I said I promise, didn’t I?”
“Don’t mess me around, Nick. I’m not in the mood. I’ll make you some black coffee, give you a share of this food, and call you a cab. That’s it. You’re not staying.”
Adrian’s flat sat on the ground floor of a former council block in a side road off Drayton High Street. Accessed via a double-glass front door and an entry code, Nick walked unsteadily ahead of him over to the now familiar door. Adrian joined him and punched in the number, and a few steps inside, unlocked the front door to his apartment. Standing to one side, he let Nick in first and from the pungent breath, could tell Nick had drunk his fair share of beer and spirits that night.
Adrian closed the door behind them and followed the soft footfalls on the tiled floor. At the end of the corridor, Nick had opened another door into the compact flat with its single bedroom, separate bathroom, and an open kitchen overlooking the small living area. Since moving in five years ago, he’d made a few improvements—replaced the windows at the front with double-glazing to cancel out the noise of traffic; added a modern kitchen and appliances to make the place more functional; even provided a lick of paint to freshen the place up. The only touch of his own personality came in the form of some of his design sketches, as well as black and white photographs of old buildings he’d worked on lining the hall corridor, some originally built a few a centuries ago. In his living room, a huge poster sized picture of one of Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs projects, one of his most ambitious projects set on the borders of Wales and England, filled his living room wall.
“Sit down and I’ll make you a coffee.”
Familiar with the space, Nick headed straight for the settee, but perched unsteadily on the arm and watched Adrian move around the kitchen.
“Got anything stronger?”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
“Fuck’s sake,” said Nick, scowling at the carpet. “You sound like my missus.”
Adrian stopped filling the kettle and stared at Nick. After a moment, he went to the fridge and pulled out a can of lager. For a second he was about to toss the tin to Nick, but then thought better and brought it over.
Adrian said nothing, and once he’d watched Nick snap open the ring top, he returned to the kitchen to plate the food.
“How do you do it?” Adrian asked, calmly.
“How do I do what?”
“Live with yourself. Sneaking around and getting fucked by men behind your wife’s back?”
“You may find this hard to believe, but I love Jan. And I don’t know what you’re thinking, but sex between us is amazing. I have no complaints there. She just can’t give me everything I need.”
Nick took an emphatic toke of the beer, swaying a little on the arm of the chair.
Having finally finished divvying up the food, and pulling out a couple of forks from the cutlery drawer, Adrian brought both plates into the living room and handed one to Nick.
“You telling me you’ve never been with a woman?” asked Nick, putting his beer down and shovelling a forkful of fried rice into his mouth
“What? Not even in high school? Good looking bloke like you?”
“Not even in high school.”
“A boyfriend, then?”
Adrian didn’t want to talk about his own situation. He had dealt with things messy and complicated at far too young an age and didn’t need any more now.
“Bloody hell. That sounds lonely.”
“I do okay. I get what I need, whenever I need it.”
“Yeah, don’t you just. That huge fucking cock of yours is addictive. Why do you think I keep coming back for more?”
Both men continued to eat in silence. When Nick put down his half eaten food on the coffee table and picked up his beer, Adrian spoke.
“So you’re bi, then?”
“Suppose so. Whatever that means.”
“Aren’t you worried she might find out? I mean, surely I’m not the only bloke you’ve fucked around with behind her back? Norwich isn’t exactly huge.”
“She won’t find out,” said Nick, decisively, finishing his beer and crushing the can in his hand.
“Good luck with that. Do you go with other women, too?”
“Never. Why is that so difficult for people to understand? You know what my perfect scenario would be? To fuck Jan while someone like you fucks me from behind. Just the thought makes me hard. Don’t suppose you’d be up for it if I—”
Nick snorted and continued shovelling food into his mouth.
“Worth asking. What do you do for fun, then, Ade?”
A silence fell between them. Nick dropped the beer can onto his plate.
“I need to piss,” he said, standing unsteadily.
“You know where it is. I’ll call the cab company.”
“I can do that. I have a speed-dial number plugged into my phone. Let me pee first.”
Without waiting for a response Nick stumbled down the corridor to the bathroom. With Nick gone, Adrian boiled the kettle, pulled down the largest mug he could find and added two heaped spoonfuls of instant coffee. Nick needed to sober up a notch before he faced his wife. Once he’d finished clearing their plates, he filled the mug with hot water, stirred, and then brought the mug over to the small coffee table. Nick had still not reappeared.
“Nick, are you okay?” he called out.
After five minutes without getting a response, Adrian headed to his bathroom, only to find the room empty, and pee over the toilet seat. Next door, in his bedroom, he found Nick lying face down diagonally across the double bed, snoring softly. Not only that, but he had managed to remove his trousers and lay there now with them around his ankles, his underpants pulled down to his knees to reveal the beautiful smooth globes of his arse. Just then, the hand phone on the bed next to him began ringing, with one word appearing on the display: JAN. Adrian put his hand on Nick’s shoulder and shook him roughly.
“Nick! Wake up, you idiot.”
Adrian’s efforts produced only a couple of gulped snores from Nick who remained asleep. After a few moment’s hesitation, Adrian picked up the persistently ringing phone and answered. Before he had a chance to speak, a shrill voice hurled expletives at him down the phone. Once she had calmed down, Adrian began to speak.
“Hi there, Janice. This is Adrian, Nick’s—um—school friend. We met on the high street. No, no, don’t panic, nothing bad’s happened. Nick had a bit too much to drink and turned up at my flat, and now he’s passed out, fast asleep. I’ve been trying to wake him, and pour him into a cab, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I can’t even get him to wake up. Yes, I don’t mind letting him sleep it off here, I suppose. His car’s outside, so he can drive home in the morning. No, it’s fine. I understand. You take good care.”
After ending the call, Adrian stared down at the sleeping beauty. Had he been a less honourable man, he might have slipped on a condom and had his way with Nick, which was clearly the reason Nick had come round that night. But that boat had well and truly sailed.
After pulling off Nick’s shoes and jeans, and pulling up his underpants, Adrian arranged him more comfortably on the bed. Once finished, he grabbed a blanket from his bedroom closet and made himself as comfortable as possible on the settee.
With the light still burning from a standing lamp, his thoughts drifted back to the face of Lenny Day.
In another life, he thought, I wonder if we might have been friends?
Thank you for reading.
All reactions, comments, and especially wild speculation about what happens next, will be taken very seriously.