It wasn’t a particularly unusual occurrence for them, being called out to the home of some older person who’d fallen and broken a hip, and within minutes Stuart and Rachid were getting the patient safely into the ambulance. Ashley was bringing up the rear, only to stop dead when he almost collided with the young guy in the doorway.
“Sorry, mate, we’ll be…” he looked up and the words he’d been about to say vanished. He swallowed. “You the guy who called us?”
“Yeah. Jon, I’m Jon… I live next door… Mr Mormont doesn’t have any family around here so I kinda look out for him. I work from home a lot so it’s no trouble…” Jon flushed and looked away for a moment. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to babble on at you like that. I don’t normally do that to guys I just met.”
Ashley shrugged. “No worries, mate. I’m Ashley.” He flashed Jon a quick smile and started moving towards to open door.
“Um…” he heard Jon say, “do you want to… get a drink, or something? Later, I mean.”
He looked at Jon, with his curly dark hair and thoughtful eyes, taking in the scuffed trainers and the old knitted jumper. Jon was the opposite of the guys he normally saw. And yet… without really knowing what he was doing, he said “Yeah, ok”. Jon flushed bright red and handed him a scrap of paper with a mobile number.
“Call me, OK?”
“Sure,” Ashley said, shoving the paper into his pocket as he hurried out.
“What took you so long?” Stuart said as he climbed back into the ambulance. “Was the neighbour distracting you?”
“We were just talking.”
“So are you gonna call him?” Rachid added.
“I thought you liked the big muscular guys….”
“Stuart, I… you know what, I don’t even know why I bother telling you two anything….”
Stuart and Rachid exchanged a look. “Uh-oh,” Stuart said, “this isn’t going to end well…”
Ashley hadn’t called him. He knew that he should, that there was something about Jon that made him curious, but he felt… apprehensive.
Unfortunately, Ashley worked with the two most immature idiots in the world. Stuart and Rachid had taken it upon themselves to make sure that he made that fateful call, and had started greeting him with called him yet? at every opportunity.
He dared to hope that they might forget about it and move on eventually, but… they didn’t, and instead decided to ambush him and steal his phone.
“His name’s Jon, right?” Stuart said as he searched the phone’s memory.
“Yep, you got him?” Rachid said.
“Found him.” Stuart grinned at Ashley. “So, mate, when are you free?”
“Fuck off, Stuart.”
“Charming. Saturday it is, then.” He hit the call key and held the phone to his ear. “Hey, Jon? Yeah, this is Stuart, I’m a mate of Ashley’s… yeah, sorry about this but it turns out Ash is too much of a coward to call you himself, so I took it on myself to call for him… are you free on Saturday? Brilliant, he’ll be there,” he said before hanging up.
Ashley looked at his so-called friend and said evenly, “I hate you.”
“No you don’t.”
“What if I didn’t want to call him?”
“Then you wouldn’t’ve taken his number, would you? Coward.”
“I still hate you.”
“Saturday, eight o’clock at the Seven Bells. Do I need to drag you there?”
Saturday night came around, and Ashley found himself standing outside the pub, wondering once again what he was doing there.
“OK, mate, he’ll be here in five minutes,” Stuart said, “And don’t try to escape before he gets here, because I’ll be out here until he does, just to make sure.”
Ashley looked at him. “I really, really hate you.”
“No you don’t. Now get in there and, you know, good luck…”
He turned to see Jon standing behind him. “Hey.. can I get you a drink?”
“I’d love one. By the way… when I got here, there was a guy sitting in a car outside… he shouted ‘good luck’ at me…” Jon looked at him, eyebrows raised. “Anyone you know?”
Ashley swore under his breath. “Sounds familiar, yeah. Can we not talk about it? If you don’t mind, of course…”
That first date went remarkably well – they avoided talking about Ashley’s matchmaking friends, Stuart didn’t have to intervene at any point, and everyone involved thought the evening was a success. The second date (dinner at a restaurant run by someone Jon knew) also went well.
It wasn’t until their third date that things went wrong.
“So, how’d you get these tickets again?” Ashley asked as they walked in.
“It’s my sister’s exhibition,” Jon said, indicating a nearby sign that read Artist Showcase: Sansa Stark, “She makes these tapestries and things… they’re pretty good. I may have promised her that I’d come tonight.”
“Oh…” Ashley didn’t have time to finish the sentence, because a tall young woman with long red hair rushed up to them.
“Jon! You made it… who’s this...” she said, glimpsing Ashley.
“Uh, this is my friend Ashley… “ Jon turned to him, “and this is Sansa, my sister.”
“Nice to meet you,” Ashley said.
“You too,” Sansa said with a bright smile, “It’s great to see Jon with someone again… oh, shoot, I have to go and network, but we’ll talk later, OK?” Before either of them could say anything she was gone again.
“What did she mean, it’s good to see you with someone again?”
Jon flushed. “Uh… I was hoping this wouldn’t come up so soon, but… before I met you, it had been a while since I went out with anyone. The last guy I was with… it wasn’t a healthy relationship. Um, could we not talk about it here?”
“Sure. I’ll get us some drinks.”
Ashley looked around for the bar, got a couple of drinks and carried them back to Jon, who’d found a couple of seats for them. They sat quietly for a moment, which Ashley used to look around at the artwork. The tapestries were good… one featured quite a simple design of a wolf against a background of silvery grey. He pointed it out to Jon. “That’s interesting…”
Jon looked at it. “Oh… yeah, our dad’s from a really old family, and the heraldic crest for them was a wolf on a grey background. Last year Sansa did a load of research into the family history and she made that at the same time.”
“I like it.”
“Uh, Ashley…” Jon said quietly, “would you mind if we left early?”
“What? If you want to, I suppose… why?”
“You know that really unhealthy relationship I mentioned?”
“He just walked in.”
Ashley followed his gaze, and saw a handsome blond man near the entrance. He frowned. “Wait… I recognise that guy…”
Jon ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, that happens a lot.”
“Your ex, your ex from your seriously unhealthy relationship, is Jaime Lannister?”
“Yes,” Jon said, his expression becoming increasingly pained. “I… I was working as a researcher on one of his movies and we got talking. And then… you can use your imagination…”
“OK, this is definitely one of my more interesting dates. I didn’t even know he was gay.”
“Can we please just leave?”
“OK,” Ashley said, and they headed for the door, trying to look inconspicuous. It didn’t work.
“Jon?!” they heard from nearby.
He looked at Jon, who was mouthing ohfuckohfuckohfuck under his breath.
“Jon…” Jaime Lannister was walking through the crowd towards them. Ashley saw someone snap a photo of them, and tried to surreptitiously move further into the corner. Jon meanwhile had frozen in place, rather like a rabbit caught in headlights.
“Jon, I had no idea you would be here… you’re looking great, you know…”
Jon went an even deeper shade of red. “That might be connected to the fact that I haven’t been anywhere near you lately, Jaime. And of course I’d be here, it’s my sister’s artwork on show. You’re probably just here because you heard the press would be around.”
“You wound me. You know I’ve always supported Sansa’s art… and if you must know, I’m here because she invited me.” Jaime held out an invitation, identical to the one Jon had. “See?”
“I… I’m not going to do this again, Jaime,” Jon blustered. “Come on, Ashley, let’s go.”
“Ashley?” Jaime repeated with a curious expression. He looked around until he saw Ashley, who was doing his best to sink through the floor. “Oh. Is that why you’re so forceful today… trying to impress your new friend, are you?”
“That is, quite literally, none of your business. Leave me alone, Jaime,” Jon said before he turned and stormed out, Ashley following in his wake.
Jon didn’t stop until they were well outside the gallery. “Sorry about that.”
“We’ve all got some skeletons in the closet… yours is just a bit more famous.”
“Thanks for understanding, Ashley.”
Ashley shrugged. “At least it was exciting. And your sister’s art was good.”
“I’ll tell her you liked it. Um… I guess we should call it a night…”
“Give me a call later, yeah?”
“I will.” Jon stepped closer and kissed him. “I am definitely calling you later.”