Though the City wakes early—and Tom wakes to its rhythms—today he does not leave. Instead he waits. He waits while Ivan lays out his breakfast, well-trained eyes not even flickering towards the couch, and he waits while the tea grows cold and the toast rubbery and the pastries a little dry, and still Chris sleeps. His metronomic breath is an irritant in Tom’s ears and his easy shape, that powerful Australian frame supine under a Foxford blanket, seems out of place in his London flat. He has managed already to make the space around him his own.
Once—only once—he had brought Chris here himself. When Tom had called the agency and intimated that he fancied a bit of rough, well, it was an Australian cowboy they sent. And rough he was, when Tom was bent over the couch, his hair dripping sweat and his knees bent up while Chris fucked him till he came spectacularly all over the upholstery. They’d sat around then and ended up talking—a complete breach of policy—and Chris had told him about a cattle station just a few hours south of Darwin by helicopter, and the American tourists who came to hunt in the outback and the snake that dropped on him once from the rafters and every Saturday spent butchering meat for him and the boys.
Tom thought of his rustic and spacious barn conversion in Somerset and how the traffic annoyed him if he had to go into town at the weekends, and how one evening, walking through the woods towards Babbington’s, he was sure he saw an adder but it turned out to be a branch.
“Why did you come to London?” he asked.
Chris shrugged. “You got a beer, mate?” he said, and Tom said sure and got a couple of Belgian import beers from the kitchen. Chris stared at the label before taking a drink.
“So?” said Tom.
“The guys found me and Marco hard at it one night in the bush,” he said. “It’s not like they’d say anything, you know, they’re good guys, but it got a bit weird.” He took a swallow of beer. “Figured I’d take my savings and travel. Savings ran out about a month ago, and here I am.”
Tom felt a brief pang of guilt at that, at the clear expression in Chris’ eyes, at the way he seemed to be nearly laughing at the fact that he’d ended up an agency rent boy in London because he’d run out of money.
“Oh, don’t worry, mate,” said Chris, nudging him. “I doesn’t bother me. It’s not like I’m working the streets and the money”—he leaned conspiratorially towards Tom, grinning—“is fucking great. Much better than herding cattle, I’ll tell you that much.”
The next day, in his office in the City, Tom found that he could not disentangle how he felt about such an easy smile and such a profession. He had never thought much about them before, the men to whom he never had to give money because he had an account with the agency. He had never wondered where they came from. He found himself thinking of the sharp tan line across Chris’ hips and imagined him out in the Australian sun in jeans and boots and nothing else, and he wondered who Marco was and if Chris missed him.
And now here he is sleeping on the couch, and this is the third time he’s come here with no warning. The first time Tom was woken by the doorman at 2am and he blearily said that yes, he knew Chris, and to send him up, before realising what he had just done and starting to panic. Chris had blithely ignored the palpable tension when he came into the flat and said, “Sorry, mate, but I was just at a job near here and you know we’re not paid cash and I didn’t have any on me for a taxi, so do you mind if I kip here? I’ll be out of your way by morning, no worries.” But Tom did worry, he worried that Chris would steal his things or threaten him for money—he didn’t know this man, he could be anyone—but all that happened was Chris followed him to his bedroom and kissed him and fucked him slow and easy and Tom didn’t sleep afterwards, he just lay there with Chris’ face pressed into his shoulder as his bedroom grew lighter with the dawn. He didn’t think Chris would be paid for this one since he hadn’t called for him, and he supposed that was why Chris kissed him. They didn’t usually do that.
The second time he showed up when Tom was late home from dinner at the club where he’d had a few postprandial Islay single malts discussing the Euro crisis and the impact on the international markets, and he was sitting at his desk with his shoes off and his shirt half open clicking through his work folders looking for the Élan portfolio when the doorman called again and said Chris was on his way up. Tom froze and then reflexively smoothed down his hair and when a knock came on the door he answered it. “I saw your light on,” said Chris, coming in even though Tom hadn’t invited him. “Figured I’d drop up, say hi. Were you out?”
“At the club,” said Tom, closing the door and feeling entirely at sea.
Chris raised an eyebrow and grinned. “‘At the club’,” he repeated, as if it was funny.
“Look,” said Tom, as Chris toed off his boots and threw his jacket on the couch. “This isn’t…” He felt hopelessly inarticulate, which wasn’t like him at all. “This isn’t how it’s usually done,” he said.
Chris put his hands in his pockets and looked at him straight on. “You want me to go?” he said, softly.
And Tom didn’t, so he said nothing, and when Chris kissed him this time he felt dizzy and he put it down to the brandy and the late hour and the feel of Chris’ tongue against his own and his strong, calloused hands running over his skin.
But this third time, it’s different. Ivan must have let him in, which meant the last two times Ivan had seen Chris at breakfast, he’d realised that he wasn’t like the others. For one thing, he stayed for breakfast. Ivan must have given Chris the pillow and the blanket and told him that Tom had gone to bed with a migraine, and he must have been under the impression that Tom would have wanted him to let Chris stay. And now Ivan has gone out to take care of the daily chores and Tom is left alone with a sleeping Chris and a cup of cold tea. And the morning grows closer and closer to afternoon and still Tom cannot decide what to say when Chris wakes up.
Which, of course, he eventually does. He stretches and his eyes open and Tom watches him remember where he is, and then he smiles and looks over and says “Morning, sunshine.”
And something about the very triteness of it hits Tom in the gut and puts him off kilter and he just says, “Did you lie, that time you said you didn’t have money for a taxi? Did you make that up just so I’d let you stay?”
Chris exhales slowly and pushes himself upright, the blanket covering his shorts and his untanned legs stretched out before him. “You hadn’t called for me in like two weeks,” he said. “I wanted to see you.”
Tom looked away. He felt he should be furious but instead he felt fearful and somehow excited and he put his fingers to his forehead for a moment to clear his thoughts. “This is why I stick with professionals, you know,” he says. He looks back up at Chris. “This sort of thing, do you know how it plays in my kind of circles? Everyone’s fine with it if you’ve got a nice boyfriend who went to Eton or Harrow, or if you’ve got some beautiful Italian chap you can squire around town and feed oysters to at the Ivy.”
“What’s the Ivy?” says Chris, blankly.
“You see, this is what I mean!” says Tom. “I can’t—I just can’t see how…” He trails off.
Chris scratches at his four-day beard. “Mate,” he says, heavily. “You’re cute. And I love fucking you, I really do. My cock and your ass, I reckon they’re made for each other. And you seem like if you broke out of the tie-pin, hair-parting kind of thing you’ve got going on, you’d be a lot of fun. But if you don’t want me dropping round, that’s fine too. I’ve got enough saved up to head on to New York anyway.” He doesn’t move, though. He doesn’t stand up to pull on his jeans and walk out the door and go to New York.
And all Tom says is, “The Ivy is a restaurant,” and he sighs and leans his elbows on the table and covers his face with his hands. He needs a moment to think. Just a moment to think.
Then the strangest thing happens, as if something inside his chest clicks into place, and he starts to laugh. He laughs and he says “Your cock and my ass,” and he shakes his head. Chris looks confused, but he’s smiling a little, and he still hasn’t moved. Tom’s laughter dies down and he nods. “You’re right about that much, at least,” he says, and after a moment he looks up and says earnestly, “Don’t go to New York.”
Chris quits his job the next day, and he has nowhere to live since he’d been renting his apartment from the agency and so he piles his stuff in a corner of Tom’s immaculate bedroom, just for a few days, till he finds a place. After a week Ivan attempts to put it in order and all that ends up happening is that Tom’s walk-in closet becomes more packed and there is a significantly greater number of plaid shirts hanging up than before. And Tom tells Chris about his childhood growing up in Westminster and going to boarding school—“The Dragon School? You’re fucking with me, right?”—and he takes him to the Ivy and Chris eats steak and holds his fork in his fist and Tom doesn’t care. Tom stops parting his hair, but he keeps the tie-pins; he likes them, even though Chris still laughs at them. Most weekends they drive down to the place in Somerset and Chris sets about doing the garden, and they buy the leasehold to a couple of fields and then a couple more, and Chris starts spending more time down there and within a year or so he’s got a pretty decent business going with the butcher in Radstock, supplying some of the best organic lamb in the county. His lamb and lavender sausages prove wildly popular.
“I’d never have thought you’d have boutique butchery in you,” says Tom, and Chris pins him down against the mattress and says, “I’m not all uncouth cowboy, you know,” and then he leans in and whispers in Tom’s ear, “Though I know you love it when I am.” And Tom hitches up his knees and groans and brokenly says, “Oh, I do, yes, I do.”