The 36 hours after the quarrel are the longest of Jonathan’s life. There’s no word from Grant, of course. Probably congratulating himself on a lucky escape from someone he clearly regards as a psychological mess and a gutless coward. Fine, if that’s how he wants to play it, Jonathan’s damned if he’s going to cave in and apologise. But the echoes of the row go round and round in his head. His concentration is shot to hell and he can’t settle to anything. When he tries to sleep all he sees is Grant’s face, white with pain or blank with disgust. He doesn’t know which is worse.
William texts him, hinting that he has more adventures to share. Jonathan doesn’t reply. The last thing he needs is William burbling happily about another wild night in the dungeon. In case Jonathan needed confirmation, there’s a new picture message from Art. He deletes it, not quite quickly enough to blot out the mental image of William evidently just post-climax, messy and sweaty-haired and flushed, with Art’s hand resting casually on his neck.
He goes to the club alone on Christmas Eve, and picks up the leather-boy William fancied. As an attempt to take his mind off Grant, it’s a fucking disaster. Fucking disaster just about sums it up: he changes his mind at the last minute, and the boy gets quite nasty about it. Jonathan’s strong enough to fight him off, and the lashing out stays mostly verbal, but the irony of being called a screwed-up fucking cocktease is not lost on him.
The leather-boy’s accusations are still ringing in his ears as midnight strikes. Christmas Day. No good trying to call Grant – he’ll be in the middle of the Mission’s version of Midnight Mass, presumably. At least he’s with people, even if they are a bunch of God-botherers and down-and-outs. Jonathan doesn’t usually mind being alone but right now it would be nice to have company. Oh well. He curls up in bed, pulls the covers over his head and tries to think of nothing.
He manages to get some sleep eventually, and texts Grant first thing after waking up: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things. Forgive me? J xx
Grant’s response is so fast he thinks their texts must have crossed. I miss you.
A flurry of texts later, they’ve agreed to meet up on Boxing Day, for another river walk that ends up like the first, back at Jonathan’s flat with Massive Attack on the sound system. They kiss and kiss as if they can’t get enough of each other, Grant’s hands tangled in his hair, Grant’s erection digging into his thigh. Jonathan’s giddy with relief, hardly able to believe that it’s really happening at last, it seems as if Grant’s finally changed his mind after the row – and then Grant pulls away from the kiss, and the cycle of torment starts all over again.
It’s the same the next evening, and again two days later, and the evening after that. They’re seeing each other as often as Grant’s work rota allows, trapped in a pattern Jonathan can’t see how to break. He’s half crazy with frustration but the thought of pushing things further makes him queasy, remembering the leather-boy.
They’re careful what they say to each other now, too aware how easy it is to hurt and be hurt. Neither of them mentions Art’s party, though Jonathan catches Grant looking at the invitation over the fireplace. Grant kisses him more fiercely than before, lying full length on top of him and pinning his wrists over his head. There’s a possessiveness in it that makes Jonathan dizzy, and the kiss goes on until he’s moaning and helpless and this close to coming in his pants. He wouldn’t have thought being with Grant could get any more frustrating, but this is downright unbearable.
“You know where I’ll be tomorrow if you want me,” Grant says, pulling away as Jonathan struggles to get his breath back. Grant’s flushed and panting himself, but adamant about leaving.
For the nth time, Jonathan curses himself for a fool. He checks his phone with shaking hands and finds three texts from William asking if he’s still alive and is he coming to the party.
Fuck it. He might as well go. Better that than drowning his sorrows at home alone on New Year’s Eve because Grant is too busy God-bothering and doing good to come round and drive him to distraction. Christ, if cockteasing was an Olympic sport he’d be a dead cert for the gold medal. Groaning at the images this conjures up, Jonathan texts William Still alive, see you there. He heaves himself up off the sofa and staggers to the bathroom to relieve his frustration in the shower.
“No plus one?” Art greets him sweetly. “Pity. I thought his uniform would look suitably festive.”
“He’s working tonight,” Jonathan says, before he can stop himself.
Art raises an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Anyway, you know I don’t do plus ones,” Jonathan adds, too late.
Art gives him a look that says Oh yeah?.
“Yeah, happy New Year to you too, you bastard,” Jonathan says with feeling. “Please tell me you didn’t let William make that bloody awful punch of his again.”
“Not after last year,” Art says with a shudder. “He’s doing food; Ned’s in charge of the drink.”
“OK,” Jonathan says, and kisses him, a ridiculous smacker of a kiss right on the lips.
He’s not sure why he did that. There isn’t even a sprig of mistletoe he can blame it on, because Art’s such a fucking minimalist.
Art looks somewhat taken aback, and then he laughs.
“Go and eat something, you bloody fool,” he says, and slaps Jonathan affectionately on the arse. “Christ, it’s not even nine and you’re already half-cut.”
Jonathan wonders fuzzily if that means it would be OK to kiss Art at midnight, thinks it probably wouldn’t, and realizes he’s drunker than he thought he was. Maybe he should eat something. He’d finally got stuck into the Sandhorse Construction brief today, forgot to have dinner and he’s not too sure about lunch.
William’s in the kitchen, taking a tray of something savoury out of the oven. It smells good.
“Don’t touch that, you pillock,” he says by way of greeting, “you’ll burn yourself. Have one of those cheese tarts, they should be cool enough by now.”
Jonathan bolts three, more or less without tasting them, and feels slightly less fuzzy. “Thanks.”
“I hear you finally got off with Christian,” William says, with a slight air of resentment.
Jonathan’s baffled at first, and then he realizes Christian must be the leather-boy. They hadn’t bothered with names.
“Oh,” he says, embarrassed. He should have known there’d be gossip at the club, though obviously Christian hasn’t told anyone what really happened.
“Bit of a show-off, isn’t he?” William says, and rolls his eyes. “Marking you where anyone can see.”
Jonathan looks down at his wrists and sees the marks there. They’re not from the leather-boy; they’re the ones Grant left last night when he had him pinned down on the sofa. Fuck. Fuck.
“Makes a change from Mission Impossible, anyway,” William says gleefully. “I assume he’s still holding out on you?”
“Fuck off,” Jonathan says. He tries to punch him on the arm, but William dodges and he hits the wall instead. “Ow.”
“Stupid prat,” William says, without heat. “You OK?”
“Yeah,” says Jonathan. “I’m – I should – ’scuse me.”
He barely makes it to the loo before throwing up. Bloody hell, he didn’t think he was that drunk. The room is spinning around him, and then William’s there, holding his head.
“Should we sue M&S, do you think?”
Jonathan groans. He doesn’t want to think about food. Or anything else, for that matter.
“Leave me alone,” he says. “I’ll just die here quietly.”
“Not you,” William says, rubbing his back. “You don’t do anything quietly.”
“Ha ha,” Jonathan says bitterly.
William gives him a glass of water and he rinses his mouth. Ugh. He feels like shit, and not just from the throwing up. Why the fuck did he think it would be a good idea to come here?
He’s always enjoyed New Year’s Eve before, always enjoyed Art’s parties. More often than not, there’d be the fun of clicking with a stranger, seeing some hot guy looking back at him with speculation in his eyes, and the moment when that speculation turned to certainty, when they both knew they’d be starting the New Year with a bloody good shag. But he’s not in the right mood for that tonight, even before he threw up.
Being looked after by William makes him think of Grant patching him up in the crypt of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and the ache of that memory is so powerful it shakes him rigid. He wants to be back there, just the two of them in the quiet of the night, Grant’s jacket around his shoulders like an embrace. He wants to be close and still and cared for. Wants to be held.
He doesn’t do this. He doesn’t do any of this. He can’t be thinking like this.
“Fuck,” he says. “Fuck. Fuck.”
“You’re not going to hurl again, are you?” William says, frankly curious. “I wouldn’t have thought there was anything left.”
“Yes, thank you for that,” Jonathan says wearily. “No, I’m – I have to go.”
“Seriously? You only just got here.”
“Yes, and as you see I’m not well,” says Jonathan. “Look, I don’t want to have to deal with Art, can you tell him I’ve gone home?”
“OK,” William says, a bit doubtfully.
Art’s busy with some people Jonathan doesn’t know, probably clients. It makes it easier for him to slip away unobserved. He’ll go home, have a shower, crawl into bed and forget about Art and Grant and William and everything else.
This plan is working absolutely fine up until the last bit. When the church clock strikes 11 he can’t bear to lie there staring at the ceiling any longer; he has to get up again and go out, though he doesn’t know where he’s going.
It certainly shouldn’t be here. The Mission lights are on, and there’s obviously some sort of grisly party happening, probably nothing stronger than orange squash on offer. The way his luck’s going tonight, it won’t be Grant who answers the door. He presses the buzzer and braces himself to give an explanation to a stranger.
But it’s worse than that.
The door opens and he stares in disbelief at the woman in the red uniform. He hasn’t seen her since she was a skinny kid with pigtails, but he’d know that scowl anywhere.
“Bell,” he says. “What are you doing here?”