The postcard was redirected twice before it reached Russell, the current occupant of his little fourteenth floor flat helpfully correcting his address and miscorrecting his surname and putting a fresh stamp on it before Royal Mail took over, ushering it from his last flatshare to his newest address. Foreign city skyline, lit up with sparks in the sky, without a recognisable landmark to distinguish it from any other. He might have just tossed it on the end table and forgotten about it till after his phone call or possibly forever if he hadn't flipped it over idly as he stood there and stuttered over the name on the back.
"Sorry, Jamie, what was that?" he said, flipping it back to the front again.
It wasn't that the postcard was his first reminder that Glen existed, that he never thought about him. Not all the time, but sometimes. He went to see an Oskar Fischinger exhibit at the Tate once that make him think of Glen, even though it had nothing to do with him, because all art made him think of Glen, if only in passing.
"I don't think you should let Lois date tills she's thirty, so I might not be the best person to ask."
But even a generic invitation to a gallery opening that likely went to everyone whose address he'd ever written down on a scrap of paper or doorframe or iPhone wasn't something he ever actually expected. Glen existed inside a very precise bubble in his memory, with nothing before or after. Now there was an after.
"Birthday parties still don't count, at her age, even if it is a boy," he said, tossing the postcard back on the table and wandering into the other room to find something to fix for dinner. "Unless he's picking her up. Is he picking her up?"
The perennially bare cupboards didn't yield anything appealing, so he plucked a takeaway menu from the drawer, whichever one was on top, and wondered if Paul was free tonight, would want to go out after. Russell thought he remembered that he was getting back this afternoon, maybe he should ring him.
"I think you can trust her, Jamie," he said. "You raised a smart kid. Tell her Uncle Russell says hello and I'll be up to visit as soon as I have a chance."
The postcard advertising Glen's show sat on the end table for a week before Russell picked it up again. By that time Paul had broken up with him—not something that left him particularly broken-hearted, since it had been mostly a relationship of convenience for both of them—and his plans to go to Tony's pre-bachelor party the night of the opening had fallen through. Tony had been Paul's friend first, and while not strictly speaking inappropriate, he didn't want to deal with the inevitable awkwardness.
In the back of his mind, he almost but not quite admitted that he'd always been planning to go see Glen instead anyway.
As he dressed—dressed well, for him, because an art opening seemed like the sort of thing where artists could dress as eccentrically as they wanted, and everyone else had to dress like they had money—he struggled to identify the combination of feelings he'd been nurturing. Maybe fondness, nostalgia, a little bit of regret. Curiosity. Anticipation. He wouldn't overthink it except he also had the feeling that Glen was going to ask.
He arrived in a taxicab, and no one asked to see his invitation as he stepped inside the gallery.
Russell had found a tie in the back of his closet that he usually reserved for important meetings, and made sure his trousers were pressed; Glen was in jeans and a ripped t-shirt. Which was fortunate because it was the only way Russell was able to pick him out of the crowd. It wasn't that he looked so different from a few years ago, but faces faded and the fine details got lost. He used process of elimination: everyone who didn't look like a tool, then of those all the men, then of those he started to remember smile and posture and as soon as he heard Glen's laugh from halfway across the room, he knew.
He caught Glen's eye and wished he had a glass to raise because that seemed like the kind of gesture that would be appropriate to the situation, but watched Glen's eyes linger on him for only a moment before he turned to the man next to him in a suit an easy ten times as expensive as Russell's and started talking to him animatedly about art or race cars or sex, Russell had no idea and was too far away to hear.
It was maybe twenty minutes after that, when Russell had circled half the room and examined the mixed media pieces for much longer than he needed to when he felt a whoosh of breath on his shoulder and turned his head to see Glen there, grinning at him.
For a fleeting moment Russell thought about pretending he didn't know who it was, but then he just smiled back.
"You twat," said Glen. "You were supposed to come over and save me from Prince Boring."
"Oh really?" said Russell. "Sorry, that signal got mistranslated as 'I have no idea who you are'."
"As if," said Glen, and for a moment it was like it had been six minutes since they'd last seen one another, not six years.
It should have been more awkward than this. Long silences and struggling for the words and looking at one another for all the little changes before they fumbled for a safe topic of conversation. Instead Glen draped himself over his shoulders and Russell let him, and that probably told each of them what he needed to know more than halting conversation ever would have.
"It's nice," said Russell, gesturing at the painting in front of him. Photograph. Collage, he thinks it's supposed to be called. He doesn't have the language down, but he understands what he's looking at.
"It's nice," Glen echoed him, then wrapped a hand around his forearm, leaving a smudge of something from under his fingernail on Russell's clean shirt, and pulled him away from the crowd despite someone in a sleek red dress trying to catch his attention. "That's better."
"Better for what?" said Russell. "Not better for your career."
"Don't be so thick," said Glen. "I haven't seen you in ages. You're far more interesting."
"Ah, the novelty," said Russell. "I'd almost forgotten."
"It's not like that," said Glen, but they weren't arguing about it. Certainly not yet. "What do you even do with yourself now?"
"This and that," said Russell, fingering his glass of wine. "How long are you here for?"
"Just for this," said Glen. "I've got a thing, in Paris, in the morning."
"I'm kind of a big deal now." He said it with a wry smile that said he knew he wasn't that big of a deal, but was also genuinely pleased like he was big enough. Just enough.
"In Paris, morning starts at lunchtime."
"Good, because you know how much I hate to get up at ass o'clock to catch a flight."
"No, I don't," said Russell. "I didn't."
"Well, now you do," said Glen. "Are you here with someone? Do you have a boyfriend I pulled you rudely away from?"
"No, I don't have a boyfriend," he said, almost under his breath, and thought about giving the long answer instead of the short answer but didn't. "And I couldn't find anyone who'd want to come with me to something like this."
"Asshole," said Glen fondly, then, "You came."
"Well, I got invited, didn't I?"
"I knew you didn't actually send it," said Russell. "I knew it. I knew you wouldn't do it like that."
"I probably put you on some mailing list and forgot about it."
"Yeah, that sounds like something you would do."
"And you came."
"I came," said Russell. "I did come. Here I am."
"And looking very dashing, no less," he said, reaching to straighten Russell's collar, fix his tie. Russell looked back over his shoulder at the mingling crowd. "Don't do that. Don't look to see if anyone's watching."
"I'm not," said Russell, looking back at Glen again. "It's not that. Might be a little worried you have a big American boyfriend who's going to come punch me in the nose if you keep that up, though."
"Me?" said Glen, and laughed in his face. "No corn-fed farmboys for me. Well, not for more than a night or two, anyway."
Russell wondered if that really did mean no one, but he didn't ask. Maybe if they were somewhere else, or maybe if they had more time. It didn't matter anyway.
"This is weird," he said, and looked at his feet for a moment so he wasn't looking at Glen's eyes when he said it. "It's weird being here with you."
"I thought you meant my show was weird," said Glen, "and I was going to tell you to go to hell because you never had a problem looking at me display myself before."
"It's not the same thing," said Russell, and that wasn't what he meant anyway. But maybe to Glen they were the same thing, and all art was existence and all existence was art. "I should let you do your job, after. You're supposed to be talking to all the nice people who want to buy your art."
"They'll pay more money if they think I'm an asshole," said Glen.
"That's not true."
"Sometimes it's true," said Glen, but Russell had been paying at least a little bit of attention and Glen had talked to at least a half dozen people who were pretty clearly not his mates before he'd homed in on Russell. "I don't mind if they don't buy it."
"Now that's true," said Russell. "Let me guess. You only want to sell enough to be able to make more art?"
"I'm not a fucking artiste," said Glen. "I like enough for a little bit of recreation too. I don't starve myself for my art."
"Not of some things, anyway," said Russell. "I can't picture you as an ascetic."
"I don't even know what that means."
"Liar," said Russell, and of all the feelings he'd been sorting through earlier, fondness seemed to be winning, though he'd added a touch of exasperation to the mix. "Are we going to play this game all night? I'm quite good at it."
"You shouldn't be," said Glen. "You don't fucking know me that well."
"Maybe, maybe not," said Russell. "Maybe I used to."
"Maybe you knew some things," said Glen. "You didn't have time to learn the rest."
"No, no we didn't," said Russell, getting quieter. "But I knew things." And he lifted his hand like he was going to put it over Glen's mouth before he could protest. "You look good."
"I know," said Glen, and smirked at him and let that be a convenient end to it. He threaded his arm through Russell's and together they wandered back towards the bulk of the show. When they stopped he turned his face to the wall, to face his art, looking at it like it was new. After a moment, Russell turned to look at it again too, hmming like he was thinking about what to say about it. He almost reached up to stroke his chin, just for the effect, before Glen spoke. "It's about the anonymity of space."
"It's about loneliness."
"Stop it," said Russell. "It is. You know it is. I can see it in every single picture."
"No, you can't."
"Your other show, your show with the recordings, did you ever do that?"
"I did," said Glen. "That was a long fucking time ago."
"That was about talking about it, it was about getting in people's faces and making a statement. A really filthy statement. This is about silence."
"You don't know what you're talking about. Come on. Have some more wine, it's free."
"No, it is," said Russell, though he did take another glass of wine, leaving his empty glass on the tray awkwardly. He wasn't exactly sure that was actually the correct method in this particular social situation. He'd only seen it in films. "It's all right that you don't know that, though. It makes the statement more powerful."
"What the fuck do you know about art?"
"What the fuck do I know about art?" said Russell. "I know a lot about art, I'll have you know."
"Since it's been a long time since the last time you saw me. I've done things. I've seen things."
"Not this," said Glen. "This was never your thing. Sports, maybe. Pretentious novelists. Bands I've never heard of."
"We never talked about music."
"Really?" said Glen. "I must be thinking of someone else I fucked once. We should have talked about music. Music tells you a lot about a person."
"Everything tells you a lot about a person. And if it doesn't, you'll read something into it anyway."
"Do you still work at that pool?"
"No," said Russell. "No, I haven't done that in a long time."
"Are you writing? You'd better be writing. Or go-go dancing."
"I'm not go-go dancing," said Russell, looking down and smiling at the floor. "Well, not professionally."
"You are writing," said Glen, taking him by the elbow and leading him a few steps away again. Eyes followed them, but not bodies.
"Not like I used to, not that kind of stuff. A few things here and there."
"Nothing dirty, you mean."
"Nothing personal," said Russell. "Corporate stuff, the stuff they have to pay someone to want to do. A few newspaper pieces."
"Boring," said Glen. "You can do better than that. You used to crack your way inside people's heads."
"Are you giving me career advice?"
"I don't know what the fuck I'm doing," said Glen, and ran a hand through his hair and looked down. He was wearing trainers, with a hole forming near one big toe. He could obviously afford better. He was obviously doing pretty well for himself. "Do what you want."
"It's not that easy."
"Yes it fucking is," said Glen. "You find what you want and then you do it."
"Sometimes there's more than one thing you want," said Russell. "And you have to pick one, and hope that the chance might come around again to pick the other, too."
Glen was silent for a moment—they both were, silent and still and waiting—putting his fingers to his lips like he wished he had a cigarette. Russell wondered if he'd quit.
"So you picked something else, then," he said finally, choosing the road more travelled. The easy path. "You picked money."
"I picked a chance to try something new," said Russell. "Do I look like I have money? I don't have money. I get by."
"Are you happy?"
"I get by," said Russell, and looked around still waiting for Glen to be stolen, for their clock to run out. He'd thought he might get a moment, a friendly reunion; he'd though that Glen would be pulled in more directions. And he wasn't wrong, he didn't think he was wrong, it was just that Glen always did ignore the pulls and make up his own rules.
"You get by," said Glen. Scoffed.
"Maybe I shouldn't have come."
He expected Glen to say something quick and sharp but he was silent, and that in itself was a sudden reminder of where they were, not physically but in their lives. Some things you could pick up where you left them, and others you had to start from scratch.
"I don't mean that."
"Yeah, I know," said Glen, and gave him a sly smile. "We should get out of here."
"You can't," said Russell. "You're working."
"My agent can take it from here," said Glen. "Come on, I've got a ridiculously extravagant hotel room."
"Are you being serious right now?"
"I should probably worry more about what it costs, but my agent made all the arrangements."
"No, I mean about inviting me back to your hotel room."
"Don't be a twat," said Glen. "Of course I'm serious. Who else am I going to ask back?"
"I don't know," said Russell. "Anyone you liked?"
"Exactly," said Glen. "Do you really want to make me change my mind?"
For a moment Russell wasn't sure; the one thing that should have been easy and familiar was suddenly some kind of moral quandary. No, not moral. But something more than just taking someone home.
"I just broke up with someone."
"Even better," said Glen. "You can tell me all about it."
And then it was okay. Glen grinned at him and Russell grinned back and moments later they were hailing a cab back to Glen's hotel room. And Russell didn't overthink it, even though he knew that they only had a few hours before Glen had to leave again, that they were maybe the only few hours they were ever going to have. He wasn't going to waste any of them, and he wasn't going to worry about it.
They had to try three times before they got the kiss right, which meant that Russell wasn't the only one who felt like this was more than a hook-up, more than old time's sake. Because if there was one thing they never had any trouble with, it was touching. It was sex.
Glen's body wasn't quite what he remembered. It was harder in different places, sculpted here and there, the body of someone who was aware of what he looked like, but not that concerned about it. Just concerned enough, like everything he did. Just enough. Everything extra went into art.
"Hurry up, hurry up," he said. "What, are you an old man now?"
"What do you think?" said Russell, and kissed his shoulder, the front of his shoulder on an awkward plane.
"I think I've got to go in a couple of hours," said Glen, "and I'll never forgive you if we don't get past second base."
"I don't even know what second base is," said Russell. "Is that here?" and he kissed Glen's nipple. "Or here?" and he grazed his teeth over the side of his ribs. "Or somewhere further down?" and he shifted himself down the bed a few inches, just enough to press his lips to Glen's stomach.
"You're getting warmer," said Glen. "Warmer...warmer..."
"If second base is giving you a blowjob, then what's a home run?"
"You'll find out if you're bendy enough," said Glen, "now get on with it."
Russell laughed and pulled Glen's trousers off, tossing them on the sterile armchair. He traced the muscles in his calves and thighs until Glen kicked at him and told him to get on with it again and Russell settled in comfortable to suck him off. A handjob would actually have been more intimate, would have put them face to face and kissing and talking but Russell wanted this, he wanted it like this. His senses would remember this for longer.
He always had been a swallower, and Glen knew that because somehow after years apart he still remembered that one weekend with Russell. Somehow after years apart Russell still remembered that one weekend too. So Glen held him there, fingers threaded through his hair and cradling the back of his head and he held Russell there as he came, and while Russell swallowed him down.
"God, you're a champion," he said with a satisfied sigh, and Russell tried not to laugh as he pulled away and licked his lips. "Will you let me fuck you now? Wait no, no. I don't want to—"
"You don't want to?"
"Not that. I don't want to wait."
"Let me..." he said, and with the hand that was still cradling Russell's head, almost tenderly, he pulled him back up the bed. Then he kissed him for a long time, long enough that Russell began to rock forward and figured that if he was going to rut against Glen's body to get off, that was okay, because this felt good enough. It was enough.
"Are you good?"
"Yes," said Russell, but he wasn't until Glen wrapped a hand around his cock and kissed him while he jerked him off that he realised, yes, yes. The answer really was yes. So much yes.
It wasn't over quickly, and even when it was over it wasn't over, they still lay together on the bed. Russell told him about Portland and Glen told him about Jamie and Lois, and then about Evan and about John before him, and Russell told him about Duke who was like a shooting star, magnificent and gone too soon, and six years really was a long time, but not that long.
Not too long.
"I've got this thing—"
"Yes, I know."
"Right, I've got this thing," said Glen, putting a hand over Russell's mouth so that he couldn't interrupt this time. "I've got this thing, but then I'm coming back."
"Coming back where?"
"Here," said Glen. "London, anyway. Not this hotel. Close enough."
"As much as I stay anywhere," said Glen. "I've over Portland. I'm over Los Angeles."
"And New York?"
"No one's ever over New York," said Glen. "They just say they are. But what's an ocean anyway? We've got aeroplanes now. It's a brave new world."
"Now who's quoting pretentious novelists?"
"Shakespeare wasn't pretentious," said Glen. "So I've got this thing in Paris, and then I'll be back here."
"I don't know what that means," said Russell. "I don't know what you're saying."
"I'm saying you should invite me to your flat, after," said Glen. "And you should give me your new mobile number now."
"I don't know," said Glen. "Do we have to know? Why do we have to know?"
"We don't have to know," said Russell, and smiled at him, and leaned over his body so he could program his number into Glen's phone.