Chapter 1: Soho, 1977
“I’m not gay,” the stranger mumbled, lips sloppy on the side of his neck.
“Duly noted,” he growled, his fingers struggling to untie the knot of a frankly ridiculous cravat. “It would help me if you tried and kept still though.”
“Mm,” the other man hummed noncommittally, his fingers sneaking beneath the hem of his shirt. “You’re – nicer.”
“I can assure you I’m not,” he stated, somewhat grimly. “This is, after all, my stag night. Shoes off, now.”
“I was married, once. Bad idea, that.”
He paused, shrugged in feigned disinterest. “I’ll bear that in mind,” he said, busied himself with the buckle of his belt.
One last night. He needed that, needed the comfort of a man’s embrace before he firmly shut the door to that part of his life. His soon-to-be wife owed him that at the very least, especially when he had reasons to doubt that her condition was as accidental as she wanted him to believe.
“Greg was never this nice with me,” the stranger sighed happily, and for a moment he wondered if he was even sober enough to be consenting.
Just the one night, he told himself, and met that mouth for a kiss.
Chapter 2: Croydon, 1983
She was sitting at the bar, glaring at the cocktail she’d just ordered and wondering how it was even possible for a Bloody Mary to taste that awful.
“Hello, there,” a man’s voice drawled at her elbow, and she raised a sceptical eyebrow at the improbable-looking moustache the owner of said voice appeared to be sporting.
He had to be in his early forties, and yet he looked even younger than her. As for his attire, she suspected he hadn’t quite got the memo that the seventies were most definitely over.
“Fancy a drink? Something more to your taste, perhaps?”
Her first thought was for Gordon, but then again they were yet to exchange their vows, and she still had plenty of time to change her mind. Her second thought, however, was that she was flying off in a little over six hours, and of all the activities she could use her hotel room for, sleeping was actually at the top of her list.
“I shouldn’t think so, no,” she replied eventually, hoping he would take the hint and leave.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that she discovered the reason why her drink had tasted so foul.
Chapter 3: Greenwich, 1989
The boy gazed in wonder at the tall, strange buildings all around him – so many people rushing along the streets, so many cars and buses and black cabs. He clutched onto his father’s hand, his eyes widening further as they descended the steps to an actual Underground station.
That was his birthday treat, a trip to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. And given that both Simon and Caitlyn were down with the flu, he got to enjoy his trip to London in blissful quiet.
They lingered in the park afterwards, his Dad sitting on a bench and indulging in a read of a proper newspaper. He wandered around by himself for a bit, looking up in wonder every time the distinctive shape of an airplane made itself known against the clear blue sky.
“You remember when you flew us all the way up north and back, my dear?” a passerby murmured to his companion, probably his wife. “And Sir Maxwell, bless him – I think he saved us all that day.”
Flew, the stranger had said. Meaning that the woman was a pilot, or had been at some point during the past.
And someday, he was going to be one too.
Chapter 4: Charing Cross, 1995
“Are we – are we going to see the polar bears?” he stammered excitedly, glancing at the people hurrying along the platform; there were so many of them. Trains were absolutely brilliant, they definitely were, but polar bears were even more brilliant than that.
“I’m afraid not, darling,” Mum explained, patiently. “They don’t have any polar bears at London Zoo. There are still penguins though, and camels.”
“And what about the fallen bridge?”
Mum paused, a frown creasing her brow. “What bridge?”
“You know, the one from the song! London Bridge is falling down, falling down...”
“That’s not – it’s just a song, dear heart. London Bridge is in fact still there, in one piece.”
A man chuckled behind them, barely seemed to notice the irritated glare Mum shot at him. “Well, that’s if you’re referring to the current bridge, which opened in 1973. The one that used to stand in its place was sold to an American, and is now in fact located in Arizona.”
“Brilliant!” he grinned, his mind already trying to work out whether Dad could afford to buy his own bridge too.
“Yes, yes, thanks for the history lesson,” Mum huffed, but the man only smiled in return.