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These days there was nothing more satisfying than the jangle of keys hitting the kitchen counter for Dom. This was for two reasons.

Firstly, the clear clattering chime served a quick, satisfying reminder of the shiny new Porsche parked in the apartment garage below his block. Evidence of the justice served to him, a personal F YOU to all his colleagues with unnecessarily large chips on their shoulders considering all he had been doing was fighting for reparations that, in the grand scheme of things, still didn’t come close to being a payment for the damage done to his body. He just couldn’t understand why they weren’t over it. He had nothing against THEM. Well, except maybe Lucinda from admin, who got far too sloppy after a few martinis and had some antiquated beliefs about the ‘Homosexual Agenda’, but that was neither here nor there. Even Donna was cold. Why couldn’t she just be happy for him.

But secondly, that sound represented the end of the working day. It signalled the death knell of socialisation until his next shift, and THAT was reason enough for a drink. Well, a hot, non-alcoholic drink; despite his visceral hatred of the bag scarring his side, he held some respect for its maintenance- besides, he didn’t have the mental energy for the grilling Ange would undoubtably give him if he were to fuck up the after care.

The shoes went next. Two ringing thumps as the leather hit the underside of the counter. It was almost rhythmic, his undressing. The jacket came next, the sound of rutes sliding over the skin of a snare drum as it slipped onto the back of the chair. His fingers rapped on the counter’s edge as he strolled around the island, sticking the kettle on.

With the gathering sound of the boiling water filling the room, he pulled his phone from his pocket, opening it deftly. 28 new messages across the 3 apps he was on. A smile crossed his lips. Tinder first- a few new Super Likes on his profile… he swiped through his pictures. The most recent had been taken around October of 2020- a nice posed one from a night out before the second Lockdown… Other pictures dated as far back as 2018- some shirtless, others from holidays… A few actually had Lofty in them- but he’d cropped him out, obviously. His smile spread as he gazed at this version of himself. The confident smirk- the cocked eyebrow- the tight shirts… The lack of shirts.

The messages consisted of the usual. “Hey sexy” “Fuck me you’re hot ;)” “Do you take bookings, ha ha!” “What I wouldn’t do to get my hands on you…”, an assortment of unsolicited dick pics, and the odd sugar daddy dropping his bank details. That made him laugh out loud- like he needed someone else’s money.

He responded to a few, for his own amusement, before the clock notification titled “change the bag” dropped down onto his screen.

The water started to bubble.

He touched his side reluctantly. The bag felt full. He knew he had to.

He opened Grindr, flipping through all the propositions he’d received today… All of the praise… The thirst… “Your body!”… But the truth was he wouldn’t get half of these complements if they knew. If they knew… He’d be lucky to find a sugar daddy sad and desperate enough to pay him, let alone a genuine connection.

The water boiled.

He put the phone down on the counter, pouring the water, hissing and spitting, into his mug to let the bag soak, taking a few deep breaths of the herbal aroma that the process released. His phone buzzed. Reluctantly, but simultaneously with a desperate need, he opened Plenty Of Fish.

The newest message just read “Fag”, from the very blatantly fake account of “Ben Dover 69”.

His jaw tightened as he put the phone back down. It was just a word, but it still packed a punch, even from a faceless troll on a dating app.

Seeing as his distractions were no longer offering a fun alternative to the reality of his living hell, he went to change his bag. He just didn’t look at it, it was easier to get it done as quickly and as clinically as possible. So, a few quick and easily repressed minutes later, it was done, and he was clean.

He made a quick detour to his room to grab a hoodie before going back to his drink. The hoodie had belonged to Lofty what now seemed like a lifetime ago. Forgotten- left behind in the split. Dom had made plans to ditch it- donate it, but somehow he couldn’t let go of this one stupid bit of fabric. One last remembrance of times past. Of cold walks home with a chivalrous partner who’d give up his own warmth for Dom’s comfort. It reminded him of being someone’s top priority. Someone’s person; a concept so far away and, depressingly, alien now.

He yanked it on over his head as he walked back to the kitchen, finishing making the tea with a splash of almond milk, before retreating to his armchair. Sipping the drink, he opened his phone one last time. Even in the last few minutes he was flooded with new, thirsty DMs. No more for tonight, he thought, opening up his Google account.

23 years ago, today. Damn his synced account with Carole.

Pictures from his first day at school. The neatly ironed uniform.

The unrecognisable boy he was.

How had he gone from that… To this. 34. Divorced. Dysfunctional. Alone.

Through all the reinvention… All the struggle to be who he was meant to be; he’d still ended up exactly where he’d feared he’d be all those years ago.

Depressed, no friends, on the pudgy side… Hating his body.

Clearly, he needed to retrace his steps. He’d gone wrong somewhere.

There had to be an easy fix somewhere.

An explanation.

A solution.

There just had to be.