“So,” William says, when Jonathan calls round to retrieve his jacket, “how did it go with your missionary?”
“Good, thanks,” Jonathan says. It’s not entirely bravado, though there’s an element of that.
“Don’t tell me you shagged him!” William’s sceptical, but there’s a flattering undertone there that says he thinks Jonathan could have done it.
“Not yet,” Jonathan says. “We’re having dinner tonight.”
“Dinner? Bloody hell, you must be losing your touch.”
“Oh right, and you think you could do better, do you?”
“I’m not the one who made the bet,” William says, smug as you like.
“No,” says Jonathan, nettled, “and you’re not the one who’s getting a night in Art’s dungeon.”
William’s smug look intensifies, a thing Jonathan would have sworn was impossible.
“Art’s asked me round tonight, actually,” he says. “Think of us having fun when you’re making small talk with your God-botherer.”
Shit. That is such a typical Art move. Of course he knew William would tell Jonathan, first chance he got.
“He says he’s got some new kit he wants to try out,” William adds, and that’s an image Jonathan really didn’t need to carry around in his head for the rest of the day.
“Oh well,” says Jonathan, “I suppose he’s got to practise on someone.”
“Fuck you,” William says, with that look that makes Jonathan feel like he’s just kicked a puppy.
“Come on, you know I didn’t mean it.”
“Sure,” William says, but he’s looking away rather than at him. Fuck.
“I’m sorry,” Jonathan says, and pulls him into a hug.
“You can be a right bastard, you know that?” William says. He hugs Jonathan back and bites his ear, harder than is strictly necessary.
“Ow,” Jonathan says. “I know. I’m jealous, OK? Of both of you,” he adds, which isn’t quite true.
“Don’t push it,” William says. “Wanker.”
Jonathan gropes his arse affectionately. “Oh god, you’re going to tell me all about it, aren’t you?”
“Only if you ask nicely.”
“Oh really?” Jonathan says, and rolls his eyes. “Knowing you, I’ll be getting a blow-by-blow account whether I want one or not.”
“Serves you right if you do,” William says. “Where are you off to tonight?”
“Havana? You’ll never make it in time for dinner. Breakfast, maybe.”
“The restaurant, you idiot,” Jonathan says, and William laughs.
“Well, at least the food should be hot, even if the company isn’t.”
“Oh, he’s that all right.”
“Oooh,” William says, in playground tones, “You fancy him!”
“I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for singing hymns,” Jonathan admits. “He’s got a very nice arse.”
“Bet it’s not as nice as mine.”
Jonathan laughs and squeezes him again. “I’ll let you know.”
Grant’s arse looks even nicer in jeans, as it turns out. It’s probably just as well he didn’t wear his uniform to dinner – it would have made them rather conspicuous. But why do Christians always dress at least two decades older than their actual age? That blue cardigan belongs on someone’s granddad. And that shirt can’t have been ironed since he bought it, and the t-shirt underneath is distinctly dull, and – fuck it, Grant still looks gorgeous, and distractingly huggable. Which is not how Jonathan should be thinking about someone he’s planning to seduce.
There’s a look of appreciation as well as friendliness in those chocolate-brown eyes, and Jonathan feels a little shiver of excitement. He imagines calling up Art tomorrow and saying So, when do I collect my winnings?
Don’t get carried away, Strange. Focus on the task in hand.
In hand makes him grin to himself. Oh great, he is apparently twelve again, smirking at bad puns about sex.
“What?” Grant says.
“Nothing – just, it’s nice to see you,” Jonathan says feebly.
“It’s nice to see you too,” Grant says, and smiles.
Whoa. That is one hell of a smile. Jonathan reels a bit, half expecting to see Disney bluebirds fluttering around Grant’s head.
“So,” he says. “Um. Should we – go in?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Grant says, deadpan. “If we’re going to have dinner.”
Whatever Jonathan was expecting from dinner with Mission Man, it didn’t include getting flustered and being teased about it before they’ve even got inside the restaurant. If this is how the evening starts, fuck knows how it’s going to end.
Grant is surprisingly good company, for a God-botherer. He asks a lot of questions about Jonathan’s life, about Art and William and the club, as if he’s genuinely interested. Doesn’t seem either prurient or judgmental. Maybe it’s part of the training – if you’re going to be a missionary in Soho, you can’t be too easily shocked or you’ll never get anywhere. Between that and the tequila Jonathan probably shouldn’t have had on top of a short night (Grant’s on soft drinks, of course), he gets a bit too relaxed and tells a story about the club that was definitely funny when it left his brain but is clearly very much not so at the point of delivery.
“Sorry,” he says. “Let’s change the subject. Did you always want to be a missionary?”
Grant is silent and for a moment Jonathan thinks he’s blown it completely. You fucking idiot, Strange.
“I wanted to be in a band,” Grant says.
“Guitar,” Grant says, “sometimes keyboards. And vocals.”
He’d be a good singer, with that voice.
“Do you still play?”
“For pleasure, and sometimes for work. Visiting care homes, that sort of thing.”
“I’d like to hear you sing,” Jonathan says impulsively.
“In a care home?” Grant says, with a grin, knowing that’s not what he means.
“For pleasure,” Jonathan says, and gives him his best come-to-bed look.
This turns out to be a tactical error: Grant flushes angrily and says “Seriously, this bet is not happening. Get that through your head.”
“OK,” says Jonathan, and shrugs. “It was worth a try, though.”
“So how was it supposed to work?” Grant asks. “Were you going to get bonus points for a target who’d never done it with a man? Double bonus points for one who’d never done it with a woman either?”
Jonathan’s about to protest at target, when the implications of Grant’s second question sink in, and his jaw drops. Grant can’t mean that. Can he? Bloody hell, the guy must be in his mid-thirties, and he’s fucking gorgeous, how could he possibly have got to this age and never –
“Thirty-six,” Grant says, as if he can hear Jonathan’s thoughts. “And no, not with anyone.”
It’s the worst possible moment for the waiter to appear with enquiries about coffee and dessert.
“I don’t think so, thank you,” Grant says repressively. “Unless you want something?”
“Can you give us a minute, please?” Jonathan says. He’s not going to let it end here, not when this is the last chance he’s likely to get.
“Of course, sir,” the waiter says, and retreats, radiating tact. He’s a pretty boy: if Jonathan didn’t have a job to do, he’d definitely be checking him out and probably asking what time he gets off.
“Why haven’t you?” Jonathan says, genuinely curious. It can’t just be the God stuff, surely.
Grant’s face is still flushed, but he doesn’t drop his gaze. “Not everyone thinks sex is that important, you know.”
“Didn’t you ever want to?”
“Not really,” Grant says, which isn’t exactly No. “I move around a lot with the Mission. There’s not much chance to build a relationship with anyone.”
“You don’t have to be in a relationship to have sex,” Jonathan objects.
“You don’t, obviously,” Grant says, a bit tartly.
The waiter reappears while Jonathan’s still trying to come up with a response to that.
“Arroz con leche,” Jonathan says, before Grant can forestall him. “And a coffee for me, please.”
Grant doesn’t look best pleased, but says he’ll have the same. Since apparently we’re staying hangs in the air unsaid. Jonathan resists the urge to point out that he started this conversation, and hopes the rice pudding takes a while to arrive.
“Doesn’t it bother you, doing something so intimate with a stranger?” Grant asks.
This probably isn’t the moment to expound on the joys of casual sex, but Jonathan tries anyway. “It is intimate, and it – there’s something that feels good about that with someone you don’t know, something that feels real, the two of you making it up as you go along…” He trails off, seeing the closed look on Grant’s face.
“Oh well,” Grant says. “No accounting for tastes, right?’
“No,” Jonathan says.
The awkward silence is not made any less awkward by the arrival of dessert, though at least it provides something of a distraction.
“Don’t you ever get turned on?” Jonathan asks, because he can’t help wondering.
“Sometimes, yes,” Grant says.
“So what do you do?” Jonathan blunders on. “Wait for it to go away of its own accord?”
“Same thing most men on their own do, I imagine,” Grant says. “See to myself.”
Jonathan chokes on his arroz con leche, and Grant leans across the table and thumps him on the back.
“Thank you,” Jonathan says, when he’s stopped spluttering. “What’s the” – don’t say missionary position, for fuck’s sake – “Mission’s line on that?”
“There are worse things than wanking,” Grant says, which nearly makes Jonathan choke again. “Having sex with someone I didn’t care about would be worse, for me. Or using someone.”
He looks at Jonathan as sternly as he did in the crypt, and Jonathan feels himself flushing with shame. Trying to screw Grant when the only reason he’s doing it is to have sex with Art is a pretty shabby way to behave, however he tries to excuse it to himself. He doesn’t like the way he must look to Grant right now.
“Why did you agree to have dinner with me?” he asks, trying to regain some measure of control.
Grant seems to find that hard to answer. “Curiosity, I suppose,” he says eventually. “I wondered what sort of man would make a bet like that.”
“And did you find out?” Jonathan says. Shut up, you fool.
“Not entirely,” Grant says, with a wry smile. “But I had a nice evening. Mostly. Thanks for dinner.”
“Can I see you again?” Jonathan asks.
The question takes him by surprise almost as much as it does Grant.
“Look,” Jonathan says, thinking oh well, here goes nothing, “I’ve made a complete bollocks of this and you’d be absolutely within your rights to tell me to fuck off but I – I would really appreciate it if you’d give me another chance.”
Grant is silent for a while, thinking. Then he says “How?”
“Could we – I don’t know, pretend we’ve just met, no, OK, not pretend, obviously, but wipe the slate clean somehow?”
Another longish silence. “What for?”
Christ, this is hard work. “Because I like you,” Jonathan says, groping for the right thing to say, “and I’d like to get to know you.”
“We don’t have anything in common,” Grant says doubtfully.
That’s not a no, though, is it? “We don’t know that for sure,” Jonathan says. “I bet if we talked for long enough we’d find something.”
Grant shakes his head. “You really don’t give up, do you?”
The waiter, whose sense of timing now seems to be verging on the sadistic, arrives with the bill, and Jonathan pays it, adding a sarcastically large tip.
“Do you think he’s doing it on purpose?” Grant asks, when he’s gone.
“I was just wondering the same thing,” Jonathan says. “See, we do have something in common.”
Grant laughs, and says “OK.”
“OK, you can see me again.”
“Really?” Jonathan says, too astonished and relieved to pretend not to be.
“Really,” Grant says, looking a bit surprised at himself.
They walk to London Bridge together, close but not touching, and exchange numbers. Grant’s working for the next couple of nights, which is a pain, but they agree to meet for a pub lunch and a walk on his day off.
“Well, goodnight,” Grant says at the entrance to the station.
“Goodnight,” Jonathan says, and hugs him without thinking.
Grant hugs him back, which is also a nice surprise, and they stand there embracing, a little too long for a casual goodbye. Jonathan’s not at all sure it’s a good idea to try for a kiss, but he does it anyway, a tentative kiss that Grant returns, short and sweet.
“Mmm,” Jonathan says, and hugs him harder. “See you on Tuesday. Promise?” He doesn’t want Grant to freak out and change his mind after this.
“I promise,” Grant says, rather breathlessly, and pulls away. “See you then.”