Henry Woodhope’s scary kid sister is the last person Jonathan expected to meet at the Save-A-Soul Mission. He vaguely remembers Henry worrying that she’d fallen in with an evangelical crowd at college, but he had no idea it had gone this far.
She’s a lot better looking than she used to be. Another one wasted on the Mission. It’s just as well Art didn’t challenge him to seduce her instead of Grant. The hostility she’s giving off is so strong he almost wilts under it.
“Jonathan,” she says flatly. “No need to ask what you’re doing here.”
“Oh,” he says, feeling stupid. It hadn’t occurred to him that Grant might talk to anyone at the Mission about him. “Yeah, um. I came to see Grant.”
“He’s working,” Bell says. “And so am I. So how about you just – ” piss off, she obviously wants to say – “go away and let us get on with our job?”
“I’m a sinner!” Jonathan says extravagantly. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing here, or what it is he wants to say to Grant, but he’s buggered if he’s going to let Bell Woodhope chase him off the doorstep. “I am your job!”
Bell’s clearly struggling with an overwhelming urge to say something un-Mission-like, but Grant appears in the hall behind her. His face lights up, and Jonathan lights up in return before he can check himself. Bell’s scowl deepens.
“Your friend’s here,” she says, not looking round.
“I know,” Grant says. He looks so happy that it takes Jonathan’s breath away. “It’s good to see you, Jonathan – come in.”
So Jonathan does.
Of all the weird New Year’s Eve parties he’s been to in his life, this one takes the biscuit. Handing round mince pies and decaf instant coffee to the Mission’s drop-in clients is not an experience Jonathan ever expects to repeat, even with the inducement of Grant smiling at him every chance he gets. There’s no kissing at midnight, though there are a few tears from some of the partygoers, wishing themselves and each other a better year in 2016. When they cross hands to sing Auld Lang Syne, Jonathan gets Bell on one side and a man with a big port-wine birthmark on his face on the other, which is not how he’d have planned it, but may be just as well. He’s not sure he could cope with holding Grant’s hand in public with the lights on, not in his present state. It’s hard enough watching and listening to Grant sing. God, he’s gorgeous.
He offers to help clear up afterwards, because Grant’s obviously not going to leave until it’s finished, and Bell seizes the opportunity to corner him in the kitchen.
“He’s told me all about you,” she says accusingly.
“I’m flattered,” he says, with deliberate lightness. “Do these cups go in the bin?”
“Recycling,” Bell snaps. “You always were selfish, Jonathan. Selfish and spoilt.”
“Hey, don’t hold back, tell me what you really think.”
“I think Colley’s a fool, if you want to know.”
“Colley?” he says, bewildered.
“You don’t even know his name,” she says. There’s an edge of triumph to it, as well as the contempt. “You don’t know anything about him.”
He’s had sex often enough before now with men whose names he didn’t know, but this is different. The jolt of it makes his stomach lurch, like putting his foot on the last step of a staircase and finding it isn’t there after all. He’d heard one of the other Mission bandsmen call him Grant, that first night, and assumed it was his Christian name. What kind of a name is Colley, anyway?
“I told him it was a lost cause, trying to save you,” she says.
It knocks all the breath out of him.
“Save me from what?” he says when he can speak again.
She gives him an old-fashioned look. “Come on, Jonathan, you may be selfish but you’re not stupid. Your – lifestyle.”
Does she mean the gay thing? The BDSM? Surely Grant wouldn’t have told her about Art – would he? Whatever: it’s obviously bullshit. Has to be. There was the row about Art’s party, but that hardly qualifies as Grant trying to save him, does it?
Bell looks at him, her chin up, clearly spoiling for a fight. He’s not going to let her rattle him.
“You mean he only wants me for my soul? I’m crushed,” Jonathan says, striking his forehead theatrically.
“You can joke about it if you like –”
“Thanks, I will.”
“ – but that’s what he’s trying to do,” she insists. “Has been all along.”
Ridiculous to feel a chill at the words, but he does. It can’t be true. He knows it’s not true. Grant couldn’t kiss him the way he does if that’s all it meant. He knows what it feels like to kiss someone who’s not really into it, though it hasn’t happened often. And Grant is really into it. Christ, the way he gets in those long kissing sessions, flushed and panting, his cock iron-hard against Jonathan’s thigh. You can bet he hasn’t told Bell about that.
“He’s got a bloody funny way of going about it, if that’s what he’s after,” Jonathan says, as nonchalantly as he can manage. “But thanks for the warning. Wish Henry a Happy New Year from me.”
She mutters something that sounds suspiciously like Fuck you and starts banging about with a dustpan and brush.
“Jonathan, I swear, if you hurt him –”
“Bell,” Grant’s voice says, gently, and she stops dead.
Jonathan turns round, startled. He hadn’t even heard Grant come in.
There’s one hell of a strained silence. Bell looks as if she’d like to hit somebody, no prizes for guessing who. Jonathan’s reminded of the time he accidentally got between a mother seal and her pup, one summer visiting his cousins in Scotland. He’s not sure what Bell thinks she’s protecting Grant from – heartache, AIDS, the corruption of his immortal soul? – but Grant obviously thinks he can take care of himself. Given his track record to date, Jonathan would have to agree.
“We’re all done in there,” Grant says, and then to Jonathan “It’s good of you to help.”
“You’re welcome.” If Bell wasn’t there, he’d be asking Grant to come home with him. As it is, he says “Can I walk you to the Tube?”
“Oh,” Grant says, a little awkwardly. “I’m staying here tonight, but a walk would be nice. Get some fresh air. I won’t be long, Bell.”
“OK,” she says, not looking at either of them.
It’s a relief to swap that charged atmosphere for the streets full of drunken revellers.
“You could come back with me if you liked,” Jonathan says, because surely it’s worth a try.
Grant shakes his head. “Not tonight.”
Jonathan’s heart leaps. Does that mean he would come, some other night?
“I’ve got tomorrow off,” Grant says. “I could come round in the morning and we could spend the day together. That is, if you’d like to.”
“Yes,” Jonathan says, without a second thought. He’d like to take Grant’s hand, but it still feels weird doing that with a man in a Mission uniform. The conversation with Bell gnaws at him. “What’s Colley short for?”
“Colquhoun,” Grant says ruefully. “It’s a family name.”
“Wow,” says Jonathan. “Please tell me you have a middle name that doesn’t qualify as cruelty to children.”
“No middle name,” Grant says, and grins. “I get called Grant a lot, and that’s fine by me.”
“It suits you,” says Jonathan. He’s not sure Colley does, never mind Colquhoun.
“Did you go to Art’s party?” Grant asks, as if he’s not sure he wants to know the answer.
“For about ten minutes, yes,” says Jonathan. “I – it turned out I wasn’t in the mood for it.”
Grant seems relieved, though he wouldn’t be if he knew what had really happened. Kissing Art. Punching a wall. Throwing up. Panicking at the realization of what he wanted from Grant... Jonathan knows he has to say something about the way things are between them, but he doesn’t know how. Maybe it’ll be clearer in the morning. Or maybe there’ll be a miracle, Grant will change his mind, or the world will end, or something, and he won’t have to say anything at all.
Grant hugs and kisses him at the entrance to the Tube, heedless of passers-by, and fuck it, here Jonathan is again practically going weak at the knees just from this.
“Happy New Year,” Grant says, with a soft look that catches him under the heart. “See you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight,” Jonathan says. “Happy New Year.”
He thinks Grant’s watching him as he goes down the stairs into the Tube, but he doesn’t look back.
His phone starts flashing when he gets above ground again. Three text messages. One from William: Guess where Im spending the night HNY you tosser get well soon xxx. One from Art: Nap sends his regards. Christ, was Nap there? That’d be a first; Art can’t stand the man normally. But it would be just like his warped sense of humour to invite Nap because of the bet, and make sure Jonathan got trapped talking to him. Bastard. Had Art already promised him Jonathan’s services for the Empire brief? He groans, and reads the third text: Thanks again for coming, meant a lot. Sleep well and see you in the morning. Love Grant x
Sleep well. That’s a joke and not a good one. He stares at his phone screen and lets himself imagine tomorrow with Grant as he’s never seen him, a wish-fulfilment encounter with dialogue so melodramatic it makes him squirm. Grant saying he was wrong, he’s been trying to fight it but it’s too strong for him; saying he’s never felt like this about anyone before and he’s scared but yes, yes, he wants to; saying he’s sorry for all the frustration he’s put him through and he wants to make it up to him; saying he wants Jonathan to take him, to fuck him, to make him his –
“Damn and blast and bloody hell,” Jonathan says, and hurls his phone across the room. It does not break.
He lies awake for hours, staring into the darkness, trying not to think about Grant. His mind goes round and round in circles. Jealous visions of William tied up naked and begging on the dungeon floor. It could have been you, Art’s scornful look says. Loser. Lurid fantasies about the client meeting with Empire, like something out of a ridiculous 1970s porn film, Art fucking him across the desk while Nap and the others look on, politely bored or waiting their turn. He nearly gets off to that one, god help him, but the image of Bell’s furiously disapproving face cuts across his mind, breaking the spell. He buries his face in the pillow and groans in humiliation and defeat.
Why is Art goading him like this? It must be obvious that Jonathan’s going to lose, but what’s the point in rubbing it in? For the hundredth time Jonathan wishes he’d never taken the stupid bet, never got himself trapped in this impossible situation.
Never met Grant. Does he wish that?
He was doing just fine without Grant in his life, but that’s not the same thing.
I’d like a chance to get to know you, he’d told him at dinner in the Cuban restaurant, spinning a line and finding it was true. Well, he’s had his chance, and look where it’s got him. Oh, sure, he’s a world expert on Grant’s kissing techniques, but apart from that and his love of sci-fi and trance, what does he know now that he didn’t know then?
Bell was right, he didn’t even know Grant’s real name. She’s got under his skin with that one. Her other idea’s still crazy, and he’s not going to believe it. Though wasn’t there some weird sect that went in for what they called flirty-fishing? A sort of evangelical honey-trap. He imagines Grant sneering at him, openly contemptuous: You didn’t think I really wanted to go to bed with you, did you?
“Yes,” Jonathan says out loud. “Yes, I fucking did.”
He won’t believe it. He won’t. Grant did want him. Does want him. Would say yes, if it weren’t for the morality angle. He’d made it clear at the restaurant that he wouldn’t want to have sex with someone he didn’t care about. But he is starting to care about Jonathan, isn’t he?
Love Grant x
Lots of people sign their texts with love, but not Grant. And the way he looked at Jonathan, that soft open look…
He imagines that look fading from Grant’s face, imagines him pale with hurt again, the way he was when they had the row about Art’s party. It’s unbearable. He needs hurt to be a simple, measurable thing, the way it is with Art: the infliction of physical pain to the point where he almost uses his safeword, but not quite. He can’t have that responsibility for someone else’s happiness and misery. He’s always resisted getting involved. That’s what the club is about, and the anonymous sex.
Give in to a look like that, and you might as well kiss your freedom goodbye. That’s a look that comes with joint tax returns and matching aprons and always saying “we” instead of “I”. Sleeping together, not a euphemism but dull reality. Wearing a ring on your finger instead of your cock. Happily ever after in hell.
He doesn’t want that. He’s never wanted that. Christ, he can’t breathe. Maybe he’s actually dying. That would solve everything.
Eventually he falls into an exhausted sleep for a few hours, and wakes up ragged and thick-headed. He takes a long shower to clear his brain. It works, as it always does, but he’s left with a queasy sensation of impending doom, a chill in his stomach in spite of all the hot water. He really doesn’t want this confrontation, but there’s no way out of it. When the entryphone buzzes for Grant’s arrival, he almost jumps out of his skin.