Babes

December 2009

James

I’m idly browsing online one evening, surfing for something – anything – interesting, when an article from a gay gossip column catches my eye. At first I think I’m imagining it, but no matter how I squint at the screen, the words don’t change.

Simon Vermeulen, last seen crashing spectacularly at the Spanish Vuelta (a 3,000km cycling race), has found solace in the arms of a team-mate, my spies tell me. London-based Vermeulen, 27, and his friend were spotted at the stylish Moro restaurant last week, apparently enjoying a cosy meal for two. Which team-mate is it? That would be telling, but at least his Virgin bosses won’t have to worry about it being a problem for very much longer.

My best guess is that the team-mate is Gil, although I don’t immediately understand the reference to the team bosses. A moment’s thought and Google produces the answer.

Mark Gilwood confirmed yesterday that he will be moving to the US Garmin-Slipstream team from 1 January. Gilwood, 26, said in a statement that, “I’ve enjoyed an incredible three years with British Virgin, and leave with many happy memories. I’ll be joining an equally respected team at Garmin and I look forward to winning with them very soon.”

Jealousy stabs at me. I hate the thought of Simon with anyone else. Since I got home I’ve been trying very hard not to think about him, and mostly failing. I’ve been about as successful at telling myself that I didn’t overreact drastically when I left Madrid. I wasted four years mooning over Aaron before I finally figured out that he was never going to come out. I want to think that I was right not to let the same thing happen with Simon, but the knowledge that he’s dating publicly gnaws at me. I could have had that, if I’d had some patience and empathy.

Annoyed with myself, I shut my laptop. I’m determined not to feel sorry for myself. I’ve got friends, family and work, and that will have to be enough.

It’s not enough.

It’s holiday season, and everywhere I go I’m reminded that I’m not loved-up. Even my gym is getting in on the act, offering a discount to couples who want to get fit together before Christmas. My snort of disgust makes the guy stood next to me laugh.

“You’re fed up with all the kissy-kissy shit too, eh?”

“Everyone knows Christmas is a time for getting drunk and fighting with your family, not being happy.”

“Amen to that. Luc.” He’s smiling, holding out his hand.

I shake it. “James. Nice to meet you.” He’s tall, blond and lean, and my prick does the thinking for me. “Fancy a beer?”

He looks at his watch. “Sure. The bar round the corner, eh? Or… my apartment’s only half a block away.”

The tacit invitation hangs in the air. If you don’t count Simon, I’ve not gotten laid in months. “Sounds good to me.” I pick up my kit bag and Luc leads the way.

His apartment is cluttered and chaotic, the polar opposite to mine. I sold everything before I left and I’ve not bought much new furniture yet, although I suppose I’ll have to at some point. I haven’t thought that far ahead.

Luc passes me a beer. “Have a seat.” We drink in silence for a moment. “Are you new in town? I’ve not seen you at the gym before.”

I’ve not seen him either, but then I’ve not been looking. “Yeah – I only got here a few weeks ago. I’m still just figuring everything out.” I don’t want to talk about me, I want to fuck him. As if he picks up on the vibe, he grins.

“Well, you got me figured out.” He puts his beer down and his hand on my thigh. “What do you say?”

I don’t answer, but I put my beer down and lean towards him. He kisses me back hungrily, as if he’s as horny as I am. Maybe he is. Without pulling away he unzips my sweater and snakes his hands up under my tee. It feels good but I’m remote, watching it all from somewhere else. It takes me a moment to remember to reciprocate.

Luc’s on his feet, pulling me towards the bedroom. He shucks his jeans eagerly and reaches for my belt buckle. “You’re freaking hot, James – you know that?”

I kick my trainers off, letting him strip me. My prick’s rigid but my brain’s not with it. All I can think is that this is what I wanted with Simon. I shake my head, trying to physically shift the memory of him. I’m here to get laid, not pine over a guy I barely knew.

Luc looks at me. “How do you want me? I’ve got rubbers – you can have me any way you like.” My cock twitches at the expression on his face, and finally, mercifully, instinct takes over.

“I want to fuck you. Fast and hard the first time…”

He’s visibly turned on at the thought. “And after that?”

I grin. “Well, maybe then I’ll have the patience to go easy on you the second time. Maybe.” I take his shoulders, spinning him around, and he doesn’t stop me.

We spend all afternoon fucking, coming up for air finally when Luc’s stomach won’t stop grumbling. He sits up and stretches. “I could cook, if you’re hungry?”

I shake my head. I’m operating in a fragile bubble of normality, and staying much longer canlı bahis şirketleri will destroy it. “Thanks, but I should get going. I’m meeting family later.” It’s a lie, but I don’t want to be rude.

To my relief, Luc doesn’t push it. “Oh yeah, I know that feeling. Got to keep the parents happy, eh?” He pulls on his jeans while I dress. Back in the living room there’s a pause while we look at each other. “It’s been fun. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime?”

I’m not sure that I want to. But I’m bound to run into him again in the gym, and he seems like a nice guy. I summon up enthusiasm. “Sure, that sounds good. I’ll see you around.”

I leave the building and walk aimlessly, not sure where I’m headed or caring very much. It’s started to snow and I have to move quickly to stay warm. I’m not really dressed for it, but I don’t want to go back to my empty, silent apartment until I have to. Fortunately I soon reach a small shopping mall and duck in to get out of the weather.

The smell of hot oil wafts from a tiny food court, reminding me that I’ve not eaten since breakfast. Hunger makes the offered noodles appetising. I eat greedily, hoping that the food will fill the hollow in my stomach and knowing that it won’t. I don’t feel guilty at having used Luc – he approached me, after all – but rather than easing the ache of losing Simon, it just seems to have made it worse. I’ve still got his number in my phone – I know I should delete it, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I have a fantasy that I’ll call him and he’ll be pleased to hear from me, but even if I dared, he’s dating Gil now.

I sit in the food court for a long time, staring blankly into space until I realise that I’m looking at a Hallmark. Before I can talk myself out of it I’m in the store, trying to choose a card. Unsurprisingly there’s nothing appropriate for what I want to say, but finally I pick one. It takes me ages to compose a two-sentence message, and I address and mail it while I’ve still got the nerve.

Then I head home, picking up vodka on the way, and get mindlessly drunk.

~

From: [simonvermeulen]

To: [jameshamilton]

Subject: Merry Christmas

Date: Wed, 23 Dec 2009 21:36:45

Hi James

Thanks for your card. I didn’t expect to hear from you, so it was a nice surprise. Happy Christmas to you too 🙂 I guess you’ve got a proper white Christmas over there, not like London, which is cold and wet as usual. Sometime I wonder exactly why I chose to live here.

I’ve been enjoying the festive season – the holidays came at exactly the right time for me this year. I’ve not been on a bike since Spain and I must have put on 5kg, but it’ll come off again soon enough. A group of us race around Richmond Park every Boxing Day, and I’ll start training again properly after that. In the meantime, I reckon there’s time for one more season of Dexter…

How are things with you? It must have been nice to see everyone again after so long away. Did you go back into engineering, or have you decided to try something else?

I’m doing okay. It was hard to hear what you had to say in Madrid, but it needed saying, so thank you. I’ve been dating – and public – nothing serious but I’m having fun. As predicted, the sky hasn’t fallen in. In fact, the comment I got most often was “I’ve thought you were gay for years, I assumed you were already out”. So yeah, spot the idiot :-/

Maybe that’s tmi, but I thought you’d like to know that I’ve finally grown a pair. Gil likes to tell me that they’re a very small pre-teen boy pair – but there’s no pleasing Gil 🙂

Anyway, that’s quite enough from me, so I’ll leave you in peace. I hope things are good for you, and thanks again for the card. Stay in touch?

Si

From: [jameshamilton]

To: [simonvermeulen]

Subject: RE Merry Christmas

Date: Thu, 31 Dec 2009 12:14:17

Dear Si

I’m glad you got the card okay. I wasn’t sure if I should send it, but I still had your address so I thought I’d risk it.

I can just imagine Gil giving you grief over your new balls! You and he make a good couple – he’s the impulsive crazy one and you’re the brains. You sound happy, and that’s a good thing.

Edmonton seems to have shrunk since I’ve been away. I guess it happens to anyone who goes travelling, but all the ‘city’ things that used to be so glamorous now just seem dull. Everyone in my old group has gotten married or settled down, and I know I’m boring people with the “when I was in Europe” stories. I’m actually seriously thinking about doing some more travelling, but I’ll need to save first. I did go back into engineering, and fortunately I haven’t forgotten everything I used to know, so it’s not all bad.

Well, you’re probably already out celebrating – I hear the Brits like to get started early on NYE 😉

Happy New Year – I hope 2010 is a good one for you.

James

~

I keep expecting the blues to lift, but they don’t. If anything they get worse, and to compensate I throw myself into my canlı kaçak iddaa work. Back in September I’d tentatively approached the firm I’d worked for before I went travelling, and after a series of interviews I somehow landed a role that’s a couple of levels of seniority higher than the one I left. The increased workload and stress turn out to be exactly what I need, keeping me busy and distracted.

After a few months it’s as if I’ve never left. All the same, I’m puzzled when one bleak February afternoon the department head stops by my desk unexpectedly.

“James, we’d like to meet with you. Can you be free for 3pm?”

I can’t help immediately wondering what I’ve screwed up. “Of course. Do I need to prepare?”

“No, we’d just like to discuss your performance. Nothing to worry about.” He smiles but he’s already walking away, his mind on the next task.

My PA comes over. “What was that about? You in trouble?” She looks concerned.

“I don’t know, Brandi. You know Alistair better than I do.”

She crosses her arms, looking determined. “Well, if he’s got bad things to say then he’s wrong. You’re the nicest consultant I’ve worked for, and I’m not afraid to tell him that.”

I can’t help smiling. Brandi’s the scattiest PA I’ve ever met, and I’m sure she only likes me because I don’t bawl her out as often as she deserves. But her kindness makes me feel a little better. “Thanks. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, like he said.”

Time crawls until 3pm, but eventually I make my way upstairs to the exec meeting room. Alistair’s waiting for me at the door. “James, thanks for coming. Meet Walter and Gordon. Have a seat.” I shake hands silently and sit down. Surely letting me go doesn’t take three of them?

Alistair smiles reassuringly. “No need to look so worried, son. Like I said, we want to discuss your performance. How are you settling in? Enjoying it here?”

I gather my thoughts. “It’s been going pretty well, I think. The MacDonald project is ahead of schedule, and I’ve already made a start on the application for the Borden hotel.”

Gordon nods. “Yes, we’ve noticed that you get results. But that’s not what we’re asking. Are you happy?”

What? “Uh, yeah, I guess so.”

Alistair leans forward, resting his chin on his elbows. “Really, son? Because you don’t seem it. I don’t think I’ve seen you smile since you’ve been back.”

I have no idea what to say, so I just look at them. Can they fire me for being depressed?

Walter pours himself a coffee, stirring creamer thoughtfully. “I did some asking around – people who remembered you from two years ago. They all said the same thing, that you used to be the life and soul of the party. So we got to wondering. What’s changed?”

Gordon chips in. “You’re doing a great job – very impressive. You’ve grown up while you were away, that’s obvious.”

I can’t help wincing. If screwing things up with Simon so badly means that I’ve grown up, I’ll take being a teenager. I put on my best bland expression. “Thanks, that’s good to hear.”

Walter doesn’t let it drop. “You’re not bored? You’ve had a taste of Europe – maybe coming home isn’t how you imagined it? Maybe you’re wondering how soon you can leave again?”

I stare at them, shifting uneasily in my chair and wondering if they’ve been reading my emails. “It is strange to be back home, I agree. I liked Europe a lot. But that doesn’t mean I’m thinking about leaving again. It would wreck my career, for one thing. And I like my job here.”

“Hah.” Now it’s Gordon who leans forward. “So if it didn’t wreck your career, you’d consider it?”

I sit up straighter. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to tell me where you’re going with this.”

All three of them are silent, looking at each other. Finally Alistair speaks. “This is strictly confidential, you understand.” I nod. “We’re in the final stages of an overseas acquisition – we’ve been wanting to expand for a while and this ticks all the boxes. But one problem we do have is the current management. They’re… resistant, shall we say, to the way we want things done. The obvious answer is to put one of our own people in – but who?”

Walter nods in agreement. “All our more senior consultants are settled here – family, schools, the usual thing. We could relocate someone, but frankly it would cost us more than it’s worth. And then Alistair suggested looking at a younger candidate. Someone without ties, someone who’s not afraid of being self-sufficient. Someone, perhaps, who’s showing a lot of promise, who we think could handle the pressure. Who doesn’t seem to have quite settled back into Edmonton life, and might want something more.”

Oh. Wow. For the first time since I got back, someone’s said something that’s genuinely caught my interest. “Are you sure? I’ve only been at this grade for a few months. I don’t know how to run an office.”

“We wouldn’t leave you out to dry, son. You’d have long-distance support, and one of us would fly out every month or so to see how you’re getting on. canlı kaçak bahis The office is already established – your job would be as our man on the ground, making sure that things are going the way we want them to. And of course the package would reflect your promotion.”

Alistair sits back, and they look at me expectantly. My mouth’s dry and my mind’s racing. It sounds… fun. It sounds scary, but they clearly want me to say yes, which means they’ll help me not to screw up too badly. And they’re right – I am bored and fed up here. What’s the worst that could happen?

I clear my throat. “Okay, yes, I’d love to. And I’ll do my best job for you.”

Gordon smiles. “Just make sure that you do, laddie.” He glances at his watch, getting ready to leave. “I’ll have Human Resources talk to you about relocation support, and we’ll get a new agreement drawn up this week. Can you be ready to move by the end of this month?”

That makes me pause – I’d assumed the move wouldn’t be for ages yet. But still, it doesn’t change my answer. “Of course. I’m on a short lease where I am.” And I still haven’t got much furniture. “I suppose I should ask, where are you sending me?”

Alistair laughs. “I knew I’d forgotten to mention something. The new office is in London. England. I assume that’s not a problem?”

~

I walk along the quiet street, my pace getting slower and slower as I approach the address I want. I’ve been imagining doing this for weeks now, and I’ve finally worked up the courage to go through with it. All the same, I feel sick. A short flight of steps leads up to the front door and I pause at the bottom. It’s long since dark and the curtains are closed, but I can see that the lights are on and that someone’s home. I’m slightly disappointed – if the house had been empty I could have snuck away, pretending I’d never been here. I take a breath, running over my rehearsed speech one last time. Then, hands shaking, I climb the steps and ring the doorbell.

When Simon realises who’s stood on his doorstep, he goes very still. I can’t take my eyes off him. He looks exactly as good as I’ve remembered him. If he really did put on 5kg over Christmas, it’s not there now.

He stares at me, not saying anything, no doubt wondering why I’m here. What I’d planned to say suddenly seems pathetic and trite, and all I can think is how stupid I must look.

He breaks the silence first. “What are you doing here?” He doesn’t sound hostile, just confused.

“Simon, I…” I swallow hard. “I owe you an apology. I should never have said what I did – I’ve regretted it ever since. It was unfair and unkind…” The memory of his stricken expression flashes into my head. “I’m sorry, for what that’s worth. I’ve missed you.”

He doesn’t move, his hand still poised to close the door in my face.

Now I’ve started talking, I can’t stop. “There’s not been a day that I haven’t thought about you. I thought being four thousand miles away would help, but I couldn’t get you out of my head. I know you’re dating Gil and I’m saying this months too late, but I’m so sorry. Even if you never want to see me again, you should know that.”

His arm drops to his side. “I’ve missed you too. When you left, it was…” His eyes close for a second. “I wish I’d just taken you to that damn party.”

“I wish I’d never left. I over-reacted and I was out of line. Can you forgive me?”

“I never blamed you. Didn’t you get my email that said you’d done the right thing?”

“You’re too generous. I was an asshole to you.”

He shakes his head. “You were honest – I was the arse. Why are we even arguing about this, anyway?”

“You’re right, I should go. But it was good to see you, Si. Tell Gil I said hello.”

He catches my arm as I start to step away. “You don’t need to leave. And, um… I’m not dating Gil. Not any more, anyway.” He opens his mouth to say something else, just as there’s a yell from inside the house.

“Simon, you want to heat the whole of London? Shut the door.”

It’s a man’s voice. The flash of hope fades and dies – I am too late after all. “Shit, I’m sorry, just turning up and spouting off like that… You’re busy.”

Simon smiles, and opens the door wide. “No, not really. Come in. Meet my dad.”

~~x~~

March 2010

Simon

I close the door carefully behind James, still not entirely believing that he’s actually here. We’ve emailed once or twice since Christmas but I never really expected to see him again. And now he’s in my home.

Dad stands up as we walk into the living room, clearly surprised to see a visitor. I look at him through James’s eyes – a man in his 60s with a full head of white hair, a little shorter than me and a little rounder, but still fit and active. I’m pretty sure I’ll look like him as I get older, and I can’t help wondering what James might think of that. I push the idea away. It still hurts too much to let myself imagine that he and I could grow old together.

James holds out his hand. “Mr Vermeulen. I’m James Hamilton, a…” He pauses for a second. “A friend of Simon’s.” He glances over his shoulder at me. “I hope, anyway.”

Dad looks at him briefly before returning the handshake. “I don’t see all his other friends banging on the door at nine o’clock on a Sunday night, hey?”

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