The conversation between them over dinner had been light and easy. Frighteningly so, in Glen’s opinion. It was as if the twenty years that had passed were only twenty days. Their sense of humor was similar—dry, with a bantering wit that could turn sharp. They both liked the outdoor life and to talk about environmental issues. Glen hadn’t traveled like Aston had, but Aston didn’t have Glen’s knowledge of popular culture. Glen was apparently cool, according to Adam’s mates, because he kept up with current movies. However, one thing was significantly different. In the past, Aston had always led the conversation, being the older and more sophisticated man, but not tonight. Tonight, Glen held his own and often caught Aston’s fascinated eyes on him, nodding at what he, Glen, had to say.
Careful, Glen chided himself. He couldn’t deny the shiver of pleasure that ran down his spine. “Anyway, your palate was probably spoiled by all those social events.” Aston had been prominent in the local Kingsmere community, and that included a lot of supper meetings and entertaining at home. Nothing like Glen, popping out on a Thursday after work for fish and chips.
“Was it like that?” Aston looked genuinely puzzled. “I suppose so. I don’t often think about it.”
Glen glanced at him. He looked less and less like the smooth, urbane doctor about town as the evening wore on. There was a drop of bright orange sauce at the corner of his mouth, and he’d rolled up his sleeves in the well-heated room. His forearms were muscled and the skin taut, though it was marked with freckles from the sun and a couple of moles. Aston’s skin had been paler and younger in that previous time. Of course, it’s the same for all of us. Glen was annoyed with himself for letting his mind wander, and busied himself with ladling more rice onto his plate. “Is your life in London like that too?”
Aston shook his head. “Not the same. I like London for the buzz, for the excitement. But it doesn’t have the same kind of local community feel as Kingsmere.” He looked at Glen curiously. “I suspect that’s why you’ve stayed here.”
Glen wasn’t sure he liked the idea of exposing his thoughts and feelings to Aston Walsh. But the room was comfortable, the lager was easing the way very nicely, and Aston had always been good company. “Yes, I suppose so. I like it here—the people, the town. My family’s close, I’ve found a good circle of friends, I like my job. And I don’t have to travel miles to get to it.”
“I envy you,” Aston said. His voice sounded rough. “I did back then too.”
“Me?” Glen would have laughed aloud, and loudly, if the room hadn’t been full of other diners. “You were the established doctor, only just thirty, with a glamorous lifestyle and potentially prestigious career in London. I was just a couple of years out from my degree, slogging through a management course for a DIY retail chain. I was never going to save lives, or change global health. I was never going to set the world ablaze like you planned to do.” His voice had risen. He cleared his throat and ratcheted it down a notch. “And you had the drive to succeed, Aston. I don’t begrudge you a second of it.”
Aston stared at him, his meal ignored. “Did you really believe that? That all I wanted was that?”
Glen didn’t want to go there. “So when do you hope to go back?”
Aston stared for a moment longer, then seemed to shake himself back to life. He picked up his fork again. “I don’t know. I thought it would be no more than a couple of months to sort out Mother’s affairs, but now I’m not so sure. To be honest, I have to decide how many more years I have to work, and where I want to do it.”
It sounded a very heartfelt statement. Glen smiled, wishing his heartbeat would stay steady. He hadn’t felt nervous like this since he went for his original interview at DIY-Not, all those years ago. “You’re planning for that early retirement in Kingsmere?”
Aston smiled too. The skin crinkled at the corners of his eyes. Glen thought how unfair it was that it only added to Aston’s attractiveness. “I’m fifty already,” Aston said. “It’s on my mind.”
Glen nodded. He was still younger, of course, but also at that stage when he questioned where he was in life and how long he wanted to be there. Maybe that was why he’d been thinking about Jack recently. Not that he necessarily wanted those days back again—and not that he’d travel to the other side of the world to chase something that had amicably run its course—but it had been a good time. “You’re lucky to have the flexibility to move back here for a while, to spend your time on something other than your job. We can all get trapped on that hamster wheel of job and money and routine. But now, since you’ve been on your own—” He realized what he’d said as soon as the words left his mouth, but he couldn’t call them back. “Shit, I’m sorry. One, it’s none of my business and, two, of course you won’t be on your own. You’re probably with someone at the moment.”
Aston took a long moment to answer. “You mean, like you are?”
Glen flushed. “I’m not.”
“And neither am I.” Aston nodded. “Neither of us had anyone to call when we came out for dinner, did we?” When Glen remained silent, Aston stretched his hand toward him, halfway across the tabletop, and placed it palm down on the dark red cloth. It was as if he wanted to take Glen’s hand but knew not to take that step here, in a public place. Or doubted that Glen would let him. “I never found anything like it again, Glen. I never found anyone like you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Glen wished he hadn’t sounded so sharp, but really. Didn’t Aston know how embarrassingly cheesy that sounded? How much that hurt?
Aston frowned. “Christ, Glen, I’m not spinning a line. I’m not even trying to seduce you. I’ve given up that game by now. I’m just saying it like it is. Oh, I’ve dated. Found company. Had good and bad sex. But there haven’t been any men I’d want to share the years ahead with. What about you?”
“Me?” Glen blinked hard. “I do all right for myself.”
“This is a small town.”
“Plenty of people pass through,” Glen snapped back.
Aston didn’t look offended. He even smiled. “Good for you. I always hoped you found someone special.”
“He’s called Jack.” Glen rarely talked about his private life. That was what private meant, wasn’t it? Yet talking to Aston felt like a relief. “We met when he was traveling from New Zealand on one of those round-the-world tickets. I always admire the way so many people travel, just get up and do it. He’s a real adventurer.” Jack had been a breath of fresh air, confident, determined, sometimes rash, often coarse. But tremendously exciting, and sexually bold. “We had almost ten years together.”
“God. I mean… he’s…?”
“Oh, he’s fine. He just went back there,” Glen said quickly. Aston looked stricken but slightly relieved at having dodged the bullet from a tale of bereavement. “He moved home—or rather, on with his travels, via Europe and then the Far East—five years ago. He’s back in New Zealand now, and we keep in touch.”
“I’m sorry, Glen. That he left you here.”
“No, it’s fine.” Glen wondered why he felt defensive. “I didn’t want to go to New Zealand. We’d had a great time, and it was a good parting.”
Aston raised his eyebrows. “Shakespeare? Julius Caesar, I believe. ‘If we do meet again, why, we shall smile. If not, why then this parting was well made.’”
Glen smiled. He had few people in his life he could quote Shakespeare with, yet he loved so many of the plays. “Yes, definitely something like that.”
The waiter passed their table and asked if they needed anything else. Glen glanced questioningly at Aston.
“Actually, I think I’ve had enough.” Aston got up rather clumsily from his seat.
“Are you okay?” Glen had seen him drunk in the past, but he’d still moved easily. This was something different.
Aston nodded but his gaze skittered away. “I’ll just go to the Gents. Excuse me.” He sidled out from behind the table and weaved his way toward the back of the room. When Glen turned in his chair to check he went the right way, he caught the eye of his friend, the owner, supervising behind the small bar. The man grinned, nodded toward Aston’s retreating back, and winked at Glen.
Bloody hell. Glen turned away with a rueful smile. He didn’t feel like explaining it wasn’t a date. Instead he sipped the last couple of inches of his lager, then asked the waiter to bring the bill.