© Clare London
It was almost a relief when someone finally said something, though I didn’t think so at the time. I’ll give the kid his due, as soon as he spoke he realised he’d probably done some damage. His face flushed scarlet and his mouth popped open in one of those comic-book ‘O’s. His stupid, petulant, careless little mouth. It should have stuck to cock sucking, that’s about all it was qualified for.
If it had been half an hour earlier, Ed wouldn’t have been around. He was working late; he’d said he probably wouldn’t be at the pub tonight. Dammit, he hardly ever was around for these events. And no-one else heard; no-one else cared a shit.
After all, it wasn’t as if a few of them hadn’t been in the same situation themselves.
But, hey, Ed was there, and he was standing right next to me, and he heard the kid as plain as day. “It was good,” the kid had said, in a voice far more than a stage whisper, his hand plucking at my sleeve and his eyes disorientated from too much drink. “Do me again, Mac. Whatever you want. Just let me have it again.”
Guess he thought he was starring in some kind of adult movie with dialogue like that. I preferred him silent and just that little bit scared of me, pushed to his knees in the toilet and with those plump lips sucking hard on my dick. I’d pulled his hair pretty roughly, and when I swelled in his mouth, hot and gasping, he’d choked and coughed. He was right: it had been good.
Now his wary eyes flickered between my face, the toilet door and Ed’s stony glare. I placed a hand firmly on his shoulder and turned him away from us. I bent to his ear and hissed in it. He got the message and scooted off.
There was silence between Ed and me for a minute. Behind us in the pub there were the familiar sounds of glasses clinking, men laughing, the hiss of traffic passing in the grey rain outside the frosted windows. I shrugged.
“I guess you had to know about it sooner or later. It wasn’t anything important. Just a bit of fun. You know I need it, Ed. I need it a lot.”
“Explanation or excuse?” His voice was one of the things that had attracted me to him in the first place. Deep and slow, just as he liked to be fucked. Now I realised he was waiting for me to say something; something specific. Something that wasn’t coming to mind too easily. Perhaps the kid had worn me out more than I acknowledged.
“The kids…” Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted to the fact there were many. What the hell did it matter? Like I told him, it wasn’t important. “They’re just distractions. Just something extra.”
“Because you can’t get what you want from me?”
I shrugged again: frowned. “That’s not it.” But I couldn’t say exactly what was. “You knew what I was like when you moved in, Ed. I never lied.”
“Yes, I knew what you were like,” he said, but it didn’t sound like he was agreeing with me.
“You want me to tell you I won’t see him again?”
“See him?” Ed’s eyes widened. He had fabulous eyes; caught every last flicker of light. I’m no poet, obviously, but his looks fascinated me from the day I met him. His whole face showed his emotions, his passions, and he didn’t seem to care who saw it. But that day, in that seedy pub, leaning awkwardly against the bar, I couldn’t seem to read him like usual. “It’s hardly a question of seeing him, Mac, is it?” he said, his voice even lower. “I doubt you know his name – I doubt you could recognise him again in a crowd. Maybe the top of his head; maybe the whimpers he makes when you fuck his mouth.”
I winced. This topic had never led anywhere good in the past. “So what do you want?”
“I know about the extras,” he said, as if I hadn’t spoken. “All of them.” He had a drink in front of him on the bar but he’d barely touched it. He looked down at it now, at the pale brown liquid, at the dribble of condensation running down the outside of the glass. “I’ve found sordid little souvenirs all over the flat during the last few months – dirty socks, curled up condoms, scraps of paper with mobile phone numbers scribbled on them with indecent haste. And whenever we’re out, I see the way you draw them to you. Sometimes I think it’s not even deliberate. You just have that look of… hunger. Greed.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but he continued regardless. He’d taken control of the conversation, which perturbed me.
“Yeah, Mac, even when we’re out. Shit, you can’t give me undivided attention, even for an hour. I go for a piss – the barman goes to change a barrel. You go and get sucked off by some stranger in a cubicle, or shag him in the doorway of a nearby shop. Then you return with a hell of a thirst and a self-satisfied grin.” He glanced back up at me. He didn’t look too good. Bags under his eyes and all. I wondered when he’d started to look so tired. “Did you think I didn’t notice?”
I bit my lip. His words were harsh, he looked like shit – and yet everything he said was in a quiet, steady tone. “What’s the problem, then, Ed?”
And then he smiled. It was odd: it was a smile and yet it wasn’t. “Ah, Mac. That’s the irony. You’ll never understand what the problem is, because to you, it’s no such thing. You don’t recognise that kind of respect. You don’t respond to that level of mutual consideration.”
Things didn’t feel good at all. I was braced for a scene, but that smile thing had confused me. His attitude seemed far too calm. Why wasn’t his voice louder? Why wasn’t his expression angrier? “Look, Ed, I know you’re mad…”
“No, I’m not.” He curled his hand round the glass, then released it, without moving it at all. I wasn’t sure he even saw it. He shook his head and sighed. “I was mad, but now I’m not. I can’t say I’m over it – over you – but I’m over being mad.”
We were silent again for a moment. I still had that feeling I should have said something else – I should have been saying something else. My head hurt. My chest felt tight. “Ed… it’s always been different with you. But it’s not like we said we’d be exclusive.”
“Those were your terms,” he said gently. “Not mine.”
“Sure,” he interrupted. “You never lied.”
Why was I struggling with this? I had my own life; I had my own way. He didn’t own me, or my leisure time. “They’re just something extra,” I shrugged, reverting to my previous excuse. “They’re nothing really. I’m always careful.”
His eyes narrowed. “Yeah, you practise safe sex. Safe from commitment and respect.”
“It’s always been different with you,” I repeated, rather doggedly. I found I was watching his mouth as if to see his words physically spilling out. Maybe I thought that’d make it easier to catch the meaning. Wide, generous lips, good to kiss, good to be kissed by. No-one told a joke like he did, sharp and dry. No-one else smiled in that lopsided way. He smelled of shampoo and clean clothes; he’d changed before coming down here, which was more than I’d done. His hair was tousled, but then I liked it that way.
I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off him. I reached out to touch him, to draw him close to me.
He pulled back. Very slightly, but enough for me to notice and to pause in surprise. “Don’t,” he said. “I know you believe that, but that’s not what I want to remember. Actually, I want to forget.” He gathered up his jacket from the nearby stool and stepped away from the bar. “I’ll be off now. I don’t think I’ve left anything at the flat, but if I have, it won’t be anything that matters.”
“What’s going on?” My voice seemed rather hoarse. The noise around us in the pub had deadened into a dull babble. “You’re moving out?”
“I’ve moved,” he said. “Now it’s your turn not to notice. I’ve been moving my stuff out of the flat over the last couple of days.”
I stared. “OK. Well, whatever you want, I suppose. Guess it’s best we know where we stand. I’ll see you around.”
“No,” he said. “No, you won’t.”
I turned my back on him. I concentrated on my beer. But there was a mirror behind the counter and I watched his reflection as he walked out on to the street. The swing door closed behind him.
My face felt tight, as if the skin were stretched. One of my fists was clenched. There’d always been plenty of extras in my life. Many, many extras. Extra mouths, extra hips, extra arses. All of them just a blur of pale, barely matured flesh, mewling mouths, pleading eyes. Hands without the confidence to grasp me back; bodies that never seem to know enough to give me any challenge. Unformed; uninitiated; unremarkable.
You see, Ed was the extra one, really. These kids, these distractions – that’s all they really were. I’d had years of them; my life had been saturated with casual shags. My days and nights were filled with largely tiresome fucks. Then Ed had moved in. He was the reality. His company was the extra dimension – the extra pleasure.
The balance had been wrong somewhere. He’d been the extra, not the routine.
There was a blare of street noise as the door to the pub swung open again. My eyes darted back up to the mirror, but it was just a group of kids, out for the evening. Young; laughing; raucous. One of the better-looking ones caught my eye and held it just a little too long for it to be innocent.
I let my gaze drop back down to my neglected beer.