© Clare London / 2010
Richie wriggled his way along the row of seats, muttering ‘Excuse me’ like some kind of mantra. His long legs knocked against people’s knees and the end of his braid snagged in some guy’s coat buttons which made for a rather embarrassing couple of minutes while they untangled him. He couldn’t believe how popular this damned movie was, he usually avoided anything remotely ‘blockbuster’ for this very reason. And what fool came to the movies on the holiday weekend, when every other damned person was out getting a life? Well, Richie Robbins, that’s who, the fool who was even now struggling to get to his seat in the dim lighting, trampling on god knows what underfoot, just knowing that when he emerged, he’d find discarded sweet wrappers and congealed lumps of popcorn stuck all over his suede boots…
He took a deep breath and stepped over the last pair of legs to reach his seat.
There was someone else already there.
“Huh?” Richie frowned. The guy in his seat looked up at him and frowned, too. Richie couldn’t help but notice how good-looking he was, dark and lean and with a glowering look. He was just Richie’s type… well, he would be if Richie were interested in seeking out his type. Richie reckoned it was so long since he’d had any sort of a decent date that he’d probably forgotten what to do with his type even if it appeared naked before him on a silver tray with an apple in its mouth, trussed hand and foot and with a note tied around its neck asking him to give it a good fu—
Richie suddenly noticed the glowering look, aimed directly at him. “Excuse me,” the dark-haired man said, coldly. “But there are no more spare seats along this row, you need to back out again before you do us all some serious cartilage damage.”
Richie raised an eyebrow. What the hell-? “Excuse me, but I’m here for my seat and that’s the one you’re sitting in. I guess it’s you that needs to do the backing out.”
The other man stood up, as tall as Richie and now face to irritated face. “I have a ticket.”
“Me too,” snapped Richie. He waved it triumphantly, just to emphasise the point. “Seat W13.”
The guy scrabbled in his pocket and brought out his ticket stub. “W13,” he read out. He looked back up at Richie, his glower being replaced with confusion.
They stared at each other for a moment.
“What’s up?” hissed a man in a dull-colored raincoat, sitting on the other side of the interloper. “Will one or other of you sit down? The movie starts in ten minutes.”
“It was a gift,” said Richie, thoughtfully, more to himself than anyone else. “The ticket was one of those silly holiday raffle gifts. Anonymous. Came through the door.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” growled the other man. “That’s what mine was, too. Did you set this up to make a fool of me?”
Richie still stared. The guy was cute when he was angry, though he’d rather have observed him under more comfortable circumstances. His eyes were very blue and very bright, and when he nodded his head sharply like that, the dark hair fell forward and curled over his left eyebrow.
“Are you some kind of idiot?” The guy was getting frustrated. “Are you even listening?”
“Sorry,” muttered Richie, hauling his brain up from the depths of his groin. The odds were, of course, totally against him – odds that the guy was gay, that he was free, that he’d have any interest in a dork who was arguing with him in the middle of a row in the movie house. Yeah, so against him that the best thing he could do was turn around and go back home before he added to his extensive collection of Humiliating Experiences…
He found himself standing his ground, instead. “Don’t call me an idiot. You’re the one in my seat. Maybe it’s your moronic joke, not mine. You thought about how this looks to me?”
He was almost immediately ashamed to see that the guy hadn’t thought of that. He flushed quite deeply and his expression relaxed at once into concern. “God, I never realized… well, yes, of course you might think that. But this is as much a surprise to me as you. We’ve both been a victim here. I’ve no idea how the duplication happened.”
There was an urgent hiss from the end of the row and an usher peered along at them. The Raincoat Guy beside them smirked, obviously having called for official help. “What’s the problem, guys?” called the usher. “One of you has got to sit down and the other one move along.”
The dark haired man put a hand on Richie’s arm. “Look, I’ll go, it’s no problem.”
Richie glanced at him. There was a tug of panic in his chest and he knew – for whatever reason – that this mustn’t happen. “No,” he said, quickly. He had an irresistible urge to smack Raincoat Guy, sitting securely in his Seat of Self-Righteousness. “No, you have the seat and I’ll just go and sit on the steps at the side instead -”
“No, you won’t,” interrupted the usher. “Fire hazard.”
“Huh? I might spontaneously combust?” Richie stared at him, dumbly.
The usher sneered. “If there’s a fire, the stairs and exits must be kept clear.”
“The rest of us would be obstructed,” pitched in Raincoat Guy, nodding smugly. “The rest of us valid ticket holders, that is.”
“Yeah, and I know just what obstruction I’d like to pass your way…” the dark-haired man muttered over his shoulder.
Richie smiled, appreciating the support. “We could toss a coin for who stays, who goes,” he suggested. “Heads is me, I’m Richie. Tails is for you – ah -?”
“Stuart,” the man replied. His eyes sparkled briefly, and Richie lost himself admiring them until the usher coughed pointedly. Stuart frowned again, shaking his head. “But that’s not fair, neither of us should have to give up our evening out because of someone else’s mistake. Pity we can’t share the ticket – you take the first half of the movie, me the second…”
“Any unnecessary disturbance during the performance will result in ejection,” announced Raincoat Guy. He sat back in his seat, crossing his arms. “Didn’t you see the sign in the lobby?”
Richie felt Stuart’s hand on his arm again. “No violence, he’s not worth it,” Stuart murmured. “The blood will make a hell of a mess on your boots.”
Richie almost laughed aloud. “You could just sit on my lap,” he suggested, with a grin. Then he flushed bright red. I can’t believe I just said that! “God, sorry. I guess I’m out of practice with socializing.” He groaned inside. Now he looked a social loser as well as a dork. Great.
But Stuart was grinning back at him. “Me, too. I need to get out more, or so my friends say. At first I thought this anonymous ticket was a joke by one of them to get me back into circulation after… well, you know how it goes. Sometimes you just don’t feel like facing the world and its Technicolor delights. But I had nothing else to do on the holiday, so…” He shrugged, looking embarrassed.
“No, you said it,” Richie agreed. “It’s…” He grimaced, not sure why he felt so out of sorts but in a strangely stimulating way. “It’s been a tough year for me, you see.”
Stuart nodded, his eyes widening a little. “Me, too. Job? Relationships?”
Richie nodded back. It felt comforting, though he usually struggled to talk about these things. “All of it. Same old. I need to move on, but it doesn’t seem that easy.”
“You can’t rush these things, can you?” murmured Stuart.
Richie smiled gently, his body surprisingly warm considering he’d only just come in from the cold night air outside. “No. You definitely can’t. But life has to go on, right?”
“Right,” agreed his new friend. Or that’s how he felt to Richie already.
“When you’ve done with the mutual therapy session, can you just fuck off out of here?” snarled Raincoat Guy.
The lights were dimming and all around them was the rustle of people settling down. The usher switched on his torch and tried to shine it into their eyes. He tutted, loudly.
Richie blinked hard. His attention was caught by the movie now appearing rather luridly on the wide screen. “Hell…” he began, slowly. “I don’t think this movie is what I thought it was. I mean…” The music swelled, and so did the amount of naked flesh on view. There was some kind of nightclub dancing in progress, though the dancers seemed to have forgotten their costumes. And, incidentally, their modesty. Right. And this was just the opening credits.
“I mean,” he coughed, awkwardly. “I thought it was the new secret agent blockbuster. I hadn’t realized, just from the title, exactly what it was…”
“From Pole to Pole?” murmured Stuart beside him. He, too, was gazing at the screen. With his mouth open. Richie snatched a glace at his mouth. Yeah, even in the dark it was gorgeous. Perhaps more so. “Richie, you’re not alone in that,” said Stuart’s mouth, his voice soft with amusement. “I thought it was going to be something to do with Antarctic exploration.”
“Looking at that guy’s hand burrowing down the back of the other guy’s ass, that’s not a bad assumption,” muttered Richie.
“Why are you two losers still hanging around and ruining the movie for the rest of us connoisseurs?” grunted Raincoat Man from his seat below them. “Go jerk yourselves off to Bambi if you like, but just -”
“- fuck off out of here? You said that already.” Stuart was laughing, and Richie joined in. Other people were turning around and hissing at them – the usher’s torch was stabbing into the darkness, a symbol of his indignation and panic.
“He’s got a point, though,” said Richie. “You want to get out of here and go somewhere else?” He amazed himself with his own daring.
“I’d love to,” said Stuart, very swiftly, and with another eager flash from those bright eyes. “Somewhere we can find some peace and quiet and introduce ourselves properly. I’d like that.”
Richie’s heart did that stupid thing with a flip ‘n twist that fiction writers never describe quite perfectly enough. “Yeah, me too. I don’t think this is quite the movie for getting to know someone better, is it?”
Stuart leant against him, whispering into his ear. “Not on a first date, anyway.”
Richie felt the blush start very low down his body and stay there, mischievous to a fault. He turned to follow Stuart out, still clutching his ticket in a palm that was suddenly rather sweaty – the ticket that had brought him an adventure he’d never envisaged, but he hoped he was going to treasure for a long time.
As they wriggled along the row, panting and giggling following them – both from the screen and the clientele – Stuart made sure to bring his heel sharply down on Raincoat Guy’s instep. When the guy winced and bent double over his lap, Richie followed up with a knee to the kidneys.
A small victory, maybe, but it was an unnecessary disturbance that Richie reckoned he’d treasure almost as much.