Jayne ran up the stairs so fast her feet didn’t stop when the steps did.
She recovered her balance, pushed through the crowd at the top of
Piccadilly Circus tube station and out into the street.
“Excuse me… can I just… sorry, ‘scuse me… get out the bloody way…”
It was a Friday evening so the West End was busy, with everyone
magically coordinating their movements so as to block her path no
matter which way she turned. More than a few people glared at the
woman in the dark suit as she shouldered past them. A few offered a
choice word in her direction, and were mildly surprised to hear an even
choicer word spat back at them, sometimes accompanied by a raised
As usual, Jayne Fields was far too busy to waste time taking shit from
She plowed on, looking like an escapee from a credit card advert: a
serious-looking woman in her mid-thirties, with pinned-up auburn
hair and rimless glasses. There had been no time to change before
leaving the office, so she was wearing her usual dark grey trousers,
fitted jacket and white blouse. Tightly gripping the strap of an
oversized leather handbag, she lurched through the crowds like an
unbalanced land-lubber on her first boat trip.
She was late. There was no need to check her watch as she half-ran
into Soho, but she did anyway. It was coming up to 9pm, when she’d
agreed to be there by eight-thirty. Jayne hated, hated being late.
Punctual was her middle name. That bloody meeting with the digital
marketing department was meant to have ended an hour ago. Now she
only had about forty-five minutes to socialise with Tom and Yolanda,
before she’d have to head home and carry on working. Bugger.
Could she cancel, at this late stage? Brief elation at the idea. No, this
had been organised weeks ago, and Yolanda was forever complaining
that Jayne never came out any more. This would be a fast-track quick
win, show her friends she was still a team player. But her outstanding
task list felt like a heavy weight on her back. So many things to do!
Those unfinished emails on her laptop needed sending before close of
play in the New York office, that gave her until, what, 11pm? Or maybe
10pm? Did they have daylight saving time on the East Coast, she could
Bugger bugger bugger, she thought, walking into the gay bar.
It was as loud and dark and hectic as she expected. Dance music
slammed. Strobe lights flickered. Beautiful bodies coiled across video
screens. Jayne had to edge sideways through the crowd as she made
her way deeper in. Nobody noticed her. Not that she expected much
attention from the crowd at Starfish.
She glanced round, taking in the amazing variety of men. Stick-thin
teenagers with Justin Bieber hair. Older blokes in too-tight-for-their-
waistline tshirts with shaved hair, to disguise creeping baldness.
Massively pumped tattooed musclemen with cropped Action Man hair
and, presumably, realistic gripping hands. There were also professional
types, in dark sober suits with flaring pink ties, who made Jayne feel a
little more comfortable. A Lady Gaga song was blasting out loudly,
causing heads to nod, lips to synch and hips to gyrate. There was also a
scattering of straight girls doing the same thing. Even gay bars had
equal opportunities policies.
“Where are you?” she muttered. She peered this way and that. Christ,
she didn’t have long, she couldn’t waste time trying to track her friends
down. Maybe she should just head home and send those emails. Send
them from firstname.lastname@example.org, perhaps. Okay, let’s get
“There she is!”
She realised she’d walked right past Tom and Yolanda, standing there
with drinks in hand. Immediately, Yolanda flung her arms wide and
belted out Jayne’s name as if she was on a distant hillside, embracing
her. Jayne couldn’t help but smile over her shoulder at Tom, who by
contrast was a picture of calm.
“Hi, guys,” she said as she disentangled herself. “Sorry I’m a bit late.”
Yolanda replied “We thought you got lost or something, we’ve been
here for ages! Not that I’m complaining, I’m here every Friday night
anyway, we both are usually, Saturdays as well come to think of it, and
sometimes in the week, ain’t we Tom? So how have you been! We
haven’t seen you for a long time, when was it, January, February? No it
can’t be that long, feels like ages though! I know, same old story with
you, working your arse off all the time! That place is working you into
the fucking ground innit! When are you gonna quit that dump and go
somewhere that appreciates you, you should be running that company
by now, girl!”
“And… breathe,” instructed Tom.
“Shut your face, you!” Yolanda whacked his arm.
Jayne’s smile became more genuine. These two were always good
fun. Yolanda was about as different to her as you could get, but that
was probably why she enjoyed her company so much. She was a good
five inches taller than Jayne, a long-legged black woman with very
short hair and a round face, big brown eyes and cute tiny nose. As
usual, she was clad in denim, tight blue jeans and a denim jacket over a
black t-shirt. And as usual, she virtually glittered with jewellery – rings,
earrings, eyebrow rings, nose studs, necklaces, bangles, many of which
of her own design. She was an airport check-in nightmare.
By contrast, Tom was like a tall solid lighthouse, standing unyielding
while Yolanda’s waves crashed and splashed around him. Both were
the same age, but Tom always seemed older than twenty-four, in part
because of his very strong features. It wasn’t just the grey polo-neck
jumper he was wearing that gave him a European air. With his square
jaw, prominent nose, jet black hair and heavy eyebrows, it was easy to
assume he was Italian or maybe Greek. As he had said himself, his nose
was so Roman it had its own senator and legion of troops. Hardly
anyone guessed that he came from Dagenham.
Tom kissed Jayne on each cheek and said “A pleasure to see you, as
always. So what time does the conference start?” He glanced up and
down at Jayne’s business clothes.
“It’s on the agenda,” said Jayne with mock seriousness. “Gossip
strategy and alcohol implementation meeting, Starfish, 9pm. ”
They laughed at this, while Jayne self-consciously tugged her jacket
straight. Was there a problem with what she was wearing? Was it
wrong for a West End bar? No, there’s loads of guys in shirt and tie.
Besides, she felt comfortable in the suit. Not comfortable like in
pyjamas or an old sweater, but secure-comfortable. Like wearing a
Kevlar vest makes you comfortable.
“Adam’s coming!” Yolanda announced. “I been texting him all day
and he said something about being busy tonight, but I wasn’t taking no
for an answer or nothin’, you know me, and it pays off dunnit, I just got
a text from him, saying he’s on his way into town.”
“Actually,” Tom added, “he said, we’re on our way.”
Jayne raised an eyebrow. “Is he with Rob?”
“That’s what we were going to ask you!” said Yolanda.
“No idea. I haven’t heard from Rob this week. I doubt they’d be going
for drinks together, though.”
“Yeah, I suppose Adam’s free to do what he wants now, so he could
be turning up with just about anyone, you remember what he used to
be like, different boy every night, sometimes a different boy every hour,
that guy was unbelievable!” Yolanda elbowed Tom in the side. “You
know what I’m talking about, dontcha, you’ve been there!”
Tom smiled. “Ancient history. I only remember it as hieroglyphics.”
“Not that ancient, it was only, what, three years ago, the first guy you
ever had! You lost your cherry to Adam, dintcha!”
“Oh please, there’s never a need for Americanisms.”
“You told me he taught you more in that weekend than every bloke
you’ve had since put together, remember?”
“…So, Jayne, can I get you a drink?”
She laughed and asked for a white wine. Tom snatched Yolanda’s
empty glass out of her hand with a hmph noise and gentlemaned his
way towards the bar.
Yolanda continued chatting, telling Jayne how her boss at the
jewellers was now giving her a lot more flexibility, listening to some of
her suggestions about what would sell and what wouldn’t, before
explaining about some of her own new jewellery designs, see this ring
here, it looks like cheap plastic but in ultraviolet light it glows bright
blue, and this necklace is made from a fibre-optic cable, and so on and
so on until Jayne felt herself slipping away. She always made Jayne feel
a bit two-dimensional by comparison. She was so immediate, so
vibrant, so loud.
Am I boring? wondered Jayne, while smiling and making the
appropriate noises. Maybe I should tell her about being made senior
user on that cross-departmental database project... no, don’t be
ridiculous. Wait, was that a little silver stud I just saw on her tongue?
Jesus, her tongue! I’m not even wearing earrings!
Jayne phased back into the present just as Tom returned, bearing
Chardonnay. The first sip felt like a breath of fresh air after a night
down the mines. Before long, Jayne felt herself start to relax, laughing
at Tom’s latest anecdotes. She could listen to his warm, fruity voice all
night. Thomas Sterling Esquire, the gay gentleman, whose self-
confessed ambition was to be Stephen Fry. When Jayne had pointed
out that the position was already taken, Tom merely smiled and said
yes, but he won’t live forever.
“...So last night I met my latest client at the property, big Edwardian
house near Primrose Hill, really nice. The owners were away for the
week but I had the keys. I was showing him all the rooms, telling him
how wonderful the sunsets were from here, the quality of the light – ”
“The usual estate agent’s bullshit!” chipped in Yolanda.
“Excuse me. I think you’ll find that as an art form, it has very few
peers indeed. Save, perhaps, for political speeches,” he conceded.
“Obviously I made no mention of my client’s television work, partly
because I couldn’t remember if he was actually presenting anything at
the moment, children’s TV not being my strong suite. But as we were
talking, he suddenly stopped and said to me, and I quote: ‘It doesn’t
feel like a home to me unless I’m comfortable making love in every
Jayne gasped. “He didn’t!”
“I assure you he did.”
Yolanda gasped, far more theatrically. “You didn’t!”
“I assure you we did.”
“No way! Oh my God!”
“It took two hours. We were most thorough. One has to take pride in
one’s work,” said Tom smoothly. “His final decision on the property
was very appropriate, since he was bent over the dining room table at
“What did he say?”
“He said, and I quote: ‘I’ll take it’!”
Lots of laughter, lots of scandal, lots of trips to the bar. Jayne felt
herself loosening up a little, and realised there had been a bona fide
reason for this evening. Her past self had been well aware of all the
work her future self had to do, and had scheduled in a social event to
provide a sanity valve, a way of releasing pressure. Clever old past self.
Although future self was going to hate her in the morning, when the
hangover kicked in.
When she returned to the others with the latest round of drinks, she
found the conversation had veered back onto Adam and Rob splitting
up. “In some ways I’m surprised it lasted this long,” Tom was saying,
“Adam being Adam. When he first told me about Rob, how much he
liked him and felt relaxed around him and all that, I remember
thinking: I give it two weeks. Then you’ll only feel relaxed when he’s
four miles away.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” Jayne said. “I know what Adam’s like, but he’s
not that bad.”
“You know what he’s like now,” Tom pointed out. “Trust me, Rob’s
done a good job of smoothing out that boy’s edges. He used to be an
“Harlot!” Yolanda laughed madly. “Who says a word like harlot!”
“I remain resolute that it is a most appropriate term.”
Jayne frowned. “Well, as far as I know, he never cheated on Rob. I
guess that must count for something.”
A vigorous nod from Yolanda. “Adam likes the attention, doesn’t he,
he loves it, he loves having other guys come up to him and chat him up
and whatever, but he’s behaved himself for ages, although I suppose he
doesn’t have to anymore, he can shag as many boys as he likes… oh,
here we go, talk of the de – ”
Yolanda stopped talking.
Jayne and Tom stared at her, stunned, then followed her gaze.
Instantly, they realised why this historic milestone was taking place.
They were expecting Adam to arrive soon, so it wasn’t the sight of him
that was so unusual. It was the one accompanying him.
As the two of them made their way through the bar, a part of Jayne’s
mind – the part that didn’t miss a trick – noticed the effect Adam’s
arrival had. Heads were turning. They were bloody spinning, actually.
There was no other way to say it, it was this simple: Adam was
There were guys in Starfish who were younger, fitter, more
handsome, better dressed, and yet Adam was the only one who looked
as if he had just stepped off the cover of a glossy magazine. He had that
model cut to him. His face appeared almost sculpted, with defined
cheekbones and full lips. His blonde hair flopped down boyishly,
framing his face. He had a just-back-from-holiday tan, making those
blue eyes stand out. There was a simple silver ring in his right earlobe
which spoke volumes, declaring himself to the world. He wore a blue
silk shirt and black trousers that were so spotless they could have been
bought in Covent Garden an hour ago. A native Londoner, but of
Swedish descent, he brought some of that continental class with him.
So of course heads turned. There was no getting away from it. Adam
Andersson was a gay man’s dream.
And there was a girl on his arm.
Jayne could tell that Tom and Yolanda were having the same initial
thoughts as her: She’s a friend of his. A fag hag. That’s all. But the
notion evaporated from their minds simultaneously. There was
something about the way she clung onto Adam’s arm, shoulder pressed
against his. She was pretty, with long dark hair and bright summer
clothes. They looked good together. The Nordic model and the English
They made their way through the crowd and stood near the edge of
the bar, waiting to be served. She put an arm around his waist.
And then he leaned in and kissed her, mouth to mouth.
Three jaws hinged open in perfect synch.
“Fuck… me… sideways,” murmured Tom in a less than gentlemanly
Jayne and Yolanda looked like a tag-team in a fly swallowing contest.
Later, Jayne would wonder if it was her imagination, or if the entire
bar did actually go quiet at that moment. Obviously there was still
music pounding, still a great deal of background noise. But Jayne could
have sworn that the chatter waned, that the patrons of Starfish gaped.
Watching the gay scene’s poster boy drop the biggest bombshell ever.
Then Adam pulled away with a smile and turned to order drinks, and
the world continued turning, people drinking and talking and laughing
like nothing had just blown up.
Only Jayne, Tom and Yolanda felt like they were standing in the
wreckage. They swivelled to face each other, all with the same shell-
shocked expression. Yolanda expressed it best.
“WHO THE FUCK IS THAT?!”
“I don’t know! Have you seen that girl before?” Tom asked Jayne.
“No, never. I thought maybe she was just a friend or – ”
“They were SNOGGING!” Yolanda yelped. “HE snogged HER!"
“Well, maybe it wasn’t what we think – ”
“There were TONGUES!”
“Shhh!” Jayne threw a glance over towards the bar, then spun back.
“He’s seen us. They’re coming over. Pretend we didn’t see anything.
Yolanda nodded. Tom didn’t. His face was fractionally tilted with
strange angles – an expression Jayne had never seen on him before.
But all three of them bobbed around, like puppets on the same string,
as Adam and the girl approached.
“Adam, good evening,” said Tom. “Welcome to Kansas. And I see
you’ve brought Toto.”
Jayne pressed her lips together while Yolanda turned to conceal a
snort of laughter. But as always, Tom seemed to get away with it.
“Yeah, about time she met the wicked witch of the west,” retorted
Adam, causing Tom to clutch imaginary pearls to his breast. Jayne
remembered that when she first met Adam she half-expected him to
have a camp voice, or perhaps a trace of a Swedish accent. But in fact
he sounded like an average North Londoner.
He turned towards the girl by his side and said “This is Kirsty.”
If he had said “This is Fish Aardvark McSpaceshuttle,” it would have
got the same stunned silence.
“Hiya!” said Kirsty happily. “Sorry, it’s my fault we’re late, blame
Jayne again felt that sensation of being eclipsed, or outshone. Kirsty
was only a little older than Adam and almost as tall as his five feet ten,
although it seemed that about two feet of that were due to her high
heels. Straight brown hair hung past her shoulders and framed a very
pretty face, with long black eyelashes and lots of makeup. Her short
skirt and shoulder-strapped top were brightly coloured and clung to a
shapely figure. Nestled within a transparent plastic handbag were
cigarettes, a lighter, a mobile phone and about nine lipsticks.
Jayne resisted despising her on sight. That would be wrong.
“What’s wrong?” asked Adam. As one, Jayne, Tom and Yolanda
realised that they had been staring wordlessly at Kirsty.
“Hi, nice to meet you.”
“Hi,” beamed Kirsty with a look of mild relief.
Adam began a round of introductions. “This is Tom.”
“Enchanté,” said Tom as he took Kirsty’s hand and kissed it, causing
her to giggle. Jayne wasn’t sure if she glimpsed him wiping his hand on
his trousers afterwards or not, or maybe she was projecting her own
“This is Yolanda, the one I told you about who’s going to talk for
England in the Olympics next year?”
“Alright?” said Yolanda.
Just that. She and Kirsty looked each other up and down.
“…Um, okay, and this is Jayne.”
“Hello.” Jayne shook the girl’s hand as if she was a professional
client. For some reason she was expecting Kirsty to curl her lip at her,
wondering what this fat old woman was doing here, but in fact she
grinned warmly as if glad to meet somebody normal.
“So!” said Tom after a moment’s pause. “Tell us, Kirsty, what’s a
charming young filly like yourself doing with a reprobate like Adam?”
Bloody good question, thought Jayne, as Kirsty laughed. “Well, we’re
both at Uni, so we met there. Not that we’re doing the same course or
anything, we just met in the student bar.”
“What are you studying?” Jayne asked.
“I’m doing a HND in Leisure Studies.”
“Sounds easy enough,” quipped Tom.
“Oh no, it’s really hard, oh my God. I’ll be glad when this term’s over,
it’s been such a nightmare, you know what I mean? I could so badly do
with a holiday.” Adam jumped a little as she touched the side of his
face. “Look at his tan! Oh my God! It’s not fair, I’m so pale, look at me,
I’m like milk compared to him.”
“Well, you were pretty lucky to bump into Adam anywhere near the
University,” said Tom. “From what I hear, it’s not a place he frequents
“I know, I was well lucky,” nodded Kirsty, missing the jibe. “Me and
my friends don’t go to the student bar a lot either. If I hadn’t gone over
and talked to him then Carol or Rachel were bound to beat me to it, so I
just had to go and say hi, and now… here we are!” She squeezed Adam’s
arm. He smiled and took a swig of Budweiser.
He’s so tense! Jayne realised. She made a show of listening to Kirsty’s
conversation, occasionally helping Tom out with a question or two, but
from the corner of her eye she studied Adam. He took regular gulps
from his beer, eyes flicking this way and that, never looking directly at
His what? His date?
Things were starting to become strained. Jayne noticed Tom’s fixed
smile, like it had been nailed onto his face. Yolanda was totally silent.
Kirsty continued to effervesce, chatting away about what her friends
were up to and Adam’s fabulous silk shirt and that maybe they could all
go clubbing later…
“So have you ever been here before?” Jayne asked her.
“No!” she laughed. “Why would I go to a place full of gay people? I
mean, what’s the point? Not that I’ve got anything against gays or
anything, don’t get me wrong. As long as you’re not a paedophile or a
murderer then who cares if you’re gay, right?”
Tom’s smile twitched.
“But, you know, Adam wanted me to meet his friends, so that’s okay.
I don’t mind, really.” Kirsty glanced around, then edged closer to Jayne
conspiratorially. “So, like, are all these guys gay, do you think?”
“Really?! All of them? But they look like normal lads you’d see
walking down the street! Cos all boys make more of an effort these days
with their hair and whatever, don’t they? Dunno how to tell ‘em apart!
They should wear a badge or summat!”
"Maybe a tattoo on their inner forearms,” Tom suggested. “Next to
their serial number."
His smile twitched harder.
Kirsty stared this way and that, then pulled Adam close to her. “I’d
better keep hold of you, hadn’t I? They’re bound to try and convert
you!” She dissolved into laughter.
“Bound to,” said Jayne, throwing Adam a hard stare. He ignored it,
declared that he was going outside for a cigarette, turned and slid
through the crowd towards the exit. For an awful moment, Kirsty stood
smiling at the others, then asked where the toilets were. Jayne directed
her to the staircase leading downwards. She put down her drink and
Instant council of war. “What the FUCK is going on?” demanded
Yolanda. “Who the FUCK is she? What the FUCK’S she doing here?”
Tom was staring after Adam, with a look that would have sent
glaciers retreating back to their nice warm polar caps. He spoke so
quietly that Jayne almost couldn’t hear him above the music: “He never
“About...” He jerked his head in the direction Kirsty had gone, like he
couldn’t say her name.
“So you think... that Adam’s always been... what, bisexual?”
Jayne thought she saw Tom’s whole face pucker slightly. The way you
do when you taste something nasty.
“But this is ADAM!” Yolanda stressed. “Adam and girls? That’s like…
you know… two things that don’t ever go together, sort of thing!”
Tom patted her shoulder. “Best leave analogies to the experts, my
dear.” But Jayne could tell his heart wasn’t in it.
“This ain’t right, though, is it?” Yolanda rambled on. “Gay guys don’t
just flip a switch and turn straight, do they? That doesn’t happen! Does
it?” She looked around Starfish as if seeing it for the very first time.
“God... if I thought it did, there’s like a hundred guys in Soho every
night I’d make a play for!”
Jayne was almost thinking aloud when she said “Maybe we should go
and have a little chat with Kirsty. While Adam’s not around.”
Yolanda whooped “Great idea!” and grabbed her arm. Jayne barely
had time to put down her wine glass before being yanked through the
crowd. As the two of them clattered down the stairs, Jayne felt a
nervous excitement. She was surprised to discover how awake she
suddenly was – the tiredness of her long day had vanished.
As might be expected, the ladies toilet at Starfish was not as busy as
the gents, nor as disgusting, despite a waste-paper bin overflowing with
hand towels and tissues. The ceiling and hardboard walls of the
cubicles shuddered from the bass line upstairs, causing girls to half-
shout to each other as they passed in and out.
They found Kirsty standing in front of a mirror, re-applying her
lipstick. When she glimpsed Jayne and Yolanda entering, she said
nothing. Which spoke volumes to Jayne. She wasn’t warming to them
any more than they were to her.
“Okay,” said Yolanda, “what’s the deal?”
Kirsty blinked at them in the mirror, not turning round. “What?”
“What are you doing with Adam!”
As if addressing a child, Kirsty said “I’m… going… out… with… him.”
“That’s the problem, innit!” Yolanda shouted, hands gesturing wildly.
Kirsty glared daggers at Yolanda in the mirror. “I thought so! I knew
you were his ex! Look, just ‘cause he’s going out with me now and not
you, that’s not my problem, all right?”
Jayne calmly said “No, she’s not his ex. We – ”
“God, don’t tell me you are.”
“Bitch!” said a tall woman approvingly as she glided past them into a
All three of them hesitated as they realised that the woman, with her
piled bouffant of hair, two-inch eyelashes and clacking stilettos, was
not a woman at all. From the cubicle came the bang of a toilet seat
Jayne pushed her glasses up her nose. “What we’re trying to say…
look, this may come as a shock, although frankly I can’t see why it
should. Adam… Adam doesn’t bat for our team. Do you know what I
mean? He isn’t riding our bus.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” snapped Yolanda. “How stupid are you! HE’S
Kirsty didn’t respond, fascinated with her own face.
“It’s true,” said Jayne. “He is gay.”
“Sure he is,” she muttered.
Yolanda looked as if she wanted to punch some sense into her. “What
is wrong with you! Can’t you see it! Of course he’s gay! I’ve been
hanging out with him and Tom for years, I’ve seen it, I’ve seen them
both on the pull, I’ve held his drinks for him while he’s been going at it
with some guy! Holy Christ, Adam’s had more one night stands than
you’ve stuffed tampons up your fanny!”
There was a chatter of giggles at this from two teenage boys as they
bustled into the ladies. Jayne glanced at them: both thin and boney
with massive sideswept hair, like a wig on a stick. Nobody said a word
as both boys squeezed into the cubicle being vacated by the drag queen
and resumed their own conversation.
“So you think he’s just going to change overnight for you?” Yolanda
went on. “Don’t you think that’s unlikely? You know – leopard, spots?”
“Adam doesn’t have any spots.”
Abruptly, Kirsty snapped the cover onto her lipstick. “Adam is not
gay. I’d know if he was gay. Gays don’t kiss girls, do they?”
“Not usually,” admitted Jayne. Even Yolanda looked bothered by this.
“Well there you are then.”
She was about to leave when Yolanda said “Bet you haven’t shagged
Kirsty froze, face flushing. “That’s none of your business!”
“That’s a no,” murmured the drag queen from where he was applying
his own make-up in another mirror.
“Let me guess,” grinned Yolanda. “He told you he didn’t want to rush
it. He said he wanted to get to know you first. He’s being a…” her
fingers made quotation marks in the air, “gentleman.”
Kirsty was now so red you could have toasted marshmallows against
her face. “Listen, this is nothing to do with you! Not all of us jump into
bed on the first date, you know.” She looked Yolanda up and down.
“Oh, what, are you saying I do?”
“I’m just saying Adam’s not like that. And neither am I. We decided
to, you know, to wait and see what happens.”
Yolanda almost screamed with laughter. “Get yourself down to Ann
Summers and pick up some batteries on the way, you’re gonna be
waiting a LONG time, girl!”
“Look, he told me that he hasn’t had a girlfriend for a while! That’s
all! That doesn’t make him gay, does it?”
“He is gay, honey,” boomed the drag queen suddenly.
They all turned as he towered over them. “If it’s the same boy I think
we’re talking about – little blonde fittie in the shirt, yeah? – then trust
me, he’s about as straight as I am. Get over it.” He swept a purple
feather boa over one shoulder and strode out of the ladies.
This remark from a complete stranger seemed to have an impact
upon Kirsty. She stared after the drag queen, then turned a perplexed
look back to Jayne and Yolanda.
“He can’t be.”
“Kirsty, listen to me.” Jayne spoke slowly. “There is a very good
reason why I know for a fact that Adam is gay.”
“Yeah? Go on then, how do you know so bloody much about him?”
“He’s been going out with my brother for the past year.”
“It’s true,” said Yolanda. “Adam lives with Rob, they’ve got a place in
Kensington. Well, it’s Rob’s place, innit, but Adam still lives there.
S’been, what, year and a half now?”
For a second, Kirsty just stared at them. Then she snapped her
handbag shut and stormed out.
Yolanda rolled her eyes at Jayne in a what-a-bimbo! kind of way.
Then she too headed out of the ladies, towards the stairs. Jayne stayed
put, watching them both go.
She thought: Why is my brother’s ex-boyfriend now going out with a
She also thought: I need to get to the bottom of this. Rob needs to
know what’s going on.
Then she thought: Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I’m sticking my nose in
where it doesn’t belong. Rob and Adam split up, so what does this have
to do with me anymore? Best keep out of it. Too much on my plate
And finally, she thought: Bollocks.
By the time Jayne had freshened herself up and was walking out of
the ladies into the downstairs corridor, she’d already worked out half a
dozen potential strategies, opening lines and conversational gambits
that might gradually unearth the truth about what was going on, and in
the space of a second, they all flew out of her head as she glimpsed a
familiar blue shirt amongst the lines of people going back and forth.
That was Adam!
She froze, watching him walk deeper into the lower bar, one arm
around the waist of a spiky-haired Indian boy.
Jayne bared her teeth without realising it. Then went straight after
Starfish’s downstairs area was a fairly small room bathed in soft red
light, with its own bar, tables, stools and a row of comfortable booths at
the back. People came here to chill out and talk, rather than pose and
pull. Although not as packed as upstairs, it was still busy, and it took a
few seconds until she spotted Adam and his companion. They were
standing together against the wall beyond the bar, wreathed in shadow.
She felt like marching right up to him and demanding to know what he
was playing at. Instead she took up a position against the bar, as if
waiting to order a drink. Just be cool for a minute, she told herself.
Then you can kick his arse properly.
Straightening her spectacles, Jayne peered closer. The two of them
were smiling, talking, standing close. Any minute now… yes, Adam
made the move, stepping in close to the Indian boy, tilting their heads
She felt strange, watching. Like it was wrong. Funny feeling in her
stomach. But she didn’t look away.
Jayne scowled. This whole thing had shaken her slightly. For a start,
it had chucked her agenda in the bin – she should be at home by now,
working on those emails. But when it came to her brother, she found
that everything else tended to get pushed aside.
She had always worried about Rob, even though he was the elder of
the two. Usually there wasn’t too much to worry about, he was doing
very well for himself. In fact he earnt about five times her salary. When
they were kids, their struggling parents had bought Rob a second-hand
Commodore 64 microcomputer (you loaded programs on cassettes!)
which had been the start of a career leading to his current position of
senior software developer. Jayne remembered her Barbie dolls with
But Rob had less success with his lovelife. He was too trusting, plain
and simple. Jayne had seen a dozen men break her brother’s heart.
When Adam catwalked into his life, Rob had been completely bowled
over, going all gooey and starry-eyed as if it was him who was the
youngster. Jayne had to wonder why a drop dead gorgeous twenty year
old boy was interested in a slightly overweight, thirty-eight year old
man… “So tell me, Adam, what first attracted you to half-millionaire
But then Adam had surprised her. He had stuck around. It seemed
that Rob’s stability was precisely what he had been looking for. As the
days turned into weeks and months, Rob adored Adam more and more,
amazed that this young guy wanted to stay with him.
Jayne had so many memories of them together, in bars like this one.
Adam smiling contentedly with Rob’s arm around his shoulders. Rob
being an entertainer, impersonating people and TV characters, making
Adam laugh like a drain. Adam giving Rob occasional squeezes on the
arm to let him know he was there. How many times had Jayne caught
them sharing secret smiles when they thought nobody was looking?
They were an odd couple. But it worked, and it made Jayne happy to
see it working. She supposed nobody gets to choose who they fall for.
Then a few weeks ago, Adam ended it.
Rob had told her that they were no longer together. Adam had
become distant, didn’t even like being touched, had claimed he wanted
some time to himself, offering no other explanation.
It couldn’t be easy, breaking up with someone like that… having them
just suddenly go off you. Walking out of the room whenever you enter.
That must hurt. Especially if you love them. That must really hurt.
Hearing her brother sound so helpless tore at Jayne’s heart. He didn’t
have a clue what he had done wrong. All Rob wanted was for things to
go back to the way they had been. How do you find that magic switch
that makes your partner love you again?
But despite the tears in Rob’s eyes, he’d sounded optimistic. Adam
still lived with him, and he hoped there was a chance that this was just
a blip and they would get back to normal. He was sure it would be okay.
Don’t worry, sis, it’ll all be fine.
And now… this.
“What are you up to?” muttered Jayne, staring hard.
Music and chatter continued around her, but there was nothing to
hear from the darkened corner where the two of them were snogging
like it was going out of fashion. Torn between needing to know what
was going on and sheer embarrassment, Jayne wasn’t sure where to
put her eyes. She found them fixing on an older man, mid-forties with
sandy blonde hair, she couldn’t see his face but there was something
familiar about him as he strode past Jayne and – oh my God – straight
towards them. He went right up and tapped Adam on the shoulder,
making him jump away in mid-snog and spin round.
“Do you want a drink?” Jayne heard the older man ask.
“What? I just thought you might need a – ”
“Dad, for Christ’s sake!”
Adam’s father shrugged. “I’ll get you one anyway, you don’t have to
drink it. Budweiser, still, is it? How about you, son, you want anything?
The Indian boy shook his head, speechless.
“See you later.” With a friendly smile, he took his leave of them and
came over to the bar, very close to where Jayne was standing.
She leaned his way. “Of all the gay joints in all the world…”
“Hi, Mikael,” she smiled, as in a delighted rush he kissed her on both
cheeks, as if they were the closest of friends – which was how Mikael
was even when he met you for the first time, Jayne knew.
“What can I get you? White wine? No problem.” Before Jayne could
protest, Mikael had waved to the barman and was ordering a drink.
Mikael Andersson, Jayne had often thought, was to blame for his
son’s model-like appearance. Like Adam, he was five feet ten and still
lean even at forty-five. His was a face of great character, with lots of
laughlines and the odd scar, but the same bright blue eyes that made
his son so striking. His sandy blonde hair was starting to thin, but with
none of the bald patches or widow’s peaks that characterised many
men his age. There was something about him that made you think he
had done some adventuring in his youth, maybe climbed some
mountains and hiked across some deserts. Jayne always found herself
thinking of the movie Crocodile Dundee in Mikael’s presence, if for no
other reason than he seemed just as calm, confident and capable.
“So you’re here with Adam?” he asked.
“Um, yes, there are a few of us. I had no idea you were here.”
“Well, I had a meeting in the Strand, so I thought I would wander
down and see if he was around.”
Jayne liked the fact that he pronounced every syllable of English, as if
wanting to show he took the language seriously. It made her realise
how lazy her speech could become, and she always found herself
stressing consonants and avoiding glottal stops whenever Mikael was
around. “Important meeting?” she asked, enunciating every ‘t’.
“No, no, just some of the directors wanting to work out the quarterly
budget. All just talking in numbers really.”
“Right,” blinked Jayne. Wow. For a second, she had forgotten that
Mikael was a director of one company and a silent partner in another.
She could never quite imagine him operating on such a high corporate
level. Even the suit he was wearing, with loosened tie and rumpled
shirt, seem ill-fitting, like he would much rather be wearing khaki
fatigues and wading through a jungle with a machete. Even so, it made
Jayne feel less conscious about her own suit. Mikael understood
business, which was perhaps one reason why she always felt relaxed in
“So how have you been?” he asked her.
“Fine. No problems. Well, except for wanting to set fire to my boss.”
He laughed. “Ah yes, you’re still working on the big one? How much
is that account worth again?”
“Two hundred and ten million Euro.”
“And how much bonus are they paying you to land it?”
“Three Jaffa Cakes and a packet of crisps.”
“Cheese and onion?”
“Outrageous!” They laughed as their drinks arrived, Mikael buying
one for the tattooed, bearded hulk of a barman too. Then he moved
Adam’s Budweiser near the edge of the bar for him. Three yards away,
his son was copping off with a stranger. Jayne felt mildly sick.
Mikael rejoined her, shaking his head. “Typical really, I’ve been
wandering around Soho for a couple of hours trying to find him, and
now I have to go. I’m flying out to Frankfurt at eight. Oh, hi guys, how
you both keeping?” Jayne turned to see two men in their thirties,
obviously a couple, wave and say hello to Mikael. When he turned back
to Jayne he looked startled. “What?”
She realised she was grinning. “You.”
“You are, without question, the coolest dad in the world.”
Mikael beamed, but then shrugged it off. “Ah, I don’t think so.”
“You tell me how many gay guys can go out on the scene with their
“Well, you know, we don’t exactly go out together, I just sort of tag
“Tag along? You know almost as many people here as he does!”
Mikael changed the subject, face creased with concern. “How’s Rob
doing? I mean, I see him all the time, but he doesn’t really talk about
“He’s still upset. He hides it but he’s… well, you know how much he
thinks of Adam. He was more confused than anything, I don’t think he
saw it coming. None of us did, they both seemed so cool. Did Adam
give you a reason?”
“Ha, like he tells me anything! No, I’ve got no idea. Maybe he just
wanted to, you know, what do they call it, play the field.”
Jayne glanced again at boy-snog corner. “So it seems.”
“Adam is okay, isn’t he? I suppose you see him more than I do.
How’s he doing?”
“He’s, er… he’s fine,” said Jayne, the words sour on her tongue. She
just couldn’t bring herself to tell Mikael about Kirsty. She wanted to get
to the bottom of it herself before getting him involved.
Mikael glanced back at his son. “Ah, well, he’s all right, that’s the
main thing. I know Rob’s looking after him. And that you’ll keep an eye
on him.” He smiled warmly at her.
You bet I will, thought Jayne. Her own smile felt painted on.
Mikael glanced at his watch. “I hate to say this, but I’m going to have
to make a move. I’d love to stay and chat…”
“That’s okay. Thanks for the wine.”
“Come round for dinner one day,” he said. “Maybe I can convince you
to come work for me as well as Rob!”
“Right now that wouldn’t be hard,” she only half-joked. She’d almost
forgotten that her brother’s new computer program might be about to
make him even richer – if he accepted Mikael’s proposal to go into
business together, set them both up as a limited company using the
money and connections he’d amassed in Sweden. It was a tremendous
opportunity, one Jayne had been excited about, frequently discussing it
with Rob. Would their little alliance be affected, now that Rob wasn’t
going out with Mikael’s son anymore? Great. Some more fallout from
Adam’s little bombshell.
“Take care of yourself. And the boy.” He took a last glance back at his
“I will,” Jayne promised without thinking.
They did the continental double-cheek-kiss thing, saying goodbye.
She watched Mikael walk out of the bar, gracefully stepping aside to
allow Kirsty to walk in.
“Oh shit,” Jayne breathed as she strode right up to her.
“Have you seen Adam? He’s not upstairs anywhere. He hasn’t gone,
has he?” She sounded nervous.
“He’s not down here,” said Jayne quickly. “He might be in the top
bar, did you look there? Come on, let’s go find him.” She gestured for
Kirsty to follow her and started heading for the stairs.
“That’s not him over there, is it?”
“No! I mean, where? No, I don’t think – ”
“Oh my God, it is!” Kirsty’s mouth hung open as she stared at her
boyfriend, passionately kissing a cute guy in a dark corner.
Jayne could only watch as she stormed over and grabbed Adam’s
shoulder. He whipped round with an angry scowl on his face, perhaps
expecting it to be his father again. Then his jaw fell open when he saw
“What are you doing!” she demanded.
“I’m…” Adam began.
“You’re kissing another boy!” she finished for him.
“Kirsty, look, it’s okay, we’re still – ”
“It’s not okay! How can you think this is okay? I go outside for five
minutes and come back to find you with this…” She gestured at the
Indian guy. “This queer!”
Once again, Jayne would later wonder if it was just her imagination,
or if the entire bar had drawn a single, hissing breath at that point.
Maybe only she had.
“You told me you’d given all that up!” she wailed. “You said you only
tried it a couple of times and it was years ago, and, and other people
always got the wrong idea! You told me...” And without warning she
lashed out, swiping Adam in the face.
The Indian lad bolted as Kirsty’s fists flailed, forcing Adam to raise
his forearms to protect himself, her voice shrieking “Bastard! You...
fucking little fag!”
Like a shot, Jayne was over there before she even realised she was
moving. Grabbing Kirsty by the arm and yanking her away from him.
“Fuck offa me!” she shrieked, as Jayne caught her other hand by the
wrist, just as it was coming towards her face, fingernails like claws. She
held Kirsty steady, looking right into her eyes.
“He’s not for you,” she said calmly. “He never was. Just let him go
and walk away.”
She stared back at Jayne, confused. “But he...”
“You can do better, Kirsty,” said Jayne.
She didn’t believe this for a moment, actually, but calculated it would
appeal to Kirsty’s ego, which she guessed was gigantic. Of course she
could do better! She was the hottest girl at that stupid uni! And quickly,
the rage on her face melted away. Jayne let go of her as she sniffed, ran
a hand through her hair, threw the snottiest look she could muster
back at her now-totally-dumped-ex-so-called-boyfriend, then stamped
her way across the bar towards the exit.
Jayne turned to Adam, who looked like someone who’d just received
an electric shock from a wooden spoon.
“Someone call International Rescue?” she asked.
A shaky laugh escaped him as he nodded, adding “F.A.B.” Jayne
couldn’t help but grin too. Damn you Rob, she would normally think,
when something from one of those stupid old puppet sci-fi shows he
was obsessed with became lodged in her head like shrapnel. Jayne and
Adam had even ganged up on him about it, calling him Queen Nerdina,
Lord of the Saddoverse, which just made him happier. Even when Rob
wasn’t there, he was something they shared.
For a second, Adam just looked at her. Then he reached out and
grabbed the bottle of beer Mikael had left for him, flicked hair away
from his eyes, straightened his back. Jayne had seen him do this
before: put on his armour. It always reminded her of seeing teenagers
wearing a suit and tie, at a wedding or job interview or something.
Dressing the part. Much like she did every morning, with her charcoal-
grey, Kevlar-hard business suit.
“So what do you want?” he said, like nothing had happened.
Jayne smiled. But only with her mouth. “I want to know why you
think you can treat my brother like shit and not expect me to kick your
arse right across this room.”
Adam’s armour tumbled off as quickly as it had gone on – his eyes
suddenly huge. “What? No, I haven’t!”
“Oh really? If I thought you’d dumped him for some other guy I’d be
annoyed, but I’d understand it. But you dumped him for her?” Adam
looked away as Jayne added “And then to play around behind her back
“I had to. I had to go with that guy.”
“Just to prove I still can!” he shouted at her, blue eyes shining.
“Something’s wrong,” she said slowly. “Something’s happened. What
is it, Adam?”
“Nothing, I’m just...”
“What? What’s happening?”
“Yes?” she encouraged. He looked… it took a second for her to place
it, since it was an expression she had never seen on his face before.
A wave of blonde hair fell across screwed-shut eyes. When he did
speak, she almost couldn’t hear him. It sounded like “Hated.”
Or maybe, she thought with a shiver, he’d said “Hunted.”
Jayne felt a sudden bolt of emotion for him. “Look, I know we’re...
even if you’re not with Rob any more, that doesn’t mean we can’t...
maybe I can help, whatever’s going on. You don’t have to tell me now if
you don’t want to. And I’ve got to get going, shit, is that the time? But
anyway. I can help.”
He said nothing.
“Adam? Will you let me help you?”
He looked up – and she glimpsed the little boy inside the grown-up
armour. Wet blue eyes.
That was enough for now. Instinct told her it was time to back away,
give them both some time. Adam wasn’t talking to her tonight, he
needed to regain composure. She’d get in touch later. And frankly, she
had work to be getting on with, and needed to get home sharpish.
There were super-important emails to send.
It wasn’t until almost one in the morning – as Jayne sat at home in
front of her laptop with both arms folded, and failed to even place her
fingers on the keyboard – that she wondered if the word she’d actually
heard Adam say had been “Haunted.”
“Everyone set? Viola, you ready?”
Viola Moore nodded to her director. He threw a glance at his crew, all
arranged in a rough semicircle around her.
“All right,” said the director, “turn over.”
“Running up,” said the cameraman. “At speed.”
“Three… two… one…”
Viola’s face lit up with a brilliant smile.
“Hello! Welcome to ‘Chic Week’, the show where we look at the world
of fashion through the eyes of you, the tasteful, outrageous and money-
conscious public! This week…”
“Aeroplane,” said the sound engineer.
“Cut!” the director snapped. Followed by “Poo pants bollocky-arse
Not even the mildest laugh ran through the television crew at this.
They’d all heard it too many times before. The director glared up into
the sky like he could shoot the plane down with his eyes. Viola stood
and waited, brushing her long, silky blonde hair away from her face.
She straightened rimless designer spectacles.
Eventually, he called “All right, let’s go again. Turn over.”
Viola held up two fingers towards the camera to signify the second
take, then started again. “Hello, and welcome to ‘Chic Week’, the show
where we look at – ”
“Viola, ya wee stoater!”
She turned around to where, some way behind her, a boy in baggy
jeans and hooded jacket was jumping up and down wildly. “Kinna get a
sneck offa yersel, lassy? Mebbe some Nat King Cole? C’moan, I fookin’
love yez, I’m fookin’ fanny-struck!”
“Oh fuck-arse-willy CUT! Marie, send your runner to get that spacker
out of shot, will you!”
Again, Viola waited patiently while her admirer was led away
(“Jesusjonny, alright, dain’t ye wanna wee bit o’ local colour in the
show, yez fuckers!”). It didn’t bother her. She was used to it.
She heard the director mutter “God’s sake, save me from Joe arsing
Public… okay, once more everybody!”
Three fingers towards the camera. Big smile.
“Hello! Welcome to ‘Chic Week’, the show where we look at the world
of fashion through the eyes of you, the tasteful, outrageous and money-
conscious public! In this week’s ‘Chic Week’ we’re out of the studio and
up in Glasgow, at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. And
why are we here?”
She held her smile while the camera tracked slowly down the length
of her body, blouse and tight skirt rippling slightly in the wind. It
stopped when it reached the enormous, glittering, multicoloured
platform boots she was wearing.
“That’s right – shoes!” she said as the camera returned to her face.
“Now, we all like to have a crazy pair of shoes hidden at the back of the
wardrobe for those special occasions, but on this particular occasion,
we’re really putting our sole into it.” She winced. “Sorry! For today,
Glasgow is the home of the three-F. No, lads, not the three Fs that you
know about, but the annual Footwear Fashion Fair!”
She threw her arms wide as the cameraman quickly twisted a small
lever on the side of his camera, causing the picture to zoom out rapidly
and encompass the exhibition building behind her. Complete with the
twenty-feet high pair of stilettos mounted above the entrance.
“Cut!” shouted the director. “That’ll have to do.”
“Well done all, thank you very much,” said the older man beside him,
the first assistant director. “That’s it for the exteriors, we’ll break for
lunch and set up inside Hall Three for the general views, that’s at one-
thirty please, people.”
“Bummy-piss-balls piece of shit-fuck work,” growled the director
under his breath.
“Great stuff everyone,” called the first AD cheerfully, “it’s looking
gorgeous, thanks again!”
There was a bustle of activity as the television crew broke up, chatting
and shifting their equipment. Tottering eight inches above the ground
in her boots, Viola lifted her legs at the knees and Elton Johned her
way towards the portable chair being set up by one of the runners. He
helped her out of the boots and carted them away, as another member
of the crew approached and handed her a pair of normal shoes.
Normal, of course, meaning Gucci.
“Thanks, Susie,” said Viola with relief as she slipped them on.
“You’ve smudged your liner again,” Susie tutted. “C’mere.” From a
large padded bag she whipped out a tiny bottle of liquid. Viola kept
perfectly still as her make-up artist leaned in to gently sweep the
applicator over her eyelid.
“Perfectionist,” Viola murmured.
“Shut up,” Susie whispered back.
“Okay, Viola,” said Marie, the third AD, making Susie jump back. She
walked over to join them, clipboard under one arm, radio handset on
her belt. “That was really nice, as always. You heading in for lunch?”
“Um. Yes.” Viola stood up, knowing that what Marie really meant was
that she would be escorting Viola to lunch, since that was one of the
jobs of the third assistant director: looking after the talent. And as lead
presenter of Chic Week, that meant her.
With Susie trailing slightly behind them, they walked beneath the
titanic scarlet stilettos and inside the exhibition hall. Viola looking tall
and glamorous in her short designer skirt, Marie whippet-thin in cargo
trousers and a hoodie, Susie in simple tshirt and jeans, petite and
buxom with boyishly-short black hair. The exhibition was in full swing
that Saturday morning, crowds milling around the stands, admiring
the widest collection of shoes ever seen in Scotland. Lots of noise and
people and heat. Viola could feel one of her headaches coming on.
Marie was talking about the rest of the shoot, and how they were
running behind schedule but hoping to finish on time. “Oh, and while I
remember, there was a message for you, some guy who didn’t leave his
name. Sounded like a local, from the accent.”
Viola looked round, then back again. “…What did he say?”
“Just that he’s delivered what you asked for to the Centre. I checked
and they left it for you in your dressing room.” After a moment’s
silence, Marie asked “So what’s that all about?”
“It’s… a present. For Simon.”
“Souvenir of sunny Glasgow!”
“Wow, hubbie must have pissed you off bigtime. I’m joking! I just
meant… are you okay?”
“Yes! Yes, fine. Just, you know, a bit tired. Ah, actually, I think I’m
going to rest for a bit before lunch.” She gestured at the dressing room
Marie looked a little surprised, and actually checked her clipboard as
if the show’s presenter taking a nap might be on the schedule. “You
sure? Shall I get some lunch sent up?”
“No, it’s okay, I’ll get something later.”
Susie said “Um, do you want me to... take anything off?” She gestured
at her own face, referring to make-up.
Viola shook her head without looking at her. “No.”
Marie checked her clipboard again. “Well, callsheet says one o’clock
at stand number six. So I’ll come get you ten minutes before then?”
Viola stepped into the room, swinging the door shut on the noise and
bustle of the exhibition, on Marie talking into her radio handset as she
strode off, on Susie just standing there.
Click. All gone. She inhaled the silence.
The ‘dressing room’ that the Conference Centre had provided was
actually an old office. Hardly her own personal trailer, which she really
missed right now, but Channel 4 were cutting back and everyone on the
show had to make sacrifices. So her dressing room was a communal
dumping ground for the crew as well. Alongside a variety of expensive
outfits and bizarre shoes were light meters, tripods and other lumps of
technology that the sparks had hurled in there. Viola picked her way
across the windowless room towards the jury-rigged dressing table,
which was an old desk with a large mirror propped up against the wall.
It was there, on the desk.
The chill that she had been fighting off juddered through her.
She removed her spectacles, carefully folding them inside a velvet
case as if they were absolutely vital and not just designer frames with
clear glass inside. As much a prop as the enormous boots had been.
On her dressing table, beside Susie’s make-up kit, sat a metal safety
She reached for the portable clothes rack and yanked out her Dolce &
Gabbana bronze shimmer puffball mini-trenchcoat, which hadn’t
protected her legs from the Glasgow wind in the slightest when she’d
stepped off the train from London that morning. Inside the pocket was
the envelope that had been posted to her at home the day before. With
a manicured thumbnail, she slit it open. A small key dropped into her
Viola glanced at the door, licking dry lips, then back at the box.
She stood there for a minute, Pandora in Gucci heels.
Then with a rush of energy, she stabbed the key into the lock and
swung the lid back with a clang. There was a layer of cotton wool. She
brushed it away as if it were a spider.
There it was – nestled amongst the fluffy white clouds of cotton. As if
it were a delicate piece of the finest quality crystal dinnerware and not
a Browning 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
Viola tried to breathe out but couldn’t.
She stared down at the slate-grey handgun in the box. It looked solid.
Real. Heavy. The rest of the room had gone watery, but the gun looked
like it might weigh fifty tons.
Her breath hissed out through perfect white teeth.
She softly closed the lid of the box.
She wondered if she would end up using it on herself before she got a
chance with anyone else.
Finally, Adam stared at his reflection and was satisfied.
The full-length mirror was part of a huge pine wardrobe, dominating
the bedroom. He stood before it like a gunslinger, arms by his side. His
frown refused to budge as he checked himself out.
He wore pure white. A fitted t-shirt that moulded to his body,
outlining the criss-crossing lines of his abs and the curve of his chest.
White Calvin Klein jeans, showing off the curve of his backside and the
bulge of the package, which he rearranged slightly. Along with his
Bermuda tan and bright blonde hair framing his face, Adam almost
seemed to glow. Only his Italian leather shoes were black. Other than
that, he wore the glittering Seiko watch that had been a birthday
present from Dad, and the silver earring that had also been a present,
from (don’t think about him) which he should probably take out
actually, bearing in mind where he was going (still can’t believe this is
happening). He looked weird without it, but still nodded as he looked
himself up and down one final time.
Dressed to kill. Dressed to hunt. Dressed to be undressed. Ugh, no,
not yet! No need for that just yet. He was on the pull tonight, but it was
mostly reconnaissance, a scouting mission. Just need to find one.
Need to find her.
Wallet, mobile, lighter, keys. Go.
As he was leaving, Adam’s eyes passed over a collage of photographs
on the wall. They had been arranged inside a large picture frame,
adding colour and life to his functional bedroom.
Adam and Rob’s 2010-11 World Tour. Rob asleep on a Barbados
beach, glistening with suntan oil (remembering the sudden urge to
capture him on camera for no reason whatsoever). Adam framed
artfully against the white-washed buildings of Mykonos (remembering
feeling special, like a model, like this was going to be something for
Rob to treasure). The two of them happily holding drinks aloft in the
bars of San Francisco (remembering getting pissed and laughing like
drains). Pictures taken by obliging strangers at cafés in the South of
France (remembering feeling sophisticated and grown-up sitting at the
outdoor tables). Hand in hand in front of the Eiffel Tower
(remembering how fucking cold it had been up there). Rob giving
Adam a piggyback through a crowded party, everyone laughing wildly
(remembering the two of them as the centre of attention, the dynamic
duo, the terrible twosome).
And then Adam remembered to breathe. Just go, for God’s sake!
He hurtled down three flights of stairs. The Kensington house was
giant and empty and he needed to escape from it. Since coming back
from Hyde Park earlier that day, he had paced through every room
again and again. Caged tiger. He had to get out.
Adam strode up the long hallway. He swung open the front door and
darted out into the evening air – straight into Rob.
Quickly, he turned guilt into surprise, with a hand on his chest and a
laugh. “...Fuck, you gave me a heart attack!”
Rob was all smiles and “Hey, stranger!” He took a step forward, the
way he used to when he’d give Adam one of his bear hugs. Adam took a
step back, making it look like nothing. Both kept smiling, pretending
that this hadn’t just happened, that everything was normal.
Rob asked of he was off out, so Adam told him he was meeting Tom
and Yolanda in town (don’t ask to come along), and Rob said good,
you’ve been moping around all weekend, and Adam assured him he
was fine (don’t ask me any questions), shifting from one foot to the
next, wondering how long the two of them could do this little dance on
the doorstep (don’t get any closer, please don’t).
He couldn’t bear this any more.
“We’re not so much chalk and cheese,” Rob used to say back when
they first met each other’s friends, “as matter and antimatter. Always
a lovely big bang when those two come together!” This was a sci-fi gag
that went over Adam’s head, but he got the basic idea: him and Rob
were completely different.
And that, funnily enough, was the reason Adam had stayed with him.
He could never live with someone who tried to out-gay him. But he was
relaxed when he knew he was the hottest one there.
Not that Rob wasn’t anything to look at. In fact he was one of those
men who inexplicably become better looking as they get older. At
thirty-eight he had crows’ feet and the start of a double chin, with short
dark hair that was obviously not as thick as it had been, but also a
broad smile that outshone all of that, and he smiled a great deal. In
fact, he was the most laid back guy Adam had ever met. He wasn’t just
glass-is-half-full, he was hey-let-me-fill-up-your-glass. So that made
him kind of attractive in an older-bloke way. Plus he was always
supportive, always good company…
“Just been shopping. Stand by for action...” He rummaged around in
a plastic bag and flourished a DVD. It had a semi-futuristic submarine
and a very primitive wooden puppet’s face on the front. “Stingray!”
cried Rob, putting on a melodramatic voice to add “Anything can
happen in the next half hour!”
…oh yeah, and he was also very, very sad.
“These episodes have the Titan Terror Fish in them,” rambled Rob,
reading the DVD back cover. “You know the one, in the upstairs
Adam nodded without having a clue which of the three dozen models
filling the huge house Rob was talking about. Over the last six months
he had come obsessed with Supermarionation, which was a fancy word
for old TV shows with puppets in them, and had decided to collect
everything about them he could lay his hands on. Which for man with
his income was, it seemed, just about everything ever made.
Again, their friends had noted the irony in their relationship. The
young guy who had spent years on the scene and shagged half of it,
who had done things many twenty-one year olds only dream of... and
the older man who was nothing more than a big kid, buying toys and
models and watching creaky Sixties puppet shows on a 50” plasma
screen television. But that was Rob in a nutshell. He wasn’t known as
Queen Nerdina Geekwalker, Space-Emperor of the Tragic Realms, for
Such a big kid, Adam thought for the hundredth time.
Sorta miss all that.
Adam was jumpy. Being with Rob used to instantly relax him, but
now he felt like a guilty schoolboy. Caught doing something he
shouldn’t. Rob started blathering on about a Thunderbirds Blu-ray box
set before Adam said “Listen, I’m already late, I’d better get moving.”
“Okay. Well, have fun. Soho, is it?”
“Yeah.” Adam caught his body swaying and made himself stop. He
felt like breaking into a run.
Rob frowned. “Is Tom really out tonight? I thought he was working
late all this week, he told me some new homes on the market in
Docklands were keeping him busy.”
“Um, don’t know, he might be there, might not, we’ll see.”
“Oh, well I suppose I’ll see you at four in the morning then!”
This hurt. But Adam knew he couldn’t show it. “Okay. Bye.”
“You around for dinner tomorrow? Thought we could go to that
French restaurant – ”
For God’s sake Rob, shut up! Please! “Uh, not sure. We’ll see. Bye.”
“Right, well. See you later.”
Adam sprang down the driveway and out into the street.
He didn’t look back. He knew what he’d see. Rob standing there
looking helpless and lost… trying to reach out after Adam with his eyes.
No, he couldn’t think about Rob. Not tonight. He needed to be
outside tonight, get out there and find…
Find the girl he needed.
The cab journey into the West End was hell. Adam sat in the back
with one leg twitching up and down, feeling like he could run faster
than the taxi. The London night drifted past on the other side of the
glass, agonisingly slow. There seemed to be more couples on the streets
than usual... all Adam saw was men and women, holding hands, arms
round shoulders, talking, laughing, mucking about. It was like the
whole bloody world just got married.
As the taxi finally pulled into the West End, Adam exploded out of it,
flinging the driver one of the £50 notes that Rob kept in a chrome
biscuit tin on the kitchen breakfast bar. Then he was gone.
Saturday night streets loomed and span around him: shops and bars
and theatres, people of all shapes and sizes, noise and lights, litter
tornadoed around his feet by the wind. He hadn’t brought a jacket but
wasn’t cold, even though it was April. If anything he felt like he was
Okay. Here we go. Deep breaths. He remembered Rob’s words:
“Stand by for action!”
He strode straight into the nearest bar. He didn’t stop or take a seat
or even buy a drink, but just walked through the crowds, looking at the
Some of them were model-beautiful. Some of them had cascading
waterfalls of hair, blonde and black and brown. Some of them were
wearing clothes that hugged every contour of their figures (look at her,
those are well impressive, do I like them, am I a tit man?). Some of
them were laughing like they were having the best night of their lives
(they all look so happy, I thought straight people were miserable, how
come they’re so happy?). Some of them glanced his way as he moved
past them towards the exit (they can tell, they can see I’m gay, they can
tell I don’t belong here).
He repeated the pattern in the next half-dozen bars he came across.
Each was full of pretty girls. There were all-female packs, out for a good
time, and mixed groups of men and women, chatting animatedly. A lot
of them were part of a couple, standing close to their boyfriend or
husband. No point looking at those ones, he reminded himself, but
there were a lot of them, and occasionally the boyfriend or husband
was hot as hell, broad shoulders, stubbled jaw, cropped haircut, God
she’s done well to have that bloke he’s well fit, and what about those
guys at the bar in the polo shirts, and fuck me, that one over there in
the jeans with that muscled arse, is he checking me out, no he’s
warning me to stop eyeing up his bird...
Adam managed to spend nearly an hour in the pubs of the West End,
looking at women without saying a single word to any of them.
What’s meant to happen? he asked himself. Will I just know when I
see her? Am I meant to try and pull every girl I see and just hope for
the best, or what? What do I say to them? How did all these guys get
lucky, what’s their secret? Some of the blokes are right dogs too, pretty
women out walking with gorillas down the street. How come guys like
that can have a girlfriend and I can’t, why won’t any of them go for me,
what’s wrong with me? “What’s wrong with me!”
Two dozen heads, male and female alike, jerked his way. Realising
he’d spoken out loud in the middle of the pub, Adam fled. He was half-
jogging as he ran through Chinatown and crossed Old Compton Street,
suddenly recognising all the familiar places, Admiral Duncan and
Comptons and KU Bar and...
And before he stopped to think he was diving inside Starfish, like a
starving man walking past a barbeque of the finest meat.
Couldn’t stop himself. He’d felt this before. When he had given in to
temptation and gone off with that cute Indian boy. Even then he had
felt guilty doing it (this is bad, didn’t break up with Rob to go back to
being a slut again). But his need to prove himself was overpowering.
Prove he was still hot.
First thing he did was head down to the cloakroom, to stand in the
short queue. It must have looked odd to everyone else, since he was
just wearing a t-shirt. But instead he slid forward a tightly-rolled £50
note and received five tiny lumps of silver foil, one of which he brazenly
unwrapped then and there, gulping down the contents. Then he was off
to the bar.
He drank coke, not wanting alcohol to defuse the ticking time bomb
that he had become. For the next hour he stood there surrounded by
music and noise and men, looking without really seeing, never focusing
on any one thing. Every time he noticed someone approach, he walked
off at random. Playing the game.
Adam grinned to himself. The E was kicking in. Long time since he’d
had this feeling, that rushing, tingling feeling. He breathed out, relaxed
yet excited. After years on the London gay scene, Adam didn’t feel
comfortable unless he was surrounded by potential sex. It didn’t matter
whether or not he took them up on their offers, he just liked the
potential, the fact that it could happen. It was a kind of danger, it made
his pulse race, made him feel alive.
The cold night air on his face was like a slap. Adam blinked as he
walked out of Starfish and through the dark streets. Weird, it almost
felt like he’d just got there, but obviously he’d had enough of that place,
time to move on. The sudden absence of booming music and chatter
left a space in his head that became filled by a memory. His father's
face. Yes, it had been Dad, half-glimpsed through the crowd. He tried
not to remember any more, especially the hurt look on his Dad’s face as
Adam slammed down his drink and left the bar. He pushed the image
out of his head (whoosh, byebye!). It was easy, like letting go of
something when you’re on a rollercoaster.
Then he was in another bar, Encounterz, and even in his hyper-
energetic state Adam was shocked enough to ask himself aloud “What
the fuck am I doing in here?” Nobody answered. Maybe they hadn’t
heard him over the music. No, they heard him, but nobody talked here.
They just looked.
Adam stood still and revolved in place, wondering where he’d got the
drink in his hand from. There were men all around – not guys or lads
but men, grown-ups. Men with baggy, beady, hungry little eyes.
Looking. Looking. Looking. Men with shaved heads and beer bellies.
Men with club-fingered hands gripping their pints. Men older than Rob
(smiling on the doorstep but with sadness on his face), older than Dad
(his weathered face falling with disappointment as his son ran away),
men as old as his grandfather (sitting in the park in Stockholm together
and fishing from the sparkling river, God that was ten years ago). Men
who never smiled, never spoke, just looked and looked and looked.
Chill out, Adam told himself. You’re in charge, not these sad old
fuckers. He narrowed his eyes back at the gallery of old men. Many
turned away. That’s it, he thought, get real. Dream on. Don’t kid
Encounterz bar… what possessed him to come here? Tiny, cramped,
reeking of sweat and beer and piss. He stood alone, the ultraviolet
lamps causing his white clothes to glow brightly. Now he looked like an
angel, floating through the dark room, bathed in a purplish-blue halo.
Yes. That was why he’d come here. To feel lusted after by everyone
around him. He wanted to be wanted. Needed to be needed.
He had to feel this way, or else… there was nothing.
In the space of a second he went from feeling sick at the sight of this
place to loving it. God, it was great here! Everywhere he walked, every
part of the bar he stood in, there they were, looking at him, eyes
travelling up and down, sliding over his body and across his face.
Wanting him from afar, too scared to approach, moths circling the
bright flame. Adam felt great. He could feel a faint smile on his face but
inside he was grinning, laughing, howling hysterically with the joy of
being the centre of the world. Go on, look at me! Look look look!
He swung his arms wide on the dancefloor, in time to the beat.
Hang on, there’s no dancefloor in Encounterz... but he wasn’t in
Encounterz anymore, he was in Late, clubbing it with hundreds of
other gay lads. He couldn’t remember what trapdoor he’d fallen
through to land in the centre of this dancefloor… but here he was. Time
was elastic tonight, stretching and snapping back without warning.
Adam danced. He danced hard to the techno-garage bassline, rapid,
thumping. His body twisted in time whether he wanted it to or not. The
sound throbbed through every muscle, spinning him round, yanking
his strings again and again. Multicoloured lights flared, the other
people on the dancefloor were just snatches of face and clothes and
hands, blurring around him. He felt that indescribable sensation of
being more than himself – that he extended beyond his own skin,
outside his body, that he was stretched right across the club, that it was
all him. That he was everyone here. It felt perfectly believable, it felt
like the truth.
His dancing became even more furious., brushing wet strands of hair
away from his face. The heat became so intense that Adam peeled his
white t-shirt up over his head. With a casual flick of his hand it
disappeared into the shadows, £70 of designer clothing gone. There
were guys dancing nearby who stared or smiled, eyes sliding up his
gleaming chest, down his toned back, Adam could feel it but only
danced harder. This felt right, this was him, this was what he did.
Suddenly a hand gripped his arm. There was a man next to him, tall
with cropped hair. He shouted something at Adam but it was drowned
by the beat, so he put his face right next to Adam’s ear. “Go and get
some water!” he bellowed.
Standing still, Adam realised just how parched he was. His chest was
heaving, he felt drained (stupid twat, you took E and didn’t rehydrate).
He nodded at the man gratefully, leaned close to say thanks, he
suddenly wanted to really thank him (God he’s so cool, such a great
guy!). Adam kissed him deeply and started winding his arms around
him – but found himself being gently pushed away.
The man held up his hand to show a wedding band, gave a wry smile
and pointed towards the bar.
Next thing Adam knew, he was watching the dancefloor, swigging a
plastic bottle of water. Some of the madness seemed to be washed
away. He concentrated on breathing, taking it easy for a bit.
Shit. He’d snogged that guy. Pinpricks of guilt. He thought of Rob, of
how he’d pushed him away, avoiding him for weeks, sleeping in the
guest bedroom… but there was too much energy rushing through him
for the images to stay.
“I’m single now,” he reminded himself. Then louder, to hammer the
doubts back into the ground: “I’m free to do whatever I want!”
He scanned the club, like he’d scanned the straight bars. There was
still energy bubbling away, but he didn’t feel like dancing any more.
Wandering along the bar, he looked ahead to the cloakroom. There
was a split-level door with a guy behind it, leaning on the bottom half
looking bored. Behind him was a narrow room full of clothes racks. The
cloakroom attendant was young, maybe Spanish or Brazilian. Wavy
black hair, olive skin, big brown eyes. Hot. As. Fuck.
Rob’s voice echoed in his head again. “Anything can happen in the
next half hour!”
Adam paraded in front of the doorway, drained his bottle of water
and put it down, looked back, yes, the boy was staring his way. He
offered a smile which Adam returned, before he strolled right up to the
“Hola,” the boy said loudly over the music. Spanish accent. His grin
was pure white.
Like a cat, Adam arched forward over the lower door, putting his lips
right against the attendant’s ear. “I don’t have anything to give you.”
He gestured at his shirtless body.
Fingertips slid up Adam’s chest. “Yes you do.”
To Adam, the boy’s mouth felt like a live electric wire brushing his
lips. Some distant part of his mind knew this was the E but still he
found himself kissing him hungrily, like he was the last man alive.
He drew back and their eyes locked, saying the same thing. Let’s do it.
Adam leapt agilely over the bottom half of the cloakroom door. The
Spanish boy swung the top half shut and bolted it, cutting off a group of
guys who had been walking up carrying their coats. Then the two of
them were all over each other as they rebounded this way and that
against jackets and coats and bags, filling the tiny cloakroom with their
frenzy. The small space thudded with bass, and the sound of somebody
thumping the door and calling for attention, but Adam felt only a
surging need as he grabbed the boy’s t-shirt and wrenched it over his
head, then pulled him close, both of them breathing hard as their
hands slid crazily over each other
shouldn’t be doing this
and Adam snapped backwards as if stung.
The Spanish boy jumped. Adam’s blue eyes were enormous, staring
into space. “No don’t, fuck off, stop - ”
should be with a woman
“STOP IT!” Adam screamed. Suddenly the energy burning through
him turned sour (get away!). Adam pushed the frightened boy away
from him and threw back the bolts on the cloakroom door.
“About time!” said one of the small queue of people on the other side,
followed by a yelp as Adam vaulted over the lower door and collided
with him, sending them both tumbling.
The crowd backed away, asking what the hell was going on as Adam
scrambled to his feet and broke into a run, the Spanish boy standing
behind him, shirtless and stunned.
Violently, Adam shoved people aside (out my way, out of my fucking
way!), charging through the club, down too many stairs, burst through
the exit and into the cool night air. Gasping, swearing, he sprinted
away, turning down street after street until he found himself in a dark
alleyway, filled with overflowing rubbish bins but otherwise deserted.
There he slowed and caught his breath. Hands against the alley wall,
Adam heaved air into his lungs. The sweat chilled on his bare skin.
He couldn’t do it.
He thought he could still be himself, that he could burn this out of
Somewhere off to one side, it was still there... overheard as if on a
crossed telephone line, more of an emotion than a string of words
need to find her
but strong and clear, like someone’s facial expression making it
need to find my mother
what they’re thinking.
There was a prickling in his eyes but he squeezed them tight. No way.
He hadn’t cried for years (fourteenth birthday blood and hospitals) and
he wasn’t going to do it now, no fucking way!
Trembling, he stood straight and breathed… breathed.
All right. All right, he still had a problem. Okay. He was going to beat
it. He didn’t know what was going on but he was going to get his life
back. Whatever it took.
Whatever it took.
But what would it take? He had no clue.
“I need help,” Adam heard himself say for the very first time in his
“…and this is why the next two quarters will be significant. Over the
past three years we have managed to establish On Course Consulting as
the thought leaders of management consultancy. We have a multi-
industry client base and our turnover has been marginally in excess of
financial forecasts. But now we need to maximise our strengths, get all
our ducks in a row and re-align our sales strategies to compete in the
global market. I want to introduce an extremely proactive paradigm
that permeates every level of our organisation. We need to focus on our
core selling points and market the USPs of On Course in such a way as
…send Jayne Fields into a coma.
An impartial observer might never guess how bored she was. Jayne
sat opposite the Vice-President as he continued to talk, surrounded by
another half-dozen professionals around a huge oak conference table.
Half of them were glazing – asleep with their eyes open – but she was
faking an expression of keen interest. She nodded from time to time
and jotted down a few key words on her notepad.
Sweet baby Jesus
Get me out of here
“…the issue of strategic partnership is fundamental to our success. To
work closely with our clients and ensure the best-in-class market
practices, coupled with efficient measurable processes…”
The VP’s voice rang around the boardroom. He was quite a striking
figure, six and a half feet in his pinstripe suit, a greying beard and
swept-back silver hair. Jayne thought that he would have made an
effective headmaster, before realising that was precisely how he came
across. On Course Consulting was run by the book, and it was six
whacks of the cane for anyone who rocked the boat.
Her bottom ached at the thought.
“…transition management, holding the hands of our clients as we
navigate the successive phases of migration. This is of course
something that Jayne, Julian and the others have been excelling in.”
At the mention of her name, Jayne snapped back to alertness, noting
that Julian did the same thing. Both offered the VP a humble smile and
nod of thanks.
“In particular, as you will all be aware, we are now being brought on
board by Oxydigisoft Inc. Working with one of the ICT industry’s
newest and largest consortia means – ”
“Um, I uh, wonder if I could possibly bring something up here?” said
Julian tentatively, receiving a nod from the VP. “I know Oxydigisoft is
very important, but I just wanted to… well, to make people aware, that
perhaps we have been, well, putting our eggs in one basket a bit? Some
of our other clients, such as Tricon Industries, really deserve a bit more
This was deja-moo: bullshit she had heard before. Jayne fixed her
target sights and let him have it. “The Oxydigisoft account is worth a
full forty per cent of our annual turnover in Europe,” she said crisply.
“And frankly, we haven’t been focusing nearly enough on it.”
Julian refused to meet her eyes and fussed with his sheets of paper
and muttered about diversification models and deaggregation and a
few other things that sounded made up on the spot. Little bastard was a
complete 404, as far as she was concerned. Like Jayne, he was a
management consultant, although in this company they were called
Dedicated Solution Architect Managers… the more words you had in
your job title, the higher up the food chain you were. But unlike Jayne,
he had not been assigned to the biggest client they ever had.
The VP raised his hands. “Of course, we need to be ensuring that
none of our clients are feeling left out. It is v important that we are all
singing from the same hymn book, and directing our people to the
correct point of need…”
Jayne repressed a sigh. Thanks, VP, that’s about as helpful as a paper
teacup. But as the person with the most number of words in his title
(Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer, Europe, Middle-East,
Africa and India Region), his word was law.
“...establishing a diagnostic assessment framework with the aim of
consolidating all of their activities, and standardise the service delivery
through consistent operational and financial models – ”
DA-DA-DA-DUMMM! The opening chords of Beethoven’s Fifth
made everyone jump. The head of HR, who had been glazing deeply,
jerked out one arm as if reaching for an alarm clock.
Blushing, Jayne fumbled for her Blackberry, deafeningly loud in the
boardroom. She almost switched it off – then noticed the name on the
For a moment, Personal Jayne wrestled with Business Jayne, before
getting her on the ropes and pinning her in a headlock.
“Sorry, one second.” The VP glared at her but continued to talk to the
others while she walked to the far end of the boardroom. “Hello?”
“Hi,” came Adam’s voice. There was a lot of acoustic space behind it,
indicating he was outdoors.
“Adam, are you okay?” she hissed.
“Yeah.” He didn’t sound it. He sounded drained. “I just wanted to…”
There was a strained pause. Business Jayne made a comeback, drop-
slamming Personal Jayne into submission. “Listen, I’m in a meeting,
I’ll call you back, ten minutes. Will you be there?”
Jayne slid back into her seat. The VP didn’t stop talking but eyed her
with headmasterly disapproval.
My bum hurts, she thought.
Half an hour later, as the VP finally wrapped up his Monday morning
discussion on strategic planning, Jayne gathered her files and bolted.
Perhaps a little too quickly. She felt the eyes of the VP and the other
managers on her back as she raced out of the boardroom. Damn.
Minus brownie points. But this was important.
Avoiding eye contact with other people, she made her way through
the corridors of On Course Consulting, her professional home for the
past three years. She had started off as Junior Consultant and had
managed to add an extra word to her title with each successive year.
The word she was aiming for now was ‘Senior’, and if she managed to
pull off this account then she might get it. Which was why Julian and
his ilk were all trying to undermine her. Oily little bastards. But she
could handle them. It was the job in question that worried her.
Oxydigisoft Incorporated. “What a stupid bloody name!” she had
hooted when she first heard it. But now it dominated her days,
sometimes her nights and more than a few dreams. A consolidation of
four leading IT companies, they had apparently spent over £2 million
and six months developing an umbrella name for themselves, and
Oxydigisoft was the best they could do. They needed a management
consultant, and like every other management consultant in the UK, On
Course Consulting applied for the job.
Except they didn’t, not really. The sales managers were too busy
having three-hour lunches and vanishing on three-week holidays to
take an interest, so they gave the task of drafting the proposal to Jayne.
She knew damn well they hadn’t expected any success, the company
just had to be seen to go for it, to keep their profile high. So partly to
spite her colleagues and partly to prove to herself she could do it, Jayne
pulled out all the stops, burned the midnight oil and threw herself into
crafting the best proposal she could. And Oxydigisoft said yes.
It had made front page news on every industry magazine and website.
There was no mention of her name.
Had Jayne known what a head-crunching, soul-draining horror story
the account would be, she would have chucked the proposal in the bin
and joined the sales managers for lunch. A nine month implementation
schedule that felt like it was taking nine decades. Quadruple the
normal amount of problems of an account this size, since it was being
run by the ageing heads of four companies, like some Alzheimer’s-
ridden hydra that didn’t know what its other brains were thinking.
Managers trying to grab some reflected glory without actually putting
in any work. Fellow consultants training as snipers, taking pot-shots at
her from afar, never to her face. A VP who insisted on being “v hands-
on and proactively involved”, taking an obsessive interest in every
sodding detail. And, just to add a little extra pressure, a clause in the
contact that allowed Oxydigisoft to pull out at any time if they were
dissatisfied, without paying a penny. On top of which, at her meeting
with the digital marketing department on Friday, they’d told her that
Oxydigisoft wanted to make use of social media channels such as blogs
and Facebook and Twitter to keep the industry informed as to their
progress, but they had no budget for it so Jayne would have to take
care of this herself. Which meant she had spent half the weekend
learning how to use Wordpress to post updates to the blogosphere,
finding out what those mysterious hashtags were for, and compressing
five-page press releases into 140 characters so they could be tweeted to
But as she strode into her tiny office and closed the door, all of that
evaporated from her mind. She had a mystery to solve.
Jayne put in her hands-free earpiece and called Adam’s number. She
glanced at her laptop, noticing that an email was coming into her Inbox
at a rate of one every fifteen seconds. Unread messages was at 810 and
rising. Occasionally, she might open an email marked ‘High Priority’
and with the words FOR GOD’S SAKE READ THIS MESSAGE NOW!
in the subject header. Otherwise, experience had taught her that
anything really important would be shouted at her down a telephone.
“Hi,” sighed Adam in her ear.
“Adam, it’s me. Sorry, couldn’t get out of a meeting. How are you
“Where are you?”
“What are you doing there? Or shouldn’t I ask?”
“Just sitting here. Didn’t feel like going to lectures this morning .”
She tried to imagine him slumped on a park bench, sitting under the
trees while people walked past. It just didn’t seem right. It seemed too
ordinary for him.
“I got your texts,” he said. “But everything’s fine, it’s all cool. I’m
good, yeah? So no need for you to do anything. But, you know, thanks
anyway. That’s all I wanted to say, really, so I’ll let you go – ”
“I found your profile,” said Jayne. “On the internet.”
In the silence, she could hear the wind rustling the trees above him.
“My Gaydar profile?” he said eventually.
“No, your profile on Other Halves. The dating website.”
“That’s not me – ”
“The one with your name on it.”
“Must be another – ”
“And your photo.”
“It can’t – ”
“The one that says ‘looking for a woman of any age interested in a
The wind blew louder.
It had been late Sunday evening when Jayne finally slumped onto her
sofa with a glass of wine, dragged the laptop onto her knees and logged
in to www.otherhalves.com. She’d spent most of the weekend working,
even though she’d promised herself she wouldn’t. Only after achieving
six impossible things did her thoughts turn to herself, and to her
lovelife. She still wasn’t convinced online dating was the answer,
despite what half the girls in the office said, but had signed up to Other
Halves a couple of months ago anyway. There had been a few
messages, a few online chats, but she hadn’t found any guys she
actually wanted to meet. Probably a good thing anyway. Don’t really
have time for this, she told herself again as she logged on.
And there, in the list of new profiles that had been automatically
matched to hers, was a familiar face.
“Adam,” she said softly, “whatever’s going on...”
“Don’t tell Rob!” he said suddenly. “You can’t tell him anything – ”
“I won’t, don’t worry! This is between you and me, okay? I just want
Find out what the hell has happened to you!
“I dunno,” he mumbled.
He was back to how he’d been at Starfish, just after Kirsty left.
Unable to meet her eyes. What had he said to her again? Something
about being hated? Or hunted?
“Adam, is there anybody giving you a hard time at the moment?” she
asked softly. “Putting you under stress?”
“I’m not being bullied, if that’s what you mean,” he replied waspishly.
“I’m not at school any more!”
“So nobody’s putting you up to this or anything? Nobody’s making
you do this?”
No, not hunted, he’d said he was something else, what was it...
“Adam, wait.” Time to get to the bottom of this. Jayne switched on
her Dedicated Solutions Architect Manager voice, smooth and
confident, as if schmoozing a new client. “Okay, listen. It’s obvious
you’re not in a good place right now, and you’re going through some
changes. All I’m offering is an ear. Someone to talk to about things.
Rather than dealing with them alone.”
She left that hanging, waiting for him to think things over, prepared
to be patient and give him plenty of time to gradually let slip one by
one the complex issues that he was clearly wrestling with –
“I need a girlfriend.”
Jayne felt her insides flip over.
“Um. Right.” Think, say something! “So... is that why you were with
“Yeah, but that’s over now, that was stupid, she shouldn’t have seen
me down there, I messed up, I weren’t thinking, but now I want to do it
proper, I need a proper girlfriend. And quick,” he added, “soon as.”
“So… shit.” Jayne’s office phone rang and, checking the caller display,
she recognised the name of one of the financial co-ordinators. “Adam –
don’t go away, I’ll be thirty seconds, just hang on.”
She snatched up the phone and let Business Jayne take over. “Gareth.
Hello. I’ll tell you what you can do for me, you can take a look at the
financial proposal for Oxydigisoft you gave me last week. You don’t see
what the problem is? Well, I know I’m not a financial co-ordinator but
I feel I am qualified to point out that VAT is twenty per cent. NOT two
thousand per cent! That final amount we’re charging them might just
pay for the open heart surgery the CEO of Oxydigisoft will need when
he sees it. Yes, if you could possibly correct this, that would be great,
ideally before they dump us and go with the competition. Fine. Thank
you.” She slammed the phone down and said to Adam “So what’s made
you feel like this?”
“You’re a bit of a bitch at work, aren’t you?” He sounded amused.
“No!” said Jayne, mildly offended. “I’m just surrounded by seagull
“What’s a seagull manager?”
“You know. Flies in, makes a lot of noise, shits over everything and
He laughed a little, which she took as a good sign. Then she noticed a
post-it note slapped on the edge of her desk, upon which was scrawled:
Free ticket to see your
amazing new presentation!
This required her attention too, since she would be presenting an
implementation update to Oxydigisoft tomorrow. But she kept talking
as she got up and walked out of her office. “So how long have you been
feeling that you wanted to try – ”
“Look, it’s not a big deal, is it?” he said. “I just need to be with a girl
right now, that’s all, millions of people have one so why not me?”
“Why do you ‘need’ a girl right now?”
“...Want. I want a girlfriend,” he said, more quietly.
Jayne was scowling as she walked into another office. One of the
Graphic Designers immediately broke into a grin and waved her over to
his computer, which had two gigantic monitors and was surrounded by
enough toy robots, dinosaurs and action figures for him to open his
own branch of Toys R Us. Mark was the company’s unofficial ‘alpha
geek’. Jayne never thought anyone could be a bigger sci-fi nerd than
her brother, High Priestess Nerdalina Geekwalker of the Clan McSad,
but Mark was the living proof. A youngish guy with a goatee and John
Lennon glasses, he was always doing more than was ever requested of
him. That was a rarity at On Course Consulting and should have been
great, but was actually quite tiresome. Jayne just didn’t have time to
explain that interactive hyperlinks were not needed on a simple
flowchart, or that the company logo did not need to materialise on the
screen with Star Trek sound effects.
“Have you always felt this way? Or is it a new thing?” she asked Adam
as she stood behind Mark. He was jiggling around in his seat like an
eager puppy, one hand on the mouse, the other playing with a USS
Enterprise-shaped stress ball.
“It’s new,” Adam said firmly. “I’ve never been interested in women.”
“Not ever? Not even when you were younger?”
“Nah. They never did anything for me... it was always the boys in the
sixth form I was watching. Especially when they played footie. And
rugby.” She could hear him smiling at the memory.
“That’s what I thought. This is why I’m surprised to hear you, you
know, change your tune.”
“You want a tune playing as well?” asked Mark. “No worries, how
about Also Sprach Zarathustra, from 2001?”
“You know – bwarm, bwarm, bwarm... BA-BWAAAAARM! Or what
about the Imperial March? I’ve got that MP3 here – ”
“Wait, sorry – run the slides again, Mark. Hang on, Adam.” This time
she paid attention as the presentation displayed organisation charts,
process diagrams and bullet points. All in Mark’s own style: various
stomping Transformers represented competitors, Godzilla and Godzuki
demonstrated the size difference between UK and European markets,
there was an animated On Course logo in the neon-blue style of Tron,
all ending with the sound of Darth Vader’s breathing as he proclaimed
‘Impressive’. God knows what the board of Oxydigisoft would make of
this, but she didn’t have time to change anything. “Brilliant,” she told
Mark, striding out of his office and leaving him happy. His Enterprise
stress ball bounced boldly off the ceiling.
“Okay, so,” said Jayne as she walked back into her office, “you’ve
started realising recently, then, that actually you’re more bisexual than
outright gay, so do you think you’re – ”
“I’m NOT fucking bi!”
She actually jumped at the strength in Adam’s voice. “I know what
that sounds like, all right? It’s just, I’m not a... I’m not ‘confused’ or any
crap like that, I hate it when guys say that. I just need – want – to be
with a girl. To try being with a girl.”
“All right, well, that’s fine... there’s nothing wrong with, you know,
experimenting. I mean you’re only young, why not?”
“More than that though, it’s more than just trying out... having sex
with girls.” His voice twisted slightly, unless that was her imagination.
“I want the whole thing.”
“You mean a proper relationship?”
“A proper family.” He took a deep breath. “I want children.”
Jayne went cold.
“Just one,” he went on. “A daughter. Maybe a daughter, I dunno.
She sat there like a statue, unable to even describe what she was
feeling right then.
His words weren’t sinking in. It was like forcing a square peg into a
round hole. Adam, the proudest gay man in London, having a child…
She could almost see the warning signs flashing up inside her own head
- MALFUNCTION. DOES NOT COMPUTE.
Jayne’s stomach clenched. Not in a nauseous way, more a sensation
of being in freefall. The whole concept of kids was what didn’t compute.
Her career over the past ten years had been so manic, there was no
headspace for anything else. Many of her friends were the same, so
their conversations spiralled around their careers. A few friends had
kids, true, but somehow those were the ones she just hadn’t stayed in
touch with. For all the rest, it lurked underneath all their lives like a
big dark lake, hidden by the conversational ice they skated across.
Avoiding the cracks.
That’s what this feeling is, she realised. Falling into a crack.
Adam said something more. It didn’t so much as go in one ear and
out the other as lightly ruffle Jayne’s hair as it passed by. Her eyes
suddenly focused through the doorway and down the corridor, on a
suited man talking to a woman from Human Resources.
Is that Richard?
Jayne fussed with her blouse, straightened her grey skirt. She pushed
a lock of auburn hair back from where it had escaped.
Tall, dark-haired, designer stubbled, precisely dressed, twinkly-eyed.
Richard Moran was also a consultant, but unlike the others he was
never interested in sabotaging her work with Oxydigisoft, or stroppily
refusing her requests for assistance. In fact, she had never asked him.
He was far too busy with another large client. She would never want to
distract him, he had a lot on his plate, no need to bother him with
requests or small talk…
The achey sensation was back. It was like extreme hunger, that
hollowness, but inside her chest rather than her stomach. She watched
him chatting, making the woman laugh. People always laughed around
him. His confidence felt like gravity, it drew people into orbit around
She hated this. It was so stupid. She hated the jabs of jealousy
whenever she saw Richard making someone else laugh. She hated the
way he managed to flush all her thoughts down the U-bend, so that all
that was left was this hollow ache...
Adam bobbed back into her mind like a huge floater. “So how could
you help, then?”
Jayne twitched in her seat. “What?”
“In Starfish, remember, you said I should let you help me. What’s
your big idea, then? Although I doubt you’ll be able to do anything.”
There it was. The challenge.
Stop it, she told herself. Just because you’ve been challenged doesn’t
mean you have to accept. This is how you got lumbered with
Oxydigisoft. Don’t be so predictable, you silly bitch.
“Maybe I can,” she heard herself say.
Then she shook her head. “No. Cancel that. It’s a bad idea.”
“Adam, I can think of several reasons why this won’t work.” She
counted them off on her fingers. “For a start:
a) I’d have to teach you everything from scratch
b) We’d have to keep this secret from Rob
c) You would never trust me, and
d) I just don’t have the time!
So I think it’s a bad idea all round really.”
There was silence on the line for a moment. And then she heard what
sounded only partially like Adam’s voice. An impersonation of Adam by
someone younger. Boyish. Scared.
“Nobody else is gonna help me.”
Jayne swallowed, feeling her throat go tight.
“Hang on, call you back,” she said quickly, ending the call. Like yet
another distraction had come along in the office and she just had to
hang up on him, sorry, no choice. But it was a lie. She needed thinking
Jayne chewed her lip. Did she really have an answer to this?
What do you do when your brother’s boyfriend – ex-boyfriend –
wants to go back in the closet? Do you play along in the hope of getting
them back together? Or do you refuse to get involved, knowing that’s
probably the sensible move, but forever wondering if you could have
done something, if you might have made a difference if only you hadn’t
been so selfish and wrapped up with your own career and a job you
Ladies and gentlemen, your answers on a postcard please, or you can
Personal Jayne had already handed the baton over to Business Jayne,
and that side of her had gone into overdrive: considering possibilities,
examining options, planning, planning, planning. If this had been a
project for On Course, she would probably have already formulated a
SWOT analysis. Chances are it would have looked something like:
Adam is very attractive and a Adam is more gay than Mardi
lot of women fancy him Gras
Adam is not a camp queen Adam will try to shag guys at
every given opportunity
I have experience in training
and personal objective From the sounds of things, he’s
management not exactly at his best right now
This might get Adam and Rob How the hell am I going to turn a
back together again gay guy straight?
Scratching this itch of Adam’s Who can I set Adam up with?
will be better than leaving it to
get worse and drive him mad
God, what if it works and he does
get some girl pregnant and it
This will take my mind off my breaks Rob’s heart and it’s all my
stupid bloody job stupid fault...
...Oh Jesus, she thought, what the hell do I do?
Okay, well first of all, define the problem. For whatever reason, Adam
wanted a girlfriend – more than that, a woman prepared to bear him a
child, a proper life-partner. Maybe, having been on the gay scene since
the age of fourteen, he was simply burned out, and needed something
different. Perhaps he was more bisexual than gay, and this was his way
of riding both buses, as it were. Yes, she thought. Adam was too proud
and self-assured to ever admit he wasn’t happy, or was different to his
public image. But he could only resist his inner drives so long.
One way or the other, Jayne instinctively felt that the best therapy
was to give Adam what he wanted. If he wanted to experiment with
heterosexuality, then fine. The thrill was bound to wear off before long
and he would become bored of the whole thing. Then he would want to
return to normality.
That was all she wanted. Rob and Adam back together. To see that
contented glow in her brother again.
And there was someone else on her mind. Someone she’d made a
promise to, back in Starfish.
“Take care of yourself. And the boy.”
In her mind’s eye: Mikael’s face, lined with worry for his son.
“Right!” said Jayne. She had an urge to roll up her sleeves.
She called him back. “Listen to me. If I helped you, you’d have to let
me do it. You’d have to trust me and do what I tell you, even if you
didn’t like it. It wouldn’t work otherwise. Could you do that?”
“Yeah,” he said after a moment’s thought. “Can’t be worse than things
are now, so... yeah.”
“Adam – from now on I am your Dedicated Solution Architect
Manager. Do you understand? I am your strategic partner. I’m going to
help you arrive at a solution.”
When he said “Really?” it sounded like the last ten years had just
dropped away. Like a little boy being told he was going to Disneyland.
When he spoke again, the gay-hardness was back in his voice. “All
right, so, what now then?”
“Okay, well first of all we need to concentrate on turning you into a
“Straight man, I mean. And then we need to find you someone who
you could… someone you can...”
“Shag?” he suggested.
“Connect with,” she settled for. “Someone who might make things
easier for you. Kirsty definitely wasn’t right. You need someone more
suitable, someone who might want a more serious relationship.”
And then she thought again of her circle of friends, all skating
perilously over the entire issue of having children, all waiting for the
perfect opportunity to come along before they were too old to take
advantage of it. Waiting for Mr Right.
“Actually.... I can think of a few women who might be ideal.”
“Oh great,” he almost sneered. “Are you gonna pimp me out to your
Jayne bristled. “Adam, it’s hardly pimping. Think of me as more of
your personal introducer.”
“You’re my pimp.”
“Look, it’s just like Other Halves, but instead of online dating I’ll be
matching you to – ”
“I’m NOT your fucking pimp!” she shouted. Which was the precise
moment that Jayne noticed the VP standing in her office doorway.
Hard to say which of them was more stunned.
Eventually, the VP blinked and, with a face like thunder, gestured in
the direction of the boardroom. Remembering the 11am conference
call, Jayne nodded feebly. The VP’s you’re-in-trouble-now-young-lady
stare never left her face until he turned fully around and strode off.
Jayne slumped over her desk, drained. “Adam… when I’m on the
dole, I’ll have all the time in the world to help you. I’ll be in touch.”
She ended the call and dropped her BlackBerry into her handbag. As
she walked out of her office and adjusted her suit jacket, Jayne glanced
up at the On Course Consulting logo mounted in the corridor. The ‘O’
was the round wheel of a ship’s helm, and there was a picture of an old
galleon sailing across the ocean.
She knew what she was on course towards.
“Hang about,” said the bouncer, “aren’t you what’s her name?”
The tall girl in the long black coat shook her head. Behind her, people
in the queue gabbled and giggled, shifting their feet impatiently, eager
to get into the nightclub. The bouncer looked up and down at the young
“Yeah you are! From that fashion thing, what’s it called – ”
“That’s not me.” She folded two £20 notes into the breast pocket of
“My mistake,” grinned the bouncer. He unhooked the rope barrier
and gestured for her to enter. “Bet that happens to you all the time.”
“Yes,” said Viola Moore, presenter of Channel 4’s BAFTA Award-
nominated TV programme, Chic Week.
She paid the gum-chewing woman behind the desk, then held out a
perfectly manicured hand to a second bouncer slouched on a stool, who
pressed an ink stamp onto it. Anyone carrying a large bag was being
asked to open it for inspection, but she only had a tiny Gucci ‘new
bamboo’ handle bag with tassels and nobody noticed how it hung
straight down as if there was something very heavy inside, so she
She walked down two flights of steps into the subterranean club. The
pounding music grew louder, air thickening, shadows deepening. That
suited her fine. She welcomed the darkness.
She hadn’t caught the name of the club – the stamp on the back of
her hand was just an inky blob. It didn’t matter. She had seen it out the
window of the car that the studio had laid on for her, told the driver to
stop, thanked him as she got out. The club was a hole in the wall
decorated with a couple of neon signs, with a string of South
Londoners lining up to get in. They had to be locals. Nobody would
travel to get to this place.
She walked past another queue, outside the cloakroom. They were
mostly girls, coats in their arms. All dressed up for a night out: high
heels, pierced navels, glitter. Their chatter was high-pitched and loud,
suddenly silent as Viola Moore, three-time cover model for Vogue,
She unbuttoned her Maria Luisa fur-lined black wool coat but didn’t
remove it. Beneath the coat, a strapless, one-piece Versace cocktail
dress shimmered deep scarlet, clinging to toned upper thighs and
perfectly rounded breasts. Bright blonde hair flowed down the back of
her long neck, pulled back from her brow. She turned her face briefly to
the staring girls as if a camera was about to flash: capturing large green
eyes, dead straight nose, razor cheekbones. Then she was gone,
sweeping into the nightclub.
Music slammed into her – something deep and raw. Her eyes
accustomed to the gloom as she scanned the tiny, jam-packed club. It
was L-shaped, with a small bar at one end and the DJ’s booth at the
other. Along one side were a few seats, torn red leather, tiny round
tables heaped with glasses and bottles. The floor was sticky beneath her
Gucci heels. Multicoloured lights gleamed weakly off a static disco ball.
The heat and thudding bass pressed against her skin. She breathed in
the solid air: thick with smoke, sweet with sweat, acrid with cannabis,
rank with the foul air from the toilets.
People were dancing, drinking, talking, laughing. She scanned them
keenly, hoping it was too dark down here for anyone to be as perceptive
as the bouncer. Also, she didn’t have the rimless Police spectacles that
she wore when presenting the show – they were as good as her
trademark. So she felt confident enough to peer at each member of the
crowd in turn.
There were several girl-only groups and also several packs of lads.
They eyed her in return as she walked by, with venom and lust in equal
measures. There were no women by themselves, but a few solitary men
lounged near the bar or along the dancefloor, nodding in time to the
beat so as not to appear desperate. Then there were the couples:
dancing or standing together, some kissing openly. In the dark corner
near the toilets, she noticed two couples going further, pressed up
against the wall side by side. There was the flash of a bright red bra
strap, the blur of a woman’s forearm moving rapidly back and forth.
Yes. This was perfect.
Viola felt her iPhone vibrate inside her handbag. She quickly reached
inside. It could be George, her producer on ‘Chic Week’, pretending to
check that she got home okay after tonight’s filming, but actually
wanting to complain again about how badly her agent treated him
these days. It might be Dwayne from Film On Four, making good on
his promise to stay in touch after their meeting last week. Chances were
it was just Simon, who was at a sales conference in Leicester this
weekend. No doubt he was lounging around his hotel room even now,
emptying his mini-bar. Her husband got bored easily.
She glanced at the display for a fraction of a second before switching
it off, so quick she could pretend she never saw the name. She dropped
the phone back into her handbag. It made a thunking sound as it
landed on the gun, but nobody else heard it.
The music changed to something upbeat, instantly causing women to
squeal and rush onto the dancefloor. She recognised the latest single by
Flag, the boyband. It was imposible ignore them these days, especially
after that scandal with the Irish member last year, which had been
front page news. Viola had met the Scottish boy (each of the four
members represented a different part of the UK) a few months back,
interviewing him for Chic Week since he had a reputation for being
cutting-edge trendy. Turned out that was about as genuine as their lip-
synching, and all part of Flag’s image. The tattoo-covered twat wouldn’t
have known a fashion label if it had been liquidised for him to shoot up
into his skinny, pockmarked arms. After the interview had been filmed,
a shocked Amy – she was quite innocent, in some ways – had told Viola
she’d never had to put make-up on a guest’s veins before.
Viola shook her head, heaved a breath, pushed that whole life away
and made herself focus.
Find the man she needed.
Her gaze passed across the dancefloor, the bar, the crowd. Shaven-
headed lads leered back, beer bellies stretching out their polo shirts.
Spotty teenage boys got the jitters as the beautiful woman checked
them out. Older men with receding hairlines and tattooed forearms
pulled their flabby features into what they assumed was a confident,
All of them ended up scowling, as Viola’s eyes slid off them and
She found him near the bar. He was part of a group of three guys in
their twenties. They were busily chatting up four girls in identical
skirts, all of whom seemed to have been to the same high street sale.
Even from a distance, Viola could see the way both groups eagerly
checked each other out as they talked and laughed. Wondering who
might get off with whom, a few rounds hence.
He was over six feet tall, not much more than Viola herself in her
heels. Blonde hair gelled sideways and a black leather jacket over a
white t-shirt despite the oppressive heat down here, but he clearly
didn’t care, believing himself to be dressed to kill. He was classically
good looking: cheeky smile, firm jaw, what passed for designer stubble
with men who didn’t have stylists. Cocky in the way he kept eye contact
with the girls as he swigged his beer. He knew damn well he was going
to get whichever one of them he wanted, and his mates could squabble
over his cast-offs. Hottest man in the club by a light year.
Viola nodded. He’d do.
She walked into the blonde man’s line of sight. The instant he glanced
up, she allowed her coat to fall open, knowing the disco lights would
play across the curves of her cocktail dress.
He did a double take. His mates turned, their mouths performing
silent little ‘O’s of approval. The girls looked her way as well, now
mirroring each other’s frowns as well as appalling fashion tastes.
Viola catwalked towards him. He looked her up and down and
offered a grin, but she remained expressionless as she strode directly
up to him.
He opened his mouth to say something and found her lips against
them, her arms winding around his neck. Instantly, his mates roared
with approval, huge cheers that caused people to turn and watch. The
group of girls had a profanity attack: “Fuck’s sake!” “Shit!” “Fuckin’
slag!” “Fuck’s she think she is?”
Viola allowed the kiss to go on for half a minute. Then she slowly
pulled away and met his eyes. Rabbits caught in headlights had more
“Er… um, hey, you uh…”
She put her lips to his ear and told him what she wanted.
“Um… hey, that’s fine with me, you wanna get a drink or something?”
“Now,” she breathed.
“Gotta go, guys,” he told his friends with a grin you could have guided
aircraft in to land with. They cheered him on with “Go for it mate!” and
“Nice one, my son!” Viola struggled to stop her lip from curling.
As she pulled the blonde man towards the exit, he offered an
apologetic shrug to the four girls. If looks could kill, they had already
machine-gunned Viola into Swiss cheese. She made her getaway under
a hail of “Bitch!” “Slag!” “Tart!” “Whore!”
Viola led the way out of the club, trying to stop herself from actually
breaking into a run – she had to get out of this filthy dive right now,
she could feel it on her like oil, clinging to her clothes and hair, making
her feel like a swan struggling to escape a tar pit. Beside her, the blonde
man broke into an excited babble. “Listen, um, my name’s Gavin by the
way, I’ve got my car parked just round the corner, so we can, er, are we
going to your place then, are you sure – ”
“No,” she told him, “we’re going to yours.”
“Okay, cool with me. Jesus, you don’t muck about, do you?”
At the top of the stairs, Viola breathed in the night air. The bouncer
looked up, his eyebrows jumping at the sight of not-Viola-Moore-from-
that-fashion-thing, whom he’d let into the club ten minutes earlier. He
glanced at Gavin, then back at her with a huge stage wink. He knew
exactly what was going on here. He knew precisely what he was being
paid to keep quiet about.
Viola grimaced. He didn’t know shit.
They hurried down the road, getting one or two amused glances from
people in the queue. Gavin kept talking, something about not having
seen her at the club before and he was sure he would have noticed her
and that kind of thing. White noise.
He motioned for them to turn into a side street. Dark, a few parked
cars, strewn with litter, puddles of rainwater and piss, faded graffiti,
empty except for the two of them. The traffic faded to a low rumble as
they walked on, Viola’s heels click-clacking off the high brick walls,
Gavin’s voice booming around them. “You know what, you look just
like that bird off the telly. Seriously, you do! You know who I mean, the
one who used to be a model? With the glasses?”
“Oh, but you’re shitloads more sexy than she is,” he added quickly. “I
mean, fuck, you’re gorgeous! She’s a bit of a snotty bitch, really.
Seriously, you should get into modelling or something, um… sorry, did
you tell me your name?”
She silenced him with another passionate kiss. For a full minute she
ground her body against him, hearing no complaints.
“I need you now,” she told him.
He swallowed, gestured behind her. “This is my car.”
Viola backed up against the rusting pale blue thing with the Ford
badge on the front grille, pulling him along with her. Her £600 Maria
Luisa coat slid off her like a snake shedding its skin, coiling to the
ground. There was a loud clunk when she let her Gucci handbag drop
heavily onto the road – no need for that after all. This one was more
She slid backwards onto the bonnet and wrapped both legs around
Gavin’s middle, drawing him in. “I must be dreaming,” he half-laughed.
Gavin was like a greyhound out of the trap. He was all over her,
groping everywhere he could, like a first-time teenager making the
most of what might be his only chance. Viola fumbled with his belt
buckle, feeling him slobber against her neck and face, his hands
octopussing up and down her Versace dress. Manicured fingers slid
into his jeans.
He reached inside his jacket pocket, pulling out a packet of condoms.
She slapped them out of his hand. “You won’t need those.”
He grinned, didn’t argue, tugged jeans and boxers down in one go,
pulled her along the bonnet towards him –
“Shit!” Gavin jerked backwards as her voice rang through the street.
He had to grab his jeans to stop them dropping to his ankles. Lying
spread-eagled on the bonnet of the car in front of him, Viola’s eyes
“What?” Gavin frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“What are you talking about!” she shouted.
“I said...” But then he realised she wasn’t even looking at him. Viola
stared into thin air, strands of hair clinging to her face.
“For God’s sake! Leave me alone, there’s nothing wrong with him! Let
me get on with it!”
He backed away, disturbed. “Er… who the fuck are you talking to?”
He glanced up and down the deserted street, then back at her with a
slight smile. “Listen, um, if this is some kind of – ”
“You can’t say that!” shouted Viola at nothing. “Not again!”
Quickly, he refastened his jeans, watching Viola like a hawk as she
staggered off the bonnet. She didn’t seem aware of where she was,
staring this way and that. Her arms whirled in sudden anger. “I don’t
care! I don’t care any more, I just want it to be over!”
“Fuckin’ nutter,” murmured Gavin. He was opening the driver’s door
and behind the wheel like a shot.
Roar of engine, squeal of tyres as the car reversed away from where
Viola stood. She didn’t even notice as he pulled out and drove right
past her in a cloud of fumes.
By the time his car turned into the main road and vanished from
sight, Viola had collapsed onto the ground. She was in tears, hair
curtaining her face, one Gucci heel broken. There were no witnesses to
the sight of the beautiful young woman in the expensive cocktail dress,
sprawled in the filthy back-alley.
“I don’t want you to be born!” she cried. “I just want you to leave me
Her sobbing echoed off the brick walls.
“…What am I going to do?”
About the Author
David Wailing writes contemporary relationship-based fiction, a
blend of character drama and humour. There are elements of mystery
or detective fiction, usually with an investigative angle, but in a light-
The key theme of David’s novels is ‘identity’- people pretending to be
something they're not. All his work is focused around characters that
fake being someone else or take on others’ characteristics.
David writes books for a broad modern audience, that men would not
consider 'chick lit' and women would not consider 'lad lit'. In terms of
similar authors, readers of Ben Elton, Nick Hornby, William Sutcliffe,
Danny Wallace and Mike Gayle might enjoy his work.
David currently has three books available. ‘Fake Kate’ focuses on
online dating and two sisters, one of whom pretends to be the other
and goes on her dates, to investigate why she has vanished. ‘Bang’ is
the memoir of a relationship assassin, a man of many faces who is a
honeytrap for married women, seducing them to provide evidence of
infidelity for private detectives to discover. ‘Cupid’s Warhead’ features
a gay man trying to retrain himself to be straight, in order to follow an
obsession to find one particular woman.
David lives in North London and is working on ideas for future