THEO WELLIS had never kissed a man. Once, he’d been close, but had run away instead. Once, when he was twenty-two years old, his friend Luke had smiled at him in that daring way—and Theo, coward that he was, had turned and fled.
Once, back in 1989, there had been a chance for happiness, and Theo hadn’t taken it.
I’m drunk, he thought vaguely, eying the two glasses in front of him. Trying to grab the left one, he missed, realizing there was only one glass, and that he was even more drunk than he’d guessed.
It was late, and he was cold and lonely. Now he was on the wrong side of forty. He was unhappy, fat and old and ugly, and weak because he had stopped doing sports more than twenty years ago.
How long had he been here in this shabby little pub? Three hours? Five? Ten? Theo didn’t know, and he didn’t care, either. The place was warm, quiet, and the barman had sold him every drink he’d asked for.
Maybe, in another few hours, he would even forget why he was so unhappy.
Although—no. Unlikely. He’d been unhappy since 1989. A few shots of whisky (or a few bottles) surely couldn’t change that.
He sighed. Maybe it was time to go home. Then he laughed bitterly. Home. What a joke.
“Another one,” he said, pushing his empty glass along the counter. It nearly slipped off the wooden surface, and only because the barman wasn’t busy tonight did he manage to catch it before it shattered on the dirty floor.
“You sure?” the guy asked, looking at Theo dubiously. “You look like you’ve had enough.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Theo said, trying to smile and failing. What he managed was a crooked grin, but what the heck. A new idea sparked up in his mind, more bright and brilliant than anything else in the past few hours. This barman—he could tell him his story! It was part of a barman’s job description to listen to their customers, wasn’t it? “Totally
s-sure,” Theo said carefully. “A laaaarge one.”
“A large what?” the barman asked. His short hair glistened with sweat. “You’ve tried nearly everything in the house since you came in. What it’s to be this time?”
“Beer,” Theo answered promptly. He didn’t like beer—actually, he didn’t like alcohol, but that didn’t hold him back from drinking too much—so he thought it would be a good idea to have one. “A l-large, cold beer.”
The barman shook his head but did as asked. “Here you go,” he said flatly. “And we’re closing up in a quarter hour. Midnight, on the dot. Just saying.”
“Midnight.” Theo couldn’t help a giggle. It came out as a sad croak. “Will you turn into my fairy godmother at midnight?”
Alcohol sloshed through his brain; it wasn’t a good feeling. His body didn’t feel good, nor his soul, nor his mind—nothing. And yes, hell, there was the problem that he had a wife at home. A wife he didn’t love and never had. A wife who was about to leave him.
And then there was the problem of him being gay, really. Only he’d never told anyone.
Oh, and the troubles he had with breathing lately. Maybe he should cut back on the cigarettes a bit. Forty instead of sixty a day seemed like a manageable goal.
“Should have kissed him,” he told the barkeeper. “Really, I should have. But back then, I was too scared and too stupid. So I ran away. Never kissed a man, you know. Fucked a few by now, but never kissed one.”
The barman just shot him a look that clearly said he wasn’t interested in stories.
Theo didn’t even notice. Wrapping his large hands around the beer glass sitting in front of him, he was a bit taken aback by its coldness. What he wanted was warmth. What he really wanted was to go back to that night in 1989 and fix things.
“Luke,” he said, his eyes losing focus. “That was his name. Luke. A shock of black, curly hair and winter-sky blue eyes. When he smiled, the girls offered to carry his bag; when he flirted with them, they fell for him like bees for honey.”
The barman said nothing. He had a cloth in his hand and polished the bar, determinedly looking the other way.
Theo put his head to the wooden surface. He felt sick, but then he’d felt sick for a long, long time now.
“I’m married,” he murmured. “Kelly. Cute. Stupid. Cruel. She took me for my money. I took her for my reputation. We both know it, and I’ve never pretended I love her. Nor has she. We’ve been married for three years, and I can’t remember how many lovers she’s had since. Doesn’t matter. I did too. Had lovers. She wants a divorce. I asked her if we could have a child, somehow. I like children. I want a child.” He gulped when tears began prickling behind his eyelids. “Kelly. She laughed when I said it, and then she told me she wanted a divorce. She called me a gay piece of shit and told me that living with me and my miserable mood wasn’t worth the money I paid her. Then threw a bottle after me. Champagne, I think. Expensive stuff. I’m a stockbroker, you know? Hate it, but it pays well.”
The world turned upside down when Theo lifted his head, and he slipped off the stool, crashing hard onto the floor. It came as a surprise, quite honestly. On the other hand, the floor was not a bad option compared to the stool.
The barman looked over the counter and down at him. “Told you you’d had enough,” he said. “And we’re closing in two minutes.”
“Hmmm.” Theo stared at the ceiling. He thought of Kelly, and that the flat would have a new lock by now. He was officially homeless, no matter that it was he who paid the rent.
“Luke,” he said, folding his arms behind his head. “I loved him, you know? Didn’t know it at the time. We were mates, that’s all. And then there was that party. Big one, lots of people. Some guy’s house, or mansion, rather. Someone had called the cops because we’d been too loud, and Luke and I were outside watching things get heated up. The cops shouted and the neighbors shouted, and we looked at each other and grinned. Went inside, looking for something to eat. Must’ve been around midnight, I guess. We were both sober because we were both part of the swimming team training for the Olympics. No booze, no smokes. Fine with us.”
“Time you went home,” the barman said, still looking down at him. The pub was empty; the beer glass had vanished, the lights had been switched off. Even the barman didn’t look like a barman anymore. He looked like a regular guy hoping to go home and to bed soon.
“Luke tried to kiss me,” Theo said, shaking his head. “Me. His hand was on my ass, and he leaned in and I freaked and pushed him off. He stumbled and fell. And I ran.”
Theo focused on the barman. He had red hair. Why hadn’t he noticed the man had red hair before? He looked like a ghost in that light, a ghost with red hair. Maybe, if he concentrated hard enough, he could see through him?
“Afterwards—the next day—I heard Luke grabbed a bottle and got pissed. And then he jumped into his car at one in the morning and drove home. In the last bend before he would have reached his parents’ house, he lost control and crashed into a small wall. No higher than a foot, but he was thrown out of the car. He wasn’t wearing a safety belt. When the ambulance arrived, he was still alive, and from what I heard his organs were considered for donation. He had a donor card, you know? But his injuries were too severe. He died in the hospital on December 10, 1989. And although this happened such a fucking long time ago, I still miss him. And regret that I didn't kiss him.”
Theo closed his eyes. His heart ached. His head too.
No surprise there.
“Time you left,” a bodiless voice said right next to his ear. “It’s midnight.”
The clock chimed, over and over again. Theo tried to laugh, but found he couldn’t. The floor vanished from underneath him, and he fell into a deep hole. Like fucking Alice in fucking Wonderland, he thought and tried to fight, tried to stop the fall, tried to scream, until he lost consciousness.