Almost Never Disclaimers & Chapter Index
Eight Days a Week.
Monday's bloke was the rulemaking type.
"I don't fuck," he said as soon as they crossed the threshold of Stuart's flat.
Stuart, who'd just been throwing the locks, opened them up again. "That's all right then," he said, glib, acidic. "We can just cuddle in front of the telly." He assumed his most scornful expression and, with a sweeping gesture, indicated the door.
Marv, or Harv, or whatever the fuck his name was, smiled a tad nervously. "I just mean, you know. Well, everything else is fine."
The bloke's smile steadied; he stepped up, ran his hands down Stuart's chest and hooked his fingers into the waist of Stuart's trousers. "Better than fine," he said.
Stuart shot the locks behind his back by feel. "I should hope so," he said.
A good half hour later, Marv changed the rules.
"You don't fuck," Stuart reminded him. He'd kept the other man's exact phrase and tone in mind, just so that he could mimic it perfectly now.
To his brief annoyance, Marv was far too busy groaning and writhing to appreciate Stuart's sarcasm; he merely panted, "Do it," along with a few other choice phrases, and then there were condoms and lube to be dealt with and Stuart didn't care any more.
Predictably, pathetically, Marv came after about ninety seconds of solid shagging, and then lay slack as a car crash victim for another few minutes-- leaving Stuart to do all the work, but that was fine, give him a hardhat and an orange vest and he could manage this eight hours a day no problem.
Then Marv remembered his rules. "Can I finish you off..." he suggested, wriggling away a bit, positioning his hands to intercede between them.
"You can," Stuart said, "if you tilt up a bit--" and pushed his legs back.
The bloke's face took on a pinched, obstinate look-- the polar opposite of sexy-- so Stuart focused on Marv's hard, planed chest, jerked his hips and brought himself off quick.
After taking entirely too long to gather up his clothes, Marv left. It seemed as though the twat was still playing at indignation, but when Stuart wandered out of the bedroom eventually, he found a number scribbled on a stray magazine subscription card, propped up on the table: "Marc," it said. Marv, Harv, Marc...
Then again, Marc might be someone else entirely; Stuart must have had a dozen Marcs, and those were just the ones whose names he'd known. He probably had numbers for a dozen more. He was always coming across phone numbers, a storm of confetti drifting across the counter where he threw his keys and wallet at the end of every night. He had a system. He folded them up with the number out, if the bloke was only passable, or with the number in, if the bloke was fabulous, or not at all, if he couldn't be bothered, which was most of the time.
It didn't matter. He threw the subscription card away, poured out and drank a nightcap, and went off to an early sleep at just gone one.
Tuesday he was just out for a drink and a look around, he wasn't planning to leave the club-- wasn't even especially looking to cop off, though he rarely said no to a trip to the toilets if the opportunity presented itself attractively enough, as it so often did.
Tonight's attractive opportunity spread Stuart across the wall of the toilet stall and had at him hungrily. Obviously fate was restoring balance to his sex life, after the crap shag of the night before. The bloke was so very nice, Stuart considered taking him home and exploring his talents at leisure. Seemed a waste to use up such a fine specimen on a quickie. But he was up early next morning for a conference call, and anyway, nothing as good as this could rightly be called a waste, could it? Nothing wasteful about it.
The bloke snogged him one last time and pushed his phone number into Stuart's hand as they headed out of the stall; Stuart dropped it into the toilet. Oops.
Wednesday, he found a hot chat partner on #gaymanchester. They met in a parking lot behind a closed bookstore and had it off in the other man's car, groping and grinding and fogging up the windows, keeping up a steady line of dirty talk as they stroked each other off.
The bloke tried to make conversation after, but his patter suffered considerably when it didn't revolve around all the things he'd like to do with Stuart's cock. He wanted to take Stuart out for coffee. Stuart just laughed, and left him without exchanging names.
Thursday, he'd barely stepped into the club when some gorgeous thing asked him home. "Twist my arm," he grinned, and they were off.
The bloke's flat was all right. It was always a bit iffy, going to someone else's place. He'd mostly lost his taste for it. There was usually a furtive walk through a hostile neighborhood, or a pet. A cat, usually, that'd have to be shut into the bath or the hall, that'd mew and scratch at the door, that'd jump onto the bed in the middle of the night. Or there'd be a roommate, or a lumpy bed, or some other inconvenience that Stuart generally saw no reason to suffer, just for the sake of yet another shag. They could come to his, and come they did, in multitudes, in hordes, in bucketsful.
Now and then he'd go someplace else just to see, just for something a bit different, like tonight; and it seemed to be going well enough, a tidy street, no people about, the apartment neatly furnished, and-- oh, nice-- a waterbed.
His host offered a nightcap and started pouring before Stuart half agreed. "Mind if I put on some music?" the bloke asked.
"No," Stuart said, watching. His vague suspicions were confirmed when the bloke put a mix tape in the stereo system. This one was the type that had to have a soundtrack. He was going to be adjusting Stuart's timing and trying to control the pace the whole bloody time.
Unless Stuart could take his mind off it. Or make him moan so loud he'd never heard his songs going in the background. Either way would be fine; Stuart enjoyed a challenge.
Then the music started up: Bruce Springsteen. Some slow rusty Bruce fucking Springsteen song. Jesus Christ.
Stuart took another look at the bloke. Dark hair, nice smooth face, shortish, good body. He didn't look like a madman.
This must be how it happened to Vince, then, every third time he had a shag-- they just went off on you, like a pint going flat while you weren't paying attention. And then you took a drink after talking bollocks for half an hour, and it was all wrong.
Bugger that. Stuart went to the stereo and shut it off decisively. "On second thought," he said, sliding his hand down the man's tight, rippled body, "I'd rather listen to you."
Friday, everyone was out in force. More selection, more competition, more distraction, more and better.
He picked up a towering, broad-shouldered, well-built man with a shaved head, led him into the toilets and got slammed up against the wall for his trouble.
"You know what I'd like to do to you?" the bloke growled, coming on strong, his pumped arms on either side of Stuart's head, shoving with his whole body; he had two or three stone on Stuart, easily. "Turn you over, turn you inside out, make you squeal for it. You know how hot that feels, when you can't get away, when someone's really holding you down," and he pressed harder and gripped Stuart's wrists until the bones ground together.
Stuart very rarely had troubles like this, because there was practically nothing he wouldn't do. But now and then, some bloke had to come across all tough and hard, going for the fake scare, the edge of danger. Stuart had gone along with that sort of thing a few times, pretended to think it was sexy just to get to the shag, but he was done with that; it wasn't.
"Piss off before I thumb your fucking eyes out," he said, bored, desultory. It was the tone more than anything that took the piss out of the other man. The disinterest.
The bloke was almost apologetic as he backed off and left.
Stuart went out again and picked up another bloke, just as tall, just as broadly muscular. Brought him home, had him, let him stay the night. By morning he'd nearly forgotten the first, dodgy pick-up ever happened at all.
Saturday, the stunning man Stuart chose required more than the usual amount of persuasion, but Stuart had all sorts of time; for once he was willing to invest a little effort.
So he learned a bit of useless trivia about the bloke, his name (Grant), his day job (restaurant manager-- what a coincidence, Stuart had been to that restaurant, small world, etc. etc.), his last boyfriend (whom Grant had dumped for being too nelly; this confessed with a coy, hopeful glance). Stuart took him home and gave him a decidedly butch shafting.
After the first round, Grant murmured an unusual request into Stuart's ear. They were in the drifting, resting, lazily caressing phase of an especially good shag, the sort that could go until morning.
"It's all right if you don't want to, just don't tell anyone I asked," Grant added, with shyness that didn't seem entirely feigned.
"So that's your big fantasy?" Stuart asked, considering it.
"Drives you really mad just thinking about it?" he teased, running his fingers along the curves of Grant's shapely ass.
"Ever actually tried it?"
Grant sighed against his mouth. "Not as such."
"Well, then. You shouldn't," Stuart told him, drawing back.
"Why not?" asked Grant. Pouting a little.
"Cos something like that. It's never as good as you'd imagine it being," Stuart said. "It's better if you keep one thing, the one thing that really gets to you-- keep that for yourself. If you go through with it, you'll just use up the fantasy. It could never be as good as you think. But if you don't ever do it, then it'll always be perfect."
"That's... really weird," Grant said.
"Ever done a threesome?"
"Right. Was it ever as good as you always thought a threesome would be?"
"No," Grant admitted, "but I reckoned maybe it was just the people."
"Might be. But if that's a letdown, imagine doing this and finding out it's not the thrill you expected."
Grant fell silent, shifting in bed a bit. He considered Stuart for a long moment. "My mates pointed you out when they saw you coming," he said. "Told me to watch out for you."
"I don't usually go in for one-offs. And they said that's all you do."
"'S true then?"
"Is it good?" Grant asked, his hands roaming. "Someone different every time?"
"Of course. It's fantastic."
"You never get sick of it?"
"What's to get sick of?"
"Seems like a lot of trouble."
Stuart half-smiled. "Do I look like I'd have any trouble?"
"S'pose not. Just seems like so much bother. And no one would ever know what you liked."
"You're doing all right," he said, "if that's your roundabout way of asking."
"Thanks, I s'pose," Grant smiled. "But so… What makes it so good, then? Must be something about it, keeps you from ever going a second time with anyone."
It was something. It was the way sometimes, coming felt like the first moment after a deep cut with a sharp knife: the thrilling shock of it, staring at the whitened skin before the blood welled up and the pain took over. The way he could melt away their doubts and make them believe in him. The way they stared at him like they'd never wanted anything so much in their lives. The way he could touch them like they were everything he'd ever wanted, until it was almost true.
It was the way each man could be everything to Stuart, right up until it was over, and he was no one again. He adored them all, a little, for as long as it took to get undressed. It was the rush of laying hands on someone new, someone who might finally be able to drive away every raw devouring hunger he'd ever had.
It was the way he knew that would never happen, but still felt that way every time, all the same.
None of it would make sense if he said it outright, though, so he just shrugged and laughed.
"Plenty of men in the world," Stuart said. "No use repeating yourself."
"So is that the fantasy that does it for you? The thing you'll never do?" Grant asked. "A second time?"
Stuart glanced at him, disturbed, and then he coiled up around the bloke and pulled him close. "There's nothing I wouldn't do," he said, and covered Grant's mouth in a kiss.
They went another round, slow, and Stuart indulged Grant's little fantasy. It was nothing he hadn't done before. If the other man was disappointed, if it didn't live up to his dreams, he didn't say. Just fell asleep, finally.
Stuart shoved his head into his pillow and lay awake a long time. After a while he reached over and flicked on his alarm clock.
At eight the alarm went off.
"God, what time is it?" Grant asked muzzily.
"Morning," Stuart said. "You'd better run along, I have a lot to do today. I'll call you a cab."
"It was all a bit mad last night, I dunno if I have enough cash for the fare--"
"I'll put it on my account," Stuart said.
"Don't suppose you'd like to get some breakfast."
"No. Busy day."
"All right." Grant got up and started to dress. "That was lovely, last night," he said.
"Yeah," said Stuart, ready for this part to be over.
He hesitated, looking at Stuart with a soft-focus gleam in his eyes. "I know you'll just say no. But I have to ask."
Grant nodded. "Right."
He phoned for the cab, packed Grant off, and went back to bed. He had a long dream about fishermen catching turtles in nets. People kept asking him if he was seasick. He wasn't. Somewhere in there, the phone shrilled and he told Vince to shut the fuck up and come round, and then he went back to the boat. He never did see the water. The men hauled up their heavy nets from an ocean shrouded in fog.
The doorbell went off. Best thing about his current flat: he could buzz people in with a remote control, right there from his bedroom. It was fucking brilliant. Stuart hit the button and went back to sleep again almost at once, he was below decks this time, watching people shucking feathery skins from fish that looked more like birds.
"Mmmmm?" He fought his way out of a tangle of covers and sat up. "What?"
He could hear footsteps, and then Vince appeared in the doorway. "You're asleep? You said it was all right to come over."
"I would've said anything to stop the phone ringing," Stuart said.
"Hung over?" Vince asked. "Or just knackered?"
"Yes," Stuart said, letting himself flop comically back down into bed, arms flying, landing on the pillows with a thump.
Vince chuckled, moving down the hall. After a minute he came back with a glass of ice water and a couple of painkillers, handing them over. "You've tipped your shoe tree," he said, gesturing to the decoratively spiraled oak holder lying on the ground, wingtips, trainers and loafers scattered around it. "Or someone has."
Stuart drank the whole glass down greedily, remembering at the last moment to toss the pills back with the final swallow. "I'm ready to bin that thing. Looks nice, but it's always getting turned over."
"Too bad," Vince said. "As much as you spend on shoes, seems like they ought to be displayed. What do you want for breakfast? Or should I say, brunch." He made a show of checking his watch. "Actually, lunch."
Stuart stretched, feeling his backbone pop as he reached high and then rolled his shoulders. "'Have a good week, Stuart?' 'Not bad, Vince, thanks for asking, instead of having a go at me about the time.' 'Not at all, Stuart, by all means, tell me all about it.'"
"I'm not about for a week and you start doing my bits for me?" Vince smiled. "I'd be worried, if you didn't do such a terrible me."
"How was the night shift?" Stuart asked, bored, desultory.
Vince made a face. "How do you think?" he asked. "Horrible. I can't wait til this inventory's over. At least tonight we can go out."
"Not me," Stuart yawned.
"I'm staying in," he said. "I've been out every night this week. Didn't even get to sleep til six this morning."
"Yeah, but-- you're not up for going out?"
"Even God took a day off, Vince, that's why all the shops are closed." Stuart cast the bedclothes off and headed into the walk-in closet, throwing a glance over his shoulder; as soon as he'd stood up nude, Vince had turned his attention to the shoe tree, righting it, putting the shoes back on.
Stuart shook his head and pulled into shorts and trousers and a snug brown Stereolab t-shirt he didn't remember buying. Someone must have given it to him. Or left it. "After a whole week, you must have seven hundred terrible videos you just have to show me, ninety awful CDs I've got to hear, and at least twenty million horror stories about how stupid everyone is down at the shop."
"I did hire a few videos," Vince admitted. "Doubt you'd like 'em though. This Russian film, Stalker, sort of like a post-apocalyptic thing. And The Hidden. That's got Kyle MacLachlan, the bloke from Twin Peaks...?"
"Oh right, the nice one, dark hair, he gets his kit off in that Blue Velvet movie, and then Dennis Hopper shags him up against the car?"
"What?" Vince stared at him. "He doesn't-- where're you even getting that? They sort of imply that maybe something happens, but you don't see it--"
"I like my version better," Stuart declared, heading for the kitchen. "What else?"
"Well... Quatermass and the Pit."
"This isn't the tv series from '57, this is the '64 movie they made. It has the same basic plot as the series but it's condensed, and it's in color, and the effects are much better, plus Andrew Keir plays Quatermass, it's brilliant, completely brilliant. It's the best Quatermass movie, definitely."
"That's like saying it's the best fucking root canal, Vince."
"I said you wouldn't like it."
"You can put one of the other ones on. And order in some Thai, I want that pad makeur stuff with the aubergines in. Drink?"
"It's only just gone two, Stuart," Vince chided, digging into the drawer for the takeaway menu.
"So... gin and tonic, but easy on the gin, yeah?"
Stuart mixed two of them, found a patchy-looking lime rolling about in the fridge and sliced a couple of wedges from it to drop into their drinks while Vince phoned for food.
"Forty minutes to delivery. Y'know, I have to say, I hate working nights, but I could get used to the overtime," Vince said, accepting the glass. "I did fifteen hours on Thursday, twelve on Friday. Last night I only had to do nine hours and it felt like no time at all, it was practically like a holiday."
"How much longer is this going to last?" Stuart asked.
"Dunno," Vince said. "'S a company-wide initiative. Everything in the place has to be counted up, everything in stock, which is impossible with the way the merchandise moves in and out. 'S ridiculous. Plus all the equipment, the lot, and everything in the offices as well, every stick of furniture, every paper clip. We've only just done inventory on the storage units and all, and now it has to be done over again, they won't let us re-use the figures. Mrs. Fletcher says they must be thinking of taking the company public. Why else would they be toting up all their assets, she says."
"Bankruptcy," Stuart suggested, "if you're lucky."
"Oh, don't even joke about that," Vince said. "If they went down I'd have to start all over again someplace else. At least at Harlo's I have seniority."
"That's bollocks, Vince," Stuart told him. "You're in management now, you've kept the job long enough to prove you can do it. You could put in anyplace and have the same sort of position for half again what they're paying you there."
"Like where," Vince scoffed, "Tesco's?"
"You could work anyplace that needs managers tracking personnel and inventory," Stuart said. "Which is nearly anywhere at all."
"Right, so I walk into an interview with no degree, no nothing, just ten years running cash registers and stacking shelves. What'm I gonna say to them? 'Oh-ay, 'ow about you 'ire me over all the qualified applicants. I know a thing or two about supermarkets, what's an education compared to that?' Can you imagine. If I left the shop, I'd just have to work my way up from the floor again," Vince said. "No thanks."
Stuart lost interest long before Vince finished; he'd heard it all before and they'd been through this argument a dozen times, and nothing ever changed. "How long did they say til the food comes?"
"Half an hour, now. I've been quite looking forward to seeing this Stalker. I mean, Russian science fiction. Bound to be interesting, isn't it? Mind if I put that on first?"
"Fine," Stuart said.
Vince dozed off fifteen minutes in. Stuart woke him up when the food arrived. He fixed his eyes on the screen as Vince picked listlessly at his rice noodles, put the plate aside and gradually slumped over, his eyes fluttering shut.
Halfway through the film Stuart woke him again out of sheer aggravation. "What the fuck is this thing?" he demanded. "These blokes just spent fifteen minutes tossing a ball of string around an open field, and then it showed a puddle, with a fucking voiceover about the nature of God. Why are you making me watch this? You had a miserable week so you wanted to make sure I'd have a terrible time as well?"
Still bleary, Vince lifted his head and said, "Suffering makes you a better person, Stuart. I only had your best interests at heart."
"I don't need to be a better person, Vince. The world can barely cope with me as it is."
They watched together for another half hour, with Stuart taking the piss at every opportunity and Vince attempting, with diminishing conviction, to defend the film. Stuart had to keep up a steady line of commentary, otherwise Vince's head kept going down and then he'd catch himself and snap it up again.
At last Vince admitted, "This is a horrible film. I'm sorry."
"You should be," Stuart said.
"We can switch it off if you like."
"If I like? You wouldn't?"
"You never know," Vince said. "It might get better."
"If you're mad enough to still think that, then you deserve to sit through the rest of it," Stuart told him, and left it on.
He let Vince fall asleep, this time, and said nothing when the film ended and the video wound back; the blare of a commercial on telly made Vince open his eyes and look around, blinking like he'd never seen the place before.
"It nearly did you in, but it looks as though we survived that bloody Russian film," Stuart said, ejecting the tape and shoving in another. "If suffering makes you a better person, Mother Teresa has nothing on me now."
"I just hope you'll remember all your old friends once you're beatified," Vince answered.
"What friends?" Stuart asked. "If you're still hoping to be my friend, Kyle MacLachlan had better flash everything he has in this next one."
The opening credits were hardly over when Vince's head drooped and he was out again. Stuart considered ice water, or just a rough shake and a hearty bollocking. Then he mentally counted up the hours Vince had worked this week, and left it.
The film was dull, and no one took any clothes off. Bored, Stuart glanced over. Vince was dead to the world, collapsed on the other end of the sofa. He looked utterly haphazard, one knee bent up, the other leg straight, his foot prodding into Stuart's thigh. He'd lost his shoes at some point, and his socks were thin at the heels, worn away.
Asleep, Vince's face was smooth, relaxed in a way he almost never was ordinarily. His hair stuck up in all directions. One sleeve of his ghastly green shirt was rucked up over a pale arm that had the shape and breadth of muscle without the gym-hewn definition. His head balanced precariously on his hand at an awkward angle; he'd get a crick in his neck if he stayed like that. Stuart reached over and shook his shoulder.
"Oi, Vince," he said, more quietly than he'd intended, his voice hushed. "Wake up."
"Rrmmm," Vince muttered indistinctly.
Stuart grabbed a throw pillow off the chair. It was meant to be decorative, so it wasn't comfortable; it was a bit scratchy, in fact. Stuart put it back and fetched a proper pillow from the bedroom and insinuated it under Vince's head, slowly prying his arm out from under him until Vince was in something like a normal position, curled up on his side on the sofa. Vince stirred but didn't wake.
Stuart resumed his seat at the other end again, half watching the rest of the film. Half watching the glow of the telly play out across Vince's sleeping face. He rested a hand lightly on Vince's ankle. He let himself have until the end of the film.
"Wake up," he said finally.
"Wake up," Stuart repeated, poking Vince.
"Did I fall asleep again? God. Sorry." Vince rubbed at his nose and snuffled.
"You should be, leaving me to suffer through that hideous film on my own. That was shite, Vince. Between this and that Russian abomination, I may never watch another film again."
"Was it that bad? Sorry. Still. Kyle MacLachlan."
"It's rubbish. And he never even so much as takes off his shirt."
"I did warn you that you wouldn't like it."
Stuart picked at his thumbnail a bit, and made up his mind. "It's getting late, you should be on your way if you're going out."
"Oh. Yeah. S'pose so." Vince cleared the center table, binned the takeaway boxes, gathered the videos and fetched his jacket from the coat rack. He hesitated as Stuart came to the door.
"Sure you're not coming?" Vince asked.
"Nah. I have work to catch up on before tomorrow, and I'm up early. And unlike some wankers, I didn't sleep the afternoon away."
"Maybe I could, we could get some dinner, I could hang about. I mean, I'm not bothered," said Vince, "I'd probably just regret going out when I'm on the late shift tomorrow night."
"I'm busy," Stuart said firmly. "Go on then. Ring me tomorrow, tell me who you had."
"Not bloody likely," Vince said. "The state of me, and on a Sunday night?"
"You never know. It's a full moon."
"It'd have to be a blue moon to do me any good," Vince said.
"Just look for blokes with white canes."
"Fuck off," Vince laughed, and then he leaned in and gave Stuart a one-armed hug, squeezing him round the waist briefly. His brown leather jacket was cold and his skin was warm, and he said, "See you," and then he left.
Stuart shut the door, made himself a drink. He went to the computer and started sorting the piles of all the work he'd been postponing, the stuff he'd neglected because he'd been too busy every night this week, out having a good time. It had been a good time, this week.
Yeah, so maybe at the moment, just sharing the sofa with Vince seemed oddly significant. More memorable, more vivid, in a way, than anything else that had happened all week.
But that was only tonight. Tomorrow he'd go out again, and forget all about it.
In the meantime he didn't think about it. He didn't think about the hug by the door, just one of millions he'd had from Vince, nothing special. He definitely didn't think about how good it felt to be touched like that, warmly, casually, by someone who wanted nothing from him. He didn't miss Vince, and he didn't feel proud of himself for sending Vince out even though he would've happily sat through Quatermass and the Pit if he could do it with Vince's feet jammed against his leg, Vince's pulse under his hand.
He didn't think about it; he had work to do.
Monday he went out again. Monday's bloke had a cat.
Almost Never Chapter Index