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Tales Out of School.

With a sense of reprieve, Stuart stepped into Via Fossa and breathed in the reek of smoke and sweat and beer. Exams were finally done with. University was almost over. Life was about to begin.

"Stuart!" Vince called from a crowded little table, flagging him down. "Come and meet everybody!"

Stuart frowned. Since when was there an 'everybody'? He forged his way through the crowd, making his way to the table where Vince sat with three other blokes.

"This is Stuart," Vince introduced. "Stuart Jones. Stuart, Alexander."

"Miss Jackson if you're nasty," Alexander vamped. He was pretty enough, with heavy-lidded eyes and a long face, good bones, the nicely turned facial musculature of a world-class cocksucker. Grating voice, though, and camp as all hell. In that tan and coral ensemble, he looked like a slice of cantaloupe.

"Dane," Vince put his hand on the next bloke's shoulder.

Dane gave Stuart a negligent smile. He was dark, slim, with thick manicured eyebrows and a costly, trendily tasteless little outfit. Stuart could instantly tell he'd be the type to just lie back in bed and expect the other bloke to do all the work. He was nice-looking, but not that nice.

Vince gestured to the third. "And Mark." Mark wiggled his fingers in a sarcastic wave. He had streaky reddish highlights bleached into his brown hair, and that, along with his meticulously stylish clothes and body language, told Stuart that Mark probably tried far too hard to be the sort of deft social animal that Stuart was naturally.

If Vince had shagged any of this lot, Stuart was going to have to have a talk with him about his taste in men.

"Hiya," Stuart told them all without much interest, and turned to Vince. "I'm going for a drink. Get a chair for me, will ya, or is there even room? This table's a bit small."

"Mm-- there's a bigger one over there, looks free-- shall we move?" Vince suggested. The others didn't seem too enthused at the prospect, so he added, "I'll get us something to nibble on, shall I, some chips?"

The added temptation of snack food got them to shift themselves. Stuart went for his drink. By the time he got back, a couple of phone numbers in hand, they'd arrayed themselves around the larger table; Dane and Mark and Alex bickered over whether they wanted chips or an order of nachos.

Vince smiled brightly at him and indicated the chair next to his. "How'd your exams go?" he asked eagerly as Stuart sat down.

"Brutal," Stuart said. "Glad that's all done with."

"Seems like I haven't seen you in ages," Vince said, trying to rein in that huge smile and failing completely.

"Back now," Stuart said shortly. "What've you been up to?"

"Nothing much. Same old stuff."

Stuart sat back, nursing his drink, and let the four of them talk, only tersely answering Vince's attempts to draw him into the conversation, getting a feel for the dynamics involved.

Then something caught Vince's eye and his jaw dropped. "Oh my god. Look at that! It's that Rodney, from work!"

Stuart frowned mildly. "Was that the one I shagged out back of the loading dock?"

"No, you twat, that was Roberto," Vince said. "He's long gone. Rodney's that bloke, keeps making all these little comments about me. Like Marcie says she's going down to see Phantom of the Opera and he asks if I'm going with her since he's sure I just love showtunes. That bastard! What am I supposed to do if he sees me?"

"What're you worried about?" Stuart asked impatiently. "He can't very well go round at your work saying he saw you in a gay bar, they'll all ask what he was doing here."

Alexander said, "D'you mean the one with the leather thong necklace, dark hair, red shirt?"

"That's him," said Vince grimly.

"I've seen him," Alex said smugly. "Last Monday at Cruz! He copped off with Evan, with the dyed blond hair?"

"God help him," Stuart said. "If that's the same Evan I had, he gives the worst head of any man I've ever met. 'S like sticking your cock into a Cusinart."

"Are you sure that wasn't Devin?" Mark asked. "I had Devin: dyed blond, pecs like melons, completely lovely. Worst mouth in Manchester."

"Could've been," Stuart shrugged. "Devin, Evan, seven, eleven, who the fuck knows."

"So Rodney's gay," Vince said, sounding mystified. "What's he giving me such a hard time at work for then?"

"Probably thinks it's bullshit that you're not out," Stuart said, "cos it is."

"Right, and when you start interviewing for jobs, you're going to say, right? You're going to mention straight off that you're gay."

"Course not," Stuart said, "none of their fucking business. But I'm not gonna hide it, either."

"You know, Vince," Mark suggested, "he might be making those digs at you cos he's interested."

"Not bloody likely," said Vince.

"Oh, how would you know," Alex laughed, "you're so oblivious, they have to practically club you upside your head and drag you by the hair to get you home."

"Thick as a brick," Dane agreed. "Thick as a ton of bricks. Thick as the Great Wall of China."

"I'm not!" Vince protested.

"It's true though, you are," Stuart said. "Did he ever tell you about the bloke with the broken leg?"

"Ooh, no, do tell," Dane cooed.

"No, don't, really," said Vince.

"C'mon, it's a great story," Stuart said. "Vince came to this kegger at my school with me last year, he's standing in this room that's a bit elevated, so there's a couple of stairs at the doorway, and this bloke starts chatting him up, right? And of course, Vince doesn't suspect a thing. He's the densest man alive."

"It was mostly straights at this party," Vince supplied, "so really, how was I to know?"

"And this bloke is drunk-- of course, I mean, he's coming on to Vince, so that goes without saying, right?" Stuart laughed, ignoring Vince's good-natured 'Fuck off' and going on, "He's trying to give him this line of innuendo about what he's into, like what gets him off, his particular kink, and Vince still isn't getting it."

"I could barely understand a word he said, he was so pissed," said Vince.

"So while they're talking-- here's how bad it is-- this bloke actually puts his fingers through the belt loop on Vince's jeans, right here," Stuart demonstrated, hooking two fingers into his friend's trousers and tugging him up out of his chair so the other three could see what he meant.

"Oi!" Vince laughed, "Get off! They get the idea!"

"And what happens? Does our hero twig that the bloke might actually fancy him?"

"Course not!" Alex hooted.

"Nope. He didn't even notice! So me, I'm across the room, and I'm about ready to take off, I yell at Vince that we're leaving," Stuart went on, "so he says goodbye to this bloke and goes to walk away. Only the prat's still got his fingers through Vince's belt loop. He's straggling along, trying to unhook himself, and he trips on these stairs in the doorway and down he goes, and SNAP, his leg breaks!"

Over their laughter, Vince said, "It's not funny-- I really felt terrible-- and Stuart was rolling on the floor then just like now, no help at all. Some girl called the ambulance."

"That's perfect, that is," Alex said, wiping his eyes.

"Oh, that's not all by half," Stuart said richly, grinning.

"You're not going to tell the rest," Vince said in horror.

"That's the best part!" Stuart leaned in over the table. "So Vince of course is all guilty that he broke this poor sod's leg, and he goes to hospital with him and everything. Stays with him as they put him through the emergency room, sticks around for hours, sleeps in the waiting room, goes with him to get the X-rays, setting the bone, splinting it up, putting the cast on. Sticks around after they admit the bloke and goes to the room."

"It's about three in the morning by this point," Vince said, finally joining in earnest, "everything's dark, the place is deserted. I'm knackered, and I just want to find some way to make it up to the bloke so I don't feel like a cunt if I leave him and go home. So I ask him if there's anything I can do for him."

"I think I see where this is going," Dane sang.

"It's too perfect. Turns out," Stuart grinned, "the fantasy the bloke was trying to share with our Vince at the party was, he's got this thing about hospitals."

"No!" Alex screamed.

"Oh yes," said Vince ruefully.

"He had Vince nick one of those white doctor's coats," Stuart went on, his face aching from smiling so hard.

"You didn't," Mark accused. "It's too mad."

"It was three in the morning. I was off my head," Vince said. "I did, I had him in the hospital bed."

"And he's shagging this bloke, right," Stuart got out through his laughter, "doesn't realise, for one thing, Hazel and I finally came round with a cab to pick him up, cos he was taking so long. And for another--"

"I didn't realise how thin the walls are in hospital," said Vince. "So I'm going at it, right, feeling like a complete twat in this white coat."

"We're out in the waiting room," Stuart said, "and we start hearing this noise. Starts out kind of slow, you know, thump, thump, thump..."

"Oh god," Vince folded his arms and put his head down on the table.

"And it keeps getting faster, thump-thump-thump-thump," Stuart pounded out a tattoo on the tabletop, "and Hazel says-- I'll never forget it-- she says, 'You know, I think that's Vince'..."

The other three were howling; Stuart felt almost sick with merriment.

"It didn't seem that loud in the room," Vince said, head still hidden, the words muffled.

"It was the bloke's cast!" Stuart said triumphantly, "It was knocking against the wall! Every stroke! Swear to god, I thought the whole place was going to come tumbling down on us. Everyone in the emergency room heard. They all twigged, and the place goes totally silent except for the thumping. Then the noise finally stops and a minute later Vince shows up looking all mussed and grinning himself stupid-- you should've seen how they all stared! It was brilliant!"

"Whoever would have thought he had it in him," Alex giggled, digging an elbow into Vince's ribs.

"Vince has done all sort of things that might surprise you," Stuart informed him. "He's had a girl, too."

"A girl!" Dane eyed Vince doubtfully. "You poor sod! Is there a story for that as well?"

"NO," Vince groaned, "really there isn't."

"Another time, that's enough stories," Stuart concurred. "Less talking, more drinking."

"I'll go for the next round," Vince said, "god, any port in a storm. Same again? Pony up, you lot."

"Can you spot me?" Stuart asked. "I'm at the end of the month, no more cash on hand."

"Yeah, I've got it," Vince said.

"Rum and coke," Stuart said, and impulsively leaned over and dropped a kiss on Vince's cheek. "Run along then, Doctor Tyler."

Vince smiled at him helplessly and headed off to the bar.

"Doctor Tyler," Alexander repeated, chortling. "I never would have thought. To hear him tell it, every shag he ever had ended in disaster."

"That sounded like a disaster to me," Dane said.

"You haven't heard his other tales, then," Alex answered. "Believe me, you don't know from disaster. He gets into the worst corners, poor sod."

"He's a sweet guy, though, Vince," Mark said. "Bit of a pushover, but really nice."

"I know how that goes," Stuart said cynically.

"What d'you mean?"

Stuart treated Mark to his nastiest smile. "When he's doing a favor for you, he's really nice. When he's doing a favor for someone else, he's a pushover."

Mark frowned at him. "Oi, I thought you were meant to be his friend."

"I am," Stuart said. "We used to spend practically all our time together. Probably will again, once I'm out of school. Just a couple more weeks until I graduate."

Mark scowled. Alexander cut in with, "I know what he means, though; Vince is far too nice. Look how he was with that Scot fella. Didn't even like him; wound up going out with him for weeks, though, just cos he didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him no."

Stuart shrugged, only half listening, scanning the club. He was getting a look from a bloke on the edge of the dance floor; well-built, with a delectable arse and insouciantly styled blond hair. Stuart locked eyes with the bloke, gave him just a hint of a smile, then pretended to get distracted by the conversation going on at the table.

Mark was saying, "It's just that Vince is friendly to everyone, right? So you never know where you stand. Like, is he being friendly because he really likes you? Or is he being friendly just cos he's nice to everyone, and secretly, he hates you?"

"If that's a question," Stuart interjected, "in your case, he's just being nice."

Alex chuckled. "There you are, Mark. At least with Stuart you'll always know where you stand. He hates everybody."

"I don't hate everybody," Stuart said. "I can't be bothered to hate everybody, it's a waste of time that could be better spent copping off." He looked over at the bloke he'd spotted, and discovered his tactic had worked; he'd intrigued the other man, who was looking him over now with frank interest.

Stuart smiled wickedly. "You see that one over there, the blond? I'm having him."

Mark glanced over and snorted. "You'd be lucky."

"Luck doesn't enter into it. What's taking Vince, anyway?" Stuart craned his head around, spotted Vince across the room by the bar, waved. As soon as he had his friend's attention, he gave him a grin, pointed at the blond, and then gestured at the door.

Vince looked the blond man over, nodded to Stuart, mouthed, "Nice!" and lifted his beer as if in toast.

Stuart turned back to his target, rubbed his hands together, and said, "All right then. G'night, gents."

He could feel them staring as he strutted across the room to the blond, their attention fueling the heat of his raptor's gaze. Cruising and copping off was a million times better with an audience. There was more at stake, it was dangerous and thrilling, and the tension of being watched always inspired him. He could reliably pull most of the men he went after when he was on his own, no problem-- but knowing they were watching, he felt unstoppable.

He circled the blond, drifted in toward him, got his name, which he promptly forgot, and suffered patiently through the other man's attempts at chat-up lines.

At the first opportunity, he simply suggested, "Back to yours?"

The blond looked startled and even a mite resistant, but Stuart just looked him over again and smiled.

They went back to his.


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