‘Should I even be here?’
Daniel paused with one hand on the pub door-handle. It still felt too soon. Less than four months since Tom had walked out. Eleven weeks and three days, to be precise. Not that he was counting. But he couldn’t stay indoors for ever. Even if he didn’t get off with anyone it would be a night out. A few drinks, a bit of dancing, a chance to meet some like-minded guys and not have to spend all his spare time alone. After eleven weeks and three days of dysfunctional misery, he felt he owed himself that much.
His lips were dry under the sheen of gloss. He forced himself not to lick them. Far better to get inside and order a drink. That would take care of his sandy throat as well. Daft, really, to be this nervous. His only excuse was that it had been so long. Tom hadn’t been into clubs, or going out of any sort. It had been one of the many things Daniel had loved about him, at the start, and hated by the end. Especially as Tom hadn’t been particularly kind about his love of dressing up. You put on your glad rags and go off round the gay quarter and I don’t even know where you are, or who you’re with. He’d had a point, Daniel supposed, but he’d made it sound as though it was against the law half the time when really it was just having some harmless fun. But that was in the past. There was nothing stopping him now.
There was enough light from the dying embers of the night to see his reflection in the glass door. He checked himself out. Hair okay, clothes okay, cash and a spare condom in his pocket… yeah, he’d do. With a wry smile he hoped to God he’d got the address right this time. The last place Edmund recommended had been shut down by the police soon afterwards. Some rumour about a death, apparently, although it was more likely to be drugs. When he asked, Edmund couldn’t—or wouldn’t—explain. He did apologise, though, and promise to ask around for similar venues—and last week he’d come up with this one. Daniel smirked at the name. The Fallen Angel, indeed. What a cliché. Probably full of people with fake wings, and some dancer on a plinth dressed as Lucifer. He hoped that was the worst of it. Anything more unsavoury wouldn’t go down well at work. Not that they minded him being gay—this was the twenty-first century after all—but a tutor had to set a good example to the students or he’d be out on his arse. He just hoped none of said students were actually here. Edmund had been unhelpful on that as well.
The rain that had threatened the city all day was falling now, turning his hair to frizz and settling on his clothes. He couldn’t stay out here. Shaking the drizzle-damp fringe out of his eyes, he took a gulp of air and yanked open the door. Inside there was a flight of steps plunging downwards like the maw of hell. A heavy beat bled back up the stairs and there was an occasional flash of disco lights as people came in and out. He ran lightly down, then stopped, mostly because he couldn’t move, or see. Hell wasn’t so wide of the mark, or at least Dante’s version of it. No wings, thank heavens, but bodies crammed in like pilchards in a tin, dancing, swaying, shoving back and forth between the toilets and the bar. A heavy scent of beer and sweat. Rock music thumping from the speakers; people shouting; lights that flickered in virulent shades of orange and red.
The clothes, though, were less Hades and more glam rock. Everywhere he looked, a shifting kaleidoscope of colour picked out by the lights: green velvet, blue serge, pink brocade, leather and lawn and lace. Like Joseph’s amazing coat, split up between a hundred wearers or more. Tom would have hated it, and edged them both to the door. Now, he could already feel the adrenalin pumping through his veins.
The contrast to the night outside was staggering. He blinked a few times to get his eyes used to the glare, then gave up and navigated by sonar to the bar. ‘Pint of Guinness please, mate,’ he yelled over the raucous din from the speakers and waited until a brawny arm sent a brimming glass skating along the counter top. He fielded it before it had a chance to slop on his clothes, then turned to watch the writhing mass on the dance floor. Should he join in? His foot was already tapping to the hammer-beat of heavy rock. Black Sabbath, if he wasn’t much mistaken, appropriate if predictable. But he’d the pint to get through first, and it was so long since he’d done any dancing, he wasn’t sure if he still could.
He relaxed against the bar, foot propped on the rail, hips tilted, one elbow on the counter, and felt the tension slide out of him. At last. It had been too long since he’d let himself be himself. Not just the eleven weeks, but eleven years before that, living with Tom. The longest stable relationship of his life; one of the few things he could genuinely feel proud about. But there’d been a downside to that stability. The dullness, the stifling sameness, of his days. Tom didn’t like going out, so they hardly ever had. Friends, dinner parties, an occasional trip to the theatre, and that was that. He’d told himself it was enough. Deep down, he knew it never was.
A figure appeared out of the pack, heading towards him—or the bar. Young, pretty, delicate, with hair so pale it was almost white. Not his type, in the usual run of things, but it had been so long… any port in a storm, he told himself, followed by for God’s sake don’t look desperate. The night was young, there were hundreds more blokes to meet. He’d only been in here a few minutes and already he’d counted two blatant come-ons, one winsome smile, and three separate hands feeling up his arse. Besides, hadn’t he already decided he wasn’t here for the sex? So why was he looking up, allowing their eyes to meet? Eyes that in the young guy’s case seemed to take up half his face. Look away, you idiot. But it was too late. A lift of an eyebrow, the suggestion of a smile. And the young guy was standing next to him.
‘I’m not… I don’t think…’
But the noise came to his rescue before he could make a fool of himself, because the guy raised the other eyebrow then cupped a hand to his ear.
Daniel half expected it to be pointed to go with the elfin looks but it was perfectly ordinary. He leant towards it, shouting louder. ‘Sorry, I’m not sure…’ But still the guy shook his head, and now he was closer Daniel was changing his mind. Who said he needed to stick to his usual type, anyway? When the guy beckoned him back towards the door, he left his half-finished pint on the bar and strode after him.
Outside, the rain had stopped and the sky had cleared. It felt like autumn, suddenly, and chilly after the perfumed hot-house they’d left. Maybe this was a bad idea. The young guy was smiling at him, though. Not such a bad idea after all. ‘I’m Daniel.’
‘That’s better. I can never hear a thing in there. I don’t know why they have to play the music so loud. Nick.’
They shook hands, briefly, and Daniel found he wanted to hold on. He let go, reluctantly. ‘You’re a regular, then?’
‘I pop in every now and again. The drinks are cheap and I like the music even if it is too loud. I’ve never seen you before.’
‘What, in Liverpool? Or just at the club?’
‘The club. I’m from the city originally. Got a new job and moved back here a few weeks ago.’
‘You don’t speak like the locals.’
He’d never really thought about it. ‘Fifteen years in Birmingham will do that to you.’
‘Fifteen? You don’t look old enough.’
Daniel laughed. Such a compliment, from someone so young. Young enough, perhaps, to be one of his students… He sobered again, and prayed Nick wasn’t at the university. Talk about awkward explanations. But maybe he should find out. ‘Well, thanks. I think. How about you? Work? Study? You don’t sound local either…’
‘Here and there. And don’t worry.’ He smiled. ‘I’m older than I look.’
Had Nick just read his mind? A far-fetched idea; it must have been chance. Even so, he found he was shivering, and not entirely because of the cold. ‘Sorry, d’you mind? It’s freezing out here.’ And he led the way back indoors.
They danced for a while, finding a sliver of space at the edge of the dance floor. The place was still packed; bodies jostled around them and after a few minutes he was sweating again, in spite of the earlier chill. And yet… something was still niggling him. An odd sensation, a feeling of eyes in the dark. It prickled the back of his neck, sent icy fingers up and down his spine. But when he looked, everyone was intent on their own thing and no one was watching him.
After midnight the DJ started playing slowies and the club’s mood changed. The large groups of dancers melted away, to be replaced by couples holding each other close. He and Nick joined in for a while but he hardly knew the guy and it felt unnatural. But at least the volume had decreased enough that they could hear themselves think.
‘Fancy a drink?’ He reached into skin-tight jeans in search of his credit card and saw Nick’s eyes follow the progress of his hand.
‘Or we could go back to a place I know. It’s not far.’
He paid the guy the compliment of at least thinking about it. For about a minute, maybe less. Then shook his head. ‘Better not. I’ve got work tomorrow. Next time I’ll come at the weekend.’
‘That would be good.’
Nick’s smile was wistful, and Daniel wondered briefly if he’d done the right thing. What was on offer was pretty amazing; turning it down was the worst kind of stupid. And yet, it just didn’t feel right. He’d found in the past that forcing it didn’t work. Besides, the feeling of watchfulness was back. The last thing he wanted was to get off with someone, if someone else was watching their every move. ‘Next time, then,’ he said, and felt only a twinge of regret as he turned away.
Half way to the door he span back round. He’d never asked Nick for a phone number and had no way of getting in touch. It seemed a bit daft to just leave things to chance. He didn’t bother with his mobile since the pockets in these old clothes were never big enough. But he could cadge a pen off the bar man and scribble a number on his hand. All he needed was to find Nick again and ask. At first there was no sign of the guy, but then he spotted the pallid hair over the other side of the room and realised he was talking to someone else.
It was tempting to feel a surge of jealousy, but that was ridiculous. Nick was hardly spoken for; they’d chatted and spent an hour together but that was all. He was free to talk to whoever he liked. If he’d found someone to spent the night with then good luck to him. And yet… something said it wasn’t that. He couldn’t quite see what. Could barely even see the figure that Nick was talking to, since the face was hidden in the shadow of the door to the loos. It was a bloke, he could see that much, and tall, and possibly dark. But that was all. There was a sense, though, that travelled the length of the club, in spite of the crowds between. A sense of power, of menace, almost. He wondered whether Nick was all right. But the guy had seemed capable of looking after himself, and even as Daniel watched, the two figures peeled away from the wall and headed at speed for the door. Just for a second he had a glimpse of the other man. Black but light-skinned, long hair tied back in a pony tail. And again, that sudden surge. Almost as though he was calling to Daniel, ordering him to come to him. At the door he paused, and looked back directly across the room to where Daniel stood. Their eyes met. Daniel gasped at the power of it and took a single step. And then someone else got in the way, and the spell broke, and the next time he looked Nick and his companion had gone.
Date Published: February 3, 2020
About the Author
When she isn’t being a pane in the glass, Fiona writes darkly humorous paranormal romance, often featuring gay characters and almost always with a twist in the tail. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines including Mslexia, Paragraph Planet, and The Library of Rejected Beauty. She currently has two books available: gay vampire romance ‘Echoes of Blood’ on Kindle, and paranormal romp ‘Got Ghosts?’ from Fox Spirit Books.
Fiona lives in a slate cottage within stone-throwing distance (never a good idea in Glass houses…) of England’s largest lake with her husband, several pot plants and a vast collection of books. She enjoys history, gardening and photography, and rarely has her nose far from the pages of a book – or a cup of tea.