‛Sorry, lad, I’m just visiting.’
Madoc shook his head at the young chap trying to pick him up, then wished he’d used some other words. That particular phrase brought too many memories, on a night when he was already drowning in them.
Twenty five years. He didn’t know where they’d gone. Well, he did, of course; he could write a book on the events that had played out across that time. And there were people—his best mate Carl for one—who said he should. But that would mean more fame, more attention, less chance of living his life the way he wanted it. Less chance of slipping out for a quiet drink at a dockside bar every now and again.
He sipped his pint, letting the music and chatter wash over him, watching the shifting crowd. Youngsters, mostly, the generation below his, who’d grown up with all the advantages he’d never had. It hadn’t made them inconsiderate—memories dinned into them by parents and teachers made sure of that—just less fearful and more self-assured.
More persistent, too. Like this young chap, still hanging round with a hopeful look in spite of Madoc’s put-down. For a moment he wondered if he was making a mistake. The lad was cute, no doubt about it, with neat dark hair and a look, almost, of Josh. And up for it. His eyes lit up when he saw Madoc looking at him.
‛Fancy a drink?’
Say yes, you old fool. He could hear Carl’s voice nagging now. You deserve some happiness. Stop punishing yourself. It wasn’t that easy, though. Sheer hard experience told him one-night stands never worked. And thanks to Josh, a one-night stand was all it would ever be. He shook his head again, smiling to soften the blow. ‛Flattering, but no. For all sorts of reasons, but mostly just wrong time, wrong place.’
The lad smiled back. ‛Fair enough. You’re way out of my league anyway. You’re Madoc Owen, aren’t you? The man who changed—’
‛Not here. Not tonight. Tonight I’m just any other man, having a drink, waiting for a friend.’ As he’d done in the last four bars he’d visited. Hung round, drinking warm beer, trying to merge with the scenery, until they were all starting to merge into one. He could barely remember if this was the Last Ship or the Call to Arms. Thanks to Josh and his riddles he felt bound to try them all, but after this one there weren’t too many left. Well, apart from one, and there was no way he was trying that.
The lad had finally got the message and moved away, but others would take his place. It happened all the time. He was enough of a realist to know it had more to do with who he was and less with how he looked. One more reason for not wanting to give in to it, to the voices—including Carl’s—that said What’s the worst that can happen? It’s just one night. But then that’s what he’d told himself about Josh, and look how that turned out.
It felt weird, anyway. This whole idea of people mingling, drinking together, taking one another home. The law might have changed but for him it was all too new, too soon. He kept on peering into the shadows, sensing a trap, expecting the caste bullies to rush out at him. Hard to persuade himself, even now, that he was safe. If he’d gone into a bar and propositioned another man when he was this kid’s age he’d have been dragged away and thrashed. He’d always managed to avoid it—chosen an alley with another way out—but simply not being caught wasn’t always enough. The caste gangs had suspected anyway and treated him rough. And back then, there’d been so many things to get treated rough about. He sometimes thought the castes thought up new ones every other month, just to keep the rest of them on their toes. And he’d been dealt what felt like the worst hand possible.
‛You want a refill on that, mate?’ The barman, pushing a cloth around the table, pointed to his almost-empty glass.
He glanced round, startled out of his reverie. Must be nearly closing time; the crowd had thinned, the revellers off to their beds, or to one of the new dancing clubs springing up in town. A few still sat in the corners nodding off over their pints, but he could see straight away that none of them were Josh. ‛No thanks, I’m off. Looks like the man I was waiting for isn’t coming after all.’
The barman had turned away to straighten some chairs, but swung back and pulled a sympathetic face. ‛Blind date, was it?’
Madoc drained the last of his drink. ‛Just someone I hoped would be here.’ He sighed. Another year, another wasted night. How long would this go on for? How long, if ever, till he caught Josh up? Well, it wouldn’t be this year, that much was clear. He banged the empty glass on the table top, grabbed his jacket, and stood up.
Outside it had started to rain, and a chill wind was blowing leaves about. He tugged the jacket on and turned the collar up, hunching into the soft folds of material before shoving his hands in his pockets and staring out to sea. The bright lights of a time-ship glowed in the distance; hard to tell in the darkness whether it was far enough out to make its blink. Either way, within the hour there’d be another queue of travellers waiting at the quay. That never seemed to stop no matter what else was happening. These days they had a smart new terminal to line up in while their baggage was checked. Not at all like when he’d worked down here, hanging round outdoors while the elements did their worst. Days—and nights—not unlike this, with rain soaking his clothes and the wind threatening to blow his manifest right out of his hands.
The work had seemed endless at times. Repetitive, boring, dull. How many hours had he spent doing it? Thousands, probably. Hours he’d rather forget. Even though they were an integral part of what he was. And without them, he’d never have met Josh…
Date Published: May 23, 2020
About the Author
When Fiona isn’t being a pane in the glass, she writes dark, quirky, and paranormal romance. She currently has three books out: gay vampire romance ‘Echoes of Blood’ and time-travel romance ‘Just Visiting’ on Kindle, and paranormal ghost story ‘Got Ghosts?’ from Fox Spirit Books. Find out more at her website, http://www.fiona-glass.com .