Join Prism Book Alliance® as we countdown to GRL 2015 with a very special flash fiction from Author Clare London.
(please note: all rights to these prompts remain with the artist)
A Done Deal
Maybe it really was me who raised the toast to Bryan–to his new job, to the move to city life. Maybe it was one of the others around the table. They clinked bottles and laughed over-loudly at the unusual flux of emotion. We were young men, after all, albeit intelligent and presumably articulate ones. But it was late in the evening and we’d been in the bar for some hours, marking the occasion. It was hardly important who actually said the words.
It was the response that was surprising.
“Well,” Bryan said, raising his beer bottle easily to his lips. “Maybe I won’t go abroad after all. I’m not sure it’s the right thing for me.”
I watched as Tommy flung an arm around his shoulders, and a broad grin crept across Will’s face. Joe’s eyes were wide, delighted, questioning him, demanding to know all the damned details. All the others seemed pretty glad to hear this breaking news.
I just stared at him. I saw the sheepish grin on his face, the slight flush high on his cheeks, the moisture of the beer still on his lips.
He didn’t turn to face me but he knew I was watching him.
Bryan knew how I felt.
We stood at the bar, side by side, an hour or so later. Tommy had gone home, he had an early shift the next day. Joe was still at the table but his eyes were half-lidded with alcoholic sleepiness and his head was all but bedded down on his bent arms. Will was singing over by the jukebox, but everyone ignored that as usual.
Bryan and I weren’t looking at each other. Maybe it was deliberate.
“Harry?” His tone was that pretend-casual thing that he usually teased mercilessly in the others.
“You were so sure it was the right move for you.” I couldn’t believe I was letting the words spill out so easily. I’d promised myself I’d save any argument until later.
Assuming there was going to be a ‘later’.
“That’s what I thought,” he replied. He leaned forward on to the bar counter, but his movements seemed a little weary. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
I turned to face him. “So what’s changed? Was it the money? They didn’t offer the right money?”
“No, not that. It’s bloody good money.”
“Don’t tell me you changed your mind about this place.” I made it sound like it slipped out on a laugh. “Weather drives you mad, the local football’s crap, the people here are boring. There’s all that hassle in your current job.”
He hung his head a little further. I thought he was scowling. “The weather sucks here, sure. And I certainly like the heat. I was sort of looking forward to working somewhere like Dubai. The job I’m in sucks, too, but I reckon most jobs do. A change is good, though not always the best thing. But the people? You guys? You’re great. No complaints there.”
“So what are you saying? I still don’t see what’s changed.”
He straightened up and looked straight at me. Funny how it felt almost physically painful. “It’s all the same shit, Harry. Life usually is, in my experience. It’s just a different balance. Life’s full of that, full of balancing the good with the crap.”
Someone came to sit on his other side at the bar and in the distraction, I lost the thread of my answer.
That was my story, anyway.
Joe had eventually gone home as well. Will was running through the selected hits of Johnny Cash and would shortly be asked–fairly politely, but firmly–to go home. But the performance was okay with us and, to be honest, with the landlord as well. We were regulars.
I sat close to Bryan on the rickety bar stools, my thigh feeling the pressure of his. It was a comfort I’d taken too long a time growing used to. “But isn’t it annoying, changing your mind again? Doesn’t it stress you out?”
He didn’t flinch. Must have known I’d return to the subject. “Nope. I feel good. I feel better for the whole experience being over. The last few months, thinking about it, wondering about it. Stress is no longer my middle name, right?”
I think my face twisted awkwardly. Whatever the reason, he frowned at me.
“I’m still confused,” I said, doggedly. “You’re not making yourself clear. I don’t see how I’m meant to keep up with it.”
“I’ve told them. It’s a done deal. I’m not taking the transfer and I’m applying for my old job back. I think it’ll be okay.”
“A done deal,” I said, slowly.
He stared back at me. I guess he knew how to read my tone by now. “Yeah.” His own voice was tight.
“You see…I don’t understand. I don’t know whether to believe you.”
No mistaking the way he tensed up. We sat through several seconds of silence until he spoke again.
“You want another beer?”
Another pause, then he sighed very softly. “We’ll talk some more later. We’ll go round to yours when the bar closes. You want that?”
“Do you?” I felt a lump in my throat that made it difficult to talk. My fists seemed to have been clenched on my knees for a hell of a time. I wanted the rest of the bar to be someplace else. I wanted us alone.
And yet I was afraid of it, too.
“Yes,” he said, but the weariness was still there. “Whatever.”
I left the bar first. I wasn’t sure he’d follow straight away, but he did. We clambered the stairs to my flat in tandem.
He threw himself down on the couch with some relief. We’d both drunk a little too much at the bar. He made space for me when I came back in the living room with coffee, but I sat opposite him on the chair.
He grimaced. “So what’s up? I thought you’d be pleased.”
“That I’m not going after all.” He shifted restlessly. His eyes flickered over me and I knew he wanted to be nearer. To touch me. I wasn’t immune to it myself, but I needed to be able to think.
“I am. If you are.”
“Huh? It was my choice, I said so, didn’t I?”
I bit my lip, teasing it out slowly while I searched for decent enough words. “I’ve been getting used to the idea, Bryan. Of you leaving. Thinking about what it’ll be like for you in a new country, when you’ve lived and worked here in a small town, most of your life. What kind of digs you’ll have, how often we’d have the free time to visit. What kind of train ticket’s cheapest to the airport, if the airlines can be relied on not to strike, whether my bloody car would cope with coming to pick you up when you visit.” He raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, we know there are too many miles on the clock, right?” I laughed, but it was a strange, rasping sound. “Thinking about things like that.”
“Harry.” Just the one word.
I didn’t seem to be able to keep my mouth shut. “And here…well, I was going to do some stuff to my place. Make things more comfortable for us whenever you come back, because you’d give up your own flat, you’d have to stay all the time with me. Thinking about meals, places to go, cupboard space.” I could hear my voice rising. “Things like that.”
“Get a bigger bed,” he murmured.
I think I blushed, but my laugh was genuine. “Sure.” I didn’t know what else to say. Shit, we’d been through the decision-making so many times already.
“You could come with me,” he said, abruptly.
“I don’t think –”
“I’d like that, Harry. A lot.”
I breathed out slowly, like an athlete preparing for a run. “We discussed that. It’s not that easy at the moment, not with Dad as sick he is. And my job. Everything.”
“But a possibility,” he persisted. His eyes were very bright, watching me.
I shook my head, momentarily confused. “No. Well, yes. Always a possibility.”
He drank from his coffee, not noticing I’d forgotten the sugar. Perhaps he wasn’t concentrating properly. “But anyway, it’s a moot point now, because I’m not going.”
“It’s a definite decision?”
“Definite.” He put down his coffee and sat forward on the couch.
I didn’t reach back, not like usual. “The guys think you’re mad, you know, blowing hot and cold. Passing up on the promotion. Giving up that money. That adventure.”
His voice was low. “You mean you do.”
The silence was awkward for a moment.
“Harry, I’m happy about it,” he urged. “Why won’t you believe me? Isn’t it what you want?”
And there was the question of the moment–of the century. Yes, it was what I wanted. I wanted him, with his wide, easy grin and his strong, bold movements. I wanted his lean body and his eager, unembarrassed passion and his determined peeling me out of my shell, socially and sexually. I wanted his wit and his care and the intimacy that we’d spent months letting creep into all aspects of our lives. Way beyond friendship, way beyond casual sex. I wanted to know more about him, be closer to him, share more with him. Just more, more, more, it seemed. All about the me.
But what I wanted wasn’t really the issue, was it?
“I’ll get some sugar,” I said, standing up to go to the kitchen.
It was even later, and we lay together on the couch, a barely-watched movie flickering to a muted standstill on the TV and two cups on the table of coffee gone cold.
“I don’t want you to be unhappy,” Bryan murmured. He reached a finger around my ear and tucked a stray lock of my hair behind it. “Dammit, I know you’ve been unhappy. Am I right?”
“Yes, you’re right. It’s true.” It had been a hell of a time, full of confusion and worry. Worry for him–what he wanted, what he needed, where he’d find it. And worry for me. How much I already had, what mattered to me, what I wanted to keep. What I may lose.
We’d talked a lot already, ever since they made him the offer. We’d talked both too much and not enough, if that made any sense. Sometimes it was just circular, just rerunning over the same stuff, no one moving forward, no one learning anything new, no one feeling any the better for it.
I’d had enough of it.
“I’m a little flaky about the whole thing,” I said, attempting to make a joke of it. His chest lay at my back. I could feel the steady beat of his heart against my skin, even through our shirts. “You’re not the best at telling me how you really feel.”
He tensed against me. “I think that cuts both ways, Harry.”
I frowned. “Maybe.” Sometimes I’d think the same, sometimes I’d admit it, too. But directly to him?
“Shit,” he grumbled against my hair. “You’re still fucking unhappy. What the hell am I meant to do?”
He moved restlessly, maybe he was annoyed. For a second, I thought he’d get up and leave me there, alone. Nausea balled in my throat, cold and scary.
“What about you?” I spoke quickly, almost angrily. “You don’t deserve to be unhappy, either.”
“It’s your life.” I tried not to sound petulant. “It’s your chance.”
He tensed up behind me. “One of them, Harry. Just one.”
He sighed, and loudly. “It’s not easy for me.” He was using our positions to his advantage, keeping his face hidden from me, his words muffled behind me. “I can’t always find the right words. This has been so good. Us. You know that. But I’ve really messed things up in the past, you know? With other men. And I don’t want to do it again. Not with you. But I’m fucked if I know what to say.”
You and me both.
I rolled myself over to face him and brought my rueful smile close to his lips. “No need. Not for the moment. Okay?”
His heart beat increased under my hands and he reached to kiss me. “Okay. Very okay.”
It was in the small hours of the morning and we lay together on my too-small single bed. His body was warm and relaxed, his back pressed against my back. We were naked. I wondered if he’d fallen asleep at last.
“You asleep, Harry?”
I grinned in the darkness. “Yes. You woke me.”
“So bite me,” he growled back.
I contemplated following through, but I was just too comfortable for the moment to move. I stared at the wall and felt the muscles bunching in his shoulders as he shifted behind me, trying to get more comfortable.
“Still brooding on it? My job, or lack of it?”
“Just thinking,” I said. “Are you sure you’re doing this for the right reason?”
He grunted. His elbow briefly jabbed into the small of my back. “You mean because I’ll miss the new season games if I move? The trips out with the guys? The beer and the greasy takeouts? Or something else…” His hand tightened on my hip.
I nudged back against him, my body hard and just as strong and for a minute there was a tremor of aggression between us.
“Cool it,” he murmured, and I could tell from the shape of his mouth on my neck that he was grinning.
“I’m not going to tell you that you worry too much because it’s the way you are.”
“Thanks,” I said, dryly. “You’re full of bounty.”
He laughed, and the bed shook gently beneath us. “I just feel good about it all, Harry. We’ve both been under stress, maybe we showed it differently. And now I feel clear of it–now I feel relaxed.”
He tugged me round. His hair was loose and brushed across my bare torso, as warm and soft as fleece. “It’s what I want to do. I want to be with you. I want you to be happy about it, too.”
“We don’t know how things will be in months ahead,” I protested softly. Didn’t he see that? Maybe he’d regret it later; he’d wish I hadn’t been a distraction; that I hadn’t brought influence to bear on him. That I hadn’t held him back.
“Hold me,” he sighed. “I need you. Things aren’t black and white, but I like the grey. I like going with what I feel. It’s my life. My choice.”
We were quiet again for a while; not silent, for he brought out strange sounds from my throat that could challenge Will’s worst garglings at the karaoke. He made me feel that I didn’t care, either.
“So good…” he sighed once.
“My choice,” he gasped into my ear as his body pressed tightly around mine.
I laughed with him; I sighed with him. I was with him in every possible way.
It felt good to me, too.
Maybe things were like that–like he said. No right answers, no true certainties. Instead, a balance. A quest. A mutually enjoyable, thrilling, risky adventure.
I lay enclosed in the unit we’d made, a tangle of limbs and laughter and an intertwining of lives and new experiences. A relationship that we both struggled with and revelled in. Making new memories, taking fresh steps. However long it lasted, it would always be good; always be precious. It’d get stronger, I knew.
We’d made the choice together.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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