I looked up from my Uni notes on Rakes and Libertines as Sebastian walked into the flat. He was a vision in Armani, as always, his sleek black hair allowed to grey artfully just at the temples and no further. He'd said once he thought it gave him gravitas; I'd told him I'd grab his arse any time he wanted.
I was lying on the rug in front of the mock fireplace wearing nothing but the Calvin Kleins he'd bought me. On the rug, because Sebastian would have thrown a hissy fit if I'd taken pens on the sofa; in my underwear, because there's nothing wrong with giving a bloke something nice to look at after a hard day at the office.
I flashed him my best smile over my bare shoulder. "Hey, handsome."
He didn't smile back. There was a strange tension around his eyes that made me think that, if it hadn't been for the Botox, he'd have been frowning. His gaze travelled down my body and stopped at my arse, and for a moment there was something almost like regret in his eyes. That was when I realised what was coming, before he even opened his mouth. "Luke, I need you to move out by the weekend."
They always said it like that. Never "I want you to move out," because if it was only something they wanted, maybe I'd try and talk them out of it. Safer to say they needed me to go, like it was out of their hands. Sometimes they added a bit, dressed it up with "It's been fun", or "Sorry", but the bottom line was always the same. I never made a scene. After all, chances were whoever they were chucking me out for wasn't going to last, and I might want to come back one day.
So I didn't say what bloody awful timing this was. I didn't remind Sebastian I'd got Finals in three weeks, and I certainly didn't ask him where the hell I was supposed to go. I just smiled and said, "No problem. So you've met someone, then?" and I pretended to listen to Sebastian gushing on about this merchant banker who he swore was The One.
Not like me. I was never The One. I was just a friend with benefits and a cash flow problem. Maybe I couldn't pay my share of the rent, but hey, I made up for it in other ways, didn't I?
So while Sebastian was rabbiting on, I smiled and nodded and went through my mental list of places to stay. Trouble was, this end of term no one at Uni was looking for an extra lodger. Not that most students have got enough money to carry a passenger anyway. I needed a bloke with a job. Patrick (tall, built, had his own import/export business, but a tiny little willy) was back with Mark again--it wouldn't last, but a break-up in the next week was probably too much to hope for. Calum (lawyer, gorgeous, mean streak a mile wide) was still single, but last time I was with him I got a bit tired of pretending I was into the rough stuff. Put him down as a last resort. Tom... God, when was the last time I saw Tom? Maybe I should look him up. Tonight, perhaps.
"So, anyway, you'll be all right, won't you?" Sebastian asked finally. I was almost touched he'd asked. Most of them don't bother--probably worried I might say no.
"I'll be fine, you know me." I was smiling so widely my jaw was starting to ache. "Got a bloke in every port, I have."
Sebastian laughed. "Well, it's been fun, hasn't it?"
Yeah, Sebastian. It's been fun.
I got on the phone straight away. Tom sounded pleased to hear from me, and we arranged to meet up at the Frog and Frigate down by Ocean Village. I got there early--it wasn't like there was anything to hang around for at Sebastian's.
It's not Tom's sort of place at all, the Frog and Frigate, but it was where I met him, so I was hoping for a bit of nostalgia to kick in. It's a bit of a student hangout, friendly and, more to the point, gay-friendly. I'd been there with a crowd from Uni when Tom had been dragged in by this idiot who'd totally misjudged him. All it had taken was a smile and a comment about how he looked like he was used to a better class of establishment, and we were on our way out of there and between Tom's 1,500-count Egyptian cotton sheets.
Don't get me wrong, the Frog and Frigate's a great place--if you like that sort of thing. Outside, it looks a bit surreal, like it elbowed its way in between the buildings either side and they didn't quite move over far enough, so now it stands head and shoulders over its neighbours and looks like it's sucking its gut in out of sheer necessity. Inside, the decor's a bit cartoonish. And froggy.
And they have local bands there on a Friday night. Like I said, not Tom's sort of place at all. I smiled as he breezed in, all good looks and airy confidence, the sort only money can buy. I quite liked Tom. He was pretentious and selfish, they all were, but he wasn't mean. Generous, even, when he thought about it. He'd buy me stuff I actually wanted, not just stuff he wanted to show me off in. "Tom!" I called. "You're looking great!"
"You too, Luke. Tres jolie. The shorter hair really suits you. Makes you look all American frat boy." He nodded at my glass. "Want another one of those?"
"Yeah, please." I watched him as he made his way to the bar and came back with a couple of glasses of Chablis. Still the same trim figure, showcased to perfection. He didn't go in for fashion much, just classic stuff that really suited him. Yeah, I wouldn't have minded getting back with Tom even if I hadn't been desperate.
"Cheers, Tom," I said as he put my glass down.
"Salute," he replied. Just like old times.
"So, what have you been up to, Tom? Seems like it's been ages since we had a drink together," I added, letting a wistful note creep into my voice.
Tom beamed at me. "You are never going to guess, but...I'm getting married!" He waggled his ring finger at me. "You won't be seeing this baby naked for much longer."
I smiled. Bastard. Was it all a bloody joke to him, wasting my time? "Congratulations, Tom. Who's the lucky bloke?"
Tom leaned forward on the scratched wooden table. "Well, his name's Nigel, he's six foot one-and-a-half, he plays squash, and he works at the oil refinery at Fawley."
"Big, beefy, hard-hatted oil worker?" I asked. At least I was getting a drink out of this, and Tom was looking so bloody happy I couldn't stay annoyed at him for long.
"Hardly. He's their management accountant." Tom pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of an average-looking bloke in a suit. "Isn't he gorgeous?"
I nodded. "It's just like women always say, Tom--all the good-looking ones are married or gay."
"And in three months' time we'll be both. But anyway," he carried on, "about your 'problem'." I tried not to cringe as he did the air quotes. "I think I may be able to help. Or, rather, Nigel's got a friend who might be able to help you out. Russell's his name. He's not really your usual type, I'm afraid, but needs must, n'est-ce pas?"
I nodded again, suddenly feeling a lot friendlier towards Nigel the unknown accountant. "So what's he like, then, this Russell?"
"He's an engineer, a few years out of Uni. Works at the refinery, that's how Nigel knows him. He's doing all right, career-wise, got his own place, but, well..." Tom broke off and gave a laugh. "You'd be doing him a favour, believe me. He can't seem to get a date for love nor money, poor sweetie. Still, c'est la ville."
I managed to cover up my laugh by taking another swallow of Chablis. Good old Tom and his unique grasp of French vocabulary. Never failed to cheer me up. "People with money can always get a date. Trust me on that." I raised my glass to Tom. "So when do I get to meet him? Tomorrow? After all, if he's that desperate..."
"I'll get Nigel to sort it out."