But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
2 Peter 3:10
John Irving was sitting in a cab in his best Sunday suit and contemplated death.
If this car was to crash right now, the driver, towards the end of his nightshift, falling asleep at the wheel for a second, John was not sure if he would go to heaven.
Unless his speedy death would stop him from making the biggest mistake of his life so far, in which case it might be his only chance to escape the brimstone and hellfire he saw in his future.
Of course, he could just as well tell the driver to pull over and run out into the night without any grave injury, in theory.
But if John was unsure about his place in the afterlife, he was certain about one thing: the second he had gotten talking to the handsome man sipping a beer at the bar, he set something in motion that he could stop as little as he could stop the turn of the tides.
He swallowed heavily, daring a quick glance to his right.
Solomon was looking out the window at the lights flying past. He seemed relaxed, his broad thighs spread out on the seat, one hand lying idly by his side.
An image crossed Johns mind of him reaching over and touching Solomon, putting a hand on his knee, and he felt a bead of sweat roll down the small of his back. He clenched his fists tightly.
When he was younger, in his first year of university, he was approached by a guy in one of his lectures who asked him if he wanted to go out for a coffee some time.
John was eager to make friends, he hadn’t exactly been popular at boarding school.
He had strong opinions on most things and wasn’t afraid to give his thoughts on all others, and he had grown up enough since then to admit that he had often been intolerant and looking for a place to live out a boyish cruel streak that found no relief elsewhere.
John met the guy, Will, twice before Will asked to kiss him.
Now, John wasn’t proud of his first reaction.
He stammered something, God knows what, and bounced, his legs taking him as far as to the edge of the city where he crumbled by the side of the road and put his head between his knees, shaking from exertion and nerves.
He stayed there for a good hour, keeping his mind carefully blank. Whenever he poked at parts of his mind that he usually left undisturbed, parts that spat out words like homosexual and sinner, he flinched like he just touched a fresh bullet wound.
It wasn’t that he was homophobic, at least he didn’t think so. He had his hang-ups about those sorts of things from his upbringing in the church, but he had met gay people and most of them seemed just like any other folks he knew.
He didn’t have a problem with gays, but there were miles between that and the thought that he himself might not be straight.
He had made a pact with God that day, his chinos stained in the back from sitting on the ground, that he would be careful not to be tempted. There was nothing wrong with close friendships between men, or an appreciation of the male form, but there was something inside him that always wanted more, always wanted to eat the whole hand that fed him scraps.
If he couldn’t temper himself, he couldn’t allow getting close to those temptations, no matter how innocent they seemed at first.
And now his years of abstinence and self-control had led him here, to the inside of a cab with a fellow from the Royal Navy who he was going to have sex with once they arrived.
He thought the word like a flagellation, like a whip taken to his back: sex. He is going to have sex with you, and you want him to, you love it.
John shivered, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. Images of Solomon threatened to overwhelm him, of his hands, his thighs, his chest and what it might look like naked. He felt nauseous and horribly, irreversibly turned on.
Solomon cleared his throat and he almost had a heart attack, staring straight ahead in case he was looking over.
“You good, man?” he asked gruffly.
John almost let out an amused huff. Good? He was about as far from good as you could possibly be. He knew that if he said the word, Solomon would just let him go on his way, but the thought of not pulling through felt impossible now. He was already so far gone from the light.
Maybe there was something rotten in his core, like an apple that the worms had gotten to before anyone picked it up, something that couldn’t be excised through prayer and piety.
Maybe it was time to just accept his place in this world and give in to what deep down, he always knew was going to happen.
“Yeah,” John croaked. He glanced over.
Solomon didn’t seem convinced, but he must have decided to let it go for now, turning back towards his window.
Thank God the cab driver wasn’t one of the more chatty sort. He could not deal with small talk right now, he could hardly deal with keeping his heart beating in a steady rhythm.
Just three hours earlier, he had entered a busy Edinburgh nightclub, not walking of his own volition as much as being shoved by Graham’s forceful hands on his shoulders. He had not been on board with their plan to end George’s stag do there after having spent the beginning of the night drinking in a perfectly fine pub, but he ultimately knew this battle was doomed from the start as he didn’t want to be the one to ruin George’s big night out.
So, he reluctantly tagged along, although his idea of a good time did not include sweating in a cramped basement filled with desperate drunks trying to hook up to bass-boosted chart hits. He was more of a quiet-night-in-with-a-bottle-of-red-and-Joni-Mitchell type of guy.
In his early twenties he had felt simultaneously too young and too old to frequent these sorts of places, not seeing the point in spending a tenner to stand in a corner and nurse a pint.
Now, closer to thirty, he was secure in the knowledge that this wasn’t his scene and that he didn’t need to tag along the few times others still invited him out.
That is, unless it was George Hodgson’s stag do and the rest of the lads had their minds set.
“You should probably text your mates, they’ll worry,” Solomon said, turning the key to let them into his place.
John nodded. He opened their group chat, fingers hovering over the keyboard on his phone. What was he supposed to even write?
Hey guys, have left with a strange man to lose my virginity, all well xx?
He finally decided on a simple gone home already, have fun, sending a quick prayer for Edward not to check and see if his room was occupied when his flatmate would inevitably stumble home drunk in the early hours of the morning.
“You want anything? Glass of water maybe?” Solomon asked while making his way to the small kitchenette.
John lingered near the door, taking in his sparsely decorated surroundings.
“Glass of water would be good, cheers.”
He picked up a framed picture of what appeared to be a slightly younger, clean-shaven Solomon, flanked by two other men in uniform, all flashing wide grins at the camera.
“I’m just going to head to the bathroom for a minute.”
Having made sure the door behind him was locked, John braced himself on the sink. He squeezed his eyes shut till he saw stars, then splashed cold water in his face.
The reflection looking back at him was pale, a ruddy blush staining his cheeks in uneven blotches of colour. He blinked a droplet of water from his lashes.
John had wanted to get a moment of quiet to get a grip on his racing thoughts, yet now that he was alone, his mind was curiously empty.
“What the fuck are you doing,” he hissed, careful to keep his voice low to avoid Solomon hearing him talk to himself in the bathroom. God knows he was already acting bizarre enough as it was.
“It’s not a big deal. It’s just sex. Literally everyone else is doing it, you big fucking baby. You’re going to get back out there like a functional human being and stop making a massive production of it. You’re going to follow Solomon to his bedroom and let him fuck-,” his voice threatened to break for a second, a shiver running down his entire body like he was touching a live wire, “-and you’ll let him, let him do you, and that’ll be the end of your weird little obsession.”
The man opposite him did not seem particularly convinced by his speech. In fact, his flush had become worse, his eyes shiny.
John had to turn his gaze away from his image, biting the inside of his cheek in an attempt to control his expression.
His skin was on fire, his neck and the small of his back feeling strangely vulnerable, as if John was being watched by someone. It made him want to do strange things, like expose his throat or whimper like a stray pup.
He ran a sweaty hand through his short hair and looked in the mirror one last time before rejoining Solomon.
John’s leg was near cramping up, his fingers trying to hold on to the slick back of his thigh, pulling it as close to his chest as he could manage.
His entire body was shaking with tremors; although he had his eyes tightly screwed shut, he could feel Solomon’s gaze where he was concentrating his careful ministrations on preparing him.
He couldn’t tell whether it was his awareness of being observed like this, his most intimate areas on full display, or the sensation of having Solomon’s lube-dripping fingers fill him up, that was making it impossible for him to suppress a high-pitched whimper.
“Someone’s keen,” Solomon chuckled, scooting closer and dislodging three of his fingers in the process, at which John let out a short breath as if he’d been punched in the stomach. Solomon gave his belly an apologetic pat with his other hand before pulling out to add more lube.
John was certain the stuff had to be leaking out of him at this point. Between Solomon’s insistence on preparing him for what felt like an age and his profuse sweating, too hot even though he was completely naked and exposed to the cool air of Solomon’s poorly insulated flat, the plain bedsheets under him were starting to feel quite soaked.
He wanted this to be over. He wanted it to go on forever, a scene trapped in amber. He wanted to go back in time and change every aspect of his life, so he could be someone else, someone who could lie on his back with a beautiful man above him and not think about it twice.
He blinked up at Solomon, catching his brown eyes looking back at him inquisitively.
“You good, man? We can take a break if it’s getting too much, just tell me what you need.” Solomon kept his hands still but didn't remove them from inside John just yet.
John felt the curious urge to both squirm away and preen, wanting to avoid Solomon’s gaze and present himself at the same time, pinned down like the butterflies in their glass showcases at the National Museum that he used to be morbidly fascinated with as a boy.
“Do you need more lube or are we grand?” Solomon asked, picking up the nearly empty bottle with his free hand to contemplate its meagre contents.
John couldn’t formulate an answer, try as he might. He squeezed his eyes shut only to open them again, fixing his gaze on a dark spot where water had damaged the ceiling.
“You got to work with me here, I’m not a fucking psychic, mate,” Solomon grumbled, his voice still sounding amused but taking on a slightly frustrated tone now, “tell me what you want me to do.”
John continued to stare at the ceiling, the muscles in his lower belly flexing uncomfortably, squeezing around where Solomon was still inside of him.
He opened his mouth to speak before he could decide what he actually wanted to say, only managing a weak groan. He turned his head to the side, wanting to press his face into the pillow as much as he could.
Solomon pinched the meat on his hip in response, not mean enough to hurt badly but enough to smart, making John let out a weak groan.
He pulled his fingers out with a squelching sound that would haunt John to his dying day and leaned over his body, his forearms braced next to John’s head and his face now only a hand’s breadth from John’s own, pushing John’s legs straight down and pinning his arms close to his side, effectively caging him in with his broad body.
“I’m not gonna fuck you unless you say it.”
John could feel every inch of his naked skin where Solomon, still in his jeans, was pressing against him, the rough denim rubbing at his most sensitive parts in a way that was painfully exquisite.
He turned his head to the side again, only to be presented with Solomon’s firm bicep too close to avoid.
Solomon put a calloused palm on the side of John’s face, pushing down with the rough pad of his thumb on his lower lip.
John was all but delirious, grateful to have an excuse not to speak up because he seriously doubted he could even recall his own address at the moment, never mind formulate any kind of response to what was going on or how he felt about the large hand caressing his face.
Solomon sat back on his hatches, straddling John’s upper thighs and running blunt nails up and down his chest. John was practically vibrating from barely suppressed shudders, his hips attempting to buck up on their own volition but held firmly to the bed by Solomon’s thighs.
“If you don’t tell me what you want me to do to you, I have no problem just sending you on your way, you know?” Solomon teased, running his hands in continuously lower movements but avoiding where John was most desperate. “I can’t be doing all this fucking guesswork.”
John looked up at him and was met with an image that would probably stay with him for many desperate nights to come: Solomon, his broad chest a beautiful tableau of sweat and patchy hair over muscled pecs, slack-jawed and breathing hard, looking down at John as if he wanted to devour him whole.
John swallowed around the lump in his throat, only managing to let out some kind of noise between I and uhm in the process.
“What was that? You’re gonna have to speak up.” Solomon gently put his right hand on John’s throat, only applying the slightest pressure, circling his neck with his thumb and running it in slow circles as if to massage the words out of him that wouldn’t come.
John swallowed once more, feeling the press of his Adam’s apple against Solomon’s palm. Their gazes were locked onto each other, a stalemate that would inevitably end in John’s forfeit.
“Uh, I want-,” John started, his voice sounding barely recognisable to his own ears, like a stranger gathering enough courage to speak the words he couldn’t say. “Touch me?”
Solomon let out a rather unexpectedly loud snort before catching himself.
“I was kind of planning on that, like a basic requirement or something." He looked at John, who was worrying his lower lip between his teeth. "Wait, you’re serious? Oh fuck, okay. Sure man, I can touch you.”
He splayed out his hands on Irving’s stomach. “Anything else you’ve had in mind? It’d be a shame to let all that prep go to waste, almost emptied my entire fucking bottle of lube trying to get you to loosen up a bit.”
John felt his muscles tense reflexively at the mention of where Solomon’s fingers had just been moments earlier. He didn’t dare think about what else he might have planned, thoughts unavoidably circling back to what lay under those jeans.
He looked back up at the ceiling again. John could either hold Solomon’s gaze or he could attempt to actually speak up about what he wanted, but both at once would be decidedly impossible. He took a deep breath, the words rushing out of him in one hurried line.
“I want you to fuck me, please.”
John groaned, his voice muffled by the pillow he had his face pressed into.
He lay spread out on his stomach, arms stretched above his head, trying to find purchase by curling his fingers around the metal bars that made up the spartan bed's headboard.
Solomon moved his hands from John's shoulder blades over his arms, laying more of his body weight onto John's back until he was nearly covering him entirely. The thought of his broad body on John's own, their naked limbs touching, nearly made him shiver as much as the indescribable stretch where Solomon was slowly moving inside of him.
John felt wrung out, his voice hoarse, his breathing laboured. He wanted to press his hips into the mattress until he finally found relief, or rub up against Solomon to urge him to go deeper, impossibly deeper, fill him up until he was overcome by it, in full communion with his spirit, but all he could do was lie down and experience the transcendental sensation of his body being claimed by another man.
Solomon was quiet, other than the occasional grunt. He pressed his nose and forehead into John's sweaty neck, breathing in deeply before putting his teeth where John's neck met his shoulders.
John whimpered, all his senses overwhelmed. He turned his head to the side to catch more air, feeling hot tears spill from his eyes and run down the side of his face without any awareness of when he had started crying.
He could sense the heat radiating from his cheeks, the way his nose had started to drip, lips bitten raw. He knew he must look a right mess, and the image of himself, desperate and turned on beyond help, stuck between the hard mattress and Solomon's unrelenting thrusts, was enough to make him rub his face on the pillow in shame.
His skin, sensitive and raw with tears, magnified the sensation of the rough cloth, hot and wet.
"Speak to me," Solomon broke his silence, "what do you need?"
His voice sounded rough, punctuated with his heavy breathing.
John canted his hips as much as he could with his very limited range of movement, his muscles exhausted from shaking and clenching. He hoped that presenting Solomon with this angle would suffice as an answer, and sure enough, he could feel him driving deeper, but Solomon seemed to be after something more.
"Fuck, that's hot. You know it's hot, you fucking tease. Tell me you think it's hot."
John tried to activate some part of his mind that wasn't completely occupied with how he felt as if he had been turned inside out, every muscle a live wire, every inch of skin burning.
He wanted to dream of a reality where he could exist just like this, Solomon inside of him forever. John would devote his every second to being stretched out, only living by the grace of Solomon's hands.
Surely this agonizing pleasure was what people wrote hymns about. Pinned down, he felt like one of those medieval mystics, chosen prophets struck by rays of divinity and compelled to tell the world, to share their miracle with the masses, and damn the consequences.
John knew he had been transformed. Never before had he felt so delicate, a tiny speck in God's universe, yet so unbreakable, so brave.
Solomon put his hands over John's, entwining their fingers.
They were moving as a single creature, something new and beautiful born from their connection. For the first time in his life, he was absolutely secure in the knowledge that he wasn't alone in this world. He was a piece of creation, no, he was creation itself. He would never have to worry again, not while Solomon was breathing into his neck, urging him on.
"It's hot," John sighed.
"Yeah? You think so?" Solomon sounded pleased, unlinking their hands to right himself up and grip John's hips on both sides, lifting them slightly so John had to scoot his knees up.
His backside was now elevated higher than his upper body and head, a fact that made a hot, liquid sensation run through him like a current, from his overheated chest to his navel and below.
The new angle made him want to stretch languidly, show Solomon how much he really appreciated it. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that he would never act like this if he were thinking straight. Right now though, he wanted to follow his basest instincts with abandon, to purr with satisfaction, to moan and writhe, let go of whatever made him who he was.
He felt Solomon grip the meat of his hips tightly, manipulating his body to move it where he wanted.
To hell with John Irving, if he could just stay in this euphoric state forever instead. His head was blissfully empty, wiped out by white-hot pleasure.
Every time he was jostled by one Solomon’s thrusts, the muscles in John’s shoulders tensing and relaxing in turn, another wave of prickling heat ran through him, his entire being condensed into one small spot.
He could feel Solomon move more rapidly, his motions driving John’s arms and upper body into the mattress, pushing him to and fro with every thrust while Solomon kept a tight grip on his hips. He didn’t want it to end, but the urge to find some kind of release had grown overwhelming.
John’s fingers found purchase in the sheets, desperately twisting whatever he could grab to keep control over his reactions, to stay tethered to the earth. Rough gasps wrenched themselves from his throat, which was almost sore at this point. Mouth open, John licked his upper lip, tasting salt from the sweat prickling there.
“What do you need? What- do you need? Tell me,” Solomon let out in short bursts, interrupted by heavy breathing.
An overwhelmed giggle almost escaped John. As if he could come up with any kind of response now, when he felt like his brain had melted out of his ears, having long-since said goodbye to his dignity and common sense. The only thing he could manage was a weak groan.
Suddenly, Solomon stopped moving completely. He didn’t pull out, but he also didn’t move inside him, his hips touching John’s own.
John wanted to scream. He wanted to throw himself back onto Solomon, to make him do something, anything that would make him continue, make John go back to this state of complete bliss he had only just learned existed. And it was so close, he was so close. He was so, so close, Solomon couldn’t just stop now.
“Please,” he pled, “don’t, no, you can’t- please don’t stop, please.” He was crying again, hot tears running down his face where he had turned his head to look at Solomon, red eyes begging him to do something.
Solomon had an expression on his face like a man entranced, his mouth slack, sweat on his heavy brow, nostrils flaring with deep breaths. He swore, something that could have been a ‘shit’ or just a release of air, as he leaned down and braced almost his full weight on John’s shoulders, immobilising him completely.
He took up his thrusts again, near frantic now. “Who the fuck are you, John,” Solomon whispered, more to himself than anything else.
John, pinned to the mattress again, could only whimper in reply. Who, indeed. He was sweating profusely, every part of him hot and wet, from his snotty, tear-streaked visage, to the lube generously spread inside of him. Waves of heat radiated from his core to his extremities. The pressure of Solomon on his shoulders made it harder to breathe, every gasp bringing precious air to his lungs.
He was going at it with a punishing rhythm now, clearly close to his climax. The thought of him finishing inside of John was nearly enough to take him over the edge as well.
Solomon took one of his hands off John and the relief was instantaneous, only for him to put it on the back of John’s head, fingers splayed in his thick hair, and push him into the pillow face-first.
John’s eyes rolled back. He moaned, the sound swallowed by where he was pressed to Solomon’s bedding.
He was going to die. He was going to die from pleasure or asphyxiation or from being simply too turned on, and he had never been as sure about wanting something as much as he was now. Let him die like this, in Solomon’s arms, Solomon’s hand on his head as he finished inside of John, swearing under his breath and running his fingers through John’s hair.
John woke up groggy and disoriented. He turned his head to one side from where he was lying on his stomach. A neon digital clock on the bed stand read 4:03am. He groaned, turning the other way to where Solomon was lying, curled in on himself and snoring lightly. The only source of light was the orange of the street lamp outside the window, illuminating parts of his face and body. He was still nude, so was John.
Solomon was beautiful. In the safety of the early morning hours, not quite day yet, not quite real life, John allowed himself to look. He studied the light smattering of blond hair on his arms and legs, the trail leading down from his soft belly. His front was towards John, allowing him to watch the way his broad chest rose and fell with every breath, how his eyelashes dusted the skin under his eyes. His slightly cracked lips, his crow’s feet. Everything fascinated John.
Just a few hours ago, — John had no idea when he had actually fallen asleep —, this man had been on top of him, inside of him. He shuddered, feeling a blush creep onto his cheeks. Flashes of memories came back to him. How he had begged for more, twisting and turning in the sheets.
In the back of his mind, he could feel guilt and shame rearing their ugly heads. Right now though, he was still too much basking in the soft bliss of contentment to care. Let this be a problem for tomorrow; tonight, he was not John. He was someone brave and sexual, someone who went home with strange guys to have sex with them. Someone who could seduce a guy like Solomon.
He could still sense where Solomon had entered him, a strange sensation, both numb and sensitive. Curious, he let his own hand wander, first across his flank, then over his bottom, inching ever closer. He closed his eyes, swallowing heavily. One night, and he was already depraved.
His digit danced around, dragging in the lube that was still smeared all over him. He had a vision of what it would be like if he wasn’t slick with lube but something else, if Solomon hadn’t used a condom. His breathing was coming heavy now.
He didn’t feel any desire to get off, he just wanted to stay in this delicious fantasy for a while longer. In his imagination, he would wake up Solomon to demand another round, surprise him by climbing his lap to ride him, head thrown back, not a care in the world. He’d moan his name out loud, shout it till the neighbours would bang on the walls.
“Solomon,” he whispered, his heart hammering out a rapid tattoo inside his chest. “Solomon.”
His pulse was going a mile a minute. He felt like he was doing something forbidden, and the thrill was making his toes curl.
“What?” came the sleepy reply from his other side.
John felt his heart stop. He froze completely, his own fingers still threatening to breach him. His eyes snapped open in panic and he was confronted with the face of a newly awakened Solomon, his expression both mildly confused and amused.
“What are up to? Oh,” Solomon sat up, seemingly perking up at the view presented to him.
“Really?” he grumbled, “you still haven’t had enough? You know, I’m not gonna get it up again yet, give me a break here.”
John was mortified. He slowly moved his hand back, not wanting to draw too much attention to what he had obviously been doing.
“You’re gonna be the fucking death of me,” Solomon joked. John didn’t know what to say.
Solomon stretched his arms, yawning and cracking his neck. “Alright, I’m not gonna have anyone say I’m leaving my lovers unsatisfied. Scoot over here and I’ll jerk you off.”
John couldn’t move, his mind stuck on one word: lover. His lovers.
He also knew that if he let Solomon touch him that way, he might just turn to dust and float off into the atmosphere. He felt strangely weightless, untethered, as if the smallest breeze could make him fly out of the window and into the black night sky over Edinburgh, never to land again.
“Can you, um,” he began, unsure how to say that while he wanted something, he couldn’t deal with that quite yet.
“Can I what? You don’t wanna get fingered again, do you?”
John let out a quick breath. The thought of just lying on his front while Solomon filled him up was very appealing.
“Seriously? Fuck me, man, you must be sore by now. You really love it, huh? You need it that much?”
The twin pleasures of shame and desire rushed through John. He was so embarrassed, but at the same time, Solomon’s teasing made him want it even more.
“Yes,” he whispered. He fully turned onto his stomach, head pillowed on his folded forearms.
Solomon floundered for a second. “Okay! Sure, I’ll just get the-,” he rummaged around for something in the sheets, “no, looks like we used up all the lube, sorry.”
John cleared his throat. “I’m still, um, I’m still, you know.”
A moment of silence from Solomon, then, “wet? You’re- fuck me. Okay! Okay. You’re still wet.” He mumbled something to himself that John couldn’t quite make out.
He was absolutely burning now, lying stiff as a board. The mattress dipped by his side where Solomon had moved.
John let out a long sigh when he felt Solomon’s broad thumb entering him carefully.
This had to be one of the most awkward moments of his life, John thought, chewing his jam toast and studiously trying to avoid making eye contact. Worse than that time he asked out Holly Murray in front of all her friends after their youth theatre performance of The Jesuit and she’d rejected him. Possibly even worse than that time he peed his pants in church when he was five.
“So, you got some way to get home? I’d drive you but I don’t have a car,” Solomon said between sips of his tea (full fat milk, two sugars).
John still couldn’t look at him. He stirred his own tea, concentrating fully on the ripples his spoon created on the surface.
“Yeah, I can just walk. I only live about a half hour from here.”
“Are you sure? That’s quite a walk.”
“I can do with some time by myself,” John replied. He was met with silence. Maybe shouldn’t have mentioned that, if he didn’t want to seem like the biggest weirdo. Well, Solomon probably already thought of him like that, seeing as how he acted last night. Depraved weirdo.
But no matter how much John might have liked to deny it, he did like what they did. He liked that Solomon had been attracted to him enough to take him home. He liked having Solomon’s full attention on him. He liked the feeling — at this point he shimmied slightly on the uncomfortable wooden chair — of Solomon over him, Solomon inside of him.
He liked Solomon.
From some part of his brain, a part that had to still be drunk or high on whatever hormones last night had led loose on his body, John’s body must have received the signal to talk, because he found himself opening his mouth and asking Solomon, “do you maybe wanna do this again sometime?”
He snapped his mouth shut immediately but dared a careful glance at Solomon sitting opposite him.
Mug of tea cradled in both hands, he gave John a sad look, his expressive eyebrows doing most of the work.
“Sorry, mate. I’ve had a really, really great time. I mean it, last night was something else. But I’m shipping out in a few days, not sure when I’m actually gonna be on land again, nevermind in town.”
John quickly averted his eyes to take in his half-finished toast again. “Sure, yeah, of course,” he mumbled. Stupid, what was he thinking.
“But uh, I can give you my number! That is, if you want. And you can text me yours and then I could, I don’t know, get in touch when I’m in Edinburgh again?” Solomon actually sounded hopeful.
John nodded. “I’d like that.”
Solomon got out a pen and a crumpled receipt from the bottom of his kitchen drawer, throwing out a wild amount of dried fruit snacks to get to them. He quickly scribbled down some digits on the back of the receipt and handed it over to John.
John took it, their fingers touching for a second, and put it in his back pocket. He could almost feel it burn there, like it was much warmer than what was possible.
John took out his phone as soon as he closed the door to Solomon's place behind him. Thankfully, it hadn't died yet.
2 missed calls, and a bunch of messages.
He kept walking and opened the group chat for last night's outing first. He hadn't bothered reading through it last night, too nervous when writing his own text.
Apparently, he'd missed quite a bit.
Edward Little: hey has anyone seen John?
Edward Little: I thought he just went to the toilets but he hasn't been back in a while now
George Hodgson: I think I saw him leave just a few minutes ago? boo 😒😒
George Hodgson: @John Irving come back m8 you're missing my paaartyyyyy
George Hodgson: also anyone who's at the bar in the next 5 minutes is getting a drink on me!! daddy's feeling generous 😜
Thomas Jopson: please NEVER say that again, for everyone's sake……
Thomas Jopson: also I'm pretty sure John left with someone else? I saw him go by in a taxi when I was having a smoke outdoors and there was someone in there w/ him?? @John Irving please confirm
George Hodgson: HWAT
George Hodgson: OK I TAKE EVERDBTHJFN BACK
George Hodgson: LIVE YOUR DREAMS IRVING. GET LAID.
George Hodgson: this is the most beautiful thing that's ever happened to me……. Irving I'm so fucking proud I'm like a mother hen and you just left the nest, my beautiful baby chicklet…… flfly my precious FLY!!!!!!!!
Edward Little: where are you Hodge, you sound hammered mate
Graham Gore: Johnny I hope you're having the night of your life. Also if you're gonna marry her in like 2 weeks I call dibs on planning the stag do 💍💏
John Irving: gone home already, have fun
George Hodgson: AAAAAAA ASGDJKUDJDJV
John had to stop walking and lean against the nearest house wall, suddenly exhausted to the bone. He had to take a few deep breaths, but it didn't feel like any oxygen was reaching his lungs. He felt too hot and his eyes were burning.
He looked at the individual texts he had received. The first batch was from George, barely legible.
USE PRKGECTION 👅👅
TREAT HER LIKE A LADYYYYYY
ALSO LÉT HER TREAT YUO LIKE A LADY?..? IDK,,!
YOUR MY PRECIOUSSB BABY 😭😭😭
BABYS FIRST HOOKUP
NO THAT SOUNDS WEIRD BUT YOU GET WHATA IM SAYINFF
The rest of his unread messages were sent by his roommate Edward, thankfully less obscure.
hey where are you? why aren't you answering my calls?
OK Thomas says you went home with someone? Did you get back to our place? Should I stay somewhere else?
So from your text I guess you went back to ours? Just give me a quick notice if I should stay at Thomas' or George's tonight to give you some space
I'm home now and you're not here? what's going on, John
if you want to hook up with someone you don't have to lie to me, I'm not gonna judge you just because she's not your betrothed or whatever. get over your hangups.
that was rude, I'm sorry. but please call me back asap.
if you're not here by noon tomorrow I'm calling the police or something. I'm worried, man.
John had to bite his lower lip to keep from crying. He checked his watch, almost 10am, and sent of a quick text to Edward.
On my way back
He turned off his phone and put it in his back pocket for good measure.
John jumped and gave a wince of pain at the sudden cacophony of church bells ringing for Sunday service, the building he was leaning on turning out to be a church.
Exhausted tears were threatening to spill over, so he pressed his fingers over his eyes. He could feel a thumping headache coming on, drumming inside his tender skull.
"You're sorry? I was worried about you! First you text me that you're going home and then you just piss of somewhere else without notice. What were you thinking, John?"
Edward was gesticulating at John with a spatula in his hand, dressed in a stained apron.
"Your eggs are burning," John mumbled.
Edward hurried to turn off the stove and plate his breakfast. He turned back around to John again, and it was more the distressed look in his eyes than anything he said that made John feel like shit.
"I'm really sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. I probably wasn't thinking at all. Promise it won't happen again."
Edward grunted, but he still got out a second plate and gave John half of his scrambled eggs.
"What happened last night? Where were you? Shit, are you okay?" His face took on a distinctly worried expression now, one that always seemed quite at home on him.
John swallowed, sitting down at their tiny kitchen table to eat his expertly cooked eggs. "I'm okay."
"Good, good. That's the most important thing. But I'm still angry at you, man!"
John didn't know where to look. He knew he deserved this.
"You look kind of different," Edward said, swallowing a mouthful of egg.
"Different? Different how?"
John wanted to hide every inch of his skin, anything that might betray what he did last night. He shifted around on his chair, an uncomfortable twinge in his backside sending heat into his face. Could everyone see what he was? Was it written plainly on his face?
"I don't know, I can't put my finger on it," Edward mused.
"But anyway, I wanted to apologize, too. I'm not gonna interrogate you about what happened, that's your own business. Obviously you can do whatever you want with whomever you want to do it with. And I'm sorry if you felt pressured by us lads last night."
The expression on his face was unnervingly ernest.
"I'm mostly sorry about those texts I sent you. I know that sex and relationships aren't something that you take lightly and that's completely okay. I didn't want to overstep any boundaries."
John thought about Solomon breathing heavily above him, Solomon biting his neck.
Edward was still going, "..- you can always talk to me, you know? I'm your friend and I'm here for you."
John's eyes were itching again. He had probably cried more during the last 12 hours than the last 5 years combined.
He was just so tired. All he wanted to do was go to his room, lie down on his bed with the duvet pulled all the way up and sleep for a thousand years, blissfully unaware of the world turning around him.
He could tell Edward. He probably should tell Edward. John imagined it, saying I'm gay, I've had sex with a man, I've let him fuck me and I liked it. I loved it.
His flatmate would most likely be fine with that. Surprised, maybe, but he'd probably not treat John any differently. Edward had openly gay friends and he never seemed to have a problem with them.
The problem wasn't Edward. The problem wasn't anyone else at all. John just couldn't say it. He couldn't bring himself to open his mouth and say the damned words, even though it should be the easiest thing in the world. It was like his jaw was nailed shut, no matter how much his brain gave the order to just open up, say it, say I'm gay.
John wished Edward would just know without him saying it. He wished he'd told him a long time ago and it was old news now. Edinburgh is by the sea, the sky is blue, John is gay.
He thought I'm gay, I'm gay, at Edward, vaguely hoping that he'd just pick up on whatever signals John was putting out that way.
The longer John waited to say something, the more urgent it seemed, like his time was running out. He wasn't a fucking teenager. He wasn't even in college anymore. He was a grown man who couldn't tell his friend that he was gay, who couldn't even say it out loud.
Every moment he waited was a moment that would eventually make it more embarrassing to come out, harder, more difficult to explain. Why had he never said anything before?
Why now? What had changed?
He didn't have an answer to any of these questions.
He only knew that he couldn't be the guy who came out to everyone this late. They would either be surprised or they would have suspected it all along, and John couldn't say which one he dreaded more.
He didn't want to be the gay one. He wanted to be John, just John. He wanted to sleep.
"John? Everything alright?"
John startled. "Huh? Oh, yeah, everything's good. I'm good."
Edward nodded, taking a sip of his tea and looking unconvinced, but he didn't dig deeper.
John looked at the half-eaten eggs on his plate.
"It's.. it's okay, it's nothing."
Closing the door to his room behind him, John's look fell onto the old, leather-bound Bible by his bedside.
It had been his mother's, her neat handwriting adorning the margins, pages marked with sticky notes and scraps of paper that John couldn't bring himself to throw out.
He opened it where a long expired coupon for washing powder stuck out.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
2 Timothy 1:7, his mother had noted besides the verse.
John usually enjoyed these kinds of treasure hunts. They felt like she had left him something, some kind of message meant for his eyes only. Like they were still able to talk, although it was only a one-sided conversation.
Right now, it felt much more urgent.
John flipped the thin, crinkly pages, trying to get to the right passage as fast as possible without doing any damage.
There it was, 2 Timothy 1:7.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
John let out a breath from deep within.
He sat down on his small bed, suddenly feeling twice as exhausted. He was still wearing his Sunday suit, now wrinkled and stained with mysterious splotches John didn't want to investigate further.
He fished around in his back pocket and pulled out the small piece of paper with Solomon's number.
Maybe he should just throw it away. Forget about last night, forget about all of it.
Solomon was shipping out anyway and his mates had no clue what John really got up to. No one had to know.
John looked at the well-loved Bible lying in his lap.
Instead, he put the number between the pages, flattening it out carefully before putting the book on his shelf.