The next time I saw Matt, he came into work to see me. Simply because he was in the area for a party – or at least that’s what he said – and had popped in for a quick drink and to say hey. Unfortunately, at this point, I was beginning to wilt from a severe bout of Man Flu and so had been sent home early by Murat. I was literally filling out my time sheet behind the bar when I heard his ever so distinctive voice ask for;
“Vodka Red Bull, please,” from the other side of the bar. I looked up from filling in my time sheet and into the mirror behind the drinks shelf. There he was, dressed in a blue and white checker shirt with dog tags around his neck. Somehow, just dressed like this, he looked like a completely different person from the one I had met in the car park of a Doctors Surgery only three days ago. It took me a moment of looking to work out that it definitelywashim. But it was. He was here, at my work, standing opposite me, at the bar.
I closed the time sheet folder and put it back under the till. I walked round to the other side of the bar and stood opposite him, contemplating what to do. I decided on a hug, again. I like hugs, they say the most.
“Hey,” he murmured in my ear.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” I managed in my pathetic and weak self that felt like I could actually collapse at any moment. I had been determined that I wasn’t ill since Monday. It was now Wednesday, and I was still refusing to admit it, even if I did look like the walking dead, just a little.
“I was just in the neighbourhood, on my way to a party and thought I’d pop in to say ‘Hi’.”
I didn’t say anything, I just smiled. There was nothing really to say. I figured he’d probably work out what that meant to me.
“Only thing is, I’m actually about to go, ‘cause I’m ‘ill’… So…”
“Oh. Okay, then. Well, I’ll see you Friday?”
“Friday. Yeah. See you then.”
There was some conversation about him worrying about the fact that my Dad had decided just that moment to pull into the car park, and that he didn’t want to be seen. As much as I tried to reassure him that there was nothing in particular to be worried about my parents for – other than the fact that seeing him with me would probably make it considerably easier when I finally decided to tell them about him – but I can’t remember the exact details, I was too ill, so I’ll omit that section of dialogue.
The rest of the week went surprisingly quickly. Day in, day out, I could feel myself getting sicker and sicker, stubbornly refusing to admit there was anything wrong. I could still get myself out of bed, so therefore I was fine. On Friday, we had arranged another interesting meeting place – Murphy’s, the local chippy on the side of the A38. Classy. He had already told me he was going to be a little late and the conversation had run a little like this:
“So, I’m probably going to be a little late today as I’ve lost my car keys. I went out last night and came back and can’t remember what I did with them. I’m looking, but I still can’t find them, so I’m going to be a little late.”
“That’s fine, I’ll just make my way up to the chippy and wait for you.”
“I shouldn’t be too long, hun. But I’ve looked everywhere and just can’t find them.”
Now, myself being a usually helpful and considerate person, thought I’d give a couple of suggestions as to places where I often leave my keys when I lose them – which is quite a regular occurrence.
“Have you looked down the back of the sofa?” I asked - the obvious suggestion.
“Yeah, they’re not there.”
“Bedside ta- ”
“Babe, you listing off random places isn’t going to help. Look, I’ll keep looking and let you know when I’ve found them and am on my way, okay?”
I stopped for a second. I’d just been shut down for being helpful. Not a good start.
“Um, yeah,” I said, cautiously, “I’ll, see you later then.”
“’Kay. See you later,” he replied, and with a kiss, the conversation ended.
As I made my way up the road, I could feel the cold penetrating my many layers of clothing already. For a few minutes, I waited outside in the cold. He had told me he wouldn’t be long, so I assumed a ten minute wait at the most – how long did it take, really, to find your keys? That I could deal with. I waited for a few minutes before deciding that it was definitely too cold to wait even ten minutes. I ushered myself into the Chip Shop to save from freezing. And there I sat, for what seemed like an age. I could see Jeff looking at me strangely from behind the counter. Eventually, after the second customer had come in, collected their food and left, I piped up and said;
“I hope you don’t mind me stealing your heat, Jeff?”
“Hmm?” he asked, surprised that I had finally said something.
“I said I hope you don’t mind me stealing your heat!”
“Oh, no, that’s fine,” he replied with a smile before disappearing off into some corner somewhere to do something else.
I was left by myself sitting on the windowsill of the chip shop, swinging my legs absent-mindedly and it wasn’t long before my phone lit up in my pocket and began to sing. It was Matt.
“Heya. I’m really sorry!”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
“I found them and am in the car now, so I should be about fifteen minutes.”
“Oh cool. Where were they?” I laughed.
“Down the side of my bed. I think I must have got home last night, quite drunk, and just thrown them at the table and they must have fallen off. Anyway, I’ve found them now, and I’ll see you in a bit.”
I couldn’t help but smile – bedside table wasn’t such a bad suggestion after all – this came out in my voice: “Okay, see you soon.”
I hung up the phone and slipped in back into my pocket. Gazing out the window, subconsciously looking out for his black VW Passat, the time seemed to fly by. I hadn’t even seen the car drive by when my phone lit up and began to sing again.
“Hey, where are you?”
“In the chip shop. I’ll be out in a sec.”
I hung up the phone and prised myself off the windowsill from which I had become attached, and went to leave the shop.
“Merry Christmas, Jeff!” I called before walking out the door – it was Christmas Eve, after all.
There was the car, pulled in just off the road, gleaming with melted snow in the brilliant white sunshine. I sprung up to the car and opened the door.
“Hello,” I announced, with a smile. I should say at this point, that the lie covering me today was that I had walked to Wrington to spend the day with Livvie and Rosie in the Rec, before Liv (or Liv’s mum) was driving us to the Mañana gig at the Back Bar, Weston that evening. Which, to be fair, had I not met Matt, would have been what would have happened. The advantage this time, however, was that Rosie knew where I was and who with, so I had cover.
“Hey you,” he replied, leaning over for a kiss, “You alright?”
“A bit coldy, but I’ll survive.” A bit? I was dying. I couldn’t breathe, I felt exhausted and just generally full of it. But I was an actor, darling, and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like a cold keep me from seeing this gorgeous guy on Christmas Eve.
“Aww, babe… Well, what’s the plan for today, then?”
“I don’t mind, to be honest.”
“Go back to my place, chill out, cook something to eat and just be a bit lazy?”
Back. To your place? Alone? I swallowed. I tried to make it as subtle as I could and took a breath before replying to keep from my voice cracking and betraying the terror that was raging inside of me right now.
“Sounds great,” I managed. Short sentences, Matthew. Smile. Breathe.
We drove in silence for the beginning of the journey. I didn’t have a clue what to say and I got the feeling he didn’t either. When we got to Banwell he began to talk about his ex- Darryl. I felt myself tense up as soon as the word ‘ex-’ was mentioned. What was I to think about where they stood and what the feelings were there? Psychologically, I managed to convince and insist that they were just on good terms and there wouldn’t be any feelings there, otherwise he wouldn’t be an ‘ex-’, right? Besides, the way Matt talked about Darryl, he sounded like a right ‘tard and Matt sounded slightly relieved he was rid of him – could just be wishful thinking.
We kept driving and talking on and off until we reached the bridge to take us into Worle.
“So what do you want to eat tonight then? We could get take out or we could cook? We could go out? It’s up to you…”
Christ. Decisions. He had already duly noted that I was not a strong decision maker and yet he was adamant that he was going to continue springing questions on me that would require an answer. What did I want to eat? How hard could it be?
“Well, what’s your favourite food?”
Now this I could answer. My favourite food was Tuna Pasta Bake, at least, it used to be, but as far as I was concerned it still was in this somewhat delusional state of illness – not that I was ill, of course.
“Tuna Pasta Bake,” I answered, confidently.
“Awesome, well, we can go to Morrison’s and get the stuff, then go back to mine, do whatever and make the dinner later.”
“I do need to make a CD cover for my Mum’s CD, so if you can help me with that, that’d be awesome.”
“Sure, I can do that.”
He smiled at me, like it meant a lot. I didn’t really understand. What was I supposed to say? No? Make myself sound like a total bitch? But I went with it and smiled sweetly back. Over the bridge and heading towards the Morrison’s roundabout, I began to list what ingredients you needed to make tuna pasta bake. Tuna – obviously, pasta – duh, a sachet of sauce mix, milk, cheese… Okay, I could do this. As Matt parked the car and we got out, I began to panic a little bit. This was actually real. Actually happening. But the even scarier thing was, that I didn’t know what was going to happen. All of this was scripted in a foreign language – a play which I had never read before.
We went into the shop and Matt picked up a basket. Shopping, shopping, shopping, and remembering the list off the top of my head.
“D’you want some wine?” Matt asked as we were walking past the aisle. Wine. Perfect.
“You go choose then.”
Me? He trusted me with choosing wine. He was brave. When it came to wine, I had expensive taste. Not with much else, otherwise, I’m fairly easy, but wine. It has to be good. I picked out a bottle of Lindemanns – at least I think that was what it was. Aye, Lindemanns. A good wine, went well with fish. I put it in the basket. Shopping, shopping, shopping andleave.Breathe.I had never felt so panicked in my entire life. Trying to act like everything was normal, playfully teasing Matt about cooking already. It was fine.
The car park was heaving. Cars everywhere. Matt asked me to pull out a CD and he held onto it for a moment.
“Okay,” he took a deep breath, like he was going to say something really serious. It made me sit up anxiously. “So you know I went to London this week and recorded a CD for my mum?” I hummed my acknowledgement. “Well, this is it. It’s all her favourite songs, with like, professional backing tracks and stuff. I want you to listen and tell me what you think. Honestly.”
I couldn’t look. This couldn’t be happening. I was agreatliar. But when it came to stuff which I knew a lot about, I could be brutally honest. Almost cruel. I looked at the floor and raised my eyebrows. “Big mistake!” I thought to myself. But after a subtle deep breath, I looked up and smiled.
“Sure. Show me what you got.”
Hesitantly, he slipped the CD into the player and track one loaded. Your Song – Ellie Goulding. We sat in silence, and I listened. Listened to his voice try and reach the high notes in the tenor range, and just about managing it. I could tell it hadn’t been autotuned at all, but it was virtually all in tune, if a little scratchy in places. This made me wonder if this was his natural range. So many questions were forming in my head right now, but one thing I couldn’t understand was why he had left the songs in the original key? As Your Song drew to a close – he commented about how he liked what he had done with the semi-chorus, the ‘oh’s’ etc. and fiddly bits towards the end – Matt skipped through a couple more tracks which included Only You by Yazoo and some others which I had heard of, so knew how they were supposed to sound. Having got a general gist of the album, I had formed my perception. I was honest. What more could I be?
“Okay, so I have a couple of questions.”
“Okay…” he sounded nervous.
“Has this been autotuned at all?”
“No,” he replied bluntly.
“I didn’t think so. Okay, so my next question is, is this your natural range, or are you naturally a baritone?”
He looked at me blankly for a moment; “It was quite high and normally I am a bit lower.”
“Yeah, I guessed. Also, why did you keep the songs in the original key? Why didn’t you transpose it to something more in your range?”
“We tried everything, pitch bending, everything. But it just slowed down or sped up the track…”
“Why didn’t you just adjust the project key?”
“Matt, they couldn’t do it in a professional recording studio, what was I supposed to do?”
“You couldn’t have given it to me, I would have done it for you.”
He went quiet. I felt that maybe I had been a little rude, but kept going.
“So, what did you think of it then?”
I thought for a moment, trying to choose my words carefully.
“For what it is, it’s perfect. It’s a bit patchy, and you can tell it’s slightly out of your range, but on the whole, it’s in tune and well sung. It would never be commercially successful, but as a present for your mum, it’s perfect and I’m sure she’ll absolutely love it.”
“Well, it’s not supposed to be the Christmas number one, so that’s okay and like I said, I tried to change the pitch, but couldn’t. But you like it?”
“I love it,” I smiled.
There was a pause. Slightly awkward, I could tell I might have overstepped the mark, but hey. He wanted my honest opinion. The traffic began to move. Hallelujah!
“So, what’s your favourite song at the moment?”
My favouritesong!? Me? But, there were so many! It hadn’t been long since the Christmas Playhouse Concert, and my solo – which, I hasten to add, I had well and truly owned – was still fresh in my repertoire. I loved that song; Rule the World, the whole sound of it with the choir behind me was amazing. So, for now, this was my favourite song.
“Um, I think Rule the World at the moment. It’s my new solo in Gospel Choir and I love it, so…”
“Oh, awesome. The Take That song, yeah?”
“That’s the one.”
There was a pause. I could tell what was coming…
“Could you show me?”
There it was! Just as I had expected, the formidable question. After a few moments, I obliged, forewarning him that it would be very loud. The opening falsetto was a bit rusty – come on! I hadn’t warmed up or anything, surely I could be forgiven for that? But the rest was fairly good, I thought. And, just like I had said it would be, it was very loud. Matt even wound up the window to protect the surrounding shoppers from the awful din that was my singing. Although somehow I doubt that would have helped very much. As I finished the song, we sat in silence for a moment. I wasn’t sure if he was deaf or just stunned. Not at my ability (or lack of in this case – man flu and all), but at the sheer volume. It was something I still surprised myself with from time to time.
“Wow,” he uttered.
“Yeah, so…” I replied defiantly.
The traffic began to move then, and he placed my hand on his thigh again. Once we arrived home, we went into the kitchen and put the food and wine on the side. He came over to me then and wrapped his arms around me and held me close, kissing me firmly on the lips. His large, comforting hands held me closer to him as we just stood in a warm embrace. For the first time in a very long time, it felt like the floor was melting beneath me. I just wanted to hold him forever and never let go. It was weird, this feeling. What was it?
He kissed me again, and again and again. He hands smoothing over the contours of my spine. I squeezed his neck slightly in a gentle massage; running my fingers through the short blonde hair on the back of his head. He was so perfect. Such a perfect fit and yet such a strange match. It was all weird. Very weird. He kept kissing me on my neck and his hands eventually found their way down to my crotch…All of a sudden, like I’d electrocuted him, he let go and stepped back.
“Why haven’t you shaved?” he asked.
“’Cause I didn’t want to,” I replied, a little cocky.
“Have you ever wet shaved before?”
He took my hand and led me out of the kitchen.
“Come on,” he said. Up the stairs and into the bathroom.
“Shirt off,” he instructed, running water and taking out a razor from the basket on top of the toilet. He got out some shaving foam and literally as my shirt hit the floor, he smothered my face in the stuff. I gasped in surprise and then smiled cheekily and kissed him, so as to get some of the foam on his face in retaliation. He didn’t seem impressed, so I looked sheepishly at the floor. At first, I tried to resist the wrath of the razor by ducking and diving out of the way, but once Matt had assured me that he had never cut himself – or anyone else – while shaving, I ultimately caved. I could do with a bit of a clean-up as it was.
It was one of the strangest sensations I had ever experienced, but at the same time as finding the whole thing utterly hilarious – standing in the bathroom of this, still slightly strange, mans house with my shirt off, covered in shaving foam and being shaved by this gorgeous man – I was still slightly terrified. It didn’t take as long as I thought it was going to, and by the time he’d finished, the water was decidedly grey.
“Much better,” Matt announced. I turned around the look in the mirror. Apart from my face looking a little like a freshly plucked chicken – the main reason why I didn’t shave often, well that and it made me look about 4 years younger – he had done a pretty darn good job. He wrapped his arms around me once again and I kissed him on the cheek.
“Thank you,” I murmured.
He slid his hands down my bear chest and down… down…Okay, this was strange. Unknown territory right here. Details spared, he took my hand and led me into the bedroom. Even more unknown territory. This was the Bad Lands here. As he pushed me down onto the bed and kissed me again ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’ began to play in my head;
“Do good girls do just as mama said?”
Kisses. Oh lord. Where was this going? What was I doing? I could feel myself begin to panic. Calm down Matthew, it’s perfectly norm – oh, God! What was that? I watched as Matt took off his tee-shirt and climbed on top of me, holding me close to his chest. It was really, really nice. I felt cared for, felt wanted. Felt loved. No. Too far. This wasn’t love, was it? It was all so fast. But it felt so right, even if I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. He even smelt gorgeous. Then it got comical. He tried to take my jeans off, but I was wearing the jeans with the really stubborn button fly, and they weren’t having any of it. He tried, and tried; but to no avail. In the end he just gave them a tug and they fell off. That was why I always wore a belt. None of my trousers fit properly, especially these ones. It was those fat bastard Americans, don’t you know?
I can’t even describe what happened next. All I can say of the next twenty or so minutes was that one minute I could have worn white at my wedding, and the next it was tainted ivory. No longer was I the Blessed Virgin Mary, and who would have known it would happen like this? I didn’t feel guilty, or dirty, when we were led in each other’s arms after the deed. It had felt right. I was ready. I kind of had to be now, didn’t I? I didn’t exactly have a choice.
About a quarter of an hour just lying and talking sweet nothings Matt got up and suggested that it was time we made a start on the dinner. Reluctantly, I obliged. I could have led there for the rest of the day, just led with his arms around me. He had grown to mean so much to me in such a short space of time, it was a little frightening, but for the meantime, I didn’t think anything of it. I was still certain deep down that he was going to up and leave at any minute. Probably never call me again after today. Brave faces. Optimism, that was always the way.
We got out of the bed and redressed ourselves. I was still secretly in awe of the sheer design of the bedroom. It was like being in a hotel in your own home, although I guessed this was part of the intention. For a man who spends most of the week away from home, it’s best to have some continuity in where you sleep, right? As I was sat on the edge of the bed, my phone lit up and began to sing a little song. It was Liv. She was calling me. Here I was, butt naked, sat in a strange man’s house, just having done the dirty tango and my best friend was calling me to see if I was going to the gig tonight.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hey, Matt! I was just wondered if you were still going to the gig tonight, ‘cause my mum’s said she’ll drive us if you wanted?”
I was trying desperately hard to mask the hysteria in my voice. I must have done a pretty good job because she didn’t ask any more questions.
“Sorry, Liv. I feel really ill, so I’m gonna give it a miss tonight. I think an early night is probably best!”
“Okay, no worries. Feel better and I’ll see you soon.”
The next few hours went bywaytoo fast. The tuna pasta bake seemed to take no time to cook at all and as Matt dished that up, I was left with his laptop to help complete and print out the cover for his Mum’s CD. I felt truly awful. My stomach was churning, my head ached and I couldn’t breathe through my nose. Trying to eat was m0re of a chore than a pleasure. This was food that I truly loved, but trying to stomach it right now was almost impossible. I managed about half the pasta bake and then Flake cake proved to be just too much. I nearly vommed right there and then, so quickly moved on to the ice cream which sat much better. Now I knew why they said to eat ice cream when you were sick!
Conversation was sparse as I worked on the CD cover. Multi-tasking was never one of my strong points, as I had discovered with driving. I couldn’t drive and talk very easily at the same time, either. It grew later and I grew more tired. The printer decided it was going to fuck up the first several copies of the cover until we changed the photo paper and it seemed to like that a little more. Then at almost eleven, it was time to go. As he drove me home, we talked some more about his family, my family and life in general. Sweeping through the streets of Hewish, I watched the street lights reflect on the windscreen overhead. I held his hand in mine and traced the contours of his palms. This was nice. Something I thought I could get used to…