TRUTH OR DARE (2)
At Archbishops, Tom had found that working out at the gym had calmed him and improved his mood. He had no idea how to deal with the black depression which had enveloped him over the last few months. He’d never encountered such a thing before. In desperation, he’d decided to start working out in a gym. Exercise might be the only thing which could lift his spirits. After all, he had no friends, no wife, no life. All the same, on his first day, he still had to force himself to go, to summon courage from somewhere, to overcome the grey nothing that filled his heart. And that day, he’d met Adam. After all that had happened to him, he was deeply cynical. He trusted no one. Yet he was also desperate. He was feeling so lonely that he was prepared to be friendly with anyone. The evenings at home in the mansion, with its conspicuous ‘For Sale’ notices outside, were bleakly disheartening. The days in the office were little better.
Talking to Adam didn’t take away the dull ache inside, the hollow that had been growing for months now, but it helped distract his mind from it. And Adam seemed to be a really nice guy – a bit shy, but not paralyzed with it. Adam had been friendly and welcoming. He obviously didn’t know who Tom was – it was abundantly clear that he was not a footy follower. Or if he knew, he didn’t care. Tom didn’t have to explain anything, justify anything, reminisce again over that miraculous goal just before the final siren, or suffer the silent sympathy or contempt as other men wondered why his stunning wife had been so spectacularly unfaithful to him. With Adam, he was anonymous, a nobody. Just another bloke. It was marvellous to be liked for himself, not because of who he was.
In his office after his workout, Tom sat in one of the executive armchairs for a while, looking out at the bay, dreaming that he was on some beach somewhere, totally alone, with no history, no memories, no expectations. Then, with a sigh, he stood up and went outside to his Barbie-doll P.A. to find out how he was to fill the rest of his day.
The next day he was looking forward to seeing Adam again, but couldn’t. He had to meet the clients mid-afternoon. He finally escaped the clients and their discussion of footy – if only they wouldn’t, but that was too much to expect – and he got to the gym just after four, as the crowd began to pick up. Adam wasn’t there, or he had come and gone, and the silent idolatry or disdain in too many eyes clamped the dark depression down onto him again, and his stomach hurt and his soul ached. He found that the gym didn’t provide its usual relaxation. At the Archbishops gymnasium, he’d been just another player. In the outside world he was a celebrity, famous, glamorous, wanted by everyone. If only they knew!
The next visit to the gym was spoiled by one of the instructors buttonholing him to talk about the grand final game, the goal, all smiles and hero worship. Tom felt sick. Then he had shown Adam how to do the triceps extension properly. He knew at once that he’d made a mistake. He’d embarrassed Adam, and made a fool of himself. Just because he knew a lot about working out didn’t mean that he had the right to offer gratuitous advice. Adam hardly knew him. He’d noticed how Adam had looked away, and how the color had risen in his face.
Sick at heart at the thought that he’d screwed up what he’d hoped would be a new friendship, Tom thought he would try to make amends for his earlier faux pas, and brought his gear over to where Adam was sitting, putting it down on the bench next to Adam’s. He didn’t know what to say, so without speaking, he started to dress. He didn’t notice Adam’s surreptitious appraisal, or the effect of Anita’s g-string on him. He had started wearing Anita’s thongs about a year before, finding the idea of her underwear erotic. To his surprise, he found the thongs comfortable. He’d got into the habit, and kept it up after Anita went into the ‘home’. It never struck him that other men might regard this as odd. He was completely secure in his own masculinity.
The worst time was Sunday night, with the bleak emptiness of the weekend over, and the pointless week about to begin. Sometimes he would go to bed at eight or half past, taking a pill to get him to sleep. While not quite as ghastly as Sunday nights, Saturdays were almost as bad. Usually, if he drank enough, the blackness inside him retreated, and he could pretend to himself that he was OK. He was good at deceiving others, but he could fool himself. He knew his truths.
When he saw Adam on Brunswick Street, he felt a surge of euphoria and pleasure. He didn’t question why he felt like this. The relief from the pain was too intense. He was just drunk enough not to notice the look of dismay on Adam’s face as he caught sight of Tom. They went into one of the pubs that Adam had been in earlier. Tom was used to the attention, the whispers, the looks. But Adam wasn’t. When he’d been there earlier, he’d been anonymous and uninteresting. Now he was suddenly a somebody, worthy of notice. He felt odd, being with this icon of manly perfection, unable to get comfortable. Everybody was staring, or pretending not to. There were murmurs, and heads drawn confidingly together.
“So. What are you up to?” Tom smiled at Adam. He seemed to charm without being conscious that he was doing it, without artifice or falseness. Tom’s smile appeared completely genuine, and his face managed to say ‘I’m really, really glad to see you. You have made be happy just by being here, just by being you’.
For a moment Adam wanted to reply that he was looking for a man to root, but then thought better of it. How could he say that to this obviously one hundred per cent straight man, whom he hardly knew? So he shrugged instead. Adam doubted that Tom really cared about him. How could he? Tom was a footballer, a stud, rich, handsome and with a stunning wife. Adam was a nobody, who didn’t even like footy. Yet, despite his doubts, Adam felt the magic of Tom’s charm. It felt good to be with Tom. He accepted Tom’s offer of a drink and asked for a mineral water. He’d had enough alcohol and knew he oughtn’t to have any more if he didn’t want to disgrace himself. Alcohol always lowered his inhibitions, with potentially disastrous consequences. Despite telling himself very firmly to take his mind elsewhere, he couldn’t help wondering whether Tom was wearing one of his wife’s thongs again. Tom’s body was so muscular, so sculpted and firm that it was hard to see any underwear line beneath his jeans. Even without a thong, his butt was sensational. Adam surreptitiously rearranged himself so that his boner was less visible in his boxers, and decided to leave as soon as he could. But when he made moves to go, Tom asked him to stay with such genuine warmth and urgency in his voice that Adam felt he had to stay.
Adam wasn’t sure why he felt so strongly that Tom needed him. But as always with a straight guy he fancied, he put up with stuff he wouldn’t normally have endured. He talked to Tom, and listened to him, though Tom didn’t talk much about himself. Adam could hardly ask about Tom’s wife, since he was maintaining the fiction that he didn’t know who Tom was. He watched in alarm as the other man got drunker and drunker and his conversation began to take on a more bitter edge. Eventually, Adam had had enough.
“Tom, it’s time to go home. Let me call you a taxi.” Tom was far too pissed to drive.
“No, the night is young.” Tom was slurring his words.
Adam took his arm. “Come on, buddy, it’s late. Go home.”
Adam was completely taken aback when Tom looked at him, his eyes black with despair, and said, “There’s nothing to go home to.”
Tom himself had no idea where the courage to say this had come from. But he had seen the kindness in Adam’s face, the patience with which he listened to his ramblings, the slightly teasing and mocking glint in his eyes.
What about the beautiful model? thought Adam. He sighed. “You can come back with me. My place is close, and there’s a sofa.” However much he might desire Tom, he knew that this evening wasn’t going to end in sex. But some mute plea in Tom’s posture, the desperation in his eyes moved him. As usual, he reflected slightly bitterly, he was being nice to a straight guy without any hope of a reward.
The misery in Tom’s face lessened. Without a word, he stood up and stumbled out of the pub. They set off towards Adam’s flat.
The one mile walk was a nightmare. If they’d been closer, they could have made lots of feeble jokes, played the fool, talked of their life and their loves. Instead, they made their way through the quiet streets in a morose silence. Tom kept on staggering and would have fallen over several times if Adam hadn’t caught him in time. Once, Tom stopped to vomit in the gutter. When at last they reached Adam’s flat, Tom had to be pushed upstairs, and was promptly sick on the carpet. Adam shoved Tom into the bathroom, and went to make coffee. Old Foss sat on the kitchen windowsill radiating disapproval.
When he brought the coffee into the lounge, Tom was asleep on the sofa. Adam drank both coffees himself, and threw a rug over Tom. He didn’t bother to try and undress him, fearing the reaction if Tom woke up while he was doing it. He contented himself with removing Tom’s boots. Hissing through his teeth with disgust, he cleaned up the sick on the carpet. The whole flat would smell of gorgonzola now.
Then he turned off the lights, brushed his teeth, and went to his own bed. He would have liked to pull his wire, but somehow, the charm had gone out of it. He felt down and depressed. He knew why and despised himself. The last time, he had promised himself he would never let it happen again. He was in love, with a straight guy, with no possibility that the love would be returned, and every chance that there would be tedious displays of manly affection and hetero male-bonding which would only feed his frustrations.
He woke late. For the first few minutes he lay in bed, then remembered his distinguished guest. Pulling on a dressing gown – kept only for his rare overnight visits to his mother, and seldom worn otherwise – he went through to the sitting-room. Tom was still asleep on the sofa. In the morning light, the ravages of the night before clear to see in his face, he didn’t look at all gorgeous. He looked vulnerable, and lost, a small boy ill at ease in a world of men.
Fuck! thought Adam, bitterly. How do I manage it? He made scrambled eggs and wholemeal toast for breakfast, and took a cup of coffee and two panadols to Tom. He shook him awake. Tom opened his eyes, looked at Adam, then sat up abruptly. He winced and clutched his head.
He managed to keep the tablets and the coffee down, but declined the eggs with a look so nauseated that Adam almost laughed.
“There’s a funny smell,” he said, wrinkling his nose, “like gorgonzola.”
“You were sick on the carpet,” replied Adam dryly, pointing to the scrubbed patch.
“Oh shit. I’m sorry.” Tom looked so desperately embarrassed that Adam forbore the lecture.
“I’d better go,” said Tom, looking pale and unhappy. Adam said nothing. At the door, Tom turned and looked at Adam, and then, self-conscious, looked down. “Thanks, Adam. See you around sometime.”