Sometimes you can’t see the silver lining for the clouds.
Abandoned as a baby and now working as a rent boy, Daniel finds it hard to let people get close to him. But nightclub bouncer Rob has a kind face and he’s helped Daniel out once already, so when he catches Daniel on a bad night, Daniel accepts his offer of money and goes home with him.
Even though it breaks his heart.
Letting Rob pay him for sex may have wrecked their friendship just when Daniel needs all the friends he can get. But there are more reasons why he hasn’t seen Rob since that night -- and one in particular that makes building a relationship seem almost too much to hope for.
Rob’s flat is small and tidier than you’d expect of a bloke living on his own, although not as tidy as Daniel’s place. Nobody’s flat is as tidy as Daniel’s place. Daniel eats most of the poppadoms and then digs into the korma. It’s not bad, if you don’t mind a fair bit of grease. Plenty of flavour, and not too much heat. Comfort food, that’s what it is. And the wine’s going down a treat, and the sofa’s comfy, and Daniel thinks he could get used to this, if only it was real.
“So what do you do when you’re not working?” Rob asks him around a mouthful of chicken.
Daniel waits a moment before replying. “All right. You’re going to piss yourself laughing, but I like to go to art galleries. Went to the National last weekend. They’ve got a load of good stuff there.”
Rob does, in fact, laugh, but somehow it’s just surprise, not mockery. “You what? I thought a lad your age wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those places.” Like he’s Daniel’s dad’s age, not what, mid thirties? There can’t be much more than a decade between them at most.
“Well, I have to put on a disguise first,” Daniel tells him, grinning. “’Case anyone I know turns up. Nah, I just like that sort of stuff. I mean, loads of people don’t get into art and all that until they’re older, but that’s just a waste, innit? What if you never get the chance later?”
“Fair comment. I wouldn’t know where to bloody start, in an art gallery.”
Daniel raises an eyebrow. “Well, there’s always the male nudes.”
Rob grins. “Prefer mine flesh and blood. Though I do see your point. Come to think of it, I’ve got me own collection of male nudes, although I always thought that was porn, not art.”
Daniel laughs. “Sorry, mate, but I reckon you were right the first time.” He mops a bit of sauce up with a spare piece of naan. “Anyway, how about you, then? I mean, you’ve got to spend a fair bit of time down the gym, way you look, but what else are you into?”
Rob clears his throat and puts down his fork. “Right. Your turn to laugh. I like getting out in the country. There’s a group of us, and we go for walks places and end up down the pub. You can get some bloody good grub, country pubs. And there’s the darts, of course.” He smiles. “Go on, laugh at the boring old fart. You know you want to.”
“Nah, it sounds nice.” It’s the sort of thing Daniel wouldn’t mind doing now and then, but of course he doesn’t say that. It’d sound like he’s asking Rob to take him along like a bloody pet dog. “So, you grow up in the country?”
“Nah, but that’s where me gran lived. We used to go and visit in school holidays when I was a kid. She used to take us on walks and point out all the plants and wild flowers. She knew all their names -- the proper names, I mean, not that Latin rubbish. When I was little I used to think she was a witch, ’cause nobody could know that much about herbs and stuff. Then after she died we found these notebooks where she’d drawn all the plants and flowers, and painted them in watercolours. Fucking amazing, those books were. You’d like ’em.”
“Yeah? I never knew my grandparents. Or my parents, for that matter.” He’d been abandoned as a baby. Chucked away like a fucking bit of rubbish. No, that wasn’t fair. Whoever his mum was, she made sure she left him somewhere he’d be found. She cared that much, at least. Sometimes Daniel wonders about her. Whether she ended up like him.
Daniel’s looking out the window as he says that, not that there’s anything there he can see, so it’s a shock when a large, rough hand closes over his.
“S’all right,” he tells Rob. “I’m a big boy now.”
“No you’re not. There’s nothing of you. Every time I look at you I think someone ought to feed you up.”
Daniel grins crookedly. “That’s all right, then. You just did.”
“Yeah, right. Couple of bloody poppadoms and a forkful of korma. Keep you going for weeks, that will.”
“I mean it,” Rob continues, and Daniel realizes the wine bottle’s empty and he’s only had a glass and a half. He doesn’t drink much, never has more than a couple. Last thing he needs is to make himself even more vulnerable. “You need someone to look after you. Make you realize how special you are. ’Cause you are, you know? You’re fucking special. Beautiful, that’s what you are.” Rob’s other hand comes up to stroke Daniel’s face. It feels rough, and hard, and unbearably gentle, and something inside Daniel dies as he leans forward and lets Rob capture his lips in a kiss. Because this is what the bloke’s paying for.