Brief encounters

The Steal

In 2001 I was 25, living in Scotland and still ‘finding my way’.

I was painfully inexperienced, restricted to directionless fumbling, falling in lust with the man who washed hair in my barber’s salon or avoiding hopeless one night stands. Saturday nights (and Sunday mornings) were usually spent at parties, having the same dazzling conversations with less than dazzling company.

I had met bubbly Scouser Cally at one of these parties and we had struck up an incredibly superficial friendship that relied on darkness and close proximity to vodka. Despite our repeated assertions that we would meet up for coffee “sooooon”, there was an understanding between us that needed no words. This was just a party thing.

I was at one such party and had a text from Cally that she was on her way with some friends. Her friends weren’t really my kind of people – and I was certainly not top of their “most influential” lists either. These were weathered gay men, slightly older, and suspicious of the English boy who they never seemed to be able to work out or, crucially, fuck.

I was trading jibes good-naturedly with a guy in the kitchen when suddenly a door slammed and there was a whirlwind – Cally and her entourage. I greeted her warmly, but couldn’t help notice she’d brought a bottle of Grant’s vodka with her – I was willing to lay money on the fact she’d not touch a drop of it herself, not when there was so much Smirnoff around.

I greeted her warmly, but couldn’t help notice she’d brought a bottle of Grant’s vodka with her – I was willing to lay money on the fact she wouldn’t touch a drop of it herself.

As I queued for the toilet, one of Cally’s friends, Nick, queued behind me and started to play a one-man good cop, bad cop routine.

First he complimented me on my hair and then slated me for being too big for my boots. He then followed me into the bathroom and looked at me like a bulldog gazing at a link of sausages. Then: a bang on the door.

“Look, gays, no fucking in my bathroom,” came a cry. I’m watching you all. Get out.” We sheepishly emerged to see a 22-year-old Nora Batty, a housemate we didn’t even know existed.

“I’ve got my bedroom door open and I am not shifting from there all night. You’ve got two minutes only, separately, to do your business and then fuck off.”

“We can always go to mine,” Nick was saying, but I had already drifted back to the kitchen.

I looked at my watch and realised I had lost about two and a half hours. I was just wondering where Cally was, when she bowled into the room with a bottle of Vladivar – her taste in vodka heading in the right direction, however slowly.

She staggered over to me, gushing, “Oh my God”.

“What is it?”

“I’ve just been getting off with the most gorgeous fella.”

I found this hard to believe; her taste in men was famously bad. I know this for a fact as the first time we met she told me I was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and that she was in love with me. But I played along.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s just gone into the loo,” she said. “He’s called Michael. He has beautiful eyes. He’s perfect.”

Eyes. Great. I fixed mine on Cally. “Good, bring him through!”

Cally grimaced. “There’s just one problem,” she whimpered.

“What is it?”

“He’s bisexual.”

“So what?” I shrugged, even though it was quite rare for men to be open about that then, centuries ago.

“Well, there’s loads of gay guys here,” explained Cally. “Bisexuals usually turn out to be gay.”

“Nonsense. Anyway, there are loads of girls here too, Cally. What has that got to do with anything? Don’t be so silly. Bring him through.”

“Will you promise you won’t get off with him?”

Cally looked unsure. “Look, OK, but will you promise me one thing?”

“Yes, what?”

Cally looked straight into my eyes. “Will you promise you won’t get off with him?”

“Why the hell would I do that?!”

“Well, he might see you and want to get off with you?” she whined.

Wow she really did think this guy was irresistible; I steeled myself for a disappointment. “Errr, I don’t think so. And who’s to say either of us would be interested? You’re being mental. Go get him.”

“OK,” she murmured, and slunk out of the kitchen.

Nick sidled over. “I’ll be watching you,” he said.

Before I could reply, Cally was back, with her prey following enthusiastically behind. While he wasn’t exactly ravishing, he was fresh of face and felt like a bright light in a flat filled with disillusioned clubbers.

We shook hands and he looked at me in a way I hadn’t seen that much before but have seen, happily, quite a few times since.

“Hello, Michael,” I said.

“Hello,” he replied, saying my name even though I hadn’t offered it. Clearly too he had been warned all about me by Cally.

We talked a little, but he wasn’t particularly fascinating, and nor was I by this point, so to a casual observer we looked like two people thrown into a conversation against their will. Eventually, Cally seemed to realise there was no threat and went off to dance in the lounge. Nick and Michael started chatting so I wandered off the loo.

As I queued for the bathroom behind a really wasted girl who kept asking me if her hair was on fire, Michael suddenly appeared at my side.

“Cally told me that you were good-looking but I didn’t realise just how much.”

I looked like a breadstick that had been covered in superglue and rolled around Topman.

Oh come on. Surely he didn’t think I was going to fall for a line like this, did he?

Not to mention it was an outright lie – it was about 2am and I looked like a breadstick that had been covered in superglue and rolled around Topman. With a pair of googly eyes stuck on.

So I replied only with “Right”.

And then Michael tried to kiss me and even though Cally’s words were ringing in my ears, I’m ashamed to say I let him. And he was pretty good at it. When we broke apart, he looked at me like he desperately needed to get some cash out and only I had the PIN code.

“What do we do now?” he asked. I drew him to me again and then all of a sudden we were at the front of the toilet queue.

“Well…” I started, but before I could continue, the siren’s call rang out. “Don’t even think about it, you pair of bufties,” screamed our very own Cerberus from somewhere in her bedroom. “Fuck off out of there.”

“Cally warned me not to go anywhere near you,” I said.

“Well, what do you want to do?”

“Go near you.”

I reminded myself I would only be young once, and that Cally and I would never have met for coffee anyway.

I looked at my watch, then at the flat door. I’d need to go past the kitchen and the door was next to the lounge.

I reminded myself I would only be young once, and that Cally and I would never have met for coffee anyway.

“Come with me,” I said, leading Michael by the hand along the hallway. I paused at the front door to unhook the latch.

“You bastard!” came a half-laugh, half-cry from the kitchen. Sorry Nick. He shook his head, lifting his can in a mock toast. I saluted and opened the door, only to find Cally right outside it, smoking with a couple of other girls.

She saw us. Though she didn’t say a word, her face began to twist in disappointment. I had kicked the puppy. What to say? Apologise? Turn back? Would it be worth it?

“Thing is, Cally,” I grimaced. “It’s like telling someone not to push a big red button. They…” I paused. God I was drunk. “They just have to push it.”

She sighed deeply and moved to let us pass. This was not Cally’s first time at the rodeo. But it was our last one together.

Image: Flickr

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