Just before midnight, they bumped into each other at the bar. Neither was paying attention, and the abrupt meeting rocked them both. Dave's lager was liberally distributed over the two of them, and Al stumbled against a chair and ended up sprawled on the floor. To their equal good fortune, neither man was the sort to take offence, and Dave offered a hand to help the stranger up.
"Quite sorry," Al said, as he brushed the dust from his trousers.
"My fault," Dave said at the same time, so that they both laughed and started over.
"Caught sight of an old lover--or rather, I thought it was an old lover, but I see it isn't the same man at all," Al said. His regret was evident. A far away look came to his eyes as he remembered.
"Why, were you looking at the man at the end of the bar? Curly hair?" Dave asked. They were moving towards the tables as they spoke, and when they came to the one Dave had staked out earlier, he gestured for the other man to sit down.
Al answered as he lowered himself to the chair. "Yes."
Dave laughed. "Funny thing. I was doing the same. 'e looks just like Ray Doyle from the back!"
Al almost went over to the floor again from the shock. "Ray Doyle? That's the name of...."
Dave was equally astounded. "You were lovers with Doyle? Ray Doyle, the copper?" Dave demanded.
"Ah, no, my Ray was an artist," Al said it almost dreamily, lost in the memory of Ray's most artistic points.
Dave frowned. "When was this?" At Al's look, he elaborated. "When you were lovers with 'im?"
"Must be all of ten years now. We were both in art school then. Met at a party, went home together. Best three months of my life!"
"And then what happened?" Dave wanted to know.
"Term ended, and so did the money. We were going to get jobs, come back the next year, room together. It didn't happen. He had to stay with his family. Illness of some sort. His father's, if I recall. Lost track of him for a few years, and when we met up again--" He shrugged.
"I'd bet your Ray Doyle was mine. Though he wasn't. Mine, I mean. Just had the pleasure of his company for a week," Dave stared at the inch of liquid in the bottom of his glass and then downed it, tossing it back with an sharp motion of arm and wrist. The movement made the gold flash in his blond hair. "I wanted more, but he couldn't give it. The job, y'see. He was a constable."
"How long ago was that?" Al asked.
"Be five years now, it would. I met him at a pub and put all my effort into seducing him...or maybe it was the other way around! It was a lovely week. Nobody kisses like Ray," he remembered.
Al suddenly grinned. "I taught him," he said. He was not a good looking man. On the short side, for his girth; he was big and solid, with a placid face and light blue eyes.
Dave felt free to offer just the suggestion of a scornful laugh.
"True," Al insisted. "I was his first real male lover, I think. He'd had the odd fumble with an old mate, but I was the first he'd really settled with. We had time for some splendid explorations," he said. "Practiced kissing a lot. Among other things."
"I have you to thank for that bit of fantasy with the whips and chains, then?" Dave asked, ever so sweetly.
"Chains? Doyle? It could be we're not speaking of the same man after all!" Al looked at his new acquaintance through suspicious, slitted eyes.
"Just wanting to see if y'were paying attention. No chains." He admitted, "I suppose I'm a bit jealous. I would have given anything for a few months with Ray. I was half in love with him the entire time we were going to bed together."
"And I was so stupid, I let him get away. I was almost twenty, and I didn't realize how rare a man like that is. I wish, sometimes...."
"You and me, both. By the way," he said, "I'm Dave."
"So, Al." Dave leaned closer. "Come here often?"
Al laughed. "No. Friend recommended this place. Said it was friendly, and the drinks weren't watered."
Dave gave a nod. "It's usually not this crowded. Look, the man's turned around. Not at all like Ray from the front, is he?"
Al titled his head to look. "Not half as pretty. Eyes aren't green, either." A bit more softly, he said, "Yours are. I've always had a thing for green eyes."
"Mine are hazel," Dave argued.
"Close enough," Al stated. "Question is, are you doing anything for the rest of the night?"
"Yer not my usual type," Dave said, answering neither yes or no.
"I'm not anybody's type, am I? I'm not good looking, and I'm big. Scares off some, and the others sometimes think I'm into hard action. I'm not."
"Big?" Dave asked, and mimed disappointment while his eye was on Al's crotch.
"There? No bigger than most. Sorry."
"Just an average bloke?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Just an average bloke who happened to catch Doyle's eye years ago. Which happens to be what I am. We've something in common."
"So we have, and in honour of that, I will buy you a drink. What would you like?"
"Champagne," Dave said. "Get the whole bottle. We'll drink a few toasts to old lovers. After that--your place or mine?"
"Mine's close," Al stood to go to the bar.
"Good," Dave said. He watched Al as he moved away, saw the uncertain glance two minutes later as Al checked to see if he was still there. He imagined that Al was often abandoned by potential lovers if something better came along. But Dave had no intention of running out on him. He was intrigued with the idea of going to bed with an ex-lover of an ex-lover. He was curious, and curiosity always had been one of his failings.
Strange, that Doyle should be attracted to such opposites. Al was stocky, and not tall, and he was the sort on which muscle did not provide Charles Atlas perfection to his body, but merely seemed to add a thickness to his form. What had he looked like ten years ago? The mid-sixties...long haired hippie, was he? Not now. The brown hair was neatly cut, the brown eyes tucked behind dark frames of conservative glasses.
Dave, on the other hand, topped six feet without shoes and was the type who seemed unable to put on muscle despite a sometimes physical job. He had a long, lean face which some found handsome and others did not, under longish, unkempt hair, that colour which is blond only because it is too light to be brown.
Al came back with the bottle, and between them they got it open. Al poured, and they lifted their glasses to a toast to Ray Doyle, wherever he might be. Before the bottle was empty, they were both restless, eager to be abed.
Laughing, glad to have found someone for the night, they left together, and once stretched out on Al's big bed, they got carried away. Head to groin, in classic 69 position, they each brought the other off, and although the intention was to continue, they fell asleep.
Unfinished business brought them together a week afterwards, and then they met a third time, and a fourth, and fifth. They could not have said why they suited each other, why it was more satisfying to spend time together than to find new partners for an evening. It was true that they tended to argue, but Al's theory was that making up was worth the effort.
They celebrated their first anniversary at the pub where they met, toasting the name of Ray Doyle in champagne and then talking long into the night about moving in together. Dave liked the room he had over the garage at his brother's house--it was free, after all--and not quite sure he wanted to move into Al's apartment. Al, who liked the location of his place, had been unwilling to give it up just because it didn't "feel" like home to Dave. They learned to compromise.
The date of their second anniversary saw them apart, fighting. It was a typical lovers quarrel, with wrong on both sides, featuring equal parts of stupidity and stiff-necked pride. Each sure it was over, they nevertheless ended up at the pub where they had met. Arriving separately, they did not at first notice each other, and once aware, they had determinedly ignored each other--for an hour. Then, their eyes had met, accidentally. Looked away. Glanced back. Again. Dave had finally gathered his courage and come to sit, silently, at Al's table.
Eventually, Al had lifted his glass to make the toast to Ray Doyle--and in the clink of glass against glass, they made their peace. Two weeks later, they had moved in together. Their new place was a bigger flat in Al's building.
Their third anniversary had been a party, a few friends on a pub crawl which had escalated into a wild and happy group, and even though it was not at the Dancing Wren--which had been Charlie's when they met there--they still lifted a glass to the name of Ray Doyle in a quiet moment.
A broken leg, a twisted neck and a smashed thumb, the results of an auto accident, put Dave in hospital the morning of their fourth anniversary. He drove a delivery truck for his brother, and had the misfortune to be in front of a bigger vehicle with failed brakes. No one's fault, but Dave's brother had been able to visit, and his brother's wife, but Al had been forced to creep in illegally. They toasted their union, and Doyle, sharing the same hospital glass of tepid water, and Al had gone home to lie awake alone.
They were expecting much from their fifth anniversary. Al had recently got a promotion and was now in charge of the entire warehouse. The hours were a bit longer, the pay much better, and they were discussing a holiday. Dave was dreaming of France or Greece, and Al wanted a more modest stay. The sea and the shore, a place they could drive to.
They were sitting in The Blue Dog--the Wren had undergone yet another owner and name change--eating an early supper and talking. Al had suggested the place be called The Unhappy Bitch, after listening to an unfortunate argument taking place at the bar between two men. Scarcely had the two left, trading insults, than their places were taken by two others.
Al first noticed Dave staring--with too much avid attention, too--at the new pair at the bar. The men were facing away, and it was clear enough what Dave was staring at. Al thumped him, hard enough to send a message, and Dave flashed a grin at his lover and obediently gave attention to his drink instead. It didn't take very long, however, for Dave's eyes to stray back.
"Keep that up and you'll spend this anniversary where you spent the last one," Al threatened mildly.
"Hum. Don't you think that bum looks just like Ray's?"
"Nobody's bum ever...." Al's voice trailed off. The man had turned around, and as his jaw dropped, Al realized that it was Ray Doyle at the bar. He was just standing up when Dave's long arm caught his and gave a jerk to pull him back down. "What's wrong with you?" Al hissed.
"Hold a minute," Dave ordered. "See anything odd about the bloke he's with?"
Al paused and looked. "Handsome? What about him?"
"Something strange. 'E looks uncomfortable."
"Bit of a dandy," Al admitted, eyeing the leather jacket, the black polo, the cream trousers. "Few years back, that sort would be sporting a gold medallion as well."
"A bit posh," Dave agreed. "You know who he reminds me of?"
Al tilted his head, asking without speaking, while he watched the two at the bar.
"Ah." The good doctor was well known in certain circles. He had been doing research on what he referred to as the 'gay question'. While he hadn't given any real evidence of homophobia, the doctor had always had a bit of tenseness about him. The poor man had never really relaxed, even though he spent over a year haunting the gay pubs and clubs.
"It's the way this bloke looks at things out of the corners of his eyes." Dave nodded, pleased with himself over the observation.
"The way he keeps glancing over at Daisy."
"He does, doesn't he?" Dave looked at Daisy himself. No longer young, Daisy fought viciously the ravages of time. Time was winning, but paint and powder helped disguise the truth. Daisy was a bit of a lady and a flirt as well, but basically he was harmless. "Well, the feathers are a bit much. Where do you suppose he got that hat?"
"Same place he found the shoes," Al said, a bit viciously. He had never seen the point in aping the female form and dress. He allowed others to do as they wished, but it was not at all his cuppa. He liked a man to look like a man.
"Do you suppose," Dave ignored Al's comment with the ease of long practice, "that Ray's friend is a policeman?" At Al's startled look, he said, "Ray's one, isn't he? Do you suppose they're undercover?" The idea charmed him, and he shifted forward to better study the two.
"He's working? Then we'd best not disturb them," Al said at once.
"Ah, but if they're trying to blend in, it will actually help them if we speak to them, don't you think?" Dave looked positively eager.
"And what if the man with him is the...the one he's keeping an eye on? What if he's using an assumed name? Do no end of harm bouncing up and announcing his name!"
"One of us has been watching too much telly," Dave hitched.
Al agreed, "And it isn't me. Look, let's get our bottle and just watch them awhile. Figure out what's going on without making total fools of ourselves."
Dave rather reluctantly agreed. They ordered their champagne and waited while it was brought to their table and uncorked. When the waiter was gone, they lifted their glasses to their traditional toast, both of them unable to avoid looking at Doyle as they said his name.
"Have to say, the years have been kind," Dave said, after he had swallowed his portion and refilled his glass. He was looking at Ray again, tracing the line of the leg with his eyes while his mind dusted off a few treasured memories.
"Hump. More than that. He was a skinny kid," Al remembered, pulling out a few old memories of his own. "All bones."
"Good thing for me you like 'em that way." Dave was still admiring Doyle, but he went on, "Ray must like them solid, if that," he tipped a glass in the direction of Ray's companion, "is any indication. No wonder I never had a chance." He gave a mock sigh of sorrow. "He likes big men?" Dave spared a moment to cast his eyes over his own lover, silently declaring his own appreciation of a large frame.
"Ray never measured the size of a man. Something else he was looking for. He was always looking for it." Al rubbed the side of his face absently as he pulled up old memories.
"Guess he found it," Dave said.
"Look at them." Dave tilted his head briefly towards the two at the bar. "I wonder how he does that? Stays two feet away from his friend, not leaning towards him, but anybody watching could tell they were together."
"He wants him," Al said.
"What makes you think so?" Dave asked, sipping at his glass. He knew Al was watching him swallow. Al rather liked nibbling on his neck. He swallowed again, teasing his lover with the movement of his throat.
"Watch him. Ray wets his lips with his tongue, but it's when he's looking away from that fellow. But his eyes always drift back."
"He's just afraid to show his pal how much he's turned on by this," Dave waved a hand to include the men accumulating in the pub. It was getting rather crowded now, and the dance of meet-and-mate was well begun. The very air was scented with sexual suggestion. "I bet Handsome there is straight. Bet Ray wants him and can't have him."
"Ray Doyle always got what he wanted. Didn't want it for long," Al stated. "Maybe Handsome knows that. Playing hard to get."
"No. You're the one who pointed out to me that he's got a problem with the place. With gays...or being gay. He has a look about him--like he expects to be raped if he turns his back to the room."
"Wonder what Ray's doing with someone like that in a place like this?" Al said it with much innuendo, causing Dave to laugh.
"Ray's got his job cut out for him if he expects to tumble that one."
"Be worth getting into his pants, though. All that power. Bet he fucks like an angel."
"And keeps his back door locked. All one sided, I suspect." Al shook his head, rejecting the idea.
"Has no idea how good it can be," Dave added. "I'd love to show him!"
"Be rape. That one wouldn't give you anything. Not the sort to be forced, either, is he? Lots of iron to him." Ray and the man they were discussing were now standing with their backs to the room, and Al could openly stare at them.
"Didn't mean rape."
Al leaned forward. "Oh?"
"I didn't mean do it to him. Not the sort for that, is he? Not my style, and he's a friend of Ray's. Not polite at all."
Al snorted and laughed. It was funny, but he was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol as well. Everything seemed funny.
"What did you mean, then?"
"Force him to watch blue movies for hours. Watching men do it to men until he got used to it!"
Al laughed again, his imagination drawing up a silly picture or two. "How Ernest Spent Easter," he said, choosing the title of the last blue film he had seen. It had been positively putrid. Dave burst into a gale of laughter as he remembered, too.
"Pearl Smuggler," he said, suggesting another they had seen together. "The one where the wall had kept wobbling every time the actors got a bit enthusiastic."
When their laughter had passed, and their glasses were empty, they sat, comfortable in their togetherness, both of them watching Ray, and his companion.
"It's sad," Al sighed. "Ray deserves happiness." He added, in a maudlin tone he would never have used if he had not had entirely too much to drink, "Like ours."
Dave nodded his agreement, his eyes drifting yet again towards the glorious curves of Ray's arse. Al's hand came up, and his big palm curled around Dave's head as he leaned forward to whisper in Dave's ear.
"Here's what we're going to do...."
-- THE END --
Originally published in Old Friends, Chained-to-the-Typewriter-Press, c.1994