The third story I had out in 2014 was also a shorter one, the contemporary novella Second Helpings.
“Hey.” Paul cut him off with a wave of his hand. “That’s enough apologies. Do you want to see if dessert is as good as the tapas?”
“No, thanks. I’m defeated.” Stuart rubbed his stomach in small, satisfied circles. “I could do a coffee, though.”
“I’ll catch blondie’s eye.” Paul grinned as he looked over at the young waiter. No more than nineteen—eking out his student grant, maybe—blond to the point of albinism and camp as a whole New Forest tent site. He sashayed across to take their order wearing a gushing smile.
“I’ll tell your Ben,” Stuart said, after the waiter had left them. “I saw you looking at his backside.”
Paul raised both hands. “Now you’ve got me bang to rights. Don’t tell me you never window-shopped.”
“Mark and I did it all the time. Eye candy, that’s all.” Stuart’s smile faltered.
“You’re back in the market to buy, now,” Paul said, gently. Maybe he was going to be soon, as well, but he could cross that bridge later. A pint and a half of beer and a belly full of good food and the radio silence seemed just a touch more bearable. He hadn’t even checked his phone this last hour.
“Maybe,” Stuart said. “It feels too soon, you know?”
“Will it ever be time enough?” Paul regretted his words as soon as they’d left his lips. Stuart looked like he’d been slapped. “Oh hell, just when we’d said we’d have no more apologies. I have no right to lecture you.”
“You’re right, you don’t.” Unexpectedly, Stuart smiled. “But I do appreciate the advice. It’s another voice to add to the debate I’ve been having with myself. Dad looked so bloody happy when your mother came to lunch, I was starting to get envious. Made me wonder whether I should be dipping my toe in the water. But it scares me . . .” He spread his hands in a helpless gesture.
“It doesn’t have to be scary,” Paul said, ignoring the fact that his own love life wasn’t currently an advert for happiness. What might it have been like to run across Stuart last year, pre-America, pre-Ben? “Although I’d avoid going into internet chat rooms if you want to find honest, decent men who turn out to be the Jonny Wilkinson types they said they were and not fat, flatulent old queens.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
The coffee arrived, the waiter bearing a huge white pot, two cups, and a knowing smile. Pinged gaydar, or just jumping to conclusions? Paul returned the smile, amused to see the lad turn red from blond hairline to fluffless chin.
“You scared him,” Stuart said, once the waiter was out of earshot. “He’s probably not done it with anybody over twenty.”
“If he’s looking to remedy that, it’s no good his looking at me. I don’t cradle snatch. But,” Paul added, mischievously, “I’m sure he could grow to like a nice, older—slightly older—man to meet up with once his shift ends.” He rolled his eyes in the direction of the welcome desk, where the waiter was bending over, trying to reach something. “I think he’s doing that deliberately. For your benefit.”
“Get away with you,” Stuart said, although he didn’t look displeased. He took a surreptitious ogle at the guy’s shapely backside then wrenched his eyes away, as if caught doing something wrong. “I can’t see myself ever being desperate enough for trying your theory out. Nor for cruising the internet. I wouldn’t even try The Sunday Telegraph magazine.”