TIGERS DON'T CRY - Chapter Eight
In the harsh environment of a British pub kitchen, young Nate will have to come to terms with his growing attraction for one of his male colleagues.
TRIGGER WARNING - Strong and sexual language. Explicit sexual content.
For those curious to read from the start:
Cam looked up at the screen where the lunch orders were displayed. He opened his mouth and boomed, ‘Two Ceasar salads, a roast leg of turkey and a medium-rare ribeye steak with chips.’
Pete motioned to fetch the steak and I hurried to the walk-in freezer, got a turkey leg out, put it in one of the microwaves and set it to defrost for forty minutes, then gathered what I needed to make the Caesar salads – parmesan, the white sauce I never remembered the name of and in any case, who cared, and croutons.
As I counted the lettuce leaves for each dish – following the guidelines with newfound interest – I peeked over to the washing up station and bam, Ethan was staring right at me. When our eyes met, he quickly looked away like a guilty puppy.
A mixture of hurt and sadness pricked me as I focused on my task, which was sprinkling the parmesan on my Caesars.
Soon enough I had the salads ready and I gave them to Cam to send them off. I carried on with another order for a while - veggie pasta, more salads, jacket potatoes and such. As I was arranging a side to go with the turkey, I chanced to look in Ethan’s direction again. His sorry gaze was fixed on the clutter of grimy plates and cutlery. He’d started bringing along his own washing up gloves - some sturdy black ones that looked like they were of industrial quality. The lean muscles on his arms tensed as he brought another massive pile of dirty dishes to the sink and submerged it in soapy, mucky water. He plucked the dishes out one by one and sprayed them with a sluggish hand.
Damn, how are we going to get over this one?
A week had gone by where all we did was avoid each other. We got changed in different rooms in the opening shifts – he went to the bathroom – and I didn’t say a peep. Neither did he. We danced around each other like chafed legs – sore but unavoidably close to one another. Awkwardness with a big fucking A made my life miserable and, if I had to go by his sulking expression, his too.
Pathetic. That’s what I’d told myself every morning of that week. I went after him for sex and now what’s this, exactly? Should have said “everything but my arse” but the truth is that I did enjoy his touches. I really did but I’m ashamed of it. Why?
Internalised homophobia, according to my internet friends.
‘But I have nothing against gay people,’ was my answer to dattoy-1999, who’d explained what my headfuck was all about after reading one of my ranty posts.
‘This intolerance is about you,’ they’d replied to my daft message. ‘From what you say in your post, it sounds like you think that by enjoying anal play you’re less of a man. Anyway, give yourself time to sort out your feelings. Also, if you ever decide to hook up with another guy, you need to make your limits clear and, in terms of anal penetration, experiment by yourself first. Get acquainted with your body and come to terms with your sexuality before involving someone else in the mix.’
Easier said than done. Even though I was confused, a little ashamed and massively embarrassed, I was also horny as hell! I’d masturbated several times during the week; I watched gay porn where littler guys like me took it hard in the back passage. The very last time I got off, I played with my hole – tentatively at first and then, replaying in my head what Ethan did to me, stuck a finger in and blew a load out of this world. Afterwards, I hugged my pillow and cried a bit.
My classmates used to call me “Natey-pocket” in secondary school and “mini-poof” during sixth form college. It was as if I’d spent years trying to prove them wrong, my dad and all those twatty kids. Now, it turns out they were right. I did like it when Ethan had thrashed my asshole with his fingers. As far as fantasies went, I’d developed even more interest in the idea of being taken by another man and this was a reality hard to face. As stupid as it was, my sexual taste was a tragedy for me.
Had I been a taller, stronger dude, maybe I wouldn’t have minded so much to be “a bottom,” – since, apparently, that was the category I fell into. But that's what the situation was, as much as I wished things could be different. And then there was the other thing.
I was lusting after Ethan big time.
The ache and the frustration thrumming inside me were unbearable. I checked him out all day long, remembering what his body had looked like without clothes covering it...
‘Nate! Get off the clouds, butty!’ Cam snapped his fingers by my ear three times. ‘Turkey ready?’
I glimpsed at the microwave, ‘Seven minutes.’
‘Right.’ He scooted off and I sighed. I felt like shit and, remarkably, I also badly needed one.
Sam didn’t look too busy so I approached him, ‘I’m busting to go to the loo mate, sorry. Do you mind keeping an eye on the turkey leg? It’s almost ready, it just needs a temp-check and then you can just chuck it on the plate and send it off.’ I pointed at the dish with the side salad.
‘Yeah, it’s cool,’ Sam said with a slight nod.
I left the kitchen and threw another glance at Ethan’s back. He was doing the dishes so sloppily I was surprised he didn’t break any.
I headed to the nearest loo and went inside a cubicle, plopped on the toilet and carried out the poop deed. Dislodging brownies helped the thoughts to flow, which meant that now I felt even more of a cack.
Against any health and hygiene conventions, I pulled out my phone from the pocket of my trous and flicked through the last messages Ethan and I had exchanged.
‘I hope you’re OK. I’m so, so utterly sorry about what happened you can’t even imagine. You really seemed to like me touching you there and I thought you’d say something if you wanted me to stop. I wish I could do or say something to make it better. I would never, ever want to force anybody into something they don’t want.’
That was the text he’d sent me as I’d made my way home, right after hooking up. I replied, ‘I told you, you did nothing wrong. It was a little too much to handle for me, that’s all.’
‘I don’t know if I can forgive myself for making you cry.’
That was the full extent of our texts for the past week. Some kind of cringe-worthy status had taken over each and every one of our interactions. Every shift was a plod of us peeking at each other on the sly. Ethan, looking at me. Me, studying his arms, his face, his back, his hot everything and imagining things, like sucking each other off in the changing room, have him shoot into my mouth and grab my hair, forcing his cock down my throat. Yeah, that was a new one – something I saw in a porn video and now a dream I wished I could fulfil. I knew I'd let Ethan do it if the occasion ever arose.
The evidence told me a very clear story, though. Ethan and I? Not a thing. Ever. Again.
I sighed and groaned and whimpered, ‘Fuck!’
I put my phone away, wiped the butt, washed the hands and went back to the kitchen.
As I walked inside, Ethan flashed me a look that said it all. I kinda fancy you, but… and went back to the dishes straight away. Come on! My brain screamed. I wanted to hook up again but I didn’t have the balls to ask. What would he think of me if I dared, anyway? My mood was a swing in perpetual motion – even I knew that.
‘Get acquainted with your body and come to terms with your sexuality before involving someone else in the mix.’ Dattoy’s wise words rang in my head again.
I went to Pete, ‘Everything alright with the turkey?’
‘Yeah, it already went,’ he didn’t even look at me. He was busy turning stakes and putting chips in the fryer. Apparently, in the few minutes I was in the bathroom we received a ridiculously big order. I’d checked the time and groused inwardly. It was ten past two – twenty more minutes before the shit-show would be over.
I was placing a portion of korma inside one of the microwaves when Lynn showed up and handed Cam a plate which I recognised in horror. He pinched the flesh of the turkey and, immediately, his flaming gaze turned to me.
He tramped in my direction and I scrambled to put together an answer, like, ‘I was having a shit when the turkey was being sent out, I told Pete to do the temp-check!’ but before I could voice the words, Cam slammed a hand on the counter near me.
‘Turkey’s cold!’ he growled, ‘How many years have you worked here, uh? And you still make these stupid mistakes!’
I froze with hurt and resentment. He was accusing me right off the bat, not even giving me the chance to explain myself! How lame was my reason going to sound, anyway? Saying, ‘Pete fucked up,’ when the guy had so much to do already would make me look like a prick.
I took a step back because Cam, looming over me and tamping, was pretty fucking scary. Still, I intended to declare my innocence, only… I slipped. On what and how I do not know but it was one of those freakish accidents where a crazy thing happens after the other. I fell back and Cam attempted to grab me before I could hit the ground. He went to clasp my apron with a jaw-clenched expression but the fabric slid off his grasp, so he kind of threw me to the side inadvertently, instead of helping me. Swiftly, I tried to grab onto the nearby counter where there was, of course, a sharp-as-fuck knife that I’d been using to slice some halloumi. The handle got stuck under the chopping board as I toppled like a check-mated king.
It didn’t even hurt at first.
The time in between me swiping my palm on the blade like a credit card and falling flat on the floor was only a matter of moments. Everyone appeared around me suddenly as if I was some sort of bloke-magnet. Pete helped me up, holding to my right hand and Cam went to grab the other arm but stopped. He visibly paled. Eyes wide in shock, he put a hand on his mouth, ‘Fuckin hell!’
It stung a bit but, as soon as I saw it, the bitch hurt like fuck. It was a long thing, deep, running all the way through my palm and bleeding a serious lot.
I gripped my red-streaked forearm as if it would fall off if I didn’t and stared in disbelief at the dark liquid that trickled down my pale skin. Queasiness inundated me and I got really cold.
‘Fucks sake! Get some blue-roll! Quick!’ Cam yelled to the others. Pete and Sam dashed away and unrolled kitchen paper from the dispensers super fast, as if balling blue-roll was a cosmic challenge.
Ethan was next to me, his hand on my shoulder, ‘I’ll call for an ambulance,’ he said to Cam as he got out his phone and brought it to his ear.
I trembled like a kitten under a hailstorm. Fuuuck!
Pete ran to me and, after adding Sam's blue paper to his, pressed the bundle on my hand. There was so much paper, several fistfuls of it, and yet the blood quickly soaked the bottom layers. My head spun. Ethan held me close to his side, supporting me. He asked some questions to refer the answers to the emergency operator but since he mentioned I was “bleeding profusely” and that I “was very pale”, the process sped up in a matter of moments. The hospital offered to send a taxi for me.
‘Right,’ Cam muttered stiffly, his face so blanched that I thought he was about to faint. ‘Would you go to the hospital with him?’ He asked Ethan with a hopeful note.
‘Sure!’ Ethan was all business. ‘Come, Nate. Let’s go.’
‘I’m… I can manage by myself,’ I muttered unconvincingly.
‘I know you can,’ Ethan said. ‘But it’s best to have someone around just in case, right? A friend in need and all that…’
I didn’t have the strength to argue. Ethan led me to the changing room, fussing over me too shockingly much. He put my coat on my shoulders with the same care of a mam tucking her baby for bed, fished a scruffy black scarf from his bag and looped it around my neck.
‘Dude, come on,’ I muttered in weak protest. I would have blushed if heaps of blood weren’t escaping from my sliced palm and there wasn’t enough to spare for my cheeks.
So it was that Ethan and I were in a taxi together again and sadly, very sadly, not for a sexy reason. Sigh. We sat at the back, me with a pout without apologies and Ethan boasting an amused smirk.
‘It won’t be long til we get to A&E. There’s no traffic,’ Ethan said.
‘Yeah mate, I’m fine. I’m not dying, like,’ I grumbled.
He gently touched the arm with the wounded hand, ‘Raise it above your head to limit blood loss.’
‘Alright, Doctor Twat.’
‘What you laughin’ at?’
He chewed on his lip, ‘You.’
Ethan laughed, ‘You’re so grumpy, Nate.’ His eyes gleamed with a warmth that made my heart flutter. I could hear the unspoken words just by looking at his face: So cute.
Oh, shitting fuck! Heart, slow down otherwise I’m going to bleed even more!
We got dropped off by the Heath Hospital and the bloody North Pole gale blew over me with a vengeance.
I stopped to try and hold my coat around the waist with one hand as it was about to fall off my back. Ethan came to my rescue – obviously – and kept my coat in place with a firm arm around my shoulders.
We went to the A&E reception – I gave my details and all that – then Ethan and I sat next to each other on the most awful, cold, uncomfortable seats ever made. Were they trying to keep people from staying inside the hospital longer than necessary? The chairs were going to accomplish that goal alone for sure.
As we waited for the doctors to call me, I stared at the blue paper that had turned a dark shade of brown – it seemed like the bleeding had slowed.
‘At least it’s the left hand,’ I said.
‘Yeah that’s true,’ Ethan replied. ‘It’s good to have the dominant hand working instead of the other one. If you have to choose, like.’
‘I’m ambidextrous actually. I broke an elbow in elementary school and I had to make do with my left hand for ages. But I draw with my right hand.’
Ethan’s eyes widened, ‘You draw?’
‘All the time.’
‘Have you got some stuff on your phone that I could see?
‘Yeah, I mean, like,’ I cleared my throat. ‘It’s mostly pencil-work. I’ve started to experiment with ballpoint pens recently, though. They’re great for really nice shading effects… wait, I’ll show you.’
I took my phone out of the coat pocket with my functioning hand – not without effort – and showcased my collection of drawing pictures. I clutched the bundle of paper with the wounded hand alone, keeping the bleeding in check and trying my best to hold the blasted arm above my blasted head.
Ethan scrolled through the images on the screen and gaped, ‘Fuck Nate, you’re good! You didn’t say anything about this when you came around my house!’
‘I was busy thinking about your dick, like,’ I murmured with a smile.
Ethan snorted and looked left and right to check nobody had heard – but it was only him and me sitting in that corner. A dude and a chick were nearby, but he seemed busy playing a game on his phone while holding his sick girlfriend’s hand.
‘About that,’ Ethan said quietly. ‘I guess we should have a little chat. Later, like.’
‘Yeah definitely,’ I agreed. The air was suddenly thick with the unsaid and my body prickled with that strange weakness I felt around Ethan sometimes. My steady heartbeat and the rush of want, anticipation – it was all there. I knew my limits now. No arse-play. Not yet.
My absurd fall and consequential hurt hand had been the solution to our awkwardness. Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker!
After the hand thing would be sorted, Ethan and I could finally talk and get down to business. Especially me down on his business, thank you very much. Well done, me, for flopping flat at the right moment! It suddenly dawned that I fell quite a lot, in general.
They called me in and Ethan said from his seat, ‘I’ll wait here.’ Couldn’t say he wasn’t a nice guy.
The doctor examined my cut. He was a friendly bloke with dark skin and the blackest hair ever. He smiled and his white teeth stood out on his face, proper bright, ‘You were this close to severing two tendons, young man.’
They cleaned out my cut and said it was good and ready to be sutured, as long as I was OK with it. They explained I could have glue but that stitches would be best. The shiny-toothed Doc seemed to know what he was doing so I followed his advice.
Ethan texted, ‘How’s it going in there?’
‘Gotta get stitched bro’
‘Thought so. That cut is bad man’
I was bored and sore, therefore in the mood for a light conversation, ‘Have you got a fav movie?’
‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ he replied immediately.
‘Is it weird if I say mine is the first Chucky movie?’
‘CHUCKY IS AWESOME!’
We continued messaging like that for a while. It was pretty cool, actually. I had a best mate, Kev – we texted sometimes, about movies we watched and video games since we played online shooters together a lot, hanging out in person only from time to time. Aside from him, my social life consisted of people I’d never met face to face. Online friends, of which some I’d known for years. Talking to Ethan was a nice change and way more interesting than texting with Kev who was a bit of a boring ball at times.
It occurred to me that Ethan and I could be classed as two so-called “mates with benefits.” Oh yeah! I liked that idea.
As the doctor sewed my hand, I thought about all the fun things I could practice with Ethan that afternoon. I liked how he kissed me – it felt really good. He’d twirl his tongue around mine in a sluggish play and lap at me with an open, demanding mouth. I had to stop myself from picturing it too vividly because… yeah. Boners and hand stitching. How would I explain that?
Eventually, I was a free man. Ethan was right: my cut was pretty bad and, for some reason, now that it was stitched it looked even worse. My poor hand was so goddamn sore! When I got back to the waiting room, I found Ethan sitting in a different, slightly-less-uncomfortable looking chair, absorbed in the world on his mobile.
‘Yallo,’ I mumbled casually, like I'd gone to buy a can of Coke and not to have my hand sutured.
Ethan smiled up at me, ‘Arigh Nate? Show us the stitches.’
‘They put a bandage around it,’ I said. ‘Doc told me to take it off after twenty-four hours.’
‘Fair, fair,’ Ethan sighed. ‘What now? You gotta miss work for a few days or wha?’
I didn’t even think about that, ‘I guess so. Shit, will they pay me the wages?’
‘Best to ask Cam. You hurt yourself at work and it was kind of his fault you did, so maybe they will pay you. He called a few minutes ago, asked about you. I think he’s feeling shit about the whole thing. He shouted at you, like, and I know it was Pete who sent off the turkey.’
I shrugged, ‘Yeah well, don’t matter. It’s happened, like.’
Ethan smiled, ‘Shall we go for a bite, a hot drink?’
I made a groaning noise of happiness, ‘I’m totally up for that!’
We walked down a pretty neighbourhood for a while, tidy and free of trash, reached the roundabout and went to a quaint little cafe.
I wowed at the options of cakes at the counter and leaned over to take a better look. ‘Oh my God!’ I slurped up my drool, ‘Shit what am I going to get?’
‘Honestly, man you're like, laughing at me all the time!’ I whined.
‘It’s ‘cause you’re funny,’ he grinned.
I rolled my eyes. ‘Ugh, I’m not.’
He laughed again.
I got myself a slice of banana and chocolate cake, a croissant and a hot chocolate with marshmallows.
‘Oh, and a glass of water,’ I added. ‘A big one please.’ Ethan raised an eyebrow.
‘Doc said I need to drink plenty of fluids,’ I explained. ‘Water is fluid, so…’
‘Water is definitely fluid.’ Ethan’s mouth twisted as he tried not to guffaw to my face. The girl at the counter was young and pretty, with a long, dark ponytail. She was all smirks too.
Ethan ordered a bland white coffee and I quietly disapproved. I narrowed my eyes at him and Ethan, how surprising, laughed at me again.
We sat down at one of the wooden tables - it was only us there - and I put my cakes down, as well as my glass of water. The hot chocolate and Ethan’s coffee were served shortly thereafter.
Ethan chuckled, ‘Sweet tooth much?’
I took a bite of the banana cake and silently orgasmed, ‘Well, you said I almost died…’
‘I never said that.’
I took a long sip of hot chocolate, ‘I need sustenance.’
After a while of thorough cake-tackling - one bite of choco-banana slice, one of croissant, one sip of hot chocolate, one of water and start over - I noticed Ethan was watching me attentively and smiling.
‘What?’ I asked with a full mouth.
‘You’re so cute.’ He covered his face with both hands.
‘You said that a million times, like.’
‘Cause it’s true.’ He rested his chin on a fist, looking almost sad.
My chance was there, I could see it. I swallowed my bite and tilted my head to the side - cool and casual, ‘My bro is not at home today.’
Ethan’s face transformed into a mask of disbelief, ‘You want to hook up again?’ It would have been a yell, had he not said the words under his breath.
Yes, I want to hook up again! Abso-fucking-lutely! But I didn’t say that. Instead, I shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal.
He grimaced, ‘After what happened?’
‘It was nothing, really’ I said. ‘I was a little bit shocked by… by the feeling.’
Ethan sighed and it was a pained, heavy thing that made my heart sink.
‘Nate I think… Maybe I'm not the guy for you.’
He drank some of his coffee and evaded my gaze, ‘You want to experiment. Test the waters. I totally get it.’ He ran a hand through his hair, ‘There are loads of guys I know who would be happy to help you do that. I mean, more than happy. You’re a lot of people’s type, you know? You’re cute, smart, you have the most beautiful eyes in the world and you’re sweet.’
My heart raced as I just about managed to reply, ‘Sweet? Who, me?’
He nodded shyly, ‘In bed…’ he murmured. ‘You’re very sweet.’
Damn. Silence lingered and my cheeks, no… my entire body flooded with heat. ‘Why don’t you want to do it, then? Help me test the waters?’
He rubbed his forehead, looking as if he was about to sigh again, ‘What happened between us. I felt utterly shit, like I took advantage of you.’
‘You didn’t!’ I said firmly, ‘I came on to you, didn’t I?’
‘Yeah but like, you’re not experienced. I was so turned on… I'm sorry.’
‘Look, Ethan, I’m over that.’
‘But I’m not,’ he said. ‘And that’s not the only problem. You and I want different things. I told you, I don’t have it in me to be with someone who hasn’t come to terms with their sexuality, not even if it’s just to hook up. I know it sounds cold but it’s not the first time I meet someone like you.’ Ethan lowered his voice, ‘This guy slept with me and then pushed me away like he was disgusted. Also I… I kinda like you. It won’t work.’
Why was my chest hurting? ‘I assure you, I’m not disgusted.’
‘You walked out on me, though. You have no idea how shit that made me feel.’
‘I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.’
Ethan swayed on his seat as if he was painfully torn. He hung his head and clutched his mug, ‘I don’t want to be fuck buddies with you.’
The statement stung, ‘I thought you said you liked me.’
He lowered his gaze to a point where I couldn’t see his face, ‘I want to date you.’
The girl who’d served us approached, ‘Everything alright here?’ She smiled at me, ‘How’s the cake?’
‘Amazing,’ I said weakly.
‘Oh, lovely! May I take that?’ She pointed at my empty cup.
‘Yeah, cheers.’ I stared at Ethan, waiting for him to meet my gaze but his eyes were focused on his half-drank coffee.
The girl left and I waited for words to form in my head but nothing came.
After a moment, Ethan burst out, ‘See what I mean? Just look at you! You can’t even compute the concept!’
He was right. I couldn’t.
It’s not that I didn’t know that men dated other men - obviously, that happened. I saw gay guys kissing and holding hands in town all the time. Dudes got married to one another all over the world - it was a super normal thing. What I couldn’t picture was me being one of those guys. What would it mean in terms of… well, everything?
‘As I said, it’s not going to work. I’d be happy to introduce you around if you want. I know a lot of good looking guys who would fight over to have sex with you.’ Ethan lifted his coffee and downed the whole thing. He stood and grabbed his bag.
‘Where are you going?’ I asked.
‘I’m gonna go home and hit the sack, I think. I’m kinda exhausted. This kitchen job is really fucking hard. Will you be alright by yourself?’
I shot him an exasperated glance, ‘I told you. I’m not a fucking baby.’
He smiled, ‘You did.’
Ethan walked out of the cafe and left me alone with the remains of my croissant and a single, withering question.
Is this it?