TIGERS DON'T CRY - Chapter Sixteen
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:
It was a Friday when Jo and I opened together for the second time. I got changed while standing as far away from him as possible and I pointedly stared at the wall the whole time.
Once in the kitchen, he said, ‘I wouldn’t have guessed Ethan was gay, to be honest. I knew you were, if you don’t mind me saying, ‘cause you were checking me out and that…’ he laughed.
‘I wasn’t checking you out. I’m an apprentice tattoo artist, I told you.’
Maybe there had been a split second when I’d appreciated his body but fuckin’ curse me for being so stupid. Jo made my skin crawl, as things stood.
‘And we’re not gay, we’re bisexual.’
‘Yeah well, same thing, innit? Dudes fucking each other is gay. Fact.’
What’s the point of trying to explain things to this cockhead? I carried on with the filters – my daily task – scrubbing them harder than ever before.
I climbed the step stool to clip the clean ones back to the ceiling, something that the others didn’t have to do to accomplish the goal. In fact, this was the first time I’d been told to clean the filters in years because, let’s face it: having the short guy doing it is dumb and a waste of time. Plus, I was the fastest tomato and cucumber chopper in South Wales; nobody better than me to get the job done. On the other hand, reaching high places was not my top skill.
There was a subtle agreement between us colleagues that the washing and clipping of the filters was a task for the dudes with more vertical inches. But there I was, stretching my bloody back even though I was standing on my tiptoes on the stool.
Jo snickered behind me and rage boiled inside my guts. I stepped off the stool to catch him smirking behind his hand.
‘Do you want me to take over with the filters?’
Oh, my pride. ‘Nope.’
I chanted the C word in my head. No, not “cute.” The other one.
‘You know,’ he said after a while, just before the others arrived at six. ‘You have a girly look and that. If you dressed up as a chick you’d pass big time and then you’d get all the dudes.’
The statement sunk like the fuckin’ Titanic. I turned around to look at him in utter… well. I don’t even know a word for it, to be honest.
He was pulling a Polo mint out of a packet and plopping it into his mouth when he met my utterly-whatever gaze.
‘I mean it as a compliment.’
‘I don’t feel complimented.’
Jo shrugged. ‘Don’t take everything so seriously, butty.’
Oh. My. Fuckin’. God! Breathe, Nate! Oh jee, I was fuckin’ fumin’ but I had to keep my cool otherwise I was going to thrash his fuckin’ face!
Nick and Sam showed up at six and it got busy. I found a way to express my anger by whackin’ chicken legs, curries and pastas in and out of the microwaves with timely precision, as well as whippin’ up salads fast enough to wow the others. Ethan and a recently acquired new guy, Andreas – a spindly dude with reddish cheeks too shy for his own good – came for the afternoon shift at two o’clock. Jo had already taken advantage of Andreas’ lack of good comebacks and teased him to no end.
‘It’s just a bit of banter,’ Jo said, rolling his eyes. He complained that we didn't get his jokes. We were all ‘boring’ and ‘never up for a laugh.’
I glanced at my boyfriend wistfully but he was busy bashing them plates in the dishwasher. He looked like he was tamping too.
When nobody was looking, I sent him a sneaky text,
‘I seriously need a hug mun x Jo was a real dick this mrng’
Ethan’s phone chimed loudly in his pocket and I grimaced because everyone, including Jo, heard it. Shit.
‘Dude, put your phone on silent,’ Jo said to BF with a grin. ‘Not really supposed to have it with you on shift but I’ll turn a blind eye this time.’
I rolled my eyes at the wall – as if Jo wasn’t looking at his phone at every given opportunity.
‘Sorry.’ Ethan pulled out his mobile and, as well as setting it on silent, he quickly read what I thought was my text. He looked at me, his lips curled in a sympathetic smile and, when Jo wasn’t looking, he threw him a hateful glare.
That was enough to warm me and make me feel better – the bad things didn’t matter so much because Ethan was there to take the slack with me.
At the end of the shift, I found myself walking home once again, instead of cycling. Since I’d been spending almost every night at Ethan’s and there wasn’t a safe place where I could leave my bike in his house – worst of all, his gateless front garden was dangerously accessible! – I’d been leaving my two-wheeler at home.
From Ethan’s, the trip to work was fairly short but the flat I shared with bro was out of the way – almost an hour walk from the Devil’s Arsehole and all the way down to Ely.
It was quiet where I lived, and cleanish and that, but damn far from city life if you didn’t own a car like me. Though it was a longer walk, today I was enjoying the trek. I had time to think about life in general, fantasise about a future where Ethan and I would be working in a tattoo parlour together and, for once, there was a soft, pink cloud of hope around me. There were many good things to look forward to.
‘Can’t believe I said Jo was alright. My gawd he’s a douche like, PROPER. I want to hear all the crap he’s told you and possibly kick his balls next time I see him’
I laughed and replied,
‘I’ll tell you what he said tonight like. Right now I don’t want to think about him. Honestly, he’s so stepping out of line but I’m just going to get mad if I talk about it and I want a chillaxed afternoon’
‘Tnx for understanding babes’
After a minute, he answered,
‘Aww you called me babes! Xxxx you cutie!!’
I stared at the words and clutched my mobile close to my chin because one: I was embarrassed the passersby could read Ethan’s words and two: I kinda wanted to hug my phone.
‘I wrote it without thinking’
‘Yeah I like it babes, I’m looking forward to hearing you say it x’
I squirmed in the middle of the pavement,
‘So like, I don’t think I could say it out loud.’
‘Mmmm I’ll make you want to say it. I know a few ways to get the words out of you, eheheh…’
A piping blush warmed my cheeks as I made my way back home, passing houses and shops in Cowbridge Road West. Around three, things got quiet at work and Jo, who’d left at the same time as me, wasn’t there to police the place. That’s why Ethan had free rein to sext with me for a while, making the inside of my pants uncomfortably tight with his blunt suggestions. My heavy hoody was long enough to cover the evidence of my rampant erection and I imagined that, in Ethan’s case, the apron and large fitting work trous would also be enough to hide his boner. So I let my imagination run and described the filthiest scenarios I could think of through text.
I was in front of my house when Ethan messaged,
‘Damn Nate I’m seriously rock hard, holy shit!! Okay, I need to stop sexting a minute or I’m going to spunk in my pants right where I stand ahah’
I unlocked the front door and texted with my free hand,
‘Oh, I'd like to see that’
‘Mmmm bet you would x’
I went up the stairs, not bothering to turn on the light since there was enough sunshine spilling through a fixed window. My bike was safe near the bottom of the staircase, as usual.
‘I’d lick you clean mun’
‘Mmmm Nate babes…’
I slid the key in the keyhole of the door to my flat and went in. As expected, it was dark inside because bro was at work at this time of day.
I stopped by the entrance to text again and, since it wasn’t pitch black and I knew the lounge like the back of my hand, I carried on texting with ease as I headed to my bedroom to relieve the ache of my pulsing cock.
‘I’m home now, going to bedroom. I’ll jerk off thinking of that time you came on your hands and made me suck the jizz off your fingers…’
There was someone sitting on a chair, face on his hands, in the quiet, dark room.
The moment I caught sight of the silhouette I screamed big time and my phone slid off my hands.
The man raised his head and I recognised him.
‘Bro! What are you doing sitting in the dark like that! Fuck! You scared the shit out of me!’
‘Sorry,’ he said weakly.
I bent down to pick up my phone and, ta-taa! The screen was cracked.
Bro didn’t move. He just stared at me with a real upset face.
‘Mun, what’s wrong? Something happened? How come you’re not at work?’
He sat up then and looked me in the eye. ‘Because…’ he shrugged, ‘…I haven’t got a job no more, Nate.’
‘What? Why? What happened?’
‘Let’s have a sit-down, ey? I could really do with your company and a cold beer.’
We turned on the lights and sat at the table. Louis opened two cold lagers and handed me one, interlacing his fingers as if he was about to start a meeting.
He began telling me a story about how he’s started seeing Pam, his boss, after a drunken night out of “hot, hot sex.”
I gaped. ‘That time you went to the staff party three months ago?’
He nodded. They’d been dancing around each other for who knows how long and, he admitted, he’d never stepped forward because of their working relationship. It was Pam who bridged the gap.
‘I thought it was going to be only a one-time thing…’ he said, ‘...but the sex carried on, the secret encounters and that. Texting, meeting for a coffee as well. Just spending time together, innit. I couldn’t believe it was happening after so long I had this fuckin’ crush on her.’
To be honest, I shouldn't have been surprised. Every time Louis talked about Pam, all throughout the years he’d worked at the furniture shop, it was as if he was describing a goddess or something. He’d obviously always fancied her.
‘We even had sex in my car! I don’t know how many times I gave it my all on the backseat…’
‘Yeah bro, I don’t need the details, like.’
‘So like, what happened? She broke up with you?’
His jaw tensed and he shook his head. ‘No.’
Louis swigged half of his beer and donked it on the table. ‘She’s been seeing her ex as well as me, mun. That’s what happened. They’ve been fucking behind my back. I have proper solid evidence.’
I clutched my beer, mostly untouched. ‘Aw mun, I'm sorry.’
He shook his head again, his face tensing and reddening in the effort not to cry. In the end, his eyes filled with tears anyway.
I touched his arm. ‘Bro, you can do better mun, come on. Though leaving your job because of this, like…’
He sobbed against his palms. ‘I can’t stand looking at her, mun. I just can’t.’
Saying, ‘You shouldn’t have fucked your boss’ were pointless words, really. The dude was smitten, I could tell. He had been for ages, like.
‘What a bitch,’ I said.
Bad as it was, my mind went straight to the issue of our flimsy finances. I inwardly reassured myself,
That’s OK, we have a bit of money set aside. It’s going to be alright, I might just have to work a bit extra, that’s all. All good!
In the meantime, I offered bro some comfort by patting his hairy and, for some reason, sweaty forearm. He carried on sniffing quietly, hiding his face behind his palms.
‘I thought I was living the dream. I wanted her for so long, I couldn't even get interested in others, like, ‘cause I was always making fuckin’ comparisons!’
I kept on patting his arm and squeezing it. ‘So sorry bro, it’ll get better.’
‘I think I’m in love with her, that’s the fuckin’ problem. And I’ve been for…’ he huffed, ‘fuckin’ forever, to be honest. Fuckin’ forever. How’s it going to get better, I don’t really know, mun.’
Damn, this is serious.
I didn’t really know what to say to make it better – I was shit at this kind of things, most obviously.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll find another job as soon as possible. I might even apply to work for your pub—’
‘Anything but that, bro.’ My answer was so sudden and firm that I surprised even myself, but I carried on. ‘You don’t want to work there.’
‘You hate it that much? Nate, bud… find something else.’
‘I will. I’m a tattoo apprentice, didn’t I tell you?’
Louis’ eyes gleamed with joy. ‘No, you didn’t! That’s amazing! Finally, all that talent is not going to go to waste!’
I chuckled. Louis wanted to know everything about my new endeavour. I told him of Oscar, Alice, Dai and how I was going to possibly become one of the team.
‘Ethan has been teaching me all sorts. I learnt how to put together a tattoo gun at the beginning of the week. The old fashioned one, with the coils? I was very good at tuning it and that. Ethan said I’m a natural.’
I explained all about the different velocities of a shader and a liner, how a tattoo gun should “sound good” and Louis was totally impressed. He smiled all throughout my explanation. Then I felt an utter dick for taking up the spotlight with my enthusiasm.
‘Oh shit, sorry bro I’ve been talking for ages…’
‘Oh no, don’t be daft!’ he beamed, all teeth, and patted my back, looking me in the eye. ‘I am proud of you, Nate. I’m so glad you’re doing something that makes you happy.’
I slogged to my bedroom, feeling in pieces. Ethan had sent me a saucy message, followed by a, ‘U there babes? X’ and, ‘Busy now, speak later cutie X’
I flomped in bed and ran a finger over the diagonal crack on the screen. The line split at the right upper corner, a bit like a sprouting tree. A piece of glass pricked my skin.
‘Ouch.’ I plucked the small shard and flicked it away.
I looked at Ethan’s last message. He’d been calling me ‘cutie’ a lot recently. I didn’t mind. In fact, I wanted to hear him say it there and then. These days, all I wanted was to be near him, to be held in his arms. Ethan’s voice was soothing, his smile a little crooked but so… beautiful, like.
‘Stuff happened. I’ll tell you later on the phone, mun.’
‘I like you real bad’
I fell asleep and deep into a flurry of strange dreams, where I’d be running away from an enraged crowd and Cam, leading the mob, was telling everyone to move faster to get to me. He brandished a chopping knife and whisked it about like a magic wand. In my frantic escape I’d see Ethan, calling me and waving his hands from the window in his bedroom. ‘Get in here!’ he’d say. I’d try to open the front door of his house but it was locked and the mob grew closer and closer…
My phone rang. I blinked my eyes open and found that my cheek was pressing on a wet patch of drool on my pillow. I sat up and, after wiping my face, scratching my itchy head and finding my bearings, I picked up my phone from the bedside table.
Oh shit. My dick swelled to life just like that.
‘Hi.’ Don’t melt Nate, come on. That’s just ridiculous. ‘Wha… What time is it?’
Ethan chuckled. ‘Quarter past seven.’
‘Oh, you on break?’
We chatted for a bit about work. Ethan wanted to know about what Jo said to me and I, a little begrudgingly, told him.
‘He’s such a cunt.’
‘I just have to put up with it and ignore it.’
‘What? No you shouldn’t! You should report him!’
‘And tell management what? That he said I’m girly?’
‘What he said is totally homophobic!’
‘I can’t… afford to mess things up with work right now.’
I told him about my brother.
‘I’m so sorry to hear it, Nate, but still… you can’t let that guy get away with shit. You wouldn't be the one losing your job.’
‘What if they just tell him off and he finds other ways to be a dick? Like, he’s going to keep going.’
‘If he steps out of line again I’m going to kick his ass. I will seriously hurt the fucker.’
‘Please, can we just leave it? This whole thing is stressing me out.’
‘Right.’ Ethan sounded pissed.
‘I’m sorry, babes,’ I whispered. ‘I had to deal with this kind of stuff all my life. I’m not strong or scary, I look like the kind of person that can’t defend himself.’
‘But you can and you should,’ he said gently.
‘If he says something like that again, I’ll speak up.’
‘OK.’ I could picture his lips curving into a smile. ‘There’s something I wanted to ask you.’
‘I was thinking, seeing that it's your birthday very soon, aside from celebrating and going somewhere nice, I wanted to make you a present, if you agree to it.’
‘I need to agree to it?’
‘What did you have in mind?’
‘A tattoo. As… I’ll give you a tattoo. If you want it.’
I sat up. ‘For real?’
‘Yeah, anything you like.’
‘But uh… don’t we need to be in a sterilised room and that?’
‘Yeah, that’s the thing. The studio has a room that stayed spotless, pretty much. It just needed a clean-up and it’s now ready to go. We can’t be open for business yet but that room is absolutely fine. I spoke to Oscar and she said we can use it both for training you and getting you tattooed, if you want.’
Ethan laughed. ‘I know, right?’
‘And when would we get started?’
‘Eheh! Eager, are we?’
‘A bit, like.’
He laughed again. ‘We can start whenever we want. Sunday would be good, no? We’re both off.’
Only two days! ‘Really?’
‘Yeah, although don’t you need time to think of a design for your first tattoo? Or how big you want it to be and where?’
‘Nah, I know all that.’
‘You’ve been thinking about it, then.’
‘Yeah. Wow, I can't believe this is happening…’
‘You have no idea.’
The way he said it was oh so sweet.