London. Life.

Hoxton Street

London. Life.

“Who is this present for again?” whispered Sandra, as she followed Kellen through the door into the small Tatty Devine store just off Brick Lane.”

“I told you!” hissed Kellen. “My cousin’s daughter. She’s like my niece once-removed, or something.”

“Hi!” greeted the bright sales assistant, deliberately keeping her volume low.

It was the first time that Kellen had been into the Tatty Devine store. It was a small shopfront with a few displays in the window. Behind the sales counter, there was a large table around which a group of about ten women were having a meeting. It seemed to be a marketing meeting for the business. The women all stopped talking and watched as Kellen and Sandra entered the shop. Kellen had never seen so many bright and bold accessories all being worn simultaneously.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?” murmured the sales assistant, while the meeting resumed around the table.

“Um… I saw on your website that you have earrings in the shape of an ocelot?” said Kellen. “I’m buying an 18th birthday present for the daughter of my cousin. I thought she might like ocelot earrings.”

“I’m pretty sure that she’d just prefer some cash…” suggested Sandra.

“I’m afraid we’re all out of the ocelots…” advised the sales assistant. “This display here has all the earrings that we currently have. Would any of these work?”

“How about the David Bowie lightning strike?” said Kellen. “Is that kind of a gold colour?”

“It’s a matte gold…” confirmed the sales assistant.

“Cool, let’s go with those…” decided Kellen. “If I was an 18-year-old girl I would definitely wear those.”

“You should get something to go with them…” suggested Sandra. “What about this charm pendant?”

“A lobster pendant?” laughed Kellen. “When would she ever want to wear a lobster pendant?”

“All the time!” insisted Sandra. “All women want to serve some sexy lobster realness!”

“Just the earrings, thanks…” decided Kellen, turning his attention back to the sales assistant.

“I can’t believe you’re taking two days off work to go to Cardiff!” exclaimed Sandra, as they left the store and started walking back to the office. “Anyway, I thought your family was all in Australia?”

“This is my mother’s side of the family…” exclaimed Kellen. “I was supposed to go and see them all at Christmas, but didn’t. This birthday just seemed like a good reason to go. I like spending time with them all, I don’t get down there often enough.”

“Cardiff…” said Sandra, trying out her Welsh accent. “Cardiff. I’ve never been to Cardiff.”

“It’s a nice city…” shrugged Kellen. “Rugby. Singing. Leeks. It’s got a castle.”

“None of those things make me want to go there…” decided Sandra. “Maybe I should come with you? I could pretend to be your girlfriend?”

“They all know I’m gay…” sighed Kellen. “Anyway, aren’t you busy with flower-market-guy?”

“His wife’s in town…” shrugged Sandra. “It’s a total boner-killer. What are you working on this afternoon?”

“Just more Brexit stuff, I guess…” shrugged Kellen. “I’ve been asked to produce a mind-map of all the different scenarios and variables that could happen with the vote tomorrow. I have to present it on a big sheet of paper.”

“You love a mind-map!” exclaimed Sandra.

“I do not love a mind-map…” corrected Kellen. “We’re dedicating all this time and energy to Brexit, but don’t have any space to focus on what’s going on in Chechnya. That totally does my head in.”

“You could tweet about it?” suggested Sandra.

“Already tweeted…” confirmed Kellen. “Didn’t really feel like my tweet was going to make a huge difference to anyone in Chechnya.”

“Do they have Twitter in Chechnya?” asked Sandra.

“I guess so…” shrugged Kellen. “Who doesn’t have Twitter? Anyway, I’ve got to get this Brexit mind-map done so I can get out in time to go to the gym.”

“No one believes that you’re going to the gym tonight…” replied Sandra. “No one. Not even you.”

“Working out is fifty percent mental…” insisted Kellen. “If I don’t at least start out with good intentions, then I’ve got absolutely no chance!”

“You need to let go of your fantasy of being able to see your abs…” shrugged Sandra. “You’re just making yourself miserable. Embrace your sexy lobster realness!”

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Hoxton Street

London. Life.

“Do anything last night?” asked Marc, as he and Charlie walked across to Columbia Road Flower Market.

“Yes…” nodded Charlie. “I watched TV and ate pizza.”

“Then you mean - no…” corrected Marc. “That’s the definition of doing nothing, not doing something. Why were you watching TV and eating pizza on a Saturday night?”

“I quite liked it, actually…” shrugged Charlie. “Oliver had his work Christmas party, it was cold out, so there was no reason to leave the flat.”

“What do you mean, he had his Christmas party?” asked Marc. “It’s the middle of January!”

“They always have it in January…” explained Charlie. “Because they’re an events company, they’re always super-busy over Christmas, so they delay their staff party until things have quietened down a bit.”

“I guess that makes sense…” agreed Marc. “Where did you get the pizza from? Delivery?”

“Papa John’s…” replied Charlie.

“Are you kidding me!” exclaimed Marc. “That’s such shit pizza! You’d have been better off with a frozen pizza from Iceland!”

“Don’t judge me!” protested Charlie. “Papa John’s is literally across the road from the flat. What am I supposed to do? But you’re right, it was pretty ordinary. Have you seen that show Greatest Dancer?”

“I don’t know what that is…” replied Marc.

“It’s a reality talent show…” explained Charlie. “People dance and the audience votes.”

“Sounds stupid…” dismissed Marc.

“It’s really good!” insisted Charlie. “I cried so much. It’s hosted by Alesha Dixon and Jordan Banjo, and the judges are Cheryl, Matthew Morrison, and Oti Mabuse.”

“Who are these people?” laughed Marc. “Why is this making you cry?”

“It’s just good trash TV…” shrugged Charlie. “It doesn’t take much to make me cry. When you see a young gay boy just dancing his heart out and doing really well, I don’t know - it’ just gets me.”

“You’re being emotionally manipulated…” dismissed Marc. “It’s emotional porn.”

“I guess…” acknowledged Charlie. “Anyway, what did you get up to?”

“I had a date!” grinned Marc.

“What do you mean - a date?” asked Charlie. “You mean a hook-up?”

“No, it was an actual date!” insisted Marc. “We went out for dinner. We talked. We laughed.”

“You had sex?” asked Charlie.

“Obviously…” nodded Marc. “We’re two gay men.”

“Who did you go on a date with?” asked Charlie.

“Stephen…” replied Marc.

“Stephen who? asked Charlie. “Who’s Stephen?”

“Stephen Yao…” explained Marc.

“Your ex?” asked Charlie. “Stephen Yao, your ex? Are you kidding me? What are you doing going on a date with Stephen? What are you doing having sex with Stephen?”

“I think we might get back together…” shrugged Marc.

“What the actual fuck!” exclaimed Charlie. “Have you had a stroke? This is crazy! Have you forgotten what he did to you? You’re the one who’s being emotionally manipulated!”

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Hoxton Street

London. Life.

“I’m so tired!” yawned Tim, giving Marc a quick hug before sitting down opposite him at the table. The Bach was busy - all tables full with noisy chatter.

“Big night last night?” asked Marc, quickly studying the menu as he decided what to order.

“Hardly!” laughed Tim. “We started watching that new series Sex Education and got a bit obsessed. I think we watched four episodes back-to-back.”

“I don’t know it?” said Marc. “Netflix?”

“Yeah, I hadn’t heard much about it…” nodded Tim. “I think they’ve just released it or something. It’s really good!”

“Drama?” asked Marc.

“No, comedy…” said Tim. “It’s got Gillian Anderson in it. She plays a sex therapist, and her son starts offering sex therapy sessions at school. Definitely worth watching - it’s funny and filthy and really well written. They handle all the gay stuff really smartly. Even Mikael liked it!”

“Where is he, anyway?” asked Marc.

“Still in bed…” shrugged Tim. “To be honest, I didn’t really want him to come - I was happy to leave him sleeping.”

“Black coffee and the eggs benedict…” said Marc, as the waitress stopped at their table to take their order.

“I’ll have the same…” added Tim.

“What’s going on?” asked Marc. “Is everything okay?”

“I don’t know…” shrugged Tim. “The New York trip over Christmas was good, but I’ve come back feeling like I need to make some decisions.”

“About you and Mikael?” asked Marc.

“Pretty much…” nodded Tim. “I’m just starting to feel that it’s time that we went in separate directions.”

“You don’t think that it was just the stress of the whole Gatwick drama?” suggested Marc. “You had a pretty rocky start to the trip - that’s going to test any relationship!”

“Totally…” agreed Tim. “It definitely got everything off on the wrong foot, but it was more than that. I still love him, obviously, but I just can’t help feeling that I’m making a lot of compromises all of the time. I feel like I’m losing who I am and not really getting that much out of the relationship anymore.”

“Have you tried talking to him at all?” asked Marc. “Have you been dropping any hints that you’re not super-happy with where things are at?”

“Well, I feel like I’ve been dropping hints…” replied Tim. “But my passive-aggressive communication style is never particularly effective. I think I need to ask him to move out.”

“For real?” gasped Marc. “I had no idea that things were so rocky!”

“I guess I’ve just been trying to ignore what I’ve been feeling for a while…” shrugged Tim. “But, spending Christmas together in New York should have been a really magical time, but it wasn’t. It just wasn’t.”

“Have you thought about going to couples counselling?” suggested Marc.

“God, no…” laughed Tim. “It’s funny when Gillian Anderson does it, but I can’t imagine anything worse! I’d much rather push all of my emotions down and drink away the pain. That’s my kind of sex therapy.”

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Hoxton Street

London. Life.

“Hey, got time for a coffee?” asked Charlie, running into Marc outside the off-licence.

“Love to, but no…” replied Marc. “I’ve got to go get my hair cut and have a shave.”

“You’re going to Cutt Throat? The Turkish guys?” asked Charlie. “Such a weird name.”

“I think it’s kind of funny…” shrugged Marc. “They use proper blades when they shave you. I like the masculinity of it all. You go there?”

“No, I do it myself…” replied Charlie.

“You shave yourself?” asked Marc. “Like an animal?”

“I used to go there…” explained Charlie. “But I had a bit of a misunderstanding with them.”

“What do you mean?” asked Marc.

“It’s a bit of a long story…” replied Charlie.

“Give me the short version…” insisted Marc.

“Well, do you think they know that you’re gay?” asked Charlie.

“I always think that it’s fairly self-evident…” shrugged Marc. “But it’s never a topic of conversation. To be honest, we don’t really talk about anything. I don’t speak Turkish, and they never speak much English.”

“I think the older guy understands pretty much everything, but I’ve never heard him use more than a few words of English…” agreed Charlie. “The younger guy obviously speaks English, but the official language of the business is clearly Turkish.”

“This is the short version of the story, remember?” smiled Marc.

“Oh, yeah - sorry…” apologised Charlie. “Anyway, I needed to get my hair cut. The younger guy was there, there was no sign of the older guy. I didn’t have long to wait, and once I was in the chair he was surprisingly chatty. He was asking me what my plans were for the weekend.”

“He’s never asked me anything like that…” said Marc.

“I know, right?” nodded Charlie. “I told him that I was getting my haircut because I was going away for the weekend. He asked if I was going away with my girlfriend, and I said - yes.”

“Why would you do that?” asked Marc.

“I don’t know…” shrugged Charlie. “I guess I’d created this illusion for myself that they maybe thought I was straight, and I didn’t want them to think less of me by telling them the truth.”

“You’re ridiculous…” sighed Marc.

“It got worse…” admitted Charlie. “He kept asking me questions. How long have we been dating? Do I get on well with her family? Do we live together? Once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. I just kept lying - making up this completely fabricated straight relationship. By the time I left, I just felt like a total fraud, hating myself. I can’t go back there.”

“You’re such an idiot…” laughed Marc. “Are you coming for Vietnamese tonight?”

“I don’t think so…” replied Charlie. “Things are still a bit icy between me and Kellen after what happened at New Year.”

“So, you’re just going to avoid him?” asked Marc. “Shouldn’t you try and talk about it?”

“I’m not having a Real Housewives style confrontation about it!” exclaimed Charlie. “Especially not in a crowded Vietnamese restaurant on a Friday night!”

“If you don’t come, I’ll tell the Turkish barber that you lied to him and that you’re a total homo!” threatened Marc.

“You wouldn’t dare!” gasped Charlie.

“Watch me!” declared Marc. “You might not be living for the drama, but I’m auditioning for the Real Housewives of Hoxton!”

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Hoxton Street

London. Life.

“Why are we still talking about Kevin Hart!” exclaimed Sandra, handing a mug of tea to Kellen.

“Because he keeps talking about why he’s ‘done’ apologising…” shrugged Kellen. “I think he’s enjoying the attention. If he’d just apologised, made some sort of bland statement about how he loves the LGBTQ community, this all would have been forgotten weeks ago. I blame Ellen.”

“You do?” gasped Sandra. “I didn’t think the gays were allowed to criticise Ellen!”

“What are you talking about?” laughed Kellen. “I’m not a white lesbian. Ellen doesn’t speak for me!”

“I know, right?” nodded Sandra. “Did you watch her Netflix special?”

“Relatable?” said Kellen. “It should have been called Unwatchable. That bit about how, for her birthday, Portia bought Ellen a gorilla sanctuary in Rwanda?”

“So relatable!” laughed Sandra. “Portia’s not working. Where’s she getting that kind of money? How is it a present if someone has used your money to buy you something?”

“Still, she looks good for 60…” said Kellen.

“Oh, please…” groaned Sandra. “If I had that kind of money I’d look like Naomi Campbell! What are you working on this morning?”

“Super-gonorrhoea…” replied Kellen.

“I told you to see a doctor about that!” exclaimed Sandra.

“You’re hilarious…” sighed Kellen. “Two women, two separate cases, both diagnosed with drug-resistant gonorrhoea. Public Health England are suggesting that they caught it in Europe.”

“Is Public Health England run by UKIP or something?” laughed Sandra. “Yet another reason we should be leaving the EU - those filthy Europeans are screwing our women and giving us super-Gonorrhoea!”

“My friend Hamish seems to get gonorrhoea every time he hooks up with someone…” said Kellen. “It’s like he’s a magnet for STIs.”

“He should put that on his Grindr profile…” suggested Sandra.

“I don’t think anyone uses Grindr anymore…” replied Kellen. “Anyway, it’s not like he has lots of random hook-ups. It’s just that every time he goes to the clinic for his routine tests, he’s pretty much resigned to the fact that they’re going to give him bad news.”

“You just need to wear a condom, don’t you?” asked Sandra. “Doesn’t wearing a condom give the best protection against things like gonorrhoea?”

“No one uses condoms anymore…” replied Kellen. “Besides, you can get gonorrhoea just from giving a blow-job. Are you telling me that you’re using a condom when you’re giving a guy a blow-job?”

“This isn’t about me!” protested Sandra.

“Isn’t it?” asked Kellen. “Two women have been diagnosed with super-gonorrhoea. Are you telling me that after flower-market-guy bought you dinner that you didn’t repay the favour with a blow-job? Is he European? When was the last time you went for an STI test?”

“He’s not European, he’s Canadian!” exclaimed Sandra. “Anyway, he can’t have any STIs, because he’s married. So you can wipe that smug look off your face. You know what? I’m done apologising!”

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