Alex Smith crossed his arms as he stared down at his flatmate. “That’s one of the worst excuses I’ve ever heard. Who the hell brings work home for a job they haven’t even started yet and does that in preference to going to a nightclub?”
Tony Hills didn’t lift his head from the pile of papers he had printed off. “I do. This is the job I’ve been dreaming about, and I want to create a good impression when I show up. I’ve always been a fan of the Lilydale Leopards VFL club, even if I haven’t been to any of their matches in the last couple of years, and getting to work there…” He looked up for a moment and smiled. “I don’t want to fuck this up, Alex. That’s why I’m trying to get ready for when I start on Monday.”
“Do what I do when it’s time for an exam; cram everything in the night before. If you go out tonight, you’ll still have all of Sunday to study.” Alex waited for an opportunity and then snatched the printouts away. Holding them high, he ran to his bedroom and slammed the door.
While he searched for a place to hide them, he heard Tony chuckle on the other side of the door. “Alex, I know you’re the uni student and I’m only a temporarily unemployed sales-and-marketing guy, but did it never occur to you that I can just print off another copy of those notes?”
“Fuck!” Alex sheepishly opened the door and handed the printouts back. “What do I have to do to get you to go out with me? Get on my knees and beg?”
Tony frowned. “Why do you need me? What about Ethan?”
“My handsome, amazing, and very talented — both in and out of the bedroom — boyfriend is, sadly, working tonight. That’s why I’m at the point of scraping the bottom of the barrel and asking my flatmate to go to a nightclub with me.”
Tony chuckled. “Ethan doesn’t trust you to go out by yourself?”
Alex glared. “He trusts me! Indeed, asking you was his idea—” He slammed his mouth shut, but he was afraid he had already said too much.
Tony’s scowl told Alex he was right. “Let me guess. This is another let’s-get-Tony-laid ploy.”
Alex’s grin was over the top. “Ta da!” He cocked his head. “But it won’t work if you won’t go out with me.” He smiled and gave Tony a light punch in the arm. “Come on, mate. You spent last weekend — including Valentine’s Day — sitting at home by yourself. You’re going crazy, and your right arm muscle is getting noticeably bigger than your left.”
Tony glanced at his two arms and then frowned. “You’re making that up.”
“The fact that you had to look means you were worried it was true.” Alex sighed. “Please?”
“Fine!” Tony poked the papers in his hand in Alex’s direction. “But only after I’ve finished reviewing these. Knowing you, you probably won’t want to get to wherever it is until after ten, anyway.”
Alex put on a faux-wise expression. “The early bird only catches the desperate worm. While you might be desperate, you’ll be with me, and I don’t want that sort of reputation.”
Tony snorted. “You’ve also got Ethan and don’t need to worry about finding someone.” He returned to the kitchen table where he had been working.
Alex followed, heading to the tap to fill up the kettle. “Coffee? And how about we order in Thai for dinner? You’ll need some sustenance for the night.” He winked. “Especially if you finally get lucky.”
“Coffee and Thai both sound great. My wallet’s on the bench. I’ll have my usual.” Tony ran his fingers down the page as he scanned the photo and text. He muttered to himself as if he was trying to memorise the contents.
“Well, if you’re paying, we’ll go all out and order the works. Anything we don’t finish we can put in the fridge for tomorrow night.”
That made Tony look up. “Alex…”
Alex grinned back. “What is it that you’re studying, anyway?”
“The player details for the Lilydale Leopards.” Tony shrugged. “I don’t know how useful it’ll be, but I want to make sure I don’t make a mistake. I’ve been told I’ll be organising sponsorship deals for some of them. I’ve got a page for each player: photo, general statistics, and playing history. I’m also searching to see what other info I can find out about them: hobbies, employers, and anything else I can track down.”
“Employers? I thought the football club employed them.”
“VFL players are only semi-professional. They need an outside job as well.”
Alex picked up one of the sheets. “Nice looking guy, if you like the hot, Australian Rules footballer look. Are you sure you’re not just spending your time drooling over them?” He paused. “In fact, I don’t think that working for a football club is a good idea for a man with your condition.”
That made Tony stop and turn his attention to his flatmate. “My condition?”
Alex grinned. “Yeah. Sexually frustrated. Hot and sexy — but unfortunately straight — Aussie Rules players won’t be good for your heart.”
“Alex…” Tony sighed and took the sheet back. “I’m going to be working with these guys. I can’t afford to have inappropriate thoughts about them.”
Alex smirked. “Which is another way of saying you wouldn’t mind getting it on with one of them if you had a chance.” He cocked his head. “Does the football club know that you’re gay?”
“The manager who hired me does. He said it wouldn’t be a problem.” Tony looked up with an exasperated expression. “And, yes, I’ll pay for dinner if you’ll just shut the fuck up so I can concentrate!”
Alex held up both hands in mock surrender. “If you’re paying, you’re the boss. I’ll be soundless, silent, mute, whisper-quiet, like a gentle wisp of wind in the air. It’ll be as if I wasn’t here, gone, absent, disappeared—”
Tony chuckled. “Make me that cup of coffee, and then go have some phone sex with Ethan. That’ll keep you occupied until it’s dinner time.”
“It’d keep me busy way past then, except he’ll be at work and won’t be able to play.” Alex paused. “Of course, that doesn’t stop me from ringing him and talking dirty. He just won’t be able to respond.” He grinned. “I’ll tell him it was your idea.”
Tony rolled his eyes before turning to the sheet for the next player from the Lilydale Leopards Football Club. Alex stayed quiet as he made Tony his coffee. The first part of the mission he and Ethan had agreed on was a success. The second part — the nightclub visit — was going to be up to Tony.
* * *
Tony scowled as they approached the nightclub entrance. “I thought you said that Ethan was working tonight.”
“I lied. It was only this afternoon that he was busy.” Alex grinned. “It got you out of the flat, didn’t it? That’s all I wanted to do.”
Tony gave him a look of disbelief. “Really? So there isn’t a get-Tony-laid plan?”
“Hey, if you get laid, it might make you sociable again. I’m doing this for my own sanity. Watching you spend the afternoon drooling over pictures of the Leopards was doing my head in.” Alex stepped forward and gave his waiting boyfriend a kiss. “Nice of you to make it, Ethan.”
Ethan chuckled. “I knew you wouldn’t enjoy your time here without me.” He glanced past Alex to Tony. “We’ve only got your best interests in mind, Tony. Both of us felt guilty last weekend when we celebrated Valentine’s Day knowing you were home alone.”
“You, I believe. Alex, on the other hand, is known to have sex on his mind 24 hours a day, as witnessed by his comments about the work I was doing today. All he wants me to do is fuck someone.” Tony gave Ethan a wry smile and a peck on the cheek. “I’m expecting you to keep Alex off my back for most of the night. Otherwise he’ll be trying to match me up with whoever he thinks I might fancy.”
Alex tried to look offended, but the grin ruined the attempt. “Who, me? And what’s wrong with fucking your brains out? Or getting your brains fucked out if that’s what you prefer.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Ethan…save me.”
Ethan grinned. “Sorry, Tony. I’m on Alex’s side on this one. You need to get laid.”
Alex stared at Tony as if he was the dumbest kid in class. “Because you haven’t had sex for weeks. Abstaining for that long is unhealthy. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
“You’re not a doctor. You’re a budding engineer, assuming you complete your degree.”
“I’ll eventually have my Ph.D. I’m just anticipating it by a few years…decades…whatever.” Alex smiled, losing his annoying demeanour. “Tony, if you don’t get laid, that’s okay, but you need to get out there and see what’s available. You never know, you might find your Ethan.” He grabbed Ethan’s arm. “But you’re not having mine. You need to get your own.”
Tony gave a heavy sigh. “Okay, let’s get this over and done with.”
Alex scowled. “Wrong attitude. This is an adventure to enjoy, not a chore to endure.”
Ethan smiled. “Tony will be fine after a drink or two. And the crowd here is generally our age, with lots of good-looking guys.” He nodded his head to someone who was approaching. “Like him.”
Tony gave the guy one look and turned away. “I don’t like beards.”
Alex rolled his eyes. “Have you ever heard of shaving? It’s something that any guy can do.” He grinned at Ethan. “And it’s not limited to doing it to the face.”
“Too much information, guys!” Tony grimaced. “Okay, let’s see who’s there. Maybe I should find someone just to get Alex off my case.”
Alex grinned and gave Tony a friendly slap on the back. “That’s the spirit! I don’t care how you justify it, you’re getting laid tonight.”
After the security guard checked their driver’s licences to confirm their ages, the three entered the small nightclub. It was one that they had been to before, though it had been a few months since Tony was last there. Tony paused once they were in to let his eyes adapt to the dim lighting and then scanned the room.
To his left was the dance floor, which already had a number of guys on it. There were a number of booths along the side wall, but these were already occupied. To his right were a number of small, chest-high tables, some of which had guys standing around, and along the right-hand wall were more booths. Tony saw that the far-right-hand-corner booth was empty and headed across to claim it.
After he had sat down, Ethan slid in next to him while Alex frowned. “What do you two think you’re doing? Ethan, we’re here to dance. Tony, you’re here to score. You can’t do that if you’re sitting in the corner by yourself.”
“I’m not by myself. You guys are with me.”
“Not for long.” Alex grabbed Ethan’s hand. “A couple of dances and then a break for a drink. Tony, if you sit there by yourself for the entire time I’ll…”
Tony grinned. “You’ll what?”
“I’ll think of something.” Alex pulled on Ethan’s hand. “Come on, let’s dance.”
Tony watched them head off. He admitted to himself that it felt good to go out for the night, and there was certainly plenty of eye candy available, even making an allowance for the low level of lighting. Unfortunately, most of the best-looking guys were clearly not single, and Tony wasn’t interested in getting involved with someone who was already attached.
Over the next hour and a half, he approached a few guys but was politely turned down by most. One guy had approached Tony, but Tony got rid of him after one dance. The guy came over as sleazy, and Tony found that a turn-off. One of the blokes he asked had a couple of dances with him but made it clear at the start that that was as far as things would go.
After the last rejection, Tony retreated to the booth in the corner. He was soon joined by Alex and Ethan. Ethan handed Tony a cup. “Here.”
“Thanks.” Tony took a sip. It was, as he expected, his favourite drink: scotch and Coke.
“You looked like you were having fun out there.” Alex looked around. “Where’s that guy you were dancing with?”
“Back with his friends. He said he already has a boyfriend who is currently interstate. His mates had brought him here to cheer him up.” Tony gave Alex a wry smile. “Sounds familiar, somehow…”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re not here to cheer you up. We’re here to get you laid. Big difference.” Alex sighed. “Sorry, mate. Maybe the next guy will be the one.”
“How many ‛maybes’ do I have to go through first?” Tony chuckled. “It’s okay. I’m still having a good time. I don’t expect to find Mr. Right here.”
Ethan stood up. “I need to go. I’ll be back soon. Alex, we’ll have another dance when I return.” He headed off to the toilets.
Alex draped an arm across Tony’s broad shoulders. “Mate, don’t be too fussy. There are a lot of eligible guys here.”
“Really?” Tony waved his hand to encompass the room. “Most of the guys I see are either attached, or have already turned me down. The guy who asked me I don’t want to see again.” Tony shuddered.
“Lower your standards a little. You don’t have to be looking for someone to have a long-term relationship with. Just someone who’s fun in bed.” Alex glanced around and then tilted his head towards a guy at the bar. “What about him? He seems to be by himself.”
Tony inspected the indicated guy and then rolled his eyes. “He’s also either here on a fake ID, or he’s just turned eighteen. Either way, he’s too young for me. I want someone with at least a modicum of maturity.”
“Hey, I know some very mature eighteen-year-olds! Don’t be ageist.”
“I’m not. I’m being realistic.” Tony grinned. “Or, if you prefer, I’m remembering myself at that age.”
“Exactly! He’ll be after sex, and that’s what you want, too. Sounds perfect to me.”
“I don’t know…”
“Go for it, mate!” Alex glanced towards the bar again and grimaced. “Better move fast because someone else is making a move on him.”
Tony recognised the newcomer as one of the guys who had turned him down, and had done so in a particularly snide way. He grimaced, not wanting to go near the guy again.
“I’ll just sit here for a bit. There’s no rush.” Tony checked his phone. “It’s almost midnight. According to you, things don’t start to heat up for another hour or more.”
“True, but there’s some decent opportunities here already.” Alex looked up and smiled as Ethan approached. “And I’ve found mine.”
Tony chuckled as Ethan escorted Alex away. He was happy to chill for a while before trying again to find a partner.
“Care to dance?” a rich tenor voice asked.
Tony looked up and checked out the person speaking. He smiled up at the muscular young man who seemed to be about his own age. There was something comforting about the guy, as if he was someone that Tony should know. “Sure.” He finished his drink and stood up.
“My name’s Ken.” The stranger had an easy smile that drew the eye.
Tony hesitated. He wasn’t sure what it was, but there was something about Ken that seemed…off. He wasn’t sensing anything worrying but that something wasn’t quite right. It was as if he should know Ken, but what he saw didn’t quite match his recollections. It was an odd feeling since he was sure he had never met the guy before.
“I’m Tony. Tony Hills.” Tony smiled and pushed his unease aside. He was being asked for a dance, nothing more. At least, not yet.
Tony allowed himself to be led onto the dance floor. There, they danced. Tony relaxed as they slid into the second track. Unlike the sleaze earlier in the night, Ken wasn’t making any undue contact. They touched from time to time, but it was done in a way that both of them could prevent it if they wanted. Neither did.
There was an aura around Ken that kept Tony captivated. He seemed familiar, though Tony was sure he had never seen Ken before. When a slow track started, Tony didn’t hesitate as Ken invited him into his arms.
Moving slowly, gently, while being supported by Ken’s strong arms felt so…right. Tony rested his head on Ken’s shoulder and concentrated on enjoying the full body contact. When the slow dance came to an end, Tony took the initiative and touched his lips to Ken’s. This was someone he wanted to know better.
As the next dance track started, the two separated, smiling at each other. “How about a break?” Tony asked. He wanted to learn more about this good-looking guy.
A buzz of nervous excitement ran through Tony as Ken took his hand and took him back to the corner booth. The two stood there for a moment before Ken spoke. “Would you like a drink?”
“Scotch and Coke would be great.” Tony didn’t really care. Anything that would allow him to spend time with Ken was fine with him.
“Okay. Don’t go anywhere.” Ken gave him a grin and then headed to the bar.
Tony relaxed back into his seat, not bothering to suppress the smile on his face. Even if nothing else happened, he was happy. It was good to feel wanted, and that’s how Ken looked at him. It made Tony feel special, as if no one else mattered.
“You’re smiling, which means you must be getting lucky.” Alex slipped into the seat next to Tony and draped an arm across Tony’s shoulders. “Or have you already scored and you’re in the post-sex glow?”
Tony grinned. “Fuck off, Alex. I’m just having a great time, that’s all.”
“Yeah, right. And that hunk you were dancing with has nothing to do with it.”
Tony chuckled. “He’s got everything to do with it.” He decided the vague feeling of oddness he’d sensed earlier about Ken was giving his new friend a sense of mystery. Something to investigate, though there was no need to worry.
Alex grinned and gave Tony’s shoulder a squeeze. “Fucking ace, mate. Don’t let him slip away.”
“I don’t know if he’ll want to do anything more. He could just be wanting to dance.” Alex gave Tony a look of disbelief that made Tony laugh. “Okay, possibly not. But so far I think he’s a keeper. I’m not going to push him if he’s reluctant.”
“Tony, Tony, Tony.” Alex shook his head sadly. “You’re here to score. He’s here to score. Don’t fuck this up by letting ideas of romance take over. Neither of you want that.”
“You don’t know that.” Tony spotted Ken approaching and smiled at his new friend. “Ken, this is Alex. Alex, this is Ken.”
“G’day.” Ken nodded his acknowledgement as he gave Alex a wary smile.
Alex made a point of giving Ken a complete once-over from head to toe. He grinned. “G’day, yourself.” He turned to Tony and winked. “I’ll catch you later. If I don’t see you in the morning, I’ll understand.”
Ken slipped into the seat that Alex vacated and handed Tony a drink. The two started to chat about work. Neither was too precise about what they did; they simply enjoyed each other’s company.
Unable to shake the feeling of familiarity, Tony reached out and ran a hand slowly down the side of Ken’s face. “You look so familiar. I’m sure I know you from somewhere.”
Tony kept a frown from his face as Ken slid out of his seat and glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to go.”
Tony grabbed his hand. He didn’t want this guy to get away and decided that the vague sense of knowing Ken was an illusion. “Please don’t go. One more dance?” He crossed the fingers of his other hand under the table, hoping he hadn’t frightened Ken off.
There was a worrying pause before Ken smiled. “Okay, one more.”
The two returned to the dance floor, but they didn’t stop at one. It was sometime later that Tony realised that Ethan and Alex had already left and that a lot of newcomers had arrived. When the dance floor started to get too crowded, Tony pulled Ken to the side. “Would you…would you like to continue this somewhere else?”
Ken smiled. “Yeah, I’d like that. Where were you thinking?”
“Slow dancing at my place, maybe?” Tony held his breath.
“Sounds tempting.” Ken grinned. “Really tempting.”
Tony grinned back. “Are you ready to go?”
Ken slipped an arm around Tony’s waist. “Yeah, I’m ready. Is it very far?”
“About twenty minutes in a taxi. Do you think you can stand sitting next to me for that length of time?”
Ken chuckled. “I think I can manage it.”
“Then let’s go.”
The two headed outside. Tony blinked at the brightness of the streetlight after the dim light of the nightclub. He turned to Ken to make a comment…and the words died in his mouth. The feeling of familiarity was back stronger than ever, and this time Tony knew why; he’d never met the guy before, but he had studied his face only a few hours before.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do this.”
Ken smiled and pulled Tony into an embrace. Tony tensed, knowing that what they were doing was wrong, but he was too weak to resist Ken’s strength…or his own heart. “It’s okay, we don’t have to do anything. I’ve really enjoyed your company tonight.”
Tony sighed as he tried to find a way from the mess he had suddenly found himself in. “I’ve enjoyed it, too. I’d like to do this again, sometime, but I can’t take you home — at least, not tonight. There’s a complication.” Tony tried not to wince at the understatement.
Ken took a step away. “You’re already seeing someone?”
“No, not that.” Tony grimaced as he forced out the words that he didn’t want to say. “You’re the complication. I wasn’t sure in the nightclub, but out here in the light, it’s obvious, and that’s going to make things difficult.” He swallowed once before killing the fledging relationship. “I know who you really are.”
Ken took a step away — and then another. His eyes never left Tony’s, but his face had gone pale. Tony didn’t need it, but that confirmed his identification. Ken was one of the Leopard players that Tony had been studying earlier that day. Ken also wasn’t his real name, though Tony couldn’t at that moment remember the correct name.
“You must be mistaken.”
Tony started to reach out to him, wanting to comfort him, to tell him that it was okay, but he sensed that doing so would cause Ken to flee. Instead, he resorted to honesty, knowing it would probably have the same result. “Your photo’s on the Leopards’ website.”
Ken took another step away. He turned and started running back along the dark alley, past where the nightclub entrance was located.
“Wait!” Tony called out, but Ken didn’t stop. “Please wait,” Tony said in a softer voice, more to himself than the fleeing football player.
Once Ken was out of sight, Tony dropped down next to the streetlight and pulled his knees to his chest. He couldn’t help feel he’d done something horribly, terribly wrong.
It was clear to him that Ken was in the closet. The use of an alias was a hint, but the terror on Ken’s face when he realised he’d been identified confirmed it. Monday morning, Tony would be working for the Lilydale Leopards, his presence a constant reminder to Ken that his secret was known.
Tony stood up and stared in the direction that Ken had fled. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how, but I’ll make this up to you. I won’t be the one to out you.”
He turned and trudged his way around the corner to where he knew there was a taxi rank. He had a lot of thinking to do before Monday. He had already made one decision: he needed to protect Ken. It was the other things going through his mind that were disturbing him.
* * *
Tony was back at work late Sunday morning at the flat’s kitchen table. More than anything, he wanted this job with the Lilydale Leopards. Ken had given him another reason to try his hardest to impress his new employer.
“Has that hunk gone home already?” Alex asked as he strolled across to the kettle.
“He never came back here. I invited him, but…” Tony stopped before he said too much more. He realised he couldn’t tell Alex the truth. The news of a gay football player was something he couldn’t afford to let escape.
“So, the night was a waste.” Alex shook his head and sighed. “You need to try harder.”
“It wasn’t like that. I had a really good time, and I think Ken did, too. He just became a bit skittish at the end.” Tony paused and a faint smile trickled across his lips as he remembered how the two of them had danced, each seeming to want — maybe need — the other person.
“But the idea was to get laid. On that basis, it was a flop.” Alex narrowed his eyes. “You want him. Don’t deny it; I know you too well.” Alex smiled. “I hope you at least got his number.”
Tony grimaced as he tried to edge his way around the truth. “I really liked Ken. I wouldn’t mind spending a lot more time with him. No, I didn’t get his number.” He sighed. “But I’d love to see him again.”
Alex came over and gave Tony a quick hug. “I’m sorry. Maybe we’ll see him again at the nightclub one weekend.” He stepped back and jabbed a finger in Tony’s direction. “If we do, get his phone number before he runs off.”
Tony smiled but stayed quiet. He didn’t need the number; he knew where Ken worked. He was already working on a plan. First he would become Ken’s friend. Then, he prayed, he would become more than a friend.
It would probably take him a long time to achieve that target, but Tony had found someone whose company he truly enjoyed. He believed that Ken had felt the same, but being deep in the closet, Ken had become scared. Tony had always told himself he wouldn’t date someone who couldn’t be honest with themselves, but he’d make an exception for Ken. Tony knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but the potential rewards were great.
“Thanks, Alex, but I know what I have to do.” Tony left it at that. He didn’t let on that he had a goal he would be striving for.
To catch a Leopard.
This short story is an expanded version of what happened at the nightclub in chapter 3 of Leopard Skin Cover. If you want to find out if Tony did manage to catch his Leopard, now you know where to look.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © February 2015 by Graeme
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
I would like to thank C James and MikeL for the advice they gave on early versions and rec for editing this story for me.