“Tinder or Grindr?”
For a long minute, Aled’s brain refused to understand the words. He stared blankly. He’d only been home for ten minutes and was still in his suit. Words like budget, memo, marketing directive—those words he could understand. Tinder and Grindr meant nothing.
His best friend’s boyfriend huffed an enormously annoyed sigh and Aled frowned.
“I don’t usually get people knocking on the door asking about dating apps,” he said defensively. “Not even you’re that weird.”
Tom just rolled his eyes. “Tinder”—he wiggled the phone in his left hand—“or Grindr?” He wiggled the phone in his right.
“Why do you have Grindr?” Aled asked slowly, then backtracked. “Why are you on my doorstep asking me about hook-up sites? With two phones? Who needs two phones? Why are you even here?”
“Er, fourth of January? You, me, Suze, drinks at The Mason’s Arms? Any of this ringing any bells?”
“Not in the mood? Don’t feel like celebrating? Thirty-three isn’t an important number? Any of that ringing any bells?” Aled asked sarcastically and closed the front door.
Or tried to. Tom shoved his size twelve boot in the way and impeded matters somewhat.
“Tom, seriously, I don’t feel like—”
“Tough,” Tom said. “It’s your birthday and we’re not having no for an answer this time. And Suze is too soft to say no to you, so she sent me.”
“I don’t want anything except a pizza in front of the telly. Now go away.”
Tom snorted. “Is there someone sharing your pizza?”
“Then find one—Tinder or Grindr?”
“You’re not going to leave, are you?” Aled asked, pointedly eyeing Tom’s boot.
“Fine. I’ll get my bloody coat. And put those phones away. Why do you have Grindr?”
Tom made an excuse about a spare phone borrowed from his younger brother and shoved his way into the hall. He even followed Aled upstairs to keep chatting outside his bedroom door while Aled found some jeans and a decent shirt. Aled tuned him out. Tom was a talker and always had been.
“That’ll do,” Tom said when Aled re-emerged. “Put the good coat on. We’re going to get you laid.”
Aled narrowed his eyes. “No chance. One drink. That’s it. I don’t feel like going out in the first place.”
Tom stopped dead at the top of the stairs. He was a big lad, built for rugby and about as fluid as a brick wall. Aled, at five seven, had no choice but to wait for him to move.
“You haven’t felt like doing anything for a year.”
Aled’s temper sparked. “That’s none of your—”
“Knock it off,” Tom said sharply. His usually jovial voice had dropped to a grave timbre. “It’s been a year and all you’ve done is work mad hours. And when you do come home, you drink yourself into a stupor and go through all your pictures. Enough’s enough. You’ve got to stop wallowing and start living again.”
“She’s my wife—”
“And she’s gone.”
Aled swallowed thickly, shaking his head.
“She’s gone, mate. She’s not dead—she left. She’s moved on. Time for you to do the same.”
The words were soft, but they felt sharp. Aled’s heart tightened and he jumped when Tom’s heavy hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed.
“Come on,” he coaxed. “Come out for a few pints and a curry with me and Suze. Like we used to. If you don’t want to hook up with someone, then fine. But let’s have a laugh and go through some profiles anyway, yeah?”
Aled laughed bitterly. “You call that moving on?”
“I call it better than sitting here in the dark with your wedding photos.”
“She’s my wife. What else am I supposed to do? I love her. I still love her. I’m always going to love her.”
“I know. And I’m not arguing with that. But you’re heading right for a breakdown, mate, and you’re a better man than that. You think me and Suze are just going to watch you chuck in the towel for Melissa?”
Aled blinked, startled. “Chuck in the—I’m not bloody suicidal.”
“Don’t have to be to train-wreck your life.”
Aled worked his jaw but said nothing. Christ, no wonder Suze had sent Tom round if that was what they thought. The anger ebbed and was replaced with a sickly sort of guilt. He didn’t see nearly enough of either of them these days—no pub quiz, no pint and pie on Friday evenings, not even swimming with Suze after work. He never left on time. Or he just didn’t feel like it.
Tom was right.
He hadn’t felt like doing much of anything.
“So your solution is to find me another wife?” he joked weakly.
Tom snorted with laughter and finally moved. The stairs creaked under their combined weight and he threw Aled’s leather jacket at him from the hooks in the hall.
“I’m not talking love, you daft berk. No fucker finds love on Tinder and Grindr. I’m talking about sex.”
Stooping to lace his boots, Aled laughed. “You what?”
“Sex? You know, clothes off, penis in vagina? Or in arse, whatever takes your fancy.”
“You think having a shag will snap me out of it?”
“Might remind you there’s better things to do than sit around waiting for things to change,” Tom said flatly. “Might kick-start a bit of the bloody fun meter that’s been sorely lacking lately. And I’ve got a couple of suggestions.”
Aled smirked. “No offence, but we’re not exactly into the same things.”
“Understatement of the century, you kinky, queer bastard.” Tom grinned then towed Aled out of the door and barely let him lock up. They walked to the main road in a companionable silence, then Tom hailed a taxi and told Aled to shut up and put up when he moaned about going farther than the local round the corner.
“Suze gave you plenty of chances to pick a place.”
Aled grimaced. “I’ve got some making up to do, don’t I?”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
They talked Suze—Tom’s girlfriend, Aled’s best friend—and some new yoga class she was trying to get Tom involved in. Aled’s throat felt rusty and his jaw ached, like he hadn’t just chatted for an age. But his shoulders eased and the vague headache he’d been nursing all day at the office dissipated in Tom’s relaxed company.
So when they got to the pub, Aled held up a credit card between finger and thumb and offered to get the first couple of drinks in.
“Not going to catch me arguing,” Tom agreed.
When he came back from the bar, both phones were on the table. Tom was tapping out a text to Suze on his personal mobile, but Grindr was still open on his other one and Aled raised his eyebrows.
“Better not let her catch you with that.”
“She uses it,” Tom said. “Likes to check out the competition.”
“What competition? They’re all gay on there.”
“Fine by me!” he said cheerfully. “She’s on her way. Game of pool before she shows up and thrashes us both?”
Aled liked Tom. It had been a bit of an unusual change—Suze’s taste in boys all through school had been god-awful and Aled had been almost on an autopilot of immediately hating her boyfriends just because they were the type of shit boy that Suze had fancied back then. But then she’d met Tom and everything had turned around. Tom was just…nice. Laid-back. Genial. Well-meaning. Had a habit of putting his foot in it right up to his backside, but he never meant anything by it. He was easy company and—despite his sharp tone at the house—rarely got involved in other people’s business. If Tom wanted to play pool, they’d just play pool. They’d not talk or go hunting on dating apps. They’d just play.
They had a few frames in the quiet, pre-piss-up half-hour before the pub started to fill, and moved on to a better drinking hole when it got too busy. The night was cold, the pubs were warm and Aled slowly relaxed as the lager eased into his system. Tom had a point. This was better than sitting at home, mourning Melissa.
Suze joined them after the fourth pint, a flurry of platinum-blonde hair and kisses, shrieking “Happy birthday!” so loudly that half the pub started singing and Aled grumpily downed his fifth pint with the savage urge to make it all go away. At the same time, though, he did feel a bit guilty. Suze had been his best friend for thirty years, ever since they’d both attended the same nursery. He’d even married her when they were five, playing dress-up in his parents’ back garden. He was an only child, but it had never felt like it with Suze there all the time. She had always been on his side, throughout everything—and there’d been a lot of everything throughout their collective sixty-six years—and Tom’s blunt words in the hall had jarred Aled a little.
He’d neglected her. In a year of wallowing with his photographs and empty house, Aled had forgotten to lean on her the way he always had. So after necking the pint, he leaned sideways and hugged her on a whim.
“Aw, sweetie, is Tom getting you plastered?” she enthused and kissed his cheek. “Good, you need a celebration. Thirty-three!”
“Don’t remind me,” Aled grumbled.
“Thirty-three and breaking a dry spell,” Tom said, beaming. He had a huge grin that could swallow his whole face and Aled narrowed his eyes at it, sensing further traps.
“Breaking a dry spell?” Suze asked.
“Your boyfriend,” Aled said, taking care not to start slurring, “is on Grindr.”
“Your boyfriend has a brother on Grindr,” Tom corrected.
“Mm, I’m sure it’s just Daz,” Suze said suspiciously. “Why are you on Grindr? And why does Aled know you’re on Grindr?”
“Because it’s hilarious, and because I told him,” Tom said promptly and slid the phones across the table again. “So, Aled? Made your choice?”
Aled shrugged, draining the pint glass. “Fuck it, whatever.”
“Grindr,” Tom decided. “Women have screwed you around too much already.”
“Excuse me! This woman has been amazing for him!”
“You’re not shagging him, though.”
“Is this what this is about?”
Aled left them to their minor domestic, dragging himself up to go to the bar and rubbing a hand over his face whilst waiting to be served. In truth, he didn’t want to bother with any of it. But if letting Tom make him an account on Grindr and showing a bit of paltry interest would get them off his back, Aled would do it. He didn’t want to sleep with anyone. He’d not so much as wanked since Melissa had left him, all interest killed by—by—
He blinked at the bar.
A year without so much as a wank? His whole marriage, they’d screwed two or three times a week. He’d lost his virginity when he was thirteen. Hell, he and Melissa had had an open marriage purely because they both had such high sex drives.
And yet he’d not so much as had a quick one off the wrist in a year?
Christ, maybe Tom was right. Maybe he was heading for a self-destruct.
“Another round, mate?”
“Yeah, yeah, thanks…”
“On the house. Heard the yelling it’s your birthday and all. How young?”
Aled blinked. The barman was grinning at him, all gap teeth and eyebrow piercings. “Thirty-three,” he said and the man guffawed.
“I bloody wish! Thirty-three, Christ, still got your life ahead of you! What you doing drinking it away in ’ere?”
Aled tuned out the cheery chatter, frowning at the bar. The guy was right. He was only thirty-three. And maybe if he did what Tom said, jump-started everything out of this rut, then he would get the impetus and the drive back to go after Melissa and talk to her about it properly. Maybe that was all she’d wanted, him to chase after her, like he had when they were teenagers.
He collected the round and lurched back to the table, banging them down, and said, “Right. Laid. Let’s do it.”
“No thanks, mate, you’re a bit too furry for me,” Tom quipped, but was grinning and tapping away. “Just setting you up now. Tell you what, I’ll text Daz. He was going on and on about this guy he hooked up with when he was over, caused a right domestic, do you remember, Suze?”
“Oh, the repeat offender?”
Tom laughed. Aled frowned. “You what?”
“Yeah, Ryan said the guy was a repeat offender. Daz shagged him about four times, I think. Said he was brilliant. And Ryan didn’t like that and they had a right barney about it. I’ll text Daz and ask what he was called, see if he’s still got his number or something. Sounds like just what you need.”
“Not a literal repeat offender, I hope,” Suze said snottily, then seized Aled’s elbow. “You know what we need to do? Lose this dead weight and go clubbing again.”
“Thirty-three, Suze. Not twenty-three.”
“Thirty-three and doing good!”
“Thirty-three and getting fat,” Aled corrected. “If I get my top off in a club like I did at your twenty-first, people’ll be sick.”
“With jealousy that you’re not interested in them!” Suze sang, as Tom pushed the phone across the table.
“There. Start hunting.”
Aled rolled his eyes and tentatively flicked through the offerings. Of which there were a lot. Seemed like West Yorkshire was a hive of guys who liked a bit of dick in their lives. But it was a bit depressing, too. Profile after profile detailing sexual positions, measurements, deciding that kinky meant the odd plug and a bit of whipped cream—Aled wanted to laugh. These people weren’t kinky. They were just young, horny and thought vanilla meant the missionary position through a hole in the sheets. What the hell was he supposed to say to any of them? Do with any of them? They’d look at him and just see a thirty-three-year-old ginger shortarse with glasses, and assume he was as harmless and boring as he looked.
The phone buzzed, Daz’s name flashing up along with the first four words of a message, and Aled pushed it back to Tom with an outstretched finger. “Text for you.”
Tom buried himself in some frantic texting and Aled sat back, nursing his pint and scowling at it. Maybe he needed to get back into the scene. Or into it in the first place—he and Melissa had never really been into the actual BDSM scene. They’d more or less figured out what they liked on their own, but if Aled could…well, borrow someone for a bit, maybe, scout out a few other dominant types in the area and make use of a couple of their subs, perhaps.
“Oh, fuck me,” Tom said and whistled. “Mate, I’d go gay for this one.”
He pushed the phone back to Aled and a face stared up at him. Some summer snap, just a casual photo, sunglasses propped up on ink-black hair and even darker eyes almost smirking up at him. But it was the smile that got Aled’s attention—perfect lips, flushed like he’d been giving head not five minutes before the picture was taken. He was shockingly attractive, so good-looking that Aled suspected it might be faked, or a photo of some random model, but—
God, that mouth.
His cock stirred, for the first time in a year, and Aled swallowed.
“Nice, right?” Tom said, grinning.
“Nice,” Aled agreed, “but he’s hardly going to want to go for someone like me.”
“Daz is an ugly fucker and he banged him four times. Says he’s sex mad. Just tell him you’ll fuck his brains out and he’ll probably pop right down here and join us,” Tom said, grinning broadly.
“What’s his name?”
“Dunno, Daz didn’t say. Says he’s hot as fuck and a great shag, though. Leeds lad. Message him!”
Aled scanned the description. It wasn’t much unlike the others—he bottomed, he wasn’t interested in relationships, he—
I’m trans. Got a V and an A. Feel free to try either, or both if you’re that good ;)
“He’s trans,” Aled said.
“You what?” Suze said, leaning over to look.
“What, he wants to be a girl?”
“Other way around,” Aled said.
“Huh, maybe I wouldn’t have to go gay for him…” Tom said thoughtfully and Suze smacked him. “Ow! What?”
“You’re being an arse,” she said loftily.
Aled hesitated, then opened a message tab. Why not? He’d done men and women. angel23 couldn’t have anything Aled hadn’t seen before and he was fucking gorgeous, whatever he was packing. And that mouth would definitely help rattle Aled right out of this rut.
I’m that good, he sent. Want to let me prove it?