Jeremy had fallen in love.
This was nothing new, but this time someone had fallen in love with him back.
Two people in love. With each other. At the same time. Jeremy was not a religious man, but for the first time in his life he was starting to see evidence of a benevolent God. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t lonely.
At fifty-five years of age, he had given up on never not feeling lonely.
He was his parent’s second child, arriving ten years after his sister, Audrey. She hadn’t been particularly planned, but Jeremy was very much an accident of a couple in their late-forties who had emotionally checked out of their marriage many years before.
All of his parent’s friends were their age, therefore there weren’t really any kids to play with. Jeremy entertained himself, occasionally playing with his sister for as long as her teenage mind would tolerate him.
Any friends he made at school were uncomfortable with his parents and their house which seemed to be infested with damp, that he soon gave up inviting them round.
As a result, he had largely grown up alone. Grown up lonely.
In his older years, he’d made some limited friends, but his keenness always seemed to put them off, and planted him firmly in the acquaintance circle.
He’d had crushes on some of them as well and on his, neighbours, his colleagues, but none that had ever led to anything.
Not that he’d gone without.
He’d meet people in bars and get drunk with them. Wake up the next morning with them. He had once, by some fluke, found himself engaged to a young woman from the law firm in the same building as the accounting office where he worked.
He had been set up on the date by his colleagues, and somehow managed to not scare her off. Fiona, it seemed, was husband-hunting.
After three months of some casual dating, Fiona had suggested marriage. Jeremy had been remarkably inactive in the whole relationship, so he was rather confused and somehow felt more alone than ever. He had proposed anyway. This was, he had assumed, what love felt like.
It had, of course, been Jeremy’s own fault that his engagement to Fiona had not worked out.
Looking back on it years later, he knew of course that he wasn’t truly in love with her, but then she wasn’t either. He wondered if that had caused him to subconsciously find a way to sabotage their well-planned future.
He blamed what happened on his cowardice, on his inability to be honest, which, apart from an antique wedding ring and his grandmother’s jewellery were the only things he had ever inherited from his father.
Fiona on the other hand had blamed it on Jeremy sleeping with her brother when she had taken him home for Christmas, three months prior to their intended wedding day.
That had been over twenty years ago. Things with Fiona’s brother had – unsurprisingly – not worked out and now Jeremy couldn’t even remember his name.
Following Fiona and the unnamed brother, Jeremy had spent most of his life alone, with only a few short-lived liaisons to keep him going.
There had been one relationship he had thought would progress further, a dental hygienist named Claire who had spent close to three months waking up with him in his apartment a short walk away from Notting Hill.
Things had soured when he discovered she was only using him to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. A bodybuilder named Clive who just happened to live in the building next door. It had at least explained why she had always been so keen on taking romantic walks, just around the block.
That had been a particularly painful break-up – for Jeremy, at least – one that had led to him selling his flat in order to avoid the blissfully reconciled couple next door. Of course, in between buying it and selling it, the value of the flat had increased quite dramatically, so he’d banked the money and moved out of London to a cheaper but much more impressive penthouse flat.
It was only when the invoice arrived from the lawyers that his estate agent’s had used that Jeremy began to consider what happened with Claire and Clive as karma. The administrative assistant who had signed the letter was none other than his one-time-fiancée, Fiona.
The past five years had been sex free, woman-free, man-free, and subsequently trouble-free for Jeremy. At least that was the face he presented to the world. In truth, he was desperately lonely – not that he really knew any other way to feel.
He had all but settled to live out the rest of his life that way when he overheard a conversation between two colleagues in his work canteen.
They were talking about a local politician who had been arrested over the weekend after being caught in-flagrante in an alleyway behind a fish and chip shop on a local estate.
This wasn’t new news to Jeremy, he had of course read the details in the newspaper with much interest. Despite not having had any sex for some time, he rather enjoyed living vicariously through others.
Darren, the young intern who had only recently started working at the accounting firm was sitting at the table next to his, talking to a young woman whose name Jeremy did not know.
The intern was an attractive man – well, boy, really – but Jeremy had soon dismissed him for being too camp. It had never occurred to him, of course, that Darren might not be interested in him.
“The prostitute was a boy?” Jeremy had asked, overhearing some of the conversation.
“Well, man, legally, but yeah. Seventeen years old.” Darren replied, over-exaggerating his facial features as he did.
There had been no names mentioned in the reports Jeremy had read. “How do you know?” He asked.
“Well, I know him, don’t I?”
Jeremy asked a few more questions, carefully, without trying to appear too interested and learned that Darren didn’t really know him, but he did, at least, know of him. The young man – Patrick he called himself – used a dating app to advertise his services.
Jeremy knew of those apps, but he had never used them before. He had always assumed that it would be full of people his own age. It would never have occurred to him that young, attractive people, would be using them to find love. Or, in the case of Patrick, work.
That evening, having spent the rest of the day thinking about it, he made the decision to download one of them. He chose Grindr, the app that Darren had specifically shown him. It was designed solely for gay men.
Jeremy had never considered himself as gay, but when it came to casual sex, he had always preferred the company of men.
Love – he had always envisioned that between him and a woman. But sex? Sex was for men. Their bodies were harder, it was rougher, and although a sweeping generalisation, there were far fewer emotions.
He had long ago given up on love, and he thought he had on sex as well, but now, learning that young, attractive people might be interested in him, even if he did have to pay for it? He’d never been so turned on at work before.
On this particular occasion, Jeremy had not been able to stop thinking about Patrick, the young rent-boy that the MP – incidentally the same age as Jeremy – had been caught with. Since Darren had shown him Patrick’s profile and he had seen that soft face with the hard look in his eye, he was fascinated.
He might have to pay for it – but this young, gorgeous man would be willing to help him feel a little less lonely.
Jeremy experienced a stroke of luck that evening when he logged on. After thirty minutes or so of browsing, he found him. Patrick, seemingly undeterred by the events of the previous weekend, was subtly advertising his services.
It was three days before Jeremy plucked up the courage to say hello, but once he did, Patrick was warm and flirty. Erotically charged conversation flowed between them for the next few days before Patrick finally suggested they meet up.
That had been on the Thursday. On the Friday night, Jeremy left work and drove brazenly to the same estate where the MP had been caught with his pants down.
In person, Patrick looked slightly thinner than his photos, perhaps not quite so innocent, that hard look in his eye seeming to have taken over his entire face. They sat in a dark car park facing the local pub. Conversation was stilted, not like online and Patrick avoided making eye contact with him.
After a few aborted attempts to engage him in conversation, Jeremy gave up and just pushed his chair back and unzipped his fly. Patrick reached across and quietly set to work.
“I’m sorry.” Jeremy was saying less than a minute later. This time it was his turn to avoid eye contact as he pulled a crisp ten pound note from his jacket pocket.
He hesitated, then pulled out a second and passed both across to Patrick. He took the money eagerly and left Jeremy alone in the car without saying goodbye.
Their second meeting was a week later. Jeremy had expected never to see him again, but when he had next logged into the app, he’d found a message waiting for him.
They met in town during the afternoon on the following Thursday and they had driven a short way into the countryside. Here, they had transferred to the back seat of Jeremy’s jaguar, where Patrick’s hands explored a little more than they had the week prior. They had even kissed.
Jeremy supposed that Patrick was a little more comfortable away from the scene of his last arrest. This time he lasted five more minutes before finding himself apologising again.
The following night Patrick came to Jeremy’s apartment and the two of them had sex for the first time. When Jeremy awoke on Saturday morning, Patrick was gone, and so was the money that he had left on the side.
Jeremy’s and Patrick’s Friday nights together became a routine and a highlight of Jeremy’s week. The highlight.
Sometimes, they even talked before sex and Jeremy felt less lonely, but he would always wake alone each Saturday morning.
Until about three months later when something changed. Jeremy woke up on the Saturday morning and Patrick was still there, watching him sleep.
“You’re still here.” He said.
“Don’t worry,” Patrick laughed, “I’m just leaving.”
He pulled his lithe nude body from the older man’s bed – Jeremy watched in awe, this was the first time he’d seen it in natural light. He was like an Adonis. He pulled the covers tight to himself, suddenly aware of his own droopy middle-aged body.
He watched Patrick quickly slip on his jeans and t-shirt and head for the door. Jeremy leant over and picked up the notes from the bedside table. “You haven’t got your money.” He said.
“I know.” Patrick gave him a sweet smile, the first time Jeremy had seen a smile like that on his young lover, and then left.
Jeremy fell backwards into his pillow. He was fifty five years old, but it had finally happened. He wasn’t lonely anymore.
Jeremy’s older sister, Audrey, visited him on the first Saturday of every month.
“I would come more often,” she’d say to him, “but I’m so busy with the girls and all the charity work that I do.”
He knew that she saw her visits to him as part of that charity work. She pitied him.
For Jeremy, thought she was his only living relative, these visits were like torture. Her stories of her different adventures and everything her daughters were up to only served to remind him of how truly lonely he was.
He was sure that she knew this, and was only keeping in touch to ensure that her daughters received what would be a not inconsiderable inheritance. He had once explicitly told her that they were due to get everything in the hope she would leave him alone. Even grandma’s rings, he’d said, which he knew was a bone of contention. For some reason he had been the one to end up with the old woman’s jewellery.
His plan had not worked and she had continued to visit, once a month, on the first Saturday, like clockwork. She was, he supposed, keeping an eye on her investment.
One particular Saturday morning, a few weeks after Patrick had refused to take any money from Jeremy, the older man woke to sunshine streaming through a gap in the curtains. Patrick was asleep next to him, curled up on his side as he often was first thing in the morning.
Since that day, weeks before, when Jeremy had realised he was in love, the two of them had barely spent a day apart. Jeremy was happier than he had ever been and he had even resumed singing to himself in the mornings, a habit he had fallen out of years before.
Something about Patrick, his youthful body or his carefree spirit had awoken something in Jeremy. In the past, men had just been for sex, love, an emotion he’d always reserved for women, but his love for Patrick was more than emotion, it was like air itself. He was alive again.
Jeremy was singing his way through the only verse of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord that he knew as he walked from his bedroom to the kitchen. He faltered slightly when he saw a cup of tea, steaming away on the counter. Had Patrick already been awake? It seemd unlikely.
“It’s not long made, so it’ll still be hot.”
Jeremy turned in surprise to discover Audrey sitting on the couch. She was wearing the same old grey skirt that she always did, the only acknowledgment of colour the collar of a floral blouse poking over the frayed edges of her beige cardigan.
“Do your dressing gown up, please. I don’t want to see anything you have to offer.”
Jeremy tightened his gown, “How did you – “
“Spare key.” Audrey interrupted, as she often did. Jeremy hadn’t bothered to complete a thought in front of Audrey for the last thirty years. It didn’t matter, she would always do it for him. “You gave it to me for emergencies.”
“What’s the – “
“You didn’t answer the door, I thought there might be something wrong.
That fucking spare key, Jeremy thought, then added out loud: “So you rushed in here and made yourself a cup of tea?”
“Well, once I got in here I realised you had company.” Audrey motioned to the two wine glasses left out from the night before. “And don’t try and deny it, I can tell by the look in your eye.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Jeremy sat opposite Audrey and sipped from his mug. He’d give her this, she made a good cup of tea. Not that he’d ever let her have the satisfaction of knowing it.
“So, is it a one-night stand or something serious?”
“Somewhere in between. Neither.”
Jeremy hadn’t told anyone about Patrick yet. He wasn’t ashamed, but he wanted to keep it their own private pleasure for now. He wasn’t stupid, he knew how people would reach to their thirty seven year age gap.
Audrey sighed. “Well, don’t let her take advantage of you, Jeremy. You’re not exactly what they call a catch. She’s likely only with you for one thing, and it’s not what’s underneath your dressing gown. I’ve seen it all before with Tim at work. He got himself one of those Thai brides off the internet and the prat only went and fell in love with her. Of course, she disappeared with the contents of his bank account after three months and did he ever see her again? Did he – “
For once, Audrey was the one who was unable to finish a thought. The cause of this abrupt stop was Patrick, in nothing but a pair of small pants, strolling through the room. He took a towel from the clothes horse set up in the kitchen.
“Don’t mind me,” he said, “just heading for a shower.”
Audrey simply stared at the may-as-well-be naked young man as he passed in front of her, flashed her a smile and disappeared into the bathroom.
“Jeremy, I…” she didn’t know what to say.
“Put your tongue away, Audrey, you’re not exactly his type.”
“Who is he?” Jeremy smirked, before sipping on his tea. He was quite enjoying this. “That’s just Patrick. The rent boy I’m seeing.”
Jeremy unlocked the door to his apartment and called out for Patrick.
“Sorry,’ Patrick said coming out of the kitchen with a glass of wine, “it seemed to be the quickest way to fill her in. I couldn’t see you getting a word in any time this side of Christmas.”
“You’re too young.” Jeremy said, coldly.
Patrick just gave a small resigned laugh. “I knew she’d get to you. My age has never bothered you before. Turned you on in fact.”
“I meant for the wine, not for me,” Jeremy laughed, taking the glass from Patrick, kissing him as he did.
Audrey had insisted that she and Jeremy leave the flat immediately, refusing to speak while “that boy is in the shower.” Jeremy, while appreciating the silence from his older sister, had always preferred an easy life, so had acquiesced.
Unfortunately, this proved a costly mistake, having had to spend most of the afternoon with his sister.
“You were gone a long time.” Patrick said pointing to the half empty bottle of wine on the coffee table.
“Audrey has a lot to say even when she’s got nothing to talk about. Imagine how much she had to get through. Her coffee kept going cold.”
“I’m guessing she wasn’t planning the wedding?”
Jeremy sat down in an armchair and pulled Patrick onto his lap. “Not exactly. Funeral, maybe. Don’t take it personally, though I think she’s been planning mine for a while.”
“You’re not leaving me then?”
Jeremy smiled and took a gulp of wine. “Of course not, it’s my flat!”
Patrick punched him playfully on the arm, causing Jeremy to yelp as he nearly spilt his drink. “What did she say?”
“Nothing important. Nothing that could make me change my mind about you.” He gave Patrick a tender kiss, and then offered him a sip of his wine. “Actually, that’s not true, she made me realise there’s something I want to give you”
Patrick smirked and ran his hands over the older man’s crotch. “I’m always ready for whatever you want to give me.”
“Not that,” Jeremy moved his hand away and pulled out a small key from his pocket, “Well, not just that. You’re always here any way, we might as well make it official. Move in.”
Patrick laughed, taking the key. “I already have. They’ve given my room to someone else at the bedsit. Literally ALL my stuff is here.”
“It is?” Jeremy looked around as if noticing for the first time the relatively few additions to his flat. “Well, now you can lock it away, can’t you?”
They kissed again. “Is this hers?”
“No, she’d never give that up. I got it cut on the way back. That’s not everything, though,” he started to swivel the simple silver band he had on his right hand, “I want you to have this.”
Patrick watched cautiously as Jeremy removed it , “Are you proposing?”
Jeremy rolled his eyes, but said nothing as he slipped the ring onto Patrick’s thumb, the rest of his fingers too slender.
“It’s a promise.” Jeremy said. “You have changed my life in such a short time. I never thought I would ever feel the way that I feel about you. All my life, I have fallen in and out of ‘love’ with all sorts of people, but now I can see, in comparison to what I feel for you, they were just childish crushes. I didn’t know it was even possible to feel this way.
“That’s what I told Audrey today. I told her I didn’t just love you, I was you. You are me. Without you, I am nothing, I have been nothing. It’s taken fifty five years, but I am alive. This ring is my promise to you. I’m not stupid. I know you don’t feel quite the same way, not yet at least, but I promise that you will. I promise that you will never have to sell yourself again. I promise that my home will be your home. I promise to love you. Always.”
They kissed, their tears mixing with each others.
Two days later, Jeremy returned home from work to find the door unlocked and the apartment, while not quite empty, certainly lacking a presence.
He didn’t notice that his laptop and stereo and TV were missing. He didn’t notice his collection of rare and signed books had been swept from their shelves. Nor did he notice that his grandmother’s jewellery had been taken from their box in the bottom of his wardrobe.
He did notice that Patrick was gone. He did notice the letter on the coffee table, written in Patrick’s own childish hand.
I’m sorry. I can’t do this to you anymore. I don’t love you the way you want me to. I can’t keep taking advantage of you. You deserve to be loved.
With the letter was the spare key, but not his father’s ring. Jeremy had been robbed, not just of his material possession, but of his love.
Of his life.
It was New Year’s Day and Audrey had finally resolved to go back to Jeremy’s flat. It has been six months since she had last visited, in that fateful week when she’d crossed the threshold three times.
The first time had been her regular monthly visit when she’d been astounded to discover her brother was cohabiting with a seventeen-year-old boy.
Her second visit had been on the Monday morning and had lasted much longer than the first. She knew that Jeremy would be at work and gone with the intention to get rid of the child who was taking advantage of her brother.
She’d let herself in and had been relieved to discover he was in the shower. That would make it much easier. By the time he’d come out she had gone through the bedroom and packed everything that she could reasonably assume was his. Anything with a twenty-eight inch waist, or marked with XS.
“Get dressed.” She’d said handing him a change of clothes.
“What are you doing here?” He’d asked, quickly pulling them on.
She’d handed him an envelope of cash – five thousand pounds – and explained that it was more than Jeremy had to offer, so he might as well take it and leave.
“I don’t – “
“Shut up while someone else is talking.” Audrey had spat at Patrick, thrusting the duffel bag she’d packed into his arms as she did. “Your mother didn’t do you many favours did she? Perhaps you should go back to her until you can learn to behave like a proper grown up?”
“She’d have a lot to say about the way you’re behaving right now.” He’d spat right back at her.
Audrey had been surprised. Did kids really talk to their elders this way? “Let me guess, she never raised a hand to you did she?”
She had reached into her own bag, and as she pulled it out, the young man in front of her flinched as if she was going to hit him. She’d laughed and handed him a notepad.
She’d told him to write a note to Jeremy, telling him he was leaving. To let him down gently. Patrick had ignored her and insisted that he loved her brother.
“Love? Love!” She had laughed the same way she’d laughed at her ex-husband when he had told her he loved his mistress. She hadn’t been much older than Patrick, and now, five years later, Frank was living on his own in a bedsit above a fish and chip shop. “If you love him so much, you’ll agree with me and leave him now.”
“No.” The boy actually stamped his foot. “I’m going to spent the rest of my life with him.”
Audrey had laughed again and then found herself having to explain to him that her brother was nearly forty years older than him. “By time you’re thirty, when you should be thinking about settling down, he’ll be seventy, and looking for his retirement home!”
She had continued in this vein for some time, citing yet more examples of how the age gap would cause problems, slowly wearing Patrick down like a stream on a mountain.
“Like I said before,” she had said nearing the edge of her rehearsed monologue, secretly very pleased with how well she had delivered it, “you will leave him. It’s fun now but one day you won’t be able to cope anymore. If you love him, you’ll leave. Break his heart now… save shattering it later.”
Patrick said nothing more to her. Instead, he had sat down at the table and wrote a short note to Jeremy, then silently had picked up his bag and left, taking the envelope containing five thousand pounds with him.
Her third visit had been on the Friday of that same week. She had expected to hear from Jeremy, to hear of the break-up, but having heard nothing, she had grown concerned. What if Patrick had simply waited for her to leave and gone back in?
She’d visited on Friday night, when she knew Jeremy would be home from work.
That visit had been Audrey’s final visit to her brother’s flat. Finding Jeremy’s dead body had rather soured it for her.
There had been no note, other than Patrick’s, but the police hadn’t treated his death as suspicious. There had been no reason for her to delay this so long, but it was while she was filling the fifth bin bag of clothes for the charity shop that Audrey had realised it hadn’t been this flat that she feared.
She had feared leaving her own home, of leaving and still feeling desperately lonely. Somehow, feeling it somewhere else, here, the bus had made it real.
Once everything had been cleared she went home and sat among her brother’s things. His TV and stereo. His rare and signed books. Their grandmother’s jewellery.
Waited for her daughters to call. They had promised they would, after all. She waited, and while she did, she wondered where her father’s wedding ring had gone.