– Let’s go pub crawling in Soho, Matthew says.
Matthew is gay. He never told us that openly, but I knew ever since he rented the house to me, Jerry, and my partner, Don. He is the most elegant man I know and the only time I saw him at a loss for words was when he was around our fitness instructor, a very attractive man.
James holds on to the the armchair’s rests with both his arms. He and Matthew are childhood friends. He sees me looking at him and winks at me.
Matthew leads us north of Chinatown, in the area with all the theatres and clubs. The first club proudly calls itself an ‘endowed and stylish’ club. Inside, it smells like varnished wood. The bar is covered in leather, that feels cold and smooth to the touch. James remarks that it resembles a woman’s skin.
– Like Flora’s bare back, when you proposed?, I answer.
– We owe that memory to Matthew, James says. If it was up to me, I’d have just woken her up one morning and proposed in her pajamas.
– She would have refused you, Matthew replies.
That day, Matthew asked me to free up a table for his friend and organize a marriage proposal. He flattered me by telling me that my restaurant was perfect for this, since it’s the most pretentious and elegant in London. Truth is people call for reservations months in advance, to make sure we have room for them. I arranged everything perfectly in a short time lapse: our best table, the one with a view over the city lights, some romantic music, an old bottle of wine I had put aside for special guests, the ring arranged on Flora’s cake. I was the first to applaud, taking care to involve all the other people in the restaurant. Flora acted lady-like for the whole night, but I knew better that she was impressed.
– She did refuse me in the limo, on our way home, Jame says. That woman was as stubborn as a mule when it came to sex.
Two years later, we met again. That was the first time that Matthew shortened one of his frequent travels abroad. Flora left James because she could not conceive the idea of having a child.
The second club that Matthew takes us to is a complete opposite of the first. Destined to the ‘urban cowboy’ that listens to honkey-tonk and rock, it wants to seem unpretentious and cheap. It reminds me of Alice, James’s second wife. Alice is the country girl dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt which you expect her to unbutton and tie at any moment. Young and healthy, she stood in awe of everything James showed her in London. He brought her to my restaurant unexpectedly. I could not let them wait, the queue that was a few meters long that night, even though the restaurant has a dress code that Alice was not respecting. Unlike Flora, she had her hands all over James the entire evening.
– I can imagine you never had the same problem with Alice, I say to James.
– Once I brought her home from your restaurant, I did not have to convince her to undress. She did that all by herself, and then she started undressing me.
– You probably did not tell her you were paying only a quarter of the bill, Matthew says .
– That helped, too, yes.
James made the mistake of suggesting Alice he wanted to buy a farm in the countryside. Scared that she had to return where she came for, Alice ran away to America. The divorce was difficult. Matthew represented James and I remind him saying:
– You know James, old pal, you can sleep with them without marrying them.
He had James promise him he would think better before getting married a third time.
Without telling us anything about his sexual orientation, Matthew takes us to the largest bar in Soho, ‘A big club for big boys’. It has three levels and a capacity of 500 people, out of which the majority are shirtless men. James trips on a young man with his chest painted in all the colors of the rainbow.
Then, he makes me feel under-dressed in a club called ‘Cabaret Desire’. The rest of the people seated are dressed in elegant suits and wearing masks. The tables are oriented towards the stage on which they sing. The majority of the artists are transsexuals, with such good make-up that you cannot tell if there are real women among them.
When we get to ‘Dancing Disco Diva’, we are all drunk enough to request Abba at an old jukebox, their main piece of decor.
– I haven’t practiced these moves since adolescence, I tell them.
– I am still young, James replies.
James is the oldest one of us. One day, his current wife, Caitlyn, comes home mad as hell. James asked her what happened.
– A gross 50 years-old grandpa sat in the subway next to me, she replies.
James is 56.
Caitlyn is his third and actual wife. Together, they have a 17 years-old son whose name is Bart. Matthew and I, we agree that James and Caitlyn make a good pair – Caitlyn watches out after he and Bart when they behave like children and calls James’ bullshit.
When he first brought her to my restaurant, Caitlyn asked him directly:
– How many women have you brought here to impress before me?
She did, however, have the curiosity to meet me and the patience to hear two old men speak of the past.
After we walk a little in light rain, at Matthew’s insistence, we enter a mix club, of gay and straight men. We can barely hear each other, but the volume does not seem to bother the young people having fun here. Matthew is signaling us to follow him. We pass by two young men kissing and enter a booth where we can quietly enjoy a gin and tonic.
– Would you let Bart come in here?, Matthew says.
– Matthew, my boy, no matter how drunk I am, I do recognize my own son. We passed by him earlier. He does not need my approval to go wherever he likes to. You needn’t have dragged me through 6 clubs to tell me you’re both gay, but I do appreciate the effort.