Boyfriend Material

Boyfriend Material

Alexis Hall



To CMC



Chapter 1



I’ve never seen the point of fancy dress parties. You have two choices: either you make a massive effort and wind up looking like a dick, or you make no effort and wind up looking like a dick. And my problem, as always, was not knowing what kind of dick I wanted to be.

I’d pretty much committed to the no-effort strategy. Then I’d panicked at the last minute, made an ill-fated attempt to track down somewhere that sold costumes, and found myself in one of those weirdly high-streety sex shops that flog red lingerie and pink dildos to people with no real interest in either.

Which is why, when I rocked up to a party already well into the too hot, too loud, too crowded stage of its life cycle, I was wearing a pair of problematically sexualised black lace bunny ears. I swear, I used to be good at this sort of thing. But I was out of practice, and looking like a cut-rate rent boy serving a very specific fetish was not the ideal way to make a triumphant return to the scene. Worse, I’d arrived so late that all the other lonely, shit people had given up and gone home already.

Somewhere in that pit of flashy lights, bleepy music, and sweat were my actual friends. I knew that because our WhatsApp group—currently called Queer Comes The Sun—had devolved into a hundred variations on the theme of “where the fuck is Luc.” But all I could see were people I vaguely thought vaguely knew people who vaguely knew me. Wriggling my way to the bar, I squinted at the chalkboard listing the night’s bespoke cocktails and eventually ordered a Sloe Comfortable Conversation about Pronouns Up Against the Wall, since it seemed like it would be both nice to drink and accurately descriptive of my chances of scoring that evening. Or, indeed, ever.

I should probably explain why I was sipping on a nonbinary beverage while wearing the world’s most middle-class excuse for fetish gear in a basement in Shoreditch. But, honestly, I was beginning to wonder that myself. Basically, there’s this guy called Malcom who I know because everybody knows Malcom. I’m pretty sure he’s a stockbroker or a banker or whatever, but in the evenings—by which I mean some evenings, by which I mean about one evening a week—he DJs at this transgender/gender-fluid club night called Surf ‘n’ Turf @ The Cellar. And tonight was his T Party. His Mad Hatter’s T Party. Because that’s Malcom.

Right now, he was at the back of the room in a purple topper, a striped tailcoat, leather trousers, and not much else, laying down what I think they call “sick beats.” Or maybe they don’t. Maybe that’s something nobody has ever said ever. When I was going through my club-kid phase, I didn’t even bother to ask the names of my hookups, let alone make notes on the terminology.

I sighed and turned my attention back to my Comfortable Lack of a Screw. There should really be a word for the feeling you get when you do a thing you don’t particularly want to do to support somebody else but then realise they didn’t actually need you and nobody would have noticed if you’d stayed home in your pyjamas eating Nutella straight from the jar. Anyway. That. I was feeling that. And probably I should just have left, except then I’d have been the arsehole who showed up for Malcom’s T Party, made no effort with his costume, drank an eighth of a drink, and then fucked off without talking to anybody.

Pulling out my phone, I sent a forlorn “I’m here, where are you?” message to the group only to see the clock of doom pop up beside it. Who’d have thought an event that took place literally underground and surrounded by concrete would have bad mobile phone reception?

“You do realise”—warm breath brushed my cheek—“that those ears aren’t even white?”

I turned to find a stranger standing next to me. Quite a cute stranger, with that pointy, foxy look I’ve always found weirdly charming. “Yeah, but I was late. And you’re not wearing a costume at all.”

He grinned, looking even pointier and even foxier and even more charming. Then flicked his lapel aside to reveal a sticky label that read ‘Nobody.’

“I’m guessing that’s an irritatingly obscure reference.”

“‘I only wish I had such eyes,’ the king remarked in a fretful tone, ‘to be able to see Nobody!’”

“You smug git.”

That made him laugh. “Fancy dress parties bring out the worst in me.”

It wasn’t quite the longest I’d spoken to a guy without fucking the whole thing up, but it was definitely climbing the leaderboard. What was important here was not to panic and try to protect myself by transforming into an unbearable wanker or a gargantuan manslut. “I hate to imagine who they bring out the best in.”

“Yeah, that”—another grin, another flash of his teeth—“would be Malcom.”

“Everything brings out the best in Malcom. He could make people celebrate having to pay 10p for a carrier bag.”

“Please don’t give him ideas. By the way…”—he leaned a little closer—“I’m Cam. But since you almost certainly misheard me, I’ll answer to any one-syllable name with a vowel in the middle.”

“Nice to meet you, Bob.”

“You smug git.”

Even through the strobes, I caught the glitter of his eyes. And found myself wondering what colour they were away from the shadows and artificial rainbows of the dance floor. That was a bad sign. That was perilously close to liking someone. And look where that had got me.

“You’re Luc Fleming, aren’t you?” he asked.

Why, hello other shoe. I’d been wondering when you were going to drop. Eff my effing L. “Actually,” I said, like I always said, “it’s Luc O’Donnell.”

“But you are Jon Fleming’s kid?”

“What’s it to you?”

He blinked. “Well, nothing. But when I asked Angie”—Malcom’s girlfriend, currently dressed as Alice because of course she was—“who the hot, grumpy guy was, she said, ‘Oh that’s Luc. He’s Jon Fleming’s kid.’”

I didn’t like that being the thing people told each other about me. But then again, what was the alternative? That’s Luc, his career’s in the toilet? That’s Luc, he’s not had a stable relationship in five years? That’s Luc, where did it all go wrong? “Yeah. That’s me.”

Cam folded his elbows on the bar. “This is exciting. I’ve never met anyone famous before. Should I be pretending I really like your dad or really hate your dad?”

“I’ve never even met him.” A cursory Google would have told him that, so it wasn’t like he was getting a major scoop here. “So I don’t particularly care.”

“Probably for the best because I can only remember, like, one of his songs. I think it was about having a green ribbon around his hat.”

“No, that’s Steeleye Span.”

“Oh wait. Jon Fleming’s Rights of Man.”

“Yeah, but I can see how you got them confused.”

He gave me a sharp look. “They sound nothing alike, do they?”

“Well, there’s a couple of subtle differences. Steeleye’s more folk rock, whereas RoM’s more prog rock. Steeleye used a lot of violins, whereas Dad’s a flautist. Also, the lead singer of Steeleye Span is a woman.”

“Okay”—he flicked another smile at me, less abashed than I would have been in his position—“so I don’t know what I’m talking about. My dad’s a big fan though. He’s got all the records. Keeps them in the attic with the bell bottoms he hasn’t been able to get into since 1979.”

It was beginning to sink in that, about eight million years ago, Cam had described me as hot and grumpy. Except, right now, it was clearly 80/20 in favour of grumpy. “Everyone’s dad’s a fan of my dad.”

“That must mess with your head.”

“A bit.”

“And it must be even weirder with the TV thing.”

“Kind of.” I poked listlessly at my drink. “I get recognised more, but ‘Hey, your dad’s that guy off that stupid talent show’ is marginally better than ‘Hey, your dad’s that guy who was in the news last week for headbutting a policeman, then vomiting on a judge while off his face on heroin and Toilet Duck.’”

“At least it’s interesting. The most scandalous thing my dad’s ever done was shake a bottle of ketchup without realising the lid was off.”

I laughed in spite of myself.

“I can’t believe you’re giggling at my childhood trauma. The kitchen looked like something out of Hannibal. Mum still brings it up every time she’s annoyed, even if it’s not actually Dad she’s annoyed at.”

“Yeah, my mum brings up my dad when I piss her off as well. Except it’s less ‘This is just like the time your father got a tomatoey condiment all over the kitchen’ and more ‘This is just like the time your father said he’d come home for my birthday, but instead, he stayed in LA snorting cocaine off a prostitute’s breasts.’”

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