I discovered Camden Town through my sister, Tasha, who moved there when she was twenty-four. After years of travelling round Europe, she had decided her destiny was to be an artist and had enrolled on a degree course. The room she rented above a kebab shop doubled as a studio. To me, her work was just senseless globs of paint. I could never understand how a tutor could grade anything so abstract.
“Timothy,” she would say, always using my full name when talking down to me, “There is a rich history of art for art’s sake. Unlike you, my tutors understand that.”
“Great,” I’d reply, with a non-committal shrug.
Her heavily made-up face would contort with the effort of hiding her frustration. I rarely saw Tasha without makeup. She would emerge from the bathroom fully adorned, having risen from her futon bed while I was still sleeping on the moth-ridden chaise lounge. Make-up was an essential part of her look, along with the vibrant shades she would dye her hair. All art students, it seemed, were compelled to have unnaturally colored hair. At that time, Tasha’s was normally orange, but occasionally a shocking green.
I envied her really. I was three years younger, working in a dead-end job in a grocery store and still living with my parents in the suburbs, where green hair on a boy would have been met with derision and a possible head butt from one of the less than broad-minded local yobs. Plus, I was more concerned with remaining invisible then being noticed. For Tasha being noticed was imperative, although she claimed to have no interest in what anyone else thought of her.
While we often bickered, I loved staying in her pokey studio, mainly because of its close proximity to Camden Market, or more accurately markets—disparate, sprawling bazaars, offering everything from magic mushrooms to genuine antiques. This was the late 80s, before the developers moved in and sanitized the area. Back then, The Stables Market was just that, a ramshackle row of old stables, crammed with second-hand curios; Punks still hung around the bridge over the lock, stinking of sweat and dope, scavenging for change or cigarettes; and the Goths sloped around, wrapped in their dismal dark clothes and moods.
Sage was standing close to a group of pasty-faced Goths the first time I saw him. I could tell he wasn’t one of them. His face was alert, eyes flitting from one scene to another, drinking everything in with a wry smile. He looked about my age, although even on that first meeting I could tell he was older—I had no idea just how much older. Tasha had gone to buy some art supplies in the West End, so I was wandering alone, otherwise I would have been nudging her and surreptitiously nodding in his direction. He was beautiful. His skin was pale like that of the Goths, but it glowed as if he was standing under a spotlight, and his shoulder- length hair had a rich, glossy tone, not the dirty charcoal color created by a home-dye kit. He wore tight black jeans, a white dress shirt and a long dark coat—pretty standard attire for Camden Market in the 80s, but he wore them well, majestically, like a wealthy lord who’d decided to rough it for a day.
I actually gasped when I realized he was looking at me. This was the point when I would normally panic, blush and hurry away, only to fantasize later about the sexual encounter that could have been, if I hadn’t behaved like such a coward. But I couldn’t look away. I don’t mean this in a romantic sense, although romance was definitely in the mix, I mean I literally couldn’t look away. And when he smiled and gestured for me to come over, I did.
Two things struck me about him as I drew close, first his musky, smell. I can’t remember someone’s natural odor turning me on before, but the scent of Sage made my cock stir. Secondly, his lop-sided smile that creased just one cheek and revealed perfect white teeth. His soft, throaty voice also lived up to expectations, and lust churned in my stomach as he said “Hello”.
We must have swapped names, because by the time he was steering me through the Camden crowds, his hand resting on the small of my back, I was calling him Sage and he was using my name in pretty much every sentence, as if he knew hearing it uttered in his lived-in voice made my heart, and something else swell. I still can’t remember how I went from a shy “hello” to heading to his home—I hadn’t done more than kiss a guy up until that point and that had been a boy at college whose breath smelt of cheese and onion flavored crisps. I was a late starter when it came to sex. I wasn’t out the closet to anyone other than my sister and a few close female friends. But here I was being led to a stranger’s home, I assumed for sex, although I don’t think this had been mentioned.
Sage took me to a basement flat on a road off the main high street. It was squat-like but with a hint of decadence. The musky smell that clung to Sage swamped the space and I grew hard. He led me to a dark room, cluttered with old furniture, including a table and chairs that could have been bought from the market, and a large four-poster bed with curtains so ragged they looked like cobwebs.
“You can put your clothes over there,” he said, gesturing towards a faded green armchair, and removing his coat with several small shrugs.
“You’re assuming a lot,” I said with a nervous laugh.
“So, you don’t want sex?” he asked, staring at me with his dark, inquisitive eyes.
I laughed again and looked at the floor. Sage grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to him.
“That is why you’re here, isn’t it?” he said, lips brushing my forehead as he spoke. I was torn between melting into his arms and having a full-blown panic attack.
Sage lifted my chin and kissed me on the lips; it wasn’t a gentle peck, it was forceful, his teeth biting down on my lower lip and tugging. I opened my mouth and his tongue invaded. Mine reacted, but it felt clumsy and fat compared to his. He pulled me towards the bed.
“Wait!” I was suddenly the cowardly version of myself again. Not able to make this jump from shy virgin to the kind of man that had sex with a stranger.
“What now?” he asked, and he took hold of my hand and placed in against his bare chest – he’d unbuttoned his shirt to the navel, revealing a slender, toned physique, as pale as his face. His skin was warm, which made me smile. I’d half expected to feel the cold skin of a vampire. He had that quality, and the flat was like something from a Gothic novel. Sage let out a short burst of laughter and dropped my hand.
“I’m much more ancient than that,” he said.
“What?” I stared into those almost black eyes.
Sage grinned. “I’m not a vampire. I’m much more than a vampire. In some parts of the world people actually worship me.”
“Yeah right,” I said. “So, you’re like a god, but you live in a squat in Camden.” “I enjoy a bit of squalor every now and again. I like little crawl spaces like this — boltholes to hide in, and take my conquests,” he kissed my cheek as he said this, and again pulled me towards the bed.
“No,” I said, and backed away, although part of me was desperate to be naked with this beautiful, strange man. “I’m sorry, it’s too quick. Maybe we could meet tomorrow. Go for coffee or a drink?”
Sage scowled and flapped his hand in a gesture of dismissal.
“You look like a man but you are still a baby,” he said.
I caught sight of myself in a full-length, rust-speckled mirror on the other side of the bed.
My short dark hair was clammy with sweat, probably a result of nerves, and my freckled face was burning red. I was also slouching—a habit I had developed when I reached six-foot and wanted to remain invisible. As Sage said, I looked like a man who was still a kid. Scared to make the leap into adulthood.
“Go,” he said, and flapped his hand again. “I’ll find someone else to keep me company.”
Despite knowing Sage for less than half an hour, this hurt. I didn’t want him to find someone else. I was actually jealous. But I was also scared and I felt hemmed in and pressured. Embarrassed by the tears that were brimming onto my cheeks, I turned and hurried from the flat.
I ran through Camden Town, crying with frustration and also anger at the way Sage had dismissed me. Who did he think he was? Acting like he was royalty, when he was just some Camden Goth living in a dump.
But even then, I knew this wasn’t true. Sage was different. Maybe not the demi-god he pretended to be, but something more than human. Those eyes, that smell and the way he’d captured me so easily.
When I reached my sister’s flat, I fell onto the sofa and sobbed. I felt ridiculous. I could have finally lost my virginity to a man who made me hard at first sight. But I’d run away like a frightened child, back to the safety of my sister’s home. I considered returning to the musty-smelling apartment, telling him I was ready, letting him pull me onto the bed and undress me. But I didn’t of course. As always, I sat and pined over what could have been. When Tasha came home, laden down with her new art supplies, I put on a brave face and suggested we get a Chinese take-away. Same old routine.
I didn’t expect to see Sage again.
I negotiated slamming the trunk of Tasha’s car, while balancing the box of books on one knee and headed up to my new home. It wasn’t much to look at. A small room with a sink in one corner and an ancient cooker in the other. The bed was as narrow as a prison bunk and the carpet stank of cigarette smoke. But I was so excited to be here, in Camden Town at last.
A cork popped as I reached the landing. Tasha was standing by the sink, sparkling wine fizzing out of the bottle, and down her arm. Some even made it into the glass she was holding.
“Here’s to your new home,” she said, handing me a glass of froth, and pouring herself one.
We clinked glasses—the only two I owned—and both sat on the bed.
“You can spend as much time at ours as you want,” said Tasha, surveying the
cramped space, and we both laughed.
Tasha left early evening, just as it was starting to get dark. I could hear people
chatting in the room downstairs and someone singing in the shower in the apartment across the landing. I felt suddenly lonely. It was Saturday night and here I was, my first night living in London, sitting in my bedsit alone. I picked up a novel from the box next to the bed, flicked through the first few pages, and tossed it onto the floor. I was too restless to read and the wine had given me a taste for alcohol.
I didn’t have any close friends living nearby—most still lived back in the suburb where I’d been born—but that didn’t mean I couldn’t go out. I knew there was a gay pub just around the corner. I’d walked past it dozens of times with Tasha. I had a stand-up wash at the sink and slipped on some Levi jeans, a black T-shirt and a leather jacket. This was my new Camden uniform. I’d bought the jacket the weekend before in the clothes market near the Underground station. I tried to appraise myself in the mirror above the sink, but it was only just big enough to view my face.
I took a deep breath and headed out.
Although I knew Camden Town from the many times I’d stayed at Tasha’s, our evening had often been spent in her flat, drinking cheap wine and eating take-away food. We’d been to a few of the local pubs, but never the one I was heading to now. Although Tasha knew I was gay, I still wasn’t entirely comfortable being openly gay in front of her. She’d certainly never seen me kiss another guy or even show any affection to a man. Not that she would have cared. It was me that felt awkward about it. While in retrospect the 1980s appear to be an era of acceptance and gender-bending extremism, for guys like me, born and bred in the dull suburbs of London, being gay was still an issue, something to hide until you felt brave enough to reveal that side of yourself, bit by bit.
There was a drag queen distributing flyers outside the pub. She was resplendent in a fitted red gown, the hem of which dragged on the pavement. She glanced at me as I approached, batting her enormous fake eye-lashes. I hesitated in the doorway.
“Go on, Love,” she said in a deep, masculine voice. “What have you got to lose?”
There was a bar to my right, stretching along one side of the pub. It was four-deep in men, clamoring to be served. The patrons here were of all ages, from twenty-somethings in tight shorts and vest tops, to elderly men, wearing cardigans and cords. I hovered in the doorway, floundering in this sea of gayness, ironically feeling like a fish out of water.
“You need to just push your way through,” said someone to my right. I glanced sideways. The speaker was a man of around forty, handsome, if a little weathered. Judging by
his fashionable loose-fitting jeans and designer t-shirt, he had once been a hot young thing on the London gay scene and was trying to cling onto that era of is life. He still had a cheeky smile and a glint in his green eyes.
“I may not stay,” I said.
“I can push through for you if you tell me what you want to drink,” said the stranger.
“No, it’s fine,” I said, flustered by the attention. I wasn’t used to it. It was usually Tasha or one of my female friends fending off men, not me.
“No problem,” said the man, and he made a point of walking away and joining a large group of gossiping guys. Now I wished I had just accepted the offer of a drink. At least I would have had people to talk to instead of looking like a sad loner.
I navigated the crowds, making slow progress to the far end of the room. The music grew louder and I noticed a DJ on a stage at the back of the pub. Between the end of the bar and the stage was a small dance floor, only sparsely populated—perhaps because the track playing was a terrible dance remix of Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. I edged into a dark corner, hoping to remain invisible for a while.
I felt a hand on my arse. So much for being invisible. I stepped forward, hoping whoever was groping me would get the hint and move on, but his hand remained firmly cupping my butt. I turned to face the offender. He was at least sixty, with thin white hair and a flushed, sweating face. He grinned and grabbed my crotch. I slapped his hand away.
“Fuck off!” I shouted as Kate Bush reached a crescendo.
He scowled and said something I couldn’t hear over the music, but I guessed it wasn’t pleasant. He made another grab for my genitals, but this time I didn’t need to defend myself. Someone gripped him by the throat and pushed him back against the mirror-lined wall. His head cracked against the glass and he looked startled and pained. Other patrons darted away from the scuffle, watching from a safe distance.
“Leave now,” said my defender.
I took in the wavy black hair, the pale skin and dark eyes, which were currently being used to glare at the old man. And then I caught a whiff of that musky scent.
My savior was Sage.
To be continued…
If you enjoy reading sexy stuff, check out my gay romance novellas The Black Mask, Hard Lessons and Mirror Man, and my full-length novel Darkwater House. They are available direct from the publisher’s website or from Amazon UK and Amazon USA, and other online sellers.
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