Martin is kind, decent, not bad on the eyes... and look where that's got him. His boyfriend of four years has run off with a male prostitute, and his friends John and Caroline both have enough excess baggage to fill a Louis Vuitton window display. What's a nice gay man to do? With no one to turn to, Martin decides to relive the wild youth he never had and, at the ripe old age of 32, jumps head-first into hedonism. But soon the nights of drugs, muscle-hard bodies, and even harder music take their toll, and Martin, John, and Caroline find that as fun as being absolutely shameless is (and girl, can it be fun!), it also has a price, one which they may not ultimately be able to pay.
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Read an Excerpt
By Paul Burston
Warner BooksCopyright © 2001 Paul Burston
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe boy serving behind the bar oozed confidence the way most of the predominantly twenty-something crowd oozed CK One or Escape for Men. He was cute in that silky, sulky, vaguely Latin way that promised a career modeling underwear for Calvin Klein, or at the very least a job behind a gay bar in Soho. He was also absurdly, enviably young-certainly no older than twenty. Martin felt attracted and resentful in roughly equal measures. What was it John always said about yesterday's trade becoming tomorrow's competition? Well, there was little danger of that happening in this case. Martin knew from years of experience that boys this young and this pretty rarely performed sexual favors for anyone who couldn't match them in the beauty stakes-pout for pout, muscle for muscle. And at thirty-two, Martin was in rather a different league.
Not that he was looking too bad for his age. He had always been considered fairly handsome (usually by straight women, admittedly), and unlike many gay men on the scene, he didn't run around like some strange teenage impersonator squeezed into outfits designed for someone half his age. He also knew that thirty-two wasn't exactly old-not in real terms. But, as John was also fond of saying, it was practically fifty in gay years. If John's theory was correct, then gay men aged at about the same rate as dogs. In fact, the only people who aged faster were Greek women, which was why John swore blind that in all his years as an air steward he had never once met a Greek woman between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-by the time they reached their mid-twenties, their body clocks switched into fifth gear and suddenly they were swathed in black robes and riding a donkey. According to John, a similar thing happened to gay men, only they swapped the black robes for black leather and the donkey for a dildo.
In his weaker moments, Martin worried that there might actually be some truth in all of this, even though it was exactly the sort of thing a sourpuss like John would say. Theirs was one of those gay friendships that developed quite by accident (they used to frequent the same bar), rather than growing out of some mutual interest or even a one-night stand they both immediately regretted but felt strangely sentimental about. It was a friendship Martin maintained more out of habit than anything else. They'd had some great nights out together, and had even supported each other through some difficult times-when John had his HIV scare for instance, or when Martin's first proper boyfriend revealed six weeks into their relationship that he had a long-term lover in Paris who was about to move back to London. But really, they couldn't have been more different. John was only two years younger than Martin, but in the nine years that they had been friends, he had never held down a relationship for more than a few months. Martin, on the other hand, had been with Christopher for almost four years now. So what if this bar boy was the prettiest thing in the room? That didn't make him a better person. He was probably arrogant, not to mention stupid. Boys like that usually were-body by Nautilus, brain by Fisher-Price. Martin had met enough of them over the years to know that. He ordered a Budweiser and felt a tiny pang of guilt when the boy smiled as he placed the chilled can on the bar, together with a saucer containing the change from a five-pound note. He smiled back, hesitated before leaving a small tip, and squeezed through the crowd to a vacant space near the door.
Where did they all come from, these boys who packed the bars night after night? Each time another bar opened, the ruling queens of Old Compton Street shook their perfectly gelled heads and predicted that this would be it, that there wouldn't be enough punters to go around. And each time they were proved wrong. There were at least a dozen gay bars in the heart of Soho now, and not one of them showed signs of going out of business. It never used to be like this. Martin remembered a time, not all that long ago, when the only bars worth visiting in the West End if you weren't a '70s clone or a Northern rent boy with cheap highlights were Compton's or the Brief Encounter-and they were never this busy on a Thursday night. Either every gay man in the country had migrated to London during the past couple of years, or the Soho boys had discovered a way of defying the laws of nature and were multiplying like rabbits. At least that would explain why so many of them looked so similar. Looking around, Martin found himself wondering if maybe there was such a thing as a gay gene after all.
There was a mirror behind the bar, cleverly positioned so that customers could admire the bar staff from every possible angle. The management at the Village were shrewd like that-always looking for new ways of "giving something back to the community." Martin caught a glimpse of his own reflection and ran a hand over his newly cropped hair. It felt strange, prickly, sexy. He had worn his hair in a dozen different styles over the years-slicked back, spiked up, floppy at the front, shaved at the sides, bleached blond, dyed black. He had even sported a footballer's perm once, when his mother ran that hairdressing salon on the outskirts of Cardiff all those years ago. But he'd never had it cut this short before. He wasn't entirely convinced that it suited him, but that was hardly the point. All the boys had their hair cut short these days. Of course for many of them it was simply a way of disguising the fact that they were receding. Still, it was definitely considered sexy. You only had to flick through any of the gay bar rags to see that. Once it was only arty Derek Jarman types and the roughest gay skinheads who went for the severely cropped look. Now even the rent boys who advertised in the back of Boyz were at it. Of course they weren't actually called rent boys anymore-they were all "escorts" now. Each week their photographs were there-all smoldering looks and brutally shorn heads, together with the promise of "Nine Inches Uncut and Thick" and "Satisfaction Guaranteed."
Christopher would like it-Martin was confident of that at least. He'd hinted at it often enough. Barely a week went by without him explaining in his fading West Coast accent how the one thing British guys had over the hunks back home in LA was their sexy haircuts, or how much more practical it was to have short hair because then you didn't have to worry about drying it when you went to the gym. The gym was another of Christopher's passions. It had all started about six months ago when an old high-school friend of his flew in for the weekend and insisted they all go to Trade. Martin had hated every minute of it. The music was too hard, and he could never see the attraction of clubs where everyone was off their face on drugs. If you needed to fry your brain with Ecstasy in order to have a good time, then surely there must be something missing somewhere? Christopher, on the other hand, had loved everything about it-the pounding music, the druggy atmosphere and the seething mass of half-naked, hard-bodied, wide-eyed men. The night ended in a blazing row, with Christopher and his high-school friend disappearing into a sea of bodies and Martin storming off.
A week later Christopher joined the gym. He'd been going regularly ever since. Even Martin was forced to admit that the results were impressive. Christopher had always had fairly beefy legs, which was a definite advantage. Most of the gym queens you saw around had great pumped-up upper bodies supported on tiny twiglet legs. They reminded Martin of the bulldog from Tom and Jerry. Maybe they assumed that nobody would be concentrating on their legs when they stripped off their shirts on the dance floor, but they looked pretty silly anyhow. John said it was the responsibility of every self-respecting gay man to refuse to have sex with any man whose biceps were thicker than his thighs. It just wasn't natural.
Martin had tagged along to the gym with Christopher a couple of times, but he soon lost interest. He tried justifying it to himself by saying that it was better to develop your mind than your body, but secretly he was slightly envious of Christopher's determination. He certainly thought that Christopher had started to get a bit obsessive lately, disappearing off to the gym four, sometimes five times a week. He put this down to the fact that Gay Pride was coming up. There was a part of Christopher that craved constant attention. Being able to strip off at Pride, secure in the knowledge that his body would be admired-that was what this gym thing was all about. Martin told himself that he really shouldn't be too bothered by the idea. After all, having your boyfriend lusted after was a compliment in a way.
He looked at his watch: 7:55 P.M. Christopher was almost half an hour late. Typical. He wouldn't have minded, only it wasn't his idea to meet for a drink in the first place. If it had been up to him, they'd both be at home in Stockwell by now, curled up on the sofa watching EastEnders and eating a low-fat meal (Christopher only ate low-fat these days, ever since his personal trainer told him that the only way to achieve a washboard stomach was to drastically reduce his fat intake). Martin couldn't see the point in hanging around gay bars with your boyfriend-not unless you were looking for a threesome, which he and Christopher certainly were not. They'd tried it once, just over a year ago, but it didn't really work out. Christopher and the guy they picked up took ten minutes to decide that they were quite capable of having a good time on their own, and Martin ended up sitting in the bathroom, crying quietly to himself, and feeling more possessive than he had ever thought possible. It seemed that most gay bars were geared toward cruising these days, unless they were designed for people to actually have sex on the premises. He had no strong moral objections to any of this, but he did find it a bit irritating that there were so few places you could go as a couple without feeling that someone, somewhere in the room, would like nothing better than to see you split up.
He lit a Marlboro Light, took a swig of Budweiser, and scanned the room. There was a guy over in the corner he recognized. He wasn't sure at first from where, until suddenly he remembered that they'd had a one-night stand together five or six years ago. The guy's name was Tom. Or Tim-something like that. They'd met at Substation, one night when Martin was out with John, both of them drunk as skunks. He was a nice guy, Martin seemed to remember. He lived in this amazing flat somewhere off Tottenham Court Road. He worked for an investment bank and was really impressed when Martin told him about his job as a graphic designer. He said he'd never met someone so creative before, which Martin thought was rather sweet considering that the most creative thing he'd done at the time was design a box of tea bags for Sainsbury's. The sex was good, too. They'd even swapped numbers afterward, but of course the guy never rang. The nice ones rarely did. That was why Martin felt lucky to have found someone like Christopher. He wasn't the perfect boyfriend, not by any means. He was moody at times, and he could be extremely selfish. On the other hand, he was the first man Martin had slept with who could still turn him on after four years. And he was dependable-most of the time anyway.
Martin looked at his watch: 8:10 P.M. This was getting ridiculous. Why were some people always so late? Was it something they just couldn't help, like dyslexia? When they looked at their watches, did they see the numbers arranged in a completely different order? Or was it simply arrogance, a way of showing the world that they knew they were worth waiting for? It would serve Christopher right if he arrived to find that Martin had been and gone, or that he was being chatted up by some good-looking guy with a posh flat in the West End. That would teach him not to take people for granted. He looked over to where Tom or Tim was standing, only he wasn't on his own anymore. He was deep in conversation with some muscular young thing in a white ribbed vest and baggy jeans. Something about their body language told Martin that this wasn't the first time they had met. He wondered if this guy had seen the inside of Tom or Tim's posh flat. He wondered if they had swapped numbers afterward. He wondered if Tom or Tim had been the one who had bothered to phone.
Just then, Tom or Tim looked up and caught Martin's eye. He looked at him quizzically for a moment, then broke into a grin. It wasn't a friendly "Nice to see you again" grin. It was a grin that said, "Yes, I remember you. We had one night of meaningless sex a long time ago. I charmed the pants off you by telling you how creative and interesting you were, when really I was only interested in making use of your body for an hour or so. Of course you were too stupid to realize that at the time, too naive to understand that there was never going to be any more to it than that. And now look at you, standing there all alone while I'm being adored by this gorgeous man. Serves you right. That's what you get for not knowing how to play the game."
Martin turned away, gulped down the remains of his Budweiser, and headed toward the bar. One more beer, then he was definitely leaving.
* * *
Caroline never knew what to do with her panties during sex. Sometimes she would peel them off slowly, until they ended up in a tiny ball at her ankles. Then she would slide one foot over the other and grasp the little lacy bundle between her toes, like a magician performing a vanishing trick. Other times, usually when she'd had a bit too much to drink, she would just yank them off with both hands and hurl them across the room, where they would land delicately draped on the dressing-table mirror, or dangling from one of the wall lights. Of course there was one major drawback with this technique. Assuming the man didn't know her all that well, he might mistake her for an amateur stripper. Caroline wouldn't have minded being mistaken for a stripper, but she couldn't bear the thought of anyone thinking she was amateurish. She was a professional woman, the only woman in her family to have carved out any kind of decent life for herself, and she had the fat salary, the company car and the platinum American Express card to prove it. She was also the sort of woman for whom "girl talk" invariably meant talking about sex. She had discussed the panties situation with one of the girls at the advertising agency, who advised her that the best solution was to leave them discreetly tucked into the leg of your trousers. But this wasn't much use to Caroline. When she wasn't handling key accounts or attempting to woo potential clients, she never wore trousers.
Thankfully, Caroline's panties hadn't presented quite so much of a problem since she'd met Graham.
Excerpted from Shameless by Paul Burston Copyright © 2001 by Paul Burston. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Speaking as a gay man, I'm appalled by these shallow, self-centered characters and their hedonistic, self-destructive behavior. I can't imagine anyone wanting to spend a minute with them, much less the course of a whole book. These creeps all deserve each other. I can't believe the New York Times, which almost NEVER reviews gay novels, gave this piece of trash a positive review.
I laughed myself silly. Very funny, very campy. I good development of the main individuals. However, the very heavy use of drugs by all, was a bit disturbing. If you have a sense of humor, your sides well hurt. J//////////