I suppose it started on the Friday evening. I had arranged a date with a good looking fellow sourced through my usual app. He was tall and muscular, and looked like the perfect sort to help me recover from a stressful week. I arranged to meet him in his room at the Strand Palace Hotel.
I arrived, took the elevator to the 4th floor and knocked at the door. Inside was a man far handsome than I had realised from a slightly blurred profile picture. He was thickly set for his 6 ft height, with broad shoulders and tree-trunk arms. We didn’t fall upon each other. Instead, somehow, we sat and talked. He spoke to me about his life in the American navy as a medic, I spoke to him about my life in London. Aside from one isolated kiss, lifted bodily as he pulled me towards him, we barely touched one another.
“Do you like the theatre?” He asked. “I want to go and see Kinky Boots.”
To the Adelphi Theatre, therefore, did we go. He refused to let me pay – he was a gallant sailor to the last. As we sat and watched the wonderfully funny show, I found my arm looped through his. By Act II, his arm was resting on the back of my seat. By the end, I was sure this was one of the oddest, most spontaneous dates I had ever been on. But the gods had much more than I could have imagined still in store for me.
We went to dinner in Maiden Lane. There, we talked more. What about, I don’t exactly recall. But I do remember thinking how fast I began to fall for him, and that wasn’t just the margaritas talking. For his kind eyes. For his rugged face. For his manners. For how he made me laugh. He was from South Carolina, his accent carrying the merest hint of a southern twang. When he found out how much it made me smile, however, he would lapse into the broad vowels and slurred wording of that region. Somehow, it simply added to his charm.
That night, I slept in his single bed. Our two bodies were pressed close, and he would wrap his arms around me. He was exceptionally strong and I don’t think I’d even been held in that way before. Not since Chris, anyway. It was largely unspoken; a mixture of protection, bodily desperation and tender affection. Somehow, I was so entirely comfortable with him. It was, to use the old cliche, like we had known each other for weeks, not hours. Something he voiced that night.
The next day and nothing would do but that we see more theatre. A matinee of Les Miserables, and an evening performance of Wicked. He wouldn’t let me part with a penny. I felt roundly spoiled and told him so. He would only smile and tell me he wanted “to take me out”. We met a friend of a friend after Wicked, by coincidence. I introduced him. Suddenly, the clown of the boy was gone, to be replaced by a formal military man.
“Pleasure to meet you, Ma’am. Ma’am. Ma’am,’ he said as he met her, her mother and her sister, firmly shaking them all by the hand. I somehow felt proud. Proud to be with a man of such mannered formality. The traditions of the Old World still mean a great deal to me, however much I like to think I have the metropolitan mind of a modern Londoner. However much a Friday fling was turning into the most surreal and wonderful meeting of my life. We went for a drink in the nearby Shakespeare tavern, giving him his first taste of proper British ale. He kept thanking me for the wonderful day; whispering that he couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel room and hold me. I shivered with silent expectation. The desire for his body was deliciously married with my growing respect for the man. A potent combination.
Exhausted, we fell asleep in each other’s arms. Curiously, normally I cannot truly sleep with a man for a good few weeks after meeting him. However much the romance builds or mutual feeling is flowing, they are still a stranger. But with him, I drifted into a long and comfortable slumber from our first night together. I awoke once in the early morning, to feel his arms going around my waist as he pulled me to him. That’s all I remember before falling back against the pillow. When I awoke properly, I looked around at his sleeping face. I closed my eyes and opened them again, willing my mind to remember the face. The feeling. The moment. I ran my hand along the contours of his cheek, trying to memorise each and every detail. The curve of his skin. The rough sharpness of his stubble. The strength of his jaw. The vulnerable curve of his lips.
The way he woke up and looked at me. The way he told me I was beautiful. The way he loved running his large hands through my hair. The soft whisper and tease of his lips upon my ear that sent shivers down my body. I close my eyes and I can feel the gentle strength of his touch still. We made love all morning, barely leaving the bed before midday. Ravenous and drunk on our feelings for one another, we opted for a walk along the Southbank. By now, I did not care for anything else but the happiness of this. My housemates messaged with issues. The work emails plodded in with an unwelcome rhythm. I shut them out and ignored them.
I somehow felt myself in the most surreal of situations. I was painfully aware that I was living in a beautiful, golden memory. On borrowed time. I knew he would leave the following day. I knew that our romance was probably only fleeting, however much we might want it otherwise. I also knew that nothing was going to spoil these moments together. Each one is a drop of gold in my mind. To be with him, to be seen with him, was the most delicious and indescribable feeling. I felt beautiful to be with him. When we walked, hand in hand or arm in arm, I felt a kind of transformative power come over me. I was wearing 2-day old clothes, but I had never looked better. He was a rugged sailor, but to me, he was the most handsome man in London. For this time we belonged to each other only – I could feel the memories being made even as they were happening. Nothing could be allowed to interfere; to taint the lead of everyday London which was becoming solid gold in my mind.
We stopped into The Clink museum, enjoying a mutual fascination of the macabre before arriving at our final goal of the Tower of London. With his military discount applied, I stepped over that dark threshold for the third time in my life and we began to explore. Not William the Conqueror, Edward III or any other monarch walked those stones and halls with more pride than I did that day, with my handsome dark-eyed sailor at my side.
“Would you take our picture?” Asked one couple as we climbed the curtain wall. “You can be in it if you want!”
“Not him,” I joked back at them. “He’s so broad he takes up the whole screen.”
I was more comfortable with him than I remember being with any man. There were no games, no power plays. None of the usual silliness which seems to have become so commonplace in the modern world of meeting. There was only the simple joy of being.
As we passed the restored Royal Bedchamber, we saw the huge four-poster bed decked out with red drapings and lined with furs. We both looked at each other and, I knew, shared the same wicked thought – to step over the roping and dive into it if we could. He growled what he wanted to do in my ear, and I blushed to hear him say it. Secret in my knowledge of his desire for me, and revelling in that knowledge even as I shushed him and called him a vulgar American. To feel so wanted. To know that you are locked in mutual lust coupled with mutual comfort and respect with one another. Is there a greater feeling in this world?
We took a taxi back to the Strand Palace. We stripped down and lay in bed, my hands lightly exploring his back as he lay his head upon my stomach. His huge, bare shoulders spread out like wings in front of me. I tried not to feel sad in that moment. Sad that I had discovered someone so wonderful, who confessed that they could fall for me as I was falling for him, only to know they were going to be snatched away from me the next morning. I silently cursed and blessed Fate; cursed her because it seemed too cruel to have such a gift taken away so soon; blessed because I knew that nothing would induce me to give up what these days which had given me.
We dressed and headed out to Bodeans in Soho, the delicious sauce-drenched steakhouse. Knowing I was charmed when he did so, he began teaching me phrases from the south. I would imitate them back to him and he’d roar with laughter. Then he’d try his own attempt at a Britsh accent, and I’d condescendingly agree that it was “getting there”. Bless him. We opened up to one another, discussing our oddly similar upbringings, hemmed in as we had been by tradition and demanding parents on opposite sides of the world. How he has been formed by the military as I had been formed by the rigours of a conservative boarding school. We spoke of our hopes for the future, of how we both dreamed to be happily married in a lasting relationship.
Our plan was to go for drinks, but in the end, we only went for one. In his words, he couldn’t wait to get me back to the hotel and spoon me one last time. The next morning we woke up, cuddled, brought each other to thrilling orgasm one last time. I whispered his name as he straddled me and I gazed up into his brown eyes. I thrilled at the power and sensuality of his body. Then we cleaned up and left the hotel.
We hopped into a taxi and drove to Victoria station. He confessed that he wished we had another day. That we were on our way to another show. At the entrance to the Gatwick Express, he thanked me and we kissed a final time. We couldn’t make plans for a murky future which might not happen. He is bound for Italy to serve out the remainder of his post, then back to the States to complete his military medical training for 2 years.
And then? If we are both free he will take a post in Europe and fly back. If all can work out we will explore the possibility of being together. But a future perched on ifs and buts is not a solid future at all. Regardless, I know I must think instead of the beautiful time we shared, which I store now as a treasure in my heart and on paper. I kept the tickets for our shows. I close my eyes and I see him again. In my mind I am back upon his arm – sitting in a theatre seat, walking along a castle wall, being gently rocked to sleep. Our time together is like a wonderful fantasy which I dreamed, only it was more wonderful and more true than any dream my mind could conjure because it was all real.
All I know is that in his arms I found a comfort and safety I didn’t know existed. Of a mutual wanting and needing I didn’t think was really possible. That wonderful magic one reads about did happen, and it happened to me. For that, I feel luckier than I can describe. Our time was brief, but does that make it any less special?
“So is this goodbye?”
“It looks like it.”
“Don’t forget me.”
“I won’t. Don’t you forget me either.”
“Never. We certainly had a good go of it.”
“I wish we could make a proper go of it together.”
“So do I.”
As he pressed his rail ticket to the barrier and they opened, he turned around and slipped me a last momentary kiss before they closed. I bid him goodbye, watching until he was down the steps and gone.
I walked away. I had been holding in my tears since the hotel, and now they came. I clung to the wall for support as they poured down my cheeks, as they are pouring now as I remember. I clung to myself, wrapping my own arms around my torso, trying to recall the feeling of his arms from hours before, trying to imprint on my mind the ghost of his touch. To wake up from the dream seemed like too harsh a task. Too difficult an ask. I wanted to remain in that blissful ignorance forever, safe with him. I tried to make my mind think about work tomorrow, about returning home to tasks which needed to be done. But I could not. I cannot.
Tonight my bed will be cold without him. My hand will not stray to his tummy, rubbing it in that way which made him sigh with pleasure. I won’t see his handsome face when I wake. Perhaps I will never see it again. If in my mind he must remain, then I will think of our time together always with fondness, not with regret. But flickering undiminished in some recessed chamber of my mind is the tiny hope, guttering though it may be, that we will see each other again.
For now, my overly romantic imagination must be content that, somewhere, there is a handsome sailor lad thinking of me. When I got home, there was a message waiting for me: “Back home. Missing you already.”
I miss you too, Wilt. Come back to me.