Jez walks into the room, looking around curiously. He’s better looking than I expected, based on how he describes himself—I don’t remember him mentioning the broad shoulders, and although his waist may not be male-model trim, he’s definitely solid and chunky, rather than chubby. It’s a rugby player’s build, not a runner’s, that’s all. And his features are classically good-looking, with maybe a slight squareness about the jaw.
But it’s his smile that really draws your eye. Warm and honest, with just a hint of shyness.
JL: Come in, sit down. Would you like a coffee?
Jez: (sitting) Cheers. Um, I could murder a cup of tea, if that’s all right?
Clearly he hasn’t heard of my hard-line stance against the demon leaf. But he’s the guest, so…
JL: No problem. Milk? Sugar?
Jez: Yeah, please. Plenty of milk, two sugars. And give the bag a good squeeze, I like it strong.
Suppressing a shudder, I make the drinks. I use the term “drinks” loosely. If there’s anything worse than a cup of tea, it’s strong, milky, sweet tea. My hand hesitates over the chocolate Hobnobs, but I decide to get out the second-best biscuits. This man clearly has no sense of taste.
I smooth out my frown as I hand him his cup.
Jez: Cheers, love. Um. Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound sexist.
His brow creases, and I can sense he’s genuinely worried he might have upset me.
(He should have considered that before asking me to make him an abomination in a cup.)
JL: That’s fine. Now, tell me about Rhys.
Jez: (face softening) Rhys…Yeah. He’s, well. He’s Rhys, in’t he? (His eyes go misty)
JL: Is he much like your ex, Darrell?
Jez: God, no. I mean… No. Really. No. (His brow furrows adorably.) Well, Darrell was tall, too. Is, I mean. I didn’t murder him or anything. (Jez laughs)
JL: You go for tall men?
Jez: Well, yeah. I mean, who doesn’t? (He pauses.) Well, short people, I s’pose, ‘cos it’d give you a crick in your neck when you had a snog. And lesbians, probably. Yeah. Short lesbians. (Nods)
I decide not to ask him why he thinks a lesbian might be snogging a tall man in the first place.
JL: So it was his height that first attracted you to him?
Jez: (Looking uncomfortable.) Well, you know. Not just his height. It’s the whole package, innit? (He catches himself.) That’s not… I don’t mean, you know, his package. Although don’t get me wrong, no complaints there… (Jez blushes.) I mean, it’s all of him. You know. Personality, and all that guff.
JL: But you can’t have known what his personality was like right from the word go. Can you?
Jez: Well, yeah. I mean, no. I mean, look at me, right? I’m just your average bloke. You don’t have to be Sherlock Bloody Holmes to see that. But Rhys, well. He’s got personality. In his looks, I mean. You know, with the hair, and the earrings, and all that. You can tell he’s a cut above. (He smiles. There’s something very sweet about it.)
JL: If you’re so average, what do you think attracted him to you?
Jez: (Laughs.) Buggered if I know! Nah, we just hit it off. Sometimes you do, yeah?
JL: I guess you do.
Should I try and make him see he’s every bit as attractive as Rhys, in his own way? But it looks like it would take a while, and there’s one question I really need to ask.
JL: Tell me, how important do you think honesty is in a relationship? Particularly at the start?
Jez: (looks at watch; does exaggerated double-take) Bugger me, is that the time? Sorry, gotta go. Meeting Rhys for a, um. Yeah. Cheers for the tea. I’ll see you, all right?
He flashes me a smile and leaves, not forgetting even in his haste to take his teacup out and put it by the sink.
I smile back. I might have known I wasn’t going to get an answer to that one.
I can see what attracted Jez to Rhys, as the man in question walks through my door with a confident step. And it’s definitely not just his height. His easy smile could charm the socks off anyone with a pulse, and his dark good looks are only accentuated by the hint of danger you sense (completely erroneously, I later find out) from his faux-hawked hair and earrings.
Rhys: Hi—good to meet you. Not late, am I?
JL: No, no, you’re right on time. Coffee?
Rhys: Yeah, that’d be great. White, no sugar, please. Can I give you a hand?
JL: No, that’s fine. (I hesitate, then bring out the chocolate Hobnobs as well. He seems worthy of them.)
We sit. His posture is relaxed, but alert.
Rhys: So, yeah, Jez said you’d spoken to him? (He grins.) Do I want to know what he said?
JL: (Enigmatically.) Oh, I think you know already. Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself?
Rhys: (Shrugs.) What you see is what you get, with me.
Damn. If only I’d ever mastered the art of raising one sardonic eyebrow. But I decide anyway to let that one slide.
JL: You’ve lived in North London all your life?
Rhys: (nods) Born and bred, yeah. Never felt the need to move, and it’s great being near the family.
JL: I seem to remember some of your family are from India?
Rhys: Yeah, my granddad came over in the fifties. Moved to Harrow, met a local girl, fell in love and married her. (He gives a heart-melting smile, obviously a romantic to the core.)
JL: It can’t have been easy for them, in those days.
Rhys: No, I s’pose not. You know what old people are like, though—they never talked about stuff like that. It’s like my gran and granddad on the other side. They never said anything about living through the Blitz.
JL: You take after your granddad a little in looks, I’d guess. Have you ever experienced racism?
Rhys: (Shrugs again.) Well, I got called Paki a bit in school. Funny though—I got to six foot and it all seemed to stop.
JL: Yes, strange, that. So tell me about Jez. What did you think when you first saw him?
Did I think his smile was heart-melting before? It’s completely incandescent now. I see what Jez meant with his Alluremens.
Rhys: Well, you’ve met him, haven’t you? He’s just—look, you’ve got to promise you won’t tell him this ‘cos he’d kill me, but it’s like, you just want to cuddle him, you know?
JL: Like a really hot teddy bear?
Rhys: (Laughs.) It sounds creepy when you say it like that. But yeah, pretty much.
JL: I asked Jez this, so I’m going to ask you too. How important do you think honesty is when you’re starting a relationship?
Rhys: (He raises a sardonic eyebrow, curse him.) Oh, I think you know the answer to that already.
He grins, and takes a bite out of his Hobnob.
I can tell I’m not going to win this one. But sitting here with Rhys, it’s somehow impossible to mind.