On the way to Flare, I managed to convince Mikey to drive through a McDonalds because Thomas and I were both starving. I knew after losing his leftover pizza down the side of the truck, Thomas had to be famished. I bought each of us a Big Mac meal, and Thomas and I scoffed ours down in the car while Mikey drove us into the city.
Salt Lake City wasn’t as I expected. There were a few skyscrapers in the distance and I noticed some signs for hotels and restaurants, but everything was still very spread out. The roads were still busy, though, and small groups of people scurried along the pavements in large coats, anxious to get out of the cold.
Flare approached on our right and Mikey pulled over to let us out. Like most of the other buildings, Flare was a concrete cube, albeit a pink one, and I could see an outside seating area with black metal chairs and tables covered with a layer of snow. On the wall was a white banner advertising beer prices, and a blue neon sign read ‘Flare.’
“It’s a Wednesday night,” said Mikey. “Not the busiest night, but still popular with the students. They used to do theme nights, but I don’t know if they do that anymore.”
A taxi pulled in front of us and let out a couple of club-dressed guys. With shoulders hunched to fight off the cold they hurried inside. “I’m sure it’ll be great,” I said. “You want me to call you later to come get us?”
Mikey replied, “Nearh. I’ll swing by towards the end of the night for a beer.”
“Good deal,” I said. “Thanks, mate. I’ll see you later.”
Thomas reached over from the back seat and patted Mikey on the shoulder. “Cheers Mikey.”
We got out of the car and watched it pull back out into the traffic.
The club was smaller than I expected and was done up as a 70s theme bar. All of the walls were the same luminous orange, and the bar ran the length of the wall by the door. The floor was covered with black and white checkered squares, about a foot in a length, and mirrors covered most of the walls from the mid-section up. A glistening disco ball spun casually over the center of the floor and a small raised wooden stage had been built into the back right corner. There were about twenty casually dressed people spaced out in the bar, sitting on the zebra and leopard skin chairs at matching tables, sipping beers and cocktails, laughing and chatting. Thomas spotted the toilets in the hallway next to the bar. He slapped me on the shoulder. “Back in a minute.”
I leaned against the bar on my elbow and was quickly greeted by the bartender. He had a black shirt with a golden nametag that read ‘Chris,’ was clean shaven with a square jaw, and had deep dark eyes and short thick dark hair. His appearance literally made me feel like I’d just fallen out of a truck.
“Hey, what can I get you?” he said in a soft, amicable voice.
I have no idea why I couldn’t just ask for a beer and said the first non-beer that came into my head. “White Russian.”
Chris pulled a glass up from underneath the bar, flicked his wrist, and the glass spun fast in the air before he caught it with practiced precision. “White Russian,” he repeated, and turned his back to find the vodka and Kahlua. A man in a Hawaiian shirt was setting up a sound system on the stage and soon some 90s electronica drowned out the many muffled conversations going on in the barroom.
“Oh man,” Chris moaned and held up the glass with a layer of milk floating on top of the Kahlua. “Wait a second,” he continued, and poured it straight into another glass so the two layers blended instantly.
“There you go,” I said. “It’s just like making people get along. Use force until they integrate.” I accepted the drink from Chris and took a sip.
“Use force?” he asked, quizzically.
“Oh sure,” I replied. “They say you can’t legislate common courtesy, but if you don’t make people get along they’ll spend most of their time avoiding everyone else. You have to force, nee encourage them to make interactions.”
Chris folded his arms down on the bar. “But if you put two spiders in a box, won’t they kill each other?”
“Oh sure,” I nodded. “But at least they’ll get to know each other in a moment of intimacy before they do. How much do I owe you?”
“Five fifty,” he said, standing straight.
I rummaged through my pocket and pulled out a crumpled ten dollar bill and handed it to Chris. More people entered the bar and bee-lined for the empty tables, while their friends went to get the drinks. Multicolored disco lights flashed on from above the sound system and zoomed around like funky miniature spotlights.
Chris handed me my change. “Here you go.”
I held up my free hand. “Keep it,” I said, unsure of what was a suitable tip.
“Oh, thanks,” he replied, surprised, and dropped it in a jar by the till.
I looked out over the tables and watched the man in the Hawaiian shirt flick through records in a large square box with a metal rim. I hadn’t been in a club atmosphere for quite some time. The beats were already breaking into my joints, and with the assistance of the alcohol would soon hijack them entirely.
“Now, do I look like a sexy beast or what?”
Thomas had appeared at my left shoulder, only he was mostly naked with the exception of a luminescent yellow pair of hot pants connected to red braces that ran up and over his shoulders and back down to the other side of the waistband. He twisted his hips so that I could see how much the fabric was pulled up his butt crack and accurately showed off his package.
He snapped the braces against his naked torso. “They call these suspenders over here.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Mad!”
An entourage of four college-aged men passed us on the way out through the door, but one whistled at Thomas and spanked his butt. “Oh behave!” called Thomas. The men laughed wildly and blew some kisses before heading out into the evening.
“Thomas, where did you even find those clothes?” I asked, noticing that two more men were wearing the same thing at the other end of the bar.
Thomas pointed to a small table close to the male toilets. “There’s a guy back there just giving them out.” A solemn middle aged man who was bald on top but had shoulder-length wavy brown hair was handing over the shorts for a few dollars. “There’s going to be a wild party in here later and this is what you’re supposed to wear.”
“Where did you put those on? Where are your other clothes?”
“The bartender, Chris, is holding my clothes for me. I just changed into this in the toilets. Nobody cared.”
“I’m sure they didn’t.”
Thomas looked at my drink. “What’s that?”
“A White Russian.”
Thomas’ voice grew stern. “Where’s my drink?”
“I didn’t know what you wanted. I don’t even know what you drink.”
Thomas clamped his jaw forward and sighed. “Yes you do, we shared some Jack Daniels on the plane.”
The thought of a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels sitting alone in our hotel room in Aspen made me sad. When I didn’t respond, Thomas stormed off towards the stage like I’d jabbed in him the arse with a pencil.
A burly guy in a black t-shirt stepped to my right. His voice was so deep and silky it would’ve smothered the sound of a tuba. “Is he okay?”
“Oh yeah,” I replied. “He just needs to blow off some steam.” I extended my hand to the man. “Matthew.”
“Dan.” As our hands grasped I was suddenly aware of the sheer muscle underneath Dan’s t-shirt. His head was shaven, he had thick brown eyebrows, and his facial features looked like his head and chin had been caught in a vice during a crucial stage of development.
“What brings you here tonight, Dan,” I said, sipping my drink.
“I’m working security.”
All things considered, I should’ve seen that coming. Three college-aged men entered the club, wearing pink, blue, and green hotpants respectively, and t-shirts with nerd slogans emblazoned across the chest. “How can they wear those in this weather?” I asked.
“They came here in a taxi from the campus,” said Dan. “And besides, things are really going to warm up in here later.”
Thomas was now chatting by the small stage with a couple of the students who had recently entered. They were laughing and comparing shorts. “Well, he’s cheered up,” I said to myself and finished my drink. “Can I buy you a drink, Dan?” I asked, “Or is that not allowed?”
He dropped his gaze to me and a smile etched out across his plasticine face. “No,” he said. “They don’t care if we have a beer or two, but it goes against my religion.”
“Which religion is that?” I asked, curious.
I stole a quick glance around the club, watching men holding hands and whispering sweet nothings to each other, some dressed in very revealing clothing, and thought it was somewhat odd that a practicing Mormon would work in the bar. “Perhaps an orange juice?” I suggested.
He nodded. “Sure. But make it a Sprite.”
After my second White Russian I had completely lost track of the time. More people were dancing now, which included Thomas, who popped up every now again with his hands in the air only to vanish back into the throng of barely bridled testosterone. I had initially wanted to dance, but for some reason a sense of brooding had dampened my twitching limbs. The beat rebounded off my depressed knees.
Dan returned to his post beside me. “If you want to get in on the foam, go claim your place now.”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. “Foam?”
“Yep. I just spoke to Steve. He’s the manager. Chris is giving him a hand now to wheel the machine in from out back.”
Even though the exercise clothes I had on were not exactly clean, I didn’t like the idea of getting lathered in foam. “Is that why people are wearing those shorts and t-shirts?”
Chris put an elbow down on the bar and shifted his weight. He smirked. “That’s one of the reasons.”
A strobe light cut through the dance floor and I had no idea how long it had been on. Thomas flashed into view dancing something similar to the robot, much to the delight of his new found friends. I wanted to go over to him, but something was holding me back. I didn’t even know what that something was, and had an overwhelming desire to be at home in my armchair.
Dan’s voice cut through my thoughts. “Are you guys together?”
“Yes,” I said immediately. “Well, no,” my confidence drained. “Maybe?”
“Are your heart and mind at war with each other?”
I watched Thomas spin on his heels and then shake his butt in delicious synchrony with the beat. “I do love him,” I said. This was the first time I heard myself make this confession.
“Do you?” Dan pushed. “Does he feel the same way about you?”
I sifted through my memories and tried to grasp onto something concrete. But even thoughts of our sex didn’t seem good enough. “I don’t know,” I replied, defeated. “The last few days we’ve had a great time together, but on Friday we go back to England and I don’t know what to expect. I thought I could parcel these last few days in a nice neat package to store away in my mind, but I feel changed.”
“Sounds like you’re in your own personal hell,” said Dan. He slapped me on the shoulder. “But don’t worry. Put your faith in God and enjoy the ride.”
“I don’t believe in God.”
“Okay,” Dan said. “Then how about this. Change is on you whether you like it or not. Don’t waste your energy on things you cannot change. Listen to your heart, you’ll know what to do.”
I nodded, finished my drink, and put the empty glass down on the bar.
“I’d better go help with this damn machine,” said Dan. “I always feel sorry for the cleaners when they arrive in the morning.”
Dan joined Chris near the hallway. He had his hand on the handle of a waist high silver tank that was connected up to a black hose and mounted on four wheels. A middle aged bloke with short brown hair and a mustache was pointing on the floor where he wanted the machine to be placed.
Chris returned to the bar and Dan pushed the portable foam machine over to the side of the dance floor. A bright red light flashed and rotated menacingly around the entire room and the music dimmed. A suggestive voice burst through the speakers. “It’s that time guys. If this is your night to get covered in hot steamy foam then come down to the floor. Things are about to get orgasmic up in here.”
A cheer went up and the lights went down. The silhouette of the tight crowd flashed in the strobe. I had lost sight of Thomas, and it was so dark between the bar and the dance floor that I knew I would trip over people and tables to get down there. The murmur of the dancers dimmed with the music, building suspense, and then a loud car horn cut through the silence, the music picked up, and a large thick jet of foam doused the entire dance floor in thick waves. Cheers and shouts of joy rang out and the dancing continued.
Towards the end of the night, as I stood by the bar finishing up my third drink, somebody tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey, man. You had a good night?
It was Mikey. “Yeah, it’s been good. How long have you been here? I didn’t see you come in.”
“I’ve been here about thirty minutes. I was chatting to a buddy of mine.” Mikey looked out over the messy dance floor. “Man, they still do the foam, huh? Where’s Tommy?”
I pointed to a group of four men. You couldn’t really see the luminous yellow hotpants anymore, but Thomas’ torso with the red braces was now perfectly visible. “Oh, ho! Look at him. He really got in the spirit,” Mikey said. “You weren’t feeling it?”
I sighed. “No.”
“Okay, I’ll have the car running outside,” he said. “See if you can get Tommy to clean up and wipe down before he gets in the car.”
I nodded. “Sure. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” I stepped away from the bar and slalomed around the tables and couples kissing towards the floor. The back of my head still felt heavy from the alcohol and I was definitely in the mood to get some sleep.
“Hey Thomas?” I called, stepping over to the small group. He turned away from the three other guys, who were all laughing at a shared joke.
He put his arm around me and pulled me to his side. “Matthew!” said Thomas. “I was wondering when you’d come down. This is James, Hardeep, and Niles.”
I waved to prevent any attempts at handshakes. “Nice to meet you guys.” The music then cut out and normal yellow lighting came on.
“Oh, man,” said Thomas, disheartened. “I thought we’d get to dance some more.”
“Oh well,” I said. “It’s time to go anyway. Mikey is outside in the car.”
“It doesn’t have to end,” said Thomas. “Niles has invited us over to their house for some beers and videogames.” The man nearest to us, who couldn’t have been much older than twenty-one, smiled and nodded.
“That’s a nice offer,” I said to Niles, “But we need to get back. We have a long journey tomorrow.”
Thomas let go of me and inched towards my ear. He lowered his voice. “What are you talking about?”
“Mikey is outside and we need to get some sleep,” I replied. I maintained eye contact with him, hoping that my words would resonate. His lips thinned.
“But I’m not ready to go back, Matthew. And I can always get a taxi back to the sex shop, or one of the blokes will give me a ride back.”
The three friends shared confused glances.
“Sex shop?” Hardeep asked. “What sex shop?”
I held my hand up towards him and he took a step back. “We need to leave, Thomas.”
A dark look swept over Thomas’ face. He snarled, “You don’t dance with me all night, and then you come over here, embarrass me in front of my new friends, and then start telling me what I need to do.” He shoved me with both hands, but only enough to make me rock on my heels. “You don’t own me, Matthew.”
I retaliated. “Fine, go fuck off with Jim, Bob, and Charlie over here,” I said, pointing over my shoulder at the three men with my thumb. “Miss the ride back to Aspen tomorrow. See if I care.”
“See you Thomas. You’ve got our names, man. Look for us on Facebook.”
The men stepped away and disappeared into the rest of the semi-drunk clubgoers. Thomas watched them go and then glowered at me. He pushed passed me and went to the bar to retrieve his clothes from Chris.
I stood alone on the empty dance floor in the cold and lifeless foam.