Before I ever met you
Nobody says a word, and neither does William. Everybody just stares at each other with empty gazes that don’t really say anything. After a minute, Nate coughs nervously and William is not brought back to reality until he hears the door shut. They left and he is grateful.
But soon William realises he is not alone and the person who he sees standing in front of him is Jorja.
William can still feel the presence of the person he least expected to see when he walked into this room just a few minutes before. His eyes, they aren’t the same bright, hypnotizing and warm blue green he remembers, they are dark, sad, bewildered. And he knows that the reason Jorja stayed is to talk about what those eyes mean.
- Listen, William. You’re alright. I don’t know you very well but that much that I know, I can tell that you are smart, nice enough bloke. But you and I are not friends. Lennon is. He is more than a friend to me, he is a brother, a family. More important than that is that I am his family, Sam and Nathan too, the only family he knows, he has. Everyone else that he had in life is gone and that’s why I won’t let you hurt him.
- Jorja, what are you...- William listens to her cold but shaky voice, and feels a bit dizzy but she doesn’t stop talking.
- I’m not finished. You will talk to our managers and tell them that this can’t work. This contract, and believe me I know that this is probably very dumb of me, and it will most likely damage our career, but it can’t happen if Lennon wants to keep a little bit of his sanity. He barely made it to this meeting, I can only imagine what would happen in the future if you two have to work together.
- I don’t understand. Why? What would happen?
- Oh wow. Ok. - she laughs, dark and bitter. - I see that you really didn’t care about him after all, I mean I saw the headlines and your pretty perfect life that you have going on right now, it’s cool, it’s all cool William. You were probably just having a little harmless fun, before settling down, and yeah I guess you thought who better to have fun with than Lennon Lewis - the king of fun and games himself, but you took it too far. And I don’t know the details because Lennon refuses to talk about you, I don’t know what you said to him, because there must be something you said... You probably pulled off some Prince Charming shit with these eyes of yours, I mean half of the world would kneel in front of you if you just looked at them with those, but here’s the thing - Lennon - he is a player, he is the one who make people kneel for him, not the other way around, he was not supposed to be played - but he fell for it, for you, and I was the one who had to pick up the pieces of him when you fucking left. And I can’t do it anymore. I don’t know how. So I will purposely sabotage my band’s success just so my best friend doesn’t suffer anymore.
- He..he suffers? Jorja wait! I ... - he hates him, that’s for damn sure, so why isn’t his pain bringing him any pleasure.
- He was at the rock bottom for months after you just left without a word and finally was doing better now, until you showed up in his life again. He is fragile, he... - she takes a deep breath and stares out the window, taking a break, because all this clearly pains her. - Nobody knows how fragile he actually is because he hides it very well from the world. - William’s blood slows and ices over in his veins as he looks at her dark brown eyes.
- But I didn’t know! I didn’t know that you guys will be here, that you were the band that would be signed with us, that was probably something my uncle worked on before I came in his place...
- It doesn’t matter anyway. - she interrupts him and picks up her purse. - I believe you didn’t know, and I also believe that you have the power to not allow this contract. Just stay away from Lennon, please.. It’s for the best.
Jorja then leaves the room and William just stares at the closed door. Alone in this room now, his head is as loud as firecrackers, breaking off into an explosion of confusion and worry all at once.
As the day goes on he tries not to let what happened today consume him, but he fails horribly at the attempt. How is he supposed to respond to what Jorja said to him? With pity? Concern? Lennon was suffering for months apparently, and all because of William, but none of that made sense because William didn’t hear a single word from Lennon since that night, since the night when he saw Lennon leave with Matty. So how does all of that make sense?
He moved on. Being back in New York and doing his favourite thing, working on an exciting play on Broadway helped him slowly put the memory of those wild, restless nights in London into a box and then another box and another box and store it in some dark closet he very rarely dared to open.
He convinced himself that Lennon could never be serious enough about any type of committing or monogamous relationship, that he was too young and too wild and too untrustworthy. That even though William didn’t believe Nina when she said Lennon was trying to use William for connections and money, he still resented him for lying about his relationship with Matty, no matter how unimportant that relationship was or how long ago.
The fact that he allowed himself to trust Lennon so much to have sex with him without protection and then finding out that he and Matty might still have something going on, and seeing them leave together was something he used as a pretty good reason to forget him. Add the part where he never called or texted to apologize or explain, and William concluded that Lennon simply never even cared enough.
William shakes his head raking a hand through his hair. He still can’t believe he saw Lennon this morning and how that made him feel. How shocked he was but tried to keep his composure. He can’t believe that man would still affect him like that after a year.
But the worst part was the moment when Jorja told him about Lennon being fragile. Lennon only ever mentioned his family once in those times they spent time together, his sister that passed away and that his parents were the Beatles fans but William never imagined that he has no family at all and that there is a much bigger story behind it, a story that Lennon is hiding from everyone.
William is so stunned, all these thoughts racing through his mind that he doesn’t hear anything Micah is saying to him while entering his office. Why is William feeling this sadness? Finding about Lennon’s pain burdens him with incredible hurt. Micah is still talking, William is staring out of the window. There are clouds outside. Deep, dark clouds. It will rain soon.
- Are we going to reschedule? - he can hear Micah’s voice in the distance.
- I’m sorry, what? - William doesn’t understand the question because he is too distracted.
- Are we going to reschedule the meeting with the Edge of Revolution? I’m not sure what happened today but I can make another appointment.
- Micah, I am sorry, can we talk about this later, I have a personal matter I have to deal with?
- Oh, of course, I will email you the contract later for you to review. And...
- Thanks. I will look into it later. Now excuse me, I have to make this call.
- Certainly Mister Hamilton-Smith. I will be at my desk if you need me. - after Micah finally leaves William takes his phone and calls the only number that he knows can answer questions he has all day.
- Liam, I need to talk to you. - William tells impatiently after he hears a hello, skipping all formal greetings.
- Ok, sure mate, what’s up, you sound stressed.
- I am. I mean, I’m just... confused. I had an interesting morning.
- I saw Lennon.
- Really ? Where?
- He came to my work. I mean, the whole band came, and it was a disaster. I had no idea that they were in discussions to transfer to my record label, but I guess my uncle did that before and just didn’t tell me. When I think about it now, my dad did tell me the last time I saw him that my uncle was bringing some big names, but I would have never thought it would be Edge of Revolution and I...
- Hey hey slow down Will, just, wait...- William can hear some voices in the background.- I’m kind of in the middle of something now, and this is a pretty important topic to talk about over the phone.
- Right. Sorry Liam, I was just so fucking confused after they left, after Jorja told me stuff about Lennon...I had to talk to someone. And you’re the only one I can talk to. About this.
- Yeah of course, we have to talk about it, like I wanted when you were at my place. But you changed the topic, remember?
- I know, I know. You don’t have to be a dick about it. - William breathes out a humorless laugh and stares outside, the combination of buildings new and old making the London skyline magnificent and unique.
- Anyway, I got to go now, but come and see me tomorrow, yeah?
- Sure, I will be in the office but after five is alright?
- Oh ... I’m at this work thing from six o’clock and then I’m flying the day after tomorrow.
- Shit, that sucks.
- Actually, why don’t you come to this thing? It’s a cocktail party that my firm organized for the new branch we are opening in London.
- You sure? Isn’t it a work thing?
- It will be casual, I won’t actually be working so we will definitely be able to talk, don’t worry. It’s the only time really before I go back to New York.
- Ok, then.
- Sweet. It’s in Covent Garden, I will put you on the guest list.
- Sure, text me the address and I will be there.
Liam is looking good in his gray button up and William is just feeling awkward. Not that he can’t fit in in this crowd of posh architects but the reason he is here - to talk about Lennon Lewis with one of his friends it doesn’t look like a good idea anymore. What if Liam says to Lennon that William is freaking out about seeing him like a pathetic little teenage girl?
- So what did you tell him when you saw him? - Liam asks before taking a sip of his single malt. The roof terrace has filled up, everyone around is engaged in conversations and William glances around, surveying the gathered crowd. He doesn’t really want to have this conversation out in the open.
- Well nothing.
- No, Liam, I said hi to everyone else and then when I was about to shake his hand like a civilised human being he stood up and left.
- Yes! - William raises his voice and curious stares slide their way so he takes a deep breath and continues in a normal tone. - And stop feeling sorry for him, you should feel sorry for me. Because I have no idea why is everyone acting like I am this horrible person that broke Lennon’s heart when he was the one who was fucking Matty Sinclair all that time he was fucking me.
William looks red in his face after realising that he said that last part a bit too loud. Definitely not a good idea to talk about this here, he is getting too worked up. He never really admitted to anyone that he and Lennon had been secretly having sex. Only Nina knew and she pretended that it never happened. This is the first time he says it out loud.
- Are you sure? How do you know that? - Liam is not at all surprised by William’s bursting out which only proves his point that Liam knows everything. He is not worried about him telling anything about his secret, though.
- Well I saw him. Like, the same night when I was about to break up with Nina. For him, by the way. And invite him to come to New York. If he wanted. And ... yeah. I am the one who was the victim.
In the middle of William’s rant Liam’s phone rings from his pocket and when he pulls it out his face changes instantly.
- Oh fuck, I completely forgot. - Liam looks guilty at William and William looks at Liam’s phone. He still doesn’t know the reason for Liam’s changing mood. He answers the call, looking at William with wide eyes.
- Hey Lennon. - William tenses after hearing his name but almost chokes on his rum and coke after he hears Liam’s next sentence.
- Oh you’re here. Great. Yeah... I’m at the bar. -
Liam is scanning the area trying to spot Lennon, who is here and William can’t believe his luck, he is mouthing what the fuck, Liam! but Liam is ignoring him like he knows that William will most definitely kill him.
- Oh yep, I see you. - he waves in the direction of the entrance door and then he hangs up.
- Speak of the Devil. - he winks and playfully punches his shoulder. - Calm down, Will, I am so sorry, please don’t kill me.
- Why is he here??
- I completely forgot that I invited him to come here, the other day. We didn’t manage to catch up since I came to London so I told him to come tonight.
William gulps his drink and runs fingers through his hair. He casually glances at the entrance door. And pause. Lennon walks confidently amongst the crowd, his dark hair looks as he, or someone else ran their hands through it several times. He wears a pair of perfectly tailored striped black and white trousers and sheer black shirt with almost all buttons unopened revealing pectoral muscles and his tattoos. It’s all obviously very expensive, probably put together by fashion stylists from Saint Laurent or Gucci or Versace, because aside from his successful musical career he has also been a guest star in their campaigns.
William couldn’t really escape all the adverts around shopping malls or while randomly scrolling through social media, even if he tried. And now William just stands there like an idiot ogling him as he walks. Everyone seems to notice him, because how can they not, he’s not just good-looking, he’s a magnetic force of nature.
He also has a thick, muscled bodyguard following him not far behind. And then Lennon sees him. He looks at him, straight into his eyes. Fuck. His look is cold, ruthless in complete contrast with his pretty face. He presses his lips together when he catches William watching, standing next to Liam. Tension doesn’t even begin to describe how William feels at the moment Lennon approaches them at the bar. This is all a bit too much.
- Hey Len, so nice of you to come. - Liam says with a smile, and then Lennon hugs him, the smell of his cologne hits William’s nostrils. He still doesn’t say anything. And he doesn’t acknowledge William after he breaks from his hug with Liam.
- William joined us for a drink, hope you don’t mind.
Liam tries to ease the tension. Lennon raises his eyebrow and licks his lips but says nothing as he looks at the wine bottles that are on display at the bar.
William needs to stay away and he will stay away. Jorja told him. First step is to be gone from this party and away from that devilish look in Lennon’s eyes. And second is to email Lennon’s manager that they won’t be signing a contract with his record label. Uncle will most likely be disappointed but he will deal with him later. And then Lennon speaks.
- I just came to say a quick goodbye to you before you go back to New York tomorrow. Not sure I’ll stay, don’t like the wine selection in this place anyway.
He sounds snobbish and arrogant and William knows it’s only a mask, a stupid excuse so he doesn’t have to stay in this place. He clearly wants to run away from William, out of this place, out of the country, out of this planet. Like he ran from his office yesterday and that fact saddens William. They couldn’t stay away from each other before, always tempted to touch or be close. Like magnets.
Being this close to him he sees the glimmer of a silver chain, two small perked nipples under his sheer shirt and chipped, black nail polish on few of his fingernails.
He is gorgeous, William thinks. He is still bloody attractive, the most attractive person in this room and he had sex with him. More than once. He fucked him hard. He fucked him gently. He almost left his future wife for him. He almost loved him.
How do you go back to being strangers with someone who you thought you could love more than yourself?
- Listen, you don’t have to leave because of me.
William says driving all those thoughts away. It’s strange how he thought he hated Lennon Lewis the whole year and after yesterday, he can ’t.
- No, it’s cool. - he looks at his watch. - You finish your drink. I will go. - Lennon glances at William but pretends like he is not here, he looks at someone behind him. Cold.
- Nobody is leaving. - Lennon flinches at Liam’s harsh tone. - We will order some nice drinks and talk like mature, adult guys at the bar do. Cut the bullshit. You two are depressing me and everyone with your whining and sulking.
Liam then turns to the bartender and orders three whiskeys on the rocks. He gives one glass to Lennon and Lennon is about to protest but Liam cuts him off. - N-n- no no, don’t want to hear it. Drink. Apparently the wine selection is not by your standards, princess. Now you will drink what I say. - and Lennon’s face is tense but melts into his trademark smile and William struggles to keep a straight face as well.
- Yes, Sir. - Lennon rolls his eyes at Liam and all three of them lift their glasses saying cheers.
After a few minutes an older man in an expensive suit, probably a colleague architect, approaches Liam and they talk about business leaving William and Lennon in uncomfortable silence.
- So ... whisky is quite good. - William says awkwardly to break the silence. Lennon looks at him while letting a smirk creep up his face but still very much closed off.
- Thought you and I don’t do small talk?
- You’re right. I’m just... all this is stupid, I don’t want it to be awkward. - Lennon looks at him with eyes full of unreadable emotion but turns away quickly. - I want to apologize. For the sake of our friends. We are clearly making the situation worse. - William doesn’t really know why he is apologizing but he knows he has to start from somewhere. He knows now that Lennon had some sort of feelings for him.
- Why are you apologizing exactly, William? I am curious. - William’s palms are sweating now. He doesn’t know. He wants Lennon to apologize to him too.It’s only fair. Nobody here wanted to hurt anyone on purpose.
- I guess I don’t know... but I feel like I should. - he says slowly.
- You don’t have to force yourself onto the situation to try to make it comfortable for the both of us.
- Would you rather I stand here in silence?
And Lennon doesn’t answer, instead he does that thing with his eyes - staring at William until you are so uncomfortable from the intensity of his irises that you have to turn away. But William doesn’t turn away.
- I guess I can try. My bandmates weren’t exactly happy with me yesterday. We will have to work together.
- Yeah, that was quite a surprise.
- You damn right. - they both smile.
- So. - William knows he might regret this but speaks anyway. - Friends?
William asks with uncertainty while noticing those conflicting feelings constantly at war behind Lennon’s eyes like a scared child. He used to see right through his impenetrable armour made of confidence, cockiness and shiny smiles.
- Aw... love this, actual smiles. - Liam joins them and hugs Lennon.- Well something that is on the way to become a smile. But I’ll take it.
Humorous Liam is poking the corner of his lips like he wants him to smile wider and Lennon pouts his lips at him. William finds this adorable. Why is this happening all over again? Why does he get to see Lennon not as some snobby rock star but as this kind innocent human who’s affectionate and loving with his close friends, apparently his only family. That’s one of the favourite things about their short time together, how responsive to touch he is, how affectionate.
- Everything for you Li-man. I will miss you. When is your flight?
- Around 10 in the morning. Oh Will, don’t forget you have that tattoo appointment tomorrow.
- Oh right, almost forgot. Too bad you can’t join me like we planned. - William tells him.
- You’ll be ok. Dom is cool and I already told him about you.
- Oh, you’re getting a tattoo at Dom’s place? - Lennon questions. - His work is sick. He did my leg a couple of months ago.- he is pointing at his thigh casually, and William wants to look at it closely but knows that would be weird.
- Lennon yeah, you know Dom, why don’t you take him tomorrow? - Liam questions.
- What? - both Lennon and William say in unison, dumbfounded.
- I mean... you know where it is and William doesn’t. Help out a friend. Right?
- I d-don’t think that’s necessary Liam. I have a car, you know.
- I know but you have never been there.
- There’s this thing called sat-nav, it’s the 21st century after all. - he dismisses it sarcastically and sips his drink.
- Ok I’ll drive you. - Lennon says not phased at all and William stops mid way with his glass.
- You’ll what?
- See, that’s perfect Lennon, thank you so much mate, now I won’t feel guilty for not taking Will.
- Are you sure? It’s really not necessary. - William is confused by this sudden act of friendliness.
- What time do you have to be there?
- 5 o’clock.
- I will pick you up at 4:30. Liam can message me your address, I don’t have your number. -
Ouch. That hurt a bit, but really it shouldn’t. Why would he still have his number after all this time? William still didn’t delete his, but that’s a completely different thing. Anyway, William is shocked that Lennon actually wants to do this, spend time with him after all the drama. Maybe he is trying to be civil because of Liam or his band mates or maybe he has a plan to kidnap William, kill him and bury his body in some forest - either way he will take him up on an offer.