Seven years later
I'm standing outside one of the entrances to Regents Park, patiently watching people come up from the corresponding tube station, eyes scanning their faces in an effort to find a familiar one.
He's late. I check the time on my watch for what must be the eighth time in the same sixty second window, and of course time isn't going any faster. I tell myself that if he's not here in the next ten minutes, I can leave. I'm feeling torn as to whether this is a good idea at all anyway. Theo didn't seem too pleased when I told him about it, but I think he understood why I felt like I needed to do this. The messages I got on Facebook were pleading and they almost made me wonder if I had overreacted, way back then. I'm not sure.
Feeling obligated to do it doesn't make it any easier, though. I want to leave. I'm on my lunch break and I'm hungry, and if he doesn't get here soon, I'm going to be suffering from a grumbling stomach for the rest of the day. Plus, I don't know if I actually want to see him. Our last meeting didn't exactly go well.
I tell myself that I'm being smart by meeting him outdoors, in a public place, because if it goes bad, I can just leave. He doesn't know where I live. He doesn't know my phone number. I can just be rid of him. Finally.
I check my watch again. It was a Christmas gift from Theo, much too expensive in my opinion. I feel like a target with it glinting on my wrist, as though it's attracting muggers. When I lower my arm to my side, I shake my coat sleeve so it's concealed. It means too much to me for me to risk it being stolen.
I'm looking at the faces rising from the steps leading up from the tube station, when a hand grips my elbow, and I jump out of my fucking skin.
"Jesus," I exclaim, stepping backwards. "You scared the shit out of me." Kieran drops his hand from my arm.
"Sorry about that," he returns, pulling a face that looks mildly remorseful. "I was probably going to scare you no matter what, you were looking pretty intensely over in that direction."
"I was looking for you," I tell him. "You told me you were getting the tube." He nods, and as he tells me about getting off at the wrong station, I sweep my eyes over him. He hasn't changed a tremendous amount, though his hair is maybe a little neater than I remember, and his shoulders are broader. He's still a good few inches taller than me, but I don't feel as intimidated by him as I used to, even though he's dressed in a sharp suit, and I'm in jeans and a t-shirt.
"So what are you even doing in London?" I ask him. Straight to the point, so I can get back to work as soon as possible. Seeing Kieran in the flesh is making me feel a little torn. He's not intimidating me, so the lack of physical threat is keeping me here, but I also don't want to be anywhere near him. Unfortunately, he has other ideas.
"Don't you want to go sit down somewhere?" he replies with a question. "You said on Facebook that this was your lunch hour. Have you eaten yet?" Unfortunately, I haven't, so we go to a sandwich shop which is just over the road from where we're standing. Kieran is surprised by the price of the food, which makes me realize I've lived here long enough now to be used to it. I don't offer to pay.
"I'm working for my uncle," he tells me, once we've sat down on a bench in the park. "I finally graduated college, and he said he'd find me something to do in his office." Kieran's uncle is the CEO of a major holiday company in Canary Wharf. He's completely landed on his feet, despite all the years it took him to get his qualification. This isn't at all surprising to me. Kieran's family comes from money. No matter the direction his life took, he would be financially stable. It was always a mystery to me why he went to a state school, when he could have gone to the far superior private one in the city.
"So you're living here now?" I ask, and he nods, taking a bite of his sandwich.
"Yeah, I've got a room at my uncle's house," he talks with his mouth full, and flecks of prawn mayo fall onto the thighs of his trousers. "But obviously I don't know anyone who lives in London, and I knew you'd moved here ages ago, so I thought it would be good to meet up." I watch his face, and I'm perplexed. Has he completely forgotten the shit he put me through? Does he really not recall the fact he outed me? That he would have beat the living daylights out of me if I hadn't got there first?
"I don't know why you thought that," I reply, slowly and cautiously. I put my food down in my lap. "You're obviously remembering our last meeting a bit differently to what happened." Kieran looks sheepish all of a sudden, and he shrugs.
"I was a kid," he returns, finger toying with the edge of his sandwich. He won't meet my eyes.
"Not really," I respond, sensing that I'm not going to get the apology that I was hoping for. "You were twenty one. By most people's definitions, you stop being a 'kid' by that age."
"Late bloomer," he says, and I can feel rage swelling up inside my chest. I grip onto the edge of the bench to prevent my fists from clenching.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Kieran?" I ask, and my tone is harsher than I was expecting. "You…" I can't even form words. "Why the hell did you want to meet me if you're just going to try to write off all that fuckery?"
"We were best friends, Ryan," he replies. "Did that not mean anything to you?"
"You were going to beat me up because I'm gay," I shoot back. "You were going to hurt me because I like men." Kieran is looking around, as if to suggest that I ought to keep my voice down, because we're in public. "You outed me on Facebook to everyone I know. Because you're a fucking psycho."
"I seem to remember that you came out properly pretty quickly after I did that," he retorts, and I stand up, the tension in my joints too much. God, I want to punch something. I haven't felt this much anger in years.
"What choice did I have?" I return. "You told everyone I was gay. I couldn't just leave that unaddressed." He shakes his head, rolling his eyes.
"Look, we're twenty-eight years old. You need to get over yourself." I look at him, speechless in my disbelief. I don't know what I can reply to that pathetic attempt to placate me. What a total idiot.
"Kieran, you wanted to meet me," I state, pointing between the two of us. He's still sitting on the bench, pink sauce smudged on his chin. He's not even mad, he's calmer than I've ever seen him in his life. He is being far too apathetic for my liking. He just doesn't care. "I thought you were wanting to apologize, but…I don't even know what you're trying to achieve."
"I was just hoping to see the person who used to be my best mate," he returns. "Not that I even recognize you anymore. You've changed so much that it's ridiculous." He shakes his head in what looks like a combination of disappointment and disgust.
"I know I have," I retort. "And that's not a bad thing! I have a great job, I have great friends. I have an awesome house in a nice part of London. I went on holiday three times last year. My husband just got cast on a TV show." I pause, watching Kieran's face. "Yes, my husband. I got married. Last year, my husband won the fucking Olivier award for Best Actor. We have paparazzi outside of our fucking house. We're happy." I can feel myself getting emotional, my throat feeling thick. "I'm fucking happy."
Kieran just looks as though he's being scolded, rolling his eyes and looking anywhere but in my direction.
"I thought you might have grown up by now," I continue. "It's 2022, Kieran, seriously. You seriously still think being gay is wrong?"
"I just don't think it's natural," he replies, and it's at that point that I realize I have nothing to gain by staying here and talking to him. I can't possibly have a conversation with someone who believes that my mere existence is abnormal. "I don't even know why you're angry with me, you punched me in the dick!"
"You were going to beat me up!" I exclaim, and his eyes nervously dart around us, watching the people walking by. "You were going to hurt me, purely because of a stupid picture of me kissing Theo. I was your best friend and you were going to attack me." He doesn't respond, looking down at the disgusting sandwich in his hand.
"I don't have to put up with your shit anymore," I say, and it's at this point that he finally looks at me. He looks ridiculous. He still has food on his chin and the end of his tie is poking into his sandwich. His suit doesn't fit him properly; it's too short at the legs, much more ankle being exposed than is necessary, and the same applies for his arms. He's only managed to pull himself together in the last year, and even then I'd say he's only done it loosely.
"I hope you're successful in whatever it is that you're doing with your life, Kieran," I tell him, picking my food up from the bench. "But I'd really appreciate it if you didn't try to get in contact with me again." I walk away, back towards Theatreland. Kieran doesn't call after me, not even to spit out one of those horrible names he used to resort to so easily.
I feel light as a feather, which is an odd sensation, given how interactions with him have made me feel in the past. I had never had any closure with Kieran, our relationship having felt somewhat suspended these last seven years. But now it's over. He knows how well I'm doing without him. He knows that I didn't need him for any of it.
I enter the theatre, moving through the building until I reach the dressing rooms. I don't knock before I open the door to Theo's, slipping inside and closing it quietly behind me. He's sat at the bench reading over a script, but he looks up at me with a warm expression in his eyes. He's wearing a plush white dressing gown which contrasts his dark hair perfectly. Resting against his chest is the necklace I bought him before we came to London. I can feel my own hanging around my neck, mirroring his.
"How did it go?" he asks, pushing his thick rimmed reading glasses up onto his head, and I shrug in response. He doesn't need to hear about Kieran, not tonight. Tonight is the first night that Theo is starring as the lead in a play written by his closest friend and my boss, Darren. It's a far smaller part than the ones he's had the last few years, but he's apparently doing it as part of a bet he and Darren made back when they first started university, ten years ago. Something along the lines of Theo getting to star in Darren's play if Darren got famous, and Theo being the star of Darren's play if Theo ever got famous. The second is what happened. Theo's career took off.
This of course means that Darren's play is doing far better than anyone expected, which is promising given that he is currently hiring me as his head Stage Carpenter. Once I'm done here, I need to rush back to the set to check everything is going correctly. Provided I do well, and the play is a success, I might finally be able to stop doing so much freelance work.
"It doesn't matter," I tell Theo, crossing the room and sliding my arms around his shoulders, leaning down slightly to hold him tight. I look at him through the mirror in front of us, and I'm still struck dumb by the intensity of emotion I feel for him, all these years later. "He's part of my old life. I don't need him in this one."
Theo twists on his chair, so he's looking up at me. His hands slide around my waist, and he pulls me close, his cheek pressed against my stomach. After removing his glasses and setting them down on the bench, I stroke my fingers through his hair, which I imagine I'll probably get told off for when he looks in the mirror, his hairstyle totally destroyed.
"It was so brave of you to go and meet him," he says. "I'm so proud of you."
"I couldn't have done it without you," I reply, and as cheesy as it sounds, it's totally true. "None of this, nothing about my life, would be the same if you weren't in it. You're like some kind of a catalyst." Theo doesn't say anything, he just stands up and kisses me, and I melt into his arms and the warmth of his dressing gown.
I meant what I said to Kieran. I'm happy. I can't picture myself any more content with things than I currently am. I'm married to the one and only person I've ever been able to completely be myself with. For me, Theo is home. He is everything I could ever have asked for, and more.
As is expected, Theo totally nails his performance. A review that appears in The Guardian the next day means all the shows sell out. We're busier than we anticipated for the next three weeks, but hey, what does it matter?
We're together. And we're so, so happy.