Freddie is feeling good. He looks good, his hair is looking good and his brows are perfection, His sharp suit and expensive shirt are a great costume to hide his fear. He graduated with a first from Peterhouse, Cambridge in Natural Sciences whilst maintaining a prolific social life. He turned down multiple postgraduate offers, surprising everyone but the college bursar to take a job in the city.
Freddie is that kid, the super smart. Super-good looking, super confident kid who defied all the odds, born to junkie parents, taken into care at three and never adopted due to his mixed heritage, no one would even consider a Jamaican, Thai kid, however smart and cute he is.
He found luck when a care worker noticed his academic aptitude and knew a few prep schools that would fail over themselves to show off how diverse they were, entered him for half a dozen entry exams and scholarships. He was suddenly in a new world and began to swim.
He had 6 brilliant years, he joined every after school activity he could and was popular enough to be able to visit a different friend for dinner most nights. On evenings he had no plans he would ride the buses across London until curfew.
At 13 he went off to boarding school with a full scholarship, uniform bursary and no plans to tell anyone where he lived during the holidays. The school were amazing and made sure Freddie went on every trip possible during holidays to minimise his time home, His friends would also invite him away, never expecting him to cover his costs and he rarely had to return to the home.
Freddie had always known he was bi and boarding school was a great place to explore both sides of himself. He always had a boyfriend or girlfriend and was impossibly secure in who he was. He spent his time at prep studying the most successful of his friend’s parents and built a charming act based on a combination of them that became more natural each year.
The summer before uni a friend’s father arranged for a summer placement in his firm. He had been a governor of the prep school Freddie attended so knew Freddie’s background and that he would struggle for money at Cambridge. He always credited Freddie with helping his own son pass the common entrance with flying colours and felt this was a way to repay him. Freddie was relieved at the offer and was determined to do his best and squirrel away as much money as he could.
He worked in the day at the firm and nights in a bar where he shared a room with other bar workers. Keeping his minimal valuables in his locker at work and showering there each morning. At Cambridge being a care leaver he could stay in college year round and worked locally, during the holidays, sometimes doing 2 or 3 jobs, saving every penny so during term time he could socialize with his boarding school buddies and not look too tight.
So here he is walking in to his new firm looking and sounding every inch like one of his rich peers. He just won’t be going home to a flat given to him by his grandparents. Still a shared house with other graduates, back in south London is perfectly acceptable and he is forever grateful to his college for giving him one final bursary to fund his deposit and first month’s rent.
“Wow you got hot over the summer.” Freddie says to a tail blonde man, dressed near identically to himself, as they enter the lift together.
“Thanks. I spend the summer on honeymoon, safari in Kenya and a month at Arabella’s pad in the Bahamas.” Horace a formally nerdy maths graduate says blushing bright pink at the compliment,
“Honeymoon. Wow congratulations. The tan really suits you.” Freddie says.
“Thanks. I didn’t expect to see you here. I thought you’d be neck deep in research somewhere.” Horace says.
“I could same the same about you.” Freddie grins his wide smile that charms everyone.
“Arabella wants to get started on a family.” Horace says.
“Ahh and a Phd student won’t cut it? Shame you’re very talented.” Freddie says, he and Horace were not friends at college. Horace was shy and quiet and didn’t mix much, and spent every weekend off with his girlfriend. But they had a few lectures together through the years and battled each other for top marks in those.
“Thanks. Could say the same about you. Gosh I am glad to see you. I am terribly shy and was dreading today, I’m not exactly the type to work somewhere like this,” Horace says,
“I thought you were exactly the type. Public school, Cambridge, good family, white.” Freddie says,
“Shy, nerdy, married.” Horace counters.
“I Suppose I don’t see you as a brash trader.” Freddie says.
“And neither do we.” A tall gentleman says coming in to the reception area where the pair have been waiting.
Freddie stands up and offers his hand and Horace follows.
“Are you leading the induction? I thought there would be more people.” Freddie says.
“You will go through the corporate drivel with the others this afternoon but I wanted to see the pair of you earlier to outline our plans. Follow me.” The man says.
Freddie and Horace swap surprised looks and follow on behind.
“I am Archie, head of special projects. To be upfront we targeted the pair of you, your exam scores and dissertations showed me the pair of you were exactly who we wanted. You are both too much of a risk for trading and fund management. Freddie your background makes you too high risk and Horace your personality is not a fit.” Archie says.
“I don’t understand. I thought we were on rotation and then would be assigned to where we fit best. I didn’t expect to be trading, I thought I’d end up in IT.” Horace says.
“Sorry for the secrecy, my former boss loved it, made him feel like he was recruiting spies. We might change it going forward but it has worked out so far. We get the brains we need with just the right level of motivation. In short we want your number crunching skills,” Archie says and outlines the project they are joining and the work they’ll be doing,
“Look this is very well and I get that Horace expected to end up in a development or research role but didn’t. If I wanted research I would have gone elsewhere.” Freddie says bluntly.
“Your starting salaries will be double what you were offered and you are still on a generous bonus scheme. You can say no and you’ll go on to the scheme as expected no detriment to your, career but it would be a waste of that fine mind of yours. You may be charming and good looking and feet you deserve a front office role but your brain is that of a behind the scenes man and you know it’ Archie says.
“I can live with that.” Freddie grins, his anger gone as swiftly as it arrived.
“We know you men have choices. We’re not going to keep you tied to your desks with no benefits. You will still take your exams with the others and be included their social events. You will be sworn to secrecy on what you actually do and what you are paid. We’ll give you fake rotation notes if you need them. You will still do your overseas stint also. You will not be disadvantaged in any way.” Archie says.
“I was hoping not to have to go overseas. I heard that if you opted for technology you didn’t have to.” Horace says.
“You have to, it is already arranged. If your wife gets pregnant we can get you home for the birth is she pregnant?” Archie asks.
“No, not yet but she wants to be.” Horace says.
“Well in 6 months you have 6 months in the US so I’d wait a few months to start trying.” Archie says and Horace blushes a deep scarlet.
Freddie looks at Horace surprised. He is so cute and smart and wealthy, Freddie just can’t see why he’s tied himself down so early. Although he guesses if he had a girlfriend whose family owned a hotel on a private island he might try and lock her down quick too. Weird he’s never thought of himself married to a woman before.
“Go and have lunch. Come back at two for the induction and not a word to your new colleagues.” Archie says.
“My father’s club is round the corner. We can get lunch there and have some privacy to talk.” Horace says.
“Will I be allowed in?” Freddie asks his mask cracking for a second.
“Of course you will it’s 2017. They let women in and everything.” Horace says with a smile.
“Sorry I didn’t mean…” Freddie says.
“Honestly I’m not offended.” Horace smiles.
The pair are shown to a table in a quiet alcove and Horace orders food for both of them, his shyness evaporating in familiar surroundings.
“A man never ordered for me before, I kinda like it.” Freddie says cheekily, Horace is very cute when he’s in control, very cute.
“Oh gosh, I didn’t think. The menu is alt a bit school dinners here, 1950s school dinners and only a few options are worth eating. I didn’t want you to end up with spam fritters by mistake. Not that I thought you wouldn’t decipher the menu. Oh gosh I am making a mess of things. What did Archie mean by your background making you a risk? I thought you were one of us.” Horace asks.
“This goes no further?” Freddie asks.
“After this morning you’re my closest confidant of course I won’t tell anyone. Have you ever known me to gossip?” Horace asks,
“I’d rather you didn’t even tell your wife.” Freddie says.
“Of course, she does gossip, I hear the wildest stories.” Horace says.
“You’re a funny pair.” Freddie says,
“I’m her rock, always have been. Never looked at another girl and she always came back to me. We have a few secrets.” Horace says.
“I went to the right schools but all on scholarships and bursaries. Even Cambridge I got a larger bursary than usual and they even gave me a discretionary payment to get me started back in London.” Freddie gays.
“That is nothing to be embarrassed about, something to be proud of surely. So your folks are ordinary Joes, teachers or something?” Horace asks,
“I have no idea. I’ve been in care since I was three. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed but I prefer people not to know. To not see the distance between us. I assume Archie thinks I’d be more likely to take risks to score a big return and be a bit reckless. I understand even if I don’t agree.” Freddie says.
“Gosh how revolting, It isn’t like you were one of the gamblers in college. I think the pair of us were probably the most measured that way. Me because I’m a pessimist and always seethe bad odds and you because you didn’t want to waste a penny,” Horace says.
“I didn’t know you noticed me. Outside of lectures I mean.” Freddie says.
“How could anyone not notice you? You were so popular and outgoing and had the marks others could only dream of. I took notice of all my rivals and by the middle of second year I knew you were the only one left worth keeping tabs on. I was always jolly glad you were sciences while I was maths, it let us both shine with our tutors.” Horace says.
“Is the shyness an act?” Freddie asks.
“Afraid not. Academically where I am secure it has never been a problem but socially and I expect in work I am cripplingly shy and awkward it holds me back no end.” Horace says.
“But you’re being very open with me. Taking the lead even.” Freddie says.
“Like I said I was so relieved to see a friendly face this morning that I totally relaxed. I’m afraid you won’t be able to shake me off now. I can be quite the limpet when I like someone.” Horace says.
“That sounds pretty great to me.” Freddie says looking Horace directly in the eye and holding his gaze far too long.
Horace feels confused for a second and shakes it off, figuring he doesn’t make new friends often.
“Are any of your friends starting today?” Horace asks when he regains composure.
“No, no one else I know is starting.” Freddie says.
“I’ve not kept up with anyone. We were technology free most of the summer. We took cameras and not phones with us. It was really nice. I was able to decompress from study properly. What did you do for the summer?” Horace asks.
“I worked, tutoring kids and in bars. Paid for this suit.” Freddie grins.
“It looks really good. You always dress well, I am even more impressed now I know you worked for all of it.” Horace says.
“I got some money from the local authority to start me off at college. I felt a little guilty as I wasn’t in the same position as others, but it was very welcome. In my head those monies went towards my room, board and books and everything I earned paid for my clothes and social life.” Freddie says.
“Small investment compared to your earning potential. Especially if this project comes off.” Horace says.
“It will. We are both very smart and hardworking.” Freddie says.
“So you noticed me too.” Horace grins.
“You were noticed for never being around as much as anything, But yes I kept tabs on you too:” Freddie says.
“I get the feeling the big social butterfly was a bit of an act. You played it very well and I did not notice at the time but now I am thinking that was some aggressive networking you were doing.” Horace says.
“It started as an act way back in prep school and it became who I was. I love going out and being social. I loved all the societies I joined and I made friends with people I liked not just with people who might be useful. And I do like many of the useful people I’m not a total user.” Freddie says.
“I would never suggest that. Sorry I can be so awkward at times.” Horace says.
“So now you know all about me. Why did you marry so soon? Was she pregnant?” Freddie asks.
“We’ve known each other our whole lives. I love her. We’d been together for years and yet I’m old fashioned. Didn’t want us to live together without being married first.” Horace says.
“Did you never want to explore? Try others out for size to be sure?” Freddie asks.
“We’re not all as free and easy as you. Girls one day, boys the next.” Horace says judgementally.
“You judge my sex life more than my background. Interesting. I wasn’t that much of a player, I had fun but everyone knew where they stood. I made no promises.” Freddie says.
“But you still broke hearts.” Horace says.
“No, I don’t believe I did, Shattered a few illusions, from those who wanted to change me and became a magnet for drama queens of both sexes for a while but I learnt from every mistake.” Freddie says.
“I suppose looking like you do you can choose whoever you want.” Horace says.
“You could now too. You’ve just bloomed a little later and so don’t have the confidence!’ Freddie says again holding Horace’s gaze until he looks away uncomfortably.
“Or maybe married life suits me. Come on we best get going. Do I look okay? I hope I didn’t spill anything.” Horace says fussing with his tie.
“You’re fine. Come one.” Freddie says and they go back to the office.
Over the next six months Horace and Freddie see far less of each other than they expected. They are working on different parts of the project and although they greet each other when their paths cross they don’t develop the friendship that they both hoped they might.
At the six month anniversary of them starting there is a big party for all on the graduate scheme and Freddie spends the whole evening looking out for Horace and is bitterly disappointed although not surprised when he doesn’t show.
The following week they meet in the airport lounge awaiting their flight.
“When they said we were going to the US I assumed New York or California, Chicago at a push. Arabella is distraught that it is Las Vegas.” Horace says sitting next to Freddie and ordering breakfast.
“Thinks you’ll run off with a showgirl. Is she pregnant?” Freddie asks.
“No, she had a miscarriage a month ago. I feel awful leaving her right now.” Horace says.
“I’m so sorry.” Freddie says wishing he hadn’t asked.
“She’s staying with her parents in the country while I’m gone so she’s not alone.” Horace says,
“That’s good. Is she not working?” Freddie asks and Horace’s face turns ashen.
“No she didn’t take to her job and so she’s a fulltime home maker. We’re lucky our parents bought us the house and my salary more than covers our expenses.” Horace says.
“What your parents paid for half a house each. In London?” Freddie asks shocked, Many of his friends have been gifted flats by their parents or grandparents and some live in family homes but no one has been given a whole house.
“Well my parents gave it to me for getting a first. We’re married so it’s half hers.” Horace says.
“Wow. I thought it was her family that was loaded. I guess you’re a financial match if nothing else. Is she not bored? Is she not boring not having a job?” Freddie asks.
“She occupies herself, always busy, yoga and Pilates, charity events to plan, seeing her friends and taking care of me.” Horace blushes.
“Ahh washes your socks and has dinner on the table.” Freddie grins.
“No, I mean the housekeeper does that.” Horace blushes a deeper shade of beetroot.
“So she takes care of you in bed but doesn’t have to lift a finger in the house or pay her way. Good job you’re married.” Freddie says.
“It isn’t like that. I don’t pay her to stay around.” Horace says.
“Just how well off are your family? Like could she have married anyone wealthier without them being Russian or Arab?” Freddie asks.
“Freddie! She loves me for me. Just as I love her. I told you we have known each other forever and it isn’t like her family are any less rich. Neither of us needs to work for the money.” Horace says deeply embarrassed he hates talking money, it just isn’t done.
“I’m sorry. I’d hate to think you were being taken advantage of. I know I’m an outsider but I’ve seen it often.” Freddie says.
“Yes. My older sisters have been frequent targets.” Horace says and relaxes.
“So why do you work in the city? Why not something more fun like gaming or a cool startup?” Freddie asks.
“I am not that cool. I am quite boring, far too smart to be understood by most and I love numbers.” Horace admits.
The pair talk and talk for the whole flight. Freddie doesn’t know if it is because Horace knows his secret or if it is because they are equally smart but Horace feels like the first real friend he has made.
The pair are met by a driver who takes them to the apartment they will be sharing for the duration. On the counter is a welcome pack which includes a dinner invitation for the evening. They shower and unpack a little before another car arrives to take them out.
They meet a bunch of their new team, all pretty nerdy but Horace still struggles. Freddie charms everyone with ease and then gives Horace his undivided attention. They get a cab back to their building.
Later Freddie will have no idea what possessed him but he knows that in the moment it felt perfect.
“I’m a little drunk.” Horace says.
“A very cute drunk, I love your nose all pink.” Freddie says.
“You are a very cute drunk too.” Horace says.
Freddie takes a deep breath, leans in and kisses Horace. Horace doesn’t hesitate but kisses back hard before pulling away, shocked at himself.
“I’m not gay.” Horace says.
“You kissed me back.” Freddie says.
“I kissed you back. And it was wonderful.” Horace says slowly his world crashing in.