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They were naked and embarrassed. The latter had nothing to do with the nudity but rather the time of their entrance.
Who arrives early for an orgy?
I thought the invite said 10 p.m.
You always do this.
What? Get the time wrong for a sex party?
We could have watched the end of Britain’s Got Talent.
Never mind. We have two hours to kill. Let’s have a look around.
Security had let them into the grounds of the estate but once inside, their clothes had to go. Debauchery had strict rules. Exceptions were made for just two items; footwear and a bum bag (for storage). Bear was comfortable in his white runners, but Puddles regretted his choice of brown loafers which had looked a tad better when paired with trousers. Undeterred, onwards they strode to explore the gardens. Bear was wearing the bum bag.
Do you have my phone in there?
Are you sure?
And the drugs?
Why are you whispering? There’s no one here. And yes, I have them, too.
Do you think it’s safe to still do that stuff at our age?
Well I’m older than you.
True but my heart has been through so much more.
It’ll be fine, Puddles. We’ll just take a bit. God it’s been quite a while since we partied, eh?
You might tell me I’m as beautiful as the day we met when you’re high.
We’re not taking that much.
Two decades they had waited for this particular party. Every gay man in the city longed to be invited, but no one they knew had ever been. It was legendary. Rumours were told over cocktails in the bars of Soho that the host was a member of the Saudi Royal Family, that the most handsome models were flown in from all over the world, and that one year Elton John had shown up with his entourage only to be refused entry. Of course, they had no idea whether any of the stories were true, but it didn’t matter. Supporting evidence was not required in the world of gossip. They believed it all because they wanted to. When a mutual friend called to say he had managed to wrangle their names onto the list, the couple initially moaned that it was 10 years too late, but they both knew they had to come out of retirement for this one final blow out. The night was literally called Paradise.
They didn’t have much interest in horticulture and had no idea what anything was called. Their walk in the garden mostly consisted of pointing at stuff to say, “That’s nice,” followed by indifferent agreement until they came to a lake.
We never go to the Ponds anymore.
I suggested it last week and you said you were too hungover to be around that many queens.
It’s not the same as it used to be. We never see anyone we know.
That’s not true. We bumped into Brian and Jeffrey the last time.
Well we never see anyone we like.
Bear and Puddles had first met on Hampstead Heath; during the daytime, they liked to clarify when retelling the story. The young Puddles could hardly speak when the moustached, hairy-chested man approached him on the pontoon of the Men’s Pond. Freshly arrived in London only two weeks previously, he thought Bear looked like something straight out of the magazines he had hidden under his bed for years..
I still remember those tiny yellow Speedos you were wearing that day.
Oh, I loved those shorts.
Me too. Of course I enjoyed it more when you took them off to get in the water.
What a perv.
Amongst the hundreds of other homosexuals who descended on that section of the Heath every summer weekend, the two talked all day. They were certain that’s where their pet names for each other first emerged, but the reasoning behind them had long been forgotten. Bear took him home that evening, and the boy never left. Remembering this night, the older man gave him a slap on the ass as they made their way to the house.
What was that for?
You just look so sexy in those loafers.
The mansion wasn’t as stripped back as its guests. Everything was gold apart from the bottles of complimentary lube. Puddles made a joke about golden showers, but it wasn’t his best work. They then spent a full minute trying to remember the word opulence but eventually gave up. A huge mirror the size of a cinema screen made them look insignificant in the grand entrance hall. The two men stood before it, holding hands. The reflection showed many rolls on their bodies and lines on their faces, but they didn’t care. The couple stood proud; they had made it here together. Their hands squeezed tighter.
You still have a beautiful dick.
And you still have a beautiful way with words.
Wandering further into the empty house, they passed countless ice buckets and champagne glasses; flutes waiting for the flutes to arrive.
I wonder where all the staff are.
Probably in there.
Before them lay the dark room.
Shall we have a look?
Of course. We’re all young in the darkroom as they say.
Who says that?
Puddles had once tried to write a one-man show entitled Do Not Go Gentle into That Darkroom, but beyond the title, it hadn’t progressed far. Bear had been quietly relieved by that outcome. They opened the curtain and went in.
I remember them being darker.
What’s the point if you can see the other person?
It’s probably bright to allow the kids to take selfies.
You sound bitter.
Oh, that’s a nice sling. It’s been years since I was in one of those.
Get in it now.
I’m not sure I even could.
Bear grabbed the metal chains attached to the ceiling as Puddles bent down as far as he could to give him a boost. And just like that, he was back in the saddle; eyes to heaven and legs poles apart. Laughter didn’t usually belong in the darkroom, but it was here for their private tour.
How do I look?
That’s the word we were looking for earlier.
Your lover is spread-eagled naked in a sling and you’re playing Countdown in your head.
That’s not really how Countdown works.
Oh, I give up. Maybe I’ll just stay here all night.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Says you! I remember having to drag you out countless nights when it was time to go home.
I never knew how you always managed to find me in the pitch black.
Because you never shut up even when you have a cock in your mouth. Now get me down from here before I put out my back.
Toward the back, they passed a wall full of leather caps, harnesses, and various sex toys. They stopped to admire the wares.
I wish you were there in the 70s, Puddles.
What was it like?
Magical. I think they were the best years of my life.
Puddles thought about feigning mock offence but held back. Bear rarely talked about the past. It was too painful. He had lost too much. While there was less than a decade between the two men, the moment in history these years fell put them in two different eras. Puddles came of age toward the end of the 80s when the AIDS epidemic was starting to be brought under some control. While he knew a handful of men who had died, they weren’t close acquaintances. But Bear, he was one of the few survivors from his circle. The thriving leather scene he was part of had been hit particularly hard, and the older man had, like so many others, packed away his gear never to take it out again. That time was no more. A black suit became his main attire. He had, on rare occasions, tried to tell Puddles about the scene in those glorious years before things changed, but he could never find the right words. He had good memories, but few were left who shared them with him. Puddles put his arm around his waist as they wandered further into the mansion.
I’m a bit hungry.
We had takeaway just before coming here.
Yeah, but you took some of my spareribs.
You said you were full.
Well, I was then. But I’m not now. What is this room? It looks like an airport lounge.
It was full of booths with mobile phone chargers for each make and model.
The internet. Now that’s what really killed the scene.
Don’t be so melodramatic. We’re not those type of gays.
The ones who start sentences with in my day.
The other rooms provided more amusement. An empty theatre already playing a classic porno. An indoor spa with an Olympic-sized pool and no less than five Jacuzzis. And a chill out lounge curiously signposted as The Chapel. The topic of marriage was one they tended to steer clear of. They marched for it, of course, but they didn’t actually want it. It seemed a straight person’s tradition and one they rather resented having to celebrate when invited by friends and family. The two men wanted to be equal to their heterosexual counterparts, but they had no desire to be equally as boring. However, tax reasons meant it would have to be done eventually. A provisional date had been set for the following summer, but they avoided discussing it where possible.
Oh, here it is, Bear. Look at that ball.
A gigantic disco ball spun above their bald heads. Speakers stood in the four corners of the room and a DJ booth took centre stage at the top of a space, which could accommodate 300 people easily. They were looking forward to a dance most of all. They had danced in so many different establishments throughout the years. In windowless basement discos, disused warehouses, grand old theatres, on Brighton Beach, and in sleazy men-only clubs under railway arches. London rarely let a venue stay in situ for too long before it would move location, change ownership or simply stop being fun. Bear and Puddles always went to where the hardcore partiers were found. They took their dancing seriously; not so much the moves themselves but the vocation. Women had babies, straight men cheat, and gay men dance. That was one of Puddles’ phrases that he had tried to make catch back in the 90s. It didn’t catch.
Let’s see if we can put on a tune.
They approached the decks, but before they had time to investigate, a voice spoke from behind them.
Early bird catches the worm, eh?
It was an unsettling thing to hear at the start of an orgy. Turning around, they encountered what appeared to be the third guest to arrive. A fair-haired man stood before them wearing only a perfect white smile. And a bum bag. And trainers. He would be classed as looking “good for his age.” Large pecs confirmed a regular gym routine was kept, and a shaved chest confirmed that he still very much cared for his physical appearance.
Hi, there. We’re just having a nosey around. We got the start time wrong.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat if you know what I mean.
They hadn’t the foggiest what he meant. But they murmured in agreement to make polite conservation. He was a senior civil servant. They knew he was senior because he told them. Apparently he’d been coming to these parties for years after meeting the Prince on a diplomatic mission. When Bear asked where he was stationed, the man replied that it was classified.
I haven’t seen you two before. Is this your first time?
Bear and Puddles contradicted each other’s answers simultaneously. Bear wasn’t one to lie, but he instantly wished he’d followed Puddles’ lead and pretended they were regulars. The man was odd.
Well, which is it?
It’s our first time together.
So you’ve been before separately?
If he was confused, it didn’t show. The Botox had given him a good poker face.
You know about the VIP area, don’t you?
This isn’t it?
Ha, darlings. This is all for show. The real party has to be hidden even within the grounds of the estate. It would be a scandal if it ever came out what went on here.
Yes, yes. The real happenings go on downstairs. See that entrance over there. That’s where those in the know go for the real party.
The man pointed to a door situated behind the DJ booth.
Can anyone go in?
Of course. If you know about it, you’re part of the club. It’s already started down there. Go ahead. You are in for a treat.
Aren’t you joining?
Oh I’ll follow you down. I have to go charge my phone.
Bear and Puddles watched the man’s bare arse depart the hall, back the way they had come. They spoke only after he was gone.
That sounds exciting.
Do you believe him?
Why would he lie?
He’s a strange fellow. I don’t trust him at all.
Oh, come on. Let’s go over at least.
As they got close, they made out Private – Do Not Enter written on the door; a metal bar to push ran along the middle of it.
I think you should try it, Bear.
I don’t think this is a great idea. The party hasn’t even started yet.
Maybe it did start. At 10 p.m., like we thought. But only for the VIPs. Down there.
Why would we be VIPs?
We’re not doing it.
Bear walked away. He knew Puddles wouldn’t go ahead solo.
We could be mixing with all the celebs right now.
I just came for a dance.
And we will dance. Later. How about we just open it to stick our heads in?
To see what’s behind it.
I’m really not bothered.
Not even a tiny bit?
Okay, maybe a little bit but I don’t think we should.
Let’s go back over and see if we can hear anything through the door.
They each stood with one ear against the door.
I can’t hear a thing.
I think I can hear something.
I’m not sure.
We have more than enough up here.
We’ve seen all this before. I want to know what’s down there.
Oh, fuck it then. Let’s go.
Bear pushed open the door, and a deafening alarm immediately rang out throughout the building. The lovers looked at each with panic. Puddles pulled the door shut but the alarm continued.
The two naked men darted across the dance floor. Before they reached the exit, security guards dressed all in black arrived to block their escape. They were caught. A bearded man barged to the front. They knew from the way the others deferred to him that this was the host of the party and the owner of the mansion. He came to stand in front of them. He hadn’t yet disrobed for the evening’s activities and they were glad of that fact. The man had a remarkable ability to remain unattractive despite them knowing he was worth half a billion pounds.
Who are you?
Actually I couldn’t care less. Where the hell were you going?
We were looking for the bathroom.
Can’t you read what it says on the door? I invite you into my house and this is the respect you show me. Get them out of here.
He turned and walked away before they had the chance to plead their case. Puddles shouted after him.
Can I ask just one question? Please.
What is it?
What’s behind that door?
The host left without answering. No less than four security men escorted them back to the locker room to collect their belongings. They stood watch as the banished couple opened their locker and put on their clothes in silence. A clock on the wall showed the time was 11:45 p.m. Newly arrived guests who had read the invitation correctly were divesting and glancing at them with wary expressions. No one spoke. Security mercifully kicked them out through a back entrance which somewhat reduced their level of shame. The iron gate closed and locked behind them. Bear and Puddles looked at each other and burst out laughing.