Exclusive Excerpt from Tainted Love
by T.S. Hunter
SOHO, LONDON. 1985.
THE DANK WINTERY STREETS outside were a distant memory now. Tonight, this hot, sweaty, neon-lit club was Joe’s whole universe. Music pulsed through his body like a brand new heartbeat. London was already changing him.
Sweat sticking his T-shirt to his ribs, arms raised high above his head, grinning wildly, hips pumping to Frankie’s repetitive calls to “Relax”. Joe hardly recognised himself and he was happier than he’d ever been.
It had been a night of Bronski Beat, Sister Sledge, Culture Club and Madonna—the kind of upbeat pop Joe usually hated. He was into more brooding, melancholic stuff—miserable shite, according to his friend Chris—and yet these pulsing, happy beats felt like they defined him right now. The new him. His new start.
This whole weekend had been like none Joe had ever known. He’d always been the quiet one, never even daring to come down to London on his own. Not confident enough to admit who he really was. This year was different already.
His oldest friend from school, Chris Sexton, had called him out of the blue to invite Joe to join him in London for a long weekend. A friend is having a party, he’d said. It’s going to be wild. You should come.
Chris had been the only person Joe had stayed in touch with from his school days. His first and only love, though he knew that particular accolade was one-sided, and Joe had long since given up hope of anything happening between them, even if he was still—and always would be—a little besotted with Chris.
Chris wasn’t the kind of guy who went around falling in love, though. Handsome, confident, reckless, funny and the bravest man Joe knew—Chris had left a trail of broken hearts behind him of those who’d fallen for him before they realised he’d never settle down.
So Joe and Chris had stayed friends, meeting up less frequently now that they had both left their respective universities, and Joe had secured a boring but well paid job with the council back in their old home town.
Chris, on the other hand, had moved to London seven years ago to study Fashion at St Martin’s College. Two fingers up to his father, who’d wanted him to join the family accountancy firm. Maybe he’d go back to it, when he’d settled down a bit. Though there was no sign of that happening any time soon.
After college, Chris had hooked himself up in a partnership with a couple of other young designers, and had been making a name for himself on the fashion scene ever since.
He was renting a flat in the heart of Soho and seemed to have a wide circle of friends of all shapes and ages. Joe wished he had Chris’s life. Or his talent. Or his looks. Any one of those would do.
Joe laughed as his friend bounced across the floor in a series of typically ostentatious dance moves, deliberately bumping into a tall, skinny, blonde guy—exactly Chris’s type—and planting a sly kiss on his cheek before sashaying away again. Oh, for that confidence.
Joe hadn’t even come out to his family yet. In fact, Chris was the only person he’d ever confided in, though he was sure others knew.
His oldest sister suspected. She’d asked him outright once, but he’d just changed the subject. It was none of her business. She was like the mirror of their mother. She wouldn’t understand. She would just worry.
All of that felt a lifetime away right now. Here in this club, Joe had found his spiritual home. This was living. This was who he really was. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna blasting out of the speakers, bodies bouncing and writhing together, very few of them remotely like a virgin.
Joe leaned back against the bar, his sweaty T-shirt clinging to his skin where it pressed against the cold railing. The bass throbbed through his body, vibrating his core. He’d never danced like he had tonight.
He didn’t even need Chris at his side, egging him on, and telling him not to worry about what people thought. He’d been right to come down to London. He should listen to his friend more often.
There was work for him here, surely. He didn’t need the security, or oppression, of home any more. Chris had promised to help find him something, if he wanted to stay. Right now he could think of nothing better.
Chris sauntered up and grabbed him by the arm, dragging him back towards the middle of the dance floor.
“I can’t,” Joe protested half-heartedly. “I need a break. I need a drink.”
He didn’t need any more to drink at all, he was already stumbling as Chris led him across the heaving floor. The young French guys he’d been dancing with earlier caught his eye. The sexy one was called Luc, but Joe couldn’t remember the other guy’s name. Something with a G. It didn’t matter, ‘Mate’ would do. He’d pretty much ignored Joe all night anyway, spending most of it leaning against the bar looking sultry.
Luc, on the other hand, had been flirting with Joe all night. And Joe wasn’t really sure how to handle it. No one had ever hit on him before. Sure enough, Luc touched Joe’s waist as he passed, and the look he gave him made Joe’s stomach do somersaults. Joe let his own hand rest on Luc’s for a moment. Holding back long enough for Luc to whisper in his ear.
“Come dance with me.”
His breath smelled of beer and cigarettes. His accent was amazing. His lips close enough to kiss. And Joe knew he could, but still he hesitated. Apart from Chris, he’d never kissed anyone. Not like that. And that had only been the one time.
Chris always joked that just one kiss from him had spoiled Joe for other men. He may have been right once, but Joe had moved on. And no one—not even Chris—had ever looked at him the way Luc just had. For the first time in their friendship, Joe suddenly wanted Chris to just disappear.
“I’ll be back,” Joe called to Luc, as Chris dragged him on through the throng of dancers. Luc smiled as gyrating bodies closed the space between them. A squeal rose above the beat, and Joe turned to see Chris planting a full kiss on the lips of a tall woman in a tight red sequined dress which framed her stunning figure.
“Get off, you bugger! You’ll smear my lippy.”
Liverpudlian accent. Cheekbones to die for. Nails like knife blades. Red wig piled high, with a little curl teased down each temple. Six foot something in heels, and eye shadow that made Cindy Lauper look like she wasn’t even trying.
The sequins glistened in the disco lights, making her look like she was made of glitter. Up close, Joe could see make-up caking around a tiny missed patch of stubble. Barely noticeable, and it took nothing away from the overall effect. He was dumbstruck. You’re not in Kansas now.
“Patty, darling,” Chris gushed. “You look fabulous.”
“All thanks to my gorgeous designer,” Patty replied, eyes darting to Chris’s hand, still clutching Joe’s. The briefest frown, gone in an instant.
“Well hello, handsome,” Patty smiled, red-nailed finger touching Joe’s cheek. “Who’ve we got here?”
“Patty, this is Joe,” said Chris. “The old school friend I told you about. He promised to come for the party. And here he is.”
It almost broke Joe’s heart that Chris seemed so happy to show him off to his friends. Joe had always thought he was the boring one, but Chris was nothing if not fiercely loyal.
“Thisis your school friend?” asked Patty incredulously. “God! I wish I’d gone to yourschool.”
An over-dramatic eye roll had Chris laughing. Joe froze as Patty leaned in and kissed him on both cheeks. The smell of perfume and cigarettes, make-up and talc wafting around him.
“Enchanté,” she purred. “God, he’s so cute!”
Joe felt himself blushing. It would take a bit of getting used to, this new world he’d found himself in.
“You ready for the show then?” Patty asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Chris replied.
“Well come backstage and help me sort out this fucking corset, will you? It’s tighter than my Nan’s purse,” Patty hissed, lips pouted. “You can come watch, if you want.”
Joe wasn’t sure that he did want. The song had changed to “Tainted Love”. And all he wanted to do was find Luc. Continue reading