Chapter One: Part Four | BOUND TO LIBERTY
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Chapter One: Part Four
Shaking off the gloom descending on him, he reached in his trouser pocket, pulled out the stick of Mentos and popped an orb into his mouth.
He chewed the sticky mint and scrubbed the damp patch on his clothes, as if he could cleanse the horrible memories of his family history away.
The squeaking door drew his attention to the new arrival in the gents.
“Hello,” the man said as he strode across to the urinals.
“Hi.” James tilted his head in recognition of the barman who had served their drinks, whose nametag read ‘Damola.’
He finished at the sink and walked over to the hot-air hand dryer. He hated those things, believing they dispersed germs rather than killed them. Still, he had no other solution for dealing with the damp shirt.
“I can help you with that.”
“Pardon?” James glanced back.
“I said I can help you dry the shirt,” Damola repeated.
“Oh. It’s okay, I can use this.” James pointed at the contraption on the wall.
Damola twisted his face in a grimace. “I don’t trust those things. I have something better.” The waiter walked to the door and opened it. “Come on.”
James didn’t need another prompt. He followed the man down the corridor and through a door marked ‘Staff Only.’
“Are you sure it’s okay to be in here?” James asked.
“Sure. You’re with me.” Damola winked at him. The man had a lovely smile brightened by white teeth.
They walked into another space that looked like a changing room with grey metal lockers stacked against the wall. On a wooden counter above the sinks sat two black hair dryers.
“There you go.” Damola plugged one in, and a hot breeze blasted out.
James tugged his shirt out and held it while Damola directed the flow of air.
“I’m James, by the way.” James spoke loudly because of the whirring sound.
“I know. I’m Damola.” The man pointed at the tag with his free hand. He was good-looking, the same height as James, with walnut-hued skin and afro hair cropped short at the sides and stacked at the top. His bulging muscles stretched his shirt and made him look like a gym rat.
“You know my name? How?” James asked. He’d never spoken to the man before except to order drinks, and he’d never mentioned his name.
“I heard your friends, the twins, say it,” Damola replied as his Pepsodent smile returned.
“You must be very observant,” James commented.
How many other strangers knew his name just from overhearing it, or seeing him with Kezie and Gozie?
A chill blanketed his back.
The Nwobodo twins were media celebrities. James had kept out of the limelight. He avoided public scrutiny as much as possible.
“It comes as part of the job.” The man’s shoulders rose and fell.
“Still,” James said, trying to quell the uneasiness making his stomach quiver. “I’m only one person out of hundreds, possibly thousands, that visit this club. Don’t tell me you remember every name.”
“Of course not.” Damola shook his head as his grin widened. “I noticed you from the first time you came in with the twins. They are loud and like to show off, always with different girls at the club. But, you’re different. You don’t play their games. For me, you stand out from the crowd. And of course, you be fine boy.”
James’s head jerked back as he glanced at the man’s grinning face.
Stroking the goatee on his chin, Damola stared with intensity, his gaze not wavering.
Heat streaked across James's face as the man’s words sank in.
Was the guy flirting with him?
James took a step back, feeling a little awkward.
“Thanks for this.” He tucked his shirt back into his trousers. The damp spot was gone. “I better get back to my friends.”
He stepped back again, creating distance between them.
“Wait.” Damola pulled a card out of his back pocket. “I know I’m not in your league for friendship or whatever.” He sounded a little bitter in the way he said ‘whatever.’ “But I think we have something in common. If you ever want to talk or go out for a drink, call me.”
Damola shoved the card into James’s hand.
Yep, the guy was definitely propositioning James.
James opened his mouth and closed it, caught between being flattered and being freaked out.
This wouldn’t be the first time he’d received an offer from a man. The others had been from friends or existing acquaintances. Not a stranger.
He wasn’t openly gay. There was no reason Damola should identify him as such.
The waiter’s gaydar proved to be on point. And the man was attractive, if James allowed himself to go there.
However, James’s relationship with Kezie mattered, and he’d never cheated. He wouldn’t start now. He couldn’t tell Damola that he was already seeing someone else, for fear of outing Kezie inadvertently.
Neither could he berate the man for expressing himself. Every person should be able to do so without fear.
Finally, James wasn’t going to deny his sexuality.
The only option was to retreat without revealing anything one way or the other.
“Ehm,” James muttered as he backed up to the door, twisted the handle and stepped into the corridor. “Thanks, again, for your help.”
Shoving the card into his pocket absently, he hurried out to his friends, a smile playing on his lips even as his unease remained.
That had been surreal.
To be continued...