Chapter 1 – Journey
“Oh my god, they’ve written about your arse. I can’t believe they mentioned your arse. Look!”
While grabbing the paper from the barman, Danny Johnson’s eyes instantly focused on the title of the publication. London’ Bears.
Sensing the wide-opened eyes of the barman on him, a big grin appeared across Danny’s face. He knew that his body’s best feature was his bottom, and here it was now being confirmed in a publication. And, more recently, it had been confirmed by Nick, Danny’s boyfriend.
Standing at five feet ten inches tall, Danny Johnson may have had the best bottom in the world, but he disliked his pale complexion. He always had to cover up during hot summer’ days, which meant no going shirtless with all the other guys. Freckles dotted his arms, and his red hair would have been very wavy if he’d let it grow. But he never allowed it to grow, always getting it cut at least once every three weeks. Danny disliked long hair on men. It just made them look feminine.
He always felt on top of the world after a haircut. It made him feel clean and confident, but most of all, Danny believed it made him stand out in a crowd.
His confidence would dwindle as his hair grew. It was as if the confidence was sand in an egg timer which would fill up again the moment his hair got cut.
Whenever he needed a confidence boost, Danny would get the hair clippers out. As he clipped his hair to the number one setting on the clippers, the confidence would come flooding back. There would be occasions when he would find himself cutting his hair at three o’clock in the morning. It tended to happen after miserable nights out where he had played at being a wallflower all evening without anybody attempting to chat him up.
Today, though, Danny’s hair wasn’t his primary concern, because his life was turning a corner.
Life had given Danny many exciting and memorable moments, but it hadn’t finished with him yet. It had many more situations planned for him.
On the last day of his life, Danny looked back on this part of his life journey and felt confident that he had lived it to the fullest.
The tearful faces looking down at him didn’t help, though. He wished they were celebrating with him; not crying the final moments of this part of his journey away.
On closing his eyes for yet another interlude, Danny wondered what next would be in store for him. Life never ended. You simply moved on to the next chapter.
What lay ahead for Danny was something he had often dreamt about ever since the first time he’d stepped off the train at Paddington station. Seven years earlier had been his first trip to London. Now on his fourth trip, his romance with the city was about to get serious.
Climbing the three steps to board the coach in Middlesborough station, Danny came face to face with the driver whom he acknowledged with a smile.
“Ticket please”, demanded the driver with a cheeky smile.
Blushing, Danny placed his bag on the floor. Thinking how ridiculous he must seem to all the other passengers, he fumbled around for his ticket. Although he disliked large groups of people starring at him, he still craved being the centre of attention.
He remembered how exiting he’d felt the day he’d purchased the ticket to London. The prospect of starting a new chapter in his life had stayed with him right up until this moment. Now, however, doubt was setting in. Was he doing the right thing by moving to London?
“Sorry,” announced Danny, looking up and noticing the badge on the driver’s shirt. ‘Dougie Marsh.’
“No problem,” responded Dougie. “Take your time. I’m guessing you’ve packed in a hurry. Running away from something or to something?” he chuckled.
“Both,” replied Danny, hoping that the other passengers could not overhear the conversation. “I’ve lived here for six years and have decided to get away from it all.”
“Oh come on, driver,” shouted a voice from the far end of the coach, “I kinda need to get to London today, not next week! Stop flirting with the cute guy and get on with getting us there.”
Blushing again, Danny wondered if Dougie Marsh was flirting with him. Surely not? Anyway, even if he was, he wasn’t Danny’s type.
“Ah, here it is,” announced a delighted Danny, pulling the ticket from the inside of his wallet. “I’ve hardly let this ticket out of my sight since I purchased it. It’s become as important as having a best friend.” Handing the ticket to Dougie, he noticed how bitten down Dougie’s nails were. Maybe he was an ex-smoker who had just quit or perhaps he was going through a tense time in his life?
“A best friend?” commented Dougie. “I remember having one of those.”
A loud cough from the back of the coach interrupted the conversation. The young man who had earlier accused Dougie of flirting gave him a piercing look.
Picking up his bag, Danny made his way down the coach not realising the eyes of the driver were admiring a perfect backside in the rearview mirror of the coach.
Although he was the last passenger to board the coach, Danny managed to find a row of unoccupied seats.
As Dougie revved up the engine, Danny sat down. A woman in the opposite row sighed relief and looked over at him.
“Air conditioning,” she declared while finishing fanning her face with a magazine. “I just hate being so hot!”
She had short brown hair with a slight curl to it and a gorgeous doll-like face with large brown eyes. Danny thought she reminded him of his grandmother’s porcelain doll collection. She looked about the same age as Danny and wore a long, white dress decorated with a large, red floral print. Danny recalled seeing a similar character on a children’s TV show, and he nicknamed her ‘Hamble.’
Smiling back at her, he could have taken what she’d just said one of two ways. Either Hamble was saying she hated the heat, or that she had a problem with so many men she encountered because she considered herself so sexy.
“Not been a bad summer so far, but don’t you hate it being so hot that the news features those stupid stories of people claiming to have fried an egg on the pavement? Why would anyone want to fry an egg on the pavement? It’s not as if you can eat it afterwards,” giggled Hamble.
Out of politeness, Danny nodded his head.
“Then again”, she said, “maybe they’re making a point?”
“Yes,” replied Danny. “I’m not too fond of the heat either. I’d rather be too cold than too hot. At least you can wrap up warm.”
Danny’s mind began to wander again. It was as if he had sat in the row of seats named ‘daydream alley’, but why was last Christmas on his mind? As usual, he’d spent it with Nick. Ah, yes, Nick. Where was Nick? He’d driven him to the coach station. He hoped Nick had stayed to wave him off to London.
The noise of Hamble fumbling around some items in a plastic carrier bag broke his thinking. Taking out a giant chocolate bar and unwrapping it carefully, she took a large bite out of it, even though it was on the verge of melt-down.
“I couldn’t live without air conditioning or chocolate,” Hamble announced while savouring the day’s first taste of chocolate. “Unless it’s chocolate in a cake or a biscuit. I once worked with a girl who ate two large chocolate chip cookies and drunk a can of diet cola for breakfast. We nicknamed her ‘Fat Nat’,” she laughed.
Danny asked if Nat ate salad for lunch.
While Hamble carried on talking, her voice became a dwindling echo in Danny’s head. Panic set in again, and he could feel his heart pounding the wall of his chest.
As the coach turned out of Middlesbrough station, Danny realised he’d not waved to Nick. Quickly peering out of the window, his eyes searched for his ex-boyfriend, but Nick was nowhere in sight.
To be continued…