Giles faces up to his gorgeous, clever – and gay – university friend
Giles winced. Caffe Italiano di Piazza may have been the hottest new coffee emporium in EC2, but the coffee was too strong for him. Although he’d never admit it to any of his Crouch End friends, a Starbucks venti drip was his favoured tipple.
He glanced at his watch. Rupert was never this late.
Giles always felt slightly uncomfortable before his six-monthly get-togethers with his old flatmate from university. It wasn’t because Rupert was gay – he’d come out to Giles in their first term together, and years at public school had made Giles entirely unshockable when it came to that sort of thing – it was because…because…
Giles gritted his teeth in the way he was prone to do when he realised he was trying to fool himself. Dammit, he felt uncomfortable before meeting Rupert because he had always been slightly jealous of the man. Rupert was better-looking than him, for a start. The first time Miranda met him she’d fawned over him in a way which made Giles sick, then was told Rupert played for the other team and she laughed, burped Veuve Clicquot and said “oh what a terrible waste!” and dissolved into laughter.
Better-looking Giles could cope with that, after all Rupert wasn’t any competition with the ladies, but Rupert had been cleverer, smarter, more worldly-wise, more sophisticated. And the worst thing of all, he was self-aware enough to know that Giles felt like that and so subtly compensated for it all the time. It was excruciating!
So when Rupert had called to arrange for coffee, Giles’ heart sank. He took another sip of coffee and winced again.
It wasn’t like Rupert to be late, especially as he’d said he “needed to talk”.
And, right on cue, there he was. Looking for all the world like every other – straight – lawyer Giles had ever met. Conservative grey pinstripe suit, blue tie, good shoes. Well, smarter than most straight lawyers, if Giles was honest. Better groomed. Or was that just stereotyping?
“Smiler!” beamed Rupert. “Sorry I’m late.”
Smiler – it had been Rupert’s nickname for him since Uni. ‘Irish eyes smiling’ or something. It did always make Giles smile. He responded in kind. “Bear!”
“There you go,” said Rupert, nodding at the other man’s smile. “Are you OK for coffee?”
Giles decided to cut right to the chase before any pleasantries – holiday, new car, promotion – which might make him feel bad. “What’s on your mind?”
“It’s a tough one.”
“What? You’re not… sick are you?”
Rupert looked at him in surprise and rolled his eyes. “Good grief, man. I thought we were past all that? No, I just think I’m being discriminated against and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“For being gay?”
“No, for being from Leamington Spa. Of course for being gay.”
“I thought they were OK about that, your firm. Diversity policy…”
“Yeah, and LGBT group and stuff. They’re fine. Well, they’re fine as long as you’re an associate.”
“They’ve passed me over again. I should have got it this year. My figures are great, I’ve made a couple of good new client connections, but they gave it to a guy called Kirk Masters.”
“Masterbater? God, he’s a complete arse!”
“Oh yeah, I forgot you knew him.”
“From school,” said Giles. “He’s a total dick.”
“Well, he’s a dick who the partners like. Lives in Putney, married a couple of years now, kid on the way. He’s perfect for the club.”
“Whereas you’re perfect for the clubs,” said Giles weakly.
Rupert smiled indulgently at his old friend. “That’s part of the problem, I think. It all kicked off at this client thing we had the other week. The in-house lawyer from GF Industrial was there, one of the biggest clients of the firm. We were chit-chatting and he asked if I had kids. I said I didn’t. He asked if I was married. I smiled, said ‘civil partnership, but hoping to convert when the new law goes through’.
“Anyway, his face kind of froze and he muttered something I didn’t hear and then kind of drifted off. The head of corporate was standing behind me and said something like, ‘What the f*** have you done now?’.”
“Oh,” said Giles, not quite sure what to say.
“Yeah, anyway, nobody said anything after that, but GF are doing an acquisition, we got the work but it went to Kirk. I’ve done three deals for them. He’s never acted for them before in his life.”
“And he’s a complete arse.”
Rupert laughed but Giles could hear the pain in it. “And then the next day it was announced Kirk was getting partnership.”
“I hope you kicked up.”
“I did have a word with the head of department, a very friendly chat, but he was squirming. Eventually he admitted they’d had a meeting and it was felt that Kirk would be a ‘better fit’ as a new partner for the department.”
“Oh God. Bear, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what to do. I’ve given my life to that firm. I just feel kind of kicked in the teeth, like the firm has backed a client who has a problem rather than backing me.”
“It’s a tough call. The client is always right.”
“Yeah, but when the client is prejudiced…”
“Prejudiced is a strong word, mate. He may just feel uncomfortable.”
“He’s never felt uncomfortable before. Not before he knew. It’s not just that, to be honest. It’s a whole ‘fitting-in’ thing. They’re probably right. They are all married with kids, everyone in the department. They all like the football – they did this fantasy football league thing last year, the lot of them, just not me. They’re all talking about family holidays, and schools and stuff, and I just feel disconnected.
“And it’s not just this client either. After this all happened, there were a couple of pitches I should have been involved with, but just wasn’t. It wasn’t as if they were deliberately excluding me, I think they just felt kind of embarrassed, as if this was the way it had to be. And I’m beginning to think they might have a point.”
“That’s nonsense! There are other firms I’m sure would fall over themselves to have you.”
“Yeah, really? You might be right. There may be other, more liberal, firms out there. But what am I going to say about why I left? That I had a vague feeling of unease which made being there uncomfortable and I got the feeling I needed to leave, even though nobody actually said anything? I’ll sound like a total flake.”
Giles drained the last of his coffee. He felt his neck get hot as he flushed. This always happened when he was about to do something Miranda would call ‘grown-up’.
“Listen mate, I’m a partner now and a partner in my own firm too. I’m not promising anything but I’ll have a word with the others and see what they say. We need to beef up corporate.”
Rupert looked at him, amazed. “You’d do that?”
For the first time since Giles had known Rupert he felt like he had all the cards. He felt powerful, but magnanimous. Grown-up. “Yeah, mate. It’d be great to have you on board. Just one thing…”
“Well, one of the associates, little rugger-lad…he’d be right up your street, so none of your funny business.” Giles kept his face completely straight, even slightly stern.
Rupert’s jaw fell open, his eyebrows raised slightly. Then he realised Giles was joking. “You sod.”
Giles laughed. A rooftop flirt with Miranda where he’d been sure she was checking him out, and now this, finally, an equalisation of his relationship with Rupert. This was turning into a good week.