Act Your Age excerpt
The pub was almost empty. Gone were the families, older couples, and tourists, all that remained were the degenerates who wanted to get off their heads on a Wednesday night: uni students, labourers, alcoholics, and him, Tyler Henderson, drunk, alone and watching Middleton peer into a rugby players’ mouth. She touched a finger to the piercing embedded in the guy’s tongue. “That’s so cool! Did it hurt?”
She sounded as breathless as if the stud were already fiddling with her clit, but then she sounded like that all the time. It was one of the many things Ty loathed about her.
The rugby player, whom Ty had privately dubbed ‘Buddy’, pulled his idiot tongue back into his head. “Not much. I can do all kinds of things with it.”
“Like get stuck on magnets?”
Middleton dissolved into a fit of trademark giggles, and Buddy beamed like he was the king of the fucking world. Ty glowered into his bourbon. For the past hour he’d been forced to listen to Middleton flirt with this guy. Was it annoying? Sure. Did he wish she and her barely pubescent lover would fuck off and have young person sex already? Yes. Was it unprofessional of her to be picking up students at the local pub? Very much so. Especially since she and the rest of Golden Glaze Solar were in Bendigo on a work trip. That’s what he couldn’t understand about this situation. Unprofessional sexual conduct suited Middleton about as much as a bald head would have.
If he’d had to guess ahead of time what she’d get up to tonight, he’d have said ‘brushing, flossing and climbing into bed with a stuffed animal,’ but Middleton had apparently left her ‘I’m so sweet it’ll rot your fucking teeth’ attitude back in Melbourne.
She was the youngest and only female engineer at GGS. Most female engineers Ty knew acted like the boys: drinking hard, swearing like sailors, wearing gender-neutral clothes as though baggy slacks might make men mistake them for one of their own. Others emphasised their femininity: high heels, tight tops, raunchy jokes. They took control of the flirting and perving before it was inflicted on them, or at least pretended to.
Middleton, on the other hand, never swore, she never drank, never said a mean word about anyone. She baked chocolate chip cookies and wore floaty pink blouses and headbands with ribbons on them. Once, while babysitting his nephews, Ty had watched a kids’ TV show. The host was a curvy brunette who by all the laws of biology should have been smoking hot. Instead, she projected such brightly-coloured asexuality he felt guilty just trying to picture what her tits looked like. That was the frequency Middleton operated on. Ty wouldn’t be surprised if she too was sewn into her outfits so she wouldn’t accidentally show cleavage or stomach.
The week she started at GGS, Ty had run into her in a hallway. He was hungover and wearing a three-day-old suit. Middleton was in a pink dress and what looked like yellow tap shoes, her waist-length brown hair was pinned back by a silver clip shaped like a hummingbird. A fucking hummingbird.
“Hi, Mr Henderson!” She held up the huge pink cake tin she was carrying. “Would you like a lemon-curd meringue?”
Ty thought she was going to be eaten alive by the other engineers. He was wrong. Within six weeks all the guys were chatting to her in the break room, sponsoring her roller derby team, begging her to make them chocolate éclairs. They never said anything sleazy about her and admonished outsiders who did. Somehow this Shirley Temple caricature had gotten every bozo in their office to not only tolerate, but like her.
Just a few hours ago Johnno—the big boss—had slung his arm around Ty’s neck. “Middleton’s a proper little lady, isn’t she?” he said. “Pretty as a picture, gets along with everyone. Just a great girl.”
Ty didn’t think Middleton was a great girl. He thought Middleton was a pain in the ass. Waltzing around with her shiny hair and long legs and her throaty voice, being cuter than a fistful of buttons. Where did she get off?
On Buddy, apparently. When he glanced back at the bar, he saw the younger man tickling Middleton’s sides. She slapped his hands, giggling madly. “Stop it!”
“I can’t!” Buddy told her. “It’s your fault you have such a cute laugh.”
Ty drained his glass. He was leaving. At least, he would be leaving if there was anywhere else in Bendigo where he could get a drink. The small inland town wasn’t exactly known for its nightlife. He caught the eye of a passing bartender, a glum woman in her fifties. “Excuse me, is anywhere else around here open?”
“No.” The woman collected the glasses in front of him. “Just us.”
On the other side of the pub, Middleton’s hair caught the light and gleamed like a fishing lure. “Are you sure there’s nowhere else?”
The woman gave him a scathing look. “It’s a Wednesday. In Bendigo.”
“Right.” Ty’s words were coming out in that blurry, distorted way that said he was drunk, but not nearly drunk enough. He wanted to go to bed without a single thought in his brain. “Can I have another drink, thanks?”
The woman looked as unimpressed as Ty felt. “You come here with that sustainability convention?”
“You going back tomorrow?”
Ty knew what she was saying; don’t you have work in the morning, dickhead? He dredged up his best smile. It felt gummy and insincere. “Just having a night out.”
Ty already knew he was far from the man he’d once been, but if he hadn’t, the proof was written all over the bartender’s highly unimpressed face. “You felt like having a night out alone?” she asked, sounding suspicious, as though this might just be a cover for a murder plot.
“The rest of my colleagues tapped out early. Wives to call. Kids to talk to.”
She scanned his left hand. “Hmm.”
“I’m single.” Just twenty-four months, eight weeks and nineteen hours, but who the fuck was counting?
“I can see that.” The bartender looked him up and down. “Bourbon, was it?”
“Yeah, no ice.” Ty handed her twenty dollars. “Keep the change.”
That got him a smile. Another glance at the bar and Ty prayed the woman would bring his drink back fast. Middleton, it transpired, had found a new way to inspect her friend’s tongue ring—by making out with it.
Ty watched her and Buddy writhing against the karaoke machine in disgust. This was a girl who covered her ears when people swore. How was she tongue-fucking in a public bar? In fairness, no one else was paying them any attention. Maybe because almost everyone else in the pub was a student, too busy trying to get their own genitals rubbed to give a shit about Middleton’s. Ty scanned the room and with a jolt of unease, realised he was the oldest person there. That seemed to be happening a lot lately. He was the oldest guy in the gym, the restaurant, the cocktail bar, the cinema. There was a reason for it. Most of his generation stayed in on Saturday nights, selected gyms with childcare centres and cafés with aisles big enough for prams. Meanwhile, he stayed in the same circles he’d always been in, not quite out of place, not quite in it, either.
He thought of Veronica, wondered if she’d bought a pram yet, and his alcohol buzz flattened. He knew he should clear out of the bar and go back to his hotel room, but then he’d have nothing to do but lie on his hard yet somehow also spongy mattress and watch the bedroom fan rotate. At least here there was loud music and cheap liquor, and he could distract himself from his life by hating Middleton. Middleton with her husky voice and perky tits. Middleton, who was twenty-five but looked about seventeen. Buddy, Ty could see, was attempting to pull her t-shirt from her skirt and get up her bra.
Good luck, mate I bet she’s sewed in. By the way, Middleton, I’m your boss. You’re really gonna get felt up in a public bar in front of your boss? And how old is that kid? Nineteen?
However young, he was a good looking little shit. Shaggy blond hair, clear skin, broad shoulders. His arm muscles were almost comically swollen, bulging inside his t-shirt sleeves like hams. They made a pretty picture, him and Middleton. People would pay serious money to watch them fuck, the porn tagline something like; ‘big brother nails sister’s friend at sleepover.’
Ty pictured himself, blond hair that was getting too long, blue eyes bracketed with lines. Firefighting had left him with bad knees and his back ached when it was cold. He looked forty-five because he was forty-five. In the porn scenario, he’d be Buddy’s dad, home early from a business meeting. He’d spot what his son was up to and—
Guilt rose up inside him like bile. He squashed the thought before it could expand into a full-blown fantasy. Creep, he told himself. Sicko. Pervert.
Middleton kissed her way across Buddy’s cheek and Ty felt invisible lips ghost across his jaw. Middleton was going to suck that boy’s cock tonight, he’d bet his right hand on it. She had the perfect lips for blow jobs, pale pink and pouty. Perfect hair, too—thick and grabable. He bet she moaned while she sucked, her tongue humming so the guy could feel it in his balls.
That was Ty’s favourite thing. A girl’s head in his lap, his fingers running through her hair as her wet mouth bobbed on his dick. He sat back in his chair, trying to remember the last time he’d been blown. A year ago, he guessed, maybe more. Hookups rarely included blow jobs; when a woman took a man home she wanted a ride, not to suck all the stiffness out of his dick. That was understandable, but still, Ty missed head. Veronica never swallowed, but she’d always been happy to suck him dry if he returned the favour. Diminishing thrill-factor aside, the sex was so much better when you were in a relationship. Getting it regular two or three times a week from someone who knew how you liked it beat fumbling around with strangers by a country mile. Still, he had no plans to find himself a girlfriend—no matter how many of his friends insisted he go out for dinner with their cousin’s best friend’s wife’s doctor’s sister. He was no good on dates anymore. No good with expectations of romance or nervous, hopeful smiles. The very idea of being set up made him want to leave whatever room he was sitting in.
He studied the couple by the bar. If Middleton blew him, Buddy was young enough to get it up again. Hell, maybe he’d get it up three or four times. Middleton would probably roll into the breakfast meeting tomorrow exhausted and Ty would have to watch her yawn and know she’d spent the whole night getting screwed.
He closed his eyes. “Where the hell is my drink?”
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