John Lyttle column

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Tony, Simon and Edward.

My current reason for believing that They have relationships and We have warp theory ...

Bill is regaling us, Tom, Paul, Iain and me, about how - how, not why - his latest boyfriend stuck a knife to his throat. I'm tempted to smirk, "Sabatier, I hope," when Iain manages a neater line: "Men!" We chortle, Bill hardest of all.

Only then there's one of those clumsy quiets where everyone waits for somebody to make clever. Except I never find such lulls uncomfortable, ever. I study rare feelings as they flicker across normally fortified faces in a manner bordering on transparency. It may be when I like my pretend-family members best; during intermission.

Which doesn't mean that I'm not the first to break silence: "Booze?" Bill shouts: "Show me the Moet! Show me the Moet!" I stand: "Champagne it is." I linger at the door: "Why do you folks never drink beer?" Tom admires his fingernails: "Divine decadence. And mine's a pint of creme de menthe." Iain hunts through my porno stack, finds a centrespread, waves it around: "Are people who whip people the luckiest people in the world?" Iain wants to put it to a vote, while Tom presses me to hurry, as I haven't yet polished off

My current reason for believing that They have relationships and We have warp theory. Which isn't true. Except when it is. And that's even counting the days when it feels like it's true.

Flashback: Tony rings early and moans, "I did something bad. You're not to scream." I am oil on troubled waters: "I can't be that bad." "Promise not to scream." "OK, OK. I promise." Tony: "I slept with Edward last night."

I scream. Here's why: five years ago Simon left Edward for Tony. I say left. Who leaves? Who stays? Who's hurt? Who's freed? Who cares? These things are Art, not mathematics. Nevertheless, there was pain, so legend insists. For Edward. Relations since have been nearly as ugly as Bernard Manning, Edward crushed but Over It (ha!), Tony nonplussed, and Sophisticated Simon sort of guilty, if acting otherwise.

Anyway: Simon and he were at a party. Tony got drunk, wanted to do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight. Simon just said no. So, Tony went to Substation South, took half a tab of acid, bumped - and ground - into Edward, bonded over smalltalk about HIV and ...

And it was Tony and Simon's fifth anniversary. I pour champagne, Paul nods: "Definite breech of etiquette." I shrug. I do that constantly. Ever since I interviewed a man in Belfast who explained why my late father had to order his torture.

Tom wonders: "Is it? What was Simon's reaction?" I shrug again: "Simon thought it was hilarious. Says it clears his debt to Edward. And, big plus this, he has the goods on Tony for eternity; 'You slept with Edward on our fifth anniversary.'" Bill is breezy: "Well, that's one way of celebrating."

Iain asks: "How can you breech etiquette when there's no etiquette to speak of?" The only manners in this part of the forest are bad manners. Paul is Gone with the Wind: "It ain't fittin', it just ain't fittin." Bill demurs: "Everything fits into an open relationship. That's why it's called 'having space'." Tom gestures in my direction: "What does the Pup say? 'If you're a freak of nature, you make it up as you go along.'" Bill bridles: "'Freak of nature' ... That certainly sounds like something Princess Perfect would say." I do Cool: "And that certainly sounds like something you'd say. Especially in the absence of a knife at your throat. Like I have to take that from someone who thought Lethal Weapon was an Aids movie."

Paul chokes so hard he sprays the room. We mop, he finally manages: "Well, we do seem disturbed about this." Bill points at me: "He's disturbed. Deeply disturbed." I rise above it: "It's because we don't know where the boundaries are. They change with each new person. There's always some guy who appears and explodes your lovely adult arrangements, and we let it happen, want it to happen, actually, because we're the original slaves to love..."

Tom's had enough: "Can we watch All About Eve now?" So we do, groaning like grown-ups but keeping our real thoughts to ourselves when Bette tells Celeste that you're nothing, nothing, if you can't turn around in bed, or look across the breakfast table, and see him, the man, the One, whoever or whatever he might be, and no matter the cost.