The Swiss Experiment *Complete*
The Swiss Experiment *Complete*
Prequel to The Layover
Jamie Reid shook his hands above the sink, and some droplets landed on the mirror. He decided it didn’t matter. It was the club’s fault there were no paper towels. The public spaces here in Switzerland were tidier than back home in Scotland, Jamie had noticed. The night life was just as unsanitary, though. He inspected his face in the stained mirror and couldn’t help but find the image unappealing—he looked pale and tired. It matched his mood.
The sounds of two bodies colliding, the rustling of clothes and heavy breath resonated from the stall directly behind him. Pictures of what might be happening in the stall invaded his mind. They made him wildly uncomfortable, and shamefully, inconveniently aroused.
It had been so long since he’d been clubbing. Even longer since he’d hooked up with someone in a club’s bathroom. Seven, maybe eight years? Jaime suddenly felt old, on top of being worn out.
He could hear David’s derisive voice in his head. You are so sedate. So…serious. Later, when Jamie could connect the dots and see their relationship somewhat objectively, he wondered why he’d stayed in it so long. David’s complaints had grown less frequent but more insensitive. As if he hadn’t cared anymore whether Jamie would try to fix it or not. It should have been a clear sign. Still, Jamie had stayed. Because he’d been… serious. And what was he doing now? Trying to prove David wrong? Why? It had been almost a year since the breakup. Jamie could not salvage the relationship, and most importantly, he didn’t want to.
It was supposed to be simple. Go out, relax, have fun. Like other people do. Normal people. And because Jamie was far from normal, he had to make it into this thing. This Experiment. The hypothesis was that if forced out of his usual social circle and faced with an engaging atmosphere, Jamie could still enjoy himself and meet people. If successful, the Experiment would prove that Jamie was not doomed to a lifetime of singleness and bi-monthly awkward blind dates. There was a set of different steps—dress up to show off the assets (he was short and slim—some guys like that), pre-medicate with an adequate amount of hard liquor (not so much, so his analytical brain got muddled), go out into an average gay club, and engage in conversation and/or other types of contact with strange men. All while feeling comfortable and entertained. The next day, Jamie would evaluate the results.
So far, the Experiment wasn’t going well.
His mouth pinching into an involuntary grimace at his thoughts, Jamie untangled the band from his hair. He slipped it around his wrist and ran his fingers through the messy strands a few times. A guy passed behind his back and headed for the urinals. Jamie avoided looking at the man’s face in the mirror in case it could be interpreted as interest. He snapped the rubber band back in place, tying his hair into a bun. He hated the tickling of wayward locks around his face and almost never wore it loose—short hair was too much fuss with all the product and bed-hair morning crisis. He valued the practicality of a man bun. He snatched his hat from the counter and put in on.
The stall door behind him rattled, and a loud moan echoed through the bathroom. The guy standing by the urinal chuckled. Jamie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He felt a presence next to him and opened his eyes. The man stood close, looking right into Jamie’s face through the mirror. He was maybe forty, heavy, with broad shoulders and rough features, and he was smirking knowingly.
Unintelligible murmur sounded from the occupied stall, and again, a loud moan. The guy next to Jamie washed his hands slowly, his eyes never leaving Jamie’s. He wasn’t handsome, not classically at least. But he looked interesting, his gaze clever, penetrating. Maybe they could…? Jamie shook his head infinitesimally, nipping the thought in the bud. No. Not in a strange bathroom while listening to other people fuck. Just no.
Jamie exited the club’s bathroom at a determined pace. He made his way through the throngs of men. All those men. Tall, short, large, skinny, sweaty, smelly, clean-shaven, furry, blond, dark, shirtless—he felt a hand brush his hip as he passed but he didn’t look back.
He was tempted to head directly to the exit door. The pull was almost physical. A magnetic force dragging his whole body and mind towards the cool air and empty streets of winter Zürich outside. There was a warm hotel room out there somewhere, his luggage on the floor with his soft cotton pajama bottoms inside. But he persisted. He’d paid nine Swiss francs for the entrance to this place. He would at least have a drink, dammit! It wasn’t like it would cause him a panic attack.
Tipping his hat back, trying not to think about the way the purple monstrosity made him appear, Jamie leaned closer to the bar, squeezing between two groups of youngsters. They seemed barely legal, for fuck’s sake. One of the boys, a blond twink sporting a huge glittering earring and silver lip gloss, winked at him. Jamie looked away so quickly that his neck gave a painful twinge. The bartender was occupied two meters to the left, but in a moment, he caught Jamie’s gaze and nodded, subtly acknowledging his presence.
Jamie waited trying not to look around in case he accidentally caught someone’s gaze again. Isn’t that what you’re here for? he thought with a heavy dose of self-deprecation. What was he trying to achieve? Did he seriously think he would miraculously turn into the carefree social butterfly David had always wanted him to be? Because of one night out abroad?
The music melted into a newish Lady Gaga hit, and there were several cat calls from the dance floor. Someone had moves. He could go and look at the dance floor, but his muscles groaned at the thought of dancing. The cold he’d caught last week was slow to give up, and Jamie could still feel the ache and tiredness of it in his limbs and joints. Every evening for the past week, he’d gone to bed with an insistent headache.
The bartender finally moved his way, and Jamie almost climbed onto the counter trying to catch the overly-tanned man’s attention.
“Rum and coke!” he shouted over the music.
The bartender nodded and turned around to grab a bottle of Havana Club from a shelf behind him. The making of the drink took five seconds. The bartender said something in German, but Jamie barely heard. There was no chance of understanding. Showing the price on his fingers, the bartender didn’t try to hide his annoyance.
Fifteen francs? Jesus, that was so not worth it. Jamie handed the man his card wincing internally. He imagined his account bleeding.
Drink in hand, he turned back to the crowd and skimmed it carefully. How long was it since he felt an attraction to a random stranger? Something more than just a fleeting interest? Something that would make him consider approaching a person and opening his mouth? This was supposed to be like a research study. The results could not be considered valid if he didn’t go through with all the steps. Actually, not until he replicated the Experiment in a different milieu and got the same results—
“Wie süss!” someone shrieked in his ear, and Jamie started, sloshing his rum and coke. Wide-eyed, he took in the man that accosted him. He had a full beard, kind brown eyes, red cheeks and a sweaty forehead under a short, thick carpet of dark brown hair. He was pointing at Jamie’s ridiculous excuse of a hat and grinning broadly.
“Sorry!” Jamie shouted back. “English?”
The guy shrugged his impressively muscled shoulders, kind of disproportionate to the rest of his trim body, and made an obvious gesture between his thumb and a forefinger. A little. He continued smiling at Jamie, scanning his eyes over Jamie’s not-so-tight T-shirt, and dark jeans. The interest in his eyes was unmistakable.
He leaned closer, his mouth almost touching Jamie’s ear under the hat, and spoke:
“No talk!” He leaned back, staring directly into Jamie’s eyes and waggled his distinct eyebrows. Jamie’s mouth fell open. Still grinning widely, the guy made a shimmying disco move and jerked his chin towards the dancefloor invitingly. His cocky no-worries attitude was refreshing. And alarming.
Jamie closed his mouth and opened it again staring at the man in front of him. No words came out. But then, there was no need to speak. No talk, the guy had said. Even if they could hear each other without puncturing their eardrums, they wouldn’t understand each other. Jamie’s knowledge of German was barely on a beginner’s level. And these people spoke Swiss German which was a nightmare. The man’s lips twitched at Jamie’s obvious discomfort, and he leaned in once more.
“I like you! Dance?” he shouted, and Jamie winced at the volume.
Oh hell. Whatever. Step four of the Experiment on his mind, Jamie downed the rest of his rum and coke, coughing discreetly at the freezing temperature of the drink. He put the glass on the bar counter and followed Bearded Swiss Guy to the dancefloor.
At the edge of the small space distinguished by light fixtures in the flooring, Bearded Swiss Guy turned and reached for Jamie’s waist immediately. Before Jamie could even catch the rhythm, a large palm landed on his ass and kneaded. Jamie’s spine grew stiff, his muscles locked.
He couldn’t do it.
Jamie felt vaguely ashamed for his hasty exit. The cold seeped under his parka, the tiredness settled in his bones, and the disappointment curled his lips into a sneer. The Experiment had failed.
He knew how to appear like he was having a good time. On a rational level, he was fully capable of letting loose. He knew how other people enjoyed being young and single. He could mimic them perfectly in actions and reactions. Except he felt nothing that could come close to genuine enjoyment.
He could dress up, go out, have a drink, meet people, talk to them, laugh at their jokes and make some of his own. He could do the dating app thing. He could touch and be touched. But it was all…alien. Forced.
It wasn’t that he never felt sad or lonely. He did, quite often. But what was the point in not being alone physically when in his head, he was still the last man on Earth?
Thanks to his exhaustion, he couldn’t overthink the failure of the Experiment. As soon as he arrived in his hotel room, he rushed through his evening routine. Finally in bed, he fell into blissful oblivion within minutes.
The next day, though, on the afternoon train to Basel, Jamie had all the time in the world to analyze his situation in mood-killing detail. David moved out almost a year ago. It took Jamie maybe a week to get over him. Cold? Maybe. Smart? Definitely. No reason to dwell on something that had felt empty and meaningless long before David’s inept request to open up their relationship.
It was Ginny’s idea. A week ago, she’d tossed the purple hat and the small tote with condoms, lube and (seriously?!) a turquoise butt plug on Jamie’s kitchen table. She ordered him to try, go out and possibly, get laid. “This way, you won’t bump into someone you know. It’s perfect!” she’d said. Well, it had been very imperfect. With the first brush of the guy’s beard on Jamie’s neck, he’d been stepping back, palms in the air in an apologetic gesture, and he’d been out of the club within seconds.
The whole clubbing-in-Zürich-and-breaking-his-modus-operandi idea had been stupid from the very beginning. Jamie knew that now. Any experiment is doomed to fail when subject and researcher are the same person.
Jamie longed to be home again. There was a House of Cards season he hadn’t seen yet and two episodes of Sense8. Thursday meant music quiz in the MacCole’s pub. Friday night, he was babysitting Ginny’s kids. The comfort of the well-known is underappreciated.
The airport in Basel was small enough that Jamie didn’t feel particularly stressed beforehand. However, when he arrived, he wished he’d been neurotic enough to check his email in the morning.
“I could put you on a plane to Gatwick. You’d arrive at half past ten tonight. But the connection to Edinburgh doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning,” the uniformed lady behind the service desk informed him. A strike. Of course, there’d be a strike. In December. Why not?
“What are my options?” Jamie asked not trying to hide the desperation in his tone. “Train, bus? Whatever.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t do that. I strongly recommend that you accept the direct flight tomorrow.”
Jamie hung his head and took a deep breath. “Where’s the hotel?”
The girl smiled tiredly. “It’s in the city center, close to Old Town Basel. Breakfast is included.”
Jamie took five seconds to contemplate another protest. Was it worth it, though? Whatever option, he’d arrive at Edinburg airport tomorrow around lunch at the earliest. Better to take the most comfortable route. God, he was exhausted, his body achy even though the train from Zürich to Basel took barely one hour. Maybe he was going to be sick again? Or was it a faint hangover from yesterday? But he hadn’t drunk enough to feel properly intoxicated. How could he be this hungover when he’d been barely tipsy the night before? Whatever the cause, he felt dizzy, almost fragile.
“Okay,” he nodded on an exhale, resigned. In his head, he’d already started composing an email to Jill, the head of his department, about the delay and the risk of additional costs.
The girl resumed typing at an admirable speed—especially considering the length of her nails—and soon the printer buzzed with vouchers and tickets.
“Thanks,” Jamie mumbled, too annoyed to exercise his usual politeness.
He grabbed his bags and dragged them a few meters away from the counter. He craved a cigarette. And maybe music. Or an audiobook. Anything to kill time in this void.
He rummaged through his bag getting his fingers tangled in his two chargers and earphones. He carefully extricated the earphones and slung them around his neck.
That was when a strange awareness came over him. A lull in the humming sounds of the terminal. Jamie lifted his head and stilled. A pair of green eyes was watching him.
Jamie felt warmth rise up his neck and spread on his cheeks just as his hands and feet grew ice-cold. He felt pinned like a bug on display. The green eyes were serious, intense, unsmiling. Almost threatening. The thick eyebrows above them knotted in an irregular frown. The man was probably around thirty and tall—much taller than Jamie. His hair was buzzed short, his shoulders were wide and square, and his long arms wiry in the slim-cut white dress shirt he wore. He seemed thinly dressed for the Swiss winter—probably traveling from somewhere South of here. He was tanned but not overly so and had a pronounced nose with a crooked bump, strong cheekbones, and jaw, broad mouth with deep brackets around it even though he wasn’t smiling at all. He was scowling at Jamie, unflinching.
Jamie could hear his blood pumping in his ears. Unable to react in any way, he stood and waited for something to save him from the unbearably intense scrutiny.
Suddenly, the tall man turned around and resumed talking to the uniformed woman by the service desk. Jamie let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. The cigarette was definitely in order now.
Shaken, Jamie huddled in his parka. It wasn’t freezing outside, but almost. He exhaled the blueish smoke and stared at the night lights. What was that back there? Had he offended the guy somehow? Had he unknowingly stepped on the man’s toe in passing?
He sucked in another drag of his cigarette and let it out through his nose. He was smoking so rarely these days, the white roll of paper felt unfamiliar between his fingers. He observed it critically. Why didn’t he just quit? It wasn’t like he needed to smoke. He didn’t even like it anymore, to be honest. The only thing he enjoyed about it was the excuse to go away for a while. An opportunity to be apart and unsociable. He even secretly enjoyed the way people gave him a wide berth in public spaces when he smoked.
The sound of luggage wheels and approaching footsteps had him lowering his eyes. He expected the stranger to pass him quickly and head for the waiting taxis. He closed his eyes in annoyance and took another drag. He wanted to be left alone on his last day of this unfortunate trip.
“Did you manage to book a flight?”
Jamie’s eyes snapped open at the depth of the voice. He turned and saw the strange man from the terminal standing in front of him, his dark-grey winter coat unbuttoned over his pristine white shirt. Why his teeth didn’t chatter, Jamie couldn’t comprehend.
He wasn’t scowling anymore. If anything, he looked kind and mildly curious. His distinct, unusual features were relaxed, the traces of tiredness around his eyes faint. A word came to Jamie and ricocheted around in his head. Clean. Clean-cut, clean-shaven, his clothes were simple but a perfect fit, his shoes polished. But there was something in his eyes and the lines around his mouth. Clean. Clear. Level. Honesty? Impossible to know yet. What was the question?
“Yeah,” Jamie mumbled, unable to come with any other response without dragging out the time into weirdness.
“Where are you headed?”
Jamie huffed out a breath, suddenly nervous. Why the questions? Why the attention? Was he seriously being hit on? He’d endured almost a week of lectures, mingles, meetings and discussion panels. Not to mention his pathetic attempt to go out last night. He’d been on the road and rail-road for half a day today and got his flight canceled two hours before he was supposed to go home. Sleep-deprivation killed his ability to do small talk.
“Edinburgh,” he muttered, consciously trying to sound harsh. He didn’t want to find the man captivating. Let him go away.
The stranger didn’t go away—quite the opposite. He just stood there and calmly observed as Jamie flailed and floundered. Jamie held onto his cigarette and stared at the orange tip glowing in the night as if it could suddenly equip him with magical conversational skills or even better, teleport him miles away in a flash.
“Then back to the US?” the guy asked continuing his inquiry about Jamie’s final destination, confident and undeterred.
“No, I live in Scotland,” Jamie elaborated, grimaced, and sighed. The stranger’s interest had Jamie knotting up inside. His stomach clenched, and he felt a shadow of a headache pass behind his eyes. He needed to get to the hotel and lie down. Don’t look at him. “I’m sorry, man. I’m not in the mood,” Jamie lied, trying to appear uninterested.
He was very interested. It frustrated and scared him. He pressed the cigarette in the ashtray with more force than necessary and braved one more, quick glance at the man. And felt immediately naked. The sight of those unusual, almost exotic features, the intense focus of those slanted, green eyes…it accelerated his heartbeat and not in a pleasant way. Abort. Disengage.
Several seconds went by. Jamie could feel the man’s gaze on his profile. Like lightning from a clear sky, an idea appeared, unexpected but very real. With absolute clarity, Jamie knew he could hook up with the guy tonight. The fantasy was so vivid, Jamie shuffled from foot to foot, needing to expel the sudden excess of energy. He could do it. A part of him wanted to. A tiny, muddled, beaten-up part of him grabbed at the thought like a starving man at the last half-eaten muffin on the tray. Just as the rest of him cringed at the audacity of having sex with a total stranger he’d just met at the airport. He was so not that kind of person.
“Sorry, I’m really tired.” That was true. Please, go away.
“I’m disturbing you.” The man nodded once as if agreeing with himself. His foreign accent was unfamiliar. Jamie couldn’t place it. It was something European, but not Mediterranean, nor Eastern Europe, nothing Germanic either. His r was distinct. Maybe Finnish? Or something Baltic?
“I should be apologizing, and you should continue scowling,” the stranger continued, a smile in his voice.
That was… What? Jamie laughed briefly, surprising himself with the sound. The tall, wiry stranger was clever. From the corner of his eye, Jamie noticed a tanned hand with clean, neatly cut nails, elegant fingers and protruding veins. No jewelry. Just practicality, capability and masculine strength. There was character in those hands.
Focus! Cab. Hotel. Bed. Home tomorrow.
“I should get a cab,” Jamie mumbled. Go, just go. Don’t think about it.
He nodded to himself and tugged on his luggage with force. It rolled forward, straining the muscles in his arm and shoulder. Jamie almost stumbled on the curb but kept going. He couldn’t look at the man’s face anymore. “It was nice meeting you,” he blurted, reaching for anything normal to say. There was no answer.
The taxi driver greeted him half-heartedly, reluctantly helping with Jamie’s bags. All the time, Jamie could feel the green-eyed stranger watching him.
Unable to stop himself, he looked back once more. The tall figure in the white shirt and dark gray coat stood directly under a bright white light. In the misty drizzle, with the water-stained glass walls of the terminal behind him, looming and watching… he looked like a noir villain. Jamie banged the car door shut.
Jamie couldn’t expel the memory of the stranger from the Basel Airport from his mind. He’d put on an audiobook in the cab and then had to rewind a few minutes because he couldn’t recall what he’d been listening to. The slanted green eyes followed him, insistent and intrusive, like an embarrassing teenage memory.
The hotel was smallish, a beautiful art-nouveau building just two streets away from the Rhine River. Not that Jamie would have time to enjoy the sights. In his hotel room, Jamie showered quickly and put on his cozy pajama bottoms. He lay sprawled on the bed, trying to read long enough to start feeling sleepy. With no effect. Even though he was tired, his limbs heavy and head hazy, he knew himself well enough—trying to fall asleep would result in two frustrating hours of tossing and turning on the unfamiliar bed.
Half an hour later, Jamie tugged on his jeans angrily, slipped into a pair of his most colorful socks, and clutching his iPad to his chest, he headed downstairs. There was a large restaurant area, probably used as a breakfast room, and a lounge where only an older couple sat drinking tea and reading newspapers. Luckily, behind the reception area, hidden in a corner, was a darkened hallway, and at the end of it—like the gleaming light at the end of a tunnel—was a small bar. Jamie’s sigh of relief was audible.
He ordered rum and coke—again, settled into a chocolate brown leather armchair, and immediately put his headphones in, making another attempt with the audiobook. He would alternate. He could read, and when he’d start losing focus, he’d switch to listening. Satisfied with his plan, he opened the Kindle app. He didn’t look around to check the occupants of the bar. He hoped that the change of scenery, the alcohol, and the book, would be enough to distract him from his disturbing thoughts. He was fairly sure he’d succeed. If not for—
Movement directly in front of him made Jamie raise his eyes from his tablet. His breath caught in his throat. The stranger from the airport with the mystery accent and almost mean, slanted green eyes sunk into the other armchair by Jamie’s table, a rather arrogant smirk on his now familiar face.
“I’m not stalking you,” he said.
A rush of energy caused by a mix of irritation and excitement, made Jamie find his voice. “Seems like it,” he replied, proud of himself for being able to react at all.
The man laughed, a gruff, mocking sound. “Hey, I’m your fellow victim of this ridiculousness. Of course, they put me in the same hotel. Not my fault.”
“I’ve never said you could sit here,” Jamie said slowly, trying to hide the tremor in his hands by fiddling with his earphones. What was it with this man’s attention that made Jamie want to overcome his fear?
“If I promise to be moderately entertaining, can I?” the stranger asked, one thick eyebrow rising high.
Jamie huffed out an almost laugh. For once, he was not tempted to run and hide. Which should terrify him even more. Instead, the excitement turned into pure warmth spreading through his belly and chest. This one time, he was going to enjoy an adventure. He was going to take all the fear, suck the adrenalin out of it, and morph it into life-affirming joy.