Harry was alarmed to find that the place had changed. He was ten years older now, of course, but the music, the ambiance and the people there were more like twenty years younger than Harry. It had seemed like a good idea at the time: Harry remembered the Club Joy as a place he had ’found’ himself, when he first traveled to Madrid. He’d checked into an aparthotel, late on a Saturday night, in preparation for his first date with Ana since they’d met at the conference in Paris. He wasn’t due to meet her until the next day, so he’d quizzed the concierge about a place he could go to while away the night: Club Joy had been his recommendation, after seeming to check Harry up and down.
In the event, it hadn’t been a bad place at all for a man who was on his own with time to fill. He’d spent the early hours in easy contemplation of the dancers who, though younger than him at the time, weren’t so much younger. Somehow, he’d got into discussion with a group of students (tagged himself onto them might be a better description). When they’d emerged, blinking, into the morning sun at 7am on the Sunday, he’d treated them to chocolate con churros in a nearby churreria. One of the group produced a guitar from somewhere, and for a while they’d sat in the nearby plaza while he performed a repertoire of gentle classical guitar pieces: the perfect start to what would prove, for Harry, to be the perfect Sunday. Little wonder, then, that the memory was etched so deeply in Harry’s mind, and that it seemed like a good option to introduce Danny to the place.
After the four of them had eaten, Alan had driven them back to the flat. Harry wanted a wash and brush up, and needed to collect his coat. Their collective mood seemed to have lifted a little, Danny noticed – not without thanks. Whatever Alan had meant by raising the call from Carrie, Harry hadn’t taken the bait. He’d seemed to check himself, and Danny wondered if it was something he was storing up to discuss with Alan later, perhaps when he himself wasn’t around? Alan and Yolanda were staying at home, leaving Harry to take Danny out for the rest of the evening.
For Harry, what to do with Danny presented something of a dilemma. He didn’t dare ask Alan to take him out, and even though they had eaten relatively early, it was already after 10.30pm when they got back. He was acutely conscious that his date with Ana was not long off.
Club Joy was the obvious choice. He hoped that Danny might feel at home there, would have the confidence, as he had, to spend an evening there on his own. With luck, Harry would be able to slip away, and leave Danny to his own devices. In the taxi to the club, Harry explained how it wasn’t unusual to spend the whole night there, and recounted his own first experience of the place. So, when they finally made their way to the front of a small queue, Danny’s expectations were as high as Harry’s. “Just remember – don’t drink too much because you’ve got the whole night ahead of you,” Harry had said, as he reached into his pocket and handed Danny a 50 Euro note. Danny let the ‘you’ pass. He was getting, he guessed, pretty good at spotting when Harry had his own agenda: maybe a front-row seat at the McFry Brothers’ Circus had helped the process along the way, but never had the phrase ‘palmed off’ meant quite so much to him, he thought, as he folded the note and slipped it into his wallet.
“Thanks, Harry,” he said.
Rarely have expectation and reality been so mismatched. As they entered the club, the music was deafening, its beat insistent and raw. But the place was empty, apart from a few groups of tourists, battened to the side of the dance floor. Harry kicked himself for forgetting one of the unchanging rules of Madrid: don’t go in a club until at least 1 AM, or you’re likely to find yourself dancing alone. He saw the disappointment on Danny’s face. Maybe it had been a mistake to bring him along on the trip? He should have known he’d end up running after Ana, and that Danny would be an impediment in the race. Then he remembered that they did, indeed, have business in Madrid, and that all the rest was supposed to be a ‘filler’. He resolved that, whatever else happened, he’d make sure he spent Sunday with Danny – he owed him that, at least.
That didn’t lessen his current dilemma, though: how to ditch his companion without making him feel he had been ditched. Harry edged around the empty dance floor to the bar, and ordered a couple of beers, Danny following him like a lost sheep. With the drinks sorted out, Harry looked for somewhere in the club where it might be a little quieter, and they made their way to a booth that seemed the furthest from the sound system.
“Hey, Danny – I’m sorry about tonight,” Harry said.
Danny had expected an apology of some sort, and had marshaled his reply in advance.
“You never told me about Ana, or that you’d be disappearing and leaving me with Alan,” he said, with just the right edge (he thought) of bitterness.
Harry lit a cigarette. “I know. I should have told you that. There’s some history there that might have made things clearer for you.” He wondered how much of the history Alan had already told Danny...
“I’m not sure I want or need to know, Harry. But it would have helped if you’d just told me you had plans for tonight, that’s all,” Danny said, and Harry knew the kid had a point.
“Sometimes you can try to do too much, Danny. My fault, I know. I’ll make you fall in love with Madrid yet, though. I’ll make it up to you tomorrow.” It sounded genuine enough to Danny.
Suddenly, he knew what he had to do. “Look, Harry – I’m tired. It’s been a long day. I think I want to go back to the flat. Have you got a key?”
Harry tried to pretend he was disappointed, made a stab at trying to persuade Danny that he should stay a while longer, but it was a lame attempt, a charade of politeness, and both of them knew it. “Here,” he said, finally, fishing into his coat pocket. “Here’s the key. I’m going to stay for another drink – just leave the door on the latch for me, will you?”
Danny didn’t hang about. He nodded as he grabbed the key, leaving his half-full bottle of beer on the table as he muttered “See you tomorrow, Harry.” With that, he walked straight across the empty dance floor and headed for the exit, leaving Harry to wonder whether Danny had reserves of sensitivity he had only, until now, guessed at.