Story: Try This

29 Oct

Jake

Theo had pulled all the pillows off the bed and made himself comfortable by piling them behind his back and beneath his outstretched legs. That was what Theo did; he took your stuff and cosied himself into it until it didn’t feel like yours anymore.

“We shouldn’t be best friends,” he said, tipping his head back against the mattress to look up at me. “You know that, right? People think it’s weird.”

I rolled onto my stomach and reached over his shoulder for the joint he was holding. I felt drowsy and slow, like a slug.

“Who can blame them when you’re throwing the term ‘best friend’ around like fucking rainbow confetti?”

Theo paused with the joint halfway to his lips. “What’s wrong with having friends?”

“It’s gay,” I said. “Lads don’t have—”

“Now it’s gay to have friends.”

“No. It’s gay to call them that. We’re mates, innit? Homies. Bros. Bredren.” I snapped my fingers in front of Theo’s face, trying to get him to hand over the goods, but he just grabbed my fingers so that they couldn’t snap anymore.

“Stop talking that way. You’re middle class. Accept it.”

“Okay. We’re friends,” I said, as he finally passed me the joint. “My way’s just as gay.”

Satisfied, Theo laid his head back down against the bed. He was wearing his hair kind of long these days, and it looked extra blonde spread over my navy blue sheets.

I choked on my next breath. I didn’t have the stomach that Theo had for drugs. He seemed able to hold them inside his skinny body by some secret technique that I couldn’t master. Still coughing, I handed the joint back to him and watched as he inhaled, held it, released.

As he breathed out, he said, “Are you coming to my gig?”

“Depends. When’s it at, bitch?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Can’t. Got a match.” Even mildly stoned, I didn’t have to think before saying it. Rugger transcends everything.

“You suck dick, dude.”

“Woah. It’s like a semi-final. Okay? I’ll be there to watch you grind your parts in people’s faces next time. We’re having a party after if we win. At Tony’s. Come.”

Theo considered this. “Only if you win. I’m only friends with winners.”

“I’ll text you.”

“Okay.”

He passed the joint to me and stood up, dusting at his jeans like he could brush the smell of weed right off. My parents would be on their cruise until Tuesday. We would never have been smoking in the house if they were home.

“You’re leaving?”

I tried to get up, but my limbs felt too limp. Theo kicked his pile of pillows aside and then peered into the mirror on my wardrobe door so he could finger-comb his hair back into shape.

“Mum’s coming for dinner,” he said. “Dude, can you picture my Dad in the kitchen? No way. This is all down to me.”

That was one of those things most people didn’t know about Theodore Vester─ the come-and-go mess that was his family. As a kid I’d thought it must be exciting to live in a home where no day was the same. Cooking your own dinners, having the house to yourself, packing bags to spend weekends at a different home in London. I’d been jealous, back then.

Theo turned from the mirror with a grin.

“Stay a winner,” he said.

“Sure thing, bestie mcvestie.”

With the end of the joint held between my teeth, I curved my hands together into the shape of a heart, then laughed when Theo returned the symbol on his way out the door.

*

They don’t win; they triumph.

Named MVP for the second match running, Jake  punches his fist into the air as his teammates lift him high above their mud-crusted heads. Held aloft, he basks in the floodlights and thinks of the taste of weed and Theo.

 

Theo

Tony’s house was a fucking age away. It meant a train ride, then a ten-minute walk led by Google maps.

Of course, the guy from the local paper called right as I was making my way up the path. I ended up standing in the cold for another five minutes while I spelt out the name of each member of the band, through chattering teeth, to someone who seemed to hardly understand letters.

“It’s Vester,” I said for the third time, trying to keep my tone polite. “With a  ‘V’. Like in Victoria. Theodore Vester.”

Inside, the house was warm and loud, filled with the special chaos you get with too many sportsmen saturated with booze and shoved into too small a space. It wasn’t hard to find Jake. I just headed right to the centre of things, where he was busy pouring Red Bull into mugs.

“Vestie,” he cried, as soon as he saw me. “My days. Oh baby.”

He threw his arm around my neck, clearly long past wasted. His body was dead weight against mine, enough to make me stagger.

“Wowzer,” I said, slipping the heavy arm and directing him to lean against the table instead. “Looks like I have some catching up to do.”

He laughed loudly.

“Fact. That’s a fact. Someone get my boy a drink.” Jake groped for one of the half-prepared jägerbombs, but another guy had gotten there first and already handed me a Carlsberg.

“Where’s your other indie band dickheads?”

Rakefield. Half back, understudy for the role of Jake’s best mate, pronounces words like ‘indie’ and ‘band’ as if they’re insults. He was giving me evils across the table. This was not unusual. Pretty much every second his eyes were open was spent giving me evils.

“They wouldn’t come,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because they don’t want to waste an evening hanging out with meatheads like you.”

Rakefield shook his head, disgusted. “Those hipster twats.”

“Hey.” Jake lurched forwards. “That’s Vestie’s people, Rakes. Don’t disrespect.”

After this token attempt to ease tension he went back to the woozy delight of being Jake, moving on to the next adoring audience that awaited him in the kitchen. I stood by the drinks table, sipping my lager and pretending Rakefield wasn’t still glaring at me. The crowd around us had already thinned, lured away by Jake’s gravitational pull.

Not Rakefield, though. He stayed right where he was, giving me those looks.

“So what, you’re like a big scab to the cause for being here?”

“Only here for Jake,” I said. “Not denying my roots.”

“You guys are such bummers,” Rakefield said with pleasure, like I had walked right into his trap. “I bet you’re bumming all over the place.”

And wasn’t that the root of the problem? The only reasoning a tiny mind like Rakefield’s could come up with to explain how guys like me and Jake could be as close as we were. There was no room in his understanding for complexities, no grey in between his black and white. It was a simple choice of this or that. I’d heard it all before and I was sick of arguing with tiny minds.

He stepped closer and I found myself trying to stand taller to meet him. We were facing off as much as we could without things cascading into a full-blown fight. I smiled at him and said, “You’re just jealous because we’re such a power couple and you and Stella can’t compete because no one likes you.”

Rakefield sneered. “He’s not your actual boyfriend. You know that, right? However much you enjoy his dick in your arse.”

I took my time swallowing my next mouthful of lager. Stella herself had caught my eye from across the room, where she was hanging with a couple of other girls from my Theatre Studies class. I’d known her since nursery school.

Totally calm, I said, “What makes you think Jake’s not the one who likes taking it?”

Then, leaving Rakefield’s tiny mind whirling, I went over to kiss his girlfriend hello.

*

Things get fast out of control. One minute Jake is necking beer like a champion in the kitchen and laughing at Tony’s Ricky Gervais impressions. Next minute, he’s clutching the toilet bowl, as acidy chunks explode from his throat.

The toilet flushes. A towel is pressed to his mouth. Then someone’s fingers are touching his face.

“Dude, that was the most spectacular tactical,” a voice says.

Vestie, Jake thinks, or says, or tries to say.

He clings on tight as they attempt to stand up together.

 

Jake

For a while I’d sort of known that Theo liked boys the same as he liked girls. We never outright talked about it, but I knew anyway. There were little things. Not totally obvious, but enough to work it out if you spent a lot of time watching Theo.

One time, when the band had performed at a shitty local festival in Foxton, I saw the other guitarist put his hand on Theo’s arse when he thought nobody else was looking─ not in a joking way, but like he had done it before.

After the festival I went home and thought about that guy’s hand for a long time. I started to add things up and come up with answers I wasn’t ready to face alone. Those answers were why, in a chilly bedroom above the party, I grabbed Theo by the front of his shirt and slurred, “I would, you know.”

“You would what?”

Theo sat down on the edge of the bed I’d crash-landed on. The swell of a burp rose to my mouth as he untangled my fingers from his shirt.

“I’d try it too.”

“Go to sleep. Tony says it’s cool if you stay here. Give me your phone. I’ll text your Mum.”

“I know you’ve tried it.”

Theo wasn’t listening. He made one of his huffy sounds of exasperation and reached for my jeans.

“Breathe in. I’m taking the phone.”

The slide of his fingers into my front pocket made me stiffen unexpectedly. As he withdrew the phone, I grabbed his wrist, the movement so sudden that it made him jump.

“What?” Theo said, finally looking at me.

My thoughts were all slippery, too mashed up to make sense. I had seized his hand to prevent it from discovering an unfortunate hard-on and to pull it close enough to thrust against. The two impulses felt simultaneous. I didn’t know how to explain that, so just stared at his face and then found myself touching the skin of his cheek with each of my fingers, one after the other, from little finger to thumb.

“Bestie mcvestie,” I said, trying to fill in the gaps with the taps of my fingertips, “We should try.”

Theo was silent for a moment. Blinking. Processing.

My fingers kept on tapping, until he pushed my hand aside and leant forwards, close enough for me to feel his breath on my face. When he spoke, it was in the sultry voice he switched on for the microphone, the one that made people swoon for him.

“If you say so.”

I wanted to tell him to use that voice with me from now on, instead of saving it for the groupies. But Theo was already leaning away again, getting up, pushing me back down when I tried to follow.

“You are the lamest drunk,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. “Sleep tight, dickhead.”

*

The party isn’t even a party now. It is just noise and motion, too dizzying to be enjoyable. Theo stands outside, smoking a cigarette, with the sensation of Jake’s fingertips still tapping against his skin.

A moment later, someone bursts through the door and throws up in the bushes; it’s Rakefield, who summons a sneer even while clinging to the wall of the house and wiping puke from his chin.

Theo turns away from him. Staring at the cold path, he wonders if it is really okay to try being exactly what people expect you to be.

 

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