Breathe me every time you close your eyes. Taste me every time you cry. How many times? Now I can’t look you in the eye.
Dave was not exactly hungover when he woke up the next day, but he felt very tired and just a little bit shaky. Matt, however, was in a right state, and vomited twice before he was able to give the others a hand with the cleaning effort. Even then, he whined and moaned and was demonstratively unwell, until Alan agreed to take him home, rolling his eyes.
‘You’re an idiot,’ he told Matt, helping him on with his jacket. ‘You know you get like this, and still you get yourself arsefaced.’
‘I’m never drinking again,’ Matt mumbled, leaning on his boyfriend. ‘At least not until next weekend . . .’
Alan chuckled and shook his head. ‘You’re hopeless. Come on, then. Let’s get you home and to bed.’
‘Mm, bed sounds nice. Will you join me in my bed? You always take such good care of me.’
‘Well, someone has to.’
‘It’s ’cause you love me,’ said Matt decisively, and Alan blushed, glancing at Dave, who couldn’t help but smile.
‘You two deserve each other,’ he said. ‘And I mean that in the nicest of ways. Now, bugger off so Mellie and I can finish cleaning before my parents get home. Oh, and . . .’ He handed Alan a bin bag full of empty bottles and cans. ‘Drop this off on the way, would you?’
As he and Mellie returned to their cleaning, another text from Patrick rolled in on Dave’s phone.
Patrick: Morning, birthday boy. Feeling okay? x
He typed a reply.
Dave: Better than I deserve. You?
He filled another bin bag with pizza boxes, paper plates, and plastic cups while he waited for the reply. It arrived fairly quickly.
Patrick: Didn’t actually get that drunk last night. Feeling pretty good. Thinking about you.
Dave: That so? Any particular thoughts?
Patrick: Wouldn’t you like to know? Might tell you on Monday, if we get a moment to ourselves.
Dave: Better make sure we do, then.
‘That Patrick you’re texting with?’ asked Mellie, grinning.
‘Are they sexy texts?’
‘You know, for my cousin, you’re taking an unhealthy interest in my sex life.’ Dave smirked at her, and Mellie blushed just a little bit.
‘Not your sex life . . . Just your love life.’ She turned away and continued sweeping the kitchen floor.
Dave’s phone buzzed again.
Patrick: Oh, we will. I need to kiss you a lot more. xx
All that day, Dave did not spare Nick a single thought, and when he went to bed that night, alone in his room once again, he brought himself off to thoughts of Patrick.
* * *
‘So, I had an idea for The Break-Up Song,’ said Stuart as he walked into the rehearsal room Tuesday afternoon. Out of his bag he pulled his laptop, a synth pad, and a small keyboard.
Matt groaned. ‘Et tu, Brute?’ He was famously not a fan of synths in rock music.
‘It needs a bigger sound,’ Stuart argued. ‘So, we make an electronic drum track, and I can play around with these to add some body. Thinking something a bit noisy and distorted, run it through a delay, maybe . . . Would be even cooler to have an analogue tape delay or something, get a proper feedback loop going, but those are hard to come by.’
‘Might be able to find a pedal at Bob’s that’ll give you a similar effect,’ said Nick. ‘I think this is a good idea. We can at least give it a go.’
Stuart grinned. ‘Good. Cause I already programmed the beat.’
It did work really well. A bit of experimentation was needed, but in the end even Matt had to agree that it suited the song fantastically, and they finished up feeling pretty good about themselves. On the bus back to Windfield Green the feeling passed, however, and Nick grew quiet and morose.
‘You okay?’ asked Matt, after a few minutes of silence.
‘I guess. Not really.’ Nick let out a frustrated sound and looked out the window. It was hard to talk about Dave, even with Matt, who had been there for the fallout and knew exactly how he felt. Still, he felt like he owed him the truth, and Matt was good at comforting him. ‘I saw Dave and Mel on Saturday. They came by the shop. I was the only cashier at the time, so . . .’ He sighed.
Matt put an arm around him, like he always did. ‘I’m sorry. That must have been painful.’
‘It hurt a lot,’ Nick confirmed. ‘Felt like I couldn’t breathe.’ He hesitated. He knew he shouldn’t ask about the party, knew it would hurt even more, but he couldn’t help himself. ‘I’m guessing you guys celebrated his birthday on Saturday. Was it a good party?’
Matt shrugged. ‘It was all right. To be honest, much of it’s kind of a blur. I got really pissed. The hangover was excruciating. Thankfully, I had Alan to take care of me.’
Nick nodded. ‘That’s good. I’m happy for you two.’ He sighed. ‘Who else was there?’
‘Nick . . .’ Matt squeezed his arm. ‘Are you sure you want to hear about this stuff? Won’t it just make everything worse?’
Nick sighed again. ‘I don’t know. I just feel like . . . I need to get over this. I can’t just go around avoiding him, hoping that he’ll take me back, you know? Which I still am. Every single day, I wake up thinking, maybe today. Maybe he’ll call. Maybe he’ll forgive me. If he could at least forgive me, if we could be friends again . . . I dunno. It’s hard, even thinking about it. Maybe if I know how he’s doing, what he’s up to, that will help.’
Matt bit his lip. ‘If you’re sure that’s what you want . . . Well, Chas and Ellie were there. Mel of course, as you already know. Some classmates of his from Dorcrest, too. Including Mandi, if you’d believe it. Her dad picked her up at ten, but at least she got to be there for a few hours. She and Mel got on like a house on fire.’
Nick found himself smiling. ‘Always thought they would. Glad they finally got to meet.’
‘Yeah.’ Matt took a breath, and looked like he might say something more, but he didn’t.
‘You’re holding something back, aren’t you?’
Matt shook his head. ‘Nothing that concerns you. It was a good party. That’s all you need to know.’
Suddenly, Nick just knew. He felt it spread through his body like ice, and even though he didn’t want to know, didn’t want to think about it, he said, ‘He’s found someone new, hasn’t he.’
Matt sighed. ‘Nick, stop doing this to yourself.’
‘Just answer. Please.’
Matt studied his face. Nick knew he looked stricken, helpless. He couldn’t keep his emotions on the inside, not all of them, anyway. ‘Yeah,’ said Matt at last. ‘A bloke from Dorcrest. He . . . He seemed nice. Like he could be good for him, you know?’
Nick nodded, swallowing. ‘I’m in no position to judge, with . . . with Brian and everything. I know that.’
‘Doesn’t mean it can’t hurt,’ said Matt, giving him a half hug. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Better I hear it from you than suddenly seeing them together without warning, I guess. Thanks for telling me.’
When he got home, Nick fell into bed and stared at the ceiling. He had thought he would break down and cry again once he was on his own, maybe have another panic attack, but instead he just felt like he was outside his body. He tried to focus on his breathing, his heartbeat, assure himself that he was still there, inside himself.
A few minutes later, Richard knocked on the door, and Nick reluctantly invited him in. ‘Are you hungry?’
Richard seemed to hesitate. ‘Do you want to talk about it, whatever it is?’
Nick seriously considered it. Richard was easy to talk to. He already knew so much about Nick, from handling his case against Craig the previous year. Telling him about what was going on would be safe, and probably helpful. In the end, though, he decided against it.
‘Maybe later. I . . . I’d rather just be alone right now.’
Richard smiled at him. ‘All right. I’ll be downstairs doing paperwork. If you need anything at all, just come down, okay? I’ll do what I can.’
Nick nodded. ‘Yeah. Cheers.’
‘No worries. And, if you do get hungry, there’s chicken and rice in the fridge.’
Richard left the room, closing the door behind him, and Nick was left alone with his thoughts, or lack thereof. He got up off the bed and picked up his iPod from the desk. It was ancient now. Everyone else he knew had their music on their phones, used Spotify or whatever, but he still had this old thing, with all his music on it, all the songs that had helped him through painful times in the past. He stuck it in the dock and put on Placebo’s latest album. Then he lay back down on the bed, closing his eyes, and listened. The music flowed through him, but he didn’t feel anything.
* * *
That evening, after Richard had gone to bed, Nick got up and went outside again. He still had the joint Brian had given him on Friday, though he had almost smoked it on Saturday. What with his panic attack and everything, though, he had fallen straight to sleep when he went to bed, though his sleep had been rather fitful.
Now he sat on that same bench and lit it up, feeling the tension leave his body as he inhaled the smoke. The first time he had smoked, he had coughed so hard he thought he might throw up, but had recovered quickly enough. Brian had then taken the spliff from him, taking a hit without inhaling, and then kissed him, blowing the now cooler smoke into Nick’s mouth. It had felt impossibly intimate, and that time he hadn’t coughed.
Nick looked at the joint in his hand, flicking some ash off the end. Was this addiction? He had heard people say that you don’t become addicted to marijuana. But he craved it when he was feeling like this, when he was anxious or sad or dissociated. If it wasn’t addiction, it was still a kind of need. He decided not to dwell on it, to enjoy the calm it brought him without worrying.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and stared at it for a little while. Then he brought up Brian’s number and rang him up.
‘Hey, cutie,’ said Brian’s voice as he picked up. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure? It’s late.’
‘I snuck out to smoke. Couldn’t sleep. Started thinking about you.’
‘I’m flattered.’ Nick could hear the smile in Brian’s voice. ‘So, what have you been up to today?’
‘Work, and then a band rehearsal. We’ve got a new song we’re working on. Stuart had a good idea for it, getting some synthesisers in there. It worked really well. Matt’s not much of a synth fan, but even he warmed up to it. Anyway, what are you up to?’
‘Just hanging out with a friend.’
Nick smiled. ‘A friend friend or a fuck friend?’ He knew Brian was with other people sometimes. It didn’t bother him, which had surprised him at first, as he’d always thought of himself as a little bit possessive. Maybe he was only possessive of Dave.
Brian laughed. ‘It’s a girl, so the former. Don’t worry, you didn’t interrupt anything.’
‘That’s good. I should probably leave you to it, though. Can’t have you neglecting her.’
‘Nah, it’s okay. She’s high, having the time of her life.’ Silence. ‘So, why did you really call? You sound down.’
Nick took another hit, and sighed heavily as he blew out the smoke. It was nearly burned down now. ‘Matt told me that Dave’s seeing someone.’
‘Aww, I’m sorry, baby. That sucks.’
‘Yeah. I mean, it is what it is, but . . . still hard to hear. Some classmate of his, apparently. Matt said he seemed nice. I’m sure he is, I just . . . I dunno.’
Another brief silence followed before Brian spoke again. ‘Hey, I have a gig Saturday next week. Wanna come to Birmingham for the weekend? We could go out on Friday, you could come to the concert . . . And I’ll help take your mind off everything. You know I’m good at that.’
Nick smiled, stubbing out the end of his joint on the armrest of the bench. ‘You are. I’d love to come. I have a shift that Sunday, but I’ll see about getting it changed around.’
‘Cool! It’s a date. Well, two dates. And I promise to take care of you. But you have to promise you’ll take care of yourself until then, okay? Be kind to yourself.’
‘I promise,’ said Nick. ‘I should get home and into bed.’
‘Good lad. And in less than two weeks, you’ll be in my bed. Goodnight, babe.’
‘Yeah. Goodnight.’ They hung up, and Nick strolled off home, feeling much calmer and lighter than he had in a while. Brian would take care of him.
* * *
‘We should do something fun for your birthday,’ said Dave. He and Patrick had found a little nook where they could spend some time together between lessons, and now they were sitting there. Patrick had his back to Dave’s chest, and Dave was playing with his hair. It really was extremely silky, and smelled faintly of coconut.
‘My birthday’s on a Wednesday, though,’ said Patrick.
‘Well, yeah, but we could go out on the Friday after. Ooh! We could go to Birmingham and go clubbing! Find a gay club, maybe? If you want, I mean.’
Patrick seemed to consider that for a moment. ‘You know what? That’s actually not a bad idea. Let’s do that! But . . .’ Dave saw his neck flush. ‘I don’t really have the money for that kind of thing.’
‘Don’t be stupid, it’s for your birthday, it’s my treat.’ Dave leaned forward and placed a kiss on Patrick’s neck.
‘Mm, do that again,’ Patrick murmured, and Dave thought that, at this rate, they wouldn’t manage to take it slow for long. He kissed Patrick’s neck again, putting a little bit of tongue into it, and Patrick turned his head and captured his lips. ‘You’re amazing,’ he whispered, and Dave’s heart swelled. This was good. Patrick was good. This could last.
‘We should go. I have to get to Chem.’
Patrick sighed. ‘Yeah, I’ve got Physics. Don’t wanna.’
All the same, they got up off the floor, and kissed again before parting. ‘By the way,’ said Dave. ‘You’re pretty amazing, too.’
Patrick’s cheeks flushed. He was adorable, and Dave took his hand and pulled him close again, so he could place a final kiss on his lips. As he walked away, he though that he was well on his way to falling in love, if this went on. He was okay with that.
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