Content warning: mention of mild domestic abuse
You look well suited like you came to win. Lust, spite and malice, your degrees of sin. Wrap me in your trauma and I may just give you mine. Queen take your chances, ace take your time.
‘It’s been lovely to see you guys!’ Maria gave Nick and Zoë each a long hug, beaming at them, and air kissed Richard on both cheeks. ‘I’m so happy for you two. And you,’ she turned to Nick, ‘best of luck in all your endeavours. Your band is going to be great, I just know it! Never give up, okay?’ She ruffled his hair and picked up her suitcase.
‘Hey, actually, let me walk you to the bus stop.’ Nick smiled.
‘Aww, thank you! You don’t have to.’
‘Well, I want to.’
Maria nodded and bid Zoë and Richard farewell, while Nick put on his coat. He took her suitcase from her and they set off towards the bus. She was catching a train from Birmingham. ‘Thanks,’ said Nick after a few moments. ‘For listening to my rants this past week.’
‘Hey, you’re my nephew. Of course I’ll listen. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to meet you until now. You’re a remarkable kid, Nick. I really do wish you all the best.’ She grinned. ‘Besides, if things are really shit at Josh’s, maybe I’ll come back and spend New Year’s with you guys.’ She winked.
The bus hadn’t arrived yet and they stood in the snow making easy conversation when Nick, looking up, spotted a very familiar person across the street, carrying a black briefcase. He didn’t see Dave’s dad in town very often, but now here he was, standing stock still and staring at Maria.
Nick nudged her. ‘I don’t want to alarm you, but your ex is staring at us.’
She looked up at once, surprise etched on her features. ‘George?’
Mr. Thompson looked indecisive, like he was about to cross the street towards them one second, and just continue on his way the next. But then, he stepped into the street and approached them.
‘Morning, Mr. Thompson,’ said Nick as he approached.
Dave’s father looked at him as though he were something nasty at the bottom of his shoe. ‘Nicholas.’ Then he met Maria’s gaze. ‘Hello, Maria.’
‘Hello, George. Are you keeping well?’
He gave a curt nod. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’ve been visiting my niece and nephew,’ she said, smiling.
‘I thought you were in South America.’
Maria shrugged. ‘Got sick of it. I’ve moved back. Moving into a flat in London on the second of January.’
Nick had never seen George Thompson like this before. He looked almost shy. Was this the same man who had thrown Nick to the floor when he had discovered him with his son? The same man who had told him in no uncertain terms that Nick was never to visit his home again after Dave came out to him properly? The same man who had, for years, encouraged his son to bully Nick as much as he possibly could, and who had treated his son so harshly, had been so cold? Now he seemed nervous, almost like a schoolboy. As though seeing Maria had just thrown him back to his twenties, the fifty-year-old lawyer all but gone.
‘I hear you married, that you have a son, now,’ said Maria after a brief silence. ‘I married too, in Brazil. We were just divorced, though, which is why I’ve moved back.’
‘So . . .’ Mr. Thompson swallowed. ‘You mean, you’re single?’
Maria blinked, and then she laughed. ‘Don’t be daft, George! It’s been, what, twenty-five years?’
‘That’s not what I meant!’ George Thompson looked positively flustered, and his voice was suddenly loud and angry. ‘How dare you, you stupid bint!?’
Maria looked incredulous. ‘I beg your pardon?’ Just then, the bus came up the road. ‘I have no idea what you’re thinking right now, George, but whatever it is, let it the hell go. I hear your rivalry with my brother extended to his children? What, were you punishing them for what happened with me? The way I remember it, you were the one who broke off the engagement.’ She turned to Nick and hugged him. ‘Goodbye, Nick. See you again soon. Come visit me when I’m all settled in London, okay?’
‘Yeah, I will. Have a good trip! Give our love to Dad.’ He smirked wryly.
She laughed again. ‘Yes, I’m sure that will make him very uncomfortable. I certainly will.’ As she boarded the bus, she spared George a glance. ‘Goodbye, George. I hope we don’t meet again. You’re as childish as ever.’
As the bus drove off, Nick cleared his throat. ‘Well, I suppose I’ll be going then.’
‘Just one moment, young man! What exactly have you been saying about me and my family, you little—’
George Thompson froze, and Nick looked towards the voice that had spoken to see Dave. He was wearing a navy coat and black leather gloves, and was carrying a bag of groceries from Tesco. His cheeks were red from the cold, and he looked more beautiful than Nick could describe. Nick looked away.
‘What are you doing? Who was that?’
Before Mr. Thompson could answer, Nick said, ‘That was my aunt Maria. Your father’s ex-fiancé.’
Mr. Thompson glared at him. ‘How dare you?’
Nick shrugged, sticking his cold hands in his coat pockets. ‘I’ve no obligation or loyalty to you. You might want to tell your wife you’re still hung up on your girlfriend from twenty-five years ago, though. What is up with that?’
Dave frowned. ‘Is that true? Were you engaged? How come I never heard about that?’
‘Oh, it was all a big secret,’ said Nick. He had quite forgotten to feel embarrassed or stricken about being face to face with Dave. He found the whole thing far too tragically funny. ‘Epic drama. He dumped her after a fight with my dad. Pathetic, right?’
George Thompson’s face was red. He turned to Nick and raised his hand, as if to strike him. Before he could, though, Dave had grabbed his wrist. ‘What the fuck? What’s wrong with you?’
Dave’s father tore his hand away and, glaring at both of them, set off down the street at a brisk pace without another word, leaving Nick and Dave to look after his retreating back. Then, they looked at each other, and the awkwardness of the situation struck Nick, who averted his gaze.
‘You okay?’ asked Dave, and Nick felt his face flush.
‘Yeah. I’m fine.’
‘I can’t believe he was about to hit you. Bastard!’
‘Yeah, well . . . I did kind of provoke him.’
‘That doesn’t make it okay.’ Dave paused. ‘Was that all really true?’
Nick nodded. ‘Yeah. Maria told me the whole thing. They were engaged, kept it a secret for a long time, and when she finally told my dad he confronted yours, and the whole thing ended in a big fight where he dumped Maria for the crime of being my dad’s sister.’ He shrugged. ‘She dodged a bullet, there.’
‘Yeah.’ Dave was silent for a moment, and Nick looked up at him. Their eyes met and Dave cleared his throat. ‘Funny old world, isn’t it?’ He paused again. Nick didn’t know what to say. ‘Er . . . I have to get this stuff home, my mum’s baking again . . .’
Nick smiled at the recollection of Dave complaining about his mother’s tendency to overcompensate at Christmas by baking Christmas cakes, even though she was terrible at it. ‘Best get home before she burns the house down, then,’ he said softly, and was pleased to hear Dave laugh.
‘Yeah. But, hey . . . Maybe you could tell me that whole story, one of these days? We could, I dunno, go to the Jekyll & Hyde for a cocoa or something?’
Nick’s heart pounded in his chest, and he had to remind himself that he was definitely not being asked on a date. He smiled shyly. ‘Yeah, sure. I’d like that.’
‘Okay. I’ll . . . I’ll text you or something.’ Then Dave made his farewell and walked away.
* * *
When Dave walked through the front door, he heard loud voices coming from the kitchen. He took his snowy boots off and carried the grocery bag towards the sound of shouting. As he neared, the words became more distinct.
‘I don’t understand why you’re so angry!’ his mother cried.
‘Never you mind! I just don’t want Christmas carols in my house!’
‘Can’t I listen to music while I cook? What is the matter with you, George?’
‘You are the matter! You and that fucking bender of a son you’ve raised!’
Dave approached and stood in the doorway, taking in the scene before him. The kitchen radio had been thrown to the floor, and the batteries rolled under the kitchen table. The oven was on and a tray of unbaked gingerbread men lay on the counter next to the cooker. His mother was wearing an apron covered in flour. His father looked livid. His face was red, and he was still wearing his overcoat.
‘David is who he is, and I love him! Why can’t you?’ said his mother hotly. ‘Is it because despite your best efforts to make him like you, he’s become a loving, kind, and caring person?’
‘He has become weak! And you, you are weak as well! I thought I could make you stronger, but clearly I was mistaken. I should never have married you, you cunt!’ He raised his hand and struck her across the face.
Dave rushed into the room then, and grabbed his father by the arm and twisted it behind his back, pushing him face first up against the fridge. ‘Leave her alone, you bastard!’
‘David,’ said his mother softly. ‘Dave, it’s all right, let him go.’
It was the first time that he could remember her ever calling him Dave. Slowly, he released his father, ready to tackle him again if he got violent, but he didn’t. He turned around and stared at his wife and son.
‘George,’ said Dave’s mother, her voice steady and controlled. She held her hand to her cheek and there were tears in her eyes, but she didn’t flinch. ‘I want a divorce.’
His father blinked. Then he looked like he was about to argue, but instead he worked his jaw for a few moments, before nodding almost imperceptibly.
‘I’d like you to leave now,’ Dave’s mother continued. ‘Pack a suitcase. Get a hotel room or something, and leave me to spend Christmas with my son.’
Now his father opened his mouth. ‘Now look here, this is my house!’
‘Even so. You just struck me. I can’t trust you. Leave. Now.’
He swallowed, nodded, and left the kitchen. As soon as he was gone, Dave’s mother collapsed into a kitchen chair, shaking. The sobs followed soon thereafter.
‘Mum.’ Dave knelt in front of her and took her hand. ‘Mum, it’s okay. Did he hurt you?’
She shook her head. ‘Not really,’ she said softly, and sniffed. ‘It stings a bit, but I’m fine.’
‘He objected to the radio. I’ve seen him angry, we’ve had arguments before, but . . . I’ve never seen him like that.’ She took a deep breath and let it out shakily. ‘Did I do the right thing?’
‘Yes,’ said Dave immediately. ‘You did the right thing.’ He hesitated. ‘Just now, I saw him in town. He was talking to Nick’s aunt. Maria. Do you know about her?’
His mother nodded. ‘Camilla told me.’
‘Did she tell you they were engaged?’ She shook her head. ‘He was . . . He was really angry. As if she’d come to town just to spite him or something. Nick was with her, he told me everything after she got on her bus, that he’d dumped her because of her brother, Nick’s dad. After he told me, Dad tried to hit him. I stopped it. So, he was on the warpath already. I’m sorry, I should have come straight home.’
‘You’ve done nothing wrong.’ His mother looked at him and put her hand to his cheek. ‘It took me far too long to see it, but you are the best son I could have hoped for.’ She sighed. ‘I guess this is it. I suppose it’s been a long time coming, really . . . I just didn’t realise until now.’ She stood up and Dave did as well. ‘I should call Clive. And I should . . . start looking for a new place. With the way people are fleeing this town, there should be a house available somewhere. And—’
Dave took her hand again. ‘Mum, it can wait. Okay? Just call Uncle Clive. And then we’ll open up a bottle of wine and watch some silly Christmas movie or something.’
His mother quirked an eyebrow at him. ‘David, it’s just gone noon.’
Dave shrugged. ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere. Besides, at this point we deserve some day drinking. Right?’
‘Yes.’ She nodded. ‘Right. I’ll call Clive. Would you . . . Would you put the gingerbread in the oven? Fifteen minutes should do it.’
Dave snorted a laugh. ‘Yeah, ’course I will.’ As his mother left the room, he put the tray into the oven and went to pick up the pieces of the radio.
* * *
On Christmas Eve, Nick got a text from Dave.
Dave: Hey. Do you want to meet up? Jekyll & Hyde?
Nick immediately texted back.
‘Zoë? Is it okay if I go out for a little bit?’ he asked. Zoë and Richard were sitting in the kitchen, poring over Christmas cards they had yet to send.
Nick licked his lips. ‘Actually, I’m meeting Dave for a coffee.’ He felt himself blush a little bit. ‘He, er . . . I mean, we’re gonna talk about some stuff. And he wanted to know about Maria and his dad.’
Zoë frowned. ‘Is that something you’re ready for?’
‘Yeah,’ said Nick, truthfully. ‘I actually think it’s time now. I’ve been talking to Evan, I’ve done a lot of thinking. So, I think I’m ready to actually face him. I mean, we talked on the phone already.’ He had not mentioned their impromptu meeting the previous day.
‘All right, then. You don’t need my permission, I was just curious.’
Richard smiled at him. ‘If you think you’re ready to talk to him, you should talk to him,’ he said.
So Nick went to The Jekyll & Hyde. He was early, so he ordered a cocoa and sat down. He felt nervous. Was he really ready for this? To sit down and have an honest to goodness conversation, face to face?
Dave turned up not long after Nick and ordered himself a cocoa as well, before approaching Nick’s table. ‘Hey,’ he said as he sat.
‘So, my mum left my dad,’ said Dave, without preamble.
Nick blinked. ‘Really?’
‘Yeah. Yesterday. Or, technically, she made him leave. He’s gone to Birmingham, to Aunt Camilla and Uncle Jeremy’s, for Christmas. We’ve got the house for now, but . . . We’ll probably be moving. Not leaving Windfield, I think, but hard to be sure.’
‘Oh.’ The possibility of Dave leaving town caused a pain deep in Nick’s solar plexus, but he tried to ignore it. ‘I . . . I hope you stay. I mean . . . You have your friends here.’
Dave nodded. ‘Yeah, I do. And Mum’s just started her new job here, too.’
They were silent for a little while. For want of anything else to say, Nick asked, ‘So, how’s Patrick?’ He immediately regretted it and looked away.
‘We . . . broke up.’ Upon hearing those words, Nick’s gaze snapped back to Dave’s and something inside him dared, for a fraction of a second, to hope. ‘I don’t really want to talk about it,’ Dave continued. ‘Don’t . . . You shouldn’t . . .’
‘I shouldn’t get any ideas,’ said Nick softly. ‘I won’t.’
‘You . . . What you did was really fucked up, Nick. You hurt me in so many ways. Worse, you betrayed my trust, and I just can’t . . . It can’t happen. You have to know that.’
Nick let out a shaky breath and nodded. ‘I do. I get it.’ He paused and stared out the window. ‘I’ve started seeing Evan again. Once per week now, since the week after . . . Yeah. So, he’s helping me get over . . . everything.’ He sighed, and then he looked at Dave again, attempting a smile. ‘So. You wanted to know about Maria.’
‘Yeah,’ said Dave. ‘Especially with my dad now, I’d really like to know.’
‘Okay, then.’ And Nick told him everything.
Afterwards, they chatted for a bit about other things, until Nick said, ‘I should probably get home. It’s Christmas Eve, after all.’
‘Yeah, me too. My mum actually baked decent Christmas cakes for once, so we’re munching gingerbread and watching Love, Actually tonight.’
‘Really? Love, Actually?’ Nick cocked his eyebrow. ‘Didn’t think you liked romcoms.’
Dave shrugged. ‘Hey, it’s a genuinely good film.’
Nick shook his head. ‘Well, we’re watching Die Hard. That’s a real Christmas movie.’ They stepped outside. ‘Well, I guess I’ll see you later, then.’
‘Nick, hang on. I need to ask you something.’ He seemed to hesitate. ‘Or, not ask . . . just, we haven’t got round to talking about it. That concert ticket Mels and I got you for your birthday.’
Nick licked his lips, dry and chapped from the cold weather. ‘Yeah?’
‘Well, I totally understand if you wouldn’t want me to go with you, so I was thinking you could have my ticket and bring someone else, like Matt or Stuart, maybe, or anyone you want. I mean, you’ll want to go with Mellie, of course . . .’ He trailed off and looked down at his boots.
Nick thought for a moment. Going with Dave might be awkward, and it might be painful. Matt would probably go if he asked, even if Placebo wasn’t his favourite band or anything. Stuart as well. But then he said, ‘You hang onto it. I don’t mind going with you. Assuming that you want to.’
Dave smiled. ‘I was kind of hoping you’d say that, ’cause I’ve really quite grown to like them, if I’m honest.’
‘All right. That’s settled, then.’ Nick wanted to kiss him, or take his hand, or something, but he knew he couldn’t. He knew Dave wouldn’t want him to, and he’d screwed up enough lately on that count. So instead he just said, ‘Bye, Dave,’ and they went their separate ways.
Thanks for reading! I hope you've enjoyed it. I think it was high time Dave's mum dumped her husband, don't you? As ever, if you have any questions, comments or critique, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love feedback; it motivates me to keep writing and posting! I have a mailing list where I send out notifications when I update or post new things. If you'd like to be on it, please e-mail me with the subject line 'mailing list', or just mention it if you send feedback. :)