An introverted kinda soul, the earth did open, swallow whole. Her next of kin who lived in sin, was asking god to let her in. I'm a man, a liar, guaranteed in your bed. I gotta place it on the rack, got a place inside it.
Nick stared up at the canopy of yellow leaves stretching out across the roof of the bicycle shed. In truth, most of them had by now found their way down to the ground, where they turned brown and soggy, but there was still a layer of autumn yellow covering the trees. The sky was clear, pale blue and the air was crisp and cool as November came to a close.
For the past couple of weeks, Nick had experienced an entirely new sensation. It had come in brief spells before, but it had never lasted this long, and it had never felt this powerful. He had decided that it must be happiness.
He was sitting on the ground behind the bicycle shed, his back resting against the trunk of a large maple tree that had grown into and around the chain link fence of the schoolyard. This had always been a safe place. He had hid there so many times, just reading or thinking, away from everything. The concrete shed, nestled between the fence and the brick wall of the school building, blocked out the sound of the schoolyard, and the space behind it was comfortably mild throughout the winter, heated by an air vent out of the school.
He closed his eyes and sighed.
A sound made his eyes snap open and he looked around. Squeezing through the space between the fence and the shed, a figure came into view.
‘Hey, you,’ said Dave, smiling. Nick grinned and stood up, greeting the other with a hug.
‘Missed you,’ he whispered.
‘We just saw each other in class,’ Dave said, kissing his cheek. They pulled apart.
‘Doesn’t count,’ said Nick, shaking his head. ‘I miss you all the time,’ he confessed, blushing. Dave lifted a hand and stroked his cheek, and Nick leaned into the touch. ‘I’m insanely jealous of your friends, you know,’ Nick continued, covering Dave’s hand with his own. ‘They can talk to you whenever they want . . .’ He took the hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the knuckles gently. ‘And I never know if it’s safe to text. Besides, if a teacher caught us with our mobiles out there would be hell to pay.’
‘True,’ Dave acknowledged. ‘But I don’t do this with my friends,’ he added, pulling Nick into an embrace again and kissing him full on the lips.
Nick giggled as they parted. ‘I should hope not!’ he said, grinning. Then he chewed his lip thoughtfully, looking away for a moment, choosing his words. ‘You never . . . experimented? With any of them?’ He blushed a bit as he said it.
Dave shook his head, frowning. ‘Not really,’ he said. Then he seemed to reconsider, and a slow smile spread across his lips. ‘There was that time when Alan and I played at kissing when we were six,’ he admitted. ‘At his house, in his bedroom. His dad walked in on us. He was livid! Tossed me out, probably slapped Alan silly . . . We didn’t hang out for a while after that. Eventually, I think everyone just forgot about it and things went back to normal.’
Nick’s heart was racing. ‘Who started it? You or him?’
Dave considered for a moment. ‘Him,’ he said at last.
‘I think Alan’s gay,’ Nick blurted.
‘Hah! Don’t ever let him hear you say that!’ Dave laughed.
‘I mean it, though,’ Nick said seriously. ‘His homophobia, this, it all fits with him being gay.’ The way he follows you around like he’s in love with you . . .
‘Plenty of kids practise kissing with other kids of the same sex,’ Dave protested. ‘Doesn’t make him gay.’
Nick hesitated, not sure whether he should press on.
‘If he was gay . . .’ he began slowly, ‘would you rather have him than me?’
Dave surveyed his face with an amused smile, and Nick bit his lip and looked away.
‘Silly!’ said Dave. ‘Why the fuck would I want Alan? It would just be weird, we’ve been best friends for so long. And anyway, he’s not really my type.’ He put his hands on Nick’s shoulders, and Nick met his eyes. ‘You’re my type.’ Nick smiled, a little shyly. ‘Anyway, I have happier things to talk to you about.’ Dave grinned. ‘My cousin Mellie is coming to visit again this weekend. You can meet her!’
‘What, you mean you’ve told her? About us?’ Nick asked.
‘Oh, no,’ said Dave. ‘Over the phone? Are you mental? Anyone could be listening, fuck knows my father doesn’t trust me . . . No, I just told her I had some good news. My parents are going out of town again for the night, so it’ll just be us.’
Nick cocked an eyebrow. ‘Thought you said your dad didn’t trust you?’
‘He doesn’t,’ said Dave. ‘But he trusts me to know he’ll kill me if I have a party or burn down the house.’
Nick laughed and shook his head.
‘So? Are you coming or what?’ asked Dave with a grin.
Nick put on a face of deep consideration. Then he grinned. ‘’Course I am,’ he said. ‘How could I pass up a chance of spending time with you?’
* * *
‘C’mon, then, Dave, give us the goods!’ said Mellie. ‘You said you had good news, so tell me what they are!’ She had her arms folded across her chest, head cocked to one side. She wore a loose, purple top over black jeans, and her shoulder length, blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail. Her oval, green-framed glasses perched on her nose, giving her the look of a disapproving librarian.
‘No, you’ll have to wait, sweet,’ said Dave, grinning. ‘You’ll know soon enough.’
‘Aww!’ Mellie whined, pouting and stomping her foot petulantly. At that precise moment, the doorbell chimed in the entrance hall.
‘And here he is now!’ said Dave, cheerfully.
‘Who?’ asked Mellie, still pouting.
‘Mr. Good News!’ said Dave and sauntered out into the hall towards the door. ‘Coming, love!’ he called in a sweet sing-song voice. Mellie followed, her expression rapidly alternating between pout and puzzlement.
Dave opened the door to reveal a slightly embarrassed looking Nick. He wore Dave’s leather jacket over a dark grey Placebo t-shirt and slightly worn blue jeans. He smiled awkwardly. Dave took his hand and pulled him through the door, into the house, shutting the door behind them.
‘Good!’ he said, as he did this. ‘You’re here! Come in, meet Mellie. Mellie, this is Nick. My boyfriend!’
Mellie blinked and stared at each of them in turn. After a moment’s hesitation, she opened her mouth and said, ‘Your . . . your boyfriend?’
‘Yeah!’ Dave nodded, grinning like an idiot. ‘Nick Davis. My boyfriend.’ He couldn’t repeat those words often enough.
‘Nice to meet you,’ said Nick, quietly.
Mellie stared for a minute longer, before finally smiling. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘right, then. What was your name again?’
‘Nick,’ he replied. ‘Nick Davis.’
‘Why does that sound familiar?’ Mellie frowned. Then her eyes widened. ‘Hang on! I remember you! You were that little loserish kid Dave always used to push around! Oh, no offence,’ she said, and had the grace to look embarrassed. ‘I didn’t mean that you’re a loser, just . . . But yeah, I remember you.’ She studied Nick’s face. ‘You probably wouldn’t remember, but I went to your school for a year.’
‘Really?’ said Nick. ‘Were you in our year?’
‘No, she wasn’t,’ Dave cut in. ‘She’s less than a month older than me, but she’s born in August so started school the year before us.’
‘Apparently I was clever enough,’ said Mellie, she stuck her tongue out at her cousin. ‘Not that I argue, of course.’ She grinned smugly. ‘Proper smart-arse, me.’
Nick laughed, then. ‘Are you sure we went to the same school?’ he asked. ‘I find it hard to believe I wouldn’t remember you.’
‘Well, again, different years,’ said Mellie. ‘And, by the looks of it, you’re not the sort of person to pay attention to girls.’
Nick blushed again, looking away.
‘Oh, bless him!’ said Mellie, grinning widely. ‘He’s blushing!’
‘Oh, shut up, Mellie!’ said Dave, still grinning too. He ruffled Nick’s hair fondly and kissed his temple.
It felt so liberating to be able to be in the same room as someone else and still be affectionate. It felt normal. And if there was anyone he trusted with all this, it was Mellie.
They went into the living room and sat down on the sofa, talking while they waited for the pizza to be delivered. Mellie wanted to know all about how their relationship had come about, and Dave obliged, telling her almost everything.
‘So, why did you come to live here, back then?’ asked Nick.
‘My dad had to move to America,’ Mellie explained. ‘He was a diplomat at the time. I only followed a year later. Ended up living there for two years. You know, yanks? Not as bad as they’d have you believe. But yeah, I lived here for a . . . transitional period, I guess.’
‘What about your mum?’ Nick asked.
‘Oh, er . . .’ Mellie hesitated. ‘My mum passed away the year before that.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ said Nick, looking mortified. ‘That was a really insensitive question.’
‘That’s all right, you couldn’t have known,’ said Mellie, smiling. ‘Why, Dave, seems you’ve found yourself a perfect gentleman, haven’t you? If he weren’t gay I might try to steal him from you.’
Dave laughed as Nick blushed once again. ‘Lucky for me, then,’ he said, ‘that my Nicky’s never really looked at a girl in his entire life.’ He wrapped his arms protectively around Nick and planted a wet kiss on his cheek.
‘Actually, you do look very familiar,’ said Nick after a while, apparently more comfortable now. ‘But not from school, though, I’ve seen you somewhere else.’
‘Well you saw her that day,’ said Dave. ‘When you thought we were kissing.’
‘Yeah, but that was from a distance,’ said Nick, turning to Dave. ‘I couldn’t make out her face. But I’ve definitely seen it somewhere . . .’ He frowned.
The doorbell rang and Dave got up to go get the pizza.
When he returned with the box of hot, cheesy goodness a couple of minutes later, Nick and Mellie were sitting next to each other, and Nick was chatting animatedly.
‘What’s going on?’ said Dave, brightly, setting the flat cardboard pizza box down on the table. ‘You two bonding?’
‘Dave, remember how you said Mellie was your best friend in the world?’ Nick asked, not taking his eyes off her.
‘Well, she’s mine, too!’
Dave scratched the back of his neck. ‘Sorry, not quite following,’ he admitted.
‘Remember I told you about that girl I talk to online?’ Nick went on, looking up at Dave. ‘Your Mellie is my Mel! We’ve known each other for four years already, and we never realised how close we actually were!’ He grinned.
‘Wow, really?’ said Dave, sitting down. ‘That’s fantastic!’
‘I know, isn’t it?’ said Nick happily. ‘I knew she looked familiar! She sent me a picture of herself a couple of years ago. The hair was different, but it was definitely her! And the bit about America . . .’
Dave looked over at Mellie, who was uncharacteristically quiet. She didn’t look quite as pleased at this news as Nick was. She was looking at her knees, her brow slightly furrowed.
When Nick excused himself to go to the toilet before they started eating, Dave scooted closer to her.
‘Hey,’ he said. ‘You all right? Not like you to shut up for more than thirty seconds.’ He bumped her shoulder with his own.
‘Oh, yeah,’ she said, her head snapping up. ‘I’m . . . Yeah. I sort of wondered, while you were telling the story.’ She looked away again, plucking at a hangnail with her fingers. ‘I felt like I had heard it before, but I put it out of my mind. Didn’t want to believe it.’
‘Why not?’ asked Dave.
Mellie laughed humourlessly. ‘You’re thicker than he is,’ she said. ‘Dave, he was the first boy besides you to ever pay the slightest bit of attention to me. He made me feel like maybe I wasn’t hopelessly fat and maybe someone could really love me.’
Dave sighed and leaned back in his seat. ‘You fell in love with him,’ he said softly.
Mellie nodded. ‘Yeah.’ She looked up at him. ‘Dave, I’m so sorry, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. I just . . . I figured as long as he was gay and far away, I could deal with unrequited feelings, but . . . Seeing him . . . And with you, I—I guess I always kind of hoped that he wouldn’t be gay after all.’
Dave shook his head and smiled sadly. ‘Well, I can help you there. Nick is definitely gay. Flamingly so.’
‘I know. I think I knew before he even told me. I dunno, it’s just . . .’ Mellie trailed off, staring down at her knees again.
Dave took her hand and squeezed it. ‘Maybe this is a good thing,’ he said gently. ‘Maybe now you’ve met him, you can put it behind you. Before now, Nick was just an idea to you, right? Ideas are so hard to let go of, but now he’s an actual person. Maybe this way you can learn to let go. Open your heart to someone else. Cause you’re amazing, Mellie, you really are, and you’re gonna find a guy who understands that. You’re beautiful.’
She smiled weakly at him.
They heard the door to the bathroom open. ‘Don’t tell him,’ Mellie said urgently.
‘Of course not,’ Dave replied, smiling.
The three of them ate pizza, watched a movie, and shared a bottle of rosé wine that Mellie had gotten from an older friend. Mellie smiled and chatted as if nothing was wrong, and Dave felt very proud of her.
The truth was that the year Mellie had lived in Windfield Green had been the best year of Dave’s childhood. It had been the first time he felt like somebody understood what it was like living in his house. Mellie had become his best friend and confidante. She was an only child, just like him, so it had been difficult for both to adjust. Sharing had never been Dave’s strongest suit. They had fought a lot, but in the end their disagreements hadn’t mattered, because now they both had someone who saw them. Someone who knew.
Dave had been devastated when Mellie had left for America. He had missed her terribly and, to his own great shame, cried himself to sleep for a week. Since she had returned, Dave had spent many long weekends and holidays in Manchester. Uncle Clive was an easy going, friendly man, and his girlfriend (lately wife), Alice, was the sweet and caring sort. Dave envied Mellie her family, while Mellie envied Dave his friends and social graces, but that had never stood between them, and Mellie had remained the friend he could always count on, who always loved him, even when he didn’t deserve it.
When it was time for Nick to leave, he hugged Mellie.
‘I’m so glad I’ve met you now,’ he told her, smiling. ‘You’re even more fantastic in real life!’ Then he kissed Dave, said he’d text him when he got home, and left the house.
Dave waved him off and closed the door behind him. Then he turned to Mellie. ‘Will you be okay?’
‘’Course I will,’ she replied, smiling. ‘I’ll be just fine.’
‘I meant what I said before,’ said Dave. ‘One day someone will realise how amazing you are, and that bloke’s gonna be really lucky.’
Mellie cocked an eyebrow at him. ‘You can stop trying to make me feel better now.’
‘I’m not!’ Dave protested. ‘I’m telling the truth!’
‘Sure you are,’ said Mellie, grinning. ‘Now come on, I’m gonna kick your arse at that new shooter you were telling me about!’
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