In the cold light of morning while everyone’s yawning you’re high. In the cold light of morning the party gets boring, you’re high. As your skin starts a-scratching wave yesterday’s actions goodbye. Forget past indiscretions and stolen possessions, you’re high. In the cold light.
Jason raised his glass and smiled. ‘To family, and Christmas and all that,’ he said. ‘Cheers!’
‘Cheers!’ the others all echoed, and everyone drank. Then they went to sit down at the table. Dave looked around at his family. It was good to have them all gathered like this. Jason, Aunt Camilla and Uncle Jeremy, and Mellie, Uncle Clive and Alice. It made Christmas so much nicer for him to have them all here. Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Camilla lived in Birmingham, so they had arrived that morning and were driving back in the evening, but the rest were staying over, Mellie in Dave’s room, Uncle Clive and Alice in the guest room, and Jason on the sofa.
‘So, Dave,’ said Jason, helping himself to potatoes, ‘are you invading the Davis home tomorrow, then?’
Dave noted how his mother and father seemed to stop speaking and tried to hold back his smirk. ‘Yeah,’ he replied. ‘Mellie’s coming with me, too.’
‘Excellent! I was hoping I might tag along. I haven’t seen Zoë since the summer. Would be nice to catch up.’
Dave studied him as he began eating his turkey. He had been wondering about that. Jason had seemed very interested in Zoë the previous spring, and he knew they had bonded over the whole runaway thing. He also knew they had seen each other quite a bit over the summer, but neither he nor Nick knew what had transpired or whether there was anything between them besides friendship.
Aunt Camilla interrupted his thoughts. ‘Davis? Is this Joshua Davis’s family?’
‘What’s left of it.’ Dave nodded. ‘That is to say, his son and daughter. He did a runner a few years ago, and his wife had kind of a nervous breakdown. So Zoë’s been looking after Nick for going on five or six years now, I think. She had to quit her veterinary medicine degree at Nottingham and everything.’
He caught his father’s eye for a second. George Thompson was glaring sullenly. This was clearly not a conversation he wanted going during his Christmas dinner, but he had always been meeker where his older sister was concerned than with anyone else.
Now Aunt Camilla turned to him with a grin. ‘Didn’t you have a terrible feud going with Joshua, George? I seem to remember the two of you could never get along.’
Dave’s father shrugged his shoulders and didn’t look at her. ‘He was jealous, that’s all,’ he told her. ‘Of our family’s social standing while he was just a yob.’
‘No, no, I remember now!’ Aunt Camilla exclaimed. ‘Yes, it was because you pursued his sister! What was her name? Something with M . . . Mary? No, Maria. She was so pretty, and she wouldn’t give you the time of day! Oh, you were pining all summer!’ She turned to Dave. ‘Bet you didn’t think your old dad had ever been a romantic, eh? But Joshua wouldn’t stand for that, even though his sister was cleverer than he gave her credit for. The fighting was legendary, and it lasted long after Maria moved to . . . God, where was it? Somewhere in South America, I think. Digging wells or working with poor children. Something like that. Either way, she fled Thatcherism and her over-protective brother and I don’t think anyone here ever heard from her again.’
Dave hadn’t known any of that. He hadn’t even known that Nick had another aunt. He wondered how much Nick knew. He glanced at his father, who was now staring at his plate like he wanted to throw it at someone.
‘You should lay off the wine, dear sister,’ he said venomously. ‘You’re talking too much. I think you’ve had quite enough.’
‘I’m not drinking today, brother dearest,’ said Aunt Camilla, raising her glass of sparkling water in demonstration. ‘I’m driving.’
Dave’s mother, who had been eating in silence during this conversation, giving no hint that she could even hear what they were talking about, put down her knife and fork and said, ‘More wine, anyone?’
* * *
‘So, that was pretty intense,’ said Dave, scrubbing a plate in the kitchen sink. Jason was emptying leftovers into the bin while Mellie loaded things into the dishwasher. Dave’s mother had insisted on using the antique plates that were in no way dishwasher safe, which Dave found tremendously unfair since he was the one tasked with cleaning them. The adults were getting the dining room ready for pudding.
Jason smiled. ‘I wouldn’t really have expected you to pick up on it before now, but your dad has more issues with my mum than her choice of husband. There’s a lot of history there. I don’t know much myself, but I do know that when granddad got sick, Uncle George tried to control Mum quite a bit. As the now de facto head of the household, he felt it was his duty to see her married well, but then she had other plans. Poor Uncle George. Nothing’s ever really gone his way, I think.’
Dave scoffed. ‘I don’t feel especially sorry for him,’ he said.
‘I know he’s not really dealt very well with you and Nick and all this, but . . . He’s still your dad,’ Mellie interjected. ‘In the end, I’m sure he just wants what’s best for you, even if he’s a bit misguided as to what that actually is.’
Dave sighed, putting down the sponge. ‘I know,’ he said softly. ‘I just . . . Sometimes I wish I could remember a time when he liked me.’ He looked down at the soapy water. ‘Lately I’m just a constant disappointment. When I do well it’s hardly acknowledged, and when I don’t, all hell breaks loose. You know?’
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Jason smiling sympathetically at him. He was only just taller than Dave now. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Come on, sooner we finish up here, the sooner we get pudding.’
* * *
Nick was more than a little surprised to find threepeople on his doorstep on Boxing Day.
‘Merry Christmas! We come bearing gifts!’ said Dave with a grin. ‘May we come in?’
Nick stepped aside with a smile. Three minutes later they were all seated comfortably in the sitting room and Zoë had put the kettle on.
‘Right! Presents!’ said Dave almost at once, and he extracted from the tote bag he had been carrying a rectangular parcel wrapped in brightly coloured Christmas paper, which he handed to Nick. ‘Open it!’ he urged. His grin seemed permanently fixed to his face.
‘I chipped in,’ Mel added, as Nick started to remove the wrapping paper.
The box inside was plain grey cardboard and quite heavy. He opened it carefully and pulled out something wrapped in bubble wrap and gaffer tape. He peeled off the black tape and unrolled the bubble wrap to find something green and familiar looking.
The fuzz pedal from Bob’s. The pedal he had used all that week when they had been rehearsing there, before coming to the very difficult and painful conclusion that he just couldn’t afford to buy it.
‘Matt took me to the shop and showed me which one to get,’ Dave explained. ‘He said you loved it and it made your guitar sound amazing, so . . .’
Nick shook his head. ‘I can’t believe you guys got me this. Thank you!’ He grinned at them both across the table. ‘You guys are . . . you’re legendary!’ He looked down at the pedal in his hand. ‘Really. Thank you.’ He looked up at Mel. ‘I didn’t know if I’d get to see you, so I shipped your gift off to Manchester.’
She shrugged. ‘Of course you didn’t know. It was supposed to be a surprise.’ She beamed at him. ‘Dad and Alice are off to America in a couple of days, so I’m staying here with Dave until the new year.’
‘Cool! Stuart’s having a New Year’s Eve party, at his house in Sapswell, if you guys wanna go.’
‘Why not?’ said Dave. ‘Don’t think anything’s happening here, anyway.’
Nick picked up a flat, rectangular parcel from the floor next to his chair. ‘This feels really corny now,’ he mumbled. ‘I just didn’t know what to get you and I was a little pressed for cash, so . . .’ Blushing, he handed the parcel over to Dave, who opened it excitedly.
He extracted a framed sheet of A4 paper, on which Nick had written the whole lyric for Dullwith a fine calligraphy pen.
Waking up has not been the same
I’ve been trying to make a change
Your look left me feeling cold
But I’ll remember it until I grow old
Where you touched me you left a mark
Not like the bruises but altogether stronger
And though your lips never met mine like I thought they would
It’s like a fire burning
It’s like a fire roaring
I can’t stop to think
I can’t stop to ease the pain
You don’t know I exist
And you don’t realise what goes on inside me
This bitterness that’s building inside me
I’m growing dull
I’ve been trying for oh so long
To make these feelings for you disappear
But no matter how hard I try I always seem
To end up right back here
I end up right back here
I can’t stop to think
I can’t stop to ease the pain
You don’t know I exist
And you don’t realise what goes on inside me
This bitterness that’s building inside me
I’m growing dull
It was fine, heavy duty stationary, and he had managed to do a fair job of it, he thought, but it felt so terribly inadequate after Dave had got him such an expensive gift.
Dave ran his fingers over the glass of the frame and smiled. ‘I love it,’ he said softly. ‘Thank you.’ He looked up at Nick and found his eyes. ‘Really,’ he emphasised, ‘this means a lot to me. This song means a lot to me.’
‘Oh,’ said Jason, breaking the slightly awkward silence that followed. ‘Er, I got you something, Zoë. Or, that’s to say, I didn’t get you anything, but I thought . . .’ He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and gave it to her. ‘It’s a . . . contribution, I guess. I’ve had a good year at the garage, so . . . Just one condition. I want you to spend it on something you wantrather than something you need. If you get me.’
Zoë smiled. ‘I do. Thank you. I’m afraid I haven’t got anything for you . . .’
‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting you to. I didn’t even know if I’d get to see you, so . . .’
Another awkward silence followed and then Zoë got up to make tea.
‘So, Nick,’ said Jason, turning to him. ‘Care to give us a demonstration of your new gadget?’
Nick smiled. ‘Yeah, sure. Why not?’
* * *
When Dave, Nick and Mel were safely seated in Nick’s room, on his bed, Dave retold the story that his aunt had shared during Christmas dinner.
‘I think we used to get postcards from Aunt Maria sometimes,’ said Nick when he’d finished. ‘I don’t really know anything about her. Zoë might know more. Or Mum. But . . .’ He trailed off. His mother had been institutionalised, following her attempted suicide last February, and remained in a psychiatric care unit still. Even if she hadn’t been, Nick wouldn’t have wanted to see her, though. He still hadn’t been able to forgive her. He didn’t know if he ever would.
‘So, Jason and Zoë,’ said Mel, changing the subject. ‘Anything going on there?’
Nick and Dave both shrugged. ‘Beats me,’ said Dave.
‘I’m pretty sure they were seeing each other over summer,’ Nick supplied, ‘but I don’t know whether it was serious.’
‘Oh!’ said Dave suddenly. ‘Also, it’s possible that there’s some slight hint of something between your sister and Javelin. He gave her a lift after the trial, and she invited him in for tea, and suddenly he was all, “Call me Richard.” I dunno if she likes him, but he definitely likes her. You didn’t see them.’
Nick gave this some thought. He wouldn’t mind at all if something happened between Zoë and Richard Javelin, even if there was a bit of an age difference there. Jason was closer to her in age, but he supposed an older man could provide some much needed stability in her life.
‘I’d be cool with that,’ he said after a moment.
‘Javelin, that’s the copper, right?’ asked Mel. ‘The one who handled your case?’
Nick nodded. ‘He’s nice. I like him. Wouldn’t mind a bit having him for a brother in law. Wouldn’t mind having Jason for a brother in law, either, he’s really cool. But this is all pretty hypothetical anyway.’ He shrugged. ‘I just want Zoë to be happy.’
* * *
‘So,’ said Dave when they were on their way back to his house. ‘You and Zoë?’
Jason shrugged and grinned. ‘I dunno. I really like her, but . . . I’m not sure she’s all that into me.’ He left it at that, stuffing his hands nonchalantly into his pockets.
Dave and Mellie shared a look.
‘Did you kiss her?’ Mellie asked, and Dave elbowed her in the ribs. ‘Ow!’
Jason laughed. ‘A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell,’ he told her, tapping his nose with his index finger. Then he picked up the pace and was soon a good few metres in front of them.
Mellie looked at Dave. ‘He kissed her.’
Dave grinned. ‘Oh yeah.’
* * *
A decent sized group consisting of Nick, Dave, Mel, Matt, Alan, and Chas took the bus from Windfield Green into Sapswell on New Year’s Eve. They were met at the bus stop by Chas’s girlfriend Ellie, who remembered Mel from Dave’s birthday party and greeted her with a hug.
Stuart’s house was already fairly hopping when they arrived. The party was a joint effort between Stuart and his elder brother, Andy. The two brothers were wildly different people, both in appearance and temperament. Where Stuart had dark features and broad shoulders, Andy was fair haired and lanky. Where Stuart was self-important and mildly conceited, Andy seemed carefree and open, and he greeted them enthusiastically when he opened the door.
‘Hey! Come on in!’ He grinned. ‘Oh, you’re Nick, right? Saw you at the Christmas show, mate. Excellent voice! And you’re Matt! You were great, too.’ He shook hands or bumped fists with everyone, and then he vanished into the crowded living room. The group all looked at each other, and then they followed.
Aside from a couple more music students from college and one or two of Stuart’s friends from secondary school, the rest of the party guests were Andy’s friends, and they all seemed a raucous, fun-loving bunch. The two brothers had been left alone by parents who had decided to ring in the new year in warmer climes, and it was a fine house they had left for their sons to vandalise.
They found Stuart uncharacteristically inebriated and discussing politics with one of his brother’s friends. He got up when he saw them all and hugged Nick and Matt both. ‘Hey, you guys! Join the party. Did you all bring your own booze? I’ve got a little bit extra somewhere, I think . . .’
‘No, we’re fine,’ said Nick hurriedly. ‘Wow, don’t think I’ve ever seen you drunk before, Stuart.’
‘Well, it’s only New Year’s Eve once a year,’ said Stuart with a shrug. ‘Come on, come on. Sit down! Or dance. Dancing’s good, too. Do you need glasses for your drinks?’
Nick, Dave and Mel, who were sharing a box of wine that Jason had kindly acquired for them, said that they did, and Stuart disappeared for a minute and returned with some plastic cups, which he handed to them. Then he grabbed Matt by the hand and pulled him out into the crowd and started to dance with him.
Dave, Chas, Mel and Ellie laughed. Nick glanced at Alan, who stared at Matt and Stuart with an unreadable expression on his face, and felt suddenly deeply sorry for them.
Nick’s plan had worked, and Matt and Alan were now definitely a couple, but Alan still wasn’t out, so thus far Nick, Dave, and Chas (and, he assumed, Ellie by proxy) were the only ones who knew. Nick would catch them throwing each other glances or standing as close together as they could without touching, and they would disguise their flirting as bickering when they were in company. Nick knew exactly how all that felt. Not one year ago, that had been him and Dave, and he’d hated it.
He stepped up next to Alan and put a hand on his shoulder. Leaning in close to his ear, he said, ‘Matt doesn’t like Stuart that way. He barely even likes him as a friend.’ The music drowned out his words to everyone else.
Alan nodded. ‘I know.’
‘Doesn’t make it easier to watch, I know,’ said Nick. ‘I’m sure you guys can slip away for a snog later on, though.’
‘Yeah.’ Alan looked at him and gave a lopsided smile. ‘Thanks.’
‘Hey, I know what it’s like.’ Nick shrugged. ‘So, you know, if you ever feel like having a moan about it, you’ve got two guys right here who’ll not only listen, but identify.’ He grinned. ‘We gotta stick together, right?’
Alan nodded again.
Dave appeared next to Nick, handing him a cup of wine. ‘You want one?’ he asked Alan.
‘No, I’ve got beer. Thanks, though.’ Alan smiled. ‘Think I’ll go have a chat with Chas. See you guys later.’
‘What were you talking about?’ Dave asked as Alan walked away.
‘I think he’s a bit depressed about the whole situation with Matt,’ Nick told him. ‘It sucks not being able to be with the one you love openly, after all. I was trying to cheer him up a bit. Told him that if he ever wanted to talk about it we both know what he’s going through, so . . .’
Dave put his arms around him, taking care not to spill his wine over him. ‘You are the kindest, most thoughtful person on the planet. You know that?’ He kissed him, and Nick closed his eyes and sighed happily. Being able to do this openly at a party, as though they were just another normal couple, felt so unreal and so wonderful. It made him feel so blessed that they had come this far.
But then Dave said, ‘I wish Mandira could have come as well,’ and though Nick knew how irrational and stupid it was, he couldn’t help the pang of jealousy that twisted in his gut.
‘I’m sure she’s having a nice New Year’s Eve at home.’ Nick forced a smile. By all accounts, he liked Mandira. They had met a couple of times more since the Christmas show, and he and Dave had been to her house for dinner the week before Christmas. Her family were great people, and she was both clever, kind, and pretty. He wondered if he would have felt quite so jealous if she had been plainer looking.
‘She probably is,’ Dave agreed. ‘Still, would have been nice to have her here as well. Would have completed the picture. I mean, I have you here, and Mellie, and Alan and Chas and Matt . . . Mandi’s all that’s missing. And there’s a heavy majority of guys at this party. We could have done well with a princess.’ He grinned.
Just after eleven they started to hear the first booms of fireworks overhead, as people started sending them up prematurely. Andy had procured a few rockets as well, and about ten minutes before midnight they all made their way out into the snow in the front garden, bottles of bubbly ready to be popped while Andy set up the fireworks. And at exactly midnight, everyone shouted, ‘Happy New Year!’ and sparklers were lit and champagne drunk, and Dave and Nick kissed, as did every other couple and several single people who could find someone willing, and Alan and Matt were nowhere to be seen.
* * *
Nick woke up under a blanket on a leather sofa the following morning, with Dave pressed against his back and snoring softly in his ear. His head throbbed with the power of the bass line of a Depesche Mode song, sending bright flashes of purple light to the visual centre of his brain, and as he slowly sat up, untangling himself from Dave’s arms, he discovered that the world was spinning. He looked about the room blearily. On an inflatable mattress on the floor, Matt and Alan lay in a position that would have been incriminating had they not been so very drunk when they went to sleep. Mel was sleeping under a blanket in another leather sofa, and a couple of strangers were snoozing in chairs. Nick remembered with some difficulty that Chas had gone back to Ellie’s place in the wee hours of the morning.
He got up to piss and managed to find the toilet without too much difficulty. Then he stumbled into the kitchen in search of a large glass of water. He found Stuart sitting at the kitchen table with an enormous cup of tea and a newspaper. He looked up when Nick entered, and smiled at him.
‘Sleep well?’ he asked, while Nick found a clean mug in the cupboard and filled it with water from the sink. Nick grunted in response and sat down in a chair.
‘What time is it?’ Nick mumbled.
‘Almost noon,’ said Stuart cheerfully.
Nick glared at him. ‘How are you even awake? Let alone chipper?’
Stuart grinned. ‘I had way too much last night. Puked most of it back up just after midnight, had about a litre of water, and then went to bed.’
The word ‘puke’ made Nick’s stomach churn and he took an enormous gulp of water in an attempt to calm it. It appeared to work, mostly.
‘Do you want some tea, or breakfast?’ Stuart asked and Nick shook his head violently. He wasn’t sure his stomach would be able to hold the water, let alone anything else. ‘Did you have fun last night?’ Stuart tried.
Nick looked at him and grinned weakly. ‘Yeah, it was brilliant,’ he confessed. ‘Your brother’s a lot of fun.’
‘My brother’s a twat,’ said Stuart with a shrug. ‘But I understand that people like him. The only thing we have in common is that I hate it when people call me Stu and he can’t stand being called Andrew, and even that’s an opposite if you think about it. I blame the differences on the two of us having different dads.’ He paused. ‘Say . . . Matt and Alan?’
Nick blinked. Stuart was very clever—he had known this from the start—but ability to read the subtleties of human interactions was not a quality he would have attributed to his band mate. If Nick were honest, he rather thought Stuart was mildly autistic.
‘I’ve been thinking it for a while,’ Stuart continued. ‘Just seems to me they were . . . I dunno. Something in how they look at each other.’
Nick sighed and finally nodded. ‘They’re keeping it quiet. It’s Alan, he’s not ready to come out. He has his reasons. Pretty good ones. So . . . Just don’t talk about it.’
‘Wouldn’t dream of it,’ said Stuart earnestly, and Nick believed him.
Thanks for reading! I hope you liked it. If you have any questions, comments, or critiques, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. I love hearing from you!