Show Not Tell


Part Two - Joseph

"So, what d'you think then?"

The question greets me like an over-eager puppy as I head into the kitchen carrying a stack of dirty crocks. Claire is loading the dishwasher, my firm favourite of her many middle-class pretensions, and she takes the plates from me as she waits. She bends over, getting on with things, but I know full well that my answer here is important. Eenie meenie minie mo... Let's opt for the food, shall we?

"It all went down well, I think," I tell her, leaning back against the counter beside the open door and its rack of messy dishes. Despite what Thom likes to imply, Claire isn't a bad cook, just a little too inexperienced for her repertoire. But as she says, she'll never get better if she doesn't stretch herself. "I thought the roast veggies were particularly delish, dear."

She laughs as she scrapes some debris into her bin. "Yeah, even Thom ate them. But I didn't mean the meal."

"Oh, right." The company then, I suppose. "Everyone's getting on fine, don't you think?" There's laughter wafting in from the living room along with the low beat of the Tricky track playing -- something Claire's probably put on for me as, other than us two, I can't see anyone else here liking the darkly throbbing trip-hop. "That nice Chianti you've found seems to have relaxed everyone just fine."

Even Thom has seemed almost at ease, chatting away to Claire as if they were actually still mates rather than people who once shagged for just long enough to discover exactly how incompatible they really were. He doesn't even seem that put off by the fact that everyone else here is a gay man.

Reece and James have been keeping us all amused. They're the local community's resident proof that occasionally, yes, gay men can manage a relationship that lasts longer than it takes to rip off the condom. Not remotely camp out there, when among friends, they often launch into a witty badinage akin to fast-paced ping-pong as played by drag queens. Thom likes them, and I'm glad about that as I do too, and he doesn't usually rate my friends at all. Maybe it's because they're so firmly attached to each other; they're not a threat to his precious arse.

There's also my old friend, Brendan, present with his latest, a quiet young Asian lad called Farook -- and a cuddly older bear by the name of Angus, who Claire has found all by herself from somewhere. I've been sitting between Claire and Angus, and he seems all right for a man nearly old enough to be my dad. I'd rather have sat next to Thom, but, well, it's his choice. We were opposite each other at least and able to pull faces across the table.

Claire straightens up, pushing dark strands away from her sweet face and revealing her violet eyes. Contacts, of course -- no one really has violet eyes, do they? -- but they look bloody great. Much better than the ice blue ones she had last month; they gave me the shivers as they were the exact same colour as blue jelly tots.

Were I straight, I'd be Claire's boyfriend in a shot. I love her utterly. She's my non-identical twin, me with all the nasty angular sharp bits excised. Since she's had her hair cut a similar length to mine, people have been thinking we're brother and sister, for all that I'm over a foot taller than her. I like that a lot.

She's giving me a slightly perplexed look now. "Are you deliberately misunderstanding me, sweetie?"

"Er?" If not the food or company, then what is she asking me about? I look around the kitchen in case I've failed to spot something new. "No, this is purely accidental stupidity, dear one. I'm sorry. Perhaps I've had too much of your lovely vino."

She smiles and, wiping her hands on a tea towel, comes around the opened dishwasher to give me a hug. I pat her back and kiss her hair, which smells bloody gorgeous, like summer berries or something similar. I wonder what she's using as shampoo currently and whether she'll let me borrow it.

Nah, I'd better not. Thom'd consider it too girlie. I can just hear the comments about whores' bedrooms. Not that I'd imagine the sheets of prostitutes are prone to smelling of soft fruits, but what would I know?

"It's been a lovely evening," I tell her as she pulls back. "You should feel proud of yourself. Now what is it you want to know about?"

"Angus, silly." She pats my arm. "What did you think of him?"

Suddenly the evening clicks into focus, that horrid, extra sharp kind of focus that shows every pore and wrinkle and just makes you want to beg the photographer to have mercy. "You... you invited him here for me?"

"Of course." Her face falls into an unhappy pout. "You don't like him."

"He's, er..." I stare at her. "He seems nice enough." For a hairy, balding old man running to fat -- has she gone stark staring on me?

She winces. "I know he's not... well, a stud, but he's very intelligent and in publishing. He knows all about books; have you talked to him at all?" She sighs when I give her a bland smile in reply. "Joseph, darling, have you thought that maybe what you need is someone who's totally different from..." She trails off, but I still hear the unspoken 'Thom'.

"Is that why you were so insistent on Thom coming? So I could compare the two? No offence, Claire, but there's no comparison."

"No, there isn't," she says, and her chin is starting to stick out in that stubborn way of hers that spoils the soft lines of her face. "To start with, Angus is gay!"

"You look like a bulldog when you do that," I tell her and then duck to the side too late to avoid the whack on my arm. "A very pretty bulldog!"

"Stop being a bitch and tell me why you don't like him." Her hands are on her hips, and she's standing between me and the door. I'm in trouble here. Hell hath no fury like a faghag whose ham-fisted attempts at matchmaking have been scorned.

"I don't not like him," I wheedle. "I'm sure he's a lovely bloke. He made me laugh several times."

"But...?"

"He's a lot older than me."

"So was David and, um, whathisface with the tuba. And the black bloke, Deakon, was it? The one you said was hung like a donkey -- that is a freakishly small donkey on the..."

"...the coldest night of the year who'd just been threatened with a visit to the knacker's yard. Yeah, I remember." I fold my arms. I can see the future of this conversation as easily as I can see the dot of crust in the corner of her mouth from our glazed pear dessert. I feed her the next line anyway. "And look what happened with all of them."

"The same thing that happened with every single other bloke you've gone out with, so clearly age isn't a relevant factor."

"He's fat."

"He is not! What you actually mean is he isn't built like a brick shithouse, and no, he isn't. This is because Angus has a brain unlike some I could mention, and, therefore, he has better things to do with his time than lift weights day in, day out."

"I like muscles."

"Lorenzo didn't have them, and he lasted over a month."

"You know my relationship history better than I do." This is starting to feel like a Wimbledon volly, this conversation.

"If you realise that, you'd think you'd trust my judgement a little more." She taps my cheek in a 'pay attention' kind of way. "Give Angus a chance. Intelligent men are much better in bed than musclebound hunks." I snort loudly at that daft idea, and she frowns as she continues. "Because they have imagination and aren't just into themselves and how beautiful they are."

"You're so wrong, dearest one." I'm playing with particularly unforgiving fire here, but... oh shit, I wish I could tell her. I'd never forcibly out anyone, but I think Thom's being so unfair about this. "The musclebound may be vain, but their vanity means they have to be best at everything, including sex. Intellectual types, however, get too easily distracted from the task at hand... or tongue."

She doesn't look like she believes me, but nonetheless, she says, "That's all very well, but you can't have sex all the time. What do you talk about in-between the shagging?"

I admit it's a little strange, but Thom and I actually do all right on the conversation front. Well, providing we steer away from the topic of us anyhow. It's not like he's thick; uneducated doesn't mean stupid and neither does muscular. Agreed, I can't exactly talk Proust or Kafka with him, not without some lengthy explanation, but frankly, that's ok with me.

"If I want some intelligent gossip, I can always come to you." I smile at her.

She shakes her head. "I think you should give Angus a chance. He's a nice guy and might surprise you."

"Does he know he's here to be matched with me?" When Claire nods unhappily, I groan. "Fuck, honey. I wish you hadn't done this."

"Can't you at least have one of your one night stands with him? He's not that bad looking. His long-term boyfriend died last year, and this is the first time he's given himself a chance to consider someone new."

I almost ask what the boyfriend died of, but that would be tactless considering I've no intention of letting Angus close enough to me for it to matter. "I'm not really in the market for sex currently," I say, before I realise how much she could read from that statement.

"Why not?" Her eyes narrow. "That's not like you. What aren't you telling me?"

I look at her helplessly. "I'm just not feeling like sex at the moment." Which is completely true if by 'at the moment' I mean 'right this very moment'. I've been well used today. The hard chairs of Claire's dining suite were more than a little uncomfortable to tell the truth.

"Have you got yourself a bloke I don't know about?" Now she sounds hurt as well as suspicious. Great. Thank you so much for this, Thom.

"Claire, honey, you'll be the first I tell if and when," I say firmly, hoping it's the truth, albeit the truth with all its hairs thoroughly split. "Now, I'll go and make nice to your publishing bear, just for you, because I love you, but don't expect more than 'nice' from me. I'm just not interested in sleeping around currently." I sigh. "You still got that bottle of Advocat somewhere?"

She looks cross, a little upset, but she turns back to the dishwasher. "All the harder drinks are in the sideboard. Be polite and offer everyone something." With another less than silent sigh, I gird my dishrag-limp loins and head back out of the kitchen.

Everyone's in the lounge side of Claire's large main room now. It's part dining room, part office and part lounge. We decorated it together in shades of cold pink and navy when she moved in, and for a while, I seriously considered moving in with her like she wanted. But I'm better off living alone. I've too many antisocial habits such as leaving a mess everywhere I go and screaming very loudly whenever I come.

My eyes automatically search for Thom first, who I quickly find leaning against the mantelpiece and chatting to Reece. He sees me come in and winks, smiling and looking too bloody aware of just how irresistible he is. Yeah, I know I'm probably projecting or something, but I'm still right. There's not a man in this room who could hold a broken Swan Vesta to Thom, let alone a candle, and he knows it, with every cell of his perfectly toned, well-hung body.

What a Bastard. I say that fondly, of course. If only I could go over there and hug him or something. It's kind of horrible having him, but not really having him. Like having an itch somewhere too embarrassing to scratch in public, or desperately fighting the urge to laugh at a funeral. Something like that, anyway.

Reluctantly, I tear my gaze away and find myself looking at Angus, who is sitting alone on the Incredible Sinking Sofa. Compared to Thom he looks like a rainy Wednesday night, but he smiles at me and makes a gesture with his hand at the empty seat beside him. I manage some kind of smile back; at least, I hope it looks like a smile.

Addressing everyone, I play mine host. "What would you all like to drink then? Claire's making coffee, but there's a range of spirits and liqueurs for those who want something stronger."

"Does that mean I'm actually allowed some of the fifteen-year malt we brought her back from our highland hols last year?" James asks. He is sitting with Brendan and Farook on the floor near the window, going through Claire's DVDs with them. "Has she even opened that yet?"

"Hope so, as that's what I'm having," I tell him, deciding that while staring at the contents of the sideboard cabinet. "Virginal or corrupted innocent?"

"Largish and neat will be handy-dandy."

Reece laughs. "Never thought I'd hear you preferring the uncorrupted version of anything," he tells James, who sticks his tongue out at his partner and wiggles it salaciously.

"Where best malt is concerned, the purer it is, the more perfectly wicked." James half-lowers his eyelids and pouts artfully, and Reece laughs again.

"Entirely unlike you then, love."

Thom looks like he's about to say something to me in response to their brief conversation, but then he looks down, his mind obviously changed. Maybe I'm not the only one finding the limits of our public image frustrating.

I feel a little guilty as I pull out the heavy Glen Grant tube with its highly expensive contents, but only a little. If Claire wants me to make nice to her sacrificial pawn over on the sofa, she needs to be prepared to shell out some of the best stuff as a bribe. I break the seal, pull out the bottle, and open it for the first time. A sharp and somehow heated smell immediately hits my nose. This, at least, will be good.

I grab a couple of the faux crystal tumblers and pour a large one for both James and I. As I'm doing that, I hear Angus saying in his deep, and I have to admit, not entirely unsexy voice, "I'll have whatever you're having, dear boy."

I really, really hope my shudder isn't visible from the sofa.

"What does everyone else want?" I ask before gulping down my whisky in one. Not the way to drink fifteen year old malt, I know. I promise myself to go slower with the next shot or two.

As the room wobbles a little at the edges, and that wonderful glow starts to spread through my body from my gullet and stomach, I hear Thom say, "Coffee for the designated driver here."

"Coffee here too," Farook says quietly. Brandon holds up a bottle of wine he has liberated from somewhere, so he's already sorted.

I look over at Reece enquiringly, and he says, "We're cabbing it, but we'll have to buy our lovely hostess another bottle if I have the malt too."

Shrugging, as that's hardly my problem, I pull out another couple of glasses. "There's plenty left." I pour one for Reece, one for Claire -- guessing that she won't want to be left out -- and refill my own. Then I carry the four glasses over, give James and Reece theirs, and put mine and Claire's on the coffee table by the sofa. That's when I realise I forgot to pour one for Angus. Oh well. I hand him Claire's and turn away before he can thank me.

Then, as there's nothing else for it, I sit down beside him, but not too close. Fortunately, it's a three-seater sofa. Unfortunately, it has all the properties of your average murderous sink pit. There's a swirling black hole under the middle cushion, you see, trying to suck everything nearby into its bottomless depths. I sit on the edge of my outer cushion, trying to find the counterbalance to the gravimetrical forces pulling me inwards.

A buzz of conversation starts up again, but I don't really listen. I avoid making eye contact with anyone and nurse my glass, wondering how drunk I'm going to need to get to be able to flirt with Angus enough to keep Claire happy. I've no intention of letting it go further than flirting. I meant what I said about being shagged out, and I also meant what I said about Angus being Not My Type. Plus, I don't actually know how Thom would feel about me shagging someone else for one night only to keep Claire off my back. I find it hard to guess actually. When we fuck he seems so possessive of me, and Christ, I love it, but at other times he seems to like to keep things casual.

Yeah, he could go either way. Mind you, he'd have no right to have a go at me, not when this is only happening in the first place because he won't let me tell Claire about us.

I swig back the last of my glass's contents just as I hear Angus clear his throat beside me, obviously about to say something, and then the door from the kitchen swings open to reveal Claire carrying a loaded tray of coffee things. I nearly fall over when I get up a little too hurriedly to help her. I'm not pissed, not yet, but I've drunk a lot rather fast, and my head hasn't caught up yet.

I feel a hand under my elbow. "Steady on, there," Angus says. "Maybe you'd better sit down again."

You wish, I think, frowning and not looking back at him. "Need a refill," I say aloud as explanation. "Want a whisky, Claire?"

She smiles at me, and the expression looks approving -- because I was sitting next to her pet project, I suppose. I doubt it's because I've been giving away large amounts of her precious malt. I give her a wry look in return as she says, "A dash in my coffee would be lovely, sweetie."

I stalk over to the sideboard with as much co-ordination as I can manage and grab the Glen Grant bottle. Before I even turn to head back, I'm aware of Thom behind me. Some subliminal recognition of his scent or something, probably. I turn and smile sweetly at him.

"What's wrong?" he asks in a low voice. I stare at him; he picks now to suddenly develop empathy?

"Nothing?" I raise my eyebrows. "Should there be?"

He frowns, the expression making him look stern and giving me a shameful thrill. "You normally only make like a fish with the booze when you're pissed off with me. So, what have I done now?"

Oh, the ego of the man. I roll my eyes and pat his left bicep... or maybe I mean triceps. Thom's tried to teach me muscle names several times, but frankly, I don't give a toss what they're called. Just like to look at them... and to feel them holding me down. "Nothing's wrong. I just feel like chilling right out tonight. You'll see me home safely, won't you, dear?"

His frown deepens, and I realise immediately it's because I called him 'dear' in public. I was speaking in a very low voice though; really, he'd be better off standing a good foot further away from me if he's truly worried what the others might be thinking about his sexuality. He never notices his own behaviour though; he barely notices mine... ah, that's not true, not any more. He's been paying close attention to me for some weeks now; close for him, anyway, and that's why, I assume, he noticed I'm drinking faster than usual tonight.

"Sorry," I say, giving him the most appeasing smile I know. "It just slipped out."

He snorts then shrugs. "Don't forget you've got work tomorrow." Turning, he heads back to Reece. I stare after him, feeling suddenly cross. I shouldn't have to watch what I call him amongst friends. I shouldn't have to keep my hands off him. I hate this. I would be so bloody proud of him, of myself for having him, if he wasn't so damned ashamed of me, of what we do, that he practically pisses himself at the thought of being outed locally.

I'm being unfair again; I know even if I don't completely care. He was relaxed enough about me telling my family, and he's already made so many concessions. The fact that he's 'given up the birds' for me means far more than being able to use endearments in public. I'm just never satisfied.

I'm not sure I can be satisfied where Thom is concerned.

I return to the sofa and sit down again, refilling my tumbler before leaning back into the upholstery and giving Angus a bright smile. "So, Claire says you're in publishing?"

He'd been staring rather miserably down into his untouched glass, but at my words he looks up and returns my smile. "Yes, I work for Portsmouth House up in the city. Do you know them?"

I nod. "Art books and historical facsimiles, yes?"

"Among other things. We have a small but growing fiction imprint, and that's my department. Claire says you're a writer, yourself?"

I grimace and look down. "I think I need to actually finish something before I can call myself that. Something longer than a short story, I mean."

"It's usually best to start with shorts," Angus says, slipping his fingers underneath his glasses to rub at one eye. He has a slight Scottish accent that goes well with the malt whisky I'm actually allowing myself to savour this time. "It can be significantly easier to find an agent or publisher if you've had short pieces published in magazines or journals. I have to confess that Claire lent me the edition of Firebird that contained your story, Scandalous."

Why am I not surprised? "Um, so what did you think?" I ask uneasily before emptying my glass for a third time.

"Oh, I thought it was excellent, dear boy. You show great promise. I do hope that, when you finish the novel I'm told you're working so hard upon, you'll consider Portsmouth for first appraisal?"

"Of course." I smile a little blankly while fighting a growing warmth in me that's half-whisky, half-embarrassing pleasure from the praise. He's only saying that because he wants into my boxers; that's all. "It's a long way off finished, I'm afraid. I'm a sorry excuse for an author."

"Writer's block?"

I find myself staring at the asymmetrical patterns of grey and dark hair in his beard and shake myself into a more alert state. "More crippling perfectionism than block. With every new chapter I write, I seem to have to go back and, um, re-appraise every previous chapter in the light of... of it, and the process is..." I pause, frowning, having lost track of what I was trying to say.

"Is ever more time-consuming as the novel grows in size?" Angus offers, and I grin.

"Yes, that's it exactly. Well done."

"Ah yes," he says with a sympathetic smile. "That can indeed be crippling. I do advise making every effort not to edit until the last page is written, Joseph. Perfectionism certainly has its place in the author's toolbox, but it should never be brought out until at least the first draft is finished." Yes, his voice is definitely the nicest thing about him. He could read porny audio books for a living; I'd buy them. He sounds like a classically trained actor.

"I know you're right," I say, leaning forward to refill my glass. "Somehow I can't seem to stop myself."

Claire chooses this moment to arrive beside me having made the rounds with coffee and chatter. She holds out her cup, and I oblige her with a dash of Glen Grant. "Budge up," she says brightly, standing in such a position that it's only possible for me to 'budge up' towards Angus rather than away. I give her a look, but shuffle along as instructed, and she sits down beside me.

Now I'm right on top of the middle cushion, the Bermuda Triangle of Claire's flat. I'm a good two inches shorter than I should be already.

I risk a glance at Thom and find him watching me, while still talking with Reece. God knows what they're finding in common, but there must be something, considering how long their conversation's been going on now. I smile, and he half-smiles back, but only one side of his mouth actually manages to turn up. No doubt he's noticed this is my fourth large drink. No doubt he doesn't approve. No doubt I should care, but I don't.

I'm feeling really quite wonderfully mellow actually. I lean back into the sofa again, tipping my head back, only to feel it hitting something firm. Angus's arm, that's what it is. I turn my head just enough to chuckle at him. "So did you really like Scandalous?"

"Oh yes," he says, turning in his seat to face me more fully and moving his top body a little closer in the process thanks to the sucking hole beneath me. "In fact, while it's somewhat heretical to say such a thing, I rather wished it had been longer. I found the character of Neil really quite fascinating. Do you plan to revisit him at all?"

"I s'pect so," I say with another chuckle. "He was pretty much me, you see."

"Ah," Angus nods, his voice lower than ever now, keeping what he says just between us. "That must explain the strong attraction I feel. For the character, I mean, of course."

Ok, I might be a little pissed now. Well, maybe a more than a little. But still, unless I'm totally deluded, or delusional, which is a different thing, I think. Yeah, it is. Anyway, the second sentence that dripped like best whisky-enriched honey from Angus's mouth there, all golden brown and deep-throated... Yeah, that second sentence in no way diminished the outrageous flirtation in the first line... did it? I mean, he did just tell me he really fancied me, didn't he?

Maybe I need to drink some more to help my braincells out. They seem to be falling over each other currently. Perhaps the Incredible Sinking Sofa has sucked them all out through my poor sore arse.

I pat his leg a few times. "Neil's a loser. Nothing fanciable 'bout him. Sam's the hot one. You should fancy him." I laugh, moving closer to Angus to whisper, "I do." Our heads bump, and I pull back enough to say, "Sorry. Co-ordination's always the first up against the wall in the alco-revolution. Bang bang, I fall over." I laugh some more.

"Your impressive ability with words seems to last a little longer though," Angus says in a deep purr, putting his arm around me and helping me sit up straighter. He doesn't move his arm afterwards though, so now we're really squeezed together, much to the pleasure of the great hungry void beneath us. I don't mind; he's nice and soft, maybe he'll let me fall asleep on him. Maybe he'll read me bedtime porn with that lovely voice of his.

I finish my drink and lean against him. "You've got impressive words too," I murmur, and then frown as I think about what I just said. "I mean, I like the way you speak."

"Do you?" I feel as much hear him chuckle, his body shaking gently.

"Yeah. Keep talking." I close my eyes, ready to let his words wash over me like sweet scented oil. "Don't mind what you say, just want to hear your voice."

His body shakes again, and I feel fingers in my hair, gently stroking. When he speaks, his mouth seems very close to my ear. "Perhaps then I should tell you how very beautiful you are, dear boy. By far the prettiest vision here tonight."

He's wrong; Thom's easily the prettiest, handsomest and everything else-est here. His looks go beyond 'good' into... into... something stratospheric. Is that a word? I move my glass-holding hand out sideways towards Claire and hope that she'll take the hint and refill it as I'm too comfy to move right now. She takes it from me, at least.

Angus is still talking. I realise I've missed quite a bit. "...so long since I was attracted to anyone really. After Simon died... well, I don't suppose you want to hear about that."

I squirm around in my seat to face him, bringing one of my legs up under me. We're sitting so closely my knee rests on his, but he doesn't seem to care so I leave it. "That's very sad," I tell him. "About Simon. How long had you..." His eyes are really quite nice; I wonder why I didn't notice before. Ah ha! Glasses! He's taken them off. Can't fool me, oh publishing bear. "Your eyes are exactly the same colour as your voice," I tell him.

He gives me a nice smile, bringing his free hand up to play with my hair again. "Are they, dear thing? I can't help but feel pleased that you've noticed them at all."

I feel cold glass being put back in my hand, and I bring it up to my mouth, sipping. "Same colour as this," I say afterwards, showing him my tumbler. Light from the ceiling fitting above us catches in the tumbler and its honey gold contents, and I stare at it for a little while.

I feel a hand on mine; it's Angus, who seems to be trying to encourage me to let go of my drink. "Perhaps you've had enough now, Joseph. How would you feel about coming outside onto Claire's charming little patio with me and getting some fresh air?"

"Ok," I say agreeably, though I don't let go of my drink. "Full moon tonight - promise me you won't turn into anything with far too many teeth?" He's hairy enough to be a werewolf... everywhere bar his head anyway. I giggle softly to myself and then frown. I'm being a bitch; he does seem a very nice man, and there's that voice of his, oh yes.

He doesn't answer me; wise of him, I suspect, but stands and offers me a hand. I take it and let him pull me up, giggling as some of my drink splashes out of my glass and Claire tuts loudly about her carpet. I drink the rest quickly so I don't waste it and bend to put the glass on the coffee table.

Angus puts his arm around me... probably to stop me falling over. Alcohol always seems to sink into my bloody legs and stay there, like, um, fishing weights or, er, I don't know. Other heavy things, I suppose. I stare down at them and try to remember how to put one foot in front of the other.

I feel Angus laugh again. His arm tightens around me, and abruptly, I'm moving towards the French windows. Oh good. My cuddly publishing bear has remembered how to walk so I don't have to. Kind of him, that. He's a nice man, a very nice man, a very very... I double over in giggles, clinging to him so I don't fall.

Suddenly there's a painful tightness around one arm, and I'm being yanked backwards into a hard male chest. Oh, nice muscles. Nice, familiar muscles. "Hello Thom," I say, stroking his chest and then remembering I shouldn't be doing that where others can see. For some reason my hand doesn't stop when I tell it to. "Bad hand," I scold.

Thom's saying something, but I don't think it's to me as he's answered by a rumble of Angus's honey tones. I am, I have to admit, really quite extraordinarily un-sober. Too much, too quickly, and isn't that the story of my whole miserable life? Well, actually, no, it's not. Talking nonsense, as usual. 'Too little, too slowly' would be a better description. Stupid Thom. It's all his fault. I form my fingers into claws and dig into his pecs.

Or at least I do until a strong hand grabs my wrist and stops me. "C'mon, you stupid tosser," Thom says, and he sounds all wrong. All cross and not nice horny Thom at all. He hauls me back across the lounge to the kitchen door.

"I'm sorry," I say, not wanting him to be cross. "It was my hand; it's bad. It's a bad, bad hand..."

No one else in the room seems to be talking. Are they all staring at me being manhandled by my... "He's not my boyfriend," I tell them all urgently, waving my uncaptured hand about. "He's not gay. He's just-" There's suddenly something white between me and them, and I finish my sentence with, "protective," while staring at it in confusion.

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