SIX MONTHS LATER
“Miles! What the fuck is going on? What’s taking you guys so long?”
Matt has walked into the restrooms searching for him and Alex. He’s laughing loudly and raising the beer bottle in his hand, again and again, until he’s spilling his drink all over the sticky floors. Then he begins to sing loudly, too:
"I want to live like common people, I want to do whatever common people do, I want to sleep with common people, I want to sleep with common people like you."
Matt hoots and shouts, dancing around himself and bumping into a poor guy who’s trying to wash his hands by the sink.
“Sorry, mate!” Matt hollers and spills some more beer over both their shoes. “I bump into people all the time – ask this guy, right here! Miles, my man! That’s how you and I met, innit?”
The guy eyes Matt like he’s a crazy person and leaves the room immediately, without even drying his hands.
“Hey, Matt, I appreciate the show you’ve been putting on all night,” Miles tells him with a groan from where he’s squatting down on the floor inside one of the stalls, “but could you maybe turn it down a notch? You’re being quite loud and he’s not doing so good.”
Miles is squatting down behind Alex, who’s on his knees and puking fast into the toilet. Miles has been watching him in concern for the past fifteen minutes and is now rubbing a hand in circles over Alex’s back, trying to comfort him.
“What?” Matt finally stops dancing and sticks his head inside the stall. “Oh, bloody hell!” He shouts. “That smell of vomit is really quite powerful! Watch out, Miles, or you’ll catch it!”
“It’s not funny,” Miles sighs. Though he’s been drinking heavily like everyone else tonight, he feels far too sober to be dealing with Matt’s nonsense. “I’m thinking maybe we should take Alex home, he’s really sick.”
Miles isn’t sure why, but for some reason he always ends up becoming the party-pooper. It’s not that he’s trying to be clever or more sensible than his friends; he just can’t stand seeing Alex this way.
Alex gags and retches loudly, forcing Matt to jump back and inch further away from them. Then he stops himself and breathes in through his nose.
“I’m not that sick,” Alex groans miserably, though he barely remembers where he is, “I don’t – I don’t wanna go home yet, Miles…”
“Are you sure?” Miles speaks to him softly and pushes Alex’s hair away from his eyes. “I could call you a taxi. I’d follow you home, of course.”
“N-no,” Alex insists, “I’ll be fine. I joost need s-some fresh air or summat.”
“That’s my boy!” Matt howls and begins to dance all over the floor again. “I knew you wouldn’t bail on us, Al – you never do! And Miles, stop being such a mother-hen. Seriously, mate.”
Alex is able to walk out of the restroom ten minutes later, with his arm around Miles’s shoulder for balance, of course. Everyone hoots and celebrates when he rejoins them and is ready keep the party going.
“Alex, you legend!” Jamie laughs and grabs a hold of Alex, lifting the smaller lad up and spinning him around dangerously. Miles tries to warn him and tells him to put him back down, but his pleas are drowning in the music.
“Here,” Nick tells Alex when he’s back on the ground, “I got you a coke, mate. I thought you could do with a refreshment. You know, to get rid of the smell of vomit in your mouth.” Alex grins drunkenly and accepts the drink. Then Nick turns around and whispers to Miles: “Don’t tell him I mixed it with rum.”
Miles frowns slightly, but decides not to say anything. He needs to stop overthinking things. He knows he’s overprotective of Alex, and though he can’t help it, he certainly doesn’t want other people to figure him out or question his intentions.
“Alex, darling!” Taylor cries as she appears out of the crowd of people that has gathered around the bar. Ever since Miles has gotten to know her better, he’s learned that Taylor will do almost anything to attract Alex’s attention and, worse yet, attain his affections. “I heard that you were sick,” she whimpers as she joins them along with a few girl friends of hers, “are you going to be alright?”
Alex is merely grinning at her concern. “I’m fine,” he laughs, dancing around the place with Matt, “Miles is taking very good care of me,” he then rants, “he always takes good care of me.”
Miles who is standing only a few feet away pretends to not have heard their conversation, though Alex’s words have him blushing hard.
“I would have taken good care of you, too,” Taylor goes on like a jealous woman, “if only I’d known that you weren’t feeling well.”
“Fuck off, Taylor,” Matt tells her unexpectedly and pushes her backwards by jumping in from the side and swaying fiercely to the music, “we’re trying to dance here.”
Matt and Alex begin to laugh together hysterically as they pounce up and down, knock into people and throw their arms around each other. They begin to draw more and more people in for a big group-hug, taking up more and more space. Taylor stares at them furiously, huffing like a mad dragon who’s ready to breathe fire. When none of it gets her the attention she’s after, she turns around and storms out of the bar, taking her friends with her.
“Cookie!” Matt calls, waving Jamie over to join them. “Get your arse over here. You too, Nick!”
Even though he’s become part of their group and has been for some time now, Miles still finds himself hesitating every now and again, as though he’s waiting for a special invitation to join them whenever they do something. It’s not that he’s feeling too insecure, not anymore, he just doesn’t want to come off as self-assuming. He doesn’t want to be all intrusive and forward, like Taylor can be sometimes. But then again, most of the time he only has to wait a moment. Then someone will look up and remember to include him.
“Miles!” Alex calls and nods his head suggestively. His arms are occupied; they’re wrapped around Matt and Jamie’s shoulders. “Whatcha waiting for? Get over here.”
Miles breaks into a smile. Alex never fails to look after him and invite him in. It’s a very reciprocated thing they’ve developed for one another. Alex never leaves Miles behind and for that reason, Miles is forever loyal to him.
Two hours later, Miles is stood outside smoking with the lads. Alex has started puking again and is now leaning weakly against a tree for support. He’s stepped out of the others’ way, ‘cause he knows it grosses them out. Every time he retches and it lands on the ground, Miles is aching to walk over to him and help him somehow. But unlike last time, he merely settles for staying behind with the others, pretending to be listening to Jamie’s speech about a blonde girl he’s met and now wants to fuck. Matt is laughing at it all, Nick is asking him intimate questions about her looks, and another guy named Andy Nicholson – who’s been coming and going for a while now – claims to know the girl. Miles only smiles, taking one drag from his cigarette after another. He knows he should be happy that the lads think of him as part of the group now. That they actually wish to spend time with him, even when Alex isn’t around.
But all Miles wants to do is walk over to Alex and make sure he’s okay.
“Christ, it’s four in the morning,” Matt then sighs, looking at his phone, “how did it get so fookin’ late?”
“How the fuck did we all manage to get in with our fake ID’s?” Jamie muses further, chuckling slightly. “I’m more amazed at that.”
“Especially because very few of you look a day older than fourteen,” Nick grunts.
“Who the fuck are you referring to?” Matt squints his eyes, playing tough again, though it’s a joke. It’s always a joke with him.
“First of all, people who are eighteen don’t have their faces covered in acne like you do,” Andy Nicholson tells him with a deadpan expression.
“Alright, Mr Smooth-skin,” Matt huffs and throws his cigarette bud at Andy, “don’t pretend you’re above all our teenage hardships. I’ve seen you pop more zits than I can count.”
“Yeah, but you suck at maths,” Miles butts in, suddenly. He’s comfortably drunk and he’s been getting to know these lads better and better, he’s finally confident enough to take part in their banter. Matt pauses for a moment and looks over at him in offense, with his mouth hanging open. But then Jamie, Nick and Andy all burst out laughing, and Matt can’t keep a straight face any longer.
“Ouch,” Matt snorts, chuckling lightly, “low blow, Kane. Insulting my intelligence? Low blow, man.”
Miles smirks and lights another cigarette. He takes in a deep breath and revels in the sensation of no longer feeling anxious in social situations.
“Hey, Alex!” Nick shouts. “How you’re doing over there?”
Miles looks up when Alex straightens his back and walks towards them, dizzily.
“I think I’ve puked up everything there is to puke,” Alex moans. He’s unable to walk straight, but at least he’s able to walk. “I could do with a drink, actually.”
“Too bad, they’ve stopped serving,” Jamie laughs at him.
“Really? Shit, what time is it?” Alex frowns.
“It’s four in the morning, mate.” Matt announces. “I’ll be heading home soon.”
“Oh, shit!” Alex coughs. “I promised my parents I’d be home by two. I’ve got that stupid family thing tomorrow.”
“What family thing?” Miles questions, taking in Alex’s pale skin with slight concern.
“Oh, just – me cousin’s birthday,” Alex grumbles, “I don’t even want to think about it.”
“His cousins are awful,” Jamie remarks and looks over at Miles, “I’ve met them once. Bunch of spoiled brats, they are.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Miles titters and smirks, “it’s just a birthday, mate.”
Alex pauses slightly when he catches Miles smiling at him. “Yeah, you’re right,” he shrugs, “anyway, I better go. I’ll be fucked in the morning.”
“I’ll go with you,” Miles replies immediately, “do you need me to call us a taxi?”
“Nah, nah, I can walk,” Alex assures him and grins, “I’m good.”
“You always say you’re good,” Nick mocks him, “and then you fall over and land on your face.”
“Not this time,” Alex shakes his head, “I’ve got Miles to look after me, don’t I?”
“Yeah, you do,” Miles grins. When he’s about to ash his cigarette, Alex merely snatches it out from in between his fingers and takes a drag. As he hands it back to Miles, Miles becomes very aware of the fact that he’s holding something in his hands that Alex has touched with his lips. He thought he was going to ash it, but now he decides to finish the living shit out of the small cigarette piece.
“I feel so gross,” Alex complains when it’s just the two of them, walking home side by side, “I’ve got a vile taste in me mouth and I smell like shit. I feel hideous.”
“You’re not hideous,” Miles protests subtly, “you’ve just had too much to drink.”
“No, no, I’m serious,” Alex continues, “it’s not just that. I look like hell. I really do. My eyes are all red…”
“So are mine,” Miles intervenes, “it’s probably from all the cigarette smoke, don’t you think? No biggie.”
“But it’s my hair, too,” Alex insists, “it’s sticky. And – all flat.”
“Matt spilled beer over our heads,” Miles reminds him, “some of it landed in your hair. I saw it with my own eyes. Don’t you remember that happening?”
“Nah. All I know is that I’m sweating like a pig. Really, Miles, I am disgusting.”
“You don’t even look sweaty,” Miles sniggers at him, “I think your mind is playing tricks on you or something.”
“You are never going to admit that I’m gross, are you?” Alex bursts out laughing. “You don’t have to be so nice, Miles, you can tell me the truth. I’ve been barfing for the past three hours, it’s no surprise that I look like shit.”
“But you don’t.” Miles shakes his head. “I’m not just bein’ nice – it’s the truth.”
“Look at me,” Alex challenges him, “I’ve got dark rings around my eyes.”
“You are just tired,” Miles mutters.
“My clothes are all dirty from hugging a bloody tree,” Alex goes on. At this, Miles merely laughs. “I’m all cross-eyed, too. And I’m certain that my pupils are wide like saucers. I must look like a lunatic.”
“You don’t look like a lunatic,” Miles snorts, “and believe me, I’ve seen a few.”
“If I’m not a lunatic, then I’m just downright filthy,” Alex mutters, “I look absolutely nasty. My Mum would force me to shower before I enter the house if she could see me now.”
“Don’t say that,” Miles tells him, even if Alex is only joking, “that’s not true. I think you look… nice.”
“Yeah. I mean… as in, not nasty.”
Miles wants to say beautiful, but he’s aware that that would be too candid. Miles bites his lip, nervously. Alex doesn’t fail to notice it.
“Cheers,” Alex giggles, somewhat awkwardly. “Even if you are just trying to make me feel better… That’s nice of you to say.”
Miles falls silent for a moment. When he looks over at the other, he thinks he can almost see a blushing of cheeks. Something which is not like Alex at all.
“Come on, Al,” Miles clears his throat and attempts to sound slightly more nonchalant, “you don’t need me to make you feel better. People compliment you all the time, don’t they? Not a single person has ever told you that you look like shit. Even tonight, you received quite some positive attention.”
Miles pats Alex’s shoulder, like a proper blokey bloke. A man-to-man talk. He’s seen the other guys doing it to each other and so, Miles assumes it’s the right thing to do. He wouldn’t want Alex to think that he isn’t… cool.
Alex grins at Miles’s gesture. “What do you mean?” He asks, pretending not to know. But Miles is certain that he knows.
“Oh, you know – Taylor, for one. She was all over you, like she always is. I think she was hoping that you would be all over her, too.”
Alex’s smile falters slightly. “I assumed she was joking,” he says, “or that she was showing off to her friends or summat. I didn’t think – I don’t think she likes me that way.”
“Oh please, Alex, it’s so obvious,” Miles tells him. “She’ll do anything to please you. She’s always… there for you. You know.”
“Yeah, but… So are you,” Alex says innocently. “I dunno, it’s just… Perhaps I’m not that into her, you know? I don’t think we have much in common.”
“Are you serious?” Miles furrows his brow. “Taylor’s gorgeous. Are you saying you’re not attracted to her? At all?”
Alex shrugs, almost solemnly. “I don’t know,” he drawls, “do I have to be?”
“No, I – I guess not.” Miles smiles without knowing why, or how to stop it. “I just thought most boys would be. Attracted to her, I mean.”
“Yeah. Most boys probably are.” At this, Alex pokes Miles teasingly. “Maybe you’re really into her, eh?” He winks at the other, though he doesn’t seem overly cheerful about it. “Maybe that’s why you’ve brought it up?”
“What?” Miles laughs. “N-no. Not at all. Besides, Taylor barely ever speaks to me.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t like her,” Alex smiles.
“I know. But I don’t.” Miles shakes his head, feeling slightly guilty. Poor Taylor. She’s been rejected a lot tonight. “She’s not my… type. I think.”
“What’s your type then?” Alex asks with genuine interest. “Not tall and blonde, I gather?”
“It’s not so much that,” Miles chuckles, unable to explain, “It’s not her hair colour, or her height. It’s just… her. She’s just… wrong for me. Simple as that.”
As they reach Park Lane, a quiet street that is bathed in the pale moonlight, in those early hours, right before the sun rises and changes the colours of the skies, Miles look over at Alex, right before they’re meant to go separate ways.
“Do you think your parents will find out that you’re home late?” Miles isn’t willing to say goodnight. Not just yet. He’ll start a conversation, and he’ll ask anything – anything to make Alex stick around a little longer.
Alex smirks at that, pulling a face. “Oh yeah,” he breathes, “they’ll know alright. They are both light sleepers. They’ll probably hear me as soon as I let meself in.”
“Do you think they’ll get mad at you?” Miles questions and ponders for a moment. He feels fairly certain that he can sneak in without waking up his own folks, but he does have a feeling that his Mum would throw a tantrum if she knew how late they’ve been out for – and how heavily they’ve all been drinking.
“Me Dad will pretend to be hard on me in front of me Mum,” Alex giggles, “but when she leaves the room, he’ll just find it funny. He’s a lot softer than he’ll ever admit.”
Miles smiles at the thought. Yeah, he likes Alex’s Dad. Both his parents actually. They both smile and wave so kindly every time Miles runs into them outside the house. David Turner is the kind of parent who will chat to his son’s friends about football when they’re visiting, while Penny is the kind of mother who feeds everyone cookies and home-made scones, to the point when it’s almost too much. Alex acts like he finds it embarrassing, but Miles knows that there’s never been any fighting between Alex and his parents. Not that he’s ever seen, anyway. And at least they don’t yell at him in front of his friends, like Jamie’s Dad will do every and now and again.
“I wish my parents were as easy as that,” Miles sighs, “bloody hell, I’m going to be so hungover in the morning. I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Fuck,” Alex huffs, “I almost want to puke again, just ‘cause you brought it up.”
“Sorry.” Miles grins. “And I’m sorry you’ve got that family thing in the morning. Your cousin’s birthday, right?”
“Yeah…” Alex pauses for a moment and appears to be staring into empty air. “I hate my cousins. They make me happy I’m an only child.”
“Is that so?” Miles laughs and pushes against Alex’s shoulder teasingly. Only to realise that the other isn’t kidding. “Huh. Are they really that bad?”
“Oh, they are worse than bad,” Alex chuckles darkly, “they are all bigger than me, so they like to push me around if they can. Or at least when we were younger, they used to do that. Three against one. Used to bully me a lot. What’s even worse, though, is their Mum. Auntie Ruth – she was married to my uncle, my Mum’s brother, but he died a few years ago. She’s a horrible woman who allows her horrible sons to do whatever the fuck they want, even if it means terrorizing other people.” Alex frowns, then stops himself. “Sorry, I don’t mean to go on about ‘em.”
“No, that’s alright,” Miles tells him, “they do sound like an awful bunch. Are you sure you can’t sit this one out?”
“Nah, I promised my Mum I’d go,” Alex shrugs, “she doesn’t have a lot of family left, so she likes to make a big deal out of birthdays and such.”
“That doesn’t mean everyone deserves a birthday party,” Miles remarks.
“No,” Alex laughs, “it doesn’t.”
They both fall silent for a moment or two. There’s something in the night, in the moonlight and in the fresh morning air, which makes them both want to stay right where they are, lingering in that magical threshold between night and day, darkness and morning light. The skies are slowly turning light blue, soon pink and then orange. Alex looks so beautiful right there, in front of Miles. His dark eyes complement the mystery of the silence and peacefulness of these early hours, when everyone else is asleep. There’s a small smile on Alex’s lips and Miles thinks that he’s never seen anyone looking more angelical than he does right now, underneath the heavenly morning sky.
“I should probably go inside,” Alex says slowly, feeling Miles watching him, “it’s already getting far too late.”
“I know,” Miles nods, “me too.”
And yet, they both linger once more.
“Before I go, though,” Alex adds, “I should probably thank you, Miles.”
Miles raises his brows in surprise. “Thank me? What for?”
“You know,” Alex smirks, “for looking after me all night. Even when I was bein’ really gross.”
Miles snorts in amusement. “It wasn’t all that bad,” he jokes, “but hey, that’s what mates are for, right?”
“Yeah,” Alex smiles, “best mates.”
Miles enters his bedroom as quietly as he possibly can, hoping to God that he hasn’t woken up his old man. When he’s inside and has closed the door behind him, he pauses and sees that someone has left his window wide open. Shit. It must be his mum – she must be on to him after all the cigarettes he’s started smoking in here, even when he thinks he’s being very careful and has decided to only smoke by the windowsill. Mothers are like bloodhounds, though – they can smoke anything. Anything suspicious, at least.
Miles moves over and pushes the curtains aside in order to close his window. Then he freezes, standing completely still. Whether it’s from recent habit or from the temptation, which evidently lies in Miles’s telling himself to be careful, to not be so obvious, he can’t keep from sneaking a peek towards the Turners’ house, towards the upstairs windows. He’s too drunk and too giddy to stop himself, even when he knows it’s wrong.
He’s become a bloody spy recently and he knows it. Even Alex knows it.
And he spots everything that he’s been hoping to find. Alex’s curtains are drawn to the side, offering Miles a free glance into his best friend’s room where the lights have been turned on. Alex is walking across the floor, covering the distance between his bed and his ensuite bathroom. He’s brushing his teeth without looking up, without spotting Miles watching him from a distance. He’s only wearing boxer shorts. Miles holds his breath and pretends that he doesn’t see Alex’s naked upper-body, Alex’s skinny, svelte frame, pretends that he doesn’t see Alex’s smooth, soft skin, the protruding ribs, the small, pink nipples and the long, thin, sort of elegant legs… Miles has never seen anything so delicate, so alluring, in his life. It’s evoking emotions in him that he doesn’t quite understand or recognise.
Quickly, before Alex looks up and sees him, Miles closes his window and draws the curtains. When he’s in bed and under the covers ten minutes later, Miles replays the images of Alex walking across his room, half-naked and completely unaware, in his mind over and over again. When he begins to recall the shape of Alex’s hipbones and the small, very subtle trail of hair underneath his navel, Miles closes his eyes, leans his head back and begins to touch himself, ever so softly.
And it’s heaven. Alex is his Heaven.