Friday Night Alchemybyadam applebiter©
(Author's note - This is a 90% non-erotic story. The only erotic scene has been submitted separately as the short story "alone at last".)
It was April. It was raining. It was hardly a surprise.
The weekend had started well: boy had met girl and the Friday night alchemy that turns alcohol into meaningless sex had just begun when the spell, or rather a Budweiser bottle, was broken by a not-quite-ex-boyfriend who mistook me for the villain in the tragedy that passed for his love life. I was in no fit state to explain that I only had a walk on part in the last act so resorted to a more direct, if somewhat clichéd, response. In short, I head-butted him.
Friday night went down hill rapidly from there. I won the fight with the ex but lost the subsequent melee with the bouncers, then spent four uncomfortable hours sobering up in the clinically unsympathetic atmosphere of the casualty unit in Endell Street, waiting for someone to stitch up my eyebrow.
It was little wonder it was raining. Any half-decent scriptwriter would have included that detail in such a scene. It was another cliché. I had been beaten up, dumped, ignored for half the night by the cast of Casualty & generally abused by the whole fucking planet, so why shouldn't the weather stick the metaphorical boot in too?
I walked the five miles home. Two reasons: I had no chance of getting a taxi to pick me up in the mess I was in, but also, I had a perverse desire to prolong my self-pity. So I walked home &, about 4 a.m., crashed out, intent on sleeping through the rest of the weekend. That way it couldn't get any worse, right? Wrong. It can always get worse.
I was rudely awakened early on Saturday when Steve came round to use my washing machine. He has my spare keys so he let himself in, but if you knew Steve you'd know that if you want to sleep while he's in the building, you've got no hope unless he's comatose first.
"Morning Mate! Coffee?" he shouted as he walked past the bedroom door, casually slapping it first, to be assured of my full attention.
Any response I might ordinarily have made would have been truncated to one syllable as Steve found the power button on the hi-fi. No one should have to listen to U2 first thing in the morning. It says so in the Geneva Convention - doesn't it? Well, if it doesn't, I can make a bloody good case for getting it added. Not that it'd make a blind bit of difference - Steve hasn't heard of the Geneva Convention, let alone read it.
I was lying on my bed of pain, mentally calling down maledictions upon him, his parents & his parents' parents when Ste walked into the bedroom with a mug of coffee.
"Where's this bird then? ...Fuckin' hell! Is there still an eyeball in that socket?"
"You should have seen the other guy."
"I did. He didn't do that to you did he? I'm impressed."
"Thanks! And no, he didn't do this. I was worked over by a couple of steroid abusing penguins... And what d'you mean you've seen him? You were working last night."
"Yeah, well the kid you laid out is Charlie's brother."
"Charlie as in Charlie's Cars? Your boss?" This was not good.
"Nope. Charlie who's just done three for glassing a bloke who seven balled him at pool. Charlie who came down the dispatch office at two in the morning with what was left of his kid brother. That Charlie."
"Shit! Tell me you're winding me up, please." This was worse.
"Relax. He's on parole. He's not goin' to want to go back in for doing you over. Besides, he figures Martin - that's his kid brother's name by the way, in case you're interested - he figures Martin's big enough to fight his own battles and that this is strictly between you two."
"Great! So all I've got to worry about now is Psycho junior coming after me with a grudge & a role model that glasses people who beat him at pool. It's obviously escaped your notice but he caught me playing tongue hockey with his girlfriend. That's a little more serious than a game of pool, don't you think?"
"Hey! Don't kill the messenger! I'm just telling you what Charlie said."
"You're right. I'm sorry."
"No problem. Coffee's cold though. Hand it here and I'll zap it. I could do with a top-up myself."
"'s alright, but turn that bloody music off on your way past."
"Suit yourself. Tell you what, get dressed while I have another coffee, then we'll have breakfast at Sal's café. My treat."
I really wasn't feeling up to it, but Steve was offering to pay, an event as unlikely as a confirmed Elvis sighting. Steve's wallet saw daylight less often than Count Dracula. I would have crawled from my death-bed to take up an offer like that, so I got up, painfully.
In the Lounge, the answerphone was blinking. I hit the playback button.
".....Hi... It's Shana....from the bar last night?.....I was just calling to make sure you were OK.....We, well we kind of got separated and ..... anyway.....call me, OK? My number's 245 5188.....got to go now....Bye."
"Oh yeah! I forgot to tell you. That girl you were fighting over..."
"I wasn't fighting over her! I was just defending myself."
"Whatever. She came looking for you, so I gave her your number."
"You did what?"
"Now don't go off the deep end again. She was really upset, mainly because she didn't know what had happened to you. Anyway, she's cute, and how many girls have shown that much interest in you recently? The sympathy factor should be good for a shag at least."
"Don't you think the fact that Charlie's brother thinks he has a claim on her might put the dampers on things just a little bit?"
"Not really. He's only home for Easter. Next week he's back at college in York. She dumped him before Xmas but it hasn't sunk in yet. Trust me, he'll be laid up for most of the week, you saw to that, then he'll be gone. Forget about it."
"How come you know so much about all this? Who died and left you a crystal ball? And how come she knew to ask you about me?" I was very confused.
"Gianni was working the bar last night. Yes? She noticed you seemed to know each other so she asked him where you'd have gone – Ah, light dawns! Gianni didn't know the bouncers had hospitalised you so he told her what he did know. Namely that your best friend, Steve – that's me – works for Charlie's Cars. With me so far? Good, now pay attention, this is the complicated bit. When she came to the dispatch office looking for someone called Steve, I was there! She told me the whole story. So you see Grasshopper, its not what the Sage knows but who knows that he knows that counts."
"Steve, you're priceless. I had been contemplating killing you, but for that, I'll let you live a while longer."
"Gee, thanks! Can we get breakfast now? I'm starving."
A couple of thousand calories of bacon, eggs and assorted fried things made the world seem a fit place to live in again. Steve helped too. It's hard to stay down around someone as exuberantly cheerful as him. I tried to stay miserable but, by the time I got down to chasing the last two baked beans around my plate, Steve's non-stop banter had worn down my defences and, painful though it was, I smirked at his latest tasteless joke.
"That's more like it. Boy! You're a tough audience this morning."
"Yeah, well I've got a fair bit on my mind."
"When you goin' to call her then?" Steve threw a hand grenade into the conversation.
"What? Oh, you mean Shana. I'm not. I've had enough grief over her already."
"Don't be daft. You've got to call her, if only to tell her you're OK. She really was worried about you. For fuck's sake! She was nearly in tears when she came down the cab office."
"You call her then."
"Why not? You got me into this by giving her my number, so you can sort it out."
"Look, if Martin hadn't interrupted the two of you, this girl Shana would have been back at your place, keeping your dick warm for you, before midnight, right? So when was the last time you got laid? Rosy? That ended over a year ago."
"There was Hage, last summer."
"That Danish bit? Doesn't count. All you got from her was a quick blow job in Richmond Park. No, its well over a year. Now this girl comes along who's obviously gagging for it & you're not interested? Call her. 'Cos if you don't I will & I'll send her round to your place to find you."
"OK, I'll call her. Satisfied?"
"Depends. Has she got a sister?"
"I only asked."
"Well don't. Trish would cut off your balls just for thinking about it. Go and pay Sal. Oh and Steve? Break it to him gently. Sal's getting on a bit, the sight of your wallet after all these years may just be too much for him."
"Feeling better are we? Sarky bugger."
Steve's a diamond. Rough around the edges maybe, but a diamond all the same. He's fun when drunk, useful when sober and good company all the time. What more could you ask of a mate? Oh, and my mother thinks he's disgusting so he must be a good bloke. We walked back to the flat together, stopping briefly at the bookie's because a regular fare had given one of the drivers a tip on a horse at Epsom and Steve reckoned it was worth a tenner each way. When we got back, Steve's washing was still rinsing and there was another message on the answerphone.
"Put the kettle on, Steve."
"Spoilsport." But he went into the kitchen all the same. I pressed playback.
".....Hi! Its Shana again.....Just checking to see if you got my message......I'd better give you my number again. Its 245 5188.....or, if I'm not in, I'll be in O'Neills tonight. ....about 9ish...See you later...."
"You gonna call her then?" There's no privacy around Steve.
"Why not now? 'Carpe Dame' and all that."
"Its 'Carpe Diem'. It means 'Seize the day'. And like I said, later, when you're not around to earwig."
"I don't earwig. I just listen a lot. And its 'Carpe Dame' - 'Grab the girl'." Just occasionally Steve's humour surprises me.
"Is that kettle boiled, or were you too busy ‘listening a lot'?"
"You're out of milk."
"I don't take milk. There's some UHT cream in the cupboard above the sink. Top shelf. In the white plastic basket."
I was talking to an empty doorway but I could hear Steve rummaging through the cupboard.
"Found it. Thanks."
Steve brought through the coffees and flopped down on the settee. He looked tired. Of course, he'd been working all night and babysitting me all morning. It was only caffeine that was keeping him awake. Like I said, he's a diamond.
"You're out of Nescafe too. This was the last of it."
"I'll get some later. I need a few things from Tesco's anyway."
"Later. As in after you've talked to Shana, right?"
"Later. As in after I've talked to Shana, yes. You know Steve, if you nagged any more, you'd have to start wearing a dress."
"Only in the privacy of my own home, Mate. It gets Trisha hot."
"Actually, that's rather more information than I needed just now, but thank you for sharing. Freak."
He was joking, of course. At least, I hoped he was joking. Steve could be pretty weird at times.
He finished his coffee and went to check on his laundry. The washing machine had gone silent a few minutes back so it had either finished its cycle or, the more likely scenario, had flooded the kitchen again.
"Got a mop?", a disembodied voice called from the kitchen.
"In the cupboard by the front door. Hang on a sec and I'll fetch it." When I got to the kitchen, Steve was standing there with his basket of washing, grinning.
"Just kidding! Got you out of that armchair though."
"While you're on your feet, you might as well make that call. I'll see you later." He headed for the door. "Oh, and there's a post-it on the fridge about the coffee. In case you forget. See ya!" and he was gone.
"Bye then.", I said to the closed door and put the mop away. It was obvious Steve had decided I should see Shana again. If I bottled out, I'd never hear the last of it so I found a pen and something to write on then replayed Shana's message and noted down her phone number. Well, no time like the present. I rang her.
"Hi! You've reached the home of Jodie and Shana. We're both out at the moment but leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as poss. Ciao!......Beep"
An answerphone. That came as something of a relief.
"Hi Shana, its Alun. Listen, thanks for calling...."
"Hiya! Sorry about the answerphone. Martin's been ringing here all morning and Jodie - she's my flatmate - Jodie's been vetting my calls but she's gone out shopping so I turned on the machine. Anyway, you don't want to hear about all that. How are you? I was worried when you just disappeared like that. I hope you don't mind: I got your phone number off your friend, Steve. You know? From the taxi place? He's very nice, isn't he? Anyway, I heard you were hurt and, well, how are you?" She paused for breath. I took the opportunity to get a word in edgewise.
"I'm OK. I'm going to have a lovely scar where my right eyebrow used to be but apart from that, its just bruises. They X-rayed my ribs but nothing's broken."
"X-rayed? You went to the hospital then?"
"Had to. A bouncer unzipped my eyebrow with a sovereign ring so I had to go and get stitched up."
"Oh! I'm so sorry. How many stitches?"
"Three. And don't apologise. You weren't the one who hit me."
"But I should have warned you about my ex. I feel guilty now. Does it hurt a lot?"
"I could handle – I did handle your ex. It's the bouncers who autographed my ribs with their knuckles. I'll live though. A couple of nights in and I'll be as good as new, the darned eyebrow not withstanding."
"Oh? So you're not going out tonight?" She was fishing, wasn't she?
"No, I'm afraid not. I'd only spend the whole night retelling this story to all and sundry, and besides, I'm feeling rather tender today. I'm going to stay in tonight, cook myself some macaroni cheese and relax."
"I've got a better idea. I'll come over and cook you dinner if you like? To make up for last night. How does Tagliatelli Quattro Formaggi sound? It's a family speciality."
"Make it penne and you're on. Tagliatelli always ends up all over my shirt."
"Penne then. What time?"
"Seven o'clock? Its Flat 3a, Gainsborough Court, Rotherhithe New Road."
"Hang on. I'll get a pen......OK...Flat 3a?"
"Rotherhithe New Road"
"Got it. Well, I'll see you at seven then. Bye bye."
"Bye Shana. And thanks."
There was a click as she hung up then the phone line purred in my ear. If I were a cat I'd be purring too. Steve was right about one thing, Shana was definitely interested. I'd better go shopping. If she was coming round to cook dinner, the least I could do is get us something to drink, and coffee. I wandered into the kitchen to see what else needed re-stocking. Steve's post-it was still on the fridge door:
"Out of coffee
Out of milk
Almost out of Persil"
I'm not sexist. I agree with gender equality, have a lot of female colleagues and get on well with all of them. Unlike the Steves of this world, I don't even mind having a female boss. That said, I do believe there are some fundamental differences in the way our brains work which mean the two genders will never really understand each other.
For example, women like to shop. Men like acquiring new things and we will throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the acquisition of cars, hi-fi systems or any other big-boy's toys, but shopping per se does not excite us. We will shop for day-to-day necessities, but we generally won't enjoy it. Women, on the other hand seem to enjoy the experience of shopping as much as, if not more than, actually acquiring new possessions.
Perhaps its some sort of genetic predisposition towards mundane tasks because Nature was equipping them for the several millennia of indentured servitude that has been the history of womankind until recently, and its just going to take a few generations for their brains to adapt. Or maybe its cultural indoctrination during the formative years: The inevitable impact of an older generation's influence over the younger generation, flying in the face of the new role women have in our society. Whatever. I know this – I hate shopping and I'll never ever, not in a hundred years, understand how anyone can possibly enjoy time spent in Tesco's.
So what am I doing with a Tesco's bag in one hand and a Thresher's bag in the other?
Well you already know about the caffeine shortage. Steve loses all his superpowers without at least one cup of double strength Nescafe an hour. Then there's the washing powder. When a pretty girl commandeers your kitchen to cook you dinner, you put clean sheets on the bed, just in case. Such is the optimistic nature of Homo Erectus (Homo Sapiens males under the influence of libido, beer or both). And the telltale clinking? Well you can't have Italian food without vino, can you? Oh! I got some scented candles too, and Haagen Dazs for desert. There are few things in this world as romantic as sharing a tub of Haagen Dazs.
It hurt to move, so instead of doing the sensible thing involving a long hot bath and stretching out on the settee, I spent a very painful afternoon getting the flat spick and span. Go figure. Its all part of the ritual. Women know that men left to there own devices have, at best, a minimalist approach to housework. They also know that the merest hint of a shag will cause a frenzy of dusting, polishing and hoovering. Trish, Steve's girlfriend, once confided to me that the cleanness of the flat the first time you see it is directly proportional to a bloke's level of desperation. With this in mind, my flat ended up not quite clean enough to manufacture silicon chips in, and just untidy enough to look lived in. I wasn't desperate, but Steve's comments this morning had got me thinking. It had been a long time.
After I'd sorted the flat out, I figured I had an hour spare. I spent it all soaking in a hot bath. Radox never felt so good. Five minutes to towel off, thirty seconds to throw on a tee-shirt and a clean pair of jeans, and I was ready. Ordinarily I would make more of an effort, but I was never going to look smart with all those bruises and a three inch square surgical dressing plastered over one eye. In a week or so, when the stitches were out and I could get away with an eye patch, maybe. But not tonight. Between you and I, gentle reader, I was secretly looking forward to wearing an eye patch. I've always thought they were rather dashing in much the same way as duelling scars.
My reverie was interrupted by the door bell and the butterflies in my stomach took flight like a tree full of starlings after a gunshot. Hey! Why was I nervous? What was the worst case scenario? We didn't get along and didn't see each other again. A few hours earlier, I was planning on that. I relaxed and went to answer the door.
I took a quick peek through the peep hole. Wow! Shana had definitely made more of an effort than I had. I opened the door.
"Hiya! Oh my god, your poor eye! Is it very sore?"
"Hello. No, it looks worse than it is. Here, let me give you a hand with that." She was holding a very full carrier bag. I reached for it, momentarily forgetting the bruises on my ribs. They forcefully reminded me of their presence, making me wince. She noticed.
"Its all right, its not heavy. Just lead the way to the kitchen."
I stepped back, holding the door open.
"First on your left. You can't miss it."
I followed her as far as the kitchen door and we chatted while she unpacked her groceries.
"So what have you been up to today? Relaxing, I hope."
"Not really. I had breakfast with Steve. He told me you went to the cab office looking for me."
"Steve's a sweetie."
"Isn't he? Incidentally I was touched that you were so concerned about me. Thank you."