A/N: This story is set in the Midlands, UK. Think medium-sized city with a university, cathedral, football/cricket/rugby team, a good-enough but repetitive nightlife, rowdy students, even rowdier non-students, chip shops where people will queue up by the wee hours of the morning and ask to get their Mars bars deep-fried... Or maybe that was just me. Either way, you get the picture.
Chapter 1: The jailbird with the hazel eyes...
Sometimes you will hear a song on the radio when you're in your car, driving to work in the morning. It might not necessarily be the first time you hear that particular song, but it's the first time you really think about it. Maybe you hum along to it or whatever. The radio dj will name the band that performed the song in question and you remember it, because you might consider buying their album. Or download a few of their songs, at least.
Then you get to work, and once it's time for your lunch break you go to the cafeteria with Bob (he's the kind of guy you get on with really well at work but who you would never be friends with in the outside world), and you ask him what he's doing this weekend, just to make conversation.
He tells you that he's going to a concert.
When you ask him what concert, it turns out that it's that very same band whose name you've sworn to remember for future downloading references.
The next day you're watching the news and after the usual dose of murders, rapes and war, there's a story about a band who've fired their manager because it turned out he'd been stealing their stuff and putting it up on eBay. And it's that band. Again. And you think to yourself; how is it possible that I've never heard of this band before when 1) everyone else obviously has, and 2) they're bloody everywhere!
I don't know if it's just me, but that kind of thing seems to happen a lot. Not just bands. Other things as well. Food (suddenly couscous is everywhere), sayings, even people. It happens so often in fact, that I've come to believe that it's some Mysterious Power's way of introducing new things in my life.
It's become my theory.
But for short, I've settled for my "theory".
The interesting thing about this is that it will always take you by surprise. The first time you noticed that old woman on the bus you didn't know that she'd soon become the old woman who's always on the same bus as you, you get what I mean?
So the first time I saw Alex I didn't know that a week later I'd be sitting alone in the Crow's Nest, finishing my seventh pint of lager and thinking that it would actually be a good idea to phone him.
But let me take it from the start, so I can illustrate for you how the theory works in practice.
Ok, so that first time I saw Alex... It's kind of weird, because the first thing I remember seeing of him was the tattoo on his right hand. If you can imagine a triangle, one point being his index finger, one his thumb and the third one somewhere on his wrist, that's where it was.
I'd been out with my girlfriend Sophie, her friend and the friend's boyfriend, to one of the ambitious places in town that refuse to let you in if you're wearing sneakers. Personally, I've always preferred the pub, but Sophie didn't want me to be "so bloody boring all the time", so I went along to that place. I can't even remember the name of it. But it doesn't matter; I'm not going there again.
Anyway, we were dancing for a bit, drinking a lot, trying to talk to each other but failing as the music was so loud. Then I went to the loo and I can't really remember exactly what happened, but the next thing I knew, I was in a fight with this stupid geezer in a suit.
Unfortunately for me, it turned out he was a bouncer at this place, so he kicked me out. And I mean literally kicked me out. Well, I guess he didn't so much kick me as throw me, but the effect was the same. I seemed to fly from the stupid red carpet outside the door, across the street, through the air, until I landed softly in someone's arms.
I had closed my eyes, anticipating a painful fall to the pavement. But when I opened them again, I saw that tattoo. It was beautiful, actually. A dark blue bird with little bits of yellow on it, and suitably enough it was pictured flying. It was a bit sailoresque. Cool. Then I thought, "who the hell gets their hands tattooed", before answering my own question; "jailbirds".
Well, I was drunk as fuck at the time, so despite the fact that I was being held by a jailbird and that he was probably going to kill me for landing on him, I started laughing hysterically. A jailbird with a tattoo of a bird. It seemed funny at the time, at least.
"You alright there," the jailbird asked and tried to make me stand up on my own. I stopped laughing.
"Yeah," I coughed and looked up at him.
He was still holding my arms, obviously thinking that I was too drunk to stay on my feet (which was probably true).
It was one of those moments when time seems to freeze. I don't know what I'd expected him to look like, but when I looked up at him I realised what I didn't expect him to look like. Maybe that's what confused me. I think I probably expected a fat bald guy, actually.
I'm not sure exactly what he was wearing, not that it matters anyway, or what colour his hair was; but his eyes were the most amazing I'd ever seen. And I don't mean that in a gay way. It was just obvious. Anyone would be hypnotised by eyes like that. It was something weirdly intense about them. I mean, they were brown, just like mine, but his were a sort of warm hazel shade that struck me as unusual. Underneath his left eye, right on his cheekbone, was a tiny, tiny birthmark. No bigger than a freckle. Apart from this one imperfection, his skin was flawless. But even if it meant his skin wasn't perfect, it seemed to add the last touch to the overall appearance, which, if it wasn't perfection, was damn well near.
I didn't break eye contact for a second, even as I heard Sophie calling me.
Thinking back at it, it seems kind of weird that we would just stand there, looking into each other's eyes as if the rest of the world didn't exist. But I suppose, at that moment, the rest of the world didn't. Or at least it didn't matter. It felt like we were standing like that for an eternity.
But obviously, in reality, it was a matter of seconds.
In reality, that hateful realm were most of us spend the better part of our lives, it all happened really quickly. I punch a geezer in a suit, he hits me over the nose, I hit him back with what I imagine is a pretty impressive right upper-cut, he grabs my clothes, drags me across the dance floor, outside, throw me as far as he can, I land on a guy and just as I look up and notice his eyes, my girlfriend runs up to me and pulls me away from the jailbird with the hazel eyes.
"Jamie! What the fuck did you do? Jesus, you're bleeding! Why do you always have to get into trouble? I knew this would happen if we'd go out with Ben and Vicky," she cried, whilst inspecting the damage done to her property. "How does your nose feel? Is it broken?"
I touched my nose with the tips of my fingers, carefully examining the bone, but it was intact. But wiping at my top lip, my hand came back scarlet red, and I realised that I was indeed bleeding.
Sophie got a tissue from her silver handbag and handed it to me so that I could wipe the blood off, whilst she made it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that I was such a Neanderthal that she'd rather die than go out with me again.
So the next day, Saturday, I found myself stumbling through town with a friend who's as much of a Neanderthal as I, at least according to his girlfriend.
And that's when I saw him for the second time. See how neatly the theory works?
It was half past four in the morning, and the only place still open was the only gay bar in town. Mysteriously that place has been granted the rights to stay open until five on Fridays and Saturdays. I was never a big fan of the whole gay lobby conspiracy idea until I found out about that.
At half past four this town is usually pretty deserted, even on a Saturday night. And that night was no exception. The streets were positively empty, apart from me and my friend and two guys standing outside the gay bar. I could hear them talk, but they weren't talking loud enough that I could tell what they were saying.
One of them was wearing a pair of tight black trousers and nothing else, his upper body covered in gold glitter. He was short and looked stereotypically effeminate. His black hair was slicked back and it looked like he had sprayed his hair with that gold glitter aswell. The other guy was wearing a pair of baggy jeans, black t-shirt, one of those broad leather bracelets around his right wrist, and a knackered once-white England cap pulled down to cover most of his face.
All I could see was a huge smile, but when he brought a cigarette to his mouth, I recognised the tattoo on his hand.
For a second I felt like I should do something, walk up to him and say hi or whatever.
I snapped back to reality and turned to my friend.
"Someone you know," he asked hesitatingly and nodded towards the guys outside the gay bar.
"'Course not. Just thought I recognised the guy in the cap."
As we walked past them, they both fell silent. The glitter-guy looked down at the dirty ground, and the jailbird looked up at me. If he recognised me he didn't let it show.
Four days later Sophie had decided to forgive me for being thrown out from that stupid club. Unsurprisingly, her forgiveness coincided with her needing someone to drive her to TESCO's so she could do her weekly shopping. I could tell that she'd not forgiven me though. Not really. She was still being really snappy and unpleasant. I kept quiet and let her get it off her chest.
When we were sitting in the car, ready to leave, she told me that I really need to stop acting so childish.
"I'm not acting anything," I tried, looking down at my hands resting lifeless in my lap.
"Look, Jamie... I love you, I really do... It's just that sometimes you need to think ahead a little bit, yeah? It's fucking embarrassing to have to leave places just because you can't behave."
"What the fuck though? You know, if I'm that much of an embarrassment to you, why didn't you get your mum to drive you to fucking TESCO's?"
"She's been working all day, she needs her rest."
"I've been working all day aswell, you know," I protested, protruding my bottom lip and frowning. My most charming grimace, you might say.
"It's not the same thing though, is it," she said with her pseudo-understanding voice. As if she was talking to a child that refused to accept a fact that was clear for everyone else to see.
By now I was getting extremely agitated, and if I weren't such a compassionate person, such a gentleman, I would've left her there. Instead I put all my aggressive energy into backing the car out of the parking spot in a hundred miles per hour.
Unfortunately I do need to think ahead sometimes, and now was definitely one of those times. I didn't actually understand that until I crashed into a fucking sports jeep behind me.
"What the fuck have you done you idiot," Sophie shouted and slapped my shoulder, before crossing her arms over her chest, fixing her features in a scary mask of disapproval.
I let my forehead rest against the wheel for about two seconds before I got out of the car to find out how much damage I'd caused.
"Hm... It doesn't look too bad, but I suppose we better swap information, don't you think," the jailbird said, looking as cool as ever as he was leaning against his stupid jeep. He was wearing a pair of pilot sunglasses covering the better part of his face, but I think I would've recognised that smile anywhere.
"Yeah," I sighed, noticing the shattered glass from the backlights of my old Volvo on the ground.
"Or at least phone numbers."
"Mobile," I stated, as if he was thinking what I was thinking. Always more privacy with mobiles.
"Yeah, probably better," he replied, as if he actually was.
So here I am, with his phone number stored on my mobile, seven pints into the evening and one press of a button away from phoning mr fucking jailbird. Or "Alex" as he's called in the phone book on my mobile. Ok, here goes nothing.
One signal... two... three... four... five... One more then I'm hanging up...
Even before I open my eyes I can tell that I forgot to pull the curtains shut last night. Typical. I always do that when I'm drunk, only to wake up in bright sunshine with a splitting headache.
But this morning something else is wrong as well. I can feel it.
I pull the duvet over my head to shut out the sunlight, and that's when I get the first clue. My duvet smells different. Normally it smells of that body-spray Sophie wants me to wear, but this morning it smells of fabric softener. I did not change my bedding last night. And in any case, I don't use fabric softener.
I open my eyes in the darkness under the duvet.
"What the fuck," I whisper to myself as I notice that the duvet cover is black. I'm sure mine had green and white stripes yesterday.
I lift the duvet up a little bit and look down at myself. That's when I notice that I'm wearing a white vest and a pair of white boxers. That is not fucking right.
Slowly, I pull the duvet aside to find out what else is wrong.
The first thing I see is a rug hanging to dry in an open window. And that's when realisation hits me, like lightning from a clear sky; I have no idea where I am.
"What the fuck," I whisper - almost whimper - again, feeling close to tears.
I sit up in the bed and look around, trying to take in the surroundings. I'm in a pretty big room, in what appears to be some sort of studio flat. White walls, wooden floors. There's a sofa on the other side of the room, a coffee table, a desk with a laptop computer and a bench with a TV and stereo. A few framed posters on the walls; a Nick Cave one and a couple of Bob Dylan ones. The fairly big bed is put in the corner furthest away from the door. In the corner of my eye something's doing it's best to attract my attention. I give in and turn my gaze to the wall. Over the bed hangs a gigantic Arsenal flag. The bright red background is nearly as offensive to my poor hung-over eyes as the sun. I turn my back to it and continue my assessment of the room.
It looks like a typical boys room. It's doesn't look obsessively clean and tidy; it just looks uncluttered, I suppose. There's a pair of jeans and a white shirt thrown over the back of the black sofa, but apart from that - and that rug hanging in the window - everything seems to be put away.
I get up and as quietly as I can, I walk across the room towards the door. It leads to a tiny hallway, on the other side of which is another door that apparently leads to a kitchen.
Bending over, head in the fridge, is a guy wearing nothing but a pair of pyjama trousers.
"Where the fuck am I," I ask nervously, holding on to the doorframe for support.
"Hi there. So you're up now," Alex says and closes the door to the fridge. "Breakfast?"
"Oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh god..." I think I was happier when I didn't know where I was.
Upon hearing my religious mantra, he just leans back against a cupboard and looks at me with a slightly annoyed expression. I notice he's got a blue anchor tattooed on his right pec.
"You can calm the fuck down. I've not raped you if that's what you think," he says acidly.
"What the fuck am I doing here then? And why am I wearing... this?!?" I make a gesture with both hands towards my white ensemble. Ok, so the 'then' after that question was quite the insult, but screw being polite when you've just woken up in some bloke's bed, wearing stuff that you certainly didn't wear last night.
"Because your stuff had vomit on it. A bit of a gratitude wouldn't go amiss, you know." He gives me an ambiguous look and turns to get some cereal or something from a cupboard above the sink.
"Fuck you!" Like I said; screw being polite.
He slams the door to the cupboard shut so violently he's actually making me jump. He seems to pause for a moment before he turns around to face me. I recognise that facial expression, I've seen it many times before, on many different guys. Normally right before someone throws the first punch.
"Fuck you! You phoned me, pissed out of your fucking mind, talking about what a bitch your girlfriend was to leave you in the pub or whatever. I didn't particularly want to spend my Saturday night babysitting some guy who's been dumped by his girlfriend, but leaving you in that fucking state didn't seem like an option at the time."
"She didn't dump me..." My voice sounds weak and pathetic in comparison to his. I hate how this conversation has only lasted for a minute and already he's made me feel like a stubborn three-year-old.
"Well, she fucking should."
He turns his back to me again and starts fiddling with a coffeemaker.
"Did you want breakfast or not," he asks grumpily.
"Err, yes please," I reply tamely. I sit down on a barstool by a tiny table that seems to be attached to the wall, "Uhm... So what actually happened last night then?"
"I brought you here, you threw up on my rug and on most of your clothes, I helped you to bed and you had the good taste to be sick again, in my bed, so I had to try to get your clothes and the bedding off whilst you were still in it, then I washed you off and gave you some of my clothes and changed the sheets and stuff. And then I spent the night mopping up vomit and washing."
"Yeah, well, it's not my idea of a good Saturday night."
"I'm sure you are," he says sarcastically.
"Your clothes are in the bathroom, if you want to get dressed. Whatever was in your pockets is on the coffee table."
Whilst he's making breakfast I try to find my way to the bathroom. My clothes are hung neatly from the shower curtain railing. The jeans are still a little bit damp, but no worse than that I can wear them. I pull them on over Alex's underwear, I can't see my own anywhere and I don't have the energy to start looking for them. I quickly put my shirt on, toying with the idea of leaving it open over Alex's vest, but in the end I button it so that he won't be able to tell that I'm nicking his underwear. It's bad enough that I am.
I get my wallet, mobile and keys from the coffee table and pocket them.
"You found everything alright," he asks when I re-enter the kitchen.
"Yeah. Thanks. Well, actually, I didn't find my underwear." Might aswell admit it.
"Fuck. It's still in the washing machine. Sorry."
"No worries. I've kept yours."
He smiles at me, almost the same smile I saw him give that bloke outside the gay bar. That wide warm smile. The one that goes so well with his beautiful hazel eyes. The smile that makes me feel all starry-eyed. Fuck. This needs to stop right here.
I can feel the panic rise within me as I'm watching him making coffee and toast and stuff. He's got a tattoo of a ship between his shoulder blades that becomes my one focal point, as the room seems to spin around me. I need to get out.
"Actually, uhm, Alex, I think I should probably leave." I slide off the chair and stand in front of him, putting my hands awkwardly in the pockets of my jeans.
"Sure you don't want breakfast before you leave, mate?"
"Err, no. I, uhm, you know... But thanks. And bye." I turn to leave, but the sound of his voice halts me.
"What are you afraid of, Jamie," he asks softly.
"Fuck off. I'm not afraid of anything."
"Sure about that?"
"You know what? Fuck you!"
I find my shoes in the hallway. Ok, so they're not completely vomit-free, but I'm grateful he didn't try to wash them. Wanting to get out of his flat as soon as possible, I grab my shoes and run down the stairs in my socks. Typical that the fucker has to live on the top floor.
Reaching the ground floor, I put my shoes on before leaving the building. I get out and look around. There's a road in front of me, a bunch of similar houses around me, and yeah... I'm lost. Not particularly wanting to stick around in case he's followed me down or something, I start walking towards a church-like building a bit further down the road. I probably look like a complete psycho. I feel like one. And the fact that I'm still wearing his underwear is unnerving and annoying me. Probably adds to the psychoness.
I turn left by the church, and a few blocks further down I find a bus stop and manage to work out pretty much whereabouts I am.