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Jeremy stoops down into the blue Jaguar X Type. The car makes him feel twice his age. His first car – the run-around scrap metal on wheels – sits abandoned in the driveway; it has done since the garage refused to take the Jag back. Even in death his mother’s contract has remained.
Jeremy’s father had handed him the keys, his expression pissy. “You might as well,” he said.
Jeremy reverses over the two tone flagstones; he swings the vehicle swiftly in the loop of the cul-de-sac packed with identikit detached homes. Tyres yelp on wet tarmac, goading his father who glares through the window of his study, which was Claudia’s old bedroom and has now become his office space since she left too. She has been accepted on a PGCE course and doesn’t want their mother’s car, not with congestion charges and the unfamiliarity of London’s roads.
Jeremy sets off for his last day in his job. His three week old old job. On Monday he starts casual bar work in the nightclub, another stopgap to pay mobile phone bills and vodka quotas while he dreams up a career. Despite his father’s quiet anger, top-heavy with grief, Jeremy feels no pressure to become responsible just yet. He will rely on his inheritance for now, sure that his mother would have wanted him to find the right job, not the right-now job. The right now makes Jeremy feel sick.
As he drives from the monotony of Irish suburbia he thinks about Claudia, the lucky bitch has always known what she’s wanted since they were kids. He wonders about paying her a visit; maybe he could sleep on the floor of her room while he samples the club scene. Jeremy wonders what the men are like in London and if one could take his mind off Louis. He envisages Louis, pictures the white origami creases of his shirt sleeves the morning they had sat at his dining table.
Louis had repeatedly run his little finger over the smooth red handle of his cup. The cup had narked Jeremy, one of the ones that began with, ‘Calm Down and…’ Jeremy couldn’t recall what the rest of it had said. It had been insignificant yet Louis’s finger kept bringing his attention to it, as if to send him subliminal messages. It had only added to the noise in Jeremy’s head.
The new Vaccines song had played on the breakfast show, a punkie upbeat little number. Every time Jeremy has heard it since it has reminded him of then; reminded him of Louis. Now the song still makes Jeremy miss him.
‘Teenage Icon’ played in the café when he had been on his blind date with Padraig, set up by Lexi. The intro immediately brought him back to Louis, and he remained on his mind during the rest of the date, even during the stifled sex in Padraig’s bedroom of his family home. It had all seemed amateur compared to the self-assured encounters with Louis in his stylish studio apartment. He had pictured Louis when Padraig touched him; his five o’clock shadow over the hollows of his cheeks and their abrasive kisses, sometimes gentle, sometimes urgent. No man he had seen since had been a patch on Louis.
Jeremy veers over the country lanes that run behind his home, he thinks about the shop; customers’ expectations and tea-break confinements. He feels boxed in by telephone wires overhead, glistening asphalt below and the break-up of hedges, fences and stonewalls at either side. Two bare trees stand in a field; they reach straight lean arms out, raise the ends slightly, seeming to give Jeremy the bird.
“Fuck you too,” Jeremy says.
On the road the white lines melt into each other and disappear over the hill. Jeremy fumbles to find a decent song on the radio. The blast of the horn brings him back to reality, the oncoming removal truck’s lights beam as they both swerve; side wheels of his mother’s car hit off the grass verge holding Jeremy back briefly.
“And fuck you!” Jeremy shouts, ruffled. He tries to concentrate on the winding roads that he has known since a boy. He has been swaying in different directions, something always distracting him; lately it is the thought of Louis. The Vaccines song comes on the radio, starting from the very beginning.
Oh look at me
With no great capability.
Jeremy thinks it safer to let the tune play. Their song. No, maybe their break up anthem. The radio station’s playlist conspiracy reminds Jeremy what he ran from. Again he thinks about that morning after his seventh unplanned night with Louis.
He woke alone, pulled on his t-shirt and jeans. In the mirror of the sparkling white ensuite bathroom, Jeremy teased his fringe from his face, swilled mouthwash and sprayed Louis’ deodorant at his armpits from over his low scooped neckline. Jeremy had planned to leave with one of his handshakes that always resulted in a matey hug. He left the bedroom to see Louis sat staid at the table; a box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes stood beside an empty bowl and a spare spoon.
“What’s all this, Lou?” Jeremy laughed, feeling jumpy.
“Sit down and have a bowl before work.” Louis was splashing milk into his cup, Calm Down and Drink Coffee, Jeremy remembers now. Not relevant. He wonders if he is looking for signs where there aren’t any.
“Can’t stay. I don’t want to be late for the office.”
Louis had raised an eyebrow and looked at the place setting he’d arranged.
“I thought you hated work, that you didn’t bother showing up half the time these days?”
Jeremy eased into the chair, damned how loose his tongue became after too many vodkas and Red Bull. He hesitated then poured a bowl of cereal, only a small serving although he was starving. In front of Louis he didn’t want to look like a pig. That is when the song came on.
“What’s going on? With us?” Louis asked.
Jeremy drained the milk from a small designer white jug that looked stolen from a fancy hotel. He wondered who Louis had gone to a fancy hotel with.
“What do you mean?” Jeremy coughed. He glanced at Louis, the cup between both hands. White lettering peeked through his fingers. It was the first time he had seen Louis look serious, not in a sexy way. He had wanted to hear the new Vaccines song, now Louis was speaking over the top of it.
“We keep ending up together. Should we make a go of it? I mean, I’m not seeing anybody else and neither are you.”
“How do you know I’m not?” It had shot out of Jeremy’s mouth before he could stop it.
“Lexi told me.”
Jeremy watched his spoon disappear into the milk and become the sliver of a silver crescent.
“I asked. Don’t be mad at her, she wasn’t trying to match-make.”
“Really? That would be a turn up for the books.”
He watched Louis run his little finger over the cup handle, the image that remained. His tanned forearms in his starchy folded up sleeves had looked really good. Louis dressed smarter on his days off work than Jeremy ever did at all, apart from the funeral one month before that morning. In work Jeremy never cared if he looked as though he had been up all night shagging. In fact, all the better; give them something else to talk about.
“What do you think?” asked Louis.
Jeremy ate a spoonful of flakes buying himself time to arrange a response. He nodded his head as he crunched through the mouthful, patting the back of his hand against his mouth.
“Is that what you want? A relationship?” Jeremy asked screwing up his nose.
“I don’t know. I think it makes sense,” Louis offered, sounding unsure himself.
Jeremy piled some more cereal onto his spoon, he thought about eating it, but knew he would be taking the piss. As uncomfortable as it felt Louis deserved an answer.
“I don’t think I’d be a good boyfriend right now, my head is all over the place. There is this thing in work…”
“There is always a thing in work, especially in your case.”
“Louis, I’m getting over someone.” It sounded added on. A cliché.
Louis’ pursed lips said that he didn’t believe him. Knowing Lexi she would have told Louis that Jeremy had never been in a relationship before. Anyway it was true, Jeremy thought, he was getting over his mother. She had only been forty-two; it was hard to accept. Sudden. Something disbelieving in Louis’s expression stopped him opening up. Jeremy wondered if Lexi had told him about his mother too. If she had, Louis hadn’t mentioned it.
Jeremy stops at the traffic lights without knowing how he arrived there. He pretends to fumble in the glove compartment to hide his face, his tears, from the driver in the car beside his. For some reason he always cries recently when he thinks about Louis.
“Okay, I’m going to lay my cards out, Jeremy,” Louis had said. “I like you, I know you like me. You could be at a bar with your friends and me somewhere else. We still always end up together at the end of the night.”
Jeremy looked at Louis; he couldn’t avoid it any longer, not when the guy was opening his heart to him. “Listen Jeremy, I’m not going to beg you to go out with me. If we give it a try and it doesn’t work out, well… what the hell.”
Jeremy felt his chest being concurrently lifted and pushed down against his will. A long, slow sigh escaped his body as though someone telling him that they liked him was a burden. He couldn’t stop it, despite not wanting to hurt Louis.
“Well thanks for eating some breakfast, hope you didn’t feel as though you had to,” Louis said, he stood up, stretched and scratched the back of his head as though bored by Jeremy’s presence.
Jeremy stood slowly. He gawped at Louis, words filed into his mind and back out. The little jukebox picker in his head failed to pick one of the sentences that shuffled past too quick for him to read; but that song still played. It played then and plays now.
I’m no teenage icon
I’m no Frankie Avalon
I’m nobody’s hero
He had followed Louis to the door of the apartment, watched his back in his crisp shirt tucked into chinos, making the most of the last of summer days. Louis opened the front door and hid behind it, out of reach for one of Jeremy’s embraces and playful pats on the back.
“I’m sorry,” Jeremy mustered.
“What for?” Louis’ hurt was concealed with a laugh. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
He clicked the door with precision.
Jeremy wonders if Louis still has those feelings. He sees Louis’s building; somehow he has ended up at the apartment instead of work. He tries to catch his breath.
Jeremy doesn’t care about being late for the shop. He doesn’t know why he even bothers when all he cares about is gorgeous, sexy, serious Louis. So, he made a mistake. He wants Louis too. His car is there; Louis is home. Jeremy will tell him how he feels, no time to think it through. Jeremy will simply say that he has never met anyone like Louis before. He has matured and now he wants meals, coupley-walks and movies on the sofa. He wants to be part of something that isn’t falling apart or half-assed. Jeremy thinks about his mother, she would have liked Louis. Claudia will. His father will be impressed that Louis is successful and well put together.
He sweeps the blue Jag into the communal parking and jumps out, leaves it unlocked. His pulse booms in his ears. Jeremy likes how the adrenalin makes him feel, like the day he told his boss at the office to “Go fuck.” Exactly like the day he handed in his notice at the clothes shop.
Jeremy walks to the shared entrance of the block. He tries to work out which number Louis’ apartment is, never paid much heed any time he was there before. He retraces the mornings he has traipsed down the stairs, recalls Louis living on the second floor and on the right side. Jeremy gives apartment six a buzz and waits.
“Hello? Jeremy?” Louis’s voice sounds motorised on the intercom.
Jeremy gives a restricted sheepish wave to the CCTV camera above him.
“Come on up, I’ll buzz you in.” Louis sounds pleased to see him.
Jeremy walks up the stairs, the plastic casing on the handrail creates friction; rubber soles of his trainers on the lino floor seem to want to slow him down. Jeremy’s lifted heart turns to stone. His heart plummets from dancing under his collarbone to dragging at the bottom of his gut. He wonders if he is doing the right thing.
At the top of the stairs Louis stands, cross armed and grinning almost as if he has always known Jeremy was coming back.
“Hi, yourself.” Louis smirks.
Jeremy looks at him. He isn’t as he remembered, distorted by time and fantasy. Louis is kind of handsome, Jeremy thinks, not gorgeous. He is shorter than Jeremy remembered; his shoulders narrower. It dawns that he has never seen Louis when he has been fully sober. The morning they had sat across the dining table he had looked anywhere but at the man.
“I’m sorry,” Jeremy says.
He walks away, slowly, then takes off down the stairs. The descent always being the easiest part.