|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
Fresh air or, well, not fresh exactly, but outside air: good, cold, gritty London air thick with honest pollution and a background hum of city noise. Billy breathes deeply; he needs to get a nice lungful of petrol fumes and grime, and dust made up of tiny bits of other people's skin and hair, and maybe that'll chase the taste of actors away.
But it occurs to him that he's not got far enough away -- even out here there's actors, or one at least. Like rats from a sinking ship. This guy's leaning against the wall, cigarette in one hand, staring out across the almost dark, electric-reflecting Thames. Billy hesitates. He hovers. Stay? Go back? Pretend he hasn't seen? He could just down this piss-poor beverage, and then get a cab back to the hotel. Watch some rubbish or other on cable; let it wash his brain clean of actors. Too late. He's been spotted.
The guy grins, calls out something, but the wind's in the wrong direction. An emphasis on the last syllable.
"What -- sorry?"
"I said refugee!"
Billy laughs in acknowledgement and walks up the path towards the actor -- the guy -- Christian, whatsisname -- that one. The guy is still smiling. A nice smile, and Billy thinks, no. It's okay. He's one of the actual real people.
"Christ, what is it like in there, eh?" He takes a drag on the ciggy and right out of the blue Billy thinks, bike-sheds.
"Aye, I know. God..."
Christian eyes Billy's wine glass. "You got a drink out, then? Good one. Should have nabbed a bottle, though, kept us going." Propped up against the wall, he has this indefinable rumpled quality. And maybe a designer suit, thinks Billy, is just school uniform in disguise.
"Here." He hands over the glass. "Have some." A shared, smiling look; a sly look between refugees, and Billy takes a cigarette without asking. "Cheers." Of course, he doesn't smoke really, not now. He didn't really smoke then either -- behind the bike-sheds. But it's different when you're in your thirties and you're not immortal any longer. He lights it, takes a puff.
"Yeah," explains Christian, unnecessarily. "Had to get out." The wind takes the smoke from his mouth and whips it away. It grabs at his hair and plays with it, flicking it over his forehead, into his eyes. His cheeks go hollow when he sucks on the cigarette, and it's just -- just for a second -- impossibly cool.
"Aye," says Billy. Conversation's flagging but it doesn't matter. There's no backslapping, no, "I loved your work," no actors here behind the bike-sheds. They can just stand here and smoke, and stare at the water for a bit, and not make small talk.
He takes the glass back, drinks, and there's another of those smiling looks, and that's half the trouble with actors. You never know quite where you are. Either way, Billy thinks, Christian doesn't do smiles in half-measures. His smiles are full up to the brim, every time.
"Do you feel like ... like we're bunking off school?" He's looking at Billy half twisted round, leaning the side of his head lazily against the wall. And Billy's laughing because suddenly he can't help it.
"Aye, yeah. Completely, it's mad!"
"Like we're gonna get in so much trouble! You know, if they catch us..."
"Yeah, because... I mean, it's insane because -- who's going to give a toss, anyway?" Billy's laughing too much; he makes a mental note not to start choking on white wine at this point. Christian's laughing a bit too, but mostly he just smiles, which is okay, because when he does that it encompasses his whole face, makes it a different shape. Like it's such a good smile, he doesn't need to laugh.
"Shame we're not doing something really bad..."
"Mm..." Billy's laughing fit subsides a little.
"D'you know what I mean?" He smiles his friendly smile and doesn't look away. Dare you, thinks Billy.
"You know," says Billy, and his tone is joke-light, "You've got a very nice smile."
"Yeah?" Eyes widen, the smile friendlier than ever.
"Yeah," says Billy. "Have you ever thought of going into show-business?"
"Nah..." He pushes himself away from the wall, shaking his head, and there's a slight impression on his cheek where it leaned against the brick. "Can't stand actors, y'see." He's still looking at Billy and smiling. Only now he's looking down, because he's taller when he's not leaning, and Billy thinks it's even harder to tell from this angle, whether or not he's in on the joke.
"Ow -- fuck." Christian's cigarette has burnt down to his fingers, and he drops it. That vicious little wind is back now, blowing strands of hair into his eyes, making him grimace slightly and shake his head. Billy steps forward, laughing at him, and brushes the strands sideways, out of the way. He slides his fingers over the hair, and down, and he feels the pattern the wall has left on the skin of Christian's cheek. An indentation. A little grit there, a little brick dust, and he brushes that away too. London will do this. Living will do this. It will leave its mark on you.
Christian's eyes, behind the hair. Dark and full of things known, years lived. There are no bike-sheds, and they are not children, Billy and Christian. They can do what they like, and there's nobody to catch them at it, no after-school detention, no lines to write in empty classrooms.
So he leans forward a little bit, and kisses Christian on the mouth, just lightly, to test. And Christian is warm, his lips are warm, and he smiles behind the kiss. So Billy does it again and a bit more, and his arm slides up and round, and he thinks hazily that he's still holding the wine glass, clutching it at the back of Christian's neck. And he wonders whether the glass feels cold to Christian, and whether or not it's going to hinder him in this plan he's just formulated, which involves Christian and the wall and hands and tongues, and bodies pressed together, fitting or not fitting, whichever turns out best. Because he's thinking it's quite a good plan, and so why not just go with it?
In the building behind them, a sudden bright shriek of laughter as a window opens. Music and conversation fall out into the night. "I'm telling you sweetie -- no, he was hideous, simply..." "Darling!" The window closes again.
It wasn't them. Billy lets out a breath he didn't realise he'd been holding, and Christian makes a sound that could be "ha," or "ah" or something else entirely, and they smile. Because it's not them. Their mouths are wet, and they are smiling, and Christian's fingers are there inside Billy's shirt.
Billy drops the glass.
It breaks on the hard tarmac path with a silvery noise, like brittle laughter.
He leans forward and the fingers slide over his skin as though they're
making a home there. So he reaches up further and it's inevitable really,
isn't it? That they would do this, and now they will do it again. Unstoppable,
almost. Like snogging your girlfriend at break, when you got the chance,
and later you'd copy her chemistry homework, or she'd copy yours. And
it's like that, but then again, it's not. So they kiss, Christian and
Billy. They kiss like there's nothing else to be done in the world, ever,
and a little way away the Thames flows, slow and quiet, carrying old secrets
to the sea.