Category: Nathan Barley
Genre: Alternate Scene
Length: 1-5k words
1. Contains lyrics from ‘Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You Too)’, a song from the ‘Pete’s Dragon’ original Disney film soundtrack.
2. For non-Dan Ashcroft obsessives (that’ll be just about everyone who isn’t me then): in the ‘Nathan Barley’ TV series, Dan’s financial problems begin when a bailiff calls round and takes Claire Ashcroft’s camera in lieu of a very large video debt accrued by Dan. The video in question is named as ‘Pete’s Dragon.’
Pete’s Dragon by The Lizard
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m bloody sure. I’ve been pissing on those bloody sticks all week.”
“Yes, it’s yours. There’s no doubt this time, Dan.”
He raised a hand to his chin and scratched anxiously at his whiskers.
“Well, sodding well say something then!”
Drawing on the last of his cigarette, he tossed the stub into an ashtray, then stood up and stepped towards her, reaching out and drawing her close. She pressed her face to his broad chest and spoke in a small voice:
“Everything will be alright… won’t it?”
The thudding at the front door grew louder and more insistent. They had ignored the sound for a full fifteen minutes, neither of them wanting to move from their intertwined position below the duvet. Jones gave a grunt of annoyance as the door-rapping persisted.
“Make them go aw-a-a-y!” he groaned into the pillow, the pounding reverberating around his head like an eternal echo. Dan turned towards him, a shaggy mess of hair falling across his hazel eyes.
“I’m not expecting anyone. Are you?” he mumbled sleepily into Jones’ naked shoulder.
Jones snuggled further into Dan, his warm skin carrying the scent of vigorous, sweaty sex. He allowed an easy smile to break out: “No.” Dan grinned lazily back: “Must be for somebody else then.” He pressed his mouth to Jones’ pale skin with a low growl and pulled the duvet up over their heads, muffling Jones’ giggles, covering them completely.
The noise at the front door stopped. As the letterbox flipped open with a tinny clatter, a calling card fluttered to the doormat and came to rest amongst an increasing pile of discarded junk mail and ignored bills.
I can’t fucking do this anymore.
The baby would not stop screaming and Dan had absolutely no buggering idea why. He hadn’t slept properly for three weeks; twenty-one fraught seemingly endless nights shattered by terrifying screams that eroded any sense he had that he might be a good father.
Shifting heavily in the double bed, Dan pushed a fist to his forehead, nursing his throbbing temples. He glanced at the slight, balled form of his girlfriend, willing her with all his might to get up and attend to their son. As if sensing his eyes boring into her back, she made a loud tutting sound and relented, angrily kicking the bed clothes away and muttering obscenities as she stormed over to the baby’s cot. She softened the tone of her voice and made comforting sounds in an attempt to calm the child.
Their arguing had progressed in its regularity since Joe was born three months ago; the creeping discontent and resentment gradually building between them, rapidly spreading across their rented flat like the sporing patches of mould that had begun in the damp bathroom. Violent disagreements now flared up on a twice-daily basis, usually ending with a hard slamming of doors, a shattering of crockery on walls and Dan’s disappearance.
They rowed over just about everything: his whereabouts, their lack of money, him not being there for her when she needed him, him not helping with the baby… Dan had thought, perhaps foolishly, that giving her a child would make things bearable between them; that Joe might give her the love and attention she desperately craved and he no longer felt able to provide. He struggled to recall the last time they’d laughed together.
Dan exhaled loudly and pushed himself up from the mattress, his mind so frazzled he thought it would split open. Through blood-shot eyes, he watched her trudge slowly back and forth across the bedroom, Joe screaming uncontrollably into her shoulder. She was exhausted, crying, about to break. He knew he should help her.
Body racked with fatigue, he hauled his naked frame out of bed and padded over to her, arms extended as she all but collapsed into him through tiredness and hysteria. Dan gently took the baby, making noises of reassurance, cradling Joe over one shoulder and rocking him gently from side-to-side, rubbing tiny circles across his back with his fingertips. He paced slowly around the dimly-lit bedroom, humming a tune that suddenly popped into his addled head; a silly song he remembered from a Disney film he’d watched as a child. His mother had sung it to him as she stroked his hair on those nights he couldn’t sleep; soothing hums that lulled him into comforting dreams.
For an hour, Dan carried Joe from room to room, repeatedly humming the tune until he thought the song would send him insane. Eventually, Joe’s cries began to subside. Slumping wearily on to the sofa, he lay back against the cushions and gently rocked the child, continuing to hum. As daylight fingered its way through a chink in the curtains, they both drifted off to sleep; Joe’s face nuzzled into his father’s shoulder, dribbling and breathing gently, finally peaceful.
The sound was magical; pure, innocent, natural. Dan gently placed his lips against the unblemished soft skin and blew soft raspberries in time with the animated dragon’s ‘bom-bom-bom’s’. Joe jerked out his limbs and squealed in delight, sending giggles ringing like tiny bells in Dan’s ears.
“We need more milk.”
She fired the words at him, hurriedly moving through the room; hunched over, snatching up clothes and toys from the floor. Dan glanced at her thin back, at her dark, limp hair obscuring her face. Joe continued to smile and gurgle, kicking his legs, wanting the game to continue.
“I’ll get some later.”
The dragon’s song stopped abruptly as she switched off the video, standing and glaring at him, her pale face pinched, her eyes red-rimmed.
“I need it now.”
“Alright.” Sighing, he stood up slowly and fetched his cigarettes from the arm of the sofa, patting his jean pockets, checking for loose change. Joe’s laughter stopped and he peered up at Dan with large, questioning eyes.
Dan leant forward, propped the child up in his baby seat and placed a dummy in his mouth.
“We’ll watch some more when Daddy gets back” he whispered and kissed Joe on his forehead; small, chubby fingers waggling against his beard.
She called out after him as he moved through the cramped hallway, her voice harsh.
“Tonight, Dan. Not tomorrow.”
Dan exhaled loudly, lit a cigarette and shuffled, round-shouldered, out into the evening drizzle.
What was taking him so long?
Jones pummeled the remains of his seventh cigarette into a black, heart-shaped ashtray and frowned at his Transformers digital wrist-watch: it was almost half past midnight. Dan had called him two hours ago, his voice thick with alcohol and amorous suggestion. He could virtually hear Dan’s erection smacking against the phone as he gave a dirty chuckle and vowed to pound Jones senseless by eleven o’clock.
Restless and jittery, he snatched up his empty cup and returned to the kitchen, flicking on the kettle to reheat the water, checking his reflection in the chrome, tapping his fingers on the work surface.
Come on, Dan.
He knew not to bother trying to call Dan to check his whereabouts. He had quickly learnt that Dan wouldn’t answer. It was a matter of waiting. It was always a matter of waiting for Dan.
Jones spooned fresh coffee into his mug and poured in hot water, momentarily feeling wretched. He knew this whole situation was ridiculous. For almost six months, Dan had made moonlit flits to and from his house and it was always the same routine: waiting around for a knock at the door, no calling to see where he’d got to, no personal questions and definitely none of that ‘let’s talk about our feelings’ stuff.
He knew he should try and hang on to whatever remained of his self-respect and confront Dan. In his eagerness to please Dan, he’d agreed to a ‘no details’ arrangement but it quickly began to torture and frustrate him. He longed to know more about Dan. He wanted to be more than an anonymous shag, playing a bit part in his life.
Jones rubbed a palm anxiously across his mouth and stared at the steam rising from the kettle. It was pitiful and pathetic but he couldn’t help himself; he cared about Dan. The grumpy Northern git made him feel good. Everything felt so right and comfortable when Dan was around. He was desperate to tell Dan how he felt but… the agreement.
Flinging the teaspoon into the sink with a clatter, Jones returned to the lounge and peered out through the curtains, sipping his coffee, hoping to see Dan’s lumbering silhouette loom into view.
When alone, Jones often imagined Dan slouched across his battered sofa; his long jean-clad legs stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles, one arm resting behind his head, leaning back, his fingernails scratching audibly at his whiskers, letting out a loud yawn and a stretch. He visualised Dan raising a nicotine-stained hand to his mouth with a slight narrowing of his eyes, then the glow of cigarette embers as Dan took a deep drag.
Every time Dan exhaled, it was as if the cloud of smoke softly embraced Jones and brought him closer to knowing the other man.
He checked his watch again and frowned into his coffee cup.
Why the fuck was taking Dan so long?
“Do you love her?”
The question flew at Dan unexpectedly, like a badly thrown dart, piercing his composure. He took a moment to formulate his response, calmly stirring his tea, tapping the teaspoon on the side of the mug and then placing it on the draining board.
“No personal details. That’s what we agreed.”
Jones breathed out sharply, biting the inside of his mouth, picking at a patch of peeling vinyl covering on one of the cupboard doors. “It’s not what I-.”
“It’s what we agreed, Jones.” Dan cut him off mid-sentence; his voice firm and even, sensing the smaller man’s frustration. Feeling he had to reassure Jones, he reluctantly bent their code of conduct, adding: “There’s nobody you need to worry about.”
Jones slammed the cupboard door sharply, spinning to confront Dan, his index finger raised, aggressively jabbing at the air between them: “Then don’t fucking treat me like the other woman, Dan!”
He span away from Dan and stalked into the lounge. Dan remained in the kitchen, frowning, chewing the nail of his right index finger. He took another sip of tea and then threw the remains down the sink, following Jones into the other room.
Jones perched sulkily on the sofa, running a palm across the cushions. It was the moment Jones always dreaded; when Dan shouldered on his coat and checked his pockets for his keys, phone, wallet and cigarettes. He struggled against the urge to physically launch himself at Dan and beg him to stay longer. Watching Dan, he felt the words rise in his chest and burst uncontrollably from his lips, breaking the silence:
“Move in with me.”
Half-listening, Dan continued to scan the room, trying to locate his matches.
Jones cleared his throat and repeated himself.
“I want you to live here.”
Dan paused to glance at Jones, pushing his hair out of his eyes and squinting slightly, then continued peering around the room. When Dan didn’t respond, Jones fidgeted uneasily in his seat. Undaunted, he swallowed hard and began to list the reasons why Dan should move in with him.
“I like it when you’re here. You belong here, Dan. It feels right. This sofa needs you. I need–”
Walking purposefully over to Jones, Dan clasped his chin in one hand, lifting Jones’ face to meet his own. He silenced Jones with a deep kiss that winded him completely. Breaking their embrace, Dan gently brushed a large hand around Jones’ face, gazing down into his large blue eyes, his voice soft.
“I’ll think about it, alright?”
The dawn chorus was already underway as Dan arrived back at the flat. Quietly, he pushed the front door open and stepped into the hallway, carefully removing his key from the lock. Closing the door again with a firm click, he shuffled through to their bedroom, avoiding the pile of laundry stacked by the wardrobe, careful not to wake his girlfriend. He tugged off his coat, letting it fall across the end of the bed and then checked on Joe. Joe slept soundly, lying spread-eagled on his back, one tiny thumb resting at the corner of his mouth.
When Dan turned back towards the bed, she was sitting up, eyes wide, her face twitching in anger. He opened and closed his mouth, stuttering, trying to find an excuse for his latest disappearance. She balled both of her hands into tight fists, punching them down hard into the bedclothes, screaming at him: “Don’t you dare fucking insult me with more of your pathetic lies!”
Joe awoke at the sound of his mother’s scream and began crying. Dan moved towards the cot but before he could reach Joe, she sprang out of bed and shoved him out of the way, picking up Joe and holding him. She swayed from side to side in an attempt to console Joe, all the while continuing to vent.
“You drive me up the fucking wall, Dan! You’re useless! If you’re not smoking yourself into that sofa, you’re pissing it away at the pub or wherever the fuck you go at all hours! What am I supposed to do when you disappear and I don’t know where the bloody hell you are?”
A sense of acute tiredness suddenly rushed over Dan. This was the same argument they’d had a thousand times before. As Joe sobbed and she hushed and rocked him close to her, she continued to harangue Dan with the dates and times of his many failures. Dan just hung his head in silence. It felt like he’d finally run out of replies and excuses.
“I’d like to know what they pay you for at that magazine because it can’t be for doing any work. You’re incapable of lifting a finger other than to scratch your fucking arse or light a fucking cigarette! Look at you! You can’t even be bothered to fucking answer me! You’re absolutely bloody useless, pathetic!”
Dan lifted a hand and placed it on her shoulder in an attempt to placate her. She violently shirked away, throwing him a look of pure hatred.
“Piss off! Don’t touch me again!”
Withdrawing his hand, Dan backed away from her, slumping on the edge of their bed. He sighed loudly and then leant forward, holding his head in his hands.
“What changed us?”
She exhaled, shakily, still rocking Joe, his sniffles and sobs beginning to subside.
“You did, Dan,” she replied, matter-of-factly, “Most of the time, when you’re here, it’s as if you’re somewhere else.”
Dan felt his stomach lurch as she spoke. She was right. He couldn’t bring himself to pretend to play ‘happy families’ with her anymore. He’d tried so hard to fight it, tried so hard not to show it, but as much as he wanted to deny it, he knew he would rather be with Jones than with her. Jones had him hooked from the moment he’d wandered into the techno club on an assignment for ‘sugaRAPE’. Jones made everything feel right and comfortable and easy. Not like this.
Not like this…
Dan snorted gently in his moment of clarity. It seemed so obvious to him where he should be right now. He grabbed his coat and rushed from the bedroom, ignoring her protestations, slamming the door behind him and hurried out into the early morning light.
She clattered and banged around in the kitchen, busying herself in an agitated fashion as Dan packed his belongings into a large blue holdall. He tugged hard at the zip, pushing down on the contents, closing the teeth.
Placing the holdall on the hallway floor, he passed slowly through to the lounge to where Joe sat happily in his baby seat, watching children’s afternoon television. Joe made a noise of delight, holding out his arms and kicking his legs as Dan approached him. Dan felt an invisible blow to the stomach and gulped hard.
He reached down to Joe and swung him upwards, then cuddled him, stroking his soft hair and pushing his bristly cheeks against his son’s head.
“Daddy has to go away, Joe.”
Dan kissed Joe softly, repeatedly, as the baby gurgled contentedly and gazed up at him, putting a hand up to his face. His throat becoming tighter, knowing that every passing second brought him closer to the moment when he had to leave. Dan mumbled into his son’s ear:
“You’ll grow up to be a much better person than me. You’ll make a good dad. You won’t be a failure to your kids. You won’t be like me. Don’t be like me, Joe.”
Dan’s voice began to waiver as he continued to talk quietly to Joe. Closing his eyes tight, he placed a final long, loving kiss on the top of Joe’s head. Every crash and bang his girlfriend made with the kitchen utensils felt like a series of nails hammered through his heart.
Fighting back tears, Dan carefully lowered Joe back into his seat and quickly stood to leave, wiping the sleeve of his coat across his face. He made a search of the living room and snatched up the rented video of ‘Pete’s Dragon’, stuffing it into his coat pocket. Hurriedly grabbing his holdall from the hallway, he told himself not to stop or look back and headed straight for the front door.
She stood in the kitchen doorway and watched in silence as Dan slammed the door behind him for the final time.
For hours, Dan paced the streets, running his mind ragged, torturing himself by replaying mental images of Joe’s face as he’d whispered his farewells. He slipped a hand inside his coat pocket and stroked the plastic casing of the video cassette.
He had never for one second imagined he’d be one of those fathers who walked out on their own flesh and blood. Weren’t parents supposed to care so much about their kids that they would die for them? Yet it felt as though he’d discarded Joe almost as easily as an empty lager bottle. More to the point, he had abandoned his own son so he could live with a hyperactive, caffeine-fuelled electro DJ who wrote songs about ice cream and owned a large collection of toy dolls.
This is utter madness.
Maybe, if he went back to her and tried harder, he could fix everything. Maybe he could change. Maybe then they could go back to how things used to be; back to a time when they actually gave a flying fuck about one another. Maybe he could finish it with Jones.
Deciding he needed to sit down and calm himself with the help of a very large drink or three, Dan shouldered open the door of ‘The Griffin’ pub and headed straight for the bar.
It was almost midnight when Dan turned the corner of Lizard Street, pulling his coat collar tighter against the icy night. A light shone from the downstairs window of Jones’ house. Dan knew Jones would be waiting, possibly on an all-nighter; a four day mixing session, fuelled by caffeine and sweets. He chuckled and thought about how endearing he found this quality in his new lover… his new lover… the words rang in his mind.
He paused on the pavement and sucked hard on a Marlboro, trying to calm a sudden surge of doubt. Despite almost convincing himself over several pints of lager that this was absolutely the right step to take, the possibility that this chance could all go tits up still gnawed at him.
What the fuck am I doing?
For a fleeting moment, Dan considered turning away. Suddenly, the door of Jones’ house opened, fluorescent light snapping him back to reality. The DJ peered out and, upon seeing the holdall in Dan’s hand, smiled widely, his blue eyes twinkling.
The smile that makes everything right.
Uncertainty evaporated as he fixed eyes with Jones and grinned in response. Tossing away his cigarette, Dan marched purposefully towards the open door. For once in his life, he was going to grab this chance at true happiness with both of his large hands.
Sprawled naked across the tangled bed-sheets, Dan listened to the distant sound of traffic, his mind drifting.
“What’s that tune you keep humming?”
Jones’ voice broke him from his dawn trance. He reached out one hand and gently brushed a thumb against Dan’s cheek, as if spying something there. Dan quivered slightly and lifted his gaze to meet Jones’ own, his voice deep and muffled by a pillow.
“Was I humming?”
“Yeah,” Jones flashed a grin in the semi-light of the bedroom. “Sounds a bit mental. What is it?”
Dan rolled onto his back and covered his eyes with his forearm, clearing his throat.
“Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You Too)’
I look in your eyes and you whisper sweetly,
You don’t match in size but we fit so neatly,
It’s nice waking up when you’re close beside me,
Humming in my ear.
I can’t believe it!
I love you too.
Remember the night when you first confided?
Things went so right that we both decided.
Now we’re together and life is perfect,
Don’t ever disappear.
No, you’re just saying!
Oh, is that true?
I love you, too.