“Noel just grinned and went a few more wobbly paces, yanking Julian along behind him like a careworn teddy bear.” It all started under sodium-orange streetlights, where girls looked pretty in Perspex, and things got steadily worse from there. Julian tried to ignore the burning jealousy and memories of a star-pricked night far away from home…


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Chartreuse by spiderweb_kiss

“What are you thinking about?”

“Australia,” Noel said, nodding sagely.

“Fine. Don’t tell me.” Julian started to leave, picking up a dog-eared paperback as he went.

“No! Ju. Julian!” Noel jumped off the sofa, leaving his brightly painted mug on the coffee table and following his friend. “Don’t go. Seriously, I was thinking about Australia.”

Julian entered his bedroom, leaving the door open for Noel to follow, and flopped down on the bed. “Oh yeah? What, about kangaroos and the outback and things?”

Tentative, not sure if he was allowed or not, Noel sat down on the edge of the bed. Julian’s bedroom was boring: books, guitars, sheet music, laundry, half-full cups of tea. Sometimes they both wondered what they had in common, what kept them together as a comedy duo and perfect double act. Noel could only theorize that he was more interested in the obscure goings-on of Julian’s mind than he was in the contents of his bedroom. And God, was he interested.

Twitching, Noel looked over at Julian (he was thumbing through his book, pencilling annotations in the margin). “I was thinking about when we went to Melbourne.”

A disinterested hum from Julian, but his eyes widened slightly: he was listening. Raptly. Noel took a moment, breathing in the half-remembered smell of hot afternoons and pinprick-starry nights that pulsed with blood rushes and sex. “Ju? Do you remember it?”

Julian put his book down in his lap and fixed his intense stare on his friend. “Yeh, vaguely. Somebody gave us a bottle of chartreuse after the show. We got rat-arsed and stole a rickshaw.”

“And…” Noel looked up coyly at him, desperation building in his chest. “After that?”

A beat-long pause.

“Nope, no idea. We passed out in the hotel room, didn’t we?”

Come on, Julian. I know you remember; I see the look on your face every time you see a bottle of green chartreuse. You remember, Ju.

It was true that for a long time, Noel had tried to force himself to forget, too. After all, it had been a drunken incident egged on by being away from home and the pretty view from their hotel room. He had a career to think of, his family… Not to mention his self-identity.

The problem was, once you’ve revisited something in your mind (no matter whether on purpose or not, no matter whether you think about it out of curiosity or if it sneaks into your mind’s eye while you’re trying to get yourself off), it’s impossible to properly forget about it. Noel grew tired, in the months and years that followed the incident, of instantly pushing thoughts of that night down every time they cropped up.

He started to acknowledge them. Started to turn them over in his mind, think properly about what had happened, wonder what it meant. And after he started to do that, the memory became more and more prominent, until he thought about it more than he should and eventually had to start thinking seriously about what that meant.

But… If Julian didn’t want to admit he remembered, Noel reasoned, then there was no point in putting himself through all this. It was as good as forgotten; that was how Julian wanted it to stay. And so it would.

“We should get going,” Julian said at last, “or we’re going to be late for the gig.”

Noel nodded half-heartedly, staring down at his glittery top and then at Julian’s horrible shirt. It was going to be a long night.

Weed. Music. Alcohol. Poppers. E. A kaleidoscope of drugs thrummed in Noel’s veins. He tugged labouredly on Julian’s wrist, pulling him down the dark alleyway and wrinkling his nose at the smell of urine and urban grime. “Are you sure it’s down here?” Julian asked, blinking furiously under the sodium-orange streetlights. Noel just grinned and went a few more wobbly paces, yanking Julian along behind him like a careworn teddy bear. Noel was fucked off his head, and Julian told him so.

“You’re fucked off your head.”

The gig had been amazing. In Noel’s eyes, at least. He’d never heard of the band before tonight (a friend had fobbed him off with the tickets after finding out she couldn’t go), but Robots In Disguise were everything he wanted in a band: energetic, crazy, weird… beautiful. He had to meet them.

Finally, he saw the stage door and sped up a little. The two girls were leaning against it casually sharing a joint, even more gorgeous in the weird lighting. Their cheekbones were still smeared silver, hair arranged in sleek tumbles of gothic ebony and glamorous platinum. Their clothes were crazy jumbles of neon and netting, their wrists and throats bedecked in Perspex and round glass jewellery. They were like a pair of exotic birds, total opposites but somehow completely matching.

“Alright?” Noel said.

The girls both grinned. “Hi,” the blonde one said, and the dark-haired one smiled shyly at Noel. It was a smile that he was not unaccustomed to getting from girls in clubs (and girls on the street, and girls in shops… ) and he knew well enough what it meant.

“You lot are amazing,” he said, “Proper electro-divas!”

“Thanks,” said the blonde, “I’m Sue Denim.” She paused, expecting the laugh she usually got when she told people her name (Julian chuckled awkwardly, Noel grinned uncomprehendingly). “And this is Dee Plume.” Dee nodded her greeting at the two men, still sizing up Noel and his tight clothes and his feathery hair. He was looking at her, too, but in the vaguely admiring way men tended to when they were already in love with someone else.

“Fancy grabbing a drink with us?” Noel asked, nudging Julian’s arm in a familiar, friendly gesture. We’re best friends. On the pull together.

Not again, Julian thought. It was a humiliating side-effect of being Vince and Howard: Noel and Julian became the same sort of crap double act whenever they went on the pull, with Noel getting both the girls and Julian getting neither. And Julian didn’t even want a girlfriend.

“Actually,” Julian said, putting his hands in his pockets and fiddling with the cigarette packets and small change in them, “I’m going to call it a night. See you tomorrow, yeah Noel?” Gently touching Noel’s arm to show him it was OK, Julian made to leave.

Noel knew better than to protest. “Sure, Ju, catch you later!”

The next day, Julian’s head was pulsing. A vile, beer-y tasting sting lingered in his throat, and when he tried to talk he found he couldn’t. He’d fallen asleep in last night’s clothes and they felt grimy and rough on his skin: he smelt of smoke and booze and cooling sweat. Achingly familiar cologne lingered on his skin where he’d been pressed against Noel at the gig. Julian’s first action that morning was to get in the shower and furiously soap those smells off his skin.

As he stood under the spray and began to feel a bit more human, he thought about everything. The gig (it wasn’t his sort of music, it never was, but Noel had for some reason begged and pleaded and in the end Julian had caved). The girls (he knew full well that Noel had probably coaxed them both into bed, their hair spread on the pillow in a perfect, beautiful tangle of black and blonde).

Sure enough, when Julian came out of the shower there was a post-it note from his roommate, James, by the telephone: Noel rang. Asked if you wanted to go for a drink with him and somebody called Dee tonight.

Julian stood in the empty flat, holding the post-it note with a shaky hand, and resolved to get over Noel. Either that, or live with this burning green jealousy inside of him forever.

He didn’t go for drinks with them that night, or the next, but eventually he and Noel had to start writing for their new TV show and when that happened, Dee was there. She would be at Noel’s flat, padding around in nothing but oversized t-shirts (Noel’s t-shirts, Julian often noted with a twinge in his chest) and looking stunning. She would be standing beside Noel on Julian’s doorstep, hoping she “wouldn’t get in the way”.

In the end, though, Julian realised that he didn’t hate Dee. It was near impossible to hate her, just like it was impossible to hate Noel. Instead, Julian started to get angry at Noel at every available opportunity: when he was too hyperactive to sit down and write, when he messed up Julian’s books, when he borrowed things and didn’t give them back. These fights were small, difficult, and never lasted long because Noel eventually realised that if he widened his eyes and made it look like he was going to cry, Julian’s anger would melt away that much easier.

“Julian keeps getting angry at me,” Noel sobbed into Dee’s lap, while she stroked his hair and stared unhappily at the ceiling. “I dunno why. But it hurts so fucking much, DeeDee…”

“You’re still drunk, Noel,” she said quietly, warningly.

“I really love Julian,” Noel said.

“I know you do, sugar.”

“No.” Noel sat up and stared intensely at her with bright blue eyes. “I really love Julian.”

For someone who had so much stuff, Noel mused, Dee had cleared out pretty fast. He’d helped her pack, alternating between crying and apologising, until she made him sit down and have a glass of neat vodka to steady his nerves. “Noel,” she’d said, her back turned as she folded her clothes on the bed, “It’s OK. I just want you to risk it with Julian, so that this won’t have been for nothing. OK, poppet?”

He nodded and stayed in his chair, watching her pack her things.

Once she was gone, Noel wandered uselessly around his empty flat, crying until his eyes were sore. It was strange, but until all of Dee’s things (her vinyl, her clothes, her instruments, her books and DVDs and bottles of pink liquor) were gone, Noel had never realised just how much Julian impinged on his life. Half of the things in the living room belonged to Julian, and there were ashtrays dotted all over the house despite the fact that Noel only smoked at gigs and nightclubs. The thought only sent Noel into a fresh wave of tears.

Eventually, sniffing and rubbing his eyes, Noel came back to himself. It felt like waking up after a particularly long sleep, and he was suddenly alert and hyperactive. Dee’s request bounced around inside his head, filling him to the brim with colourful, beautiful ideas. Risk it with Julian.

“Ju?” Noel cradled the phone against his ear, anxiously wondering if he was still angry.

There came a long, crackling sigh down the line. “Hello, Noel.”

“Me and Dee broke up,” Noel said, feeling he should get that out of the way first. “Do you want to come over?”

“Noel, I–”

“Please, Ju?”

Julian knocked a third time, hearing only silence from inside. After a few seconds, there was a burst of noise from inside: scuffling, clinking, Noel’s trademark heels on the hardwood floor. The door opened, and there he was. Beautiful, black-haired, dressed in a skimpy t-shirt and those tight, tight black jeans.

“Alright,” Noel said, stepping aside nervously to let Julian in. “I’m sorry about last night.” The fight had been about drugs. It was a touchy subject for Noel, who thought that what he put in his body was nobody else’s business.

Sighing, Julian looked into Noel’s eyes, which were slightly red-rimmed underneath the greys and blues of his eye make-up. If Julian hadn’t know Noel was fending off a hangover, he would of thought he’d been crying. “ ‘S’alright, Little Man,” Julian said at last, slinging a friendly arm around Noel. “What happened with Dee?”

Noel didn’t answer; he began gently steering Julian to the sofa, looking at the floor. Julian saw the coffee table and stopped dead. There was a tall, softly-contoured glass bottle placed pointedly on the glassy surface. The clear liquid inside it was so intensely green that it almost glowed. Julian’s pulse jumped, the scent of sex and sweet green liquor awakening in his memory. He pushed a wave of emotions down, feeling Noel tense beside him.

“Did you know,” Julian murmured, watching the bottle as if it might get up and move in a second, “that Hunter S. Thompson wrote about characters who all drank green chartreuse before they died?” Noel looked up at him uncomprehendingly, face blank.

Julian sighed and sat down on the sofa. “What happened with Dee?” He repeated. It was a pointless question really, because Noel was always getting girlfriends and dumping them and then getting new ones. He usually sabotaged relationships himself, from what Julian could gather, and there was no reason it might be different this time.

Sniffing, Noel sat beside Julian and curled against him, head resting on his shoulder. They both stared at the chartreuse, remembering or trying not to remember.

Noel didn’t really know why he’d put the bottle out on the table. He had been flitting restlessly around while waiting for Julian to arrive, adjusting things here and there and changing his make-up about a thousand times. Then he’d started wondering if Julian would ever admit he remembered. Maybe if Noel pushed hard enough, applied pressure in just the right place. The bottle had been sitting in Noel’s liquor cabinet for two years, ever since they got back from Australia, just because occasionally he needed to lie in bed drinking it and thinking about Julian (and touching himself).

The temptation, he supposed, had become too great.

“Julian,” Noel said, and waited for a response.


“When we were in Australia–”

Julian leapt off the sofa with a strangled cry. “Noel! Are you trying to kill me?”

“What? No!” Noel got up too, but Julian let out a low growl that warned him not to come too close. “Julian?”

The older man’s back was turned, but Noel did not need visual cues to tell how Julian was feeling. “You do remember,” Noel said softly, the realisation washing over him like the tide.

Julian’s shoulder’s visibly fell in resignation. “And I wish I didn’t.”

“Oh.” Noel bit his lip. “Ju? Could you… could you kiss me?”

What?” It came out as a rasp; his throat was suddenly dry. He suddenly wanted the chartreuse, the taste of a thousand bittersweet herbs and love.

“I said…” Noel’s voice was bolder now, more confident. “Do you want to kiss me?”

Julian sighed, and thought about Melbourne and the lengths he had gone to to try and forget. “Yes,” he said at last.

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