Music for the Film

You can't just go gay. It's not like buying a ladder.


Characters: ,





Length: words

Notes: No offence or disrespect is intended by this story.

Music for the Film by Jackie Thomas

Julian heard Noel’s footsteps on the stairs up to his room. They were slower and heavier than usual, but they were unmistakeable; as familiar to him as C major or his babies’ cries.

Normally he would not have had to rely on the sound of his steps to know Noel was there. He would have heard him laughing with Julia and stopping to tease the boys. They already lit up the moment they saw him. They hardly knew where they ended and the world began but they had fallen for Noel, as everyone eventually did.

But it was late and the boys were asleep. Julia was getting ready to go to bed too and probably Noel wasn’t much in the mood for a laugh.

There was a gentle tap at the door before it was pushed open and Noel came in.

Julian’s room was the Victorian house’s converted loft, a long rectangle with romantic sloping ceilings, wood floors and wide skylights. Books lined the shelved walls. Computers, guitars and musical equipment competed for space on surfaces and floor.

He had been at his keyboard, daydreaming about the Boosh film and the musical score that might go with it. This was work he could do without Noel, who had been absent lately. He had to admit he had been feeling the absence.

Noel was standing by the door looking unusually lost. He was wearing a black velvet coat, mapped with constellations of stars and his jet black hair was rock star messy. He took off his shades and his gaze was unfocussed, his eye makeup smudged.

“Alright?” he asked.

Standing, Julian put aside his headphones and Noel walked into his arms.

Julian rested a hand on the soft velvet of Noel’s coat and stroked the jagged layers of his new haircut. Holding Noel reminded him of a tabby cat he’d once had; all ruffled fur and bones too close to the surface.

Noel let go first, standing back, damp eyed and pushing a hand through his hair.

“Thanks,” he said. “Sorry to just turn up. I’m such a wanker. Have you…?”

“Yeah, I heard. Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he waved his shades dismissively. “My fault.”

“Have you spoken to Dee?”

He shook his head. “She doesn’t want to talk to me. Hardly surprising.”

There was a two-seater couch Noel often sprawled across when they came up here to write. He slumped tiredly into it now, accepting the beer Julian passed him from the little fridge in the corner of the room. He didn’t drink though, just nodded at Julian’s keyboard.

“What are you working on?”

“Stuff for the film. Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Can I hear?”

He went back to what he was doing. It was a quiet, lyrical tune; nice but still rough. At first, Noel nodded appreciatively, but by the time Julian stopped playing, he had fallen asleep.

He took the bottle from Noel’s hand, put a throw from the couch over him and went back to work. It was a couple of hours before he finished, pleased at what he had achieved. He had infused the melody with something more useably Boosh. This element, occupying an invisible box on the periodic table, this sense of a secret hidden in the melody, was always more likely to emerge with Noel around. It was better when he was conscious though.

Noel hadn’t stirred while he worked, but Julian planned to wake him. There was a spare room with a bed already made up, and he didn’t want him spending the night passed out on the cramped sofa.

He sat down next to him, to smoke a last cigarette and wind down before taking them both to bed. While he smoked he looked at Noel. It was only possible to look this intently at someone, who was not a lover, when they were asleep, and in sleep, the normally mobile features seemed lost in frowning thoughtfulness.

He found himself wondering about the changes in Noel’s appearance since he had known him. Changes that went deeper than increasing boldness with eyeliner and a succession of silly hair cuts. The shape of his face seemed to have changed; the way it formed words and smiled and blinked. It was still Noel, he was still strange looking and pointy, but there was a new delicacy to his features which Julian sometimes found unsettling.

Over ten years they had become a very odd couple. He knew he had changed too; he had gone from a vaguely indie-looking comedian, like dozens of others on the circuit, to looking like all of his dad’s mates.

He wondered if he was sub-consciously responding to Noel’s androgyny with as masculine an appearance as he could manage. His psychology O’level didn’t run to an explanation of what that said about their relationship, but there seemed to be a steady, deliberate progression to both their projects.

“You can’t just go gay. It’s not like buying a ladder,” Vince had informed Howard. Julian had come up with that line and Noel had called him a spoilsport. He liked the ‘confuser’ idea.

Julian thought it was self-evident. You either were or you weren’t. Sometimes, though, he imagined Noel asleep in his arms.

This was not something he tended to dwell on. It wasn’t important. It did not interfere with his relationship with Julia. Or, for that matter, his relationship with Noel. It just hit him sometimes. Times like now, when Noel was only his, when he seemed uncharacteristically vulnerable. He imagined gathering him into his arms and falling asleep with him. That’s all.

His imagination never took a step further down this path. There was nothing, well…genital about it. As fantasies went, it was never going to set the Boosh Slash Haven alight.

But it was persistent, he’d had it when they used to habitually share boarding house rooms and friends’ floors as they gigged around the country and he still had it now they were attempting to juggle a tour, album, film, his family, Noel’s nocturnal existence and god knows what else.

It probably just meant he loved him. He didn’t have any problem admitting that. It was a more intense love than he was comfortable with, but that was all it was. He definitely wouldn’t admit to any hidden yearnings.

And anyway, it didn’t matter what it meant. He would never act on this fantasy. He would never jeopardise what he had with Julia and he would never jeopardise what he had with Noel, who was, despite all these signals he liked to give out, as straight as an arrow. Just like all those glam rock boys, you had to be pretty certain of your sexuality to wear that much mascara.

He crushed out his cigarette and listened to the silence of the house. Noel’s breathing was all there was against the distant purr of traffic noise. Everyone he loved was under this roof asleep, their dreams sketching colour into the atmosphere.

He sighed and gave his attention to waking Noel. He opened his eyes with a small groan and his hand found its way from under the throw to rake through his hair.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, blinking at Julian. “I heard some of it.”

“Come down to the spare room.”

“Would that be okay? I don’t think I can go home.”

He was almost asleep again, so Julian took away the throw and put his arm around his waist to stand him up. Noel dropped his head against Julian’s shoulder, leaning into him, just resting there, closing his eyes again.

“Sorry, I’m fucked.”

Julian breathed in the smell of this afternoon’s old rain in Noel’s hair. His aftershave and alcohol scent. “It’s alright,” he replied.

Noel raised his head and met his gaze, looking at him in a way that suggested to Julian he had, once again, been reading his thoughts. He confirmed this when he spoke; softly with a tired slur.

“We can use that music for our big gay scene.”

Julian exhaled a quiet laugh. “What scene is that, then?”

“We’ve got to have a snog, haven’t we?”

“It is in the contract.”

“Small print, small print,” Noel murmured, with a hazy smile.

He guided Noel downstairs to the floor below where all the bedrooms were. The door to the twins’ room stood open; their noisy sleep snuffling echoing through the hallway. If they both slept for another hour it would be a miracle.

He waited while Noel sleepwalked to the bathroom, and then followed him into the spare room where he collapsed on to the bed.

“At least take your boots off,” he said and Noel sat up, comically attempting to follow his instructions. In the end, Julian crouched down and unzipped them while Noel’s hands wandered into his hair, absently stroking it into place.

Noel was compliant but more or less useless. So, feeling dad-ish, he took off the velvet coat and helped him out of his jeans. He pulled back the covers on the bed. “Go on, you can get in now.”

Noel dragged the duvet over himself but didn’t lie down, even though his eyes were trying to close.

“Julian,” he whispered, contracting his name to one syllable as he did when he was tired or drunk. “Stay for a minute.”

“What is it?” he said. “Do you want something?”

Noel took him by the arm and pulled him down on to the bed, so they faced each other.

“No, just,” he began, his brow furrowing thoughtfully. “I want to – I mean, I’m sorry about everything. I’m breaking everything I touch, these days.”

“Noel, that’s not true,” Julian said.

Noel’s almost visible train of thought led him to look up again into Julian’s eyes.

His unwavering blue gaze began to sting like static electricity. Then unexpectedly, his long fingers snaked into Julian’s hair. He tilted his head a little, leaned in and his lips were a moment away.

Then the moment passed, his hand slipped to Julian’s back, his head lowered too and he whispered warm breath into Julian’s neck.

“Not everything,” Noel said, as he fell asleep against Julian, letting his other muttered words drift away before Julian could assemble any sense or reason from them.

The not-kiss had been shocking, Julian had watched it unfold like a near-miss car crash, not knowing whether to look or turn away. When his panic died down though, he realised his arms were tight around the alley cat body.

He leaned back against the headboard and Noel shifted and settled as he fell more deeply into sleep. Despite their perpetual asymmetry he seemed to easily find his place in Julian’s arms. This was as familiar as C Major, and entirely alien.

But it didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t important. Julian would just stay until one of the babies’ crying summoned him away.