Candy Heart Nightmare

Valentines challenge entry – Howard is tired of being lonely and puts out a personal ad, with messy results. Now he’s being stalked down the streets of London with a love-struck best mate, an aloof microphone, and a pop song that just… won’t… get… out of his head! Most incomprehensible summary ever, but it might make sense if you read the fic. :D

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Notes: For alchemywow, who burned the image of Vince singing “My Humps” into my brain. Fic is of course highly derivative, featuring themes and jokes that you run across in almost all Boosh fic. Also, I have no idea if candy conversation hearts are regularly consumed in the UK, but they are the first thing my American mind thinks of when I’m prompted to write about Valentine’s Day. Thanks to kay_wray for looking this over.

Winner of the Valentine's Challenge - Candy Heart Nightmare by tartpants
Winner of the Valentine’s Challenge – Candy Heart Nightmare by tartpants

Candy Heart Nightmare by tartpants

“Hey look, Howard.” Vince thrust a candy conversation heart under Howard’s nose, whatever endearment that was printed on it gone smeary by the heat of his own hand. Howard, who was in the middle of inventing a new note on his keyboard, barely gave it a glance.

“Not hungry,” he mumbled, grimacing as he pounded down the D and D sharp keys at the same time. Somewhere, many dogs howled in agony.

“Exactly!” Vince grinned and popped the heart in his mouth, relishing the sugary taste as the sweet dissolved between his tongue and cheek.

“Exactly what?” Howard released the keys and stared at Vince, who was wearing a new mirrorball suit made out of pink and red tinted mirrors. The light from it played upon his face like a strange, rose-tinted blush. Somewhere, a very tacky Honeymoon Suite was missing its mirrored ceiling.

“‘Not Hungry!’ That’s what the heart said. They add new sayings every year, you see. Lots of cheeky little in-jokes for the adults.” Vince rummaged through the dish of candy hearts, picking up one and chuckling under his breath.

“Let me see those,” Howard said, snatching the bowl away from Vince and plucking out a heart. “‘Be Mine’… ‘Dig Me’… ‘Not Tonight.’”

“They made that one especially for you, I reckon,” Vince said, nodding in satisfaction.

“What do you mean?” Howard gave Vince a penetrating look. “If you mean I’m too busy, too accomplished to care about the dreadful, uninspired maxims on candy hearts, then–”

Vince shook his head. “Nah, not that! I mean that you don’t date around much, do you? Not tonight, and not any other night. Really, Howard, how long has it been?”

Howard blinked several times, but it didn’t make the math any easier. “It hasn’t been that long,” he protested. “I have dates. I’ve had dates… more dates than a Tapas restaurant!”

“Right,” Vince said dismissively, pulling the dish of candy hearts from Howard’s grip and looking through it for the pink ones.

“Well, what about you?” Howard countered. “You’re not exactly Hugh Hefner, are you? You haven’t had a date since those goth girls came over last year.”

“Goth girls!” Vince snorted in amusement. “I’ve dated hundreds of girls since those two. Street girls, biker girls, working girls, girls with tattoos, girls with glasses, girls who keep goldfish as pets, girls–”

“Where? When?” Howard asked.

“Well I obviously don’t bring them round here, do I?” Vince said, giving Howard an almost-sympathetic look. “No offence, but you don’t really make me look all that good. It’d be like inviting them into a pristine, brilliantly decorated lounge and having a weathered old bearskin rug lying there on the floor.”

Howard was incredibly stung, but it was hardly the first time Vince had insulted him. “Vince,” he said, struggling to keep his tone calm and reasonable. “You’re wearing a unitard made out of mirrors.”

“Yeah,” Vince said, breaking into a wide grin. “Genius, innit?”

Howard sighed and cut the power to the keyboard. “I’m having a bath,” he said, flinging off his headphones and heading for the bathroom.

“With…?” Vince called after him.

“Without bubbles!”

Instead of taking a bath, Howard had leaned against the toilet and tried to pen out an advertisement for the UK personal ads internet dating service. Dashing and incredibly handsome, he began, then stopped. Not humble enough by half. Lonely and misunderstood musical/poetical genius. Aha, much better. Hit them with the pity first, then follow up with the credentials. Despite his undeniable skill at poetry and verse, it was several tries before Howard had a personal ad that was suitable. In fact, he used up two entire rolls of toilet tissue on his rough drafts.

Lonely and misunderstood musical/poetical genius seeks compassionate and beautiful soul-mate for Valentine’s Day romance.

Well, it was much shorter than he would have liked, but two lines was all he could afford. Now he only had to get his advertisement up on the website – a task that would prove much trickier, given that Howard had never before used a computer in his life.

“Hey Naboo,” he said quietly, approaching the Shaman while he was having his nightly hookah with Bollo.

“What do you want?” Naboo asked, his mouth pursed suspiciously as he let out a smoke ring.

“Can I log onto your computer and put something on the internet?” Howard asked, proud that he’d remembered the words ‘log on’.

“Why don’t you use Vince’s?”

“Ah, well, I’d rather not.” Howard shifted uncomfortably. The last thing he wanted was for Vince to figure out what he was up to. He’d no doubt try to sabotage things by forcing Howard to shave off his mustache and change his hairstyle.

Naboo looked suspicious for another second, then his expression relaxed into something like sympathy. “Don’t want him to know about your thing for twinks, is it?”

“Um, yes,” Howard said. What were twinks?

Naboo gave a curt nod. “Go on then. Password’s ‘Xooberon’.”

Howard smiled in relief. This was going to be easy.

But by the time Naboo entered his bedroom, two hours later, Howard was still struggling to master the intricacies of the ShaMac OS.

“What have you done?” Naboo burst out. Ink was dripping down the screen of his computer, and Howard was red-faced and frantically poking at the screen with a resplendent feathered quill.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Howard said. “I’m trying to write something on a website but it just isn’t working! Is my quill obsolete? Have you got a biro?”

“You idiot!” Naboo snatched the quill from Howard’s hand and wiped the screen off with the cuff of his voluminous sleeve. “You’ve got to use the keyboard,” he said, pointing to the keyboard that Howard had pushed aside to make room for his collection of inkwells.

“Oh, right!” Howard said brightly. He knew all about keyboards. “I must have… well, never mind. I’ll sort it out,” he said, smiling hard at Naboo.

“Here, give it.” Naboo prodded Howard out of his desk chair and took a seat. “Now, what website do you want to go to? Bears dot com?”

“No, no. UK personals,” Howard said, wincing slightly. But Naboo pulled up the web page without comment and, when Howard handed him the wad of toilet paper that bore the final draft of his personal advertisement, only typed it in. The whole process took less than two minutes.

“Soul-mate,” Naboo muttered, clicking ‘submit’. “Good luck with that.”

By Valentine’s Day, Howard Moon was on top of the world. With Naboo’s help, he had checked his in-box and discovered that a girl wanted to meet with him for a date. Tonight! For wine! And Karaoke!

No offence, but you sound like the loneliest person on the planet, she’d written. And I’ve grown a bit bored of everyone else out there. So… why not? I guess.

Howard hummed under his breath as he combed his hair. This girl was already half-crazy for him, and he was still going to the trouble of combing his hair. Because my soul-mate deserves the best, he thought with satisfaction, giving the ends of his mustache a bit of a jaunty twirl.

“Hey, Howard. What are you doing?” Vince asked, having come up behind Howard after being drawn in by the strange, faraway look on his mate’s face.

“Sprucing up!” Howard said with vigour. “Got a big date tonight, little man. Tonight. You hear that? Tonight!”

Tonight. Yeah, after three times I think I got it.” Vince gave him a small smile. “That’s great, Howard. Want me to help you pick out an outfit?”

“No,” Howard said. “I want my soul-mate to love me as I am, thank you. I’ve not forgotten how your goth makeover worked against me.”

“A goth makeover can only do so much,” Vince said lightly. “But you should at least give your mustache a trim. What if she wants to kiss you?”

“So?” Howard said bluntly, straightening out the epaulets on his World War II safari jacket. “If she wants to kiss me then I should think that means she wants to kiss the mustache as well.”

Vince made an unpleasant retching face in response. “No one wants to kiss a mustache. They just put up with it cos they fancy the face attached.”

“Well it doesn’t matter,” Howard said, rather stiffly. “I don’t kiss or snog on a first date.”

“What?” Vince said, looking truly baffled. “What sort of rule is that?”

“It’s my rule,” Howard said, pounding his chest. “Howard Moon’s. And Howard Moon doesn’t lend his lips to any bird who comes round looking for a free sample.”

Vince was silent for several moments, watching Howard fiddle with the buckles on his pockets. “Howard,” he finally said, very quietly. “Are you a virgin?”

“No!” Howard burst out, looking mortified. “God, no! Why would you think that? But…” he trailed off and shut his mouth, a pained expression on his face.

“But what?” Vince prompted.

“Well… I’ve shagged. But I’ve… I’ve never actually snogged someone.”

Vince was rendered speechless, his mouth flung open in disbelief. “How?” he finally stammered. “How can you have never been snogged?”

“Because I thought it would ruin my mustache!” Howard exclaimed, throwing his arms up in exasperation. “It took me years to get this smokey horse-shoe even on both sides, and I don’t want any unnecessary friction or hazards rubbing up against it!”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” Vince said, planting his hands on his hips. “If anything, it’s the mustache that’s the hazard to a lady’s face. It could clog pores, poke an eye out, result in suffocation…”

“All right, all right, you’ve made your point!” Howard squinted into the mirror, distressed. “Should I coat it in a protective wax?”

“You should shave it,” Vince said decisively.

“No!” Howard whirled around and glared at Vince. Then, noting Vince’s smooth skin and fresh, delicate features, a bit of an idea came to him. “Your face is like a lady’s… couldn’t I just…?”

“Just what?” Vince took a small step backwards.

“Look, all I’m asking for is a peck! I just want to know that kissing won’t damage my mustache, and that it won’t give my soul-mate a rash.”

“NO!” Vince took a much larger step backwards. “You’ve gone wrong!”

“It won’t be gay! I promise!” Howard said, holding his hand to his heart.

“It will,” Vince said, looking resentful. Then he squinched his eyes shut tight. “Do it quick before I change my mind.”

Howard dipped down and kissed Vince on the mouth with a light, unceremonious smack. “Well?” he asked, pulling away.

“Hmm. Not as gay as I was expecting,” Vince said thoughtfully, fluttering his eyes open.

“Not that! I mean… does my mustache still look the same?”

Vince examined Howard very closely, not having the heart to admit that this was, in all likelihood, the first time he’d actually given Howard’s mustache a good, hard look. “Yeah, it’s good. How’s my face? Any signs of a rash?”

Howard leaned forward, Vince’s breath pattering lightly against his neck as he checked Vince’s features for signs of redness or irritation. “As pristine as ever,” he said.

“Oh, thank god,” Vince said, pushing Howard aside to check himself out in the mirror.

“So…” Howard began. “I guess I better be scootin’. All systems go, and whatnot.”

“Yeah, sure,” Vince said, waving a hand to Howard as he brought out a magnifying glass. “Have a good time!”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Vince,” Howard said, giving his friend’s back a tight, uncertain little smile as he opened up the door to leave.

Cupid was having one fuck of a lousy Valentine’s Day. The problem was… the problem was… well, he had trouble sussing out what the problem was, given his current state. He’d had a dozen or more bay breezes and had shared a spliff with a small Shaman by the name of Tony Harrison out behind the Koi Karaoke House’s rubbish bins. Shamen were among the small group of humans who could actually see Cupid; could the general public see him, they would never have rendered him as an angelic, plump baby with a heart-shaped bow and arrow. Not now, when he was tits up on top of a speaker, his bald head glistening with sweat in the red-gelled lights.

“The problem is.. the problem is…” Cupid slurred out loud. It wasn’t as if anyone could hear him. “They don’t believe in love anymore! They believe in blow-jobs and rimming and twinks and girl-on-girl and man-on-beast…” he belched loudly and trailed off. “I’ll resign!” he said. Another Valentine’s Day, down the toilet.

Meanwhile, Howard was alone at a small table in the back of the Koi Karaoke House, nursing his third sherry. His soul-mate was supposed to have met him at eight o’clock, and it was now going on nine-thirty. Howard swirled around his sherry moodily, wondering at what point he should consider himself officially stood-up. Ten? Nah, best give her until eleven. She might be stuck in a queue somewhere.

“Hey, Howard!”

Howard spun around in his seat, somehow expecting his soul-mate to be standing there, even though he knew Vince’s voice well enough by now. “Hi, Vince,” Howard said, unable to keep his tone from dripping with disappointment.

“Interesting place,” Vince said, looking around at the paper lanterns and strobe-lights. “Sort of far-east meets Tokyo meets Gwen Stefani.”

“What are you doing here?” Howard gulped down the last remains of his sherry and gestured to the waitress for another.

“Was in the mood for karaoke,” Vince said easily, checking out the big-armed bloke on stage who was getting ready to sing.

“I hate karaoke. It’s dreadful,” Howard said, making a sour face.

“Ah, did you get stood-up? That’s rough. I’m really sorry that… oh god!” Vince quickly covered his ears. “Alan Parsons Project? Kill it before it breathes!”

“I didn’t get stood up! She’s probably stuck in a queue!”

“Well you’re alone, aren’t you?” Vince gave him a small, smug smile, taking a sip from the flirtini the waitress had just plopped down in front of him.

“I’m not!…” Howard paused and considered his sherry with a miserable eye. “Yes, I’m alone. I’m always going to be alone.”

“Cheer up.” Vince reached out and touched the fringe on his epaulet. “I’m here now.”

Howard lifted his head. Something about the expression on Vince’s face, which wasn’t so much smug and satisfied as it was… honestly sincere?… made him wonder, just for a split second, if that would be enough. To have Vince “here now.” Whatever that meant.

Don’t say words you’re gonna regret…
Don’t let the fire rush to your head…

“Vince…” Howard began, his voice cracking slightly. He had no idea what he was about to say, and that somehow seemed very, very dangerous. But before he could even get the words out, three things happened at once.

One: Vince popped to his feet and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Get off the stage!” he shouted. “Boooo! Sing something from this century!”

Two: Cupid, lounging drunk upon the karaoke speakers, was roused from his stupor by Vince’s voice. He looked in Vince’s direction and, through his bay-breeze goggles, spotted the miserable, tortured face of Howard. “Now… that’s a face that craves love,” Cupid said to himself. “Real love… the old-assin’… er, fashioned kind.” And with that, he raised up his slingshot and slipped an enchanted candy conversation heart into its cup. “Love’s Bitch,” the heart said, and he drew back the rubber band and aimed true.

Three: Howard was struck hard in the chest by a flying, enchanted conversation heart, which promptly bounced off the buckles of his jacket and landed in Vince’s flirtini, where it fizzed merrily.

“What was that?” Howard demanded, looking in the direction of the stage.

“No, no,” Cupid said, waving an arm. “Don’t look at me, fool, look at your big-haired girlfriend…”

But Howard wasn’t looking at Vince, he was looking at…

“There she is,” he breathed, little hearts erupting behind his eyes as he pulled at Vince’s sleeve.

“Who?” Vince asked, sitting down now that he’d had the pleasure of heckling the Alan Parsons Project singer off-stage. “What, your date? You mean she’s here?”

“Yeah. And I’m going to sing with her,” Howard said, his voice unrecognizably dreamy as he stood up and glided towards the stage. “Pick us out a song,” he called back to Vince.

Vince knitted his eyebrows together, utterly confused since there was in fact no one on stage for Howard to sing with, female or otherwise. But he compliantly reported to the DJ and requested a song, taking care to choose something a bit more up-to-the-minute than 70s soft-rock. Then he stood at the foot of the stage and waited, frankly curious about what Howard was up to.

Howard stumbled into the red glow of the lights, with that strange, loopy expression still on his face, and curled his fingers around the microphone stand, caressing it gingerly. “Hello, love,” he whispered. The speaker behind him seemed to hiss slightly, as if in protest. He ignored it, then opened his mouth and began to sing.

What you gonna do with all that junk
all that junk inside that trunk?

Vince froze, hit with a bucket of ice-cold realisation. Howard wasn’t singing into the microphone, he was singing to the microphone! He’d been struck by some whammy of a love curse, and was now head over tits for a piece of plastic and some wires! He’d make a fool of himself! Moreso than usual!

Thinking quickly, Vince leaped on stage (a subtle but delighted gasp went through the room), grabbed the second microphone – the one that Howard wasn’t groping – and joined in.

I’ma get, get, get, get, u drunk,
Get you love drunk off my hump.
My hump,
My hump,
My hump,
My hump,
My hump,
My hump,
My hump,
My hump,
My lovely lady lumps.

Howard flashed Vince a look of deep irritation, and held the microphone to his chest possessively. “What u gon’ do with all that ass?” he snarled. “All that ass inside them jeans?”

Vince rolled his eyes and turned his arse towards the audience, shaking it on cue. “I’m a make, make, make, make you scream,” he sang, rather tartly. “Make u scream, make you scream!” Everyone screamed.

When the song ended several minutes later, Vince wisely pulled Howard off the stage. “No… no!” Howard moaned, dragging the microphone along with him until Vince slapped his hand. “Don’t you dare slap Tina Marie!” Howard cried, tears edging into his voice.

“Howard!” Vince struggled to get his friend seated. “Sit down and act normal!”

“Tina Marie,” Howard whispered, looking back at the stage longingly.

“Listen,” Vince said, putting a hand under Howard’s chin and forcing his gaze away from Tina Marie’s direction. “We’ve got to get out of here. Got to get to Naboo and have him put you right. You’re under some kind of dodgy love curse!”

“Oh god, I am, aren’t I?” Howard said, realisation sinking in. “I mean… a microphone. Loving a microphone isn’t normal, is it?” He looked horrified at his own words. “I’m sorry, Tina Marie!” he shouted, scrambling out of his seat. “I didn’t mean it!”

“No!” Vince pulled Howard back roughly. “Okay, that’s it. We’re leaving.” He stood up and took a long, fortifying drink of his flirtini, balking a little at how surprisingly sweet it was. “Let’s go,” he said, wiping off his mouth and strong-arming Howard towards the exit.

Once outside, Vince felt a strange, giddy sensation pass through him. “Bugger, I think someone roofied me again,” he gasped, leaning against a brick wall for support.

“Uh, right,” Howard said, shaking easily out of Vince’s grasp. “Be right back.”

He dashed back into the club, and Vince, who was in no position to argue, merely closed his eyes and groaned softly to himself as he clung to the wall.

“Vince!” Howard skittered back out of the Koi Karaoke House a few minutes later and yanked Vince upright. “Come on!”

They ran for several blocks, their shoes a stark staccato on the pavement, and finally came to a panting stop in a quiet, dimly lit park. “God, that was close, wasn’t it?” Howard said, chuckling nervously. He removed Tina Marie from his pocket, having ripped her free of both cords and mic stand, and began to caress her, murmuring little words of encouragement under his breath.

“You went back for that?” Vince asked incredulously, leaning over to catch his breath.

“She’s not that, she’s TINA MARIE!” Howard quickly stuffed the microphone back into his pocket, ashamed because he was painfully aware that it wasn’t quite right to be in love with electronic equipment.

“She’s ‘TINA MARIE,’ is she?” Vince said, mimicking Howard’s inflection. “I’ll tell you what TINA MARIE is… she’s a trollop and a slag and I’ll die before I let her have you!” And with that, Vince launched himself at Howard and they both went tumbling into the grass, Vince clawing for Howard’s pockets while simultaneously biting hard on Howard’s ear and letting out a breathy moan. They rolled over and over again in a struggling embrace until they hit the side of a fountain.

“Fucking hell!” Howard yelped, sitting upright and rubbing his ear. “What in god’s name has come over you?”

Vince kneeled beside him, his expression hectic and flushed. “Tina Marie’s a slut!” he finally said, smacking his palms against the grass. “She’ll never love you as I do!”

“You don’t love me!” Howard said, grabbing Vince by the shoulders and shaking him fiercely. “Don’t you see, Vince? You’re the one who’s been hit by a love curse, not me!”

“I… I…” Vince blinked, his eyes glazing over. “It’s only a curse to love you because you love Tina Marie instead of me!” He turned his back to Howard and drew his knees to his chest, sniffing in an exaggerated fashion.

Howard’s forehead creased in concern. He’d never seen Vince look so lost and forlorn before. Actually, he’d never seen him look lost and forlorn at all. “Hey. All right?” He asked, patting Vince’s back uncertainly. “Look, I think we’re both not right in the head right now…” Vince nodded slightly. “… so why don’t you and I and Tina Marie go find a quiet place to get a cup of tea and sort this out?”

Vince was quiet for several moments. “Why does she have to come along?” he asked grudgingly. “You only just met her. You don’t know a thing about her!”

“I know that I love her,” Howard said lamely, reaching into his pocket to stroke his sad, sorry microphone.

Vince turned slightly, meeting Howard’s gaze. “Do you think she can give you what I can?” he asked, his eyes blazing and snapping out toward him in a way that made Howard’s gut tighten. “How can a microphone ever satisfy you?”

“Well, I could put her in my…” Howard mentally shook himself. “Never mind,” he said hastily. “I don’t know, okay? I don’t know!”

“Howard,” Vince said, his voice more calm and familiar again as he curved his fingers around both of Howard’s wrists. “I can make you happy, Howard…” he started, licking his lips and staring into Howard’s slightly weathered and utterly confused face.

My hump,
My hump…

“What was that?” Howard looked around frantically for where the music was coming from.

“It’s a breakaway pop hit, just ignore it and it’ll go away,” Vince said hurriedly, giving Howard’s sleeve a tug in hopes of re-capturing his attention.

But something about the snippet of music he’d heard had caused the hair on the back of Howard’s neck to bristle up, and he continued to peer around the park, noting that they seemed to be alone but for an old homeless man who was asleep on a bench beneath a blanket of newspapers. There was a small transistor radio balanced against the man’s hip, which issued faint static along with the occasional My hump, my hump. Howard breathed a careful sigh of relief, then rose to his feet and gestured for Vince to follow. It was just a silly song playing on a transistor radio, but Howard still felt as if they ought to scoot on out of there.

Just as they’d turned to leave, a loud rustle of newspaper, followed by an angry burst of static, sounded behind them. Howard winced and pivoted slowly, not at all surprised to see that the bum was now lurching towards them with a fiendish red glow in his eyes.

“My hump… my hump!” the man gasped, his voice resonating with terrifying robotic sound effects.

“You can’t have him!” Vince wailed hysterically, clinging to Howard protectively.

“My lovely… lady lumps!” The man pointed a single, ominous finger at Howard, his face twisted in rage.

“What do you want?” Howard whispered, unable to keep himself from clinging to Vince in return as they both slowly backed away from the oncoming man.

“Howard!” Vince stage-whispered. “Don’t you know who that is? It’s Speakerboxx Doom, the vengeful spirit of bad karaoke! He’s possessed a homeless man and now he’s gonna punish us for our uninspired karaoke duet. Oh god, I thought for sure he’d go after that Alan Parsons Project berk!”

“Make u scream,” the man said smugly, as if in confirmation. Then he let out and unearthly howl and charged, his newspapers flapping.

“RUN!” Howard cried. And they streaked through the park, Vince clutching to Howard’s sleeve in desperation. Strobe lights played over the tree leaves, indicating that Speakerboxx Doom wasn’t far behind. “There’s the street!” Howard said. “And there’s shops on the other side. Let’s duck into one. He’ll never follow us into Sainsbury’s!”

“But what if he’s low on milk?” Vince asked. Howard didn’t reply, concentrating dodging a mini-cab as they sprinted across the street and into the cheerful, vibrant glow of the Sainsbury’s.

A few minutes later, they were pushing a shopping buggy through the almost-deserted aisles, trying to collect and calm themselves. “I know our duet wasn’t the best of the night,” Howard said. “But it can’t have been the worst! Why does Speakerboxx Doom got to pick on us?”

“Karaoke’s a serious art form to some,” Vince replied, picking up a tin of tomato soup and looking very wise as he examined it. “It’s about the power of performance and presence. It’s about… oh good, this is vegetarian!” He happily chucked the tin into the buggy.

“But we’re professional musicians!” Howard protested – quite loudly, as he hoped that Tina Marie was listening from his pocket and might be impressed. “We know all about performance and presence. We know what it’s like to have a crowd simultaneously weep and cheer at the sounds of our voices. We know what it’s like to have knickers thrown at our heads.”

Vince snapped his head up. “Who threw knickers at your head?” he demanded, and Howard braced himself for words of chiding disbelief. “Who was it?” Vince cried out, picking up another tin of soup and looking around wildly. “I’ll kill her!”

“No, no.” Howard gently removed the tin from Vince’s hand. “It’s just a euphemism, you know? I haven’t had knickers thrown at me since…” He shut his mouth, quite unable to finish the sentence with ‘never’.

Vince looked sullen all the way to the dairy case, where he suddenly seemed to perk up at the sight of double cream and eggs. “Howard, look,” he said, picking up a bottle of whipping cream, the kind that sprayed out in great fluffy swirls. “Imagine all the fun we could get up to with this, eh?” He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

Howard cocked his head, his hand automatically going to his pocket to console Tina Marie, who, to his disappointment, seemed cool and unmoved by Vince’s advances toward Howard. “Yeah,” he said uncertainly. “We could make hot fudge sundaes.”

“We could make hot Howard sundaes,” Vince corrected, popping the cap off the whipping cream and spraying a bit of it onto his finger. The finger disappeared between Vince’s lips, and Howard glimpsed the tip of his pink tongue lapping greedily at the cream.

“Look,” Howard began, looking nervously from left to right. “You don’t know what you’re saying right now, Vince. You’ve been hit by a love curse, remember? You don’t want a hot Howard sundae.”

“You keep saying I’ve been hit by a love curse,” Vince said placidly, licking his fingers again. “And I know I’m acting a bit funny right now… but I loved you before tonight, Howard. I think that I did.”

“Oh? And why do you think that you did?” Howard said, shaking his head in doubt.

“Because I’ve had thoughts about you before,” Vince said, the heat of his gaze communicating just what sort of ‘thoughts’ these were. “And you know me, I get bored so easily, and yet I’ve never gotten bored enough with you to set out on my own and become the star that I truly ought to be.”

“Gee, thanks,” Howard said crisply. Deep down, though, he was a little flattered. Well, who wouldn’t be? Vince really should be a star, but year after year, he’d stuck by Howard’s side. Howard had sometimes wondered why, but he’d never had the courage to ask.

“Come on, Howard,” Vince said, drawing close enough so that Howard could smell cream and flirtinis on his breath. “Haven’t you had thoughts about me? Like… when we kissed earlier tonight?” Vince sprayed a small dot of whipping cream on the bit of skin that was exposed at Howard’s collar and touched his tongue to it. “I can still feel the burn of your stubble against my lips,” he whispered.

“Oh, er, well,” Howard gulped, highly aware that they were standing under bright lights in a public place. Tina Marie was momentarily forgotten, and against his will he remembered all the thoughts he had had about Vince. Thoughts and dreams that he’d brushed off as psychologically normal but otherwise meaningless. It was normal, after all, to dream about your best mate tied face down on the bed with a winking smiley-face painted on his arse, wasn’t it? And that kiss… he had promised that it wouldn’t be gay, but it was sort of gay to get a twitch in your cock after kissing a man, wasn’t it?

“Come on,” Vince repeated, nipping at Howard’s neck and grinding his hips against Howard’s. “I can feel that you want me,” he said, smiling almost angelically, showing a tiny blot of cream at the corner of his mouth that Howard suddenly and desperately wanted to taste.

“That’s not me that you’re feeling,” Howard stammered.

“What?” Vince blinked and took a step back, his eyes traveling over Howard’s body. “It’s that tart Tina Marie, isn’t it?” he shouted, diving for Howard’s pocket.

“No, Vince. No!” Howard said, pushing Vince back. The bottle of whipping cream clattered to the floor. “Not here!”

Vince caught his balance and stood upright, then fished his tin of soup out of the buggy and gave Howard a hard look. “I’m paying for this, and then I want to go home,” he said, heading for the check out stand.

Howard pushed the buggy aside and followed him, thinking of how odd it was to have spent Valentine’s Day evening in a Sainsbury’s having whipping cream licked from his neck while soft muzak played overhead. He came up behind Vince in the check out queue and cleared his throat rather awkwardly. “Look Vince, if things were different…” he began.

“If what were different?” Vince asked, slamming the tin of soup down in front of the cashier, a rather slight girl with bunches who eyed them with curiosity while pretending not to.

“If I hadn’t met Tina Marie…”

“I’m sick to death of hearing about Tina Marie!” Vince exclaimed, crossing his arms over his chest and swiveling around to face Howard. “You’ve known her for all of thirty minutes and yet you’re–”

But Vince was interrupted by an unearthly, yet unsettling familiar growl. The overhead lights flashed once, and the soft muzak was replaced by fierce hip-hot beats. The cashier, her eyes glowing like a devil’s, reached across the counter and grasped Howard by the front of his jacket, hauling him up with inhuman strength. “Make u scream!” she hissed.

“No!” Vince screamed.

“Help… help me Vince!” Howard gasped, feeling his air cut off by Speakerboxx Doom’s grip around his neck. “The soup… throw the soup!”

“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Vince chanted, searching wildly through his pockets. “Have you got a tin-opener on you?”

“Throw the tin!”

“Oh, right,” Vince chuckled and conked Speakerboxx Doom on the head with the tin of soup. She let out a staticy hiss but loosened her grip on Howard enough for him to squirm free.

“Come on!” Howard herded Vince toward the exit and, for the third time that night, they ran.

They finally found shelter by forcing open the door to a mini-cab that was idling in traffic, both of them scrambling into the auto while cursing under their breath.

“That Speakerboxx Doom doesn’t let up easy, does he!”

“Oh nooo, I think I’ve got a blister on my heel. These boots aren’t broken in yet.”

“Tina Marie? Tina Marie? Are you all right?”

“She’s not alive, Howard. Of course she’s all right.”

The cab driver coughed once and turned around in his seat, a thick cigar dangling from his lips. “Pardon me, fellas, but if you’ll look between you I think you’ll find that I already have a customer.”

Howard and Vince looked down at the same time and, sure enough, on the seat between them sat a very small man. Or was it a man’s head with no legs? Or did he in fact have legs that were more like spindly little tentacles?

“Er… hello,” Howard said.

“Aha.. yes.. a very good evening to you two lads,” the man wheezed, his voice curiously muffled.

“Mind if we share your ride?” Vince asked, giving the man his most winning smile. “We’re just trying to get out of here, see, and in a right hurry.”

“Yesss, that would be agreeable,” the man said, waving one of his tentacles. “I’m Tony Harrison, and it is a pleasure.. ah.. to make your acquaintance.”

The driver sighed deeply, as if he hadn’t had a more unpleasant set of customers in all his life (he hadn’t), but he let out the clutch and eased into traffic, fiddling with the radio until he found the football report.

“I don’t usually take mini-cabs,” Tony explained, seemingly oblivious to the tension between his fellow passengers. “I’ve had my carpeter’s license revoked again. I tried to tell ‘em that I was fogged in, that it weren’t my fault I crashed into Big Ben, but Kirk… Kirk wouldn’t listen.” Tony looked back and forth between Howard and Vince to see if his story was having any effect on them. “Kirk’s a very deranged being,” he added hopefully.

Howard glanced once at Tony and decided that the head’s presence wouldn’t stop him from speaking to Vince openly. “Vince, if it means that much to you, I’ll break things off with Tina Marie,” he said.

Vince was very quiet for a moment as he stared out the window and concentrated on the passing traffic. “But you love her,” he finally said in a small, biting voice.

“Yeah, well…” Howard shifted uncomfortably. “But we’ve been together a lot longer, haven’t we? You are right about that. And… to tell the truth, I’m not sure Tina Marie fancies me much.”

Vince finally turned to face Howard, a small smile playing on his lips. “She’s been giving you the cold shoulder from the beginning. I could have told you that.”

“I know, I know,” Howard said helplessly. “I just really hoped I’d find my soul-mate tonight.” He tipped his head back wistfully. “I just had this feeling, you know? When I read the reply to that personal ad, I thought… ‘here’s someone who understands me’. Who could fit right into my life like… a toaster. Or any other kitchen appliance, really.”

Vince bit his lip and stared into his lap, a twinge of guilt passing through him. “Howard, about that personal ad… I was the one who replied to it.”

Howard looked at Vince so quickly that it made his neck ache. “You!?” he exclaimed, then his demeanour stiffened. “Oh, I see. Thought you’d take the mickey. Lead me on for a bit of a lark. Is that it?”

“No,” Tony said, having listened agreeably up until this moment. “I am a reader of auras, you see, and this young girl to my left replied to your sad personal ad not out of pity, but out of the dim hope that it might lead to you realising your deeper feelings for one another.”

Unfortunately, at the same time Vince said: “No, I did it out of pity.”

Howard pressed back into his seat, too hurt to say anything. “Pity, yes,” Vince continued hastily. “Because I knew you’d never find what you were looking for out there.” He gestured in the direction of the window. “How could you, when you’re blind to what’s right in front of you?”

Howard studied Vince’s earnest expression, chewing on an appropriate reply when the auto braked suddenly, tires screeching in protest. “Watch it, man,” Howard snapped at the driver. “This is a potentially romantic moment and I don’t need your shoddy driving to muck it up.”

“Make u scream,” the driver intoned.

“Christ!” Vince yelled, his voice drowned out by the thumping bass that suddenly pulsed from the auto’s speaker system, as if flipped on by a switch.

“My lovely lady lumps,” the driver said accusingly, turning around in his seat and pointing his cigar at Howard.

Howard whimpered and yanked at the door handles, but the locks held fast. They were trapped.

“My lovely lady lumps!” the driver repeated, seeming frustrated at his inability to communicate in anything other than lyrics from a breakaway pop hit.

“What?” Howard squeaked, his brow furrowed in both fear and confusion. Somehow, Vince had ended up in his lap and was curled against his chest, covering his ears against the sounds of a song he never, ever wanted to hear again in his life.

“Ehh… pardon my interruption,” Tony piped up. “But I am one with the spirits, you see, and this gentleman, Speakerboxx Doom, would very much appreciate it if you would return his fiancé to him.”

“Fiancé?” Vince lifted his head from Howard’s chest, giving Tony a quizzical look.

“Miss Tina Marie,” Tony said.

“My lovely lady lumps!” Speakerboxx Doom wailed.

“Yeah, yeah… sure,” Howard said hastily, untangling Tina Maria from the depths of his pockets and thrusting her in Speakerboxx Doom’s direction. “Take her. All she’s done is complicate my life.”

“My hump, my hump,” Speakerboxx Doom whispered, running his fingers over the microphone’s surface.

“He wants you to leave at once,” Tony said, quite cheerful.

“Right.” Howard reached to try the door again, but before he had even touched it it flung open and sent both him and Vince tumbling into the street. Then the mini-cab kicked into gear and sped away, leaving them both coughing in a cloud of thick exhaust.

Vince trudged up the stairs to the flat slowly, taking them one at a time, utterly desperate to fall into bed and sleep for a dozen or so hours. But despite his headache (coming down from enchanted conversation hearts was a bitch), he privately lamented the night’s end. He stopped at the top of the stairs, as if in acknowledgment of this fact, and felt Howard bump into him with a small oof.

“Howard.” Vince turned around and looked down at his friend. It was one of the few times he had ever been taller than Howard, and it seemed strange to see him from above. He wondered what he himself looked like to Howard, who was always able to gaze down at him thanks to his more substantial height. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you tonight. I’ve got my senses back, if you were worried that I might… try to lick dairy products off you.”

Howard swallowed. “I’m not worried,” he said. “And you didn’t really embarrass me. You know, these things happen, and whatnot…” he trailed off, rather lamely.

Vince nodded a little. “And I’m sorry that I made you think you had a date with your soul-mate when it was just me, having a bit of a lark.”

“Right, a lark.” Howard looked pensive and grew silent for a moment, leaning against the railing of the stairs. Of all the strange things Vince had said to him tonight, the one he remembered the most was you’re blind to what’s right in front of you. Maybe it had only been the enchantment talking, but somehow, he didn’t think so. “Um, Vince,” he said, rummaging through his many safari pockets. “I had this thing I was going to give to my date tonight, but I thought… well, maybe you want it instead?” He found what he was looking for and took hold of Vince’s hand, pressing it hard into his palm and quickly folding his fingers over it.

Vince opened his fingers and stared. It was a candy conversation heart, a little lint-covered from Howard’s pocket, but the word printed on it said…


Vince stared it for a moment, then lifted his head and gave Howard a smile that was so heartbreakingly shy and hopeful that Howard hopped up one stair and, now even with Vince’s height, kissed him full on the mouth, his arms wrapping around Vince’s slim frame and pulling him close.

I hope this won’t mess up the smokey horse-shoe, Howard thought, gooseflesh breaking out on his arms as Vince’s tongue flickered against his.

This better not result in a rash, Vince thought, sucking Howard’s lower lip between his teeth and groaning from deep within his chest.

That was the last time either of them had such thoughts, though, as they kissed and touched and trembled upon the stairs.

Somewhere, Cupid had decided not to resign from his job after all.