Something Happened

Vince is home early


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Something Happened by Jackie Thomas

Vince came into the flat without his characteristic clatter. Turning from the kitchen counter, Howard heard a clunk of platform boot where the rug ended and the floorboards began and glimpsed only a flash of silver as Vince disappeared into his room. It was eleven o’clock and Howard would not have expected him home before daylight, if at all.

Howard wandered into Vince’s room, flicking on the light. “Ah Vince, BBC4 are broadcasting– .”

The sight of Vince stopped Howard talking. He was sitting on the edge of his bed and the thing that had silenced Howard was his lack of movement. Vince was never still, even if it was only a foot tapping impatiently, or a finger twirling through his hair. Now he stared ahead, unmoving but for the occasional shiver rippling through him. Then when no cheery, ‘alright, Howard’ greeted him, he became worried.

At first he followed Vince’s stare, wondering if some unexpected creature had crept out of the cracks in the plaster and was hypnotising his friend. Stranger things had happened. Stranger things were constantly happening. But there was no scaly dragon or hobgoblin squatting there; just the wardrobe and chest of drawers, spilling their contents in a riot of shiny.

“Vince?” He moved closer until, eventually, he was interrupting Vince’s view of the wall. Vince looked down, avoiding Howard’s eye.

Howard saw something had happened. Vince’s shirt, which had seemed earlier to have been woven from wisps of pure starlight, was filthy and had been torn at the shoulder in a great gash. This would not have been enough, in itself, to rattle Vince’s karma.

Vince would not look up, so Howard knelt to gently lift his head, touching tentatively with the tips of his fingers. An ugly graze, dotted with gravel and dirt, stretched across the right side of his face. His lip was cut and make up or bruises smeared his skin.

“What happened?”

The slightest shake of his head told Howard Vince would not speak.

“Do you… need a doctor?”

The head shook more firmly. But there was a kind of desperation in the eyes looking so intently into his. It was something he had never expected to see in Vince.

Howard Moon, Man of Action, was out of his depth. He was not equipped to help Vince and he wondered desperately where Naboo was. Even Bollo would be more use. Vince read him easily; he brushed away Howard’s hands and released him.

“I’m all right, Howard.” He spoke for the first time, his voice rasping and painful. “Bad night is all. I don’t need anything. I’m just going to get some sleep.”

Howard was ashamed as he stood helplessly outside the bedroom door. But wouldn’t anyone feel helpless if they woke to find the sun hadn’t risen that day? Anyone but Vince, probably. Vince would just have a chat with the sun until it realised it did want to rise after all and then buy it an ice cream. Vince deserved better. Vince deserved better than a failed man of action.

But for some reason Howard genuinely could not fathom, a failed man of action was all Vince had. He went to the bathroom and gathered what he needed.

Vince had not gone to bed, he had not moved at all. He looked up in surprise as Howard came in.

Howard laid the first aid kit, water bowl and the rest on the floor. He dragged the bedspread from the messy bed without disturbing Vince and wrapped it around his shoulders. He hoped the extra warmth would stop him shaking.

Then he gave his attention to the bottles and pads which he knew the meaning of only because he had lived so long with Vince. He sat next to him on the bed and this time Vince turned his face to him.

He began cautiously, as gently as he knew how, to remove the smudges of make up distorting Vince’s face. Vince did not move while Howard worked. He did not complain or wince when Howard accidentally brushed broken skin or the bruise revealing itself around his eye. He clasped his hands loosely on the silver of his jeans and let his eyes close. Howard immediately swore to himself he would not betray this quiet trust.

Howard never understood why people perpetually mistook Vince for a girl. To him, the long angular face held a beauty which was more canine than feminine, like those sleek, dangerous wolves they had once encountered. He wondered when he had stopped thinking of Vince’s face as unnecessarily busy and started thinking of it as beautiful.

With the remains of his make up cleaned away Vince’s skin was as pale as chalk, making the wounds he had sustained appear dark and angry.

Howard cleaned the graze and the cut on his lip, causing blood to surface briefly on both. With shaking hands he put a dressing from the first aid box over the graze. Vince did not open his eyes through it all.

Howard sat back. He looked at his hands and wondered why he should be so anxious. But then, though he would die rather than admit it, this was the most intimate thing he had ever done for anyone.

The ancient yearning to flee returned and he wondered if he could reasonably leave Vince now, to take himself to bed, heal himself and bounce back to normal in the morning.

Vince’s eyes flickered open. He met Howard’s gaze only briefly before looking back down at his hands. He made himself stay.

Howard had never put anyone to bed. It was something you apparently did for small children, of which there were none in his family. It was something you supposedly did for drunken or ill friends but the few individuals he dared number as friends had never really wanted him that close. None except Vince, of course, who was always mucking about in his personal space, but was never ill and rarely bothered to get that drunk.

Vince started as Howard gathered his courage and, perhaps too suddenly, reached forward to take away the bed spread from around his shoulders. He rested a hand on Vince’s arm to steady them both and then slowly unwrapped him. He was still freezing. He must have walked home through the November night. What had happened to the outrageous faux fur he’d had on when he left earlier that evening? Where had that got to?

Howard Moon: Explorer, tried to make sense of the geography of Vince’s shirt which was sewn from enough fabric to keep at least three average sized adults in floaty blouses. If there were buttons holding it together, he couldn’t find them. In the end Vince found them, his hands unclasping for the first time to pull apart the top button.

A violent trembling stopped him on the way to the next one. Perhaps it wasn’t just cold then, perhaps it was the shock of whatever had happened. Howard took Vince’s hands and tried to warm them with the heat of his own, bringing them to his mouth to blow warm breath on them. He stopped when Vince gasped, though he couldn’t have hurt him.

Quickly now, he finished unbuttoning and taking off the shirt. One of his own old sweatshirts was on the floor beside the bed and this seemed to be the warmest thing to hand. Without questioning its presence there, he got Vince into it.

He unzipped the boots that Vince still wore; ridiculous platform-heeled constructions, and took them off. They both stared for a moment at his blue-socked feet. Howard thought feet in blue socks seemed simple and innocent. Not like the unknown thing that had happened to Vince in the four hours he had been out of Howard’s sight. Not like the complexities of emotion besetting Howard at the moment.

There was only one more item of clothing to go. But Howard knew if he attempted to get involved with Vince’s trouser fly he was definitely going to pass out.

Vince saved him, as he often did. He stood up with a hand heavy on Howard’s shoulder and stepped out of his jeans. He collapsed back on the bed, lying down now, as if this had drawn on his last reserve of energy.

Howard covered Vince with the sheet and blanket and when this seemed sparse he went to his own room and took the blankets from his bed and added them to the pile.

He remained unhappy with his work. Vince was still now, his eyes firmly shut again. He could be considered thoroughly put to bed but, from his years of conscious and unconscious observation, he knew Vince was not at peace.

He felt helpless again. Until he remembered he was British right down to his socks and sandals.

“I’m coming back.”

“I know, Howard,” he thought he heard Vince whisper in response.

He made tea in Vince’s Jagger mug, adding milk and lots of sugar. He brought it to Vince’s room where he found his friend curled into a tight ball. He wasn’t asleep, though and Howard sat on the bed.

“Sit up, Vince,” he said softly. “I’ve got something to warm you up.”

Vince obeyed, but instead of leaning back against the headboard, he rested against Howard. Howard nearly went into shock himself and it took all of his self-control not to flinch and push him away. It took everything he had to let Vince lie there, soft and still against him.

They held the mug together, Vince by the handle and Howard steadying it on the other side. He drank the tea quickly and thirstily while it was still hot and soon the shivers, that Howard could feel like they were his own, died away and he began to relax.

Howard put the mug aside and absently stroked Vince’s hair away from his face, only stopping when he realised what he was doing.

“Do you think you can sleep now, Vince?”

“Will you stay?” Vince asked, his voice quiet but urgent. “Please. This once. I won’t touch you.”

Vince shifted to his side, reaching his arms around Howard and resting his head just below Howard’s chin. Proving, if any doubts remained, the dramatically different definitions of the word ‘touch’ they each had.

Howard should have been horrified but he wasn’t, not really. He pulled the covers over both of them, put cautious arms around Vince and listened to his breathing change as he finally fell asleep.


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