Category: The Mighty Boosh
Pairing: Howard Moon/Vince Noir
Length: 5-10k words
The Other Half by prepare4trouble
Vince reached carefully down the side of the sofa in his quest for the remote control. It wasn’t there. At the other side of the room, Howard was conducting a fingertip search of the carpet. Vince tried not to think of what might have gotten stuck between the cushions over the years, and forced his fingers down further, until they came into contact with something hard and metallic. Not the remote control, definitely, but something interesting. He grabbed at the object and pulled it out. It was some kind of pendant. It appeared to be made out of silver, a rounded shape with a strange design carved into it. It was pretty cool. And it would go great with the new t-shirt he’d bought yesterday. “Hey, Howard, look at this,”
“Have you found it?” Howard stopped what he was doing and turned around to see Vince staring in fascination at a necklace. He rolled his eyes and wondered over. “Where’d you get that?”
“Down the side of the sofa. Naboo must have lost it years ago.” He reached to place it over his head, but Howard was too quick and grabbed the pendant out of his hands before he could do it.
Irritation flashed across Vince’s face, “What are you doing? I found it! Besides, its not going to look good on you, is it?”
“We don’t know what this is,” Howard pointed out, “You found it in a shaman’s flat, it could have some kind of mystical powers, it could be dangerous.”
“I just want to try it on.”
Howard shook his head, “No, not until we know what it is. Wait until Naboo gets back, then ask him if you cam borrow it.”
Vince didn’t like to be told no. He reached out and snatched the pendant from Howard’s hands, as he did, there was a moment when each of them had one side of the mystical accessory touching the palm of their hands. A wave of nausea passed over both Howard and Vince and they both simultaneously dropped the pendant, which fell to the floor and disappeared in a cloud of pink smoke. When Vince opened his eyes, it was to see himself looking decidedly ill, sitting next to him. “What..?” he muttered, his hand automatically reaching out to touch the other man.
The man who looked like Vince leaned backwards out of reach, he appeared just as puzzled. “Who are you?” he asked, “What’s going…”
Confusion clouded Howard’s features as his own voice sounded alien to his ears, and a hand automatically reached to his lips, fingers brushing against his hair as they went. His forehead creased, and fingertips slowly explored his face. It wasn’t his face. His moustache was gone, his features all the wrong shape. He looked at the man sitting next to him, the man with his face, and realisation began to form. Slowly he tore his gaze away and reluctantly looked down. He was wearing Vince’s clothes. No, he was wearing Vince’s body. And Vince… Vince was…
Howard swallowed and raised his gaze to look himself in he eye. “Vince, I think we’ve got a bit of a problem.”
Vince reached forward and grabbed a small mirror from the table in front of them, held it in front of his face. He’d guessed what he was about to see, but it didn’t prepare him for the shock of looking in the mirror and seeing someone else’s face. Even when that someone else was someone he’s seen every day for almost as long as he cold remember. “Yeah, you reckon?” He placed the mirror back where he had found it, Howard picked it up and stared at his reflection. Vince gave him a few seconds to absorb the shock before he spoke, “So, um, when did Naboo say he was getting back?”
Walking felt weird, like the first time he wore heals. He was too tall, his legs too long, moving seemed unnatural. He felt off balance and swayed slightly to one side as though drunk, reaching out to steady himself with a hand on the wall. “Woah,” he muttered, that’s gonna take some getting used to.”
To his left, Howard was still gazing in horrified fascination into the mirror, touching his face and watching his reflection as though unable to believe it was his own.
“Oi, careful with my hair,” said Vince as he wobbled towards him.
Howard looked up in surprise. It wasn’t the first time Vince had spoken, but it was weird. It wasn’t Vince’s voice, but it wasn’t his own either. Vince’s accent. Howard’s voice. Presumably to someone who didn’t know them it would sound perfectly fine, but to Howard it sounded pretty odd, and only made the situation seem even more strange. “Your hair?” His eyes wandered back to the mirror, “Do you really think that should be your most pressing concern at the moment?”
“It’s my most pressing concern most of the time,” Vince told him, “and even more now it’s left in your unskilled hands.”
Howard put the mirror down and started to get up, thought better of it and paused before allowing any weight to rest on his feet, sat back down and removed Vince’s high heeled platform boots, “Still no answer from Naboo?”
“His phone’s switched off. I bet he did this on purpose. He knows I can’t resist shiny things.”
“Right, because he knew you’d be excavating the side of the sofa, did he?”
Vince shrugged, “Maybe. Maybe he’s the one that hid the remote.”
Howard glanced around the living room of the flat. Piles of old issues of Cheekbone magazine towered higher than the TV. Discarded clothes littered the floor and furniture. In the corners of the room, dust was so thick you couldn’t even see the carpet any more. Naboo’s favourite bong took pride of place on the coffee table, surrounded by old bags of crisps, packets of biscuits, and magazines of gorilla porn. “I don’t think he’d have had to hide it,” Howard commented, “just put it down somewhere. Anyway, if he’s not answering, we’ll have to go and find him.”
He got to his feet, took a step forward and immediately stumbled. Vince instinctively reached out to grab him, but still not used to his body’s new reach was caught off balance and the two ended up sprawled on the floor. The ridiculousness of the situation finally got to Vince and he started to laugh.
That sounded so much like Howard, but to hear it coming out of his own mouth, it shouldn’t be funny, he knew that, but somehow it was. The laughter came even harder, shaking his body so violently that he could hardly breathe, lying on the floor, half on top of Howard. Howard with Vince’s face, but wearing an expression that was so very classically Howard. Howard’s frown cracked as he made eye contact with Vince and caught the giggles too. For a few minutes neither of them could move as mirth turned to hysteria, which got even worse whenever either one looked at the other.
Howard recovered first. Taking a deep breath, he sat up, then half pulled himself back onto the sofa, where he sat panting, watching Vince, who was slowly recovering, but whose entire body was still shaking with silent laughter.
He watched for a minute, two minutes, four. This was starting to get silly. “Vince?” The only response was a deep breath and another wave of hysteria. “Vince, stop it now, okay?” He was having no effect. Tears were running from his eyes, an expression more of terror than amusement on his face. “Vince!” Howard dropped back onto the floor and grabbed the other man hard by the shoulders, shaking him a little, “Vince, that’s enough now, please. You’re going to pass out.”
With considerable effort, Vince bit down hard on his bottom lip, took a series of deep breaths and wiped the tears from his face. He opened his mouth, but the only sound that came out was a kind of croak. His lips twitched into another smile, which he quickly smothered with his hand. Another deep breath, released slowly, and he pulled himself up into a sitting position on the floor. He cleared his throat and took a sip of water from the glass Howard was offering him. He knew it had been sitting on the table since last night, he didn’t know whose it had been, but he didn’t care. He gulped it down, closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them looking straight at Howard. “Sorry about that,”
“You okay now?”
Vince thought about it for a minute, then nodded. “I think so,”
“Good. You take a few minutes to recover, then we’ll set off.”
“Set off?” Vince climbed to his feet collapsed into the nearest chair, “Set off where? There’s no way I’m letting you outside in control of my body.”
Howard stood up and walked, a little more carefully this time, to the sink, replenished Vince’s glass and handed it back to him, Vince accepted it gratefully. “So what do you suggest we do?” he asked. “You know what Naboo’s ‘weekends away’ can be like, he might not be back for a week, he’s not answering his phone. What are we supposed to do in the meantime, just hide out in the flat waiting for him?”
Vince frowned, “Come on, he’ll turn his phone on again sooner or later, unless he’s forgotten the charger again. And even if he has, it’s only one weekend. I mean, alright I had plans, but they can be put off ‘til next week.”
“Did you not listen to a word I just said? We don’t know how long he’ll be gone. A weekend to Naboo doesn’t seem to mean the same thing as it does to normal people like us.” He paused, “Did I just call you normal?”
Vince rolled his eyes at Howard “But how are we meant to find him? He’s a Shaman? He has a magic carpet, travels to different worlds? It’s not like he’s just popped to Asda, is it?”
Howard had already started to leave, and his voice floated back into the room from the hallway, “He left a note on the fridge, he’s staying with a mate in Brighton for a few days. I’ve got the address. Come on. You’ve had time to recover, we should get going.”
“I haven’t had time!”
Howards voice came through a little more irritated this time, “I know my own body, sir. You’ve had ample time. Howard Moon bounces back like that!” He snapped his fingers.
Vince glanced knowingly at the boots left in the middle of the floor, folded his arms and waited.
Howard appeared back in the doorway, “On second thoughts, I’d better put some shoes on first, hadn’t I? What are you just sitting there for, are you coming or what?”
Howard walked quickly into the bedroom, seeming to have got used to his new proportions now. He opened a large cupboard and surveyed Vince’s shoe collection with distaste. His own two pairs lay by the wall, teasing him as he glanced at them longingly. Oh, for comfortable, sensible shoes designed for function rather than fashion. But they wouldn’t fit right now. Unless…
He glanced over at the bed, his favourite pair of sandals were just visible, half underneath. He reached for them, slipped his feet inside and fastened the buckles tightly over Vince’s pink and black striped socks.
“No Howard! No way!” Vince had followed him into the room and was looking at him with nervous uncertainty, as though not sure whether this was a joke or a nightmare.
“What? They’re a bit big, but they’ll do.”
Vince shook his head slowly from side to side, “Howard, you’re not going out…you’re not making me go out looking like that.”
Howard sighed, “If we’re going to find Naboo, Vince, I need to be able to walk, don’t I? It’s hard enough not tripping over your feet as it is, I wouldn’t get out the door in any of those bizarre things you call shoes without falling and breaking my neck. And don’t forget, little man, it’s not my neck at the moment, it’s yours.”
That was true, Vince didn’t want to get back in his body with broken ribs and two black eyes, but there had to be a better solution than this. People would see Howard and think it was him,and if anyone saw him like that, they’d think he’d gone insane. He’d be laughed out of Camden.
“I want to get this fixed as soon as possible. What if it sticks if you leave it too long? You want Naboo to come home and say ‘Sorry, if you’d come and got me yesterday I’d have been able to fix it, but now you’re stuck like that forever.’?”
Howard was probably right. For a day or two, this would be tolerable, maybe even kind of fun, but a lifetime? “Okay, but please lose the sandals. I’ve got some shoes you’ll be able to walk in. Well, one or two pairs.”
“What difference does it make? People aren’t gonna see you, just me.”
“Just like any other day, then,” Vince realised the weight of those few words, but didn’t really know how to respond, and so ignored them. Howard thought about it for a moment, then nodded, “Okay, fine. Show me the shoes.”
“That doesn’t really go either, but if you wore these,” Vince held up a pair of terrifyingly tight looking jeans, “they’d match…oh no, maybe not with those shoes. Here, try these ones instead.”
They’d been at it for two hours now, and Howard had had more than enough. The boots Vince was now suggesting were the very same ones he had been wearing when this all started, the ones he had taken off before attempting to move.
“Vince!” Howard batted the hand holding the boots to one side and Vince flinched as though he had been slapped, “This is ridiculous. We could be there by now. It doesn’t matter what you look like, I’m just going to put on something comfortable and go, okay?”
“Make me look stupid and I’ll…” Vince’s panicked eyes darted around the room, glancing over the piles of discarded clothing. Quick as a flash he grabbed a handful, dived behind the open door of the wardrobe and emerged three seconds later. Howard gasped in horror at the sight of his body squeezed into Vince’s loosest pair of jeans, made very tight by being stretched over Howard’s larger frame. One of Vince’s designer t-shirts stretched across Howard’s chest, not quite disguising the fact that the jean’s didn’t actually fasten. He wore white knee high boots, at least two sizes too small, and a bright pink hat. Vince grinned, “Make me look stupid, and I’ll do this.”
Howard froze, caught between the instinct to laugh and to punch Vince in the face. He settled for something in between. “Okay, so it’s going to be like that, is it?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Howard nodded, “Well, if it’s war you want, sir, you shall have it.” He flung open the door of his side of the wardrobe, pulled out a pair of brown corduroy trousers and an orangey, floral patterned shirt, and started to put them on.
Vince couldn’t watch. He turned around and stormed out of the room as quickly as Howard’s feet in too small shoes would take him, collapsed on the sofa and crossed his arms across his chest in a kind of self-hug. Trembling with rage and exhaustion, he pulled his feet up onto the sofa and curled up in a ball. Tiredness and the remnants of shock threatened to pull him down into sleep, but he fought against it. He needed to remain alert in case Howard decided to sneak out in brown and beige. The jeans were uncomfortably tight, and something was digging painfully into his back. He reached down and removed the remote control from between the back cushions and threw it across the room, where it hit the wall with a satisfying crack and landed on the floor with the batteries missing.
The phone was ringing. Vince opened his eyes to find that the night was over and daylight was spilling into the room through the half-closed curtains. A blanket had been draped over his body and had somehow got twisted around him as he slept. He untangled himself and rushed to the other side of the room, moving naturally now, as though he had been walking in this body his whole life. Hopefully, he reached a hand to his face, and fought down a wave of disappointment as he felt that familiar moustache sitting above his top lip.
He picked up the telephone and answered it with a bleary hello, then grinned widely at the voice at the other end of the line.
Howard woke to his shoulder being violently shaken by a man who looked confusingly identical to himself. It took him a few seconds to remember what had happened, then confusion turned to irritation, “What?”
Vince waved his mobile in front of Howard’s face and Howard grabbed at it eagerly. “Naboo, thank God! Has Vince told you what he did?”
“What I did?” said Vince indignantly, “If you hadn’t snatched it…”
“Vince, shut up, I can’t hear Naboo.”
Vince grinned, “That’s ‘cos he’s not there, genius. He hung up before I came to get you.”
“Oh.” Howard pushed his covers aside and climbed irritably out of bed. He tried to check his watch for the time, but saw Vince’s bare wrist instead. “Then why’d you give me the phone?”
“I didn’t, you just snatched it off me. Again. What’s with that, anyway? Is it your new thing? The Snatcher,” He grinned, “sounds a bit dirty.”
Howard sighed and handed the phone back, “What did Naboo say?”
“He forgot his charger, spent the whole trip listening to mp3s and wore his battery down. His mate doesn’t have a phone, so he rang from a phone box. He says if we need anything we’ll have to wait ‘til he gets home.”
Howard folded his arms and glowered at Vince, “And that was it, was it?”
“Well, no. He reckons Tony Harrison left if there as a practical joke for him and Bollo. Naboo thinks he can sort it out, but not ‘til he gets home.” Vince turned back to the door, “And I did ask him to come back early, but it’s his mate’s 643rd. Apparently that’s a big deal on Xooberon.”
Howard noted with some surprise that Vince had removed his hat, replaced his boots with a pair of Howard’s slippers and hadn’t yet shaved off his moustache or done anything drastic with his hair. Yet. “So in the meantime, what?” he asked, “we’re stuck like this?”
“Great, just perfect.” The tone of his voice led Vince to believe he wasn’t quite as happy as his words implied.
“It’s not that bad, just a weekend. Surely you can cope for two days.”
Howard didn’t like the way Vince was smiling, it was a little unnerving. As though having got over the initial shock, he was ready and excited to explore the world of Howard Moon, and there were things Howard didn’t want to share. Not only that, but how had Vince managed to recover so quickly? He was Howard Moon, man of action, he could adapt to every environment, any situation. So why was is that this still had him so utterly phased?
There was no time to answer the question though, Vince was practically jumping up and down with anticipation. “What do you want to do first? Breakfast? I think we’ve still got some of that cereal with the flavoured sugar lumps in it, lets have some. I wanna see if you really don’t like it, ‘cause I don’t get how that’s possible. And you’ll like it now, since you’ve got my mouth and everything, so you can finally try some.”
Vince bounced through the door, leaving Howard with little choice but to follow.
As it turned out, Vince’s favourite breakfast cereal tasted exactly the same whether he was in Vince’s body or his own; absolutely disgusting. Vince seemed a little disappointed, but at the same time thrilled to discover that as Howard, he was still capable of eating it. Howard watched in horror as he ate three bowlfuls. He didn’t know how the other man managed to keep his figure, the junk he was constantly shovelling into his mouth. It was rare to see him eat anything that wasn’t 90% sugar. He was just blessed that way, a fast metabolism or something. Howard, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. A few days of this, and when they got back in their own bodies, he wasn’t going to be able to fit in any of his clothes.
Rather that wait to see if he was going to have a fourth, Howard retreated to the living room and gazed longingly as his collection of jazz records. He didn’t know what Vince’s supposed allergy to jazz was, since really, when you think about it, it’s not possible to be allergic to a musical genre. Most likely it was one of those psychological things, but he didn’t dare risk it. Instead, he sat on the sofa and buried his face in a book. Not even a book he was actually interested in, just the closest reading material to him. His eyes stared at the pages, but his brain didn’t take the words.
He was vaguely aware of Vince walking past him into the bedroom, but didn’t even notice that he had re-entered the room until he was right in front of him. He had changed into Howard’s clothes; clothes that actually fit. He walked slowly across the room and stopped at the full length mirror hanging on the wall, the second thing he had brought to the flat after they moved in, the first being the mirror in the bedroom. He stood there for a few moments, just looking, and then stuck his tongue out.
Howard returned his attention to his book. He was reading the words, but they just didn’t seem to be sticking. He wondered vaguely whether being in Vince’s body meant everything he saw was being filtered through Vince’s brain before it reached him, and whether there might actually be something wrong with it that prevented him from enjoying anything that didn’t have lots of colourful pictures. It would explain why Vince never read anything more challenging than Cheekbone magazine and the occasional issue of NME.
“Howard. Hey, Howard. Howard? Look at this. Howard?”
Howard looked up to find Vince gurning, pulling his face into the most ridiculous shape. All scrunched up, his cheeks puffed out with air, nose squashed by a finger, eyes squinting. As Howard looked at him he broke into a grin and laughed. “Yeah, that’s great, Vince,” Howard told him, and returned to his book.
“Great? It’s genius. I’m gonna have to take some photos before we switch back!”
Howard ignored him. This was bad enough without the prospect of utter humiliation to look forward to.
“Shouldn’t we have opened the shop by now?”
Howard gave up on the book and placed it back on the floor where he had found it.”I don’t think that’s a very good idea Vince.”
“Why not? Naboo won’t be very happy if he finds out we didn’t even bother opening up on Saturday, it’s the busiest day, you know,”
The busiest day meant there was a chance of one, maybe even two customers popping in, looking around and leaving without buying anything. “I think we can probably risk it,” Howard told him.
Vince looked down at his slippered feet, up again at Howard, picked up and put down a series of random objects from the table in front of him and sighed loudly. “But I’m bored,” he announced, “C’mon Howard, it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do, is it?”
“I thought you didn’t want me going out in public in case I embarrass you. And I’ve got to say, Vince, no offence but I’d rather not have people thinking you’re me either. You were right before, we should both stay here and wait for Naboo.”
“I’ve changed my mind…”
“Doesn’t matter. Just find something to do.”
Vince looked around the room, moving his head theatrically from side to side, eyes sweeping the floor and walls for anything of interest. He got up and wondered into the bedroom, out again, into the kitchen, and finally the bathroom, where he shut the door and locked it with a loud click.
Howard leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling. He tapped his fingers on the sofa arm, rubbed his nose, wondered whether he should tidy up a bit. He tried not to think about Vince witnessing one of his most personal bodily functions. The clock seemed to be ticking louder than normal, Howard ignored it in a very deliberate way that actually made him notice it more. The flat really was a mess, wasn’t it? It was Vince’s doing, and Naboo’s. Somewhere along the way Howard had just got tired of tidying up after them.
The clock ticked louder still, as though it was trying to be noticed. He ignored it again. But…Vince had been in there an awfully long time, hadn’t he? Not that he was worried at all, it was just if there was something wrong, he ought to know. It was his body, after all. If there were any problems…
Howard got to his feet and worked his way through the junk towards the bathroom door, but before he made it, the door opened and Vince emerged, looking very pleased with himself. He made eye contact with Howard for the briefest of moments, then looked away, blushing, the tiniest of smiles on his face.
He hadn’t been..? No, surely not. Howard chased a truly disturbing thought from his mind and sat himself back down. Vince watched him for a second, then slouched into Naboo’s favourite armchair. “I’ve got an idea,” he said, “There’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages,”
“Great,” said Howard, “you go to it.”
“It needs both of us. And we need to go out. You can choose your own clothes, anything you want, as long as it’s mine. And look, I’m already dressed like you. How perfect is that?”
Howard shook his head, “If I don’t want to open the shop, what makes you think I want to wander around town pretending to be you?”
Vince’s head swung around and he glanced at the on the bathroom door, Howard felt the blood rush to his face. “Because I’m bored,” Vince said, “And you’re my friend, so you’re supposed to entertain me. Please? Besides, you’re bored too. I just saw you read the first page of that book seventeen times. This’ll be more fun than that.”
Howard stood up, how bad could it be? The chances of them encountering someone that knew him were practically non-existent, and if Lester Corncrake did happen to be around, he wouldn’t see him anyway. Vince was the one with something to lose if he made a mistake, and Vince was the one nagging him to go, so if anything went wrong, he only had himself to blame.
By the time they left the flat, morning had turned to afternoon and the Saturday shopping crowds were out in force. People barged past, not looking where they were going, not giving anyone but themselves the slightest bit of attention. Even in the middle of that, Howard felt exposed. Like he was being watched.
Even wearing the most subdued of Vince’s outfits, without the make-up and the glitter, Vince, he knew from experience, would stand out. He always had, even when they were children. It was as though there was something inside him that burned brighter and more visibly than in other people. It was the thing Howard had first noticed about him all those years ago.
Howard glanced at the man next to him. Even wearing Howard’s body, it was still there. Less easy to see, true, as though it had been dulled by the clothes he was reluctantly wearing, but it was still there. That gave Howard some modicum of relief, actually. Because if that spark was inside Vince’s consciousness, his soul if you will, it wasn’t there sharing body space with Howard, beaming out ‘look at me’ signals to the entire population of London. Still, that didn’t make him feel entirely better, because he was still hyper-aware of himself.
People jostling past, bumping into him without even bothering to look up were still, in his mind, staring, whispering, pointing. He dug his hands deep into the pockets of Vince’s jacket, aimed his gaze directly at his feet and walked as quickly as he could.
At his side, Vince had an actual, genuine bounce in his step. He practically skipped along the street, seemingly interested in everything in a way that Howard had previously thought only a puppy could be.
“Hmm?” He kept his eyes firmly planted on the floor, if anyone was staring he’d rather remain blissfully ignorant than have to deal with it.
“Did you ever wonder if things look different to different people? Like colours and stuff? ‘Cos before I was always thinking like, yeah I’m seeing blue, but if someone else is looking at it are they seeing something else? Like green or orange or fluorescent pink, but they call it blue ‘cos that’s what they were taught blue looks like. That would explain why some people have no fashion sense. Do you know what I mean?”
“Not really, no.”
“Oh. Well it doesn’t anyway. Everything looks the same.”
“Right.” Howard glanced up from his shoes for a second, “Do you know what doesn’t look the same? Us. So why don’t you stop this jumping up and down thing. You’re not acting like yourself, Vince.”
“I’m not myself,”
That earned the tiniest of smiles from Howard, “Yeah. But you’re not acting like me either, are you? What happened to not embarrassing each other?”
Vince shrugged, “Aren’t you finding this exciting?”
Well, not exciting exactly, intriguing, yes. And given half a chance, he too would be eager to experiment a little, find out just what the world looked like through the eyes of Vince Noir, but he couldn’t. Every time he felt himself starting to relax, it was cut short by a churning in the pit of his… of Vince’s stomach, and a little voice in the back of his mind whispering that if he got too comfortable,enjoyed himself too much, he might not be able to leave. Or worse, he might not want to.
“I said aren’t you finding this exciting.”
Howard dug his hands deeper into his pockets and shook his head. “No, not really. What if one of your friends comes up and talks to me? I’m not going to know what to say. I can’t even do a realistic impression of you when I’m in your body. This is going to be a disaster. Can we just get on with whatever you needed to do that was so urgent and get home? I want to be there when Naboo arrives.”
“What, you mean tomorrow afternoon?” Vince grinned, “I think we’ll make it.” They rounded a corner and Vince’s grin grew even wider. He sped up and disappeared through the glass doors of Topshop. Howard cringed inwardly but followed.
As Howard walked through the sliding glass doors, the closest shop assistant abandoned the jeans he had been re-arranging and rushed over, “Vince!” he placed his hand a little too familiarly on Howard’s arm, and Howard suppressed the urge to shake it away and back off rapidly. Touching was reserved only for the closest of friends, and sometimes not even then.
“How are you?” the man whose name badge declared his name to be Gary asked, “Did you go to Jaques LeCube’s party? I didn’t see you there.”
“Oh, erm…no,” Howard tried to mimic Vince’s accent, but he knew it didn’t sound good. Luckily, Gary didn’t seem to notice. Howard had no idea whether Vince had gone to the party or not, and he couldn’t think of a single thing to say. The only think he could think about was the unwelcome hand on his arm, the intent stare and the fact that Vince seemed to have completely abandoned him. He glanced around the shop, but there was no sign of the other man. Irritated, he pulled his arm free and used it to pretend to browse a rack of t-shirts.
“Oh, right. Cool.” Gary looked relieved, “I thought maybe you was avoiding me or something.” He looked away for a second, and when he looked back, Howard got the distinct impression that he has nervous about something. Probably about chatting to customers when he’s supposed to be working, Howard thought to himself. “So, what are you doing tonight?”
Howard tried to think of a suitably Vince-like claim that he could make, something that sounded believable. But wouldn’t result in him having to go out or Vince appearing a liar. “I…” nothing sprung to mind, “I haven’t decided yet. I’ve got so many invites.”
“Oh, yeah. Me too. But hey, maybe I’ll see you. You going Jaques’ next one? Next Saturday, it’s going to be epic!”
This was getting tedious. Was he going to have to predict Vince’s movements for the rest of the year? And where had Vince gone? Surely he had noticed by now that Howard wasn’t right behind him, surely he should be rescuing him by now. “Yes, why not. Whatever.”
Gary’s face broke into a grin, “Alright! I’ll see you there then.” He wandered off, looking back once to flash Howard he happiest of grins, then carried on with his re-arranging of the jeans.
Howard jumped at more unexpected physical contact as someone tapped him on the shoulder. He spun around to see Vince behind him, arms full of clothes and a mildly pissed off expression on his face, “I only caught the end of that,” he said, “but Howard, please tell me you didn’t just agree to go out with that guy.”
“I…what?” Howard was mortified to find that the encounter had left him physically shaking. It was one thing just being Howard looking like Vince, it was quite a another one to pretend to be Vince to someone who didn’t know what was happening. He had been terrified of being found out, even though it wouldn’t really have mattered. He silently cursed Vince’s body for this uncharacteristic and unnerving physical reaction.
“The bloke you were talking to. Gary. He’s been trying to get me to go out with him for ages, he’s so not my type. Well done you berk. Now what am I going to do?”
“I didn’t say I’d go out with him. I said you’d go to the party. I assumed you would, you go to every other one. If you’d been here to back me up instead of off shopping, it might not have happened. What are we doing here anyway? This has got to be the worst possible time to shop for clothes, how are you going to try anything on?”
Vince smiled, “That’s the genius part. You’re going to try them on, and I get to see what it looks like from all angles.”
“No. No way. I’m not doing that.”
Vince managed not to look hurt, “Well, that was the last part of the plan anyway, maybe you’ll change your mind. The first part is this,” he held up a t-shirt triumphantly.
“A T-shirt. Yes, great plan,” Howard was trying not to sound irritable, but it wasn’t working.
“Do you like it?”
Howard looked at the garment critically. It was an off-white colour with a pattern of squares in different colours printed on the chest. It wasn’t bad, he supposed. Not Vince’s usual style though. “Yeah, it’s okay.”
“It’s for you.”
Vince turned around and walked away, Howard followed again. The walked to the back of the shop and into the changing rooms, where Vince dived into a cubicle and pulled the curtain across. Howard slipped inside after him. “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying these clothes on for you. Don’t worry, there’s no glitter on any of them, they aren’t that tight, and this jacket is even brown. Me in brown, imagine that!”
“If you really don’t like them, I’ll put them back, but please just try. You’ve been wearing the same clothes since, like, 1985. It’s time for a change, don’t you think? I’ve been meaning to get you wearing something decent for a while now, I figured I’m never going to get a chance like this again.”
“I hope not.” Howard sighed and looked at the clothes. “Fine, try them on if it means that much to you.”
“It does!” Vince removed his shirt, the least hideous one he could find in Howard’s side of the wardrobe and slipped on the t-shirt. His hands moved to the fly of his trousers and Howard felt the ridiculous urge to turn away and give him some privacy.
“What do you reckon?” Vince spun around slowly on the spot to give Howard view from all angles.
Howard scratched his forehead and watched critically. It was okay, actually. Not him, definitely not his style, but not bad. He rather liked it. It even seemed to make him look younger, though that could have had something to do with the man currently occupying his body, giving it a relaxed demeanour that it hadn’t know in years.
“You like it, don’t you? I can tell!” Vince was grinning, turning around to inspect Howard’s back in the mirror, his gaze moving down until it rested in a place that Howard wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
“It’s okay, I suppose.”
“Knew it!” Vince gave himself one quick final look in the mirror and began to undress, “Perfect fit, too. How good am I at that?! I’m getting you these. And when you’re you again, you’re wearing them, right. Outside, too.”
Howard shrugged his agreement, it was impossible to argue with someone so enthusiastic. And anyway, he had just gone out wearing Vince, he could probably cope with a new set of clothes.
“Now,” said Vince as he put on Howard’s shirt, “you wanna be a model for a bit?”
It was exhausting. Howard was exhausted.
Vince was relentless, handing him garment after garment, leaving him to change while he left to get more. When they finally staggered out of the changing room, Howard felt completely ready for a long sit down and possibly a nap.
It wasn’t to be. As they walked through the emptying streets, arms laden with shopping bags, Vince suddenly grabbed hold of Howard’s wrist and pulled him sideways. Howard was caught off balance and staggered, almost falling on top of Vince, who somehow managed to hold him upright. “Sorry,”
“What are you doing?”
Vince pointed a little further down the road at a group of people walking in their direction, “My mates,”
Oh. Right. Howard looked frantically from side to side for an escape route, not wanting a repeat performance of his awkward conversation with whatshisname in Topshop.
“This way,” Vince set off at speed the way they had come, and then ducked down a narrow side street. Howard followed as Vince turned off down an alleyway, then ducked through the door of a very well hidden pub.
Howard looked around as he stepped through the door and felt instantly at ease. This was one of those places that had always been there, hidden away known only to a select few. The floor was made of stone slabs warn smooth by hundreds of years of footsteps. To one side of the door, a fire was burning, to the other the bar sold ale on tap. The room was small and badly lit, and the aromatic smell of burning wood and candles filled the air. This was an old man’s pub. Four hundred years of stories and life were soaked into the walls, yet the clientele were predominantly young and good looking.
He glanced at Vince, “What’s this place?”
Vince smiled, “Somewhere not just everyone gets to visit, far too cool for those guys,” a dismissive wave of his hand indicated his friends, probably still wondering up the road not far away.
This was not, thought Howard, the kind of place people should think was cool. Clearly just the fact that not many people knew about it had made it that way. The kids had pushed out the original patrons, and before anyone had time to protest, the real ale would be replaced by alcopops and the roaring fire by a plasma screen TV showing music videos.
For now, though, it was a safe haven of sorts. Howard sat down heavily at a table near the door and watched as Vince went to the bar, gave his order, then turned to chat to two girls standing next to him. As Howard watched, the closest girl frowned at him, shook her head as she answered, then whispered something to her friend. The two giggled, picked up their drinks and moved to a table at the other side of the room.
As Vince watched them leave, his expression changed from charm to confusion to hurt, then re-arranged itself into something resembling neutrality before he thrust a €10 note at the bartender, picked up his two drinks and carried them back to the table.
Howard eyed the two worryingly colourful cocktails adorned with umbrellas warily. Okay, so maybe the trendy-take-over had already begun. He took a sip through the curly straw, it actually wasn’t that bad. In deference to good taste he winced a little and shot Vince a look that signified his disapproval.
Vince smiled and shook his head, “You like it,”
Howard didn’t answer, just kept his head down and drank some more. His eyes scanned the room for anyone looking at them, ready to escape before one of Vince’s friends turned up, but no one was paying them the slightest bit of attention. He took another sip, wondering vaguely if he really liked whatever the hell this was, or whether Vince’s taste buds were just acclimatised to it.
At the side of his vision, the two girls from the bar stood up, leaving their empty glasses on their table and walked out the door. Vince’s eyes followed them as they went. As they walked past Howard, both turned to look at him, slowing down to get a better view. The girl Vince had spoken to smiled shyly, and they they rushed out of the door.
Howard felt himself blushing under the scrutiny and nervously tapped out a rhythm on the table with his fingertips while spinning his glass around with the other hand. “Friends of yours?” he whispered after the door closed behind them.
Vince shook his head, “No, definitely not.”
“Then why were they staring at me?”
Vince’s eyes rolled, “They fancy you. Haven’t you looked in the mirror recently?”
“Oh,” Howard’s finger tapping grew louder.
“Feels good to be gorgeous, don’t it?” Vince smiled, “Wear those clothes I got you, maybe let me sort out you hair and it’ll keep happening even when you’re you again. Unlike at the moment.” His expression darkened and Howard re-played the encounter at the bar in his mind. Vince had been trying to chat the girls up, they hadn’t been interested. Not a huge deal to most people, but for Vince it may have been a completely new experience.
Vince took a sip of his drink and inspected the tabletop, drawing a pattern in the condensation that had dripped down the side of his glass creating a ring around the bottom. Howard watched for a while,wondering whether he should say something. After all, he had years of rejection experience, maybe he would be able to help. He took a deep breath, “You okay, Vince?”
Vince looked up, “Yeah, ‘course. Who wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know, you just seemed a little… down? It’s not like you,”
A spin of his straw around the bottom of his glass moved all the ice around, releasing yet more colour that had settled around it. Vince picked up the large glass, brought it to his lips and finished off the drink with a large gulp. “More like you, right?” He smiled, “I’m getting the full Howard Moon experience.” He glanced at the door as though the two girls might still be lurking on the other side, “They weren’t that great anyway.”
Howard was sure he’d just been insulted, but he didn’t feel like retaliating. Vince’s uncanny luck with women and men alike was a source of constant irritation and jealousy to Howard, and in one way he was almost happy to see him get a taste of how the other half lived. But in another he almost felt guilty. Vince wasn’t designed to deal with rejection, just look how he had reacted at Howard’s birthday party when the girl Howard had been waiting for arrived. He didn’t know how to deal with it, and Howard had once again, unintentionally this time, inflicted it upon him. Besides, what did it say about Howard’s chances of eventually losing his virginity if even inhabited by Vince and all his charm, his body was incapable of attracting anyone. It was too depressing for words.
“You ready?” Vince got to his feet and pulled his jacket back on, “The coast should be clear by now.”
Howard nodded, drained his own drink and picked up various shopping bags, mostly containing Vince’s clothes. He swayed as he stood, whatever was in those drinks, they were pretty strong.
They walked home quickly, the streets blissfully empty of Vince’s friends. Shaking fingers managed on the third attempt to insert a key into the lock and as soon as they were in, Howard closed the door on the outside world with a sense of relief. His muscles relaxed, tension that had set in the instant they left the flat evaporated. Home. Safety.