Kendle said he wouldn’t be back from work until 9 p.m. Spending the rest of the evening one-on-one with Derrick is not Lenny’s idea of a perfect Saturday night. Not having your own home sucks! The bus pulls up at the bus-stop, but Lenny pretends he hasn’t been waiting and starts walking in the opposite direction. He’ll just quickly check out the ‘Four Bells’, one of his mates might be there.
And surely, Vic waives at him from their usual corner table. Lilliann is with him. Even Vic can get laid, and he only changes his shirt once a week.
“Looking gorgeous, darling,” Lenny kisses Lilliann’s powdered and painted cheek. Her sweet and spicy perfume makes him want to sneeze. “You smell like a ginger biscuit.”
“See!” she kicks Vic under the table. “The mister here said it smelt like cat piss.”
“I didn’t! I just asked if the neighbour’s cat wandered into our house again.”
“’Cause you smelt cat piss.”
“You smell yummy though,” Lenny says to get her off the topic. “I’d eat you.”
He pretends to bite her neck. Lilliann giggles.
“Oi, that’s my woman!” Vic protests. “Get your own one!”
Lenny didn’t mean to hit on his girlfriend: Lilliann is tall, bony, loud, with a head of yellow curls and bright pink lipstick – not his type at all. But it might not be a bad idea, to find someone new. A little distraction. A bed to sleep in.
“Do you have any single girlfriends?” he asks Lilliann.
“Hmm,” she looks him over critically. “I might. What kind of women do you like?”
“Sort of – cuddly,” he draws circles with his hands. “And nice. Friendly. Warm.”
“Write down,” Vic translates, “big boobs, big arse, and desperate, ‘cause he can’t handle a critical attitude.”
“Thanks for moral support, mate.”
“Have you found a new job yet?” Lilliann asks. Lenny rolls his eyes, sighs and shakes his head. “That’s bad.”
“Wait, your own boyfriend is on benefits and lives at your house!”
Lilliann shrugs with girlish innocence: “Yeah, but he is sexy. Aren’t you, darling?” She smudges Vic with a wet kiss on the lips; Lenny hardly has time to avert his eyes.
“Well, tastes differ,” he mutters into his pint.
* * *
Kendle opens the door for him as Lenny gets home. He is still wearing his uniform – including a pink tie. Lenny chuckles.
“God, what a stupid tie!”
“Piss off.” Kendle leaves the door open for him, rubs his bloodshot eyes and stumbles back to his bedroom.
“Works with your eye colour!” Lenny shouts after him. “Hi, Derrick.” There is Mr. Baines again spread on his old couch in front of the TV. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Hell knows what, he always has something. When I was his age, I had to take care of a wife and a baby, and I didn’t complain! And here he is, in my house, gets everything on a silver platter, and he still wants some special treatment. Have you got any beer in there?”
Lenny finds himself still standing in the doorway with two Tesco’s bags in his hands. The heavier one in his right hand if full of beer to replace what they finished up last night.
“Here you go.” He gives a bottle to Derrick. “I’ll put the rest in the fridge.”
He backs out of the living room, but instead of the kitchen, he drops off the bags in the corner of Kendle’s bedroom. Kendle is lying on the bed, his head under a pillow.
“Are you crying?”
“No,” Kendle says in a nasal voice. Lenny sits down on the floor next to the bed and peeks under the pillow. It’s wet and stuffy in there. “Piss off,” Kendle pushes away his hand and hides again like a giant turtle in a too tiny shell.
“A beer?” Lenny offers.
“Okay. I’ll have one. A sandwich? I got some at a seventy-percent discount. They always drop the price at the end of the day. I hope it tastes better than it looks.” Kendle stretches out a hand, and Lenny puts a sandwich into it. “I wonder how you’re gonna eat under that pillow.”
Kendle has to crawl out into the light and starts unpacking the sandwich. He sniffles and wipes his nose at the back of his hand.
“What’s with the tie?” Lenny hits the bottle cap against the bedframe to open it. It leaves a mark on the wood. Oops.
Kendle remembers he is still wearing the pink horror around his neck and wriggles out of it.
“Bastards. No decent pay, no respect, and then this stupid uniform. Makes your face look like you have acne. Today our system shut down, and we couldn’t sell any tickets. On top of that, there was a storm in the Mediterranean, so flights to a ton of holiday destinations were delayed. And who had to deal with the furious crowd? No, not the manager, me! I’m standing there like an idiot: ‘No, sorry, I can’t change your ticket, please take a seat in the waiting area, we will take care of it. No, sorry, I can’t make the storm end, I’m not fucking God!’ So I feel like a hamster in a wheel. Babies start screaming. People are yelling at me, like it’s all my fault. Two hours later, the manager appears from his lunch break all refreshed and elegant, like a prime minister, and you know what he says? ‘Mr. Baines, you are responsible for creating this chaos, so if there are any complaints, they will go onto your file’, Kendle mimics in a pretentious voice.
“Yep, what a bastard,” Lenny agrees. “Put a laxative in his coffee. See how refreshed he feels after that.”
Kendle giggles. “Eww, Lenny.”
Lenny pretends to enjoy a cup of coffee, then pulls a face, pops his eyes out, looks down and gives a tiny desperate wail. Kendle bursts out laughing.
“I’ll remember this every time he tries to screw with me. You know why he always takes ridiculously long lunch breaks? Everyone says he’s banging the girl from the coffee lounge in the back room. Our guys even went to check, and she always has a break at the same time as he does. And he’s married! He’s wearing a ring! I mean, he comes home in the evening and kisses his wife, ‘How was your day, darling?’, and looks her in the eye as if nothing happened. That’s sick, I could never live a lie like that.”
“No, I suppose you couldn’t. You’re a terrible liar.”
“That’s not the point! How do you stay in two relationships at once and not go mad? How do you love two people at once? My head would explode.”
“I think the trick is he doesn’t do them simultaneously. He loves one during the day, and the other one at night. It’s like working two shifts at two different pubs,” Lenny says with grave seriousness. Kendle considers it.
“You think? But wouldn’t it be easier to choose the one he loves best and stay with her?”
“Maybe he doesn’t know which one he loves best.”
“That’s sad.” Kendle starts chewing on his sandwich melancholically. “If I loved someone, I’d want to stay with that person forever and ever.”
“Yep, that’s why he has two birds, and you have none.” Kendle pulls a face as if he had a toothache. “You’re overthinking it. He just likes a quick shag during his lunch break, that’s all. And he probably has two kids and a mortgage with his wife, so he won’t leave her for a fling.” This reminds Lenny. “I wouldn’t mind a quick shag myself.” He sighs. “It’s been,” he counts on his fingers, “more than six months since I’ve done it with a real person.”
“I thought your divorce was only a month ago.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like we’ve been a couple of love birds up until the court date, right? I’ve been sleeping on the couch for months. One night we were getting ready for bed, and she sat me down and she cried and told me she couldn’t do it anymore. So I said I’d sleep downstairs just for that night, ‘cause I thought she’d get over it. We never slept in the same bed again. That was right after Christmas. Her parents came to visit, so I think she kept the pretence around them, and as soon as they left,” Lenny flicks his fingers dismissively. “A great start of the year, what?”
Kendle slides down to the floor to sit next to him and hugs him around the neck. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “It’ll be alright. Remember that film we saw, where the guy says, life is like a box of chocolates.”
“What, it’s less and less of them left in the box, and the ones that are left turn dry and tasteless with time?”
“No, I’m sure he meant something different. I can’t remember what exactly.”
“Thanks, Kendle, that’s very helpful.”
“I believe he meant you’d meet someone else, ‘cause you’re a fantastic person, Lenny. You’ll fall in love, and go to Paris and kiss under the Eiffel tower. And soon you’ll be sending everyone cheesy pictures like that.” Kendle cuddles up to Lenny, presses their cheeks together and pretends to take a picture of them both holding a camera at arm’s length. “Smile, honeypie!” he sings in a girly voice.
“’Cause me mates absolutely need another reason to make fun of me,” Lenny grumbles, although Kendle’s silly game does make him feel a little easier.
“When you’re in love, you don’t care what other people think.”
“People look silly when they’re in love, and they don’t even realise it.” Like Vic with smears of pink lipstick around his mouth. Lilliann didn’t notice, and Lenny didn’t tell him just for the sake of it. When Vic walked up to the bar, the stares and giggles were precious. “A quick wank would be nice though,” Lenny slides his hand across Kendle’s tense belly.
Kendle giggles. “You’re tickling me.”
Lenny traces Kendle’s side with his fingertips up towards his armpit. “Am I? Sorry.”
“Piss off, Lenny!” Kendle giggles nervously and tries to kick him. “Dad’ll hear us.”
“It’s you who’s laughing like crazy.”
“Stop tickling me!” Kendle falls backwards in a desperate attempt to get away.
“What if I won’t?” Lenny pins him down and grinds their crotches together. As Kendle’s body heats up, it radiates the smell of sweat and Old Spice deodorant.
They’ve done it so many times. You start with your pants on, until you get hard and it hurts, pull your pants down and rub your cocks between your wet bellies. “Got any Vaseline?”
“Lenny, I can’t.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be quiet.”
“I don’t want to.”
“The hell you do. You’ve got a boner.”
“I really don’t.”
“Oh, come on! Don’t play hard-to-get with me, do you want a ring first or what?”
“Lenny, I have a girlfriend.”
Kendle is staring away from him, up at the Joy Division poster on the wall, the one with the weeping angel from ‘Love will tear us apart’. Lenny lifts himself up on his elbows.
“No, you don’t! If you did, you would’ve bragged about it first thing!”
“You were talking about your divorce non-stop, I didn’t want to rub it in!”
Lenny sits up. “Oh, great, thanks, I feel much better now you’ve made a fool out of me!”
Kendle gathers himself from the floor and sits on the bed. “Sorry about that.”
“When did you meet her?”
“That was quick.”
“What does she do?”
“Flight attendant with FastJet.”
“She must be pretty then.”
“Yeah, she is.”
“No, sort of brown.”
“Have you slept with her?”
“Lenny, I won’t answer that!”
“So you haven’t?”
“How many times?”
“Here?” Lenny is skeptical.
“No, at her place!”
“Can I meet her?”
“Aha!” Lenny exclaims triumphantly.
“No, ‘cause you’re disgusting! I don’t want you to be disgusting to my girlfriend.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Think whatever you want.”
They pick up their sandwiches and chew in silence for a while.
“My son said today I wasn’t his dad and he didn’t want to speak to me anymore.”
“That sucks.” Kendle says.
“Yep.” Lenny crumples the plastic sandwich wrap and throws it into a corner.
* * *
Derrick’s TV is blasting away with gunfire and explosions. How can Kendle sleep through this racket? Although it’s his day off tomorrow, Kendle called it a night at 1 a.m. leaving Lenny one-on-one with his dad. Derrick has no intention of getting off the couch until the film is over, so Lenny also has to sit through it, too. It’s one of the latest Hollywood productions with that egg-headed actor Lenny can’t remember the name of. He is always wearing the same blank facial expression; even the good old Stallone had more variety. Derrick watches the film intently, but without a flicker of emotion.
“Do you reckon he does the stunts himself?” Lenny asks to break the silence. Derrick grunts and shrugs. Lenny counts that as a sign that the ice is broken.
“So, Kendle’s girlfriend, what’s she like?”
“Who?” Derrick doesn’t take his eyes off the screen.
“His girlfriend. The stewardess. Brown hair, pretty. Have you met her?”
“Why’d a pretty girl fall for this lazy bastard? He still lives with his dad!” Derrick laughs at his own joke.
“Well, apparently one has. Kendle is quite good-looking. I mean, girls seem to like his type.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t knock her up then.” Derrick opens another beer.
* * *
“I have no idea where it is!” Kendle’s voice rises to a shrill. Lenny wakes up with a start, sits up and clutches his head. Will there be a morning without a headache?
“Oh no, you do! You sold it, didn’t you? I know what you’re doing! You steal my stuff while I’m asleep, and then you sell it!”
The voices are coming from Derrick’s bedroom.
“Who’d want your old soldering iron?”
“It was ten quid when I got it. Not your modern cheapie crap!”
“When was the last time you used it?” Kendle tries to speak calmly, but his voice is shaky.
“When I had to solder that stupid blender for your mum over and over again. I don’t know why the bloody woman had to only eat food that looked like vomit.”
Kendle is silent for a moment, then there is a thud, like he threw something heavy on the floor.
“I’m not looking for your fucking soldering iron! You must’ve lost it years ago!”
He storms into the living room – nods “Hi, Lenny” – kneels in front of a closet and begins to rummage in it frantically. Lenny catches himself staring, falls back onto the pillow and pretends to be far away from here.
“I never lose anything!” Derrick appears in the doorframe. “I know exactly where my things are, and you, little shit, were stealing money from my pockets even as you were this big.” Derrick draws a ridiculously low line with his hand, at about a 3-year-old’s height.
“Here,” Kendle pulls a black box from underneath a pile of old magazines and throws it towards his father. “Here’s your soldering iron. Stuff it.” He gets up. “And yeah, I did take your money and spend it on whores and booze even as I was this big!”
“You little thieving bastard,” Derrick says in a slow and low voice that makes Lenny’s stomach turn. Kendle takes a step back, but he is almost standing inside the closet already.
Time to wake up.
“Morning, Derrick!” Lenny jumps out of bed, without taking notice of his headache, and stretches his back. “Lovely weather again, eh? What’s for breakfast? Or did you have breakfast without me? I could make some scrambled eggs, if we have eggs. No? Then Kendle and I should make a trip to the supermarket. I’ll just put away my bed, so you can have your cosy couch back.”
Lenny keeps talking and talking, because you need to engage people, be friendly, be everywhere at once, then they’ll lose track and follow you and buy into whatever you are saying. He moves around putting away the bedclothes, getting dressed as quickly as possible.
“So, some eggs and tomatoes, and maybe some cheese and ham, some ketchup as well, or do you prefer mustard, Derrick? Yeah, both, and the brown sauce.” Lenny pulls at Kendle’s t-shirt to get him moving. “We’ll see you later, Derrick, ta-dah!”
In the lift, Kendle leans heavily onto the graffiti-d wall (a new message there: “Hassan fucks Chelsey”).
“Sorry ‘bout that.”
“Yeah,” Lenny shrugs. “Everyone needed a bit of fresh air. What did he want the soldering iron for?”
“Hell knows. He sometimes gets these ideas.”
“Did you really steal money from him?”
“Mum did sometimes to get by until the next payday. She’d wait until he returned from the pub and take a couple of quid. The next day he just assumed he’d spent it on that extra pint. But if he noticed, I’d tell him it was me, because I could run faster,” Kendle gives a short laugh. “But mostly he didn’t notice. Don’t get the wrong idea, we didn’t starve, Dad always earned enough. He’d just sometimes get stubborn and tell Mum we ate too much. He still has no idea how much the groceries cost.”
The lift stops. They walk out of the grey concrete box of a high-rise into a beautiful sunny morning. Lenny squints and covers his eyes. Kendle smiles and turns his face under the sunrays, as if standing under a warm shower.
“Mum had this blender, it used to break down all the time. Dad would make a scene, but then repair it, and it’d break down again two weeks later. I almost never saw her eat normal food, just these cooked carrots or celery or peas, mashed to look like baby food. And when she made us dinner, she’d always say, ‘I’m not hungry’, or ‘I’ve already eaten’, and just sit there sipping tea with milk. She loved her tea with milk.”
Kendle squeezes his eyes shut tightly and sighs. Lenny pats his shoulder.
“I’m sure she was great. It’s a pity I never got to meet her.”
“She would’ve liked you,” Kendle says with conviction.
On their way back – with the eggs and tomatoes, cheese and ham, ketchup and mustard, as promised – Kendle suddenly pushes his bag into Lenny’s hand and shoots forward like he has seen a fire.
“Oi, Kendle, what’s wrong with you?” Lenny almost drops the eggs as he tries to get a better hold on the plastic handle. A minute later he catches up with Kendle at the house entrance and finds him up against the gloomy teenager on a red Vespa that refused to show Lenny the way a few days back.
“Don’t touch it, or I’ll rip your ears off!” Kendle is shouting desperately. Very unconvincing.
“Go on then,” the teenager says, looking down at his sneakers, his hands behind his back. It’s a wonder he doesn’t laugh out into Kendle’s face.
“Next time – I will!” Kendle promises.
“See you next time then.” He glances up at Lenny approaching, turns around and disappears into the house. His gut feeling probably told him he wouldn’t stand a chance against two grown men, even if one of them seems to have no spine.
“I’m calling the police next time!” Kendle shouts after him. “You’ll see!”
“Stop screaming. What did he do?” Lenny asks as he comes closer.
“He keeps playing with my Vespa!” Kendle kneels next to the bright red moped and strokes its shiny side, checking for scratches.
“Why are you so surprised?”
“You can actually ride it?” Lenny asks.
“Of course, I can! I didn’t bring it all the way from London just to admire it.”
“You rode it up here from London? In winter?”
Kendle shudders. “I couldn’t just leave it, could I? And I didn’t have any money for a ticket, so…”
“You are kidding me.”
Kendle goes around the Vespa to check the mirrors.
“It uses very little petrol, so it was quite cheap. It wasn’t too bad.”
“In December?” Lenny asks again in disbelief.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it. I had to take country roads, it took me forever,” Kendle admits. “But it was fun. Sort of. An adventure. More fun in summer though.”
“We could go somewhere today, if you want!” Kendle is suddenly enthusiastic. “It’s really cool, I promise!”
“Um.” Lenny would look silly clutching at Kendle’s back on top of a tiny red Vespa. But on the other hand, Stuart would be so impressed. It’s a hard choice.
“Are you scared?” Kendle cocks his head.
“You are! I dare you: I’ll get the keys, and we’ll ride around the block. Wait here!”
“Kendle, the groceries!” Both Lenny’s hands are full, so he gives an annoyed shrug to point it out. Kendle takes a bag off him.
While the eggs are sizzling in the pan, Kendle makes a cup of tea for himself and an instant coffee for Lenny.
“We are going for a ride after breakfast?” he nods in anticipation as he sits down. If he were a dog, his tail would be working like a little drum machine.
“Actually, I promised to see the kids today.”
“Oh.” Kendle stops smiling. “I see. That’s important.”
“And I’m sure you’ll want to meet your girlfriend today. It’s your only day off this week.”
Kendle pours milk into his tea and stirs it slowly. “Not today. She’s away on a flight.”
“How sad,” Lenny says without a hint of sadness in his voice. “I won’t be able to meet her then.”
“She is real. Her name is Deb. Deborah.”
“I can hear no tenderness in your voice,” Lenny remarks to wind him up. Kendle grimaces in what he thinks is a romantic expression.
“Deborah. Debbie. Deb– oh, shit!” He jumps up as he notices the eggs burning.
“Where’s my breakfast?” Derrick yells.
“Coming! Fuck,” Kendle mutters. “Lenny, does this look alright to you?”
“Just remove the black bits.”
Kendle serves a half of the scrambled eggs on a plate and takes it to the living room for his dad.
“Are you retarded? You can’t even fry an egg“, Lenny can hear Derrick start a rouse again. He sighs and gets up.
“Hey, Derrick, sorry about your breakfast,” he puts on his widest smile and sticks his head into the living room. “I’m not used to a gas stove, we had an electric one, so I might have burnt it a little.”
“It’s not too bad,” Derrick grunts and picks up the fork. “Kendle, get me some brown sauce, will ye?”
The look of relief on Kendle’s face is worth it. Lenny gives him a tiny wink and returns to the kitchen first. He puts two slices of bread into the toaster and sits down at the table to cut the ham. After dealing with the sauce, Kendle tiptoes in as well – and grabs Lenny from behind in a surprise hug.
“Oh, Lenny, I love you!”
“Oi, careful, I’ve got a knife in my hand!”
“Can I come with you? Please, I can’t stay at home! If you want, I can drop you off and wait in a pub, but please, please, let me come with you!”
“I don’t know.” Lenny drawls out. “Will you teach my son how to ride a moped?”
“Alright then,” Lenny agrees, as if unwillingly.
“Thank you!” Kendle breathes out straight into his ear, so that Lenny has to wince and rub at it. “What are you doing?”
“Making a sandwich.”
Kendle laughs. “No, why are you cutting the ham like this?” He leans forward across Lenny’s shoulder and picks up one of the edges Lenny has sliced off.
“Because, you see,” Lenny puts a toast down in the middle of the plate, “the bread is square-shaped, and the ham is round, but we don’t want any bits hanging over, so we have to cut them off.”
“Why?” Kendle stuffs the extra pieces into his mouth.
“Because–” Lenny pauses. Because Matt would rather starve than eat a wrong sandwich. But Matt is not here, and Lenny might never ever have to make breakfast sandwiches for him again. “It tastes better this way, you should try it,” he says instead with as much conviction as possible.
“Wow, I didn’t know that,” Kendle agrees, wide-eyed. “Make one for me as well.”