Double or Nothing

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2 - Father and Son

‘Why are you here?’ I asked him. I had no time for pleasantries with him. My father was a horrid man. He had beat my mum before I was born, and then left her for another woman while she was heavily pregnant. I had seen him since, of course, but he had hated me for my ‘lifestyle choice’ of being in a same-sex relationship. He was homophobic, racist, misogynistic and basically just a massive bigot. He was violent and rude, he was pretty much archetypal Neanderthal with a little more hatred brewed inside him.

‘I came to see you. I know things haven’t been exactly easy between us-’

‘Do you really think that’s a wise choice of words?’ I asked, very close to losing my temper. ‘I told you I never wanted to see you again. Nothing has changed. Get out of my house, and stay away. And before you say anything, be aware that if you don’t leave when asked I will not hesitate to call the police as you are trespassing.’ I warned him.

‘Ryan, just hear him out.’ Caleb told me.

‘Why should I? This man has been the cause of all my problems since birth. I won’t stand for him coming into my house, uninvited and making himself at home, no matter what he has to say.’

‘Your grandmother is dead.’ My father told me, almost shouting. ‘She died yesterday. I came to tell you and to invite you to the funeral, which is next week.’

‘You’re lying. She might be dead, but that’s not why you came. I never knew her. You know I wouldn’t feel to badly about it, she was a stranger to me.’ I sighed. ‘Just get out.’

‘But-’ He began.

‘GET OUT!’ I screamed.

He stood up and walked past me toward the door. He walked outside without a word, and once I heard the door click behind me, the tears started.

Caleb walked toward me and wrapped his arms around me, and I buried my head in his shoulder. I was rarely ever that angry, but I couldn’t deal with him. Not when everything was going right. Not when things were just fixing themselves. When I was making a life for myself. He always showed up at the worst times, and this time he showed up at the best time and ruined it.

‘I didn’t realise, I’m sorry.’ Caleb whispered.

‘It’s not your fault. It’s his. It’s what he does.’ I sighed.

‘Still, I let him in, I should have spoken to you, first.’

‘No, no. This is your house, too. You have every right to invite people in, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wish you would have warned me at the very least, but I understand why you let him in.’ I told him.

‘As long as it’s okay.’ Caleb said, moving away from me a little but keeping gripping my arms with his hands. ‘You okay now?’ He asked.

‘I’m fine.’ I said, wiping my eyes. ‘Let’s just have dinner, watch some TV and forget about it. He won’t show up again for a while. He has a habit of coming back after long periods of time.’ I sighed.

‘Okay. Well I’m halfway to finishing dinner, so if you want to put the TV on, then we can eat when it’s done.’ Caleb told me, moving toward the kitchen.

‘Okay, thanks for doing that.’ I said, smiling a little. I picked up the remote for the TV and flicked through the channels until I settled on one that I wasn’t overly interested in but was the best I could find at that point in time.

‘So how was work?’ Caleb asked me.

‘It was okay. Josh wasn’t himself though, apparently he and Liam are going through some trouble.’ I said.

‘Oh really? What about?’ Caleb asked.

‘Well evidently Liam thinks there’s something going on between Josh and me, which is totally ridiculous, but apparently he’s taking some convincing.’ I shrugged. ‘It’s not really our place to get involved, but I feel kinda bad for Josh, I mean I’d hate it if you trusted me that little to think I was cheating on you and for you not to believe me when I told you I wasn’t.’

‘Yeah, it must be pretty awful.’ Caleb shrugged. ‘But I guess some people just aren’t as trusting as others. Some people have serious trust issues and once something is in their head, it takes a lot to convince them otherwise, because they feel they can’t trust anyone to tell them the truth.’ Caleb mused.

‘When did you get all into human psychology?’ I asked, grinning.

‘Shortly after you did. It began annoying me that you knew more about me than I did, I felt like we were on uneven ground when you could figure me out and I couldn’t get close to figuring anyone out. So I started studying psychology in my spare time. I thought I told you.’ He explained.

‘I think you might have mentioned it, but I didn’t realise how serious you were. How are you finding it?’ I asked.

‘It’s interesting. People are very intriguing.’ He told me.

‘I know, right?’ I smiled.

‘Anyway, dinner is done, do you want to eat in here or would you rather eat in the living room?’ He asked.

‘I’ll come through. There’s not much on TV anyway.’ I said, getting off the sofa and walking toward the kitchen.

‘Okay, here you go. Bon Appetit.’ Caleb said, placing a plate down in front of me.

‘Wrong language. Spaghetti bolognese is Italian.’ I corrected, grinning.

‘Okay, well I don’t know how to say that in Italian so you’ll just have to make do.’ He chuckled, sitting opposite me with his own plate.

After eating we watched TV for a while before heading to bed. We didn’t have many plans for the next day, but we decided to go out for lunch. Now I was earning a little more money we could afford to go out a little more, and he had also been told he’d be starting work the next Monday as his interview had gone very well and he’d gotten the job.

And so, I found myself in a Japanese restaurant on Saturday lunch time munching, well, more like slurping, on a bowl of chicken ramen noodles. It was delicious, but not something we had often. We had come here because it was something Caleb wanted, and it was his job we were celebrating. I wasn’t really all for Japanese food generally, but I quite liked the noodles.

‘So are we going to the cinema tomorrow?’ I asked Caleb.

‘Yeah, sure.’ He nodded.

‘Is it okay if Josh and Liam come with? I mean, they might not want to, but I mentioned it to Josh yesterday and he said he’s been wanting to watch that movie as well.’ I explained.

‘I guess so. I mean, I don’t mind if they come along, but if they let their issues get in the way, we’re leaving them behind. Deal?’ He asked.

‘Yeah, sure. I don’t think they’d do that anyway, but if they do we’ll head off on our own.’ I agreed.

‘Okay, then sure, if they want to come then they can.’

‘Great. I’ll have a chat with Josh later and see if they want to come.’ I grinned.

‘So are we doing anything today?’ Caleb asked me, looking at his watch. It was 12:30, and we had taken our time getting ready that morning as we knew we had no commitments.

‘Well I don’t have anything planned, but if you can think of something we can do, I’m up for it.’ I said, shrugging.

‘We could always go bowling.’ He suggested, smirking at me. He knew I was terrible at bowling, but he wasn’t much better, and we always had fun, because neither of us really cared about how bad we were.

‘I’m up for it if you are.’ I nodded in agreement.

So after lunch we went to the bowling place in town. We payed, changed our shoes, and then headed to the alleys to play. We had paid for 3 games, which meant we could play best of 3 and would kill at least an hour of our time. We laughed and joked and made very bad shots which ended up in the gutter and basically didn’t really care.

It turned out that Caleb won, he won 2 games to my 1. We weren’t really competitive about it though, as we both knew it could go either way.

After bowling we played a couple of rounds of air hockey to kill a little more time before heading home to relax for the evening in front of the TV.

After having dinner and a couple of hours of TV time we went to bed. I was concerned, by that point, that I hadn’t received an update from Josh about going to the cinema the following day, and decided I would ask him the next morning.

As it so happened I awoke the next morning to a text message from Josh, saying that he and Liam would love to join us and asking if he wanted us to take his car.

I quickly replied expressing my excitement at the four of us going together and told him we would appreciate the ride into town, if he was okay to do so.

‘Looks like Josh and Liam are coming with us.’ I told Caleb as we got out of bed and headed toward the kitchen to get some breakfast.

‘Oh, well it’s good that they are coming.’ Caleb said, smiling at me.

‘Yeah, plus Josh is gonna give us a lift to the cinema as well, so we don’t need to worry about getting there.’ I added, looking through the cupboards for something to eat.

My phone made the odd, pinging sounds that notified me that I had a text message. I took it out of my pocket and realised it was Josh. He reminded me that I had neglected to tell him the time of the movie, or which cinema we were going to. I replied informing him it was set for 5pm and it was the one on St George’s Street, which was very close to the city centre.

After breakfast Caleb and I decided to go for a walk. There was a park nearby, and it was a mild day, it wasn’t overly hot, but it wasn’t cold either, so we headed out to take a leisurely stroll. It wasn’t something we did often, but it was nice to get some fresh air, spend some time together, and have a nice chat, all at the same time.

‘So what do you think of Josh and Liam?’ Caleb asked me as we walked through the park.

‘Well, Josh is a really nice guy, he seems to genuinely care about other people, and he is always friendly and happy and I like him.’ I said, blurting out whatever came to mind. ‘Whereas I’m not sure about Liam, I haven’t spoken to him much but he seems to always have issues just below the surface and he seems to not like me very much and he has quite an aggressive vibe going on. Even though he was nice enough when we first met, it wasn’t long after that when I started getting the cold shoulder and I don’t think I deserve it, and his disbelief of Josh makes me wonder even more what is actually going on in his head.’

‘I see what you mean, but I think you need to give Liam a chance. He’s obviously trying, otherwise he wouldn’t be coming with us to the cinema.’ Caleb mused.

‘I guess you’re right. Either that or Josh told him he was going either way and Liam was too suspicious to let him go alone.’ I laughed, but then wondered if that could be true and my laughter was cut short.

‘Yeah, maybe.’ Caleb nodded.

I leaned my head on his shoulder, and intertwined our fingers as we walked. It was nice being close like this. We sometimes got odd looks, some people even looked disgusted at times, but when we were together like this I didn’t care. I was just happy to be with him. Sometimes I found myself wondering what I had done to deserve the amazing relationship we had together.

‘What are you thinking about?’ Caleb asked me, as I had fallen silent.

‘How lucky I am.’ I said, smiling.

‘You know, you should really stop that, my ego is gonna be so huge I won’t be able to get through the door soon.’ He chuckled.

‘Who said I was thinking about you?’ I teased, poking him in the side, just below the ribs.

‘Oh come on, you’re always thinking about me when you say stuff like that.’ Caleb said, smirking. I couldn’t fault him with his logic. He was absolutely right.

‘Yeah, you’re right, I’m far too predictable.’ I shrugged. ‘Oh well. I can’t help it, you’re just so great.’ I moved away from him and stuck my tongue out at him, before jogging in the direction we were headed, away from him. When I looked back and he was jogging toward me, I sped up, until I was sprinting down the pathway. I was faster than him not long before then, so when he put his arms around my waist and pulled me towards him, I was quite surprised. And that’s why I squealed.

Caleb let me go, and was too busy laughing to get the words ‘are you okay?’ out of his mouth. I pushed him slightly and then he was literally rolling on the floor laughing.

‘It wasn’t that funny.’ I groaned. I stomped my foot on the ground like a petulant child and crossed my arms against my chest. ‘You’re acting like it was hilarious, it was a sound of surprise and slight fear. I didn’t know it was you. I used to be faster than you.’

‘I’m sorry, I really am, I just wasn’t expecting you to make that noise.’ He relapsed into another fit of laughter. ‘No, honestly, it was kinda cute.’ He said, stopping his laughter and walking towards me. He put his arms around me and kissed my forehead. ‘It’s not a big deal.’

‘Easy for you to say.’ I grumbled, but I snuggled into him nonetheless. ‘You’re lucky I love you.’

‘I know, I’m luckier than you are.’ Caleb said, smiling at me. ‘You keep selling yourself short, you need to stop doing that. You’re amazing, moreso than me, the stuff you’ve been through, I couldn’t do that. You’ve managed to suffer at the hands of your parents and still come out a relatively normal human being. You really need to give yourself more credit than what you do.’

‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m not special, Caleb. I’m not amazing, I’m average at best.’ I sighed. ‘I was intelligent, for my age, until I turned like 15 and became plateaued faster than you can say “try harder”. When that happened I realised there was nothing that made me better than anyone else. I’m average intelligence, average height, average weight, I’m not exactly a model, and I have a hard time fitting in with people. I’m awkward and clumsy and I forget things and I’m not even always nice to people.’ I shrugged. ‘I’m just an average Joe with a different name.’

‘You’re far from average, Ryan. You’re kind, caring, you can work out what people are like just by looking at them. You’re above average intelligence, no matter what you’ve been led to believe, you’re looks are so much better than you give yourself credit for, you have amazing eyes, your smile literally makes me feel faint at times, you make me feel needed, you make me feel special, you make me feel amazing just by being in the same room, you are kind and sweet and I can’t imagine life without you.’ Caleb countered my argument in such a way that I was too busy trying to recover from the shock to argue. ‘So stop selling yourself short and making me say soppy things like that because you don’t see yourself in a good light and you really should. There’s a reason why everybody likes you. There are like 2 people who’ve decided not to like you ever, and they were both just jealous of you because you were more intelligent and more well liked than they were and they were attention seekers with no lives.’

‘Thank you.’ I finally managed to say. ‘That is the best speech anyone has ever come up with for me. It doesn’t really change my opinions much, but it makes me feel so much more appreciated by you, at least, and I’m glad that you think of me that way. Sometimes I love you so much, it physically hurts, because I think that, one day, I’m gonna do something, or say something, that will push you away, and when that time comes, it will kill me.’

‘Never gonna happen. I love you too much to ever let that happen. You should know that.’ Caleb said, smiling, sadly. ‘You really think that I’m going to leave you, don’t you?’ He asked me.

‘Sometimes.’ I admitted. I was hyper aware of the fact that there were tears forming behind my eyes, and turned away from him so he couldn’t see them.

‘Don’t hide your face from me. I know you feel like you can’t show people when you cry, but I’m not people. I’m Caleb. I’m not going to leave you, ever. I will be by your side until the day I die.’ Caleb told me.

‘Take me home, please?’ I asked him, the tears were threatening to spill over and I couldn’t show my face in public when crying. It wasn’t just a problem, it was something I couldn’t stand the thought of. The fear of crying in public was what kept me from giving in to anxiety attacks at times. Because I couldn’t face the thought of crying in front of anyone, if an anxiety attack started in a public place, I would push it down by convincing myself that I would never recover if I started crying at that point.

‘Okay, let’s go.’ He took my arm and steered me in the direction of home, while I hid my face from anyone who happened to glance in our direction.

After a short while we were back at home and getting some lunch. I had managed to dry my eyes and relax a little from the park incident before we worked out what to eat.

‘So what’s the plan for this evening?’ Caleb asked.

‘Well, my thought is that we’ll get ready, Josh will pick us up around 4:30, we’ll go to eat before the movie, and then when the movie is over, we’ll come home.’ I explained.

‘Oh, so we’re not doing anything afterward?’ Caleb asked.

‘No, I don’t think so, unless you really want to, but I know at least 3 of us have work on Monday morning.’ I winked at him and he smiled.

‘I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t do anything more than usual on the night before my first day at work, don’t want to arrive looking like a zombie.’ He chuckled.

‘Right, I’m gonna have a shower. I need time for my hair to dry naturally before we go out.’ My hair was naturally thick, and I had left it grow quite long, so it took a while to dry, and when I used a hairdryer it tended to have a habit of exploding into a big ball of fluffy nonsense.

‘Okay, yeah, we don’t need a repeat of that time when we went for lunch with my aunt when your hair was all floofy and she thought you were wearing some sort of weird hat.’ Caleb laughed. ‘To be fair to her, her eyesight is terrible, and I think she thought, because it was soft and fluffy, it was kinda like a coonskin cap.’

‘I’m not sure whether or not that’s offensive, so I’m just gonna ignore you and go in the shower. Bye.’ I walked out of the living room and into the bathroom to get into the shower.

Once I had gotten out of the shower, and dried off, I put a bathrobe on and headed into the living room again. I didn’t see the point in getting dressed until I wanted to get ready to go out.

‘Bathroom’s free.’ I announced, walking into the kitchen, where I had heard Caleb moving around.

‘Oh…’ Standing in the kitchen was not who I expected. Instead of Caleb, Josh was standing opposite me, staring at me. I suddenly became very aware that I was wearing a bathrobe. I felt the blood rush to my face and I ran out of the room shouting something that sounded almost like a declaration that I was going to get dressed, but was more likely to be something unintelligible that I wasn’t even sure was part of the English language.

After getting dressed, I walked out of the bedroom and noticed Caleb was standing in the living room. I couldn’t see Josh around so I assumed he was still in the kitchen. I punched Caleb on the arm and he pulled away from me.

‘OW! What was that for?’ He asked me.

‘You could have told me we had visitors. I wasn’t properly dressed when I came out of the bathroom!’ I scolded him.

‘Oh! Did Josh see anything?’ Caleb asked, holding back laughter.

‘Thankfully not. If I did see anything I think I’d be in a lot of trouble. Imagine me going back to Liam and mentioning, in passing, that I happened to see you without clothes on. He’d kill both of us.’ Josh chuckled, walking into the room.

‘I was covered up!’ I protested. ‘It’s not like I was strutting about naked!’ I sighed and collapsed on the sofa. ‘Whatever. You guys make your little jokes. I’ll just stay home instead of going to the cinema with you.’ I said, staring at the blank TV screen in my determination not to look at either of them.

‘Oh come on, don’t be like that.’ Josh said, trying to hold back his laughter. ‘We don’t mean it in a bad way.’

‘Yeah, you know what we’re like.’ Caleb said, smiling at me. ‘Especially me, you’ve known me long enough.’

‘Yeah, I do, and I don’t plan on going anywhere with people who are going to make fun of me. So you two go, take Liam with you, have fun, enjoy yourselves. See if I care.’ I huffed, and crossed my arms against my chest, determined to stand my ground.

‘Okay, I’m sorry if I offended you.’ Josh said, and then looked pointedly at Caleb.

‘I am, too. We really didn’t mean to pick on you.’ Caleb added.

‘Yeah, whatever.’ I shrugged.

Josh walked toward me and kneeled down in front of where I was sat on the sofa. ‘Please come to the cinema, it won’t be the same without you. You’re the guy who organised it, and you’re central to this little group, you’re like the glue that holds us together, we need you otherwise we’ll all fall apart.’ He said, sounding as sincere as anyone could when they were comparing someone to glue.

‘You think that’ll work?’ I asked him, raising an eyebrow.

‘I was hoping it would. I mean, doesn’t the simple fact that we’re trying to convince you to come show you that we really, really want you to come and we won’t do anything to make it a negative experience for you? I mean, Caleb loves you anyway, so he wouldn’t, and I have to work with you for the foreseeable future, and I’d rather that remain a pleasant experience, so I’m not about to cause problems.’ Josh winked at me, and grinned a slightly crooked grin which was too contagious for me not to smile back.

‘Fine, I’ll go with you.’ I conceded.

‘Yes!’ Josh stood up and high-fived Caleb. ‘See? I’m useful!’

‘To an extent.’ Caleb corrected. ‘You didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have been able to do.’ He smirked, and Josh looked at him like he’d just given him the worst kind of insult anyone could come up with.

Of course, this led to me laughing quite a lot, uncontrollable laughter was always my weakness. I just had to focus on not making a fool of myself by making some sort of strange noise. After the squeal earlier, the last thing I wanted to do is snort while laughing. I knew I wouldn’t get away without being called a pig if that happened.

‘Okay calm down, it wasn’t that funny.’ Josh said, though he couldn’t help but chuckle as well.

‘I-… know-… I-… can’t-… stop!’ I tried to slow my breathing but it wasn’t really working all that well. My laughter could sometimes change to hyperventilating and that seemed to be the direction I was headed in.

My eyes widened and Caleb noticed immediately. He ran to the kitchen and grabbed a brown paper bag. We had a small collection of them put away for episodes like this one. He passed it to me and I put the open end against my face, surrounding my mouth and nose with it. I took 6 breaths with the bag, then removed it, breathed for a little bit without it, then returned to using the bag for a further 6 reps. After a few changes between bag and open air, my breathing slowed and I calmed a little.

‘What was that about?’ Josh asked.

‘Sometimes, when I laugh a lot, my body goes into panic because I’m not getting enough air, and then I start hyperventilating because of it, and so I need to calm myself down, and one of the simplest ways to stop hyperventilating is the paper bag technique.’ I explained. ‘It’s one of my many little issues and idiosyncrasies that make being me just a little bit of a nightmare.’

‘Oh, I guess I have quite a lot to learn about you then.’ He said, shrugging. ‘I don’t want to be lost if something happens at work or if we’re together and Caleb isn’t around. I’d like to be able to help.’

‘That’s sweet of you, but honestly most of this stuff I can sort out myself. Caleb is just handily available and can make sure I can relax a little more because I don’t need to rush to get anything.’ I shrugged.

‘Yeah, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should have to. You should have people around who understand, and can help when things get out of hand. I’m not saying that I’m gonna forcibly become one of those people, because if you don’t want me to, I’ll let it drop, but I would like to be able to help you, and I think I could be of some use, especially if something happens at work.’ Josh explained.

‘Thank you.’ I said simply, and turned to Caleb. ‘It seems you have an apprentice.’ I grinned, and he shrugged.

‘Looks that way. I’ll make sure to train him up properly.’ He turned to Josh. ‘You’d better make sure you’re ready to learn some really crazy stuff.’

‘Hey!’ I protested. ‘We don’t use the c-word here.’ I groaned.

‘Yes we do. You use it more than I do.’ Caleb winked at me and I smirked and stuck my tongue out at him.

‘Crazy stuff?’ Josh asked, somehow ignoring out little tangent. ‘Like what?’

‘Like the little things that can set off my anxiety, the warning signs for when I’m going to lose it, the various ways I react to things, what to watch out for, what to do when something does happen, what not to do when something happens and what never to do in general.’ I shrugged. ‘Not all that much.’ I winked.

‘Oh I’m in this for the long haul, aren’t I?’ Josh asked, smirking.

‘It’s a learning curve.’ Caleb nodded. ‘I’m still learning and I’ve known him for a lot longer than you have.’

‘Indeed.’ I nodded. ‘Now, mister, it’s nearly 3pm so are you going to get showered and changed or am I going to have to drag you to the bathroom to get ready because the movie starts at 5 and we’re wanting to eat beforehand.’ I looked at Caleb and he nodded at me.

‘I’ll go and get ready now.’ He walked toward the bathroom and closed the door behind him. I heard the soft click that told me he had locked the door and I turned to Josh.

‘So, not that it’s not nice to see you, but what are you actually doing here?’ I asked.

‘Oh, well I was on my way home from doing a little shopping and I thought I would pop in and check what was going on with the movie plans. I knew the movie started at 5 but I didn’t know if we were doing anything before or after. To be honest, if we’re eating before hand, I’d better head back home and get ready.’ He chuckled. ‘I guess I’ll see you later.’

‘Indeed you will.’ I nodded. ‘Don’t take too long getting ready, I mean, if we really have to we can go out to eat after the movie, but it’d be better to do it before.’

‘Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll be back here within the hour.’ He smiled at me and I couldn’t help but smile back. As he walked out of the door I felt a sudden awkward mix of relief and loneliness.

True to his word, at 3:45, there was a honk outside, Caleb had just finished getting dressed and I had been impatiently tapping my feet for at least 15 minutes to try and get him to hurry up. We headed outside and got into the back of the car. Josh and Liam were both in the front, and they seemed to be doing better than they were during the week, considering that when myself and Caleb joined them, they were holding hands and talking to each other in a decent way.

Caleb and I exchanged a glance to share our opinions on the topic, and they matched. We were both happy for them, relieved to not have to be present during an argument, and slightly incredulous at the thought that they had patched everything up in the short amount of time since we had last seen them.

We sat quietly while they talked, trying our hardest not to listen to their conversation, and Josh started the engine up, getting ready to drive away.

‘Okay, where are we going to eat?’ He asked, wanting to know where he was going before we set off.

‘Everyone fine with Pizza Hut?’ I asked, and murmurs and nods of agreement followed.

‘Pizza Hut it is!’ Josh announced, and pulled away from the kerb, and headed into the city centre.

As we drove through, I realised how beautiful Canterbury was, for a city. Lots of old architecture and history behind it, all mixed in with modern houses and shops and businesses, it was a mixture of the old and the new, driving through it sometimes seemed like travelling through time. Of course, part of the reason I had noticed so much was because I was staring out of the window as looking anywhere inside the car meant catching glimpses of Liam who happened to be making goo-goo eyes at Josh, and no one ever wanted to see that.

We finally arrived at the restaurant and all got out of the car. Once we arrived we looked at some menus and decided what we wanted. We decided to for 2 pizzas, one for myself and Caleb, and one for Liam and Josh, and that we would have 2 separate toppings on each. That essentially meant we each got half a pizza of our favourite topping.

After eating, chatting, and laughing, we headed to the cinema to continue to fill our faces, but this time with popcorn and supersized drinks while sat in front of a screen bigger than any I’d ever seen before.

We bought our tickets, snacks and drinks and headed in to the movie. We arrived just as the trailers were starting, and I quietly thanked our lucky stars. I enjoyed the trailers, they gave me an idea of what I wanted to watch in future. I hated missing them.

We sat through the trailers and I mentally tagged all of the ones that looked good or interesting or somehow appealing, and the screen went black.

A hush fell over the cinema, and the movie started.

‘Well that was disappointing.’ I sighed as we walked out of the cinema.

‘Why’s that?’ Liam asked me, and I was about to explain when Josh took over.

‘It had no storyline! It was all guns and rockets and fighting but there was no backstory, no explanation, the characters weren’t developed. It was like watching one action scene for 2 hours!’ He exclaimed. ‘I don’t see how that could be appealing to anyone.’

‘The trailer looked so much better.’ Caleb agreed. ‘Total waste of money.’

‘Well I liked it.’ Liam said, stubbornly.

‘You’re entitled to your opinion.’ I muttered, shrugging. ‘Personally I think it sucked.’

‘Well that’s fair enough.’ Liam shrugged, but he didn’t look very happy about it. I wondered if he had expected someone to change their mind about it, especially because he kept shooting glances at Josh until we had left the cinema.

‘So, are we wanting to go and do anything now? The night is still young.’ Josh suggested, smiling.

‘Sure, we can do something, what did you have in mind?’ I asked.

‘Well we could go to that pool club downtown, play a few games, have a couple of drinks, that kinda stuff.’ Josh suggested.

‘Sure, sounds good, I’d be up for that.’ I nodded, then turned to Caleb. ‘How about you? Happy with that?’

‘Sure, sounds like fun.’ Caleb nodded, he had his hands in his pockets and looked like he was tensed up, which, to me, suggested that he wasn’t telling the whole truth, but I assumed that was because of Liam’s behaviour. I was hoping that, once we had left the cinema, and the source of the disagreement, that Liam would relax, and Caleb would be able to as well.

We headed to the bar, which wasn’t very far away, and we were there in a matter of minutes. We quickly got ourselves some drinks and a cue each and took to 2 of the tables, deciding that if someone wanted one, we could stick to 1.

‘So, we’ll split into pairs, and then whoever loses can swap tables after each game, how does that sound?’ I asked.

‘Yeah, I can get on board with that, assuming we’re all of a similar skill level, we should all be able to play each other then.’ Josh agreed.

We split into couples at first, myself and Caleb and Josh and Liam. Caleb and I were playing quite seriously, but with a no-hard-feelings type of idea. We could both be pretty competitive. We, of course, still laughed and joked, but when we took shots, we were all serious and calculating.

Liam and Josh, on the other hand, were taking a slightly different approach. They were being a little more easy-going. They weren’t paying much attention to the table and spent a lot of time laughing and simply hitting the ball and watching as it skilfully avoided every other ball on the table.

Eventually, though, we had 2 winners, myself and Liam, and 2 losers, Caleb and Josh. So Josh and Caleb switched tables, and we started again.

Josh smiled at me as he approached the table. ‘Flip for first shot?’ He asked.

‘Nah. Challenger always takes the first shot, and as defending champion, that would mean I have to give you the first shot.’ I winked at him and he chuckled.

‘Something tells me I’m about to get into a game I don’t know how to win.’ He walked toward the end of the table and looked down his cue at the white ball, measuring his shot, something he hadn’t done with Liam. When he hit the ball, it powerfully pounded into the triangle of red, yellow and black, and caused all the balls to separate, moving off in different directions.

As none of them fell into the pockets, it was my turn. I stalked around the table, looking for a decent shot. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you.’ I winked at him before I took my shot, easily sinking a red ball into one of the pockets, the white ball spinning backward into a safer position. I moved around the table a little further and prepared to take my next shot. I knew I wouldn’t manage to get another ball to roll into a pocket, so I settled for hitting it and passing the turn over to Josh.

‘Yeah, yeah. You think you’re so great. You don’t have to go easy on me. I can hold my own.’ He paused to crouch and look at the table from a lower angle. Once had had an idea of how to proceed he lined up a shot and sunk a yellow ball. His next shot seemed just as easy, and I was stunned.

Within a few turns, we were both clear of our colours and down to the single black ball. It was my turn, and I knew I could do it. I took my time lining up my shot, mentally deciding how much power to put behind it, and then pulling the cue back, and taking the shot. The black ball spun into one of the pockets and the white ball stopped a distance away, allowing me to celebrate my victory.

‘I win.’ I said, smirking at Josh, who just shrugged. ‘You were an excellent challenger though, gave me a run for my money.’

‘That was the aim.’ Josh chuckled. ‘I can be good at it when I want to be, I just like to have fun more than I care about winning is all. With you, however, I can go all out and still have fun, which is refreshing really.’ He said the last bit a little quieter so Liam couldn’t hear him. ‘Liam isn’t exactly the best at pool, and he’s not exactly easy to deal with when he loses.’ He added, even more quietly.

‘Looks like I won.’ Caleb said, and I watched the other table for Liam’s reaction.

‘You must have cheated.’ Liam said, sounding shocked, looking around the table. ‘I’m sure you had more balls on the table than that.’

‘Liam, let it go. He won.’ Josh said, shrugging. ‘It’s not a big deal. You won against me, he won against you. Sometimes you’re luckier than other times.’

‘No, I’m not lucky, I’m skilled. You can’t have beaten me fairly.’ Liam said, staring at Caleb.

‘Are you calling my boyfriend a cheater?’ I asked, moving to stand next to Caleb. ‘Because if you are I suggest you take it back. Now. I won’t stand for anyone calling either of us liars, and Caleb would not cheat at a game, especially when this isn’t meant to be competitive. We’re just having fun.’

‘Fine.’ Liam huffed. ‘I’m going to get a drink.’ He announced, storming toward the bar. Josh looked worried and I sighed.

‘What do I do?’ He asked. ‘I can’t cope with him when he’s like this all the time. Normally he’s such a lovely guy but these past few days he’s just been awful to be around. Always so angry or stressed out. I don’t know what’s wrong. He won’t tell me anything.’ Josh told me.

‘Well, you have to wait for him to come around. If something is bothering him, eventually he will tell you. If I were you I’d give it another week, keep prompting him, if he doesn’t tell you, or there’s no improvement, then maybe you should think about taking another stance.’ I shrugged. ‘The longer he’s like this, the more he pushes you away, maybe you ought to tell him that.’ I advised.

‘Yeah, maybe, I just don’t want to set him off.’ Josh admitted.

‘Don’t you think that maybe that’s something you shouldn’t have to be worried about if you’re in a loving relationship?’ I asked him, and as I saw realisation dawn on his face, Liam came back with a drink, seeming somewhat calmer.

‘Okay, I lost, who am I going against now?’ He asked.

‘That’d be me.’ I told him, shrugging.

‘That leaves me and you, Josh.’ Caleb said as he finished setting up the table he and Liam had just finished on.

I smiled at Liam. ‘You take the first shot.’ I told him, gesturing toward the top of the table, where the white ball sat waiting.

‘Okay, here goes nothing.’ He said, smirking at me as he hit the white ball, and it spun, slightly out of control, and hit the triangle, knocking them apart, but barely. There was still a large group left there, and a few of them had scattered around the bottom half of the table.

I took my shot and broke apart the remainder of the group, sinking a yellow ball into one of the pockets and smiling to myself. That was pure luck, I couldn’t have possibly aimed that one. Luckily, Liam was watching like a hawk, so he couldn’t accuse me of cheating at all.

I walked around the table and aimed at another yellow ball, watching as it bounced around the pocket and spun back out. I sighed and stepped away from the table as Liam analysed the shots he could take. He seemed to know what he was doing, but at the same time I was convinced he had no idea. It was more like he was mimicking the rest of us, like a child who wanted to fit in.

As we played I noticed he became increasingly more confident, and by the end of the game, he was catching up to me. In the first few turns I was down to 3 yellow balls, where he was still at 7 reds. By the end, he had a single red ball left on the table when I potted the black and won the game. I congratulated him on being a challenge, as I had with Josh, and hoped there were no hard feelings.

‘Interesting. You’re both pretty good at this, aren’t you?’ Liam asked of Caleb and I.

‘Yeah, we play quite often. It’s my favourite game, and Caleb enjoys it too.’ I told him.

‘Ah, that explains it. You guys have a lot of practice.’ He smiled. ‘Well, it’s good to know I wasn’t beaten by amateurs.’ He winked at me and turned to put his queue back. ‘Let’s take a break from this and get ourselves a table. I feel like I haven’t gotten to know either of you at all these past few days, despite the fact that we’ve been together quite a bit.’ He suggested.

‘That is a really good idea.’ I nodded. ‘I’ll find us a table. Caleb, could you get me a drink?’

‘Sure. You find the table, I’ll get the drinks. Same again?’ He asked me, gesturing toward the glass that had once contained a white rum and coke which I had bought when we first arrived.

‘Yeah, of course.’ I nodded. ‘When do I drink anything else?’ I asked.

‘When you drink soft drinks.’ Caleb said, and winked at me.

‘Okay, you made your point. Just get the drinks.’ I kicked out toward his retreating behind, but he was too quick for me and moved out of the way. My foot fell back to the earth with a small thud.

‘I’m gonna get myself a drink as well. Want one Liam?’ Josh asked, slowly retreating toward the bar.

‘Nah. I’m good thanks, I still have this one I’m working on.’ He said, holding up the drink he had bought before the last game.

‘Shall we find a table then?’ I asked, gesturing toward the tables that were littered around the bar, there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to their positioning, and I wondered if they had just been put where they would fit and left there, rather than any actual planning going into it.

‘Yeah, sure.’ Liam nodded and we walked toward a large, empty booth which could probably fit 6 quite comfortably. We sat down at opposite sides and turned as Caleb and Josh both arrived.

‘So, what shall we talk about?’ I asked, looking at Liam for a suggestion.

‘Hobbies!’ He quickly suggested, looking around at the rest of us. ‘What do you guys like to do in your spare time?’ He asked.

‘Well, personally, other than playing pool, I quite like camping, gaming and watching tv.’ I told them.

‘I prefer watching movies, I really like cooking, I also enjoy camping, and I’m pretty happy to just hang out with people, but only very specific people.’ Caleb added.

‘What about you guys?’ I asked.

‘Well, I quite like gaming as well.’ Josh began. ‘I also like watching some TV, not a lot though.’ He admitted.

‘I’m a lover of walking, especially at night.’ Liam said, smiling. ‘I also quite like some forms of exercise, mainly running and jogging, but I am looking into getting a gym membership soon.’ He added.

‘Okay, anything else you want to know?’ I asked Liam, smiling at the fact that he was, at least, making an effort to try and get to know us.

‘Well I’m not going to sit here and ask questions all night, I mainly just wanted to know what you were all into so we could plan any future outings a little easier. I’m sure there’s plenty of things we can do that we would all like, but we can have a chat about that some other time.’ He smiled and looked to me and Josh. ‘So how’s work?’ He asked. ‘I understand you only started recently, Ryan, how are you doing?’

‘It’s pretty good. It’s not like I consider it to be a permanent thing, I have better things I’d like to move onto, but it pays the bills, and it’s a good place to work. The people are all really nice, and I am pretty good at the job, so I couldn’t really ask for any more than that, really.’ I said, shrugging/

‘Glad you’re enjoying it.’ Josh said, smiling at me. ‘I was worried you’d be getting bored of it. It’s not the most exciting job in the world, is it?’ He asked, smirking.

‘No, it really isn’t, but it’s something I can focus on at least, and it’s not like I’m overly worried about it being tedious, I just want to make sure I have a decent job that pays me enough to live off, and currently, that’s exactly what I have.’ I shrugged. ‘I could be in a much worse position.’

‘That’s very true.’ Josh nodded, and Liam agreed.

‘Yeah, I’m still trying to find a job, it’s not an easy thing to do. I mean, I’m not the most employable person ever, but I am trying. I’m sending out around 10 applications per week, and I’m lucky if I get 2 interviews out of that.’ He sighed. ‘I hate it, but I have to do it, because if I don’t I won’t be getting any money and I’d feel awful because Josh would be supporting the both of us.’

‘I would be seriously annoyed if that happened.’ Josh said, shrugging. ‘We can’t afford to not have the money you get. I know it doesn’t seem like much but it’s needed.’ He admitted. ‘When you get a job, it’ll make life much easier, but until then we still need all the money we can get.’

‘I know, that’s part of what’s keeping me going.’ Liam nodded, then suddenly realised what they were talking about. ‘Oh, sorry guys, we shouldn’t really get into this with you here. It’s more of a personal matter.’

‘No worries.’ Caleb said, shrugging. ‘You’re not the only people to have money troubles. Pretty sure it’s the most common thing in the world now. I once had a guy call me telling me he could consolidate all my debt. At the time I had just turned 18, I was still living with my parents, I didn’t have any debt. He then told me that everyone was in debt and I must have some debt. I ended up putting the phone down.’

‘Yeah, there are so many cold callers who try and convince you about your own financial situation, it’s ridiculous. And even if you did need something, you wouldn’t rely on a cold caller anyway, you’d want to do your own research, surely?’ I added.

‘Let’s move on from finances shall we?’ Josh suggested.

‘Good idea.’ I nodded. ‘What shall we move on to?’

‘I think we should be heading home soon.’ Caleb looked at his watch. ‘Remember we have guests arriving tonight.’ Caleb reminded me.

‘So we do, we had better get moving. They were meant to be getting to the airport at 9.’ I looked at my phone. ‘It’s half past now, we’d better go!’

‘We’ll drop you home.’ Josh suggested, shrugging. ‘You’ll be back in plenty of time. The nearest airport is in London. It’d take them a while to get here. It’d take them an hour at least. You’ve got around half an hour.’

‘Good point, but we’d still better go now. I want to make sure we’re there when they arrive and that everything’s in place. I don’t want them to think they’ve got the wrong address or something!’ My breathing began to become shallower and faster and Caleb put an arm around me.

‘Breathe.’ He whispered in my ear.

I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, blocking out everything else. I inhaled deeply, held it for a second, then breathed out. Doing that could essentially reset my breathing pattern, allowing me to back to my usual breathing. I opened my eyes and Josh was looking worried, Liam was looking a little panicked, and Caleb was holding an arm around me, protectively, daring anyone to say anything.

‘Let’s go.’ I said, and we all stood up and headed outside. We got in Josh’s car and spent the next 20 minutes in silence.

We arrived at the house and Caleb and I thanked Josh before getting out of the car and entering the house. We did a quick tidy up before we heard the taxi pull up outside.

We walked outside and smiled at our guests. ‘Max! Leo! It’s great to see you!’ I greeted them, giving them both a hug and paying the taxi driver, which happened to be an extortionate amount of money for the service it provided, and we headed inside with their cases.

‘It’s been a while, Leo, you had us worried.’ Caleb said, chuckling.

‘It has indeed.’ Leo sighed. ‘Well after my aunt moved over to America, there wasn’t much of a reason for us to come back here, but I wanted to, to see all the old crowd, but most of them have gone off to university so they are scattered all around. I figured I’d come and see you guys though, and I had to bring Max with me, I mean, who doesn’t want to show off their partner?’ He looked at Max with a proud and loving expression.

Max elbowed him. ‘Shut up.’ He told him, chuckling.

‘I’m sorry but I have to say this and then I’ll leave it for the rest of the time you’re here, but I love your accents!’ I said, I felt like a fangirl and I couldn’t help myself.

‘Uh, thanks?’ Max scratched the back of his head, obviously somewhere between confused and embarrassed.

‘Can I get you anything to eat or drink?’ Caleb asked, ever the perfect host.

‘Nah, we ate at the airport. We landed a little early and didn’t want to get here early in case you had plans this evening.’ Leo said, shrugging. ‘Thanks for the offer though!’

‘Oh, it’s good you did. We only got back 10 minutes ago, we were out with friends.’ I said, laughing a little. I felt a little giddy. ‘I’m going to go and lie down.’ I said, walking toward mine and Caleb’s bedroom.

‘Sorry about him.’ I heard Caleb say. ‘He’s still got issues.’ He told Leo. Leo knew a lot of my issues, and my history, and the whole load of problems I had, so it made sense for Caleb to say that.

I crawled into the bed and lay there for a while, thinking about that days events. I thought through it all and began to get a positive outlook. Not only have I spent time with 2 new friends, but I’ve also been visited by an old friend and his boyfriend in order to see me and Caleb specifically. Unfortunately, we both had work all week, but we could think about that tomorrow morning.

I slowly fell asleep with a smile on my face, thinking of how to keep Max and Leo entertained for the weekdays, and what they could do in the local area.

I awoke the next morning to my alarm. I quickly shut it off and went straight to the bathroom. I didn’t shower the night before and I couldn’t just not shower, so I decided I would that morning.

After showering I dried my hair, got dressed and headed into the kitchen, to find that Caleb had prepared both of our lunches and started on a list of local landmarks, activities and nice places for visiting.

I smiled at him. ‘I was thinking about doing that.’ I said, chuckling. ‘And you forgot one thing.’

‘What’s that?’ He asked me.

‘The heritage museum.’ I told him, shrugging. ‘It might not be the first thought when you think of Canterbury, but they might find it interesting. Who knows?’ I shrugged. ‘If they really don’t like it, they can just make out, shock everyone, and leave. I’m sure that would be fun.’ I shrugged and Caleb chuckled.

‘Somehow I don’t think that they’re that kind of people, but I’ll put it on the list in case they’re interested, you’re right, they might enjoy it.’ He shrugged.

‘Now, I’m gonna have to go to work, so I shall see you later, put our finish times on that note as well, so they know when we’ll be back, and we can plan some stuff for tonight. Maybe pizza and a movie for their first night, then we can actually think about doing some proper stuff later in the week.’ I suggested.

‘Yeah, sure. See you later. Love you.’ He kissed me on the cheek as I went to pick up my lunch.

‘I love you, too.’ I walked out of the room and headed for the front door. I grabbed my jacket and walked out of the door, heading toward the car that was already parked and waiting for me. ‘I didn’t realise you were picking me up this morning.’ I said as I got in the passenger seat.

‘Of course I am. I told you. Car pool.’ Josh winked at me as he put the car in gear and pulled away from the kerb, heading toward work.

‘So, who are these mysterious guests?’ He asked me as we got to work.

‘Well me and Caleb have this friend. He’s American, but his aunt used to live here. When she moved back, around a year after I moved here, he stopped coming over. He’s came back now, with his boyfriend. They’ve had a bit of a rocky time, apparently, but they’re fine now, and they’ve came over to visit me and Caleb.’ I shrugged. ‘I’m quite pleased by it, to be honest.’

‘Yeah, I would be, too. But what are they gonna do while you two are at work?’ He asked.

‘We’ve given them a list of all the local attractions and sites to see, hopefully they’ll take some interest, but not go through it too quickly. I want them to be sufficiently entertained, but I don’t want them to rush through the list in a day or two and then get thoroughly bored for the rest of the week. Obviously we’ll be trying to spend some time with them on evenings and the weekend before they head back, but it’s not gonna be easy with work and stuff.’ I shrugged. ‘Luckily they are flying back on the Sunday night and won’t be getting back until Monday morning.’

‘Oh so you’ll have all of Saturday and Sunday with them.’ Josh nodded. ‘Well that’s good.’ He said.

‘Yeah, it is.’ We had arrived in the office by then and I picked up my cup. ‘Coffee?’ I asked.

‘Please.’ He nodded as he turned on his computer. Mine was already booting up as I headed to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

‘Ryan?’ I heard a voice call my name so I poked my head out of the kitchen door.

‘In here.’ I told them. It was a woman, in her early 20s, blonde, quite attractive. She walked toward me and headed into the kitchen.

‘Oh, you’re the new guy. I’ve been asked to check if you have the evaluation from last week.’ She said.

‘I do, but my computer is just booting up. If you give me 5 minutes to make the coffees and get set up properly, I can get it for you.’

‘Okay, well if you can just send it to me via email. I’ll leave my email address on your desk for you.’ She told me.

‘Okay, thanks.’ I nodded and she left.

As I walked out of the kitchen and headed towards Josh’s desk with his coffee he raised an eyebrow at me. ‘Now what did Leanne want with you?’

‘She wanted an evaluation I wrote last week.’ I shrugged. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘I ask because that bombshell of a woman has done more men than Jesus did miracles. Watch yourself with that one, she has quite the reputation.’ He spoke quietly. Unfortunately, I knew why. If anyone overheard, they could accuse him of slander, thereby causing a lot of issues for him, both professionally and personally.

‘That’s a bit harsh.’ I shrugged. ‘But I’ll be careful.’ I promised.

‘Just watch out. I don’t want people getting the wrong idea. Try not to spend any more time with her than absolutely necessary. People in this office love to gossip and spread rumours. They’re not above guessing at affairs, even if there’s no real evidence to suggest anything is going on.’ He explained. ‘I’d hate to see you fall victim to their overactive imaginations.’

‘Thanks for the warning, I’ll keep it in mind.’ I said, chuckling as I walked back to my desk. ‘I do appreciate the concern. There aren’t many people who’d look out for me that much, especially when you’ve known me less than a week.’

‘Well I feel like we’ve bonded over the past few days. And I see you as someone who, sometimes, needs someone to look out for them. If there’s a problem with that, I can always back off, I just thought I could be of some help.’ Josh told me.

‘Yeah, I understand. And you’re right, and I appreciate that. It’s great that you are looking out for me. Thank you.’ I smiled.

‘Okay, now let’s get to work. You need to sort that thing out for Leanne, and I have a lot of stuff that needs doing today, so we’d better get to it.’ Josh told me.

‘You’re right.’ I nodded and walked over to my desk, picking up a slip of paper with an email address on it. Below the email address was a heart and 3 ’x’s. I groaned and put it down after taking the email address down. I quickly emailed the document to Leanne with an email that was pure professionalism. It was all business, including my business email signature. I wasn’t going to suggest we were anything more than colleagues. It wasn’t because of the warning, it was because of the inappropriate, or at least in my opinion, usage of hearts and kisses on the paper with her email address. She didn’t know who I was, she shouldn’t be leaving messages like that for me. She was obviously the flirtatious type, and I wanted to nip that in the bud as quickly as possible. I didn’t want any reason for Caleb to get jealous. I knew he already had an issue with Josh, but he knew I wouldn’t do anything, the last thing I needed was another colleague to start causing issues.

I flicked through my emails and wrote myself a to-do list as I went through, eager to make sure I was doing everything correctly and in time. I didn’t want to make any assumptions as to timescales, so I tried to treat everything as relatively urgent unless stated otherwise.

By lunch time, I had done everything required of me, and things tended to come through quite slowly during the day, so after lunch I slowed down a little. I spent a little more time browsing through the internet rather than doing work, which was allowed when it was quiet, I had made sure to check the company’s policy on personal usage of the internet and phones. I was allowed to use them for personal reasons as long as it didn’t impact my work.

At the end of the day, Josh drove me home, and I paused as I turned to get out of the car. My father was stood outside my house…

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