Mark dropped his keys and the mail on the hall table. "Hey, Jez, I'm home. I brought chicken."
"Chicken?" Jeremy's voice was high-pitched coming from the living room. He giggled.
"Yes. Chicken. What's so funny about chicken?" Mark put the bag on the kitchen table and stepped into the living room where Jeremy and Super Hans sat cross-legged on the floor. It's not the living room anymore, though, is it? It's the smoking room. The high room. The room where the smell of marijuana cigarettes won't fade out of the curtains for at least a week. I don't even get the good feelings--I'll just be stuck sniffing the residue of other people's chemically-induced joy.
"Chicken's not so funny, Mark." Jeremy's dazed smile told Mark that they'd been at this for a while. "But Super Hans just tried to smoke his own finger. He didn't even feel it. I had to tell him. Isn't that amazing? Isn't everything amazing, Mark?"
"Oh, I don't know, Jez. Hemorrhoids probably
aren't so amazing." Or impotence, or any
one of the thousands of painful and/or fatal
diseases that I could name in a surprisingly
short span of time. Why does no one ever want
to do diseases when we play charades? I would
totally kill at parties if we could pick
maladies, conditions and infections instead of
bands and pop culture items.
Super Hans looked up with bleary eyes. "Did you say chicken, mate?"
"Some time ago. Just now I said hemorrhoids."
"Oh. Don't want any a'those. But poultry's another matter altogether. I'll share this spliff for a drumstick." He gave Mark a lopsided grin and held up the fattest joint Mark had ever seen.
"Are you sure there's not a finger inside that one?"
Super Hans stared at it for an uncomfortable number of seconds, then he looked at his own hands and Jeremy's. "Better check to be sure." He began unrolling the paper.
Mark opened the window and used yesterday's newspaper, the one Jeremy promised he'd put into the recycling, to fan the smoke in the hopes of sending much of it outdoors. He managed it for only a few seconds before Jeremy threw himself in Mark's direction, wrapped his arms around Mark's knees and pulled him down.
"Jesus, Jez! What the fuck."
"You're alerting the authorities. Smoke shouldn't be rolling out a window unless there's a house fire or someone's burned a roast. The other option? Drugs. No one's reported a fire, and we don't look like the type of people who slow cook hearty cuts of beef on a regular basis. You'll doom us all!"
Mark shoved Jeremy back and stood, patting down his shirt and trousers. "Is there any oxygen way up there where you are?"
Jeremy frowned and nodded. "Yes."
With a heavy sigh, Mark stomped back to the kitchen and dropped into a chair. He pulled the chicken from the bag and decided to eat a piece just like that. No plate, no napkin. Just, fuck it. I feel slightly dizzy. Either I just breathed enough secondhand pot smoke to get a contact high, or my blood pressure is spiking and a vessel somewhere critically important to my survival is about to give way.
"Mark?" Jeremy pulled out the other chair and sat, leaning forward on his elbows. "Come have a smoke with us. You look tense."
"No one wants to actually cooperate with me at work, Sophie seems to have eyes for everyone but me, I don't have a commanding presence that makes men or women take notice, schoolchildren are capable of frightening me, and I'm getting more and more self-conscious of my scrotal deformity. Jesus Christ, I am tense, Jeremy."
"I know. I just said that you were. So, come on. What's the worst thing that could happen?"
Mark dropped his piece of chicken back into the bag and stared at him. "Do you seriously want me to answer that?"
"No. Come on." Jeremy grabbed Mark's arm and hauled him up out of the chair. "The worst thing--things--that could happen won't. What will happen is that you'll relax and laugh a little and have fun with your mates."
Mark gave him a dark look.
"Oh, all right, with your mate, me," Jeremy said, putting his hand on his chest, "and Super Hans. Mostly with me. Super Hans is almost at the point where he stops talking and starts to strangle his feet because he thinks they're generating their own electromagnetic transmissions. That keeps him busy for quite a while. Then it'll be just you and me. The El Dude brothers!"
Jeremy put his fist in the air and pulled it down twice, making a kind of low-pitched train whistle sound as he did so. "Engh, enghhhhh!"
Mark started to lift his fist, but gave up and dropped it back down. "Eh."
"See! It'll be great."
Super Hans only tried to stop his feet's electromagnetic spy messages for about fifteen minutes. After that, he shadowboxed in the corner for five minutes, then laughed at the dark television screen for a few more. By the time he started doing calisthenics, Mark wasn't sure that the few hits of pot he'd managed were worth having to put up with this.
"Does marijuana always make him that . . . crazy?"
"Super Hans?" Jeremy shook his head. "He could smoke a field of pot and do nothing but lounge on the couch thinking deep thoughts and saying profound things. Or crazy things, but in a profound way."
Mark pointed at Super Hans, who was now giving a lap dance to someone who wasn't there. "Then why's he acting that way now?"
Jeremy shrugged. "Must have been the crack he smoked before you got home."
Mark chose not to react to that except to take an uncharacteristically long drag off the joint Jeremy passed him and to hold it in for an un-Mark-like amount of time. It wasn't long before he was smiling at Super Hans' antics. A few times, he even laughed.
Eventually, they ate the chicken. Super Hans disappeared into another room with a drumstick and a shifty look in his eyes, so Mark decided that he did not want to know or care about the reasons. If there's an abominable depravity taking place in the forest, or my bathroom, but no one's there to see it . . . .
Mark woke to the phone ringing. By the time it stopped, he'd only managed to peel one eye open. The ringing started again. He heard Jeremy's voice.
"Oh, Mark? Um, let me check. Mark?" The last word was a shout that made Mark flinch. "Mark!" Before he could tell Jeremy to stop it, Jeremy was at his side, his hand covering the phone. "Don't answer, shhhh," he whispered. "MARK!" He held his finger up to his lips.
"Uh, no, I'm sorry. Mark's not in right now. He was awfully depressed when he came home last evening. I hope everything's all right." Jeremy put his hand back over the receiver and laughed quietly. "Perhaps something horrible happened to him on the way? I'm sure he wouldn't just not show to up to work for no reason. Hmm? I'll tell him. When I see him. If I see him alive again. Bye, now."
Mark listened to this exchange with a growing sense of horror. By the time Jeremy clicked off the call, Mark was sitting up, a hand on each ear, hoping the pressure would somehow help with the incredible, nauseating pain.
"Work? I didn't show up for work? And you told them--" He cringed. The increasing volume of his voice was surely liquefying his brain which would start dripping out between his fingers at any moment.
Jeremy sat next to him on the couch and put an arm around his shoulders. "Don't worry, Mark. I'll call them back in a few minutes and tell them I found you in bed so sick you hadn't woken to call. You can make some retching sounds in the background. They'll buy it. You're so anal otherwise, they'd never suspect you were just too fucked up to make it."
Super Hans sat straight up from where he'd slept on the floor. He waved his hands in the air, weaving them back and forth like he was trying to do some sort of a hula dance. "I can make some woo woo noises in the background, like we've called an ambulance. I know a guy who'll fill you out a discharge paper for a tenner. Fool even the most scrupulous human resources suit, it will." He kept waving his hands long after he stopped speaking.
"No, no! I don't want to turn in a counterfeit hospital discharge order. I don't want any of this. I'll just call and fess up and have a horrible, eternal mark on my work history. Owwww."
"There, there, Mark. It'll all work out."
It hadn't, not really, no real surprise to Mark. He'd called and told a version of the truth, and wasn't looking forward to facing the scorn that would be heaped upon him when he returned the next day. In the meantime, he had an unbelievable hangover to nurse.
"Did the truth set you free?" Jeremy raised his eyebrow.
"No, but it made me feel like less of an asshole."
"Mmm. Hair of the dog that bit you, mate." He handed Mark a joint from the table. "It'll help."
"Nothing will help but time and guilt. Fucking heaps and heaps of guilt." Mark leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "I'd appreciate it, really Jez, if for a little while you'd just not talk to me. Quiet, that's what I need. Peace and quiet."
"Okay. Sleep it off. Good."
Jeremy didn't get up, but he was mercifully quiet. And very, very close. Mark felt movement, then Jeremy's hand on his thigh.
"What are you doing?" He didn't open his eyes or move in any way.
"Nothing. Just being . . . comforting."
Comforting? No one died. I haven't suffered a huge trauma. What the hell is wrong with him? Has someone died? Did someone die and he didn't tell me because he was too high to remember? Oh, God, my fucking head hurts. Is this like a concussion? Have I bruised my brain with highness? Maybe I shouldn't go to sleep for several hours or risk my braining thinking I'm dead and giving up in agony and despair.
After about ten minutes of feeling his brain clench in what surely had to be its dying spasms, Mark realized the hand was still there. He turned his head just enough to see Jeremy with one eye, and saw that he was in the same position--head leaned back, eyes closed. His mouth was open, and he was making a low, buzzing sound when he breathed.
Mark did fall asleep, lulled by the sounds of Jeremy's snores. He felt better than before when he woke again, the urge to pee much stronger than the urge to throw up, something he counted as excellent progress. He also woke with a healthy morning erection--though it was well into afternoon--and had the urge to do a little more in the bathroom than just pee. He was rock hard and knew it wouldn't take but a few minutes to . . . what was . . . ?
"Jeremy! What the--?"
"What?" Jeremy stroked Mark as he stroked himself.
Mark pushed his hand off. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Oh, right, like you've never done it before in your life."
"No, Jeremy, I know what you're doing, but what I don't know is why!"
Jeremy, still holding himself, cocked his head, reminding Mark of a dog that just heard a whistle. "Why? Why do I climb the mountain, Mark? Because it's there, in my face, and it belongs to my best mate . . . and it's a nice thing to do. You didn't mind last night."
"Last--? Oh, God. You wanked me off last night?"
"You dared me to, and said you'd return the favor. Well, that's not entirely accurate. You dared us to, one of us."
"You . . . and Super Hans?" Mark held both hands over his groin. If Super Hans so much as viewed my naked cock I will seriously hurl myself out the window and take a dive position to get the descent over with faster.
Jeremy nodded. "Don't worry, Mark. I told him I thought you had gonorrhea. That made him pause just long enough for me to beat him to the couch. So, you see, I saved you from having sex with Super Hans. Don't you feel better now? There's always a silver lining!"
"I dared you? You're not putting me on--you wouldn't joke about something like that, would you?"
Jeremy put himself back in his trousers and wiped his palms on the thighs of his jeans. "Of course I wouldn't. And I especially wouldn't joke about you almost getting wanked by Super Hans."
Of course not, Jeremy. Getting wanked by Cracky McCrackerson should never in any universe be reason for levity. Let's save humor for things like putting cling film over toilet seats and telling people their parents died while mom and dad wait to surprise them in the next room.
Super Hans, whom Mark had completely forgotten was still there, popped his head up from the floor. "Are we gonna have a circle jerk, Mr. Thatcher?"
"No, go back to sleep."
"I wasn't sleeping. I was meditating on the intricate patterns flashing on the back of me lids."
Mark heard his head when it hit the floor.
"Mark?" Jeremy turned to face him. "I know I'm not the most perceptive person sometimes, but it seems to me you're rather shocked at the fact that I--"
"Yes, Jeremy, yes I am. Please don't say it."
"Why not? You enjoyed it."
"I don't remember it."
"But I do, and I remember how much you enjoyed it. I enjoyed it, too."
"Jeremy, Jez, I'm not that way, you know?"
"What way? Why do you have to be any way?" He stood up. "It's just me, isn't it? Because, ooh, if I were Alan Johnson you'd be practically rubbing it in my face."
Mark stood, his hands up. "Wait a minute, I never did anything with Alan. I thought maybe I could, but--"
"But you were practically in love with him! Watching gay porno just to be ready for him. And he's an asshole, Mark! Alan fucking Johnson. How can you prefer him over me? I thought we were mates."
"Jesus, Jez, we are mates. It's not that. It's just I never thought--well it's not something I ever--" He sighed and shrugged. I never thought we were the kind of mates who'd wank each other off. Holy fucking shit!
"Name one thing Alan Johnson has that I don't have."
Business acumen, money, determination, self-confidence . . . . No fucking way. I am not falling into this trap. Doesn't he realize how fucking long that list will be?
"Come on, Mark. One fucking thing."
Super Hans didn't get up this time, just held his hand up in the air. "Big Suze?"
Jeremy ran across the room and kicked him.
"Jeremy! Just calm down." Mark grabbed his arms and stopped him in the middle of the second kick. He tried to pull him back toward the couch, but Jeremy managed to spin out of his hands and kick Super Hans again. "The Hair Blair Bunch was the stupidest fucking name ever, you twat!"
Mark finally got him back to the couch where they both fell as much as sat, the jolt aching Mark's already wounded brain.
"Jeremy, I like you much better than Alan Johnson. We're longtime mates, you know that."
Jeremy smiled. "So if you were going to have sex, and the choice was between me and Alan Johnson?"
Mark sighed. "It would be you."
They both stared straight ahead for a moment, then Mark looked at Jeremy who looked back with what could only be described as a satisfied smile.
"So I really did dare you?"
Jeremy paused just long enough before saying yes that Mark knew he was lying.
They sat there a while before Jeremy said he had to use the bathroom. Mark went into the kitchen to get some antacid, and later when he went to see where Jeremy was, discovered him in bed, asleep. When he closed Jeremy's door, the plan to go to his own bed for a while, Super Hans blocked the hall.
"The Redcoats are coming, mate. Lock up your daughters. Protect your livestock." Then he bolted and ran out, leaving the door to the flat wide open.
We were the fucking Redcoats, you moron. He would never understand Stalingrad.
Mark closed and locked the door, determined that if Super Hans came back at any time in the next 24 hours they would pretend they weren't at home.
He went into his bedroom and stared at his meticulously made bed for a long time. Then he went and crawled into Jeremy's. He was only going to lie there. Comforting. That's what Jeremy said. I'm just being comforting, that's all. It has nothing to do with cocks.
He had to admit Jeremy's hand had felt good, at least until he realized what it was. He closed his eyes and thought back on it, and pictured Jeremy's hand doing it, and it seemed less and less appalling. Especially when he wrapped his own hand around himself and pretended it was Jeremy's.
This is much easier than watching gay pornos and thinking of Alan Johnson. Maybe it was the music or the bad hair or the shorts that would look obscene on a department store mannequin.
"Are you wanking in my bed?" Jeremy's eyes widened.
Mark's hand froze. "Um, a little."
"I thought you were horrified and everything, but now you're not, so okay."
Mark swallowed hard. "I thought about it some more, and, well, I pictured your hand while I'm doing it, and it's okay. Plus, I know that I didn't dare you, so you must have said that just to have an excuse. And I thought that was kind of sweet, in a twisted, deceptive and unscrupulous sort of way."
Jeremy beamed. "You think I'm sweet. That's . . . interesting. Do you think if instead of picturing my hand on your cock, it could actually be my hand? And that maybe your hand can be on mine? Picture it as your cock. Just reverse things, you know, pretend--"
"I get it, Jeremy. And, yes. Okay."
Jeremy started to reach for him, then looked over his shoulder. "Super Hans? If he smells sexing, there'll be no keeping him out of here."
"Went home. Or somewhere. Somewhere not here."
Mark's spine stiffened for a moment when Jeremy wrapped his hand around him. He didn't pretend it was his own hand or Alan Johnson's hand or Sophie's, just went with the idea that it was Jeremy. And it was . . . good. He reached for Jeremy.
This is it. The minute I touch his cock something inside me's going to panic and I'll end up like Super Hans shouting about the Redcoats and running down the street like my ass is on fire.
Instead, it was okay. It was good. Nice. He kept thinking of adjectives, because he was surprised at how un-horrible it really was. And the way Jeremy reacted brought more adjectives to mind.
I am doing excellent wanking. Why couldn't I have done it this good to myself? He's going to want blowjobs now. Buggering. I'll bet I could talk him into being the bottom. Jeremy's so gullible, I know I could. That would be . . . nice.
"Can we kiss sometimes, Mark? Or would you rather . . . ?"
"Will you start flossing, at least a few times a week?"
"It's the least I can do for my best mate. We're the El Dude brothers, after all." He made the same sound as before, but instead of pumping his fist as he did so, he squeezed his fist around Mark. Mark's answering tones this time were much more enthusiastic.