by London Lampy
"Is that him?" I can hear Jack asking from somewhere inside the house. Vio has answered the door wearing a long, dark-blue towelling robe and an annoyed expression after I spent a few minutes with my finger on her doorbell.
"Yes, it's him," she calls back over her shoulder, then looks at me again. "Do you have any idea what the fucking time is?" she questions.
"Um...dunno...midnight?" I guess.
"It's nearly one...are you drunk?"
"A little," I confess, holding my thumb and forefinger an inch or so apart to illustrate.
"What's going on?" I hear another voice from inside the house, it belongs to Tippit.
"Exit's finally showed up." Yet another replies, this one belongs to Caddy, I have an audience.
"Can I come in?" I ask, I'm starting to feel a bit queasy and would like to sit down.
With a deep sigh Vio turns and I unsteady follow her inside to her living room. I've been here often before and it hasn't changed much since her father went to live in the sanatorium. All around the walls are photographs of Vio and her family, her mother and father's wedding day and her and her sisters and brother dressed up for a portrait sit side by side. It's probably the only picture of Vio wearing a dress in existence, she doesn't look impressed in it and she must be all of eight years old. There's a large one over the mantle of her father smiling in his soldier's uniform, tall and white blond like her, it was taken long before he lost a chunk of his brain in the war, an event that turned him into a different man. The furniture is fairly new, her father smashed the old stuff in a fit of anger and frustration last year along with most of her late mother's ornaments. As Vio has unfussy tastes the room is simple and sparse, although a vase of pink flowers on the mantelpiece provides a splash of colour, I wouldn't be surprised if the flowers were bought by Caddy.
It's not a large room and as it now contains five people if feels kind of crowded. Caddy is perched on the arm of the sofa dressed in one of Vio's shirts, her face stripped of it's normal layer of make-up looks oddly naked. Next to her on the sofa proper is Tippit, wearing a pair of blue and white striped pyjamas that must be meant for a human boy, he's much too small for adult clothes. His short, dyed black hair is washed clean of hair cream and is sticking up like mine does all the time. I'm not interested in either of them because behind them, leaning against the wall in nothing but a pair of underpants with his arms folded across his chest and a frown on his face is Jack. Vio steers me to the armchair that faces the sofa, pushes my shoulders to make me sit then heads for the doorway at the far end of the room that leads into the kitchen.
"Where you goin'?" I ask her.
"To get a bucket," she replies flatly. "I'm not having you puking on my floor."
"Hello," I say to Jack as she goes.
"Where the fuck have you been?" he asks crossly. Before I can answer Vio bustles in with a grey metal bucket that she places at my feet with a clank, then goes to sit by Tippit on the sofa. I wish I could tell her that I don't need it, but I'm not so sure that I don't, and she'll never forgive me, or let me forget it, if I do puke on her floor.
"I...the theatre..." I try to piece the nights events together in my mind. "Topher got shot."
"What?" Vio's expression changes to one of concern, and even Jack's face softens.
"How badly is he hurt?" Caddy questions. "Oh gods...he's not?" She covers her mouth with her hand, her eyes wide. Caddy likes Topher, but then Caddy likes everyone, she even reckons that Sonja's not that bad. I can't agree.
"Nah," I shake my head, then wish that I hadn't. It takes a few seconds for the room to stop spinning after. "He's only...it was only a graze...here..." I touch my upper arm to show her.
"How did he get himself shot?" Vio asks, looking puzzled.
"Someone tried to ass...assass...assassin...kill Sampson during the show...they missed and hit Topher."
"Wait...Topher was at the theatre with you?" Vio frowns.
"I was about to say that," Jack adds. "Exit, what the fuck is going on? Are you telling the truth?"
"I'm not lying...I don't lie!" I protest.
"He's got a point," Vio turns and speaks to Jack. "He can't lie convincingly sober, he's got fuck all chance when he's wasted."
"See, this is why I don't drink alcohol." Tippit decides to wade in. "We just can't tolerate it like humans can."
I'm considering telling him to stop being so fucking smug when Jack speaks again, this time slowly and clearly like I'm an idiot. "Why was Topher at the theatre with you? I thought it was a work thing."
"It's cos he's an earl," I reply. Jack and Vio look at one another, Vio shrugs. "That's why Samp...Sampson let him go."
"Let me get this straight. For some reason Topher came to Mrs Sampson's gala with you," Vio is speaking slowly too, "and a person or persons unknown attempted to shoot Mr Sampson but failed and injured Toper instead?"
"Yeah, tha's it." I look down at the bucket, I have a feeling I might be needing soon.
"But not one part of that explains why you are stinking drunk."
"When we done inter...talking to people I wen' for drink with Vin," I say.
"What?" Jack suddenly stops leaning on the wall and takes a step toward me.
"Is alright...I din' let him do anything." I hold up my hands to try to reassure him.
"Did he try?"
"Yeah," I admit. "He tried."
"I am going to fucking kill him," Jack growls.
"No...don'...this time you won' get away with it...you'll get sent to prison."
"This time?" I hear Caddy repeat quietly to Vio.
"Does anyone else think he's gone very pale?" Tippit asks, about two seconds before I vomit into the bucket.
"What the hell were you drinking?" Jack asks, wrapping a large towel around me to dry me off as I step out from under the shower. "You threw up pink."
"Something strawberry," I reply. I'm feeling a lot more sober now, having stood under a cool shower for a while and having got most of it out of my body and into the bucket. "Vin bought it 'cos it was sweet and I like sweet things...don't kill him."
"I want to, but I won't." I take hold of the towel as he grabs another one and rubs my hair.
"I think he's fucking Topher," I say miserably.
"Since when?" Jack finishes with my hair and runs a hand through it to make it stand up.
"No...now...tonight. I didn't know if I should have come here or gone home to see Topher so Vin said he would check on Topher...I stupidly said yes before I remembered he was Vin...I don' trust him with Topher."
"Welcome to my world," he strokes my cheek with his thumb. "Do you want to go to bed?"
"Yeah," I yawn, then realise Jack probably doesn't mean going to bed to go to sleep.
Vio's guest room is in the top of the house and is a converted attic, which means it's quite a big room but has all sorts of odd, low and sloping bits of ceiling. Not a problem for me but Jack has to continually duck to keep from hitting his head. I drop my clothes onto a chair, shed the towel onto the floor and climb into bed. Jack peels off his underpants and climbs in beside me then reaches up and flicks off the light. "Don't you want to?" I ask. Jack's not one for having sex in the dark.
"I want to, I don't think you do though."
"You know if I had had sex with Vin..."
"I'd have been inclined to kill the pair of you." Jack rolls over and spoons me.
"If I had had sex with Vin I would have puked pink on him while we were doing it."
Jack laughs. "He'd have deserved it. It's a low fucking trick, getting you drunk then trying it on. He must know you can't hold your booze."
"He's a snake," I reply. Someone else said that about him once, but right now I can't recall who.
"You do realise that under the circumstances I wouldn't have minded you spending the night with Topher not me don't you?" Jack says after a pause.
"He was hurt, alright not badly, but I'm guessing that he's not used to getting shot at either. I don't like him but I get why you'd want to see him."
"Thanks." I put my hand over his, his knuckles haven't healed yet and he has a line of sticking plaster across them. "But it's too late now, Vin is probably inside him and I'd just be disturbing them."
"Go to sleep and deal with it in the morning." Jack kisses me on the top of the head.
"Yeah," I sigh. "In the morning."
Everyone in Vio's house gets up far too early and they don't seem to appreciate that I have a hangover. Doors bang, showers run, toilets flush and footsteps clomp up and down the stairs. With all the noise I eventually give up trying to sleep, Jack having long since left the bedroom, get dressed and go downstairs. The smell of someone, most likely Tippit, cooking eggs and bacon makes my stomach flip queasily and I decide to stay clear of the kitchen. In the living room I find Jack dressed in a shirt and trousers sitting in the chair I was in last night drinking a mug of tea and chatting to Caddy, who now has her full face of make up back on. I wonder how long it takes her to do it each morning? She's wearing a blue and white striped sleeveless dress and has a red silk scarf tied around her neck, she looks wide awake and breezy, the complete opposite of how I must do.
"How are you feeling this morning?" she asks as I go and sit on the chair arm next to Jack.
"Horrible," I reply, only partly meaning the hangover.
"You do look a bit rough," Jack observes.
"Thanks." Suddenly feeling very thirsty I take his mug out of his hands, drink a mouthful of tea then instantly regret it. I would very much like to spit it back into the cup, but I don't because that would be really disgusting. "Ugh!" I grimace as I swallow. "How the hell can you drink tea without sugar in it?"
"How the hell can you drink tea with sugar in it?" he laughs. "If you want tea get your own."
"I would, but the cooking smell in the kitchen makes me want to puke again."
"You want me to get you some?" Jack asks, setting his own mug down on the table.
"How many sugars?"
As he disappears Caddy raises her drawn on eyebrows at me. "You got him wrapped around your little finger don't you?"
"No," I protest. "It's not like that."
"Yeah, right, and I'm the Queen of Surosa."
Once I've drunk my tea I decide it's time to go. One consolation to being woken up so early is that I still just about have time to go home, see Topher, change my clothes and get to work without being late. When I get to the flat I push open the front door half expecting to find a naked Vin lying in my place in the bed, but the bed only has one occupant who wakes with a start as I shut the door behind me.
"Hello," I say quietly, heading over to the bed where Topher is now blinking sleepily at me. "How are you?"
"Why do you care?" he replies as he sits up, the sheets falling back to reveal a bandage on his right upper arm, the white standing out against his dark skin.
Ignoring his comment I go and sit beside him, I don't want to fight. "I'm sorry I didn't come back here last night, it was just that I'd said I was going to Vio's to see Jack." I'm starting to feel like this is a repeat of yesterday morning. "And by the time I'd finished at the Empress it was really late...did Vin come over here? He said he was going to."
"Yes," he replies, giving me an unreadable look. How much can I ask him about that before he looses his temper?
"Did he stay for long?"
"Long enough." He looks at his arm and tugs his bandage straight. Long enough for what?
Fuck it, I have to know. "Did he...did you and he?"
"What?" he's not going to make this easy.
"Did you have sex?"
"What do you think?" he holds my gaze until I have to look away.
"That you did."
"Then you do not know me very well."
"You didn't?" Oh gods, this isn't going well. I look at him again, he's not happy.
"I got shot and it fucking hurt. I had to go and see some doctor to get sewn up in the middle of the night with that idiot Sampson going on about the war the whole fucking way there, and all I wanted to do was go home. So I get home in the end, hoping that my boyfriend might decide to come and find out how I am, seeing as I GOT FUCKING SHOT! But instead you sent someone else to see me who tells me that you have gone to see "solider boy", his words, then tries to fuck me. I told him to get out, which he did after a bit, which was good because I do not think that a person should get shot and raped in the same night."
"Oh," I take in what he's said. "Vin wouldn't go that far. I am so fucking sorry, you see I thought him coming to see you was a good idea, but I was really drunk at the time..."
"YOU WERE DRUNK!" He kicks me in the leg from underneath the covers, it doesn't hurt but I get off the bed just in case he decides to take assaulting me any further.
"Sorry," I hold my hands up. "It was Vin's fault...ah fuck...no, it was my fault because I couldn't make a decision and I had too many drinks with him...and I'm..."
"You are so fucking sorry, I know." He glares at me. "You got drunk, you went to see Jack and left me alone after getting shot...all of that is very bad but none of it is so bad as you accusing me of having sex with Vin behind your back."
"Shit," I sigh, sitting back down on the corner of the bed out of kicking range. "I'm sorry about that too, it's just I know what he's like. He's very persistent when he wants to be, and I know you like him."
"I flirt with him, I think he is sexy, or at least I used to, but I would not jump into bed with him like that."
"Why not?" I ask. Despite everything I'm curious.
"Because I am not you." Ouch, but I guess I deserved it. "I do not fuck around." He stares at me, I blink first. "Do you know how many people I have had sex with who I actually wanted to have sex with for no other reason than I liked them? Not because I was too young and stupid to know how to say no to someone a lot older than me, or because I had to do it so I could eat and keep a roof over my head or just stay alive, but just because I wanted to?"
He goes quiet, and I realise that he expects an answer. "I don't know," I say quietly.
"I loved Quint, however it was still an arrangement, he got to fuck me, I got somewhere to live and I got looked after. You are the only person I have been with purely out of my own desire."
I want to hug him, but he doesn't look like he wants to be hugged. I open my mouth but before I can say anything he stops me.
"If you say sorry one more time I am going to kick you again."
"I love you, and you're a much better person than me." By which I mean I'm sorry for accusing him of having had sex with Vin.
"No, I am not, I am just not as much of a slut as you, and actually I am not sure you are a person, do you not have to be a human to be a person?" As he says this he smiles, a little.
"I'm a person." I move across the bed and put my arms around him, and much to my delight he hugs me back, he's forgiven me. He'll sulk for days over something small, but the big stuff flares up then dies away quickly. "Are you going to work today?" I ask into his ear.
"I do not think I should, could you go and see Mr Lustrum and tell him that I have been shot and I am not coming to work?"
"Yeah, I will."
"Perhaps you should take the day off as I have been shot too?" he suggests, opening a button on my shirt and sliding a hand inside.
"I can't," I sigh. "Because even though the bullet hit you it was meant for Sampson, and we didn't catch anyone last night so I'm one of the people who now have to find out who did it." I unwrap my arms from around him. "Sorry...ouch." True to his word he kicked me for saying sorry again. I look at him, he briefly grins back.
"Are you going to be sleeping here tonight?" Topher asks, turning serious once more.
"Yes, but I'm having dinner with Jack first." It seemed like a halfway solution, which when I think about it could describe the whole damn situation with no one person really getting what they want. How long can we all keep this up, and when someone gives which one of us is it going to be?
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