The morning after your first night out at university is always the one you remember most clearly. James rolled out of bed, still dressed in his favourite grey jeans and unbuttoned blue shirt. His silver cross lay against his bare chest. His head felt clear and fresh, but the same couldn’t be said for his mouth. Parched and tasting of vile chocolate, cheese and vodka all blended together. He walked into his en-suite, spat what little saliva was left into his sink before rinsing his mouth out. James stripped naked, discarding his clothes into his washing basket in the corner. He unfastened the cross around his neck and looked at it the palm of his hand. A memory flashed across his mind from a few hours earlier. He tossed it onto his bed and buried his face in his hands, letting out a groan. Turning the shower on hot (Although you had no real choice with the accommodation showers, it was always either hot or freezing) James slipped his ring off his middle finger and set it down on the sink with a
James stripped naked, discarding his clothes into his washing basket in the corner. He unfastened the cross around his neck and looked at it the palm of his hand. A memory flashed across his mind from a few hours earlier. He tossed it onto his bed and buried his face in his hands, letting out a groan. Turning the shower on hot (Although you had no real choice with the accommodation showers, it was always either hot or freezing) James slipped his ring off his middle finger and set it down on the sink with a clink. He stepped into the shower, the water crashing over his head and washed the wax out of his blonde hair, flattening the messed up quiff. He stared down at his feet as the memory lingered at the front of his mind. He slapped his hands on the tiled wall in front of him. He recalled Harris’s touch on his chest and the faint kiss on the back of his neck when he left. He grabbed his flannel and scrubbed hard at the mark. He had to get rid of the mark left by the kiss. It was there. Clear in his mind and it wouldn’t go. He scrubbed harder and harder, but the mark remained. It hadn’t even faded. He slopped the flannel down in the corner, turned off the shower that drizzled when he stepped out and wrapped his big blue towel around his waist.
A dull headache had pushed the memory back. Fuck! His clock read 4:45. He’d only slept three hours and he wasn’t even tired. James felt the urge to call Amelia, but he knew where she was and if she was awake she wouldn’t appreciate the call and if she was asleep he might as well write his will and testament now. He dried himself off and dressed in a fresh pair of Levi jeans, Hollister t-shirt and his favourite coat, a knee-length black duffel coat. He grabbed his leather satchel, dropped in his journal with a pen and pencil and slung it over his shoulder.
James’s hand hovered over four chess pieces standing on his desk – all bishops – three of them holding a different ring. Everyone has a fashion penchant. It makes them, defines them. For some women, it’s their handbags, for others its boots, men and women alike, Nathan, his best friend, had his leather jackets. And for James, rings were his. He had a silver skull ring, a black titanium band, a silver ring with an onyx stone (the one he’d left in the bathroom) and a silver signet ring, with a rampant lion engraved into it. He slipped the lion ring onto his middle finger. He would only wear the rings on his right hand. There was only one ring going on his left.
He left his building and stepped out into the cold, pale morning. A sharp breeze ruffled his drying hair. He flicked his collar up and stepped through the green gate of his accommodation, Great Newton Hall. The sky was clouded white. He walked to the end of the street and crossed London Road, aiming for the Tesco on the other side. It still being the start of September, it was as bright as the middle of the day, but his hope of the shop being open were dashed when he saw the shutters down. He spun on his heels and walked back the way he came, passed his halls and up the street, through the back alley and onto Mount Pleasant. He walked up the street and jogged up the steps of the Metropolitan Cathedral. When he reached the top he walked to the middle of the large open space used for outdoor masses. Ahead of him were more steps leading to an altar and the crucifix hanging behind it. James walked towards the altar, but guilt stopped him. Wouldn’t let him walk on holy ground. Only those who follow God’s law can stand.
He walked left, around the side of the Cathedral to the entrance where the doors were covered by carvings. James found them both disturbing and confusing. He had no clue to their meaning. He sat down on the cold stone and stared out at Hope Street. The streetlights were still on despite the daylight. He slipped the leather journal out of his satchel a long with a pencil and opened. That’s when he saw it. The number. Eleven digits long. Harris’s mobile number. Fuck! He actually left it.
The night before James and his flatmate Amelia has gone to a flat party upstairs (his first at university). Amelia had dared him to down his drink in front of the whole room. He was holding a plastic pint cup and a minute before he had filled it with Smirnoff vodka up to the line of the cup and filled the rest with Vimto. This was his first party. He had to impress. He glugged it down. Almost immediately he felt tipsy. The room exploded in cheer and they all set off into the city centre.
Amelia dragged him away from the main group and into Cava, a sweaty, hot, packed tequila bar. If James had been sober, the sweat and scent of the place would have been nauseating and closeness of the air and people would have pushed him to the limit. They jostled their way to the bar and Amelia ordered the weirdest flavours he’d ever heard of. Chilly flavour and baked beans flavour. His face grimaced in disgust as it burned over his tongue. He couldn’t imagine who thought flavours like those were a good idea. They washed the flavour away with two lime flavours shots, their faces contorting at the citrus juice when they sucked on lemons.
They moved on to Krazyhouse. A three-floor club mixing heavy metal rock music with Indie and chart hits on every floor. It was just as packed and almost as sweaty, but the ceilings were higher, thinning the air. His shirt clung to his body. Amelia led them up to the second floor and immediately moved for the raised platform with poll in the centre of the Dance floor.
They were there for an hour before Amelia announced loudly ‘I need a wee.’
James laughed and told her he’d be at the bar. He pushed through the crowd and leant against the bar. A green haired girl asked him what drink he wanted.
‘Double vodka coke, please.’ It was one in the morning.
She placed the drink in front of him and he paid. He turned around and waited for Amelia to come back. He scanned the room. Not looking at anything in particular. He sipped his drink. What was taking her so long?
That’s when their eyes met. James was staring straight when he caught himself looking into the eyes of a guy. He was tall, dressed in skinny black jeans and a shirt that was open at the neck and further. His hair was a mane of brown, standing high and out to the sides. James took a large gulp as the guy smiled, a white smile that caused a heat to rise in James. Fuck! The guy was walking towards him. He took another gulp, even bigger than the last.
‘Hey, I’m Harris,’ Harris stopped right in front of him. He was still shorter than James by a few inches. The heat inside was now burning.
No. Not again. Not that urge. He couldn’t do it. Not again.
‘James.’ He held out his hand.
Harris laughed. ‘You should get a Jaeger bomb. They’re much cheaper and the same size.’ He pointed at the cup in James’s hand.
‘Maybe next time.’ James smiled. Fuck! What was he doing? He had to get away from this guy and his dimpled smile. ‘Nice ring.’
Harris looked down at his hands. ‘Which one?’ He held the back of his open hands up showing two rings on his right hand and two on his left.
James downed the rest of his drink, placed his cup on the bar and took Harris’s hand in his own, stroking the ring on the third finger on his right. Gold signets ring with an S engraved in an elegant design.
‘Stands for Stark.’
James stopped himself making a terrible joke about dead Starks so he wouldn’t look like a complete nerd. ‘Harris Stark?’
‘Yep. Can I get you a drink?’
‘Sure,’ James said. Why was he still here? He wasn’t giving in to this urge again. It’s already caused so much…
Harris leaned across him to ask for two jaeger bombs. James breathed in his scent. Fuck! Harris moved back and James kissed him. It took only a moment for Harris to respond returning his kiss.
James had no idea what came over him. Why he was doing this? Kissing Harris? But he liked it. He’d given in to the urge. Bathed in the heat.
‘Let’s go to my place.’ He found himself saying. Fuck! It must be the alcohol.
He was going to find Amelia and tell her he was leaving and hoped she would be able to stop him, but she was kissing a guy just outside the toilets.
It took them fifteen minutes from Krazyhouse to walk up to his flat. They stopped for food at Mcdonald’s, laughing at the stern-faced bouncers checking out all the girls in short dresses. They walked up passed the Britannia Adelphi Hotel, chatting and laughing about nothings. Harris seemed all right. Why was he doing this? Why was he going home with a guy he barely knew? Why was he going home with a guy at all? He wasn’t like that. He’d done it before and he swore he’d never do it again. He wasn’t like that! Fuck!
They passed through his gate and went up to his flat. Still laughing and chatting. They got into his flat and Harris looks around it.
‘You need more books than this, James.’ He rolled his finger across the spines of the four books on James’s shelf.
‘I do. They’re on my Ipad.’ He pointed to the leather-cased device sat on his bedside cabinet.
‘Oh man, that is not pure.’ He grinned. ‘Let me look.’
James stopped him with a kiss. Fuck! He’d given in again. He couldn’t resist Harris, with his lips, open shirt, and when he grinned… those dimples… he was pushed over the edge.
Harris kissed him back again. They unbuttoned each other’s shirts. Harris stroked his hand down James’s muscular chest and rested it on his near naked sides. James jumped at his touch and they fell back onto his bed. Harris landed on the bottom. He had his knee between Harris’s legs. Hand resting on his abdomen. The heat had consumed him almost completely. A face flashed across his mind. His face. His touch on his neck. Not Harris’s, no. An old face pulled forward from memory, forced its way to the front of his mind. His kisses on his abs. Clouding his mind. Pushing the heat back. He shouldn’t have done this. He can’t do this. His arms hugging him. His mind had drenched the urge with that face. He can’t do this. That face. His touch.
Harris’s words dragged him back to reality. He realised he must have been staring at Harris, with his hand still resting on his abs and from the quizzical look on Harris’s it may have been for longer than a few seconds.
‘I can’t do this.’ James stood up and turned away from Harris – eyes down at his desk. His body tensed up. He waited for the abuse to follow. It wouldn’t be the first time.
‘I understand.’ The words were soft behind him. ‘I know what you’re going through. Done it myself.’
Fuck! James didn’t move. This is worse than the abuse. How can Harris have been through it? How does he even know? He didn’t dare speak.
‘Here’s my number.’ He opened James’s journal that had been sat on his desk and scribbled a set of numbers down. ‘If you need to talk, just give me a call.’
He kissed the back on James’s neck, which sent shivers down his spine. He mustered the courage to turn and just see the flash of Harris’s naked flesh before he closed the door behind him. That face plastered onto his mind – forcing Harris from it. Both of them needed to fuck off.
His pencil hovered over the page. The drawing he’d drawn while reliving the night before. Harris stared up at him from the page. Harris hadn’t. The Harris on the page, the Harris from the bar when he had joked about his drink, that’s the moment his hand had drawn.
A raindrop splattered onto his forehead. A black cloud had appeared. He slipped the journal and pencil back into the satchel and stood up. The rain began to fall harder and faster, blackening the stone steps of the Cathedral. He walked down and across onto Hope Street. What a name for street? Maybe it’s the Cathedrals at each end. The Anglican fortress reaches up into the darkness above. Maybe there is some for him somewhere. Hope. He needed to stop feeling sorry for himself. He’d made one mistake last night. He knew he’d promised never to do it again…but Harris was…Fuck!
The rain pounded down. Splattered the road and his head. Dollops slipped down his collar. He made it to the end of Duke Street and all the way to the docks. James reached the black railing behind the International Maritime Museum and stared out across the Mersey. He liked it down here. No one is around at half five in the morning. It was nice. Comforting. The wind rushed down, flapping his coat tails against his thighs. His soaked collar lightly slapped his own soaked neck. He resisted a shiver when more rain drops slivered down his back. His mind had drenched away his heat, now the rain had finished it off.
He looked out, thoughtless, alone, and blank. Every time. The same process. No matter where he is, it was always the same.