James woke up with dry mouth, desperate for water. He blinked open and sat up in a double bed that definitely wasn’t his. A few seconds later he remembered what had happened the night before and instead of the regret he expected arriving, a smile broke out across his face. Xander was nowhere in sight. The walls were covered in drawings and paintings, glued and pinned so there was no wall left to be seen. Pencils and brushes were scattered across the desk in the corner and littered all around the room. He recalled Xander mentioning that he was creating a comic book while they were in the taxi.
He reached down and grabbed his boxers off the floor and pulled them on before rolling out of the bed. He could feel a slight ache from last night, but he knew that Xander would most likely be aching more. He opened the bedroom door as quietly as possible and crept down the hallway, hoping no one was in the kitchen. It would be embarrassing for someone to catch him in just his boxers, but he was desperate for a glass of water. Thankfully there was no one in sight. He took a somewhat clean glass off the side and filled it with water from the tap. It wasn’t cold, but it was enough to quench the demanding thirst. He glugged down another one.
‘Thirsty?’ A familiar voice said behind him.
He turned to see Xander walking over to the counter with a full Tesco bag. He was dressed in tight jeans, white shirt open at the collar and black leather jacket with a white hood. His hair had changed from last night as well. There was no longer the hanging lock of black, but a proud, high-standing quiff. James felt a a twitch.
‘I went out to get pizza, but now I fancy a steak.’
‘Can go Pilgrim then if you want?’
‘Sounds nice, but first I want something else.’ Xander walked over and grabbed James’s hand, leading him back to bed.
They dropped by James’s flat so that he could change. He was hoping to avoid Amelia and all her looks and queries as he turned the key to the flat door. On James’s motion, they crept to his room and snuck inside with as little sound as possible. He stripped off and threw his clothes into his washing basket before going for a shower. Xander flopped onto his bed. Ten minutes later, he walked out with a towel wrapped around his waist and found Xander reading his book of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
‘Which is your favourite?’ He started to dry himself.
‘When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’sd to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.’
’30 then.’ James smiled. ‘That’s mine too. Reminds me of how lucky I am to have friends.’
Before Xander could reply, there was a loud banging on the door followed by, ‘James! Open up.’
James and Xander looked at each other. He pulled on a clean pair of boxers and opened to the door just enough to see Amelia and Harris standing outside.
‘So… are you going to let us in?’ She didn’t wait for an answer and barged passed and went straight over to Xander. ‘Hi, I’m Amelia and this is Harris.’ She waved vaguely at Harris as he stepped into the room.
As he continued to get changed into jeans, a blue shirt and coat, Amelia talked. He looked at Xander almost apologetically, but he just shrugged it off and smiled.
‘James, I’m hungry. Can we go Pilgrim?’ Amelia asked.
He rolled his eyes and explained that that was what Xander and he had been planning on doing. Once James was ready, all four of them walked to the pub, chatting about random subjects, but when they reached the Pilgrim and ordered their food, Amelia got down to business.
‘Xander, what do you do?’
‘I’m an artist.’ He took a swig of the water. ‘I’m working on a comic book at the minute, but I need a writer for it.’
‘Harris could do it.’ James said.
Harris smiled at the idea, ‘Or Shaun.’
Both James and Amelia burst out laughing and said together, ‘No.’
‘Who is Shaun?’ Xander looked at them confused.
‘He’s a friend of ours who is also a writer, but only of a certain quality shall we say.’ James explained. ‘Where is he anyway?’
‘He’s on his way. His mother was nagging him this morning, so he’s running late.’ Harris checked his phone again.
‘When doesn’t she?’
‘Anyway James, you could help Xander with it.’ Harris grinned. ‘We all know you’re the best writer out of all of us.’
‘Harris, you talk shit.’ James rebuked. ‘You and Amelia are far better than me.’
‘So you’re all writers?’
They all nodded.
‘What do you write?’
‘Well…’ Harris spoke for them. ‘Amelia loves her crime… she’s writing a novel about a woman who killed her husband in self-defense. I like to write a little prose, but I’m a poet mostly. And James…’
They all glanced at him.
‘I keep trying to write a dystopian thriller, but I keep starting it and failing to get anywhere with it.’
‘That’s good.’ Xander grinned. ‘My comic book is dystopian like V for Vendetta.’
‘Who is the protagonist?’ James asked.
‘A masked musketeer. He carries a rapier and follows a moral code of honour and justice.’
‘Sounds like James’s dream role.’ Harris chirped up and he and Amelia giggled together before explaining to Xander that James did fencing.
‘You’ll have to show me sometime.’ James smiled, trying not to blush too hard.
They chatted for a while longer, waiting patiently for Shaun to arrive. Xander explained that his ambition was to publish his comic book and hopefully end up working for Marvel and have his comic turned into a film. He pulled up his sleeve to show Harris and Amelia his tattoo of Captain America’s shield on his right forearm. James blushed slightly remembering how he’d kissed that drunkenly the previous night.
Shaun eventually arrived and the pleasantries were repeated. Shaun being Shaun scoffed at Xander’s comic book idea, but instead of being offended like most people Shaun scoffs at, Xander simple asked why.
‘I don’t see the interest in it after, like, the age of 14. They’re picture books and I don’t need Quentin Blake anymore.’
Xander just said, ‘Fair enough.’
James looked at him strangely and later when they were alone in Xander’s flat, asked him why he wasn’t offended by Shaun’s complete dismissal of his art.
‘Have you ever been offended by something someone has said?’ Xander asked.
‘Have you ever offended anyone by what you have said?’
‘So you have been offended and have offended by something someone has said. Why?’
‘Well, I guess I didn’t like what they said.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Emotion has no place in debate regarding how you feel about someone’s point. You know the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?’
‘It’s total bullshit for most people. Look at the news. Every day someone is hurt and offended by something someone has said and they demand an apology because of their righteous outrage. Words clearly hurt more than sticks.’
‘But you must get offended by things people say?’
‘I’m offended by stupidity and ignorance. If someone says something racist or homophobic then I get pissed off, but I have no right to stop them saying it.’ Xander opened his fridge and passed James a Diet Coke and opened one for himself. ‘I am an artist with an opinion. Who am I to demand the closing down of someone else’s opinion because I don’t agree with it? Offence does nothing for debate except to shut it down. I enjoy offending people because it’s entertaining to watch them bubble up with righteous fury. James, for me the most important ideal an artist of any profession should stand by is the freedom of expression, speech and opinion. You’re a writer. You of all people should understand that.’
James sipped his drink and looked to the floor in thought. He’d never really considered the issue of free speech despite being a writer.
Xander stepped close to him and lifted his chin up so that their eyes met. ‘Let me put it this way. In Nazi Germany, they used to burn books of those they believed threatened Nazi rule. Imagine if a novel you had written was tossed into the flames because it was deemed a threat to the Nazi ideal. How would you feel?’
‘Angry, probably.’ James answered.
Xander smiles slightly. ‘I think we need to make you more definite about what you believe so we have less probably. But that’s my point, you would be angry if someone burnt your book because they found it offensive or disagreeable, so why would you be any less annoyed if it was banned from bookshops or schools or people were told not to read it by some other authority except their own.’
James could see the passion burning in Xander’s eyes and he could feel the heat burning inside him. ‘You’re hot when you’re passionate.’
They kissed. They fucked.