Living with Christophe had led to many a peculiar event, but when Viktor woke up in his living room to find him wrapped around a young boy on his dining table, both stark naked and eating slices of cheesecake from plates he didn’t remember having cleaned, he thought he was still dreaming. Or at the very least, he hoped he was still dreaming. Most days, his housemate chose to welcome the morning with a percussive serenade. It hadn’t taken long for the Russian man to learn how to sleep through the incessant thumping of the other’s bedframe against the wall that separated them, or how to ignore either Chris or his partner when they went rooting through his bedroom in search of a condom. He threw his head back and squeezed his eyes shut tightly, sinking further in to the sofa with an exasperated sigh.
The side of his face had begun to itch after hours pressed against the worn fabric of the chesterfield, and the sound of voices flooded his ears, though they sounded cautious and distant. A light breeze coming from the direction of the window chilled his bare toes to the bone. Much to his dismay, he knew he was certainly not dreaming, and he tried to build up the courage to open his eyes and see the chaos that was no doubt unfolding in his house. His muscles screamed in protest as he tried to push himself up in to a sitting position, barely managing to peel his eyes open. The curtains had been pulled open, and a bright light blanketed the room. Viktor lifted a hand to shield his face, and a sharp paint shot through his shoulder blades, winding down his back and snaking up to wrap around his neck. The cold at his toes swam up his contorted legs, and he couldn’t tell whether it was from the breeze coming through the open window or the numbness.
“Ah, he’s not dead then,” a voice rang out.
He didn’t know whether to use his hands to cover his ears in a vain attempt to prevent the headache he already had, or to protect his eyes- not just from the sunlight.
His heart dropped as he surveyed the room.
Around him were crumpled balls of paper, stained with the same dark ink that had also left its mark on the rug, his shirt cuffs and his bare chest. The curtain pole had been pulled down from the wall and lay on the floor with the curtains pooled around it, and the main light fixture had fallen to the ground, surrounded by smashed glass and porcelain. On the wall by the staircase, the wallpaper had been torn to expose the brickwork behind it- at least that would solve the damp problem that had been developing there. A pile of wine and spirit bottles had accumulated by the door, some stained with ink fingerprints, others with dark red lip paint.
And there were two naked people sat eating cheesecake on his dining table.
“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty,” purred the unmistakable voice of his roommate, breaking the quiet but energetic conversation with his companion. At least one of the terrors that had descended upon his lounge had an excuse to be there.
Christophe was running his hands up and down the thin arms of the boy on the table. His skin was delectably tanned, hair dark and unruly, and his eyes seemed to hold a mischievous spark. There was an amused smirk spread across his face, accented by the spot of cream resting at the corner of his mouth. Viktor didn’t recognise him, but he wasn’t the first boy Christophe had brought home without his prior knowledge. Sat in the doorway to the kitchen was another man, whose calm demeanour seemed so out of place, he hadn’t even registered his presence at first.
He had positioned himself behind a tall easel and canvas, paintbrush in one hand, palette in the other, and a glass of white wine sat by his feet. Viktor couldn’t see his face, but he knew instantly who he was. Of course, wherever Christophe was, his darling Fabien was never more than five feet away. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief- if Fabian had not been there to keep his beloved grounded (Viktor had no doubt Christophe was at least partly responsible for the mess), his house most likely wouldn’t have been still standing.
“What time is it?” Viktor groaned, unable to look high enough to see the clock.
“Oh! It’s only ten past eight!” Christophe beamed in reply.
“It’s almost twelve, Chris,” Fabien smiled, tucking his pocket watch back in to its place, “That clock doesn’t work, the hands aren’t even moving,”
Viktor slid back down, cosying in to the cushions and trying to massage his throbbing head with shaky, suspiciously stick hands.
“How’s the hangover?”
If the pillow wasn’t cradling his aching neck and spinning head, he would have thrown it at the boy. His apparent sick delight at the situation was quickly becoming rather unbearable. However, he could barely manage a disgruntled growl in reply.
“Oh, you poor thing,” Chris drawled, pouting. “Sara brought us a cheesecake- it was supposed to be for a wedding, but apparentlythe groom ran away with one of his young students. I’ve heard they’ve gone to Blackpool, Lord knows why,” Viktor knew that Christophe had most likely heard about the cancellation from one of his many expansive gossip circles, and then charmed their friend in to giving him any food they had prepared for it- bless her heart. Either way, Viktor would be a fool to decline goods from the Crispino bakery, hungover or not. But at that moment, there was a more pressing issue clouding his mind.
“What happened last night?” he asked timidly, unsure of whether or not he really wanted to hear the answer.
He couldn’t tell if he’d simply imagined Chris shuffling uncomfortably, his back stiffening and straightening as he hesitated to answer, but when Fabien looked up from his painting, he realised it must have happened, and he grew greatly concerned about what he was about to hear.
“You don’t remember?”
He shook his head gently.
“There were some reviews of your new poems in the newspaper- we were celebrating. Georgi, Anya and Emil came, and it got a bit loud. That’s all,” Christophe’s smile faltered, his voice unsure. Viktor didn’t believe him.
Yuri hated England.
When he was just a naïve nine year old who knew little of the world outside his grandfather’s small, dark apartment, Lilia had managed to make moving to the island country sound exciting. Of course, she had managed to make the train from Moscow to St Petersburg sound exciting once, but the novelty of that wore off after about an hour of travel. Nevertheless, when she’d sat him down at the dining table and told him of warm summer breezes, lush green grass, blue skies and wildflowers galore, the two week long journey seemed like nothing knowing that was waiting for him on the other side. He even made somewhat of an effort to learn the language on the ship, much to his Aunt’s delight.
Thirteen days after setting off from Russia, he found himself stood in a crowded train station in a grey, smoggy city, freezing cold in the coastal wind and soaked through from the icy rain. He’d thrown a rather spectacular tantrum that night, though not as spectacular when he’d realised they wouldn’t be staying in the cosy farm house or Georgian mansion he read about in his English storybooks. Instead, his Aunt had bought a brothel.
Granted, the Basket Maker Bordello, or ‘maison-de-tolérance’ as Lilia insisted on calling it, was not the disease ridden hovel above a butcher’s shop of questionable quality he’d walked past every day back home in Moscow. Nestled between businesses and luxury apartments just off the Headrow, it blended in easily enough. It wasn’t the only brothel along the road, but it was by far the most popular, even just weeks after its ‘grand’ opening (ten minutes free for the first five men). News had travelled fast- it was the workplace of the most beautiful, and more importantly, cleanest whores in the city of Leeds.
Yuri of course was banished to his tiny attic bedroom when the girls were working, but they’d become his closest friends during the days. They doted on him, taking over the role of the mother he never had, a role that Lilia’s heart had never quite been warm enough to fill. Lilia was of course not impressed to find her nephew dancing in the powder room with her harlots, or helping with their hair and maquillage, but the boy had brightened up considerably since the weeks he’d spent in tears when they’d first moved. After a while, he no longer begged to return to Russia.
On several occasions over the years, he had gone back to his home country to visit his aging Grandfather, the man who had cared for him for the first decade of his life, and it never got any easier having to tear himself away and board the ship back to Britain.
Stepping off the train at Leeds station always came with a heavy sense of disappointment, no matter how many times he had done it. Somehow, he always managed to get his hopes up about returning to the life he was promised eight years ago. The sun was shining today- it was a start, at least.
Yuri scanned the platform for a familiar head of red hair, finding its owner quickly and skipping over to her. She had already spotted him, opening her arms out to catch him with bright eyes and a beaming smile. He fell in to her arms, happy to see his dearest friend again, if nothing else. As she engulfed him in a warm embrace, he felt something solid press against his abdomen. He pulled back, placing a gentle hand on her belly.
“Someone’s been busy. What happened here?” he smirked.
“Either that dark-skinned navy man who showed up just before you left, or Mr Whitely from the building society. You know, the one that comes in every Tuesday evening,”
“Ah. That’ll be a nice surprise when it arrives then!” Mila chuckled heartily as they began to walk back to the house.
“What has Lilia said about it?” Yuri asked a few minutes later, a masked hint of worry in his voice. She shrugged.
“She kicked me out. The doctor told her after the check-up. I stayed with a friend for a couple of weeks but I didn’t exactly make any money doing that, so I begged her for my job back, and she let me back again. I think she loves me, really,” her voice was nonchalant as she explained what had happened.
“Maybe it’s just because your tits are bigger than Daniela’s now,” he grinned.
“Your Aunt would have a seizure if she heard you talking like that,”
Viktor slammed the newspaper down on his desk, where it joined a growing pile of scathing reviews of his latest collection of poetry. After his last volume had been banned from publication, he’d been forced to share his work in a small periodical owned by a ‘friend’ of Chris’, read mainly by students, and inexplicably, bored housewives. He hadn’t expected it to reach the national news, especially not just a week after its initial release. Although, after publishing an entire volume detailing the life and times of a young, gay, oriental man he’d lusted after since seeing him in an absinthe bar, using vulgar amounts of detail to describe what went far beyond just sleeping together, he wouldn’t be surprised if he were on some sort of watch list. He’d been branded a degenerate, a disgrace, and a threat to decent society already.
Part of him enjoyed the attention he was getting- it seemed like something he could only dream of as a child, after spending so many hours having his Literature teacher screaming at him for his uselessness. Coming up with new ways to shock the public was fun, for a while. He just wished he hadn’t chosen to publish under his real name. He had no doubt that if his father was still alive, the man would swim across the North Sea just for the chance to wrap his hands around his son’s throat. He tried not to think what his mother thought of the situation.
Fabien and the boy left just after Viktor had summoned the energy to pull himself up from the sofa and shuffle in to his bedroom, leaving Christophe to spread himself over the Russian’s bed, punctuating his boredom with a loud sigh every few minutes. Thankfully, he’d dressed before throwing himself down on the mattress. He had a small stack of magazines, which he flicked through lazily, pretending he still had any hope of finding a positive review.
“Well, if we take anything from this, it’s that I’m now technically famous,”
The whore- courtesan- in his trilogy was inspired by Christophe’s short stint as a politician’s plaything, and the Swiss man seemed to take great pride in that fact, though he would never dare tell anyone. Viktor wished he could be annoyed by his friend’s narcissism, but he’d grown used to it over the ten years they’d known each other since they’d met studying in Paris.
“Oh, here’s a good one!” Chris’ face lit up with excitement, before suddenly dropping as he scanned the rest of the article.
“Wait, never mind,”
Viktor pushed piles of ruined paper to the sides of his table, and put his head down in the space he had cleared with slightly more force than he had intended. They were mocking him. The new collection, entitled ‘Lausanne’ after Chris’ home town, was the only thing he’d been able to write ever since his muse, the young man from the Far East, disappeared a year ago before he’d even had the chance to talk to him, or to learn his name. If Chris hadn’t sat him down at his desk at three o’clock in the morning with paper, a quill, and a collection of unknown powders, before looming over him until he’d written something, Viktor would never have produced anything he didn’t want to throw straight on to the fire.
‘I don’t understand your problem- every drop of ink you spill turns to gold,’ he’d said. ‘You’re like the Midas of poetry,’
Christophe bit his tongue in an attempt not to tut at his friend’s pathetic moping. He pushed himself up from the bed, and stepped over to the desk with light feet. Placing his hands on the other’s shoulders, he began to massage his aching muscles.
“I think I know exactly what you need, mon râleur,” he smiled.
Viktor sat up suddenly, pushing Chris’ hands away with a stern glare and an eyebrow raised in challenge.
“A friend of mine is having a party tonight,” he continued as if it hadn’t happened, “we’ll have a few drinks, watch some pretty girls dance, and if any point you decide you want to go, then we can leave straight away,”
The last time Viktor had attended a party thrown by one of Christophe’s ‘friends’, he’d been dragged out of the building as the sun was beginning to rise, wrapped in a bed sheet they’d stolen from one of the rooms. Georgi was forced to enlist the help of a stranger to carry him the rest of the way home, much to the shock of a passing Priest on his way to perform a Mass. Of course, he didn’t remember any of that happening. It wasn’t until a week had passed, when he’d gotten over his panic about having caught something unsavoury at the event, that Georgi told him, only after they’d run in to the same Priest in the bakery, and he’d given them a very odd look.
Chris was right- it was exactly what he needed.