“Right, so. Game on, yeah?” Cook stands in the smoky living area/his bed-space, expression cocky and expectant.
A groan answers from the futon. “I don't want to.”
“No no no,” Cook says. “Jays, gimme the can.”
Cook snaps his fingers. JJ, sprawled over the arms of the lime-green dumpster chair, wordlessly passes him a tin can full of cigarette ends. Cook tips them out on the rug.
“Fuck, Cookie,” Freddie moans. “Can't you just let us sleep? It's... fucking. What day is it?”
Cook slurs a mocking mimicry of Freddie's words. Freddie hurls a dusty pillow; it hits JJ with a solid ploof of dust.
The missing pillow dislodges Effy, who raises, raccoon-eyed, from Freddie's arms, throwing back the blankets, shoving off the pillows. She fumbles for her cigarette pack, and slides, majestically to the floor.
“Look, Effs, it's the game, yeah?” Cook shrugs, bounces on his heels. “High time we played, so where's the paper? Get a pen, come on, chop chop, it ain't gonna play itself.”
Effy moves like a sloth stuck in amber. The boys wait. She snaps the lighter, brings the cigarette to her lips. Smoke wreathes her. Her bracelets jingle. Cook's fingers wriggle and wriggle on the frays of his pockets.
“Sure,” she exhales. “Whatever.”
Cook snaps his fingers. “Paper. J! Where's the paper?”
JJ swings his legs over, sits up. He's fully dressed, his back pack still looped around his shoulders. He only got in last night and promptly crashed, well, after the shrooms and the vodka tonics, but before he could shuck off his clothes, his bag, his shoes. He pulls a sketchbook from his pack, rips a page, passes the ragged thing to Cook.
Cook shreds the paper. “So, game rules. Effs?”
She goes, “Two items each.” She streams smoke. “Two points, us, for level of challenge. Two points, you, if you can guess who wrote it.”
Cook nods, licks his lips. “End game?”
Effy leans her chin on her fist. “To be decided,” she purrs.
Cook narrows his eyes. “Agreed.”
Freddie chimes in, “Points for stuff we actually need?”
Cooks pantomimes wanking into Freddie's face.
“Did that last night,” Freddie says sourly. “To about the same effect.”
Cook tosses two bits of paper into Freddie's face. Freddie snatches it, sneering.
“Two items,” Cook says, stabbing a finger at each of them.
They put the scraps into the can. Cook shakes it, all vigorous like.
He pulls out the first, reads it: “Pasta.” Rolls his eyes. “Freds.”
“We need pasta,” Freddie says. He steals Effy's cigarette and takes a long drag.
Effy proclaims, “Zero challenge. Two to Cook.”
Freddie makes a big deal of not caring.
Second scrap, Cook reads: “Bananas. Better. JJ.”
“Potassium,” JJ sings.
And Effy says, “One to J, moderate challenge. Two to Cook for guessing.”
Third scrap, Cook reads: “Bread. Fuck it, Freddie, that is almost literally a piece of cake.”
“Look, I don't like the game,” Freddie says. He gets up, flicking the cigarette into the ash tray. He straightens his shorts on his skinny hips and saunters into the kitchen. Cook can tell Freddie boy is sore. He runs his tongue into his bottom lip. He catches Effy's eye and can see she's equally proud of the damage they'd managed the night before.
“He'll get over it,” Effy says.
“Always does,” Cook winks, and JJ, who's used to being outside the Freddie/Cook/Effy circle, plucks out the next scrap of paper.
“Ice cream,” he reads.
Cooks' brows shoot up. “The fuck, Effs? Ice cream?”
Effy smiles up at him through even, white teeth. “How's that for challenge?”
“What flavor?” he asks.
She goes, “Mm. Surprise me.” She thumbs out her cigarette. “Two points me, two points Cook. Let's have the rest.”
The rest includes biscuits – Effy, and a steak – JJ. The score: zero for Fred, three to JJ, four to Effy, and a perfect score to Cook.
“What can I say?” Cook says, glancing into the kitchen in time to catch Freddie's eye. “I like to be on top.”
“Everyone know their parts?” Cook asks.
And Freddie goes, “Yeah, yeah.”
Effy hauls Freddie from the back seat. She's got her hair pulled up in a loose knot so it cascades down her white shoulders. Her top is see-through, light as dandelion fluff, and her skirt is only a suggestion of ruffled cloth.
“Oh, come on.” Cook spits. “Muster some enthusiasm there Freds. You've got the good parts.”
Effy slides next to Freddie, pressing against him so he can breathe in the smoky vanilla of her hair. Her hand slips up his inseam. She bites his ear and says, “Maybe next time, Cook and I can trade?”
She feels him harden, feels his long fingers twitch on her bare skin.
“Knew you liked the game,” she says.
“All right,” Cook fusses, “Get on.” He raps his knuckles on the door of JJ's car. “Keep it idling, yeah?”
“Yeah, yeah,” JJ says. He sketches a bunch of rectangles on a page of his book as the other three traipse into the grocery.
“Here okay?” Freddie asks.
Effy glances with only her eyes. “Yeah,” she says. She reclines against the shelf, feeling the knobbly bottles of cola beneath her shoulder blades. Freddie leans in. She catches the back of his neck, pulling him close, raking his scalp with her pepper-black nails. She moans, arching against him as his teeth nip her jaw.
The mop-haired kid at the counter props on his elbows, one drawstring from his hoodie clamped between his lips.
“Move your left hand down,” Effy whispers.
Freddie obeys, sliding his thumb into Effy's purple bra, parting the lace to show the barest hint of nipple. He traces it with his thumbnail, coaxing it hard. Then he bends to bring it between his lips. Effy slides one leg around his waist, pulling him tight. Her sandal dangles from her toe.
“Go easy,” he mutters around her breast.
“Go hard,” Effy says. She bends back, brushing her hips to his.
“Right hand,” she exhales. “Do it now.”
Freddie slowly slides his hand up Effy's thigh, under the lace of her skirt, over the elastic of her thong. Just as his fingers slip inside and she groans against him, the kid at the counter straightens and begins to fiddle with the beef jerky display.
Effy bites Freddie's ear. “Fuck me,” she says.
“What?” Confusion cricks his brow. “Here?”
Effy rocks against his fingers, groaning deep, half-lidding her eyes. “Mm-hm,” she moans.
“But the,” Freddie pants. “The kid?”
Effy locks eyes with the cashier kid, her lips parted, her tongue perched against her top lip. “What do you think?” she mouths, tilting her head with the question. They're in plain view of the camera, full view of the counter. Effy can see the nine-panel security display behind the kid's head. Only the kid can see the doors.
The kid casts a breathless look at the entrance, then pans back to Freddie and Effy. He nods, slowly, twirling the drawstring around his lips.
Freddie eases Effy onto the shelf. “Let me just do the fingers,” he whispers against her neck.
She brings both legs around him. His thumb grazes her and she bites his lip. “Make sure he's watching,” she hisses. “And go slow.”
The metal shelf bites into her ass. His fingers move, slow and deep. He knows her buttons, but he takes his time. She strings kisses along his neck. He's hard, so hard it's an agony, and he could go for so much more right now, only it's not time yet, not part of the game.
She angles her hips so the kid gets just the hint of what's going on. And it's a good show, just enough skin to keep it interesting, enough to make them think, How far will she go? That's what Freddie's always thinking. How far will they go?
The kid's leaning on the counter, one hand hidden, probably down his pants, as in one panel of the security screens, Cook steps outside, pivots all neat, and with both hands high, he flips them off.
Effy lets herself go. She just fucking bucks, coming hard against Freddie's palm. She bites his shoulder, tearing fiercely into his threadbare shirt and as she shudders, the security alarm goes off.
The security guard fucking materialises from some back storeroom, shouting, flailing, his fat face red as stop signs. Freddie sees the guy's open fly as he pounds past them, careening around the corner, taking down a pyramid of tinned pears as he goes.
“Cook,” Effy says, her eyes dark.
Freddie eases her to her feet. “You okay?”
“Let's go then.”
Freddie takes her hand. As they round the counter, Effy palms a pack of gum and waves with it in her hand to the cashier boy, who can only answer with a dumbstruck grin.
As they slide into the backseat, JJ's already shifting the car into gear.
“Hurry the fuck up,” Freddie says. “That guard looked like an American football player.”
“Yep,” JJ says, swinging the car into traffic. “See him?”
Effy goes, “No,” but she and Freddie both crane their necks back and forth like a pair of birds.
They roll to the intersection. The light's green. JJ calls, “Which way?”
Cars behind blare the horns. Someone starts shouting. Then Freddie sees Cook, still running, still very much pursued by the broad-shouldered security guard.
“There,” Freddie yells. “Go.”
JJ cuts hard left across oncoming traffic, brakes squalling as cars part and screech to miss him. Effy twists around, flipping them off as they plummet between high buildings, a black car darting in and out of traffic as Cook runs and runs, his legs like slicing scissors, down the hill, around the corner, leaping a bicycle rack and dashing through the crosswalk.
“Run, Cookie,” JJ whoops.
The guard gains, loping on long American legs like the fucking Terminator.
“Get ahead of him,” Freddie barks.
“Oh really,” JJ says, pseudo-calm. “I hadn't thought of that.” He whips the car around a bus slowing to the bus stop. He pumps the gas as they rumble down the hill. For a second they're even with Cook and Effy yells, “Get in! We'll catch you.”
The guard's an arm-length away. Cook gestures wildly for them to keep going. The guard's fingers snag Cook's hoodie, and Cook ducks into an alley, run directly perpendicular from them.
“Go go go,” Effy cries. “Turn here, go!”
JJ obeys, cutting the wheel hard to parallel to the alley. At the corner, JJ ramps the curb, clipping a newspaper box and sending the papers fluttering into the sky. Freddie throws the door open and Cook drops to the sidewalk from a fire escape ladder. The security guard slams into the gate at the alley entrance just as Cook leaps into the open car door.
“Go that way,” Cook orders, pointing them down a side street. JJ guns it, jumping the next curb and cutting into traffic. Panting, Cook's face goes one hundred percent cheddar cheese. “Didn't catch that license plate, now did he?”
“Not a chance,” JJ calls, matching Cook's smile in the rear view mirror.
They rode on, quiet a bit while Cook catches his breath. Freddie's in the middle, sliding in the seat as JJ navigates the streets of New York like he's lived here his whole life and not blown into town only the night before.
Effy leans over Freddie and socks Cook in the arm. “Well?”
Cook runs his tongue over his teeth. He jostles, then goes down the front of his pants. He pulls out a packet of pasta, passes it to Freddie.
“Points?” JJ asks.
Effy thinks a moment, then goes, “One point.”
Cook squints. “A'ight,” he says. He goes down his pants again, this time pulling out a bunch of bananas. He strokes one before tossing the bunch into the front seat beside JJ, whose face just beams.
Effy says, “One point per.”
“So... six,” JJ says.
“Fuck yeah,” Cook says.
Unimpressed, Effy says, “What else?”
From his pockets, Cook produces a loaf of bread, squished, and a box of frosted animal biscuits.
Effy goes, “Two points for the bread, it's damaged--”
“You're damaged,” Cook shouts.
“--And two points for the biscuits,” says Effy, nonplussed.
“Fine,” Cook says. He flips up the front of his hoodie to reveal one extra large cello-wrapped packet of steaks.
“Fuckin hell,” Freddie goes. “Four fucking steaks?”
“One for each of us, mate,” Cook goes. “American fucking grass-fed Angus beef, yeah?”
“Yeah,” JJ says, drumming the steering wheel. “Fuck yeah.”
“Ten points,” Effy says.
“Ten?” Cook seethes. “Worth ten each, at least.”
“Hm, no,” Effy says.
And Cook winks at Freddie. “Oh I see, so maybe you just don't want...” from his pants leg, Cook shakes out a pint of ice cream and holds it up. “...This?”
Effy leans across Freddie, hands out. Cook angles away, his lips pulled tight.
“What flavor?” Effy asks, making a big deal of sounding nonchalant.
“Mint chocolate chip,” Cook says and JJ hisses over his teeth.
“Piece de fucking resistance,” Cook says, nodding smugly.
Effy sits back, folding her long arms and her legs. After a minute, she says, “Fifty points,” and Cook fucking howls. He tosses the pint to Effy, who catches it, pops it open and scoops it out with her bare hand.
“Oh, not in the car,” JJ whines, but he smiles as she sucks it noisily off her fingers. She repeats the action, feeding a fingerful to Freddy, then to Cook, then crawling over the seat, she feeds some to JJ, too.
They sprawl – Cook, Freddie, Effy – across the futon, with JJ draping over the dumpster chair. They are full of steak and bread and biscuits and ice cream. They pass a spliff one to the other, to the other, to the other.
“Well, Ladiy and Gents,” JJ says, getting up, sweeping his hands against his hips, “I'm not wasting my holiday in New York lying on my back smoking blunt, so... cheers!”
Effy sorta sits up to protest, but dissolves into giggles. Cook takes up her intent and says, “Where you gonna go, mate? Everyone you know in America's here.”
“That's what you think,” JJ says. “Thomas and Panda're taking the train up. They're meeting me at midnight on Times Square, so I best be off.” Then he adds. “You could come along, yeah?”
Effy glances at Freddie who glances at Cook.
“Nah,” they all say together.
“Right,” JJ says. He bounces once. “Right. Cheers.” And then he's gone.
Cooks' head rests on Freddie's thigh. Freddie's head is in Effy's lap. They're on the roof of the building, looking up at the stars, listening to the street sounds below.
“So what's my prize?” Cook says, passing the spliff to Freddie.
“JJ cooked dinner,” Freddie says, taking a hit, passing it on to Effy. “That was the prize.”
“No no no,” Cook says. “That was the appetizer. I want my winnings.”
Effy puffs, exhales, waves her hand. “Name it. What do you want?”
Cook props on his elbow. “Freds, you remember last night?”
“Barely,” he answers, way too quickly.
Effy walks her fingers up to the loose waist of Freddie's jeans. She hooks her fingers in the waistband and tugs. “He remembers,” she says.
Cook pushes his face against Freddie's neck and hums, “You remember.”
Freddie flounces and bucks, all bony hips and angles. Effy climbs astride, pinning him with her slender knees.
“Yeah,” Freddie says, grinning up at her. He wraps his arm around Cook's neck, dragging him closer. “Yeah, I remember.”
“That's what I want,” Cooks says. He brings his lips to Freddie's. The kiss is deep and slow and makes Freddie's heartbeat thump in his skinny chest.
Effy works Freddie's zip, freeing him from his jeans and his pants, pulling them off and tossing them aside. She coaxes Freddie up, and they're all sitting in a circle, knees touching, their faces so close.
Cook says, “It's what I always want. You, and you, and me.” And he smiles that crooked, lopsided smile that Freddie could never, ever resist.
And Effy says, “Cook is the winner. What he says goes.”
“Then I guess,” Freddie says, tugging Effy into their laps, “I better do as Cookie says.”
“Damn fucking straight,” Cook mutters.
She sits astride them, Freddie in front, Cook behind. Cook nibbles at her neck as he works the laces of her top.
“Dunno about straight,” Freddie quips, biting his lip against the smile. Cook kisses him again, so hard their teeth bump, and Effy, squashed between them, lets out a tiny squeak of surprise.
She raises up, cradled between them, letting them kiss her and each other as she angles back to pull Freddie inside.
There's always a moment of breathlessness, a blind kind of rush. It's a surrender on all fronts, him, and him, and her. And she whispers as she falls, knowing they're there to catch her, “My boys. You always take such good care of me.”