Posner is appreciative of the alphabet.
He is appreciative of the spacing of classroom blocks, how thoughtful the designer or maybe architect or was it planner or fuck it whichever the name it is, the job of the poor sods who spent all their miserable days drawing up layouts of deadend grammar school in shit towns where nothing ever happens and no one expects much of anything.
A toast to them all then, because Posner is oh so appreciative given that he now has a reason to rush out of class like everyone else. His locker is kitty-corner to the dark haired boy in the other form. The one with scornful eyes and lips that curved just the slightest.
When Posner can't stop staring, he tells himself it's just because everyone is still new – only Akhtar he recognizes from last year's classes, and even then, they'd never spoken to each other very much.
That boy, the ironic one, and his friend, impossibly freckled and tall, they must have gone to another primary school together. (Yes, that was the word - he was ironic, wasn't he. Those eyebrows.) They were taking the piss about the church of England the other day. He could joke about the church of England and maybe The Boy would look at him that way, even cuff him on the shoulder.
Posner never had good friends. He wonders what that'll feel like, to walk home with someone. Maybe they'd like cake afterwards and they'll be able to eat all the chocolate ones he never manages to finish. Maybe he won't need to scrounge around the house anymore for bits of garbage to cover the leftovers in the bin. Mum and Da would stop asking with furrowed brows over the coleslaw if he'd like to have anyone over. Friends in school must make life outside of it easier to bear.
In second period history, there's a pale boy who sits near the front. His locker was close to theirs last year and a few of the rugger boys were constantly drawing dirty pictures on it. He mentioned it to Dakin once (poor fuck getting picked on all the time, the brutes, all of them) and Dakin just laughed. Lookit his scared shoulders and limp wrists, he'd said. Anyone can smell a nancy miles away.
What Scripps kept to himself and would probably do so until the end of time, threats of bamboo skewers under his fingernails not withstanding, was that he rather liked the ridges of the boy's shoulders when he slumped against the locker. The defeated light in his eyes, getting books out between classes, the accompanying soft sighs. Not to be romantic about it or anything, but he cut a tragic figure, filled with some weariness or pain the rest of them couldn't even begin to imagine. And curiously, instead of maturing or aging him, the sadness made him all the more vulnerably young. What was his story?
If Scripps was really honest about it, he'd admit that he was getting more than a little protective about – Posner. That was it. He'd scribbled the name in his notebook first class during attendance. Strange that he forgot because he'd followed it with 3 pages of observations from a year of hallways, somehow all subconsciously gleaned and filed away. Scripps wasn't quite sure what happened – one minute Totty going through rollcall and he was just jotting down Posner's name when the words rolled out in waves. By the time he looked up again, she was two thirds through the 95 Theses.
Dakin was right amused and tried to snatch his notebook afterwards. Is the craft of the great auteur now too important for the mere trifles of history class, fingers darting and capturing the notebook. Thank God his writing was completely illegible, but Dakin refused to share the notes he missed unless Scripps read a page out loud. Dakin really was an insufferable twat sometimes. Last year, Posner's eyes were always drifting over to them above the tops of their lockers, silent cries for help; how like Dakin to just dismiss it. Twat.
When Posner called him, exuberant and probably a little drunk on wine, Scripps asked him if he'd told Dakin yet.
The celebratory noises in the background faded a little and Scripps pictured him squeezing into the coat closet by the telephone.
"If I tell him, he'll think that I think that there's a better hope he'd love me if I got into Cambridge. Which is stupid."
Scripps frowned a little and picked at the peeling Formica counter. "But isn't that what you think?"
"Well yes. But it's stupid. And I know it's stupid. And I know that Dakin'll know that I know it's stupid. And he already thinks it's all stupid to begin with." Posner explained patiently, slightly slurring his words.
"You do know I'll pass along everything you're saying right now."
"I know. But that'll make it funny, which is much better than just pathetic the way it is right now. One pathetic call, one funny one. And I get to come on top anyway. I mean, with the scholarship and all. Dakin's only got an exhibition." He adds as an afterthought, "And don't complain Scripps. Other than my relatives commissionné who really need the pick-me-up, and God Forbid they ever find out I wrote about Hitler, you're getting the news first. Even before Hector and Irwin."
When Scripps tried to protest, Posner cut him off.
"Oh you sulk as much as I do, with all your melancholic notebooks and stand-offish jibes." The party continued at a distance, muffled by the winter coats nestling around Posner, the phone cupped against his ear. Scripps saw it so clearly in his head. Posner in darkness only broken by the line of light seeping through the crack where the door rested ajar. One hand on the knob to keep it still.
"What is it you're doing, Scripps? Your love affair with God. Dakin is at least corporeal. I've still got half a chance more than you do and that half chance is what keeps me from unravelling – mad phone call schemes like this one not excepted. How do you even manage at all?"
Posner's feet must have been buried in runners, winter boots, his uncle's orthepedic loafers. Shoulders askew at angles trying to compensate, trying to balance. And the drink would have been coursing, warming his body, the root a comforting glow at the pit of his stomach.
"Scripps? Don? Don, are you still here?"
His thumb picked at the counter all the more insistently.
"Scripps, I think you must be exactly like me. I've seen your notebooks. They're scratched out scribbles, impossible to read, but that night you fell asleep at the desk - " The line cracked and rustled, a hand covered the mouthpiece and Scripps dimly heard Posner shouting, "I've got the phone, Mum. It'll just be a minute."
"You'll tell Dakin for me, won't you, Scrippsy."
"Pos - " The line went dead and Scripps continued to listen to the empty rattle.
He didn't quite know how he should feel about the fact that Posner hadn't asked about his results – if he should feel anything.
His hand drifted to the notebook in his pocket before he stopped himself and grabbed a pen instead. He tapped the pen, Hail Marys against the counter.
His mind blank, Scripps dialed Dakin's number.
When they run into each other at the bar, completely accidental, or maybe not – his publisher said the reading was fairly well advertised for its scale - they swing back beers. Three into it and Scripps is giving away all the stories about his two Catholic wives (not at the same time God no, one now lapsed, must have been me). Posner, who used to carelessly spill every whim and fancy, is still tight lipped about himself. He refuses to talk about the years after Cambridge, offering only an anecdote about Dakin.
"Did I ever tell you, he looked me up again. He and his wife. They wanted a little adventure. Spice things up. We even met for coffee once, the three of us." Scripps, wide eyed, nurses his beer in silence. Posner laughs bitterly, "A week later, they got divorced and Dakin moved to Tahiti. That was his 4th marriage."
Posner still looks ever so vulnerably young, and gentle, even pushing 40. But when he pins Scripps against the back alley wall, his kisses are anything but.
The darkness of the night mingles with the darkness of Posner's blazer, darkness Scripps seems to be able to clasp in his hands when he fists the material against Posner's chest. Darkness, he wants to write in the notebook shoved in his back pocket. Darkness, he wants to underline with a pen of a different colour. Two times. Three times maybe.
When he grounds out Pos between gasps, Posner stops. "You did used to call me that. I forget so much sometimes." His smile has become crooked, his eyebrows a challenge. More Dakin than Dakin. More Irwin than Irwin. And more Hector than Scripps could bear to remember.
The darkness lunges and Scripps hears the sound of himself falling.