If there was one thing that Barry Jenkins had learnt over the years, it was that the more you wanted something to stay secret, the more likely people were to discover it. However, it was one thing being terrified of your mum finding out you were keeping stolen goods in your bedroom. Being terrified of your mum finding out you were having it off with your little brother was quite another. She almost had found just the other week. To be fair, what did she expect, walking into her adult son’s bedroom late at night, even if she was bringing in clean laundry? Not that they were doing anything particularly unseemly that night, mind. Just snogging a bit. And they managed to unattach themselves from each other’s faces before their mother entered. Tucker told their mother that he’d “needed to ask Barry something” and left in a fluster.
Pathetic, Barry thought fondly. Kid calls himself my brother but the little sod can’t even lie convincingly.
Still, at least their mother didn’t suspect anything. Well, no, she suspected something. She found it best to always suspect something dodgy or a bit naughty was going on where her offspring are concerned. But she didn’t in a million years suspect the truth, which was the main thing.
No, the real threat in terms of discovery came unexpectedly one Tuesday morning. The Tuesday morning in question, their mother had left for work, their sister had left with her to head for school, and Barry was staring into a cardboard box full of sandwich toasters, chewing his lip nervously. Tucker, meanwhile, was interfering. The media was always telling that he, a member of the youth unemployed, was a burden on society, and he intended to damn well live up to that. He went to pick up a second box of sandwich toasters, only to catch sight of a small scrap of paper emerging from between boxes. He pulled it free, letting his curiosity get the better of him.
“’Ere, Barry?” he asked, cautiously.
A short grunt was his only reply. He took that as his cue to continue.
“Who’s Loveday? And why are his men gonna kill you if they find you?”
Barry’s head shot up sharply. “Oi, that’s a private note! Nothin’ but a friendly warnin’ between friends, alright? Now give us ‘ere, you little-”
From his spot in the armchair, the elder Jenkins brother grappled with the younger, swearing profusely and trying to wrestle the note from his grip. Eventually, the profanities gave way to giggles, and Tucker allowed himself to be pulled into his brother’s lap. Their eyes met, and their faces slowly leant towards each other.
“Wotcher, Tucker!” came a cheerful voice from the living room doorway.
With a token cry of “flippin’ ‘eck!”, Tucker sprang to his feet as if electrocuted, and turned to face the intruder. If the cheerful voice and the habit of walking into other people’s homes had not tipped him off, the inane grin and floppy blond hair told him that this was indeed his old neighbour and friend, Tommy Watson. They didn’t see much of each other anymore, Tommy having joined the navy in a spur-of-the-moment decision, but the long periods without contact didn’t really change anything. Men like Tommy rarely change.
Watson’s grin faltered slightly as his eyes briefly darted from one brother to the other. He gave an almost unnoticeable squint, as though trying to figure out if he’d really seen what he thought he’d seen in the split second he’d entered the room. With a shrug, Tommy’s grin returned in full force as he dismissed the thoughts as imagination, and opened the floodgates that were his mouth. “Sorry, your door was unlocked, so I just came straight in. Hiya Barry, how’s it going? Haven’t seen you in a while. There’s a man outside in a lorry by the way, says he’s off to meet some guy called Loveday and he wants you to come. Anyway Tucker, you will not believe what happened to me last-“
It was at this point that Tucker, well experienced in the art of Watson-handling, clapped a hand over Tommy’s mouth to silence him. He turned back to glance at Barry, who’s face had drained of all colour some time ago. Barry realised immediately what that look meant. “Oh no you don’t,” he said. “I’m not having you getting yourself killed. I want you staying right here.”
Five minutes and one short argument later, all three young men found themselves clambering into the cab of a run-down lorry belonging to a man known only as Big Kev, who informed them that there was going to be some kind of scuffle with some of Loveday’s rats. Barry didn’t know exactly what over. It didn’t really matter anymore. His career of choice was around 80% beating up other villains and keeping far away from the fuzz. He smiled down at the warm body pressed closely against his in the crowded cab. He’d never understand how he landed himself with such an insufferable do-gooder for a brother. Let alone a lover. His brother, as if sensing the eyes on him, looked up and returned the warm smile. Barry ripped his gaze away from Tucker and looked up, briefly seeing Tommy Watson staring at the two brothers and squinting slightly, before turning his head away sharply to face directly forwards, as if denying there was anybody next to him in the cab at all.
Eventually, the journey reached its end, a vast, sprawling, abandoned factory. It was enough to make Barry roll his eyes. Such a cliché meeting place for a fight. Contrary to popular belief about him, Barry was not in any particular hurry to get into fights. Barry was perfectly happy to stay sitting by the truck keeping watch until he was needed, as both the Jenkins brothers had been instructed to do, but damn Tucker and his stupid “heroic” attitude wanted to go and make sure their friends were okay. And Barry was damned if he was going to let Tucker run off into danger alone. He hurried to catch up with his brother. Tucker said nothing, but silently grabbed a hold of Barry’s hand and held as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
A sudden noise from behind a crumbling concrete wall echoed in the dusk. A figure emerged to stand in front of the Jenkinses. “Wotcher, Tucker,” it said.
Tommy’s surprisingly not-cheerful gaze lowered to the entwined fingers of the two men in front of him. His baby face was harder and sterner than Tucker had ever seen it. His brow creased slightly. He licked his lips. “Er, listen,” he spoke, after a long anxious pause. “Is something going on between you two?”
“Tommy…” the younger Jenkins brother started.
“No, Tucker. Just give me a straight answer. Yes. Or no. I won’t be lied to again.”
Tucker looked at Barry, who sighed, and gave the smallest of nods. “Yes,” he said at last.
Tommy’s face didn’t even flicker. “Do you look after and protect each other?”
There was stunned and confused nodding from the Jenkins brothers at this.
Tommy continued. “Do you love each other?”
More stunned and confused nodding followed.
As suddenly as the change had come upon him it left again. Tommy’s face brightened, and his inane grin returned. “Oh, well, that’s okay then!” he said, cheerfully.
The Jenkinses exchanged another confused look.
“Listen, Tucker,” said Tommy. “I’ve been around a bit. You see all sorts. You see all sorts in gangs, you see all sorts on the streets, and you see all sorts in the navy. Besides, there was this one time at a wedding where I accidentally ended up in bed with these two girls, well the bed wasn’t an accident, the accident was that no-one told me they were both my cous-“
Tucker clapped a hand over Tommy’s mouth to silence him. “Another time, alright Tom? We did come here to fight, not have couples therapy.”
Tommy nodded cheerfully and darted off into the shadows again. Tucker caught Barry’s eye, and the two dissolved into helpless giggles.
Barry knew that if a soft idiot like Watson could figure out the truth, then anyone could, and that they were not safe like this forever. But they were safe like this for now, and, for a man like Barry, now is really all that matters.