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The Cruciverbalist

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"Moss," said Roy absently as he paged through an issue of The Walking Dead. "If Jen had married Peter File and they'd hyphenated their names like the pair of pretentious twats that they are, do you think they would have gone with Mr. and Mrs. Peter Barber-File, or Mr. and Mrs. Peter File-Barber?"

"You are a terrible person," said Moss. "Pedophile barber! I'll be saying that in my head all day."

Roy smiled. "I know."

"Pedophile barbers! What are they like?"

Laughing, Roy said, "I wouldn't let them near your fringe!"

"Roy, I'm sure you've noticed that I don't have a fringe," said Moss as he refreshed his inbox. The confirmation email he'd been awaiting appeared, and Moss leapt from his chair in triumph. "I did it! I did it again!"

"What did you do?"

"I applied as a contestant to Crossed Words and they accepted me!"

"Crossed Words?" asked Roy. "What's that?"

Moss scoffed. "Only the premier crossword puzzle quiz show. Oh you, playing silly buggers."

"Crossword. A crossword puzzle quiz show," said Roy. "You're telling me that there's a crossword puzzle quiz show? On the telly? This is an actual thing that happens?"

Jen came awake suddenly, sitting up with a loud snore. She'd been napping on the sofa again. An issue of Heat slid from her face and fell onto her lap with a plop. "Crossbows? What?"

"Crossword!" shouted Moss.

"Has Hansel & Gretel come out yet? Can we go see it?" asked Jen. She smoothed her hair.

"Not until February, and you can forget it. I'm not going to see that movie with you," said Roy.

"Crossword!" shouted Moss again. "It's a flipping crossword!"

"What? Why not?"

Roy gesticulated wildly. "You'll just spend the whole time ogling that Jeremy Renner."

Jen smirked. "You bet I will."

They'd annoyed Jen into seeing The Avengers. When they left the theatre, Jen had said, "I care about the Hulk. This is who I am now." The very next day, she laid claim to Moss and Roy's Hulk Hands.

They'd both agreed that the Hulk Hands had found their true owner, as they were too afraid to take them back.

"I don't see the appeal," grumbled Roy.

"Yes, you do," said Moss. "You'd like to make sweet, sweet love to that man's arms."

Roy caved immediately. "I want his arms, Moss. I want them so much."

"There, there," said Moss, patting Roy's shoulder twice. He didn't know if that was sufficient for the proper amount of comfort, so he went back in for a third pat before withdrawing to his desk.

"I want to have those arms, but they just seem like so much work," said Roy.

Jen tossed her hair and laughed. "I'm fairly certain that you don't want them the way I want them."

"No," said Moss. "I really think he does."

Roy squinted at him. "What do you know?"

"What don't I know?"

"I'm changing the subject," said Roy. "Are we sure anyone is working today? The phone hasn't rang once, and I can feel myself forgetting how to ask people if they've tried turning it off and on again."

Moss and Roy immediately stared at their desk phones. Nothing happened.

Disappointed, Roy said, "It would've been cool."

"Yes," said Moss. "If anything had happened just then, it would have been cool."

Moss's first appearance on Crossed Words went much the same as his Countdown debut; in short, he flipping kicked all manner of flipping arse. He did, however, apologise to the audience for his penmanship and vow to do handwriting drills before the next show. Moss chuckled and ended his apology with, "It's as if I'd never seen a Collins Workbook before!" He earned the big laugh of the night with that zinger.

He'd learned from Countdown that a green room wasn't necessarily painted green anymore. They were blue or beige or a mustard shade that Moss still was attempting to identify on the PANTONE colour chart. He'd settled briefly on PANTONE 14-0848, and Moss had laughed and laughed at his own expense once he realised that 14-0848 only seemed overly familiar because it was the 2009 colour of the year. What an embarrassing gaffe he'd narrowly avoided.

Moss had been on the programme for a month when he had his first fan encounter while fetching his lunch.

"Guess what happened to me at the store," said Moss the moment he returned.

Roy glanced up from his bucket of Chicken Feast. "You went to Marks and Sparks?"

Moss shrugged and sat the M&S bag on his desk in order to remove his coat. "You know I can't resist their wide array of ready meals, Roy."

Moss could cope with ready meals. There still were too many options, but the preselected ingredients reduced the number of choices Moss had to make. Moss only had so much executive function to spare. He even avoided specific Pret locations because they lacked an adequate queuing system at the register. And any shop that required Moss to choose every ruddy thing including meat, veg, condiments, and type of bread led to paralysing indecision and shredded serviettes.

"Guess what happened to me at the store," said Moss. "Guess! Guess!"

Not trying very hard to guess, Roy said, "You got probed by an alien."

"I've been recognised. By a fan," announced Moss.

"The person who recognised you," said Roy, gesturing with a chicken thigh. "Was it your dental hygienist?"

"Yes," said Moss reluctantly. He regretted telling Roy that he'd believed the receptionist at his dental clinic had been asking him out on dates, only for Roy to explain that she simply was attempting to schedule his follow-up dental appointments.

"Moss, you do know that she recognised you because she's your dental hygienist?"

Moss stepped from foot to foot in agitation. "She said that she saw me on the television!"

"Did she see you on the telly when she was visiting her nan at the care home?" asked Roy.

"I hate you! I hate you!" shouted Moss. "You ruin everything!"

"Well, if this show is making you so famous, maybe I should come to a taping. See what all the fuss is about," said Roy.

"Absolutely not," said Moss.

"Come on," wheedled Roy. "You know you're going to say yes eventually."

Moss relented only after extracting a promise of good behaviour, as Roy's conduct at 8+ had been the epitome of "ridiculous display" if ever there was one. A reputation tarnished wasn't as easy to clean as a silver tea service, after all.

Roy came into the green room, clutching his satchel and making a huffing noise that, in Moss's experience, indicated a certain someone was feeling stroppy.

"It took forever to get in here," said Roy. "The security here is preposterous."

"Was the driver to your satisfaction?" asked Moss.

"Em, you mean your mum? Yeah. She picked me up. She dropped me off. It was fine. But you know, I don't think she likes me?"

Moss ate a cheese puff and elected to say nothing. His mother did, in fact, think that Roy was a bad influence on her baby boy. He secretly found it a bit thrilling, to be perfectly honest.

"Did you know that the security here thought I was your groupie? It's madness," said Roy.

"Aren't you, Roy?" asked Moss. He licked the cheesy flavouring product from his fingers and strode across the green room, pressing Roy to the wall next to a motivational kitten poster. "Aren't you?"

Roy clutched at the neck of his T-shirt. "Bunking off changed you, Moss."

"You never should have suggested it!" said Moss, pulling himself upright momentarily in order to stamp his foot more efficiently. He leaned in close again once he completed the action. "Now I don't know my limits."

"What are you –"

Moss pressed his finger to Roy's pursed lips. "Shh."

"– doing?" squeaked Roy.

Moss wasn't particularly dexterous with certain things, among them following directions to physical locations, lying, dealing with spiders, not counting all the staples, and most pertinent at the moment, emotions. Dealing with them. Having them. Expressing them. Everything about them, really.

But ever since he'd bunked off, Moss on occasion allowed boldness to overtake him.

"You're in my territory now, Roy," said Moss, and gave Roy a walloping great kiss.

"What was that?" Roy gasped, touching his mouth. The pinkness of his lips filled Moss with a sense of accomplishment.

Moss blinked at Roy while he gathered his thoughts. "Kissing, Roy. I would like there to be kissing when I'm not experiencing a heightened state of anxiety due the presence of police, heavily armed criminals, or the other thing that happened in Amsterdam that I've never told accidentally at an impromptu office party."

Roy stared at him, still touching his mouth.

"Heya," said Tracy as she came down the hall toward the green room.

"Hi, Tracy," said Moss.

"We're ready for you now, Mr. Moss."

Moss nodded. "Thanks. Be a love and show Roy where to go, won't you?"

Partway through taping, Moss raised his hand. When the host inquired as to what he bloody well thought was doing, Moss explained. "I think you'll find that the clue for 41-Across is incorrect."

Bill, one of the producers, said, "Shit. He's right. All right, lads, we need to break to fix this or we'll never hear the end of it."

"The letters we'll get," despaired Charlie the camera operator. "The horrible letters."

No fan of the show could fail to remember the day of the typographical error on 9-Down. It was a cruciverbalist's nightmare.

Moss returned to the green room where Roy sat in a chair that was too small, his body folded like a hinge.

"Heya," said Roy. His vocal register was unusually high.

"Hi," said Moss. "Having a good time?"

"Yeah, I'm live-jeeting it on Jitter. It's actually kind of cool," said Roy. "And you can never tell anyone I said that."

"Who would I tell?" asked Moss.

"Em," said Roy. He clasped his hands on his lap. "That thing you said."


"About kissing?" squeaked Roy.

"Yes, Roy?"

Roy opened his mouth. Moss waited patiently, but no sound seemed forthcoming.

"Would you like for me to kiss you again?" asked Moss.

Roy nodded.

"Would you like for me to kiss you in a manly and forceful fashion?" asked Moss.

Roy nodded more emphatically.

"Shall I have you next to the poster of the kitten advising us to 'hang in there'?"

Roy stood abruptly. "Would you just do it, already?"

"Certainly," said Moss. The possibility of finally being able to update his FriendFace relationship status provided him with all the motivation he needed to press Roy to the wall again and give him another walloping great kiss.