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The Trouble with Chocolate Kisses

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It was six a.m. and Thorn Durin had a hangover. Typical Tuesday - no, wait, yesterday was Tuesday. Typical Wednesday.

Eyes still closed, blankets still thrown haphazardly over his head, one of his arms reached out blindly to slap his alarm clock so it would shut the fuck up and stop cock-a-doodle-dooing at him. He used to have a radio alarm, but it severely cut into his music selection; he grew to loathe every song that roused him and would soon be left with nothing to tune into but the news.

The barnyard alarm clock used to belong to Phil before it would up in his room; little tyke was afraid of it. Groaning, he rolled on his back, one arm shielding his eyes from the pearly grey light that filtered in through the drawn curtains. He wasn’t getting up for work. He could feel it in his bones which felt heavy as lead. Without opening his eyes, he fumbled for the mobile on his bedside table and rang Dwain up.

“Not coming in ‘til noon,” he grumbled before his cousin got a word in.

The answer from the other end of the line was a knowing chuckle, “After last night? Can’t say I’m surprised, we’re neither of us twenty anymore. You’re buying lunch.”

“‘Course I am,” Thorin agreed wheezily, then hung up and vomited the remainder of last night’s supper into the wastebasket conveniently placed at the side of his bed. Either he’d been more sober than he thought when he stumbled home or whoever tossed him into bed was more than usually thoughtful.

He wiped his mouth and curled up on his side, drifting in and out of consciousness until the rest of the flat began to rise and greet the day. Specifically, two high-pitched voices that were like nails being hammered into his skull decided to pipe up just outside his bedroom door.

“MUM!” That would be Killi, who needed a crowing alarm clock when they had one of him? “MUM! Uncle Thorn’s still asleep, may we jump on him?”

“Please, Mum, please?” Phil. He’d always been the more polite of the two of them.

“Not today.” Ah, his sweet sister. There was a reason Dis was his favourite sibling. Some days it wasn’t even to do with the fact that Fred was gone. “Get in the kitchen - Phil where’s your jumper?”

“In the car - no, in my bed,” he corrected himself.

Thorn rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, he even put a pillow over his head, but it was to no avail, he heard the rest of the conversation clear as anything - apparently Phil’s feet were cold and so rather than pull on a pair of socks or ask for an extra blanket, he’d just wrapped his feet in his uniform. Probably seemed sensible at the time, Thorn was sure.

With a groan he heaved himself out of bed, trying not to breathe too deeply as he knotted off the basket liner and made to toss the mess out. The headache receded from blinding to merely pounding by now and it was with a pale countenance and heavy bags under his eyes. Not twenty anymore indeed.

It was with some dismay that he stumbled into the kitchen to find his usual place at the table taken by a skinny, dark-eyed young man with milk dripping from the ends of his mustache. A black beanie was the only thing that kept his long, knotted brown hair from falling into the bowl.

“Stay the night?” Thorn grumbled, making a beeline for the coffee maker. And he’d taken the coffee as well, the black sludge in the bottom of the pot was always full of grounds. He specifically asked for a new one for Christmas, but Dis told him he needed a Sat Nav more and a Sat Nav he would get. Sometimes Dis was his least favourite sibling, even though Fred was gone.

Rob had just taken a massive bite of Coco Pops, but that didn’t stop him answering, “Yep, got you tucked in nice and cozy and decided to make myself comfortable-like.”

“In your sister’s bed,” he did not say because Phil and Killi were at the table and Rob had some morals. Besides, if he’d said that, Thorn would have had to punch him, as was written in the Big Brother Code of Conduct and a glance at the clock told him Dis was running behind taking the boys to school.

The dingy grey t-shirt he wore was his own, but Thorn knew the plaid flannel pajamas were his sister’s - and the reason he knew was because they had been his before they mysteriously disappeared from the wash.

“No time to drink the milk, loves,” his thieving sister said to the boys, who looked up at her with chocolate-stained lips and groaned.

“That’s the best part!” Phil complained.

“Then you should’ve been quicker getting your jumper out from under the covers,” Dis shot back. She was wearing a Siouxie and the Banshee’s concert shirt that was so old and worn it was practically see-through and black leggings under her Doc Martens. She told him at the beginning of term that she wasn’t going to be one of those mums who dropped their kids off at school in their pajamas, but she was cutting it awfully close. Thorn wisely drank his grainy coffee and said nothing.

Killi was eyeing his uncle reproachfully. “We should’ve got french toast. Uncle Thorn always makes french toast when he’s home for breakfast,” he complained. “I want second breakfast!”

“Ah, come on now, what are you, a hobbit?” Rob winked and ruffled Killi’s already unruly hair into even more of a mess. “No second breakfast for you, boyo!”

“Could you cut the Darby O’Gill act, please?” Thorn grumbled into his awful cup of coffee. “It’s too early for you to be so Irish.”

“It’s never too early and I’m never too Irish,” Rob grinned broadly at him and waggled his eyebrows in a manner that Dis seemed to find hilarious. For the life of him, Thorn would never understand what she saw in him except that he was exactly like Vic and Thorn never understood what she saw in Vic either. Both of them were utter shite at love, it turned out.

She leaned over and snatched the spoon out of Rob’s hand, helping herself to his cereal. “I’ll call a halt if you say anything about Lucky Charms.”

The look on Rob’s face was one of wonderment. “Remember when you could get those? What happened to those? Used to be able to get them, then they disappeared!”

“Your people said they were racist,” Thorn informed him. “IRA launched a massive raid - they’ve gone soft since the 80s.”

Dis let out a low whistle in response, “Too soon. You’re in a mood, you need to get out more - alright you hoodlums, get your books and your bags, five minutes and we’re leaving!”

“I did go out,” Thorn reminded her as the boys scrambled from the table, sloshing chocolate milk everywhere as they dumped their bowls and spoons in the sink on the way to their bedroom. “Last night, for all the good it did me.”

“You didn’t even talk to him, though,” Dis said, carefully not mentioning ‘him’ by name. Which was Dean, he was Thorn’s last…not boyfriend, not really. Certainly not after he said they should hop on a plane and go to Las Vegas for a week and when Thorn said he couldn’t just go hopping planes anytime he pleased, what with work and family, laughed and replied, ‘What, your nephews? They aren’t even your kids!’

Punching him the face was an overreaction. Thorn realised that now. He wasn’t sorry. But he realised it was an overreaction nevertheless.

“Should’ve known he’d turn up,” he mumbled. It was what came of living in a small town and having a soft spot for cover bands specialising in ‘70s rock. Niche market, bound to attract the same sort of crowd.

“That’s what you get for dating your own people,” Rob said, though his voice was kind, his eyes were scolding. “It’s a rule of mine, never ever date someone you’d be friends with in real life, you’re sure to run into them and it’s sure to be awkward.”

“Sorry, I think this is a pot black kettle situation,” Thorn said, raising his eyebrows as he looked between Rob and Dis pointedly.

“We’re not dating,” they echoed in tandem, just as Thorn knew they would. He was spared any further analysis of their bizarre relationship by the timely arrival of Phil and Killi, bookbags in hand, the former only smelling slightly of feet, overlayed with the scent of Febreze. They each gave Thorn a kiss on the cheek before they bounded for the doorway, Dis trailing after them with her keys in hand.

Rob got up and herded the boys downstairs, barefoot. On her way out the door Dis called, “Oh, Thorn, don’t forget to come round this afternoon and bring the bike! I’m meeting Killi’s teacher and you’ll need to drive them home.” Ducking her head back through the doorway she added, “Remember?”

Thorn nodded; he hadn’t remembered, not until she reminded him, but he made a mental note not to forget again. “Got it. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

“Great!” she blew a kiss at him and the thud of her boots on the staircase corresponded perfectly to the throbbing in his head just behind his eyes.

Thorn sat alone in the suddenly silent kitchen, frowning at nothing in particular. He ought to take the rubbish bin out…but that would require moving and he wasn’t up to it yet. Choking down the last of his coffee, he tilted his head back and sighed at the ceiling. “Fuck it,” he growled about no one and nothing in particular.

Don’t date your own people, Rob said. Thorn was loathe to take advice from one of his little sister’s friends, but he thought Rob might have had a point, if the statement was taken to an extreme. Don’t date people. That was more like it. Relationships ended badly for him, always had and probably always would. Dean was the latest in a series of shitty romantic encounters. Dwain was right; he was not twenty anymore and couldn’t keep going as he always had done.

Something had to change, and soon, he reflected, rubbing his eyes and contemplating whether finishing off Rob’s Coco Pops would make him feel better or worse. He couldn’t take many more mornings like this.