Jim Prideaux generally couldn’t think straight when Bill Haydon was within five feet of him, but he could definitively say, without any shadow of a doubt, that he’d had too much to drink. The pavement was definitely tipping upwards, and he was perilously close to cannoning off the brick wall that ran along the left side of the street.
‘Christ, Bill, what the hell was that spirit we ended with?’
‘Fucked if I know.’ Bill, who, in his drunkenness looked more degenerate than ever, turned to Jim and grinned. His hair, rather too long at present, despite The Circus’ strict rules on appearance, flopped indolently over his forehead. Jim felt his right hand clench convulsively at his side, fingers itching to brush Bill’s fringe out of his eyes. He pretended it was a love of order that drove the urge; truthfully, he just wanted to touch Bill.
It was always worse when he was drunk.
‘Take me home, Prideaux,’ Bill slurred. ‘Not sure I’ll find my way without you.’ Leaning forward, Bill took hold of Jim’s right arm and threaded his left through.
‘-ve got a bottle of single malt that’ll take your breath away. About time I opened it.’
Jim stiffened reflexively at Bill’s casual assumption. Bill Haydon never asked; he simply stated and assumed everyone would accept. Including Jim. Always Jim. It didn’t matter how many others there were in between times, it always began and ended with Jim. And it always would.
‘Come on then.’ Jim removed his arm from Bill’s and slung it around his friend’s shoulder in a gesture that brought them physically closer but projected a more friendly kind of intimacy to the outside world. Catching the scent of alcohol on Bill’s breath, however, Jim had to steel himself not to kiss him there and then. That would not do.
Bill rattled around for his house keys on the doorstep. Jim waited. This was a familiar dance. He knew he should deposit Bill on the settee and walk away, but, as always, he couldn’t. Inevitable as the March rain, tangible as the alcohol on his tongue, he would spend the night. Again.
Eventually, the door creaked open. Bill almost fell inside, dragging Jim with him. The kiss was comfortable, assumed, laced with torpor, as always. The hands warm despite the early spring chill. The body so achingly familiar that Jim could trace every contour with his fingers and, later, other things.
Jim’s hands trembled as they traced a path from Bill’s tangled hair, over his shoulders and down his back. No matter how often they did this, no matter how hard he tried to break free of Bill, as he knew Bill broke free from him, he couldn’t. There would never be another; until the day he died.