In which we meet Perci and Dorian.

Four vending machines do not constitute a cafe. However the library, perhaps in a fit of optimism, had stuck a large sign above them declaring ‘Cafe’. I leaned toward the plastic window of one of the machines and examined the brightly wrapped artery-clogging contents, and a few cereal bars.

The machine’s casing creaked as Dorian leaned against it. His t-shirt declared that he was ‘Bitten By Books’, with a cartoon book with little fangs for emphasis, rode up showing a hint of tanned stomach. He always wore a sloganed t-shirt with an unbuttoned shirt; the only difference was the slogan, the colours, or, if he was feeling adventurous, the sleeve length. But if the look worked, and it did, why change it?

‘Couldn’t stretch to a sandwich?’ he asked, as he slipped his hands into the pockets of his wash-bleached jeans.

I eyed the neighbouring machine suspiciously. It had the look of the large glass display cases that in most cafes would contain cake. The library’s take was to fill it with cheap packaged sandwiches and yet more cereal bars. Even the little LCD screen looked ridiculously complex, and much too adventurous.

‘Never trust anything that doesn’t know it’s got mayo on.’ I wrinkled my nose. ‘Tessa keeps making me sandwiches.’

‘She’s just trying to be a mum.’

‘I’ve got a mum.’

The machine whirred contentedly until I pressed my selection. It hacked and banged before it spat a Twix into the opening. A shuddering thud brought a bottle of Diet Pepsi down on the chocolate. Clearly the machine didn’t like having its day disturbed.

‘Definite lack of forward planning, Perci.’

I gave him a sore look before stepping aside, but not so far as to prevent me putting a hand to the small of his back.

Despite selling fizzy drinks the library wouldn’t allow the drinks to be consumed in the study rooms. So we went outside and sat on a metal bench that was shedding paint flecks onto its concrete base. It was the city so it was hardly a haven of rural idyll, or whatever, the grass was scraggly where kids had picked at it but the flowers that hadn’t been beheaded smelled sweet.

‘How’s the book coming?’ I trapped the cold bottle between my knees and set about carefully peeling the wrapper of my Twix open down the centre seam.

‘It’s not.’ He pushed black strands of hair that had escaped his bobble away from his face.

‘It will.’

‘Easy to say when you’ve got three under your belt.’

‘That’s local history. That’s a doddle. Eng Lit… well… that’s… difficult.’

‘How’d you figure?’

‘Well,’ I gestured with my Twix one way, ‘history either happened or it didn’t.’ I gestured the other way. ‘Eng Lit, that’s all theoretical.’

‘Bollocks.’ He kissed my cheek with his sticky lips. ‘But thanks for saying it.’

I glanced around looking for observers. It was the middle of the working day so most people weren’t hanging around the library or even the Tesco Metro opposite. I curled my arm around his neck and risked a full-fledged tongue-tangling kiss. Being with Dorian seemed to make me revert to a bashful teenager when it came to such obvious public affection, but only if people were around.

‘No probs.’ I sealed it with one quick kiss to the corner of his mouth.

Our companionable silence was only interrupted by chewing and passing cars for a long stretch.

‘I was thinking… June. You know June might be a good month for a… book launch.’ What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just say: ‘Dorian, fancy getting married in June?’ But no, I had to be difficult.

‘A “book launch”, eh?’ Studiously he munched a piece of his Yorkie Bar.

‘Good for photos, I hear.’

‘Assuming it doesn’t piss it down, as is the wont of the British weather.’

I shrugged. ‘Can’t argue with that logic, but I suppose that the chance of rain is marginally less than say… December.’

‘And what would you wear to this book launch?’ he asked and offered me a piece of chocolate.

I declined, having a somewhat neurotic relationship to calories. ‘The usual. What’s more important is what you’ll wear. You can’t wear jeans to your own… book, launch.’

‘I won’t wear jeans. Pinkie promise?’ He waggled his little finger at me and I rolled my eyes.

‘The last time you wore trousers was at school.’ And never very neat trousers; he always had scuffed knees and frayed hems from playing too much football. ‘You wore jeans to my wedding.’ As well as his own. A small affair in a registry office that lead to a divorce within eighteen months and no one ever spoke of it.

‘Did I? Can’t remember.’

Dorian had an annoying ability to make his face go completely blank as if to say he must be telling the truth. Which, in most cases, he absolutely wasn’t. But it seemed to work on his students.

‘Based on previous performances you’re lucky I don’t take you to dancing lessons,’ I muttered and leaned over to rest my head on his shoulder.

‘I’ll be dancing with you. You’ll make me look good.’


For more short fiction try my short story archive or Weekly Serial page.


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