"Rex!" Connor chased the flying, green lizard up the stairs, "Rex, come on, mate…"
He'd spent the last forty-five minutes chasing Rex around the flat, trying to get him back in his tank. He was sweaty, he was tired. He made a grab for him as the Coelurosauravus leapt off the railing, just out of his reach, and glided gracefully down to the floor. Connor gave Rex a dirty look. Rex chirruped back at him. Connor shook his head in disbelief as Rex daintily hopped up onto his tank and dropped himself in, chirping all the way.
"You're an evil little bugger," he muttered, before heading into his room to change his t-shirt.
He shut his door behind him; mindful of the last time he'd been changing with door open in Abby's flat. Connor stopped, taking in the state of his room. He almost winced. Abby had mentioned his room was messy. Well, her actual words were something about a 'bloody pigsty' and that being insulting to pigs.
"Whoa…" he mumbled, picking his way through piles of assignments, books and clothes that were questionably clean or dirty.
Lifting a prehistoric archaeology journal, Connor pulled a t-shirt out of his 'definitely clean' pile. He pulled his sweaty one over his head, flicking his hair out of his eyes and dropped it on the floor. He pulled the clean one on, scooping up the dirty one and tossing it in the direction of his 'definitely dirty' pile. The t-shirt hit a stack of papers and journals before sliding into the pile, taking half of the stack with it.
Connor heaved a sigh and picked his way across the room to sort the papers from the dirty underwear. He scooped up a load of newspaper clippings about monsters sightings and deposited them back on the chair they'd started on. Next came the evolutionary zoology journals. He dropped them on his desk. Then he began on the conspiracy theory journals. He felt a twitching pang of sadness, as he always did when he saw conspiracy related material, as the journals reminded him of Tom.
He opened the door again so he could get to the stack without having to make a spectacular and probably disastrous leap across a pile of books and clothes. Connor reached for another stack of conspiracy theory journals, these ones specialising in UFO sightings, and blinked as a photo fell face down onto his feet. He picked it up and turned it over, a quick, sad smile flitting across his face and a chuckle escaping him. The photo showed himself, Tom and Duncan, all beaming at the camera, a box overflowing with prizes at their feet.
Tom was on the left, a wide grin on his face, looking like he'd just stopped laughing and was trying not to start again. Duncan was on the right, glasses slid most of the way down his nose, grinning just as widely as Tom. Connor himself was in the middle, half supported by the other two, looking decidedly ill, but beaming at the camera nonetheless.
Another sad chuckle escaped Connor, as he manoeuvred his way through the mess to sit down on his bed. He sat down, shifting his butt and sliding a rough draft of an assignment out the way. He glanced down at the photo again, getting lost in the memories of the day it was taken.
Standing in line, Duncan yawned, "I still reckon we shoulda just forked out for a room for the night, save drivin' home."
Connor's face split in a jaw-cracking yawn, leaving Tom to reply, "We're students, Dunc… You honestly think we 'ave the money to be throwin' out for hotel rooms left, right an' centre?"
Connor snickered at his two best friends as Duncan muttered back, "No, I just think you're a bloody tightarse."
The banter continued as the three of them bustled their way through the gates at Alton Towers. That in itself was hard taking into consideration the huge crowd that had gathered just inside. The three self-confessed geeks looked at each other then began to ease their way through the crowd to try and find out what was going on.
A local DJ wannabe was carolling over a microphone, "Alright ladies and gents! We have the opportunity to win some supercool prizes here today! Whaddya think o'that then, yeah?!"
Connor, Tom and Duncan watched, only half-interested, as fashion magazine subscriptions, clothes store vouchers, DVD packs that had no sci-fi in them whatsoever, and other uninteresting prizes were brought up onto the stage. Connor's eyes had drifted off to other parts of the park and Duncan was yawning again. He started when Tom poked him excitedly in the arm.
"Check that out, will ya?"
Connor glanced around, expecting to see a large breasted or long-legged girl walking past. He opened his mouth to point out that he couldn't see her, and that he didn't really like girls anyway and Tom knew that. Then Tom gestured impatiently at the stage and Connor understood.
And Connor's jaw dropped, all tiredness and all exasperation at his friend's inability to remember his sexuality gone. He stared, knowing that Duncan and Tom would be staring too. Amongst all the useless prizes was any true geek's wet dream.
Duncan squinted through his glasses, "That's never…" he said.
Connor almost cooed, "Dell Inspiron 6400. Intel Duo Processor. Windows XP Operating System. Fifteen-point-four inch wide screen display. Wireless internet. Bluetooth. 100GB hard drive storage," he glanced over at Tom and Duncan, who were looking at him with raised eyebrows, "What?"
"Geek," they chorused affectionately.
"Queer," Tom added, with an evil grin, making Connor thump him.
All three turned their attention back to the DJ wannabe, "That's right, ladies and gents, you lot have the chance to win all these wicked prizes. All you have to do is enter your name in this draw here."
Tom looked at the other two, "Can't be that easy, can it?"
The DJ wannabe kept talking, "But if you're thinkin' that seems too easy… you're absolutely right."
Connor shot Tom a filthy look.
"To win any of these prizes, ladies and gents," the DJ wannabe carolled, "Not only do you have to have your name picked from the draw, you also have to brave… the Nemesis!"
Duncan shook his head, "That's me out, then. I got no stomach for them rides."
"See the number cards in front of each prize?" the DJ wannabe pointed to a few with his microphone before carrying on, "That is how many times you need to ride the Nemesis to win each prize. The more you ride, the more you win."
Connor shot Tom a glance as they headed forward to put their names in the draw, "Looks like it's you and me then, mate."
Tom nodded, "I expect you to share the prizes if you win, Conn."
"Same to you, mate. But if I win that laptop, you don't even get to touch it. It's mine, all mine."
Duncan squinted his eyes at the prizes, "Conn, you do realise to win the laptop, you'd have to be picked out of the draw, which is unlikely in itself, then you'd have to ride that thing twelve times."
Connor bit his lip, then looked determined, "For that laptop, I'd do it."
Tom snorted and shook his head, "You just want the bandwidth so you can look at porn."
He ducked out of the way as Connor took another swipe at him and grinned back at his friend. Duncan shook his head at both of them, pushed his glasses firmly up his nose and wisely stayed out of it.
"When are they drawin' this, dya know?" Duncan asked, looking over at the stage once more.
Tom, tallest of the three, craned his neck over the crowd, "Not til half one, so sayeth the sign."
"Right then," Connor grinned at the other two, "We got three and a half hours… who's gonna puke first?"
Duncan came away with that record, not even making it past the Tea Cup Ride before he lost his breakfast. Connor and Tom stood on either side of him as he threw up in the men's room. Tom stood holding Duncan's camera and glasses, while Connor held his shirt out the way and patted his shoulder in what he hoped was a soothing manner.
Duncan sat back, looking wan and pale. He accepted the tissue Connor held out to him with a nod and wiped his mouth. He got to his feet, shakily, accepting the bottle of water Tom held out and rinsing his mouth with a grimace. He glared balefully, squinting without his glasses, at his best friends.
"I told you… I told you I had no stomach for them rides."
Connor patted his shoulder again, "We know, mate, we know…" his lips twitched as he added, "Most of your stomach ended up in there…"
Duncan swatted at him and missed, then scowled and held his hand out for his glasses. Tom gave Connor an evil smirk and handed the irate Duncan his glasses. He put them on and promptly swatted at Connor again, this time connecting with a thump.
The three wandered aimlessly, Tom and Connor often leaving Duncan with the gear while they went on some of the bigger rides. He really didn't have any kind of stomach for those rides. Spotting Tom's flaming red hair in the crowd, Duncan waved, then looked down at his watch.
"Hey," he called out to the two as they walked back over to him, swaying slightly from the force of the last rollercoaster.
"Oi, Dunc… I said, don't drink my Coke," Tom grumbled, taking the overpriced cup out of Duncan's hand.
Duncan's return grin was all the answer he needed, but he ignored Tom's grumbling and carried on talking, "If you fellas want to be back at the stage for the draw, then you wanna leave now."
With that statement, the three hurried back over to the stage, Duncan managing to drink a good third of Connor's Cherryade before he noticed. The bespectacled man shot him a grin as he had the cup pulled from his hand. Connor gave him a bland look in return. They eased their way into the crowd, managing to find a spot relatively close to the stage, but off to the right.
"Ladies and gents!" the DJ wannabe pranced back out onto the stage, "Ladies and gents, we are back in business! The draw is now closed. I have the barrel right here," he gestured grandiosely, "So let's get this party underway, shall we? I'll let the lovely Chrissie do her thing."
"Check them out!"
Tom grinned at his friends, tilting his head to look at the large-breasted, hotpants-wearing girl on the stage and receiving dirty looks from several women around him. Duncan pushed his glasses further up his nose to get a better look. Connor shook his head and mouthed apologies at the women giving them the filthiest glares.
The big-breasted Chrissie grinned vapidly at the crowd and bent over, flashing her cleavage to the right hand side of the stage and her hotpants barely-covered arse to the left. Connor raised an eyebrow, glancing at his two friends and sighing when he noticed them practically drooling over the plastic fantastic cleavage.
Chrissie scrambled her hand around in the entries for a while, theatrically wiggling both her boobs and her behind as she did so. Connor resisted the urge to sigh. Finally, the vapid bimbo pulled three entries out of the barrel, prompting cheers for her effort from the male population of the crowd, including, much to Connor's despair, Duncan and Tom. She handed them to the DJ wannabe and strutted off the stage, waving and blowing kisses as she went.
"Pick your jaws up, lads, they're readin' out the names," Connor poked both Duncan and Tom in the side.
"Thank you, Chrissie! Alright… let's give it up for the lovely Chrissie!" once again, the male population responded like Pavlov's dogs.
The DJ wannabe held up the entry forms, "Alright folks, in my hot little hand I have the names of the lucky people who will be given the chance to brave the Nemesis and win these supercool prizes," he paused for dramatic emphasis, "The first person to brave the Nemesis and win… Reid Bellamy!"
The audience clapped politely as a handsome, green-eyed man with dirty blonde hair made his way through the crowd and up onto the stage. The DJ wannabe held up the second entry, waiting for the applause to die down.
"The second person to brave the Nemesis and win… Miranda Paullsen!"
A dark-skinned girl with cornrow braids let out a startled squeal, then turned and began berating her boyfriend all the way up to the stage. The audience once again clapped politely, but almost all were hiding snickers. The DJ wannabe held up the third and final entry.
Connor shook his head in disgust, looking at Tom, "We got Buckleys. Our names are never gonna get picked outta that lot."
Tom nodded, still not taking his eyes off the stage, "Yeah, I know… but still…"
The DJ wannabe stared out over the crowd, "And now… the third and final person to brave the Nemesis and win…"
Tom snorted, "Come on, this tool's annoyin' me."
Connor grinned, "Only coz he reminds you of yourself."
"The third and final person is… Connor Temple!"
Connor blinked, "You what?"
Tom laughed happily, "That's you! That's you, you bloody queer! Get up on stage!"
The next few seconds were a blur as Tom stole his hat, Duncan stole his Cherryade and both geeks shepherded him as close to the stage as they could get him. Connor glanced over his shoulder at them, giving them both a megawatt grin, before he climbed the stairs up to the stage.
The DJ wannabe took over again, "And, here, ladies and gents, we have our three winners!"
He handed each of them a numbered vest. Reid Bellamy, who Connor thought was devastatingly gorgeous, but probably had the same IQ as Chrissie, received number one and looked inordinately pleased with that. The girl, Miranda Paullsen, who was still mouthing insults at her boyfriend for entering her, received number two and didn't look at all pleased about being there. Connor himself received number three and saluted Tom and Duncan with it.
The three of them were herded over to the Nemesis. Connor looked up at the Nemesis and fought back the urge to wince. Twelve times, Duncan had said. Bloody hell… Reid hopped into the first car with a cocky grin and a wink at Miranda, who shot him a filthy glare and climbed gingerly into the second car. Connor shot another look at Tom and Duncan over his shoulder and clambered into the third, closing his eyes briefly as the safety bar thunked into place above his head.
Connor couldn't help the startled squawk that erupted from him as the ride flew into motion. He tried, he really did, to keep his eyes open. But as the ride careened around the track, all Connor could do was scrunch his eyes tight shut and hold on for dear life. The Nemesis came to an abrupt halt and Connor could breathe again, slowly opening his eyes.
"Well, well… anyone want to get off yet?" the DJ wannabe carolled to the three of them, "You've all won fifty quid. That's gotta be better than a kick in the goolies, yeah?"
Miranda's seemingly permanent scowled dropped away and her eyes lit up at the mention of the fifty pounds. She raised a hand and the safety bar came up. She climbed out of the car and stood on the ride's decking, tugging impatiently at her vest. Connor craned his neck, noting that her boyfriend looked incredibly unimpressed. The DJ wannabe grinned at her and accepted the numbered vest back, swapping it for a fifty pound note.
As Miranda sauntered off the stage, back to her disgruntled boyfriend, the DJ wannabe carried on, "Looks like we have a battle of the boys here today, folks. Fire up the Nemesis, it's time for round two!"
Round two was a magazine subscription. At least, Connor mused, you had a choice of magazines. He took stock of himself. He was feeling okay. Exhilarated. Not nauseous. All good things.
Round three. A voucher to a store that Connor assumed was trendy. Round four. I-Tunes voucher. Round five. I-Pod. Round six. Starting to feel dizzy. Twelve month unlimited cinema family pass. Round seven. He shouldn't be seeing more than one of each of his hands, should he? DVD packs. Round eight. Perhaps this hadn't been such a good idea… DVD player.
"Still hangin' in there, fellas?"
The DJ wannabe checked in with them after every round, informing them of what they'd won. Connor just kept his eyes closed and his head down. Tom and Duncan watched from the ground. Duncan looked ill just watching. Tom shook his head, grimacing.
"He's gonna upchuck…" Tom said.
Duncan squinted sympathetically at his pale looking friend, "Forget him, I'm gonna upchuck…"
Round nine. Oh… nausea starting to kick in. Wide screen TV. Round ten. The DJ wannabe really shouldn't speak to him right now if he wants to keep his shoes clean… Two nights in The Milestone Hotel. Round eleven. Hey… the gorgeous guy's given up, one more, then he can too… Trip to Ireland. Round twelve. This is it… just hang in there… don't be sick, don't be sick, don't be sick… Laptop.
"Okay, contestant number three! Had enough yet?" the loud, grating voice made Connor's head spin and stomach churn.
"He's done it… he's bloody done it! Conn's won that laptop!" Duncan shook Tom's arm excitedly.
Tom grinned as well, but his eyes never left Connor, still sitting on the Nemesis, "Surely he's not gonna keep goin'…" he murmured half to himself.
Duncan and Tom looked at each other in disbelief, neither really willing to believe that their friend would brave the Nemesis for a chance at the next decent prize. A week long, all expenses paid, holiday in Spain. One that you could only win by riding the rollercoaster twenty-one times. Connor looked half-dead now, he probably wouldn't survive twenty-one shots.
They both breathed a sigh of relief as Connor weakly raised a hand. The safety restraints lifted up, allowing Connor to lean forward and bury his head in his hands. Duncan and Tom looked at each other again, then, as one, moved towards the stage. They were stopped at the stairs by a burly looking security guard.
Connor climbed unsteadily out of the carriage. The DJ wannabe sauntered over, obviously intending to conduct an impromptu interview with the last rider standing… as it were. He got about three steps away before Connor let out a groan that was audible even from where Tom and Duncan were standing and bolted for the stairs.
The burly security guard let out a very unmanly yelp and leapt to the side as a green-faced Connor ran past him. Tom and Duncan winced in sympathy and ran after him. Connor darted behind the stage, sank to his knees and was violently ill. Duncan flinched, turning a shade paler himself, but moved up behind his friend anyway, rubbing Connor's back and fishing through the bags for a bottle of water. Tom moved up to Connor's other side and reached around, pulling Connor's hair behind his ears, pinning it to the nape of his neck with one hand and searching his pockets for a hankie with the other.
Connor shakily got to his feet, wiped his mouth with the hankie Tom pressed into his hand and rinsed his mouth, taking a few small sips, of the water that Duncan held out. He swayed a little, prompting Tom and Duncan to fall into step on either side of him. Connor gave the water back to Duncan, and the three made their way back to the steps. The security guard tried to stop them again, but was forced to let all three up when Connor stumbled on the stairs, grabbing at Tom's arm to steady himself.
Tom waited until they were only two steps away from the top before whispering, "You did that on purpose."
Connor winked at him through his bangs, face still pale, but sporting a grin, "Well, I did say I'd be sharing my prizes with you lot, didn't I?"
Duncan grinned, "'Cept for the laptop?"
Connor's huge smile never dimmed as he cheerfully replied, "Touch it and die."
The DJ wannabe sauntered back over to the three, "Welcome back, Number Three! Feeling better?" he waited for Connor's nod before continuing, playing to the crowd, "Well, folks, we have our winner! Prizes galore!"
Connor's grin grew wider, but faltered a little as the DJ wannabe spoke again, "So, let's give it up for the lovely Chrissie! Bring the lad his gear, Chrissie!"
Tom and Duncan's grins grew wider as the big-breasted Chrissie brought up prize after prize, depositing them in a brightly coloured box at Connor's feet. Duncan and Tom practically drooled as Chrissie flashed her cleavage at Connor with every prize dropped in the box. Connor simply raised an eyebrow, still smiling as the pile of prizes grew bigger and bigger. But his grin turned huge, bright and beaming, as his laptop, his new baby, was brought out and placed on the very top of the pile.
The DJ wannabe sauntered his way back over to the trio, ogling Chrissie's bum as he did so, "Yeah! Well done, Contestant Number Three! Now give us a smile, lads, this one's goin' on the Nemesis Wall of Fame!"
The three stood in front of the box, Tom and Duncan half holding Connor up, and gave the camera huge beaming grins. The DJ wannabe held up the Polaroid camera and took a few shots, handing one off to each of them and keeping one for the Nemesis Wall of Fame.
The next few minutes were a blur, with Tom and Duncan manhandling both an ill-looking Connor and a box full of prizes back down to Duncan's panel van. The box was placed into the back, doors open, and all three boys instantly went to work inspecting the prizes, all of them cross-legged and laughing in the back of the van.
That was how Abby found him when she came to bring him a cup of tea. Cross-legged and grinning at a photo on his bed, the occasional tear rolling down his cheek. She watched as he, almost reverently, placed the photo on his nightstand. Abby's eyebrow raised and her head tilted at that. Connor's nightstand was the only tidy place in his whole room. And that was because it housed the precious laptop. Only the laptop. Nothing else. So for him to put that photo there, it must be important.
Watching as Connor smiled at the photo again, brushing away a tear that threatened to roll down his nose, Abby almost felt like an intruder. She fidgeted slightly, mouth twisting, then brought a hand up and knocked on the doorframe. Connor jumped, then turned to face the door, swiping a hand across his eyes and clearing his throat. Abby held up the cup. Connor took it with a nod of thanks, sipping it gratefully.
Abby smiled at him, nodding at the photo, "Who's that, then?"
Connor opened and closed his mouth, then handed Abby the photo, "Summer holidays, in our first year," he said, unable to fight the smile that quirked the corners of his mouth.
"Alton Towers?" Abby said, handing it back to him.
Connor nodded, hesitated, then smiled and launched into the story. Abby watched him from the doorway. All enthusiasm and smiles, despite the tear tracks that ran down his face. She could understand how Connor, despite his quirks and idiosyncrasies, could worm his way into your life. And, listening to the story, she could understand why the three of them, Tom, Duncan and Connor, had been so close.