Man…this has taken me forever to update! Sorry guys! I'm sure the vast majority of you have forgotten all about this story…but hopefully you'll still read it!
Dedicated to JantoFan, for all her help with BETA-ing this chapter :)
Three weeks later
Three weeks later
I can't believe how much my life has gotten better, just by having Howard in it. It's been less than a month since he started talking to me again, and I genuinely think it's the happiest I've been in two years.
Of course, my boyfriend Jason might have something to do with that. Not that we've even done anything yet, which is weird for me. I know I haven't had a partner in ages, but I definitely always bedded them within the first week. So why's this taking me so long?
I guess I'm just distracted by having Howard back in my life. We meet up about three times a week.
Always in a different café.
And always without Ella knowing. Or Jason…
It makes me feel a bit weird, actually. Us keeping these meetings a secret from our partners. Almost like I'm the 'other woman'…and wait, that thought should really freak me out a bit more. Why doesn't the thought of having an affair with Howard freak me out?!
"Hey gorgeous." I hear Jason say, and turn and smile.
"You up for dinner tonight?"
"See you later." he bends down and kisses me, and I smile and bite my lip suggestively at him.
But as he walks away, I can't help feeling something's missing.
I walk into today's café and look around. He's not here yet, so I get a table and sit down, drumming my fingers nervously.
It wasn't like this at first, was it? The nerves and butterflies before I met up with him? The way I can't help but smile when I catch sight of him? That's the sort of way you should feel about your partner, right?
But I don't. It isn't like this with Jason, it's…but I like Jason. And I'm with Jason, and Howard and I are just friends. Definitely just friends…
I look up in shock. Fuck, it's Ella. Howard's girlfriend. "Alright?" I glance nervously at the door. If Howard walks in now, she is going to go mental.
"Don't bother. He's not coming."
I snap my gaze back to her. "What?"
"Howard. He isn't coming."
"How do you know…?"
"He told me he's been meeting you. I warned you, I warned you to stay the hell out of his life!"
"You don't own him!"
"Neither do you! Who the fuck do you think you are? You think he'll just drop everything because you say to? Because he won't. He loves me, and he'll do anything I say. You're just an unpleasant reminder of his past."
She turns to go, and I jump out of my seat and follow her outside. "He's my friend, and if I want to see him I will."
She spins round. "No you won't. This is your final warning, Vince. I mean it. Come near him again, and I promise you I will make you sorry."
"No. Fuck that, I've missed him for too long to stop seeing him now."
Ella looks like she's about to hit me. "Fine!" she snaps. "If you won't stop seeing him, I'll just tell him to stop seeing you." she sneers. "He's mine, Vince. Face it; you've lost."
What does she mean by that?
"I had a really good time." Jason says, standing at the door to his flat. "Do you want to come in?"
Thing is, I really need cheering up right now. Ella really got to me. "Yeah." Don't judge me, ok?
He grins and takes my hand, leading me upstairs.
The second we're in the living room he begins kissing me, sliding his hands up under my shirt. I let out an involuntary gasp. It feels really good to be touched again.
We stumble back into the bedroom, shedding my shirt as we go, and collapse onto his bed, Jason kissing and biting and licking almost every inch of me he can reach…
Suddenly he stops and pulls back, frowning slightly.
"What's wrong?" I ask, panting slightly.
"You just called me Howard."
Oh fuck. "No I didn't."
"You did. Who's Howard?"
"Is he your...ex?"
"No! He's no-one. Look, I should go." I gather up my shirt and pull it on over my head.
"You don't have to…"
"I think I do."
"Vince, I don't want you to leave."
I glance at him and then hurry from the flat, feeling like a cheap whore.
I stand at the bus stop on the corner, tears pouring down my face, half hoping and half fearing that Jason's gonna follow me out.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. How the hell did this happen? Howard's my friend, that's all, nothing more.
So why the hell did I just say his name in that situation?
It's only when the bus pulls in I realise I don't know where I want to go.
"Where to, mate?"
"Um…" I stand there for way too long. Shit, the driver looks annoyed now. Could he throw me off the bus? Before I realise what I'm doing, I've given the name of the stop near where I know Howard lives and paid my fair.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do when I get there. Act friendly I guess. I could ask him out for a drink?
I get off and look at the tall building. I hesitate beside the intercom, wondering what I should say. What if he doesn't want to let me in?
At that moment an old man walks out of the building, and I quickly rush inside before the door can close again. "I'm visiting a friend. His bell's broken." I explain, and hurry upstairs before he can respond. As I reach the top and step out into the corridor, I feel suddenly nervous.
Why do I feel so nervous? He's a friend, he's just a friend, despite what happened earlier at Jason's…no, stupid Vince, don't dwell on that!
Is he my friend? Back in the Nabootique that's defiantly all it was. We were friends, best friends, but that was it. And when we met a month ago I only felt friendship. But now…what, exactly? He's not my type at all. The idea of us being a couple is stupid, ridiculous.
But not unwanted. Shit.
I knock on Howard's door, and almost instantly regret it when I hear footsteps. He pulls the door open and I go to say 'hi', but then freeze.
"Fuck, you look terrible!"
"Thanks." he responds dryly.
"No, but…Howard, what happened?"
"Ella left me."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"We had this blazing row. She said she didn't mind competing with a memory, but not a person."
"What? Whose memory?"
Howard looks at me, as if only just remembering I'm there. "No-one's. She was just making up excuses."
"Oh. Well, I'm sorry. She seemed…um…erm…well, you liked her."
"Yeah I did. Did you want anything?"
"Um…not really. Just wanted to see if, y'know, you fancied a drink, but I…I'll leave you alone."
I turn to go. "Vince. It's fine. You can come in." Howard says gently.
I look around Howard's flat. It's bloody tiny. And it's about as far from the old flat above the Nabootique as is possible to get. It's all decorated in beige and nutmeg and muffin…bloody hell, I know a lot of different shades of brown. That's quite disturbing, actually.
"Do you want a drink?" Howard asks, coming into the room after me.
"Yeah. Cheers, Howard."
He pauses as he hands me the bottle. "Um…Vince?"
"How did you know where I live?"
"I…" quick think of a lie, think of a lie. "I followed you home from the jazz club." Shit. That was not a lie, what is wrong with you?!
"You followed…?" Howard stares at me in disbelief. This may well be the moment I get a smack and thrown out of his flat. Then, to my surprise, he laughs. "You never were one for being normal, were you little man?"
Little man. My heart leaps slightly at the old affectionate nickname. Howard's expression doesn't falter; so either he hasn't noticed he used it, or he doesn't mind.
"Who wants to be normal?" I say, taking a swig from the bottle. Howard grins at me, and I feel suddenly warmer. Which is very weird.
This is great. I've been here for over an hour, and we've been talking and laughing just like we used to. Almost, anyway. There's still something different, and slightly off, about the way he looks at me. But the frostiness at the start has gone.
"So, what will you do now? Won't it be awkward at the club, with Ella and everything?"
Howard shrugged. "I suppose. Can't really be helped though, can it?"
"You could always do something else."
He smiles. "Maybe."
"Coz I hate my job, see."
Howard looks at me, eyes wary and slightly confused. "What?"
"Well, it's really shit right? But now you won't be as happy in your job so maybe we could find somewhere new together! It'll be just you and me, like before…"
"Is that what this is all about?" Howard asks, his eyes flashing with anger. "Don't you get it, Vince? I don't need you!"
"Well I fucking need you!" my voice is louder than I intended, and there's a surprised silence. Howard's eyes widen slightly, and he gazes at me searchingly. "Look at me, Howard!" I gesture at myself; at the out of fashion clothes I can't afford to replace, the scuffed boots. "Look at me! I'm in a dead end job working for a man who hates me, I barely earn minimum wage, I'm living with a sex mad drunk…I'm falling apart, Howard." I smile sadly. Howard says nothing. "Then look at you. You've got a flat you love. Your dream job. Friends who wont desert you if you do something stupid like wear last week's hat or some shit like that. You don't need me. I know I didn't realise that before. I know I used to take you for granted. But look at us now; you're a success and I'm just…washed up."
"Don't say that, Vince…"
"Why not? It's true. Even you don't want to be with me anymore."
"It's not that…"
"It's that you don't trust me, though."
Howard hangs his head. "Vince, if I've learned anything these past couple of weeks it's that I think I can trust you."
"It's been a long time, Vince. I've changed. For the better, I'd like to think. I don't want to fall back into the way I used to be when I was with you. Just a 'sidekick'."
"But you wouldn't be! I've changed too, Howard. I…I know I treated you like shit, acted like I was superior. But I'm not, I know that now. You were never really my sidekick, because in comics or whatever, the hero can function just fine without the sidekick. We were partners."
Howard closes his eyes, as though locked in some internal battle. He opens them again and bites his lip. "I'd like you to leave."
"Can you get out of my flat please?"
"I…you have no idea what it was like for me, Vince. After I left; it was like…I had no direction anymore. I had to work so hard to get where I am now, but there was a point…I hit rock bottom Vince. I had to literally claw my way back from the brink, and I can't do that again."
"But these past few weeks…haven't you enjoyed them? Haven't you liked seeing me again?"
"Yes, but…" he looks angry again, but it doesn't feel like the anger's directed at me. "It's different!"
"It just is!"
I can feel a strange, tense feeling in my chest, like I'm gonna explode. I've only felt it this bad once before; about three days after The Argument when I realised Howard really wasn't coming back. "You can't leave me. Not again."
"You pushed me away."
"But I'm not now, am i? You're doing this all on your own! You know what your problem is? You can't bear to admit you might be wrong!"
"I said, get out!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"
"Out!" he grabs my arm and sort of frog marches me to the door, pulling it open. "Give me one good reason to think any differently, Vince! One good reason why I should let you mess up my life again. You cant, can you? You can't even think of a reason why I should…"
"BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!" I practically scream at him. Howard gives a funny sort of gulp and his eyebrows raise so high I'm surprised they're still attached to his face. The silence is deafening.
I didn't mean to say that. Oh, shit I so did not mean to say that, it just slipped out. This is not good; this is so not good…
And it's true, I realise. I always loved him as a friend, but now… "I love you."
Howard shoots a look into the corridor outside as if worried the neighbours might be listening. He slowly closes the door, then leans his forehead against it, back to me.
"Howard?" He doesn't reply. Oh God, what have I done? He was angry before, but nothing compared to the night he left. He'd have come around, we'd have made up. But now…why did I have to tell him that? I could've just said I like you, or I miss you, or I love spending time with you. But no, I had to open my big fat mouth and tell him I love him; like some sort of demented stalker. I swallow nervously, and lay a hand tentatively on his shoulder. "Howard?"
He spins round and looks at me, but it's like he's not really seeing me…and suddenly I'm backed against the wall with Howard's tongue down my throat. How the hell did that happen?
Not that I'm complaining mind you. I know I shouldn't do this, not when he's still angry. I can feel it in his kiss, in the way he grips my wrists so tightly. He's furious.
But it's Howard. It's me and Howard and it's everything I've ever dreamed of…
He spins me round and forces me into the opposite wall, lips still locked on mine. He's pressing against me so hard it hurts, but I don't care. I like to think I'm giving back as good as I'm getting.
I arch my hips against him, making him moan deep in his throat, and he suddenly moves, dragging me through into the bedroom.
I don't know how the hell this happened. To be honest I'm not sure what is happening. But it's hard to keep my thoughts coherent now I'm lying on the bed with Howard straddling me.
He releases my mouth and transfers his attention to my neck, biting and sucking my skin. I gasp in a mixture of pleasure and pain as a wave of ecstasy washes over me. "Howard…" I breathe.
"Shut up." he growls against my skin, and I shiver and bite my lip to force myself to be silent.
He rips off my shirt (that's the second time someone's taken it off tonight. But to be honest I can't even remember ever wanting Jason to. I can't even remember wanting Jason…), and then my jeans. Then he kisses me again, his hands digging into my hips so hard I'm sure it's going to bruise. But as he once again he begins his ministrations on my flesh, I find it hard to care. This is everything…
…and then suddenly it's over. We're both lying there panting for breath.
I don't understand. That was everything I've wanted for so long. So why don't I feel happy? I glance over at Howard and when a passing car outside briefly reveals his face I realise why.
He regrets it.
Because this, me and him, it wouldn't work. How could it? I'm not right for him, I never was, and I never could be…this isn't fair. Am I really that awful a person? Do I not deserve a good thing in my life?
I can't stop myself from crying, turning away so Howard won't notice…
I say nothing, can't trust myself to speak because he'll hear the tears in my voice. Although that doesn't do any good because he sits up and sees them for himself.
"Oh God…" he flips on his bedside light and looks at me; takes in the bruises on my arms and my hips, the bite marks on my neck. "Vince I'm so sorry. I…I don't know what came over me…"
"It's not that…" I don't know what else to say. It isn't because he hurt me. I mean, he did hurt me but I don't mind. How can I explain that I'm crying because I've realised that after all this time thinking he's what I needed, I've realised he's the only thing I can never have? "I should go."
"Don't. Please don't. We should talk, we should…"
"I don't think we need to." I sniff, looking around for my jeans. "Because Ella was right, Howard, you don't need me in your life. Everything I touch turns bad and I won't do that to you, I'm not good enough for you, I…" I break down in a fresh fit of sobs, and suddenly Howard's stood beside me with his arms around me, holding me.
"Hey…shh…" he lifts my face so he can look into my eyes. "Never," he says softly, and kisses my forehead, "think," he kisses my nose, "you're not," kisses my cheek, "good enough", kisses my other cheek, "for me."
And then he's kissing me again, properly kissing me, but not like before. This time it's sweet and slow and gentle…and I don't deserve it. I pull away with a small hiccup, but Howard doesn't let me go. "Howard…"
"What've I done to you?" he whispers, stroking my hair. "I never stopped loving you, Vince."
It takes a little while for that to filter through my brain. "What?"
"I love you. I never stopped loving you. I thought I had, thought I'd moved on, but…you know I said Ella and I had a row? It's because she told me it was either you or her. And I couldn't lose you again…"
"But…you left and I…"
"In the past, little man. Let's leave it there, hey?"
"And the future?" I look into his eyes and he smiles.
"The future looks good from where I'm standing."
He kisses me again, and lips locked he pulls me back down onto the bed…
…and it's even better than I wanted.
Two months later
Two months later
The girl glances back at Howard with a smile as she leaves.
"Look at you, flirting with the customers!" I say, resting my chin on his shoulder and grinning up at him.
"It's not my fault, Vince; I can't help it that I'm naturally charming. Girls just fall at my feet."
"Shame you're taken really, isn't it?"
"Oh I don't know. I quite like it." he teases, kissing me softly. "Now, come on little man, stock taking."
"Oh Howard, but that's boring!"
"It's an important part of retail, Vince! You knew that when we made this decision."
'This decision' was buying the old Nabootique. I know, I know you should always move forwards, but…we needed to get a new flat, there was no way the both of us could live at Howard's. We looked at loads, but then I saw that this place and the flat above was up for sale again and…call me an old romantic, but it felt like fate. And Howard agreed (about buying it, not the fate part. As if I'd tell him that, it sounds well strange!), so here we are.
It's not a second hand shop anymore though; Howard had big plans to build up some sort of jazz emporium. Surprisingly, it's done pretty well (although I think that's down to the Electro-rock section I made him put in. I had to be very persuasive…not that I'm complaining…).
I can't believe how well everything's worked out actually. I'm back in the flat I love, with the man I love, and I'm doing a job I love. I chucked in my job with Jefferson as soon as I could (you should have seen his face when I told him, in graphic detail, exactly where he could stuff his job. Priceless!), and I couldn't be happier. Howard's going to keep working at the jazz club, part time. It's a bit awkward, because Ella still works there, but who cares?
Because we're together. And it's not like it used to be. It's better.
The shop bell dings.
"Hey Naboo." Howard says cheerfully. He turns back to talk to me and then pauses, staring at me as we both realise who just walked in. Simultaneously we turn our heads to look at him again. "Naboo?"
"What're you doing here?" I ask, "What happened to Spain?"
"Oh we had to leave. Someone…" he glares over his shoulder as Bollo walks in behind him, "…had a disagreement with some of the locals and…well…we were run out of town."
"People still do that?"
"You don't know what he did."
"Not my fault." Bollo grumbles.
"So…you're back in England then? For good?"
"Looks like it."
"What'll you do?"
He shrugs. "Dunno. Thought maybe I'd work in Dixons."
I look over at Howard, an idea forming in my mind.
He realises what I'm thinking straight away. "No. No way."
"Come on, Howard, it'd be genius!"
"Vince…" he says warningly. I grin at him.
"What about if I…" I glance at Naboo and Bollo, who are watching curiously, and whisper something deliciously dirty that I would do for him in Howard's ear. I giggle when I pull back and see he's gone slightly flushed and he blinks at me.
"Well…" he smirks at me, "we'll have to wait and see. Naboo? Bollo? Would you like to meet for a drink later?"
I smile. Maybe Naboo won't take up our offer to work here. To be honest, I'm not sure he'd cope well with having Howard as a boss (although we could make him pay for all the stuff he made us do at the Nabootique…hey, that's a good idea actually. I'll have to plot with Howard later…) but even if he doesn't it doesn't matter. Because I'm back amongst the people that matter to me. My friends. My lover.
And I'll never be stupid enough to let that go again.
Hope you all liked it :)
Hope you all liked it :)
I have so many drafts of this chapter saved on my computer; it was so hard for me to write! And about 3 different endings…so I hope you all enjoyed the one I chose!
Reviews keep me warm coz my heating's broken x