Sunday's were easy days. Lazy. No pressure, no commitments. This Sunday evening saw the housemates kicking back in front of the telly; Jeremy Clarkson banging on about the latest car models had become a comforting murmur of background noise. None of them were paying particular attention to the television – Annie otherwise occupied by an article of interest in her magazine (a pseudo-spiritual piece of trash that she'd had to beg George to pick up for her when he'd gone to get milk that morning) and Mitchell... well, Mitchell apparently had the world's most fascinating fingernails, because he had been staring at them for almost an hour. George, for his part, had spent the past five minutes counting mugs in the living room. He was up to twelve. Most of them remained cold and untouched – Annie's tea-making agility far out-weighed George and Mitchell's drinking pace. It was getting out of hand, but it was also an old argument. George half-suspected that what had started as a familiar comfort habit for Annie had soon become a routine adopted just to spite George, who complained most vocally about it. Not that he believed himself to be anything but justified. The other day he had opened a cupboard in the living room to find a mug of very old, congealing tea (at least, he thought it had been tea once – by then it looked to have taken on a life of its own). It was one thing to live with a ghost who made incessant cups of tea that she could not drink, and quite another when said ghost started hiding the tea in absurd places around the house.
Yet despite the quirks of house-sharing with an excitable ghost and an ironical vampire, there was something pleasant, and, yes, normal about these boring Sunday's that George secretly treasured. Silly banter and crap TV and a sense of belonging. For even if they did not fit in the world outside, here they were comfortable and unguarded in each other's company and despite his complaints, George recognised how lucky he was to have this.
Into the long lull of silence, Annie finally spoke. While George and Mitchell shared the couch, she was sprawled out on the armchair, feet dangling from the armrest, magazine balanced precariously against her knees and her belly. Her eyes never lifted from the magazine as she read: "Find your inner colour."
George sighed. She had been trying to get them to partake of the silly quizzes from her magazine all day – so far, with no luck. George didn't see that changing any time soon.
In answer to his sigh, Annie took the defensive. "Well, don't you want to know your inner colour?"
"Mine's purple!" Mitchell exclaimed with a toothy grin. At George's questioning look, he shrugged, the smirk still playing across his lips. "I did it earlier, didn't I?"
Annie thrust the magazine page in George's direction as confirmation. George could see that some of the multiple answer boxes had been circled. With a disapproving frown, he shot Mitchell a look of world-weariness, to which Mitchell responded with a soft shake of his thick black curls and an ever-widening grin.
"Oh, oh! Okay, George, how about this one!" Annie flicked furiously at the magazine pages until she found the one she was after. With a slight pause for effect, she read: "Find your spirit animal."
George blinked. "Is... is that a joke?" He turned to Mitchell. "Is she joking?" Mitchell just shrugged and offered no support.
"No, go on George! It could be interesting. Wouldn't it be funny if you turned out to be like a... a squirrel or something?" She giggled. "Or! Or a giraffe! Hey, did you know," she started, and George recognised her tone as indication of one of her tangents. "Did you know that giraffe's only sleep for twelve minutes? Madness! I learnt that from The One Show." She had a very genuine smile, George acknowledged. It displayed two rows of small, white teeth, and betrayed her childlike whimsicality which was both agreeable and infuriating – mostly, at the same time.
"Somehow I don't think that my inner spirit animal is a giraffe."
"No," Annie agreed. "Maybe a cat?"
George felt the horrific urge to growl at the mere suggestion, which he stifled.
"Yeah!" Mitchell turned to him now, pointing a fingerless-gloved finger in his direction. "Ever since I knew ya, it's been buggin' me who you reminded me of. I used to have a cat was just like you when I was a kid. Very particular about his habits and that."
"I am not... 'particular' about my habits!" George shrieked indignantly. "And, and anyway. I'm not a cat."
"Sparky, his name was," Mitchell continued, ignoring his friend's outburst. "Not the best name for a cat, I know, but I was only five when I named him."
"Excuse me!" George interjected, feeling ignored.
Annie turned to Mitchell. "Did you have a lot of pets?"
"Oh, yeah! I had seven cats and four dogs in total – not all at the same time, mind you – and that was just when I was growing up."
Annie smiled. "That's cute. I always loved animals, but I only ever had one pet. A budgie. Named Isabelle." She paused, as if remembering. "Birds are nice, but they're really loud. She used to squawk all through The Crystal Maze. Turns out she was scared of Richard O'Brien."
George snorted a sort of nasal, chocked-off laughter. Mitchell and Annie both turned to him.
"Well, George? Did you ever have any pets?"
"Me?" he poked at his chest with raised eyebrows, as if the question were unexpected. "No, no, no." He frowned. "No, I was allergic to most animals when I was younger. Especially dogs."
Obviously, Mitchell couldn't resist. "That's some kinda irony, right there, mate."
George chose not to notice the interruption. "I did have a goldfish, though, once. He was alright. Bit boring. Died after a few months, too." He shrugged. "So my only, er, pet... owning... experience... was a bit disappointing-"
Mitchell sat up, leaning closer to George slowly, a very disturbing leer on his vampiric face. George had to will himself not to shrink back into the armrest of the couch, and kept his eyes planted firmly on his admittedly odd friend. Mitchell was grinning maliciously from ear to ear, trembling slightly from the repression of what could have been laughter. "I guess it didn't go... swimmingly... for ya, then?" And at that, the vampire burst into a fit of the creepiest giggles George had ever witnessed.
George was speechless. "Did you just... did you just pun, Mitchell?" Impossibly, Mitchell laughed even louder and harder, and was quickly joined by Annie's giggling. George blinked at them both like they were insane. And he believed they were.
"Sorry," Mitchell gasped at last. "Sorry. But I never shrimp on opportunities to pun." The corners of his mouth twitched as he tried with great effort to hold back more laughter. "I guess I need reeling in."
George groaned as mirth overtook his two housemates once again.
"Mitchell," Annie warned at last. "There's something fishy about these puns." Mitchell couldn't breathe through his laughter, so Annie continued. "Besides, there's a time and a ... plaice for this."
Mitchell snorted. "Looks like Annie's taken the bait!"
"No, no. NO!" George decided he needed to put an end to this, fast. "No more clever wordplay, guys. I hate puns!"
"Aw. But I think they're brill," Annie pouted.
"Aye," Mitchell agreed. "And I just make 'em for the halibut."
"STOP IT!" This just couldn't be allowed to progress.
Mitchell smiled ruefully. "Sorry, George. I'm not a good enough manta stop it."
Annie nodded enthusiastically. "Besides. We're not doing it on porpoise."
George groaned and covered his face with his hands. He felt Mitchell's gentle hand pat him on the back, a comforting gesture meant to soothe. It did nothing of the sort for George, who knew what was on the horizon. "George," Mitchell started. "You just need a splash of humour in your life." At his friend's indignant glare, he added: "It's good for the sole, you know."
"Oh, cod." Annie said, looking with a sort of pity at George. "He's getting crabby. Maybe we ought to scale them down, Mitchell?" They both burst into more childish laughter.
"But I'm having a whale of a time!" Mitchell insisted. "Maybe I'm just being shellfish, but I want to mako more jokes." He started to chuckle and it took him a moment or two to notice that he was being met with two blank stares at the latter part of his witticism. "A mako? It's a type of shark..." more silence followed, and he sighed. "Nevermind."
"You need to fine tuna the puns, Mitchell," Annie admonished. "You're starting to flounder."
"You on the other hand, Annie, are finding new skillets in pun-making!"
"Oh my gosh, guys." George ground out through clenched teeth. "You don't understand. I really hate puns. Stop it!" He lifted himself from the couch and stared down at them both in turn.
They both paused their music hall double act. Mitchell stood first, followed by Annie, and they stared at their friend in contemplation. Like a Western showdown, George thought abstractly. An uncomfortable moment of silence followed, and George wasn't sure where to look or what to do.
"Hey," Mitchell said softly. "Don't flipper out, mate." Annie giggle-snorted, and Mitchell ploughed on. "We're not out to make anemones."
George's hands fisted reflexively. I am a pacifist, he told himself firmly. I will not hit my annoying friends. But he wasn't making himself any promises.
Annie caught the reflex. Much more astute than people give her credit for, George acknowledged. "He's haddock enough!" she declared.
"Maybe we oughtta stop. Relax those thinkin' mussels of ours," Mitchell suggested with a smirk.
"No more fishing for laughs?" Annie said. "We're off the hook?"
"Aye," Mitchell conceded. "These puns have really jumped the shark. And poor George, getting angrier trout the entire exchange." He could contain his mirth no longer and he doubled over in laughter, one hand resting companionably on George's shoulder, the other arm wound protectively around his own aching belly. Annie continued to laugh, too, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes. George retained a stoic silence and didn't move until the laughter had subsided. Annie glanced at Mitchell then turned with a contrite shrug to George. Mitchell also looked up apologetically at his friend, his small smile as indication that he was done winding his mate up. George secretly revelled in their now-slightly sheepish expressions. Good. Let them suffer. He knew they half-expected him to blow up into some kind of hissy fit, so he prolonged the moment with markedly deliberate intent.
"It's just as well that you two are already dead," George said with an even tone and real malice in his eyes. "Otherwise, I would krill you both."
With that, he strode past them purposefully, making his way slowly up the stairs. There was a very long moment of silence which stretched between Annie and Mitchell as they simply stared at each other in something akin to disbelief. Then, all at once, control left them both and they doubled over in sheer delight, shaking, turning red, unable to breathe through the gut-aching laughter. Their giggles followed George upstairs; he could hear them gasping for breath before bursting into another fit of chuckles in the room below him. His friends were goofy and oftentimes irritating. He started to undress for bed, an indulgent smile playing across his lips. Yes. He definitely recognised how lucky he was to have this.