The floorboards creaked under Paul's shoes as he ascended the rickety steps to the Humbleden attic. The first thing you noticed was, inevitably, the black marker that covered the walls. To him, it was beautiful. He ran his fingers over them, all these things that Barry had written. Along the back wall near the window, just to one side of the two beds they'd pulled together for the twins...
It hurts me
It hurts you
It kills me
It kills me
Paul wished he'd looked at these before. Really looked at them. Perhaps he would have been able to see it coming. To understand it and therefore to prevent it.
And directly behind the head of the bed, just above the metal railings was a messily scrawled out BACTERIAL ACTION which might mean nothing to anyone outside Paul and the boys, and maybe Laura... That was the title of one of Paul's songs.
Although the world fills up with men
Their numbers do not match
The numbers of the swarming swarms
Of creatures living in our skin
They have their nations and domains,
Pleastant jungles, deserts streams.
They live, beget, and leave no trace
For eye to see or mind to judge.
They've no Byzantium or Rome,
yet They were there, in smock and gown;
Proud Caesar was their planet too.
In time Their old prolific line
Will speed commensally with us
And all unknowing win the the stars –
Yes, ultimately win the stars
Across one of the top beams was a hastily scrawled BROTHERS RULE. All these scattered amongst various profanities and drawings, the huge cock and balls that stood outside the doorway like a kind of guard to their room (Fuck it! My fucking...) – shocking you before you even went inside to see the real act, if you will. The real freak-show.
He traced the letters Baz lives...
And the drawings. God, the drawings. He settled himself on the edge of the bed, staring around at them all. To just look at them without knowing Tom and Barry it wouldn't seem like much. Not like anything really. Childish scribbles... but when you looked at all the monsters... the demons in cages, all of the two-faced heads... the different drawings of the twins, possibly. It made you wonder, really, what Barry really felt about that voice in his head.
One of the most striking ones was a tiny sketch, so unlike Barry's usual almost life-sized drawings surrounded or covered by multitudes of black spirals or lines. It was a tree, unmistakably, with too heads... and it reminded Paul of something Laura had said a while back... something about them being like two trees growing together. Too close and too little space. Elbows in each other's way.
Her name was here somewhere, scribbled here and there on the walls. Scratched out sometimes, encircled or embellished in another. Tom's handwriting was smaller than Baz's and not so much neater as it was longer. He'd drawn a heart around one of them, and Barry, or perhaps even Tom had coloured over it. It was barely visible now.
Break. Fuck it. Barry had written over Tom's Never fade.
Paul had searched this room now, several times, for his own name, but he'd never found it. It didn't really matter. What was there had been there... had been. It wasn't anymore, so it didn't matter. That's what he told himself. That was how he got over and on with it. Chin up and all that.
And Barry had scrawled out the words he so often heard.
Oh you are all things to me...
Paul had, in earlier years, when he was younger, tried to figure out why Barry wouldn't have written something about him. He came up with hundreds of thousands of reasons and none of them ever felt right. In the end, it just came down to the fact that what had happened between him and Barry, and inevitably Tom and Laura, hadn't meant for Baz what it meant for Paul.
Laura hadn't wanted it. That much was clear from the start, but when they were all practically swimming in Ecstasy, in fucking oh God, MDMA. A class 'A' drug if Paul had ever had one. Laura rarely did these drugs, but when she did, she was wild. This was the Laura Ashworth Paul remembered. The Laura that was unafraid of anything before everything happened.
Now she had to be an adult, both for herself and for Tom and Barry. It had all started and stopped in a blur, and Paul couldn't, for the life of him, remember who had initiated what. Only that, at one point, Barry's attention turned from Laura, his fingers sliding down her neck and over her spine, (Laura whose long legs were bent high on either side of Tom on the mattress, Tom's face buried against her shoulder) and pulled Paul down hard. It was messy and sloppy, but Paul didn't care. He was pressed against Barry in a second, usually too shy to even stick around for this long, but Laura had, for some reason, ensured that he was kept down there in that red-lit basement with her and the boys, her hand on his thigh, grasping his hand, and leaning over the boys until her lips ghosting over his ear.
He didn't really want to stay. Not until Barry's mouth found his. He remembered Tom's smile. His half laugh as he and Barry manoeuvred themselves so they were lying on their backs, between Paul and Laura who were lying on either side of them. He remembered leaning over Barry to touch his lips to the corner of Tom's mouth, tentative even though at this moment, he felt that he loved all three of them equally, and Tom's tongue was in his mouth and he was kissing him. Barry's hand came up and ran over the soft leather of Paul's trousers, the inside of his thigh, making him jolt and make a mewling sound when Barry cupped him through the material.
Laura's hair slid over Tom's chest, and when he pulled away to take a drag off of the fag he'd forgotten, burning away between his fingers Laura bit Paul's lower lip, pulling on it.
The lights had gone out at one point, Paul remembered. He wasn't sure why or how. It was so tangled up then that at points no one knew who was who. Whose body they were touching, whose mouth they were kissing, whose fingers had slipped up between Laura's thighs and whose fingers were unbuttoning the thick denim of Barry's trousers.
Tom knew when Barry turned his head and kissed him that it was Barry. He could tell by the familiar fingers on his cheek and the taste of his mouth. The way he kissed. It was always competitive, and Tom was more than willing to comply. It was so easy to kiss Barry. Easier than kissing Paul who was more intense than he ever imagined he would be.
At one point, the four of them paired up, and the feeling of Barry's thighs under his fingers, damp with sweat, and Barry's throat, salty under his mouth, Barry's lips, his tongue, the way his head fit under Paul's chin, how easy it was to lay against him and be comfortable.
Paul remembered lying awake and listening to the other three, asleep, breathing deeply. Tom's occasional mumblings. Sometimes Barry would respond. Just nonsense words. Half formed syllables and sentences.
Paul's hand slid over Tom's, both tangled in Barry's hair and it Paul didn't pull away. And when they woke up, they were still incredibly tangled with one another. Barry had turned into Tom as always; leaving Paul more isolated, save for their legs tangled and Barry's half-curled hand just beside Paul's face. Laura's arm was over Tom's stomach and rested on Barry's side of the join. Her face was centimetres away from Tom's. One of Tom's hands rested on that arm and his arm was wound around her back, holding her close to him. The fingers of Barry's free hand were entwined with Laura's over the join.
Paul realised that these three... they were so comfortable with each other... he was on the outside.
Paul was always on the outside. He never forced himself into someone's life. Instead, he let himself be drawn in, but only if they wanted it. When he was that high, he had thought that Barry wanted it, and maybe he did... but not as much as Paul did.
No, Paul's name wasn't on these walls, but there was something... he'd felt it... with him and Barry that night...
Or he liked to think so... he would allow himself that much anyway.