It would not be entirely accurate to say that Jay Cartwright left his home at ten forty-eight in the evening on Saturday, the seventh of December. His home hadn't given him much choice in the matter. Somehow in the midst of the too-familiar bellows and crashes of the Cartwright residence, decked in its usual weekend décor of empty bottles and cigarette butts, Jay discovered that his legs had of their own accord picked up his torso and stalked toward the door. He left without so much as picking up a jacket.
This lack of upper body vestment presented an immediate problem, as it was, in Jay's on words, cold as a witch's tit out. Yes, under normal circumstances, he would have wandered about town, cruised the park, fumed a bit, then lazily considered his lodging options for the night, hell, maybe even slept rough for a lark, weather permitting. But tonight, the weather was not permitting anything. An icy wind pummeled Jay's cheek, rubbing it redder than any bit of below-the-belt banter from father or frenemy had ever managed to make it. His angry stomps quickly turned to hastier strides as he sought out the nearest building which didn't contain another Cartwright.
Jay rapped softly at the McKenzie residence – as much as he liked Will's mum, he didn't want to disturb her sweet slumber. Luckily, Will answered.
"Jay?" he said thickly. "What are you doing here?"
In fact, Jay mused, Will would probably like nothing better than to stand in the doorway asking equally daft questions until the cows came home. However, as previously mentioned, it was cold as a witch's tit outside. Reluctantly, Will stepped to one side and allowed his frozen schoolmate to enter his home, so that both boys could continue their awkward interrogation session in relative comfort.
Jay threw on his game face. "All right, briefcase?"
"Well, it's eleven o'clock at night, my mum's trying to sleep, and you've turned up in your shirtsleeves for no reason at all so, perhaps not?"
"Keep your shirt on," said Jay with a grin. "I just wondered if I could kip here tonight. My house is being emergency fumigated."
"Emergency fumigated?" asked Will, drawing out each improbable syllable.
"Yeah, bedbugs the size of your arm. You should see the chunk they've taken out of our end table!"
Will simply stared for a minute, trying to take in the surreality. "Right so … where is the rest of your family while this, er, emergency fumigation is taking place?"
"Oh, they're out of town. German poetry convention."
That didn't even deserve a response. Will didn't give it one. Why had Jay really decided to turn up? It wasn't like he could just say the truth, like a civilized friend, could he? Not that Will had any civilized friends, but he presumed they'd be much easier to deal with. In fact, sometimes Will liked to imagine he had a very considerate and cultured acquaintance called Steven who invited him around every Sunday afternoon for croquet and a bit of light gardening.
But in real life, alas, there were no Stevens. There were only Jays, grimy, lying, mysterious, maddening Jays, intruding on his peaceful evenings in front of the fireplace with his newspaper and his slippers.
On the other hand, he'd guessed enough of the truth of Jay's situation not to want to know the rest. Besides, the cub-scout-private-school-mummy's-boy-Victorian-gentleman-better-than-his-surroundings-his-excellency-fancypants side of Will McKenzie couldn't bring himself to turn an improperly clothed compatriot out into the cold again. His mum wouldn't mind. Will hadn't had a friend stay overnight in years.
"Well, come on then." And he led the way up the stairs.
Will stopped at the linen closet to grab an armful of the guest sheets. Seeing as the McKenzie family's most frequent guest was Great Aunt Eleanor, they were covered in a lovely yellow paisley pattern, which Will felt was no more than Jay deserved. Will proceeded to his bedroom, pulled out his standard-issue-teenager-black-metal futon, and handed Jay the other end of the fitted sheet.
"Oy, briefcase, I'm not your grandmother. I don't need all this," said Jay.
"If you're sleeping on my futon," said Will, "then I'm covering it up with something first."
"It's not even going to fit, look," said Jay, stretching his end theatrically. "It's too big."
Will replied, "I know, we'll tuck the ends or something. These used to go on the guest bed."
"You have a guest bed?"
"We had a guest bed," Will corrected him. "It's in storage now. This house is … a bit smaller than our old one." And he bent over to clear all his things off the futon, including –
"Oh my god," Jay crowed. "Are you knitting a fluffy pink octopus?"
Will reddened. "I'm knitting my mum a jumper for Christmas," he said defensively. "I … was going to tie up the ends when I'd finished and hope she didn't notice."
"Are you knitting your dad a matching nightie then?"
Will looked down. "Er, I don't think I'll be seeing my dad at Christmas. Or possibly ever."
And without missing a beat, Jay met his friend's eye and said, "Lucky bastard."
Something in the mood had shifted. Will and Jay finished fixing up the makeshift bed in silence and sat down.
"Do you ever wonder why your mum married him?" Will asked.
And Jay said, "Does it matter? She did."
Will went downstairs to grab a cushion and an afghan from the couch. When he returned, Jay had removed his shoes and tucked his knees into his chin. Instinctively (for he never would have dared otherwise), Will placed the afghan around Jay's shoulders and gave it a tentative pat.
Half a dozen defensive, homophobic responses flashed through Jay's brain, but he didn't say any of them. "Cheers, mate."
For a brief stretch of time, Will McKenzie and Jay Cartwright allowed themselves to relax in each other's presence. Will smiled as he realized that, urbane or not, it was nice to have a bit of company once in awhile. And Jay smiled because, prick or not, it was nice to know someone thought he was worthy of the guest linens.