"Boys giving you a hard time?" Noel asked, taking in his partner's hagard appearance. "Do I need to give them a talking to?"
Julian laughed as he shrugged off his jacket. "It's not quite that serious yet. Arthur's hit a stage where he has more wants than he has words to express them. He just says he's hungry. He's holding his ear and crying, saying, 'Daddy, I'm hungry!' Am I meant to rub some mashed potatoes in his ear?"
"Can't Walter translate?" Noel suggested, pouring Julian a black coffee. "Isn't that the point of having two?"
Julian gratefully took the hot coffee. Noel half expected him to pour it straight on his tired looking eyes.
"You know this is only the second day of recording, right?" Noel teased. "Are you going to make it? Do we need to bring in Farnaby?"
Julian just shrugged and looked sad.
"Holy shitballs on a toasted cheese sandwich! You look like crap on a cracker," Rich yelled as he walked down the hall towards them. "Julian, you need to lay off the meth."
Julian gave a delayed laugh. He always seemed to need a moment to translate Rich.
"I've tried," Julian explained balefully. "It's the only thing that wakes me up in the morning."
"I can relate to Arthur," Noel said, sincerely. "Sometimes when I'm tired, I feel like I'm hungry."
"Every unsatisfied urge is hunger," Julian said with a fond smile.
"Every unsatisfied urge is hunger?"Rich repeated. "That's the name of my autobiography. I'm fucking a donut on the cover."
Noel thought about Julian's off-hand comment all day.
Every unsatisfied urge, indeed.
It physically hurt to watch him, he was so utterly awkward and nervous. He didn't look at all like someone who had been on telly. He looked ready to jump out of his skin as he gripped the microphone while it was still in its mic stand, as though he could possibly drop it. Noel laughed too hard and too often. He'd only recently begun doing stand-up himself, so he knew how painful it was, and the lanky Northerner seemed ill-equipped to deal with the agony of an unresponsive crowd. Noel laughed and tried to send a psychic message to the man, to say, "It's all right, you're funny. It's the audience that's rubbish."
Noel had surveyed the crowd when they arrived, and his table was clearly the most interesting group in the place. Everyone else was straight as a ruler. They were only laughing at dick jokes. He imagined they were having well interesting conversations about the weather. Yeah, the guy on stage was going a bit long with his weird little wacky suggestions for freaking people out of the tube - but it was funny, funnier than anyone else had been so far.
"He's so... weird," Dan whispered, and Noel nodded enthusiastically. This guy was fucking weird. Genius.
The man gave a nervous wave before bounding off the stage. He'd ended his set by suggesting they murder a stranger, skin him, and wear his flesh as a leisure suit. Noel hadn't seen it coming.
Noel turned slowly from Nigel to Dan and the three of them dissolved into hysterical laugher. They had all bought it: the nervous ticks, the weak attempts to ingratiate himself to the audience... all just part of the act. Noel wondered if the Northern accent was even real.
"I'm going to buy that man a drink!" Noel declared before turning to Dave. "Lend me a tenner?"
Julian hated every minute of it. It was a terrible gig, and no one got the joke. There had been one table of arty kids laughing, probably ironically, and it had felt like dying.
But when a gig was good...
Julian hated those, too. His mother kept asking why he didn't just stick to music. Music didn't make him throw up with anxiety, and he didn't drink as much when he playing in bands. Comedy hurt, but Julian wanted it to hurt. If you aren't hurting, how do you know you're alive? It was covoluted logic, but Julian had given up on trying to be logical about performing. The rest of his life happened in his brain; performing all took place in his stomach. No wonder he needed to puke before each gig, he needed to make room in his stomach for all his feelings.
One of the art students approached him. He had a strange and pointy face with an absurd feather cut; his motley mane was at least four different colors.
Time to be funny. Comedians are supposed to be funny.
"That was geeenius!" the art student mumbled, barely moving his mouth as he spoke.
His first instinct was to make a joke about the man's lack of articulation, but it was too dead on; better to go neutral.
"Is your hair on backwards?"
The man laughed and blushed, suddenly almost disturbingly feminine as he fussed with his coiffure. He gazed up at Julian through his eyelashes and held out his hand. "I'm called Noel. Can I buy you a pint?"
Julian wasn't sure how to say no and Noel took his silence as agreement.
Fuck. Now he had to be funny and not end up in an awkward sexual situation.
"I just started doing stand-up m'self, and it is well hard. I do stuff a bit like you. Weird stuff. People been tellin' me I should come see your act," Noel declared proudly. His kohl-lined blue eyes were wide with excitement. Under his stupid hair cut and ridiculous clothes, Noel was clearly a little ray of sunshine, full of optimism and enthusiasm. It should have made Julian want to run, but he felt oddly calm. Noel's unfettered enthusiasm made Julian feel centered and wise instead of like a neurotic headcase.
Julian gave a tight lipped smile. "Oh really? That must be... just terrible for you."
This Noel person was here with his art school mates, looking trendy and having fun - feeling confident and cool. This kid hadn't a clue where Julian was coming from. They weren't even from the same planet. Julian let Noel buy him a second pint, though it was his mate (boyfriend?) with the big, handsome face that actually paid. Julian told himself he was only in it for the free drinks, but there may have been a part of him that liked being so openly admired.
Even if it was by a mentally ill boy with his hair on backwards.
Noel was hitting comedy clubs every night, studying - making connections. Getting himself ready for his big break. His act lay somewhere between comedy and performance art. He wanted to make people laugh, but he didn't really mind if they didn't. It was enough that they were all watching him.
It was the middle of the week, and Dan and Nige insisted on staying home and doing school work. Noel had five pretty girls at his table, fellow students. Not that it mattered, not that he cared, but he had a feeling Julian would be more receptive if he had lovely ladies in tow. Maybe this Julian guy was afraid Noel would hit on him. He probably assumed every boy in eyeliner was gay.
Noel wasn't gay; he was barely bi. There had been some drunken snogs, but he was in art school! There are things you have to experience in art school.
He wasn't wrong about Julian; he was far happier to see Noel with his gaggle of girls. He chain smoked through the evening, but Noel noticed he didn't take all that many puffs, he just always had a lit cigarette in his hand. That cigarette must have been whispering to Julian's fingers, "Hey, man, keep cool. Don't be an L 7 square..."
Noel couldn't explain why he thought Julian's fag would use 1950's Hollywood slang, he just knew it would.
Julian vacillated from cold and detached to quite sweet and gentle, and with no seeming reason. Noel was prattling on about nothing and suddenly, Julian would lean in - everything in his body language saying, "I am here for you, and you alone." Then he'd go back to being brusque. Noel found himself trying too hard to be funny and cool, desperate to bring back Julian's attention. Part of Noel wanted to stand up and say, "Hey! I know what you're doing! You're ignoring me so I'll try harder to get your attention, and just because it's working doesn't mean you aren't a dick for doing it."
But part of him didn't think the man was doing it on purpose. As his friend, Naomi, put it after Julian left (alone).
"He's a bit fucking weird, yeah?"
"Look, Barratt, it's your ugly girlfriend."
Julian shook his head. "Fuck off, Lee. Noel isn't ugly."
Noel threw his head back and laughed. He was wearing a poncho.
"You're jealous, Lee. Your face is Sominex. I thought Julian was standing next to a pink balloon for minute."
Lee gave a begrudging laugh, but Julian was too busy rehearsing the words to respond. Noel had a way with words. He told stories like a child. A trip to get a curry became an epic adventure as Noel acted it out with oversized eyes and an undersized vocabulary. He kept dropping hints he wanted Julian to see his stand-up, but Julian was putting it off. If Noel wasn't good, the relationship would end. Julian could neither be honest nor keep a secret when it comes to his opinions on comedy. He had a vague feeling he wanted to write with Noel, or at least write down Noel's words. He was not ready to see whatever they had end. He was lonely on stage.
Julian was lonely.