Howard jumped as the door to the flat slammed shut, causing him to spill hot tea all over his lap and his new copy of Explorer's Monthly. "Ow! Damn it, Vince!" He was about to continue cursing out the smaller man, but was silenced when Vince dug his hands into the back of his head and screamed. "What the hell Vince? What's wrong?"
"I'm pissed off, that's what's wrong," Vince seethed as he ripped his red and silver scarf from his neck. He began tearing at the buttons of his winter coat.
"Yeah, I can see that," Howard said, "What's got you so mad? This isn't like you Vince."
Instead of answering Vince remained focused on clawing at his buttons. He'd managed to get the first three undone, but couldn't get the fourth one, and was becoming increasingly frustrated.
"Vince, come on. You've got to talk to me."
"I am fine, Howard. I just need to take off this goddamn COAT!" Vince ripped the coat open, sending the remaining unfastened buttons whizzing around the room. He wrestled with the sleeves, slammed the coat to the floor, and stomped on it.
"Vince." No response. "Vince!" Howard stepped forward and grabbed the smaller man's wrists, forcing Vince to stop attacking the coat and focus on Howard. Vince looked up at Howard, anger rolling off him in waves. "Vince. Tell. Me. What. Happened."
"I, I... I just..." Suddenly, Vince went limp. Howard saw his shoulders sag. "I don't- I don't know. I just," Vince started sniffing, "And- and Dave. And I don't... know." Howard saw tears welling up in Vince's eyes. "I just... and he doesn't... and, and I...Howard." Vince's voice broke on his name, and, acting on instinct, Howard pulled the smaller man close as sobs began to rock Vince's thin frame.
"Whoa there, little man. It's alright." Howard carefully led Vince to sit on the floor, and positioned himself with his back against the wall. Vince wrapped his arms around Howard and hid his face in the bigger man's chest. Howard began rubbing circles on his back in a manner that he hoped was comforting. "What did Dave do to you little man? Did he hurt you? If he hurt you, I swear to God, I'll kill him."
Vince looked up at Howard, a smile struggling to stay on his face through the tears. "Y-you couldn't k-kill him if you t-tried," he sniffed.
"I would come at him like a freight train, sir."
"Well you don't have to, 'cause he didn't hurt me. At least... not, not like that." Vince wailed and burrowed into Howard's shirt again.
"Oh God, did you guys break up?" Vince shook his head against Howard's chest.
"Then what Vince? Please tell me." Vince shook his head again, his feathered hair tickled Howard's chin. "Alright. I can wait." Howard sat with Vince, rubbing his back, while the smaller man continued to sob. Eventually the sobs turned into whimpers, and the whimpers to sniffling. Vince shifted to look up at Howard. His face was red and his eyes were swollen. Eyeliner had run down his face in thick black streaks.
"Howard?" Vince's voice sounded thick and congested.
"Yeah little man?"
"Can I have a tissue? I feel gross."
"Of course." Howard carefully extricated himself from Vince's hug and stood up to snatch a box of tissues from the table by the couch. He held the box out to Vince, who took it gratefully. Howard allowed Vince to blow his nose and wipe at his eyes before saying, "Come on little man. Let's move over to the couch."
Vince nodded, and stood with the help of the hand that Howard offered him. They sat together on the couch, Vince with the box of tissues in his lap, Howard with his arm around Vince protectively. Vince appreciated the touch, he knew that it couldn't be easy for his friend to have so much physical contact with another person.
"Care to talk now, little man?"
"Yeah." Vince took a deep, shaky breath. "Me 'n Dave went on a date earlier," he started slowly. Howard nodded. "We were just gonna get lunch, nothin' special. Dave picked the place. Well, after we was sat down, Dave saw a bunch of his friends come in the door. They saw us, and they came over and started talking. Dave introduced me, but he called me a friend. Well, we invited 'em to sit with us. They were nice blokes, Howard. But once they sat down, Dave started ignorin' me. It was like I wasn't even there." Vince sighed. "When we left, I asked him why he acted that way. He tried to laugh it off, but I got it out of him that he hadn't told his friends that we were dating. He hasn't told anyone that we're dating. I don't think he's even told anyone that he's gay. I was pissed, Howard. I started tellin' him off, and then he started yellin' at me... It wasn't good, Howard, the stuff we said. I just kept gettin' madder and madder, so I left and came back here." Vince laid his head on Howard's shoulder.
"It's gonna be alright, little man," Howard said reassuringly.
"Is it, Howard? It don't feel like it. Did I do something wrong? Is that why he ain't told anyone about me?"
"Of course not, Vince! You can't do anything wrong."
"But I must've. Why wouldn't he tell anyone about me if I haven't done nothin' wrong? I told everyone about him. I told you about him, Howard. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I still told you. Why can't he?"
"I don't know, Vince."
"I love him, ya know. I love him so much, but I think maybe he don't love me."
That made up Howard's mind. "I'm gonna have a talk with him."
"No!" Vince squealed in protest, "You can't!"
"Of course I can. Howard TJ Moon is a man of action. He doesn't sit idly by and let some guy hurt his best friend. No sir, he does something about it."
"Please Howard don't. You'll just make it worse." Vince was clutching at Howard's shirt in a feeble attempt to keep him from moving.
"I'm going to talk to him Vince."
"No, please! Just... just wait. Okay? Just wait until tomorrow. Please?"
Howard sighed. "Alright. I'll give him one day."
"Thank you." Vince sagged against Howard's chest once more.
The next day Howard awoke to find Vince sitting in the kitchen. He was still wearing his clothes from the night before. He'd gone to bed in them. Skinny jeans and a T-shirt. Howard froze in the doorway and stared in shock until Vince noticed him.
"What?" Vince looked up at Howard.
"Nothing. It's just... I'm not used to you being up this early."
"Yeah, well. Couldn't sleep."
"I know." Howard had heard Vince tossing and turning throughout the night, and had woken up to see him pacing a few times. Howard had tried to talk to him, but Vince hadn't wanted to talk. Howard moved toward the stove and put the kettle on. "How do you feel?"
"Oh." Howard focused on the tea kettle. "Want a cuppa?" Vince nodded. Howard poured two mugs, set one in front of Vince and kept the other for himself, then sat across from Vince at the table. "Sugar?"
"Yeah." Howard slid the sugar bowl to Vince, who added three heaping spoonfuls to his tea. They sat in silence for some moments.
"Did Dave...?" Howard gestured vaguely.
"No." Vince shook his head.
"Vince, if you don't want to come down to the shop today-"
"No, I will. I'll even be on time today." Vince smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"Yeah." They finished their tea in silence. Eventually Vince stood to get ready for the day. Howard watched him go.
By the time lunch rolled around Howard had had enough. Vince had been visibly depressed all day. He hadn't dressed in his usual brightly colored catsuit, instead he'd worn black skinny jeans and a plain blue T shirt. Howard hadn't even known that Vince owned a plain shirt. Vince hadn't even put root boost in his hair. Howard was more than a little concerned about Vince. But more than that he was angry at Dave. Vince wasn't meant to be upset. He was meant to be bright and sparkly and happy. Vince was supposed to be made of sunshine. But Dave had broken him. It was Dave's fault that Vince kept sighing, Dave's fault that Vince kept checking his phone every two minutes in the hopes of finding a message. Howard had found himself growing steadily angrier as the day wore on. "Right, that's it!"
Vince looked up, startled at Howard's sudden proclamation in the otherwise silent shop. "What?"
"I can't take this anymore. I'm going to talk to Dave."
"No buts. He's had plenty of time to apologize, but he hasn't. Watch the shop Vince. I'll be back." Howard stormed outside before Vince could respond. He flagged down a taxi and gave the driver Dave's address. When Howard got out of the taxi some of his bravery had faded. "Stick around, will ya?" he said to the taxi driver.
Howard wasn't even sure what he was going to say. He was getting ready to just walk away from the building when he remembered Vince crying the night before. He swallowed, shrugged his shoulders, and turned to walk up the steps. Nervously, he rang the bell. A few moments later the door opened to reveal a tall blonde man. He was good looking, of course, Vince wouldn't have been dating him if he wasn't, but his face fell when he saw Howard at the door. "Oh, shit." Dave quickly went to shut the door, but Howard stuck his foot out at the last second, preventing him from doing so. They stared at each other for a long moment.
"He's in love with you," Howard blurted.
"What?" Dave opened the door completely.
"Vince. He loves you. He's got himself worked up into a right state over you."
"Look, I know with the fight and everything-"
"No," Howard interrupted. "I don't care. I just want you to apologize."
"Hey, I'm not the one-"
"He thinks that you don't love him." Howard suddenly found himself feeling brave again. "If you do love him, then you're gonna go over to that flat, and you're going to apologize and you're gonna tell him that you love him, and then you're going to tell all of your friends that you're gay, and that you're in love with him. You will shout it from the rooftops if that's what he needs." Howard had no idea where the words had come from, but he was on a roll now.
"And if you don't love him, then you're going to go over there, and you're going to tell him that you don't. And you will break up, and he will cry, and he will blame himself, but eventually, he will forget about you." It was a pattern with Vince. Howard had seen a lot of break ups. "He will find someone else, and they will love him, and they will both be happy. So which one is it? Do you love him?"
"I uh, I..." Dave looked at the floor.
"Right, doesn't matter to me. You just have to tell him." Howard turned toward the street. "Come on then, cab's waiting."
Howard waited in the shop while Vince and Dave talked upstairs in the living room of the flat. He glanced nervously at the ceiling every few seconds. After what seemed like ages Howard heard footsteps on the stairs. Dave appeared, looked at Howard for a moment, didn't say anything, and walked straight out of the door. This didn't bode well. Howard bolted up the stairs to look for Vince.
Howard found him sitting on the sofa in the living room, looking down at his hands. Vince looked up. "We broke up."
Howard sighed. "I figured." He sat down next to Vince. "You alright?"
Vince shrugged. "Not really."
"You'll find someone better, you know. He didn't deserve you."
The corner of Vince's mouth twitched. "You think so?" Vince sighed. "Why does this hurt so much?"
"Because..." Howard thought for a moment, "Because it mattered."
"Of course it did. You spent six months of your life with him. He was important. He mattered."
"But I didn't matter to him."
"Well, you matter to me."
Vince looked up at Howard. "Yeah?"
Vince leaned his head against Howard's shoulder and closed his eyes. "Thanks Howard."
Howard wrapped an arm around him. "Anytime, little man, anytime."