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With great excitement Adam ran down the first floor passage to the top of the staircase, where he met Joby climbing laboriously up the last few steps. They stared at each other silently for what felt like an age.
They seemed as though they were both trying to read each other's minds, and at the same time were determined not to give anything away. One had to move first. Joby wagged his finger at the older man drunkenly, and then moved on towards what he had earlier described as the "woman's bedroom".
On the ground floor empty bottles were all that remained of the drinking session, whilst Angel was now standing in one place, swaying aimlessly from side to side. He was singing slowly and tunelessly, like a clockwork toy that was winding down.
"Get some rest", Adam placed his hands on the boy's shoulders and directed him to a nearby sofa.
"You look like him", said Angel, staring at him wide-eyed.
"The man in the park. When I was little. He smiled at me, sang a song at me, and then carried me down to the hidden clearing in the woods. He said if we gave each other sips of our blood, we'd both live forever. Yes, he really did look like you".
"Not guilty of that particular crime", said Adam, shaken "It wasn't me".
"Trouble is, I don't think I want to live forever anymore".
"Believe me, sweetcakes", Adam tapped the boy's cheek "That is extremely unlikely anyway".
"You should've joined us in a drink. You really should've", Kieran was leaning on a five-bar gate on the other side of the small wood, facing the barn where Joby and Angel had woken up.
"Oh? Would there have been enough to go round!"
"Now don't you be like that, you grumpy old sod", Kieran giggled "The champers would've loosened you up".
"Drink loosens me up too much, and champagne is unlucky for me".
"How can it be?"
"The last time I came into contact with a champagne bottle I finished up with five years in prison".
"It wasn't drink driving", Adam sighed "Even more irresponsible than that. I wrapped an empty bottle around someone's head. Apart from him needing numerous stitches, I also blinded him in one eye. I was convicted of GBH, and given five stinking long years".
"Why? I mean, why did you do it?"
"Because I was young and I cared too much", said Adam "It was when I was nineteen, not much younger than you are now. A friend and I took a sabbatical from art college and went to live in the south of France for a few months. My friend gave me a lot of grief. Perhaps I wanted too much, I don't know. I don't care for people easily, but when I do I tend to want them all to myself. He wasn't prepared to give me as much as I needed, he wasn't even prepared to give me a fraction of that. I was only a convenience to him. Useful when no one else was around. That's when I started drinking really, I needed a solace. Anyway, I went back to our rooms early one day and found him with someone else. Something snapped inside me, to coin an old phrase. The sight of the empty champagne bottles I suspect, because they'd been thoroughly enjoying themselves in my absence. I went for the other guy with one of the empty bottles. I can't remember much of it. It was like a darkness that came over me, or perhaps I've just shut it out".
"You didn't attack your friend then?"
"If you'd caught Amy with a lover, you'd attack the lover wouldn't you? Not Amy".
"I might", Kieran moved over to a tree and leaned against it heavily, as though letting all his inner problems seep into the bark "Now I'm glad I did neither".
"You mean ...?"
"Amy's had a lover? Oh yes, just after we were married in fact. It's a sadness inside me that won't go away, but sometimes it draws back enough to seem unimportant".
"Who was it?"
"A mutual friend".
"Not Joby surely!"
"I know. Hard to believe isn't it? I always thought Amy was intelligent, and then she goes and has him! I mean, I always had the impression Joby's idea of foreplay was to get a woman up against a wall and say 'how about it then?'"
"But you don't hate him for it?"
"I don't hate anyone easily. I think there's enough hate in the world already without going creating some more".
"Even so ..."
"I'm more confused than filled with hate", Kieran sighed "It's like when someone dies before their time. You get angry at the unfairness of it, and yet confused as well. Why did it happen? That always happens to me when life fails to make sense. If one of 'em had only come to me and told me after it had happened! I could've forgiven and forgotten. I've had enough flings in me time to know how easy they are to get into. One moment you're just being sociable with someone, and the next you're waking up and thinking what the blazes happened here? We;re all of us only human after all. And yet she has never said. Not a single bloody word. She still thinks I don't know".
"You never thought of asking her about it?"
"The more time went by the more I thought there must be more to it than meets the eye, or she'd have said something. I got scared of hearing the truth I suppose".
"Perhaps it meant nothing. Perhaps she didn't think it was worth mentioning".
"That's what I told Joby, for the sake of me own stupid pride. But how can that be?" Kieran snapped, angrily. He instantly recollected himself and gave a wry smile "Anyway, that's a problem for sorting out back home, if we ever get there".
"What will you do?"
"Tell her I know, and ask her what she wants. I suspect by the time we get back though she'll have divorced me on grounds of desertion! I'm not scared anymore though. Perhaps I don't care enough now to be scared. Sometime I'll ask Joby what he wants as well. Force him to be more open about himself. That should be good for a laugh".
"How do things stand between you and Joby?"
"Much the same as they ever did", Kieran shrugged, casually.
"How much do you care about him?"
"Look, Joby's just ... well he's just Joby isn't he! Stop reading so much into things".
"You can't tell me he doesn't mean anything to you? Not after all you've been through together".
"Joby is one of those people you pick up with in life, accidentally. He just happens to be there".
"You mean to say you've never discussed each other's finer feelings?"
"He hasn't got any! Look, I don't like complications. They waste too much mental energy. I think people make relationships far more complicated than necessary, and that is so boring. I'm bored with worrying about my marriage. I thought Amy was straightforward, and it seems she's not. Now it seems Joby carries a torch for her, and suddenly I find I'm bored with being the object in their way. If we ever get back THEY have to decide what THEY want. If it was just a fling, then they accept it as such, and then I won't have to put up with Joby's resentment that I'm still around. All I ever want to do is have a laugh with people, enjoy their company. If that's selfish then selfish it is. But I don't want all this heaviness. All this sadness. I'm fed up with feeling negative and serious. It's not me. Not really".
"So I'm not treading on anyone's toes then?"
"At this moment I couldn't care less if you were stamping on 'em in stilettoes".
Kieran felt his whole body go liquid under the impact of Adam's kiss. A surge of soft warmth tingled him from head to toe. In the face of this new physical onslaught nothing else mattered at all.
Joby was lying between the sheets in the Woman's Bedroom. In the dark he drowsily stroked the silk stocking in his hand. There was an aroma of perfume hanging in the air. He inhaled it greedily, and tried to hang onto the scent, reluctant to let it go.
He heard a soft footfall near the bed, and he saw a slim shadow near him. She approached out of the gloom, hazy and indistinct, like a faded photograph. Her dress was long, and made of an ivory-coloured silk. It rustled tantalisingly when she walked. Her face came slowly towards his. Pale, with large, sad-looking eyes, and a wave of bluey-black hair.
A hand touched his head, and his scalp prickled under the sensation. As she leaned towards him he could see the small mounds of her breasts beneath the silk rise up and strain gently against the material. She kissed his forehead like a mother wishing her son a restful sleep.
She went as suddenly as she had arrived. Joby fell asleep with the image of her in his mind, and her silk stocking in his hands.
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