'What about this one?' Naboo thrust the paper under Vince's nose.
'Which?' he replied, gazing over the grainy photographs.
'Third from the right, bottom row.'
Naboo watched the little man's eyes flit to the one he had selected.
'"Two bedrooms, kitchen area, £400 a week". Come on, I don't have that kind of money! What job can I get with Polly?' He gestured to the young girl, now sitting up and playing with her toys. She looked beautiful, so content with the world she had invented around the plastic utopia. She was a marvel, and he wouldn't give her up just so he could work, and afford a place away from Howard bloody Moon.
'You could get a flatmate.'
'Yeah, who doesn't mind paying it all.'
'I told you, you can still work in the shop.' Vince shook his head.
'No, if I move away from him, I move away completely.'
'Aren't you over-reacting a little?' Vince frowned, looking down at the hands he was anxiously wringing.
'Naboo, the stuff he said…'
Naboo rose from the sofa, stretching his arms.
'I know, I wasn't there-'
'But you and Howard have been best friends for ages.'
Vince shrugged it off. He knew he was prone to overreaction, but he'd die before he admitted it to anyone else. In hindsight, things always looked better. But nothing could describe the pain, the torture, he felt in the moment. And it was the moment now. And he wanted out.
'Look, it's probably better I get away from him. I rely on him too much. I rely on him all the time.' The truth began to form unwillingly on his tongue.
'You can wean yourself off him without crossing the country, you know.'
Vince looked to the shaman with unfathomable eyes. They glowed a vivid blue under the dim light above their heads. 'I just mean you're being a bit menstrual.'
Vince gave Naboo the most over-exaggerated look of horror, his mouth lolling wide open like a compliant dental patient. He can't quite stifle a chuckle.
'Oh, come on, Vince! You can't leave!'
He thought about it. No, he couldn't leave. This place was his universe, with everything in faultless orbit. Howard was irrevocably part of it all, whether he liked it or not.
It was only early, but the curtains were drawn in the Gideon household. They had been to a poetry reading at Waterstones, but found it utterly uninspiring. All they could do was sit and make eyes at each other for an hour. Fully charged, they barely managed to shut the door before Howard had pounced.
'You're beautiful,' he whispered into her mouth. She returned the kiss eagerly, making hungry noises as she unbuttoned his shirt. He threw her to the sofa, ripping off her cardigan and pinning her down against his body. The pair's kiss deepened. Gideon hands worked their way to Howard's back, clutching at handfuls of loose fabric. He pulled off his shirt, breaking the kiss to throw it on the floor. He loomed over her, drinking in her hot, rosy complexion. His amber eyes loitered on her lips, but planted themselves instead on her neck.
She gasped, calling his name in appreciation. He bit down harder, feeling her wince and wilt in his arms. She reached for his belt, his lips still working their way around her collar. He felt her effort, and made the job easier. Quickly, he tore off his belt. She took it from him, biting into the old leather with a wicked smile about her eyes. She felt him harden against her stomach, using her hands to undo his jeans. She suddenly grabbed his shoulders, pulling herself closer to him. Just as she reached his ear,
'I love you.'
She pressed gentle fingertips into his shoulders, still silently longing for him.
'You don't have to say anything now.'
Howard stood from the sofa to gather his strewn clothing. Gideon frowned, pulling down her skirt.
'I can't do this to you. I feel like I'm messing you about. How long's it been now?'
He pulled on his shirt, laughing in disbelief.
'Three months, and I haven't said I love you.'
'But I haven't.' He wrestled with his top button, his sighs getting heavier. Angrily, he forced it through the buttonhole. He buried his head in cupped hands, annoyed at letting himself get so worked up. Annoyed for letting himself take it this far.
'Well, say it then.'
It did seem simple. If he wanted the life he had always dreamt about, he should say it. Only, the constant intellectual stimulation had been nothing but a disappointment. Only, he just realised too late that opposites attract. Only, he missed the days with Vince, and he knew that was ridiculous because he didn't like Vince, did he? He hated himself for being so awful at the park, and the way he had spoken to him. Why did he do it? He knows why. To try and get rid of him. If he was gone, Howard wouldn't have to think about him. But the little man was infectious. He was a fool to think it would just disappear.
He buttoned his pants and pulled up his fly, trying not to look at Gideon when he reached to the sofa for his belt. His hand was stopped by hers.
'Don't go. I'm sorry.'
'You shouldn't be sorry. If it's true, then it's true,' he sighed, putting another hand on hers, holding her reassuringly. 'I'm sorry too. I wish I could say it back.'
'I wouldn't want to hear it unless you meant it.'
'I wish I could mean it. You're lovely, Gideon. You're beautiful, you're lovely. I just don't think-'
She reached a single finger up to his lips, pressing them shut.
'Shhh. I understand. If you want us to stop, we can.'
I don't want to, he thought, I just have to.
Instead, he nodded, ignoring a huge lump in his throat. He tried to swallow it away, but it remained.
'Goodbye, Moon.' She mock saluted him, tears glistening in her eyes. Leaving the belt, he headed towards the door.
'Open the door, Vince.'
'Because I'm an absolute ballbag and I want to apologise properly.' Vince sighed, ducking to the door. He cracked it open, taking in Howard's puffy, red face.
'Eurgh.' He recoiled suddenly.
'Thanks a lot.'
'What happened to you?'
'Could ask you the same thing. Naboo says you're looking at moving.' Vince slammed the door, sinking down against it on his bedroom's side.
'Knew you'd be back from Gideon's soon. Couldn't cope with how much of a wanker you are.'
'Come on, open the door.'
'Never. I'm never opening the door again. You said you were gonna apologise.'
'I am, if you open the door.'
'Hmm, too bad I ain't gonna get it then.'
'Whatever, I'll live.'
Frustration held Howard's hands, balling them into fists, ready to smash down the door.
'I'm sorry for everything. I'm sorry for calling you a bad father, you're not. You're the best dad in the world. Polly loves you, and I know you love her. I don't know why I said it. I want you to know that she left me, or I left her. It doesn't matter. We're over,' Silence, 'I left her for you.'
Howard saw the door handle shift slowly downwards. Vince's face was alive with the most colourful smile Howard had ever seen. It was gorgeous.
'And I'd do it again, sir.' Without warning, Vince launched into Howard's arms, hugging him with such an almighty force he felt his legs shake and threaten to cave.
'I love you.' Vince whispered.
'I love you too.'