I'm Having a Party
"Naboo, where'd you send Howard off to? He's been ages!" Vince said, as he climbed up on a chair to hang up the last jazz themed streamer. Bollo was fixing up the other end.
"I only sent him to pick up some bits," Naboo said, "even if he went to the big Asda he should have been back by now."
"Right, I'll go and get changed."
"But Vince, you already lookin' good," Bollo said.
"Thanks Bollo, but this is just my day look," Vince said, pointing at his outfit, which made him look like a cowboy superhero. "I've got something special planned for my night look."
Naboo looked at Bollo.
"I got a bad feelin' about this," Bollo said.
"What, Vince's outfit?"
"Yeah, wonder what he's got himself into."
When Howard finally made it back to the Nabootique, he was staggering in with two Shamansbury's carrier bags and looking rather dishevelled. "You have no idea what I had to go through to get you these, sir," he said, handing the bags over to Naboo.
Naboo pulled a net of oranges out of the bag. "What do you expect, you ballbag? This ain't their usual stock."
"Well I know that now." Howard moved his neck from side to side and winced.
"You should have gone round the Co-op, yeah?"
"You could have told me that before," Howard said with a sigh.
"Howard! What happened to you?" Vince asked with a bit of a laugh. He strode over to Howard and pulled a twig out of his hair.
Howard just gaped at him. Naboo and Bollo looked at each other.
"Do you like it?" Vince said, spreading his arms to show off his evening look, which was a coffee coloured turtleneck, a tweed jacket which Howard was sure had some of his own nutmeg coloured patches on the elbows, brown shoes, and what were certainly the loosest trousers Vince had ever worn.
"It's... a departure from your usual image," Howard said, unnerved by the sight of a mirror image of him with better hair.
Vince laughed. "I know. Feel a bit silly actually, can I get changed?"
Howard nodded, then pointed with both hands and shouted after him, "There's only room for one snappy dresser in here!" He looked at Naboo and Bollo, and then he looked around at all of the decorations and finally said, "What's going on in here, then?"
"Vince decided to throw you another party, yeah?" Naboo said.
"Yeah, after you enjoyed the last one so much," Bollo said.
Howard crossed his arms, but glanced around and took in all of the little details, including the large pile of presents in the corner. He tried to stop himself smiling. "Party? Not much of a party with only four of us. This is just a regular Saturday night with balloons."
"Regular Saturday night for you, maybe," Naboo said.
"Yeah, Naboo's usually been sick in his turban at least once by now."
"No need to tell everyone, Bollo."
Vince came back downstairs wearing his usual assortment of bright colours and shiny fabrics. "So what do you think, Howard? Brilliant, huh?"
Howard sighed. "Yeah. Brilliant."
Vince poked him in the arm. "You could try being a bit more enthusiastic about it!"
"Yeah. I didn't really want another party, did I?"
"But this one's different! It's got all the things you like, and this time it's just your best mates."
"I hate to tell you this, but you're not my best mates. My best mate got his head chopped off at the first party."
"Lester Corncrake's coming too."
"Oh yeah?" Howard said sceptically.
"Yeah! He's on his way. He phoned a bit ago and said he left his head on the bus so he'll be a bit late."
"Where is he?"
Howard rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah?"
"Well that's what some kids told him anyway, he didn't know if they were playing a trick on him."
Howard looked at his watch. "Well, I must be going."
"Howard! You can't go. It'll be fun, I promise."
"Vince. I am not giving you another opportunity to humiliate me. I haven't even had a chance to get over the last time."
"Howard!" Vince yelled after him, but he had already gone.
Naboo and Bollo looked awkwardly at Vince, who shrugged. "All part of the plan," he said, nodding to himself.
Vince decided to get into the party spirit while they waited for Howard to come back. He got Bollo and Naboo to unenthusiastically join in on a game of Pin the Moustache on Howard. He had intended to play it with Howard himself, but they used a plain peach balloon which looked exactly the same when Vince put a hat on it. Afterwards, Vince put on a jazz record, but quickly realised that he was the only one who was even pretending to enjoy it.
"He'll be back in a minute, yeah?" Vince said, as much to reassure himself as to the others. He was a bit annoyed that Howard had just left after he'd gone to all of this trouble.
After a few hours of dancing ironically to jazz records, Vince went off to find Howard. He didn't have to look far. Howard was sitting on the roof, his head in his hands. Vince heard his muffled sobs before he even saw him.
Vince held his arms out to steady himself as he walked across the roof. "Hey Howard! Are you crying?"
Howard sniffed and lifted up his head. "And what if I am? Isn't a man allowed to be alone with his sorrows?"
Vince laughed. "You ain't got any sorrows. You're not starving to death in Africa or lost your keys down the drain."
Howard shook his head and tutted. "Oh Vince, Vince, Vince, you just don't understand the subtleties of human emotion," he said. "Vince?"
"What? I wasn't listening." Vince was busy trying to see how long he could stand on one leg on the uneven roof tiles.
Howard sighed. "What do you want? You're interrupting my melancholy thoughts. I could get a good song out of this, I'll have you know."
"I've come to get you. The party just ain't the same without you."
"Vince. I already told you. I didn't want one party. Surely even you could figure out that I didn't want another one."
Vince sat down. "Oh come on, the first one wasn't that bad."
"Wasn't that bad? Vince, my best mate got his head chopped off."
Vince grinned guiltily. "Oh yeah. But I didn't know that was going to happen."
"You shouldn't have invited all of those people, Vince. All your friends. It was supposed to be my party, Vince. But it ended up being all about you. Just like it always does."
"I was just giving the people what they wanted."
"Your people maybe. My people are interested in deeper things than what Vince Noir is wearing today."
"Oh come off it, Howard. I see you ogling my outfits every morning. Bet you're thinking 'I wish I could be even half that stylish'."
"Not really, no," Howard said. In fact, he was thinking quite different things indeed. Things like how it might feel to hold Vince in his arms. Probably a bit prickly from all of the sequins sticking in him, but that was a risk he was willing to take.
"Come on, Howard. Come to the party. I know you'll like it once you get there."
"You said I'd like the other party. But then you invited all of your mates. And you made me look a right fool in front of the girls."
"There's plenty of girls, Howard. I'm sure there's some in London that you've not looked a fool in front of yet."
Vince leaned towards him and bumped him with his arm. "We can go find some later. But tonight it's just you, me, Bollo and Naboo. And Lester Corncrake. If he shows up."
"You forgot to invite him, didn't you?"
"You really have no faith in me, do you? 'Course I invited him, his head and his body are just a bit separated right now like I told you."
"I think I'll just stay up here for a while."
"Oh, don't be like this, Howard."
"I've still got a lot to think about from the last party."
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
Howard gazed off into the distance. "I realised I was in love."
"Oh yeah?" Vince said, elbowing him. "Who with?"
"With you, you berk! I already told you. Don't you listen to anything?"
Vince grinned guiltily. "Hey! Sometimes I do! But sometimes I just listen to what's going on in my head. There's a brilliant electro DJ that lives in there, he's genius." And then Vince was off doing a little dance with his arms to the music in his head.
Howard sighed. "And there you go, I tell you I'm in love with you and you just leave me dangling."
"I don't know what you want me to say."
"And that's the problem. The only person Vince Noir has ever loved is Vince Noir."
"That's not true!" Vince protested. "They call me the Romeo of Richmond."
"Lots of people!"
They fell into a brief silence.
"I heard your song. The one you were singing round by the bins."
Howard raised his eyebrows. "Did you? What did you think?"
"Well…" Vince began. "It might be all right if you add in some harsh modern beats. We can work on it later." He tapped his hand on his leg. "Wait, was that about me?"
"Yes!" Howard sighed. "Honestly!"
"It'd be a bit more obvious if you put a line in about my hair."
Howard took a deep breath. "Vince. I know you won't understand, but my feelings run a bit deeper than what's on the outside."
"Oh, is this about that time I made you look down my throat because I thought my tonsils were possessed?"
"No. Not about what's down your throat. This is about what's in your heart."
"They were as well. Remember? We had to call that tiny exorcist. He was a right nightmare!"
Howard smiled at the memory. "We've been friends for a long time. You mean a lot to me." He ran a hand back through his hair. "What I'm trying to say is, there's no-one else I'd rather have by my side."
"I already knew that ages back."
"Yeah, 'course! We're the ultimate combination. I was a bit worried when they had to close the Zooniverse. Thought you might go off to France to be a mime or something and then I'd be on my own. I've seen some of the other Northerners round here and their moustaches are rubbish."
Howard hid his moustache self-consciously and shot a nervous sidelong glance at Vince. "I wouldn't do that to you, Vince. We're like yin and yang. From two different worlds but we're meant to be together."
Vince smiled. "Yeah! Like David and Goliath!"
"Well maybe not quite like David and Goliath."
"Vince, I'll explain later. Stop trying to ruin the moment," Howard said. "I didn't realise you cared, Vince. I thought it was just me."
"You didn't think I cared? You've got some nerve. I nearly got trapped in that weird jazz shop with that nutter forever!"
"What jazz shop?"
"Oh, you know, what's it called? Jiminy Turnpike's Jazz and Corduroy Emporium," Vince said. "Near Dixons."
"What are you on about? My friend, if there was a jazz emporium in this town, I'd know about it."
Vince and Howard looked straight ahead for a moment at nobody in particular, then glanced at each other.
"Where did you think I'd got all them decorations from?"
"Well, I do have to admit it, you did do a good job."
"Hey, come on then, let's get back to the party," Vince said, patting Howard on the shoulder.
Howard still looked reluctant to get up. "I was hoping we could… spend some time together. Just us."
Vince laughed. "Howard, what do you think we've been doing up here for the last hour and a half?"
"No, I meant…" Howard began, and then sighed. He turned to Vince and looked into his clueless blue eyes. He took hold of Vince's scarf and pulled him closer.
Vince took Howard's hand and prised it off his scarf to stop him creasing it. Howard's fingers curled around his hand. His brown eyes were darting around nervously, like he was trying to send him some kind of awkward message.
"Oh, right. If you wanted a snog, why didn't you just say?" Vince said. If it was even possible, Howard looked even more nervous. "What's wrong? We've done it before."
Howard looked away. "Yeah, but that time it wasn't real, was it?"
Vince frowned. "It was real to me."
Howard gaped at Vince, at a loss for words. Well this changed everything. All this time, he'd been thinking that the kiss had meant nothing. He felt such a fool. He estimated a good ninety percent of the people they encountered wanted to kiss Vince. But did he kiss them? No, sir, he didn't. Howard put an arm around his shoulders and clumsily pressed his lips to Vince's.
Wrapping his arms around Howard's waist, Vince took control and kissed him back. He felt Howard's other arm creep up to cradle his head. Vince worried about him messing up his hair but it felt quite nice, so he let this one slide.
When Howard finally pulled back from him, Vince started laughing and put his head on Howard's shoulder.
"What?" Howard asked.
"Last time we did this, we fell off the roof."
"Yeah, but you hired a bouncy castle, so it was all right."
"Well I didn't get one this time."
"I'll just have to keep a tight hold on you," Howard said, squeezing him tighter. Vince snuggled against Howard's chest. Howard let out a happy sigh.
It was many hours later when they finally made it down from the roof.
"I thought you said Naboo and Bollo were staying for my party?"
Vince shrugged. "Must've gone out. Anyway, you've got all these to open." He gestured at the massive pile of presents all wrapped in burnt orange and beige paisley paper.
Howard's mouth dropped open. It took a while to open them all, even when Vince got tired of watching him taking so long and decided to help.
"This must have cost you a fortune!"
Vince smiled. "Yeah. It almost did."
"What do you mean, almost?" Howard said, looking up from admiring his gifts.
"Well, I didn't have the money, did I? So the shopkeeper said I could work off my debt, so I was like, all right."
"So that's why it took you all day!"
"Yeah! What, did you think I was shopping all day?"
"I did actually."
Vince rolled his eyes. "As if even I could be out shopping that long!" he said. "Anyway, turned out the shop never closed and he was planning on keeping me there forever."
"How did you get away?"
"Just waited for him to go to the loo, didn't I. Then I ran away."
"Do you think he'll come after you?"
"I hadn't thought of that," Vince said.
"Well if he does, he'll have to make it past me, Howard Moon, man of action!" Howard said, striking a pose, and then going over to put an arm around Vince's shoulders.
Vince laughed. "He's got no chance," he said. "Did you like your presents?"
Howard nodded. "This really means a lot to me. I mean it."
"Can't believe you thought I didn't care," Vince said, crossing his arms. Howard moved behind him to wrap both arms around him.
"You could have shown it," Howard said, leaning his head against Vince's.
"What are you on about, I always show it."
"Well maybe you need to start looking a bit harder," Vince said, struggling out of Howard's grip. He turned around, took hold of the lapels of Howard's jacket and kissed him.
Howard often despaired at Vince's cluelessness, but all of a sudden he felt like he had been the clueless one all along. He wondered how long Vince had loved him. But now was not the time for such questions. So, he thought, this was what it was like to hold Vince in his arms. Even nicer than he had imagined.
When they finally got tired of playing the jazz themed games that Vince had come up with, they settled down on the sofa under a blanket and watched a black and white French film. Vince didn't understand it at all and quickly fell asleep. Howard watched until the end of the credits, then settled down next to Vince and closed his eyes. No doubt there would be some kind of inconceivable nonsense in store for them tomorrow. But with Vince by his side, he could face anything.