“Mac…?” Joe prised his lids apart and blinked a bit, trying to focus through the fuggy haze. His mouth felt as if it had been hoovered before being sanded dry. His nose belatedly noted that Mac was smoking, p’raps accounting for the misty wafts he was wreathed in. A fact that suited his bad-ass ambience so splendidly, he should, by rights, always come accompanied by his own cloud of dry ice.
“Y’okay?” Mac smiled—if a smidge foggily—but there didn’t look to be thunder clouds brewing.
Joe had expected the bad-ass to still be cross about the bodge-a-bolt business. Unless he was saving it ’til Joe was less bleary of eye and foggy of thought. Ah well, even if he was miffy, or likely to be so at the drop of a syringe, he was still a sight to behold. Preferably a mite closer. Beside Joe. Inside him. There could be no finer way to wake up than that.
Despite the grogginess, Joe still felt strangely…content. P’raps because the world felt far, far away. It was tempting to pretend the future lived there too, when the present was so very vivid. As vibrant as bold splashes of oil on canvas, whereas everything else was but an impressionist watercolour, wrought in pastel hues.
Joe only knew Mac here, now, in this context. ‘They’ only existed in his attic haven. A little kingdom in the clouds where the rest of Joe’s life had never intruded. Infecting it. Not even the looming fear of faceless hands and endless demands could reach him here.
The former were infinitely preferable and cared much more than Joe deserved. The latter deserved less than they cared a toss, for ought but facts ’n’ figures, bums on seats and sodding schedules. How Joe despised that word: it came complete with a rancid stench and tasted acrid on his tongue.
No one had ever mentioned that his entire self, not just his career, would be controlled by everyone else. He loved the ‘show’ part but loathed the ‘business’ bit. Detested the politicking palaver and bean-counter bastards who couldn’t give a monkey’s about melody and rhyme. Joe’s preference for Show Business in absentia had come with a cost he hadn’t anticipated. He’d assumed that paying them to take care of stuff would mean he’d be left in peace to write and play. What transpired instead? Joe wound up employing them to get pissed off. A lot. With Joe. Coulda woulda shoulda…
He wasn’t even sure whose interests Adam beavered on behalf of, anymore. He knew that his manager was stuck in the uncomfy position of playing Middle Man, but ‘trying to keep everyone happy’ had somehow morphed into keeping the suits off his back. Adam’s back that is, not Joe’s. It felt a helluva lot as if Adam spent most of his time paying Joe lip service…while wrangling him into fulfilling bookings he could scarce believe he’d agreed to.
A stadium tour? Joe liked playing quirky venues and majestic old theatres. Somewhere with atmosphere, steeped in the magic of gigs gone by. Not cattle sheds cum aircraft hangers. A minor detail that didn’t seem to matter a jot…as long as the gravy train went tootling on its merry way. Just because Joe could fill stadiums didn’t mean he cared to. He would rather play five intimate gigs on consecutive nights in the same town, than one huge show to faceless thousands. That didn’t make ‘economic sense’. Apparently. It sure as shit-shows made sense to Joe.
Mac had his back. He would keep Joe safe. He’d promised. Weirdly, Joe believed him. Or, believed that he’d do his damndest to try. Somehow sure that if it was possible, Mac would make it happen, whatever the bad-ass set his mind on. He was far too cussed to accept ‘can’t’. A word Joe heard all too often…whenever he expressed his own wishes. Or wanted to do stuff spontaneously, which freaked everyone the fuck out.
“Smoke?” Mac asked, tossing the packet onto the bed. When the lighter whizzed toward him in its wake, Joe popped a cig between his lips and lit it, before inhaling that first lovely lungful and blowing the smoke ceilingward.
“Thank you for putting me to bed…and tucking me up. It was…” Kind of you? Generous? Gallant? Rustling up the wrong reason would be unbearable. P’raps Mac had simply wanted to sit down and Joe had parked himself in the only chair before conking out.
“S’okay. You would’ve wound up with a crick neck…” Mac’s gruff mutter suggested he’d done nothing of note. Nothing special…which was far from the truth he insisted on.
“Did we move house, in the interim?” Joe wondered, struck by the realisation that there was a very lot amiss. Underfoot. Joe’s stuff, specifically.
“One of us was going to fall flat on our arse surfing magazine covers,” Mac chuckled.
“Thank you…I keep saying that. Mac, why are you being so…kind? When I keep being a big trouble.”
“Kind? An hour ago I damn near dislocated your shoulder and castrated you. I dread to think how uncouth your customary company is…”
“Pft. You are the most cussed critter on Earth. You won’t even be thanked without wheeling out the flinty glint and arguing the toss about it.” Joe informed him through eyes narrowed to a squinty stare.
“Flinty glint?” Enquired he, spearing Joe with a topnotch special.
The bad-ass hadn’t batted an eyelid about being called a cussed critter. Then took issue with a far less impertinent phrase. Incomprehensible, he was. Unless. Joe flicked his gaze to the floor, which seemed much more…roomy than it had been a wee while ago. So much so…even the chair had a dearth of debris scattered around it. Aside from several skyscraper piles of stuff standing to attention against the window wall and the furniture itself…? The floor hosted but five things: the bad-ass feet, one plate, a bottle of whisky…and Joe’s journal. Open with a pen atop it, which was p’raps how Joe left it…yesterday? He’d never been precious about his own words…but that particular poem? Read by Mac? The bad-ass possibly wished he hadn’t. Found himself saddled with a mooning-in-June junkie nutjob.
That flinty glint, agleam with mean…
Was supposed to be keeping Joe out of trouble…not inspiring gushing tributes to its lethal sheen. Oh help. Flinging himself out of the window was starting to seem a fine way to spend the evening. Starting asap. Rather than face the fact that Mac had seen far too many truths for comfort. Knew he’d inspired a (not-at-all obsessive, plinths aside) tribute to his eyeballs. Um, it could’ve been one less syllable worse? A truth Mac mightnae be all that thankful for. Oddly nuff.
In Joe’s own defence? No one as sexy-as-fuck as Mac could reach his mid-thirties(?) without receiving rave reviews aplenty.
“I..um…are you miffed with me?” Joe cringed, scrunching one of his eyes shut as a precautionary measure. See…? He did have a sense of self-preservation, no matter what folk might opine to the contrary. Having never met Mac.
“Miffed?” The bad-ass shot Joe a side-eye…quite at odds with the wicked twerk of his lips.
Even his features argued with themselves. Mac’s brows clearly snarked: ‘what the fuck d’you think!?’ But the sin in that smirk was as divine as it was devilish.
“With me, for writing it…”
“Joe…” Mac gripped the armrests of the chair and pushed himself to his feet before prowling Joe’s way. “Why might I be ‘miffed’?” he asked, crooking a knee to perch on the edge of the bed.
“Cos I’ve…appropriated your person. Or, you found it intrusive? Or…it made you uncomfy, when this is just—” Oh fuckfucketyfuck. Just…a shag for you? Just a job with a side-order of sex?
The words clumped in Joe’s throat like coal tar and refused to budge. He couldn’t moot those when they’d almost force Mac to say outright what Joe didn’t want to know. He wanted to cling to his hopes like the lifeline they were and let himself pretend, for just a little longer, that Mac might feel something for Joe. Not just as a shag. Or worse, Joe Fitzgerald.
‘Cos I give a shit’…
“’Intrusive’ is reading someone’s notebook without permission, surely?” Mac’s c’est la vie shrug was followed by: “I didnae mean to. I put it to one side, on the chair, because it was open with the pen on top, so I assumed it was your current one. Then sat on it.”
His fringe was obscuring the green and his gaze was boring holes in the bedcover, which made it tricky to tell, but his ever confounding bad-ass looked a bit rosy of cheek. Crikey.
It was Joe who should be purple, or a charming shade of puce, in the shame-stakes. A spot of lyric perusing wasn’t a patch on the secret glee that thrilled through Joe’s veins upon finding that the baddest of all asses had sat itself down on his journal.
“When I extracted it…the title leapt off the page, and I couldnae help but be…curious.”
Curious!? If Joe had happened upon his own name, written by Mac, a herd of wildebeests couldn’t have kept him from it.
“S’okay, I don’t mind…you can read anything you want. Although you probably wished you hadn’t,” Joe sighed, kneading at his forehead with the heel of his hand. It was still a mite muzzy and reluctant to spring to his rescue. Or ‘spring’ anywhere at all, in truth (still the dish o’the day, no doubt).
“Why would I wish I hadnae read it? You might’ve taken such poetic liberties that I figured you must know another Mac…but I’d be a bloody idiot if I wasnae flattered,” the bad-ass grinned.
Okay…had the bad-ass been helping himself to Joe’s stash as well as his words? He really wasn’t making a jot o’sense.
“Poetic liberties? Are you bladdered?”
“I am not bladdered. I may have had a tipple or two, but I’m sober enough to recognise myself in the mirror, thank you very much.”
Okay…he’d definitely snuffled something. Or two days with Joe had sent him nuts, bolts ‘n’ barking bonkers.
“D’you want me to destroy it? I won’t finish it, if you’d rather I didn’t,” Joe offered. If Mac thought the first verse had taken liberties with his reflection, he’d prob’ly think the rest belonged in the Hall of Mirrors.
“No…I want you to play it for me, if you will.” Mac mumbled from beneath his fall of fringe.
Play it? Mac wants to hear it? Well, duh.
“Really? Are you sure, it’s very rough? I’d better have a drink first, I can barely swallow.”
“Very. D’you want a cuppa, or something stronger? A glass of water, or three, would be a bloody good idea.”
“I’m not drinking three! One. And some rum. What time is it, Mac? It’s nearly dark now.”
“Getting on for nine…? We didn’t go to bed until what, nine a.m? Then slept till five…”
“I’ll never forget the next hour or so, but it goes a wee bit wafty after that,” Joe admitted.
“Speaking of fixes…can you factor in that we’ll need to leave for London by noon tomorrow? I’d rather not try to cram you in the car unconscious if I can avoid it. It would be like trying to pack a stuffed giraffe into a snuff box.” Mac rolled his eyes skyward, lips twitching with their wicked twerk.
“Okay…” Joe grinned. That sounded far too fun to miss out on, which he would.
Life sucks…then you die. And don’t even get to attend your own tribute.
“Mac, will you just tell me what I must do one-by-one and then I can’t fret about the next thing before I do the first. I get in a panic if it’s all looming in a lump. It feels like staring up at a cliff and knowing I’ll never scale it…and that everyone’s waiting for me to fail.”
“Okay, no worries. That works for me if it seems less daunting to you… Tomorrow is just rehearsal time booked with your band, that’s not a looming horror, surely?”
“No, not really. Well, it didn’t used to be, but this last year or so…I’m convinced that everyone expects me to fuck up, which makes me anxious…and then I get late…which means they’re all pissed off by the time I do turn up. Then things get tetchy, which makes me so uncomfy I…p’raps get a bit stroppy and stomp off…” Joe broke off, scrunching his eyes tight against the wave of bitter words that crashed through his head like a salt water into a seeping sore.
“The studio is booked for four p.m,” Mac told him, clasping Joe’s chin to impale him with conviction. “We will be there, so no-one will be pissed off. Just bloody grateful they haven’t been left twiddling their thumbs for…three…?” The bad-ass paused, lips pursed with an impudence that was just plain rude. Scoundrel.
Joe cringed into his shoulders a smidge.
“Four…six hours?” Mac amended, with eyebrows that kept pace with his counting up prowess. “Christ. All you’ll need worry about is your band dying of shock, when you saunter in on time. We’ll leave at twelve. Two hours on the road, traffic permitting. The hotel is booked, which gives us two hours to…settle in.”
“Is that p’raps a euphemism?” Joe couldn’t resist asking. It was not his fault, it was the glint that did it. Full gleam bright with bad-ass intent. “You are a wily ol’ cove, y’scoundrel. What you’re actually saying is: if we set off late for London, there won’t be time for hotel sex before I have to go to rehearsals. So I’ll have to wait for bloomin’ hours, cos you won’t shag me if I should be at the studio, instead.” Blackguardy bad-ass.
“I have no recollection of uttering a word of that…” Mac smirked. With a wink.