I had a little fiddle with Mac’s chapter and added a bit of ‘business’ here ‘n’ there, embellishing a few things. I’m sorry, I do so hope it reads better now. While I was beavering, I readied a chunk of Joe’s chapter too, so I’ve included it here…
I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. 🥰
Mac loaded a tray with drinks and poured a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes for Joe. With banana slices strewn on top. It was a bloody good job he’d brought such a big bunch, but partial as he was to his favourite fruit, Mac couldnae recall the last time a meal hadnae been built around one. Still, it could be worse…Bowie had survived on cocaine, milk, and red peppers at one point. Rock stars. Who’d have em…
Mac’s very own was sitting on the bed, strumming the guitar when he returned to the attic, playing the lilting melody from yesterday. The knowledge that the first song he’d ever heard Joe play had been inspired by Mac was far too gratifying for comfort. Both the knowledge itself, and the impact of said fact. Thank fuck for the tray, or that particular truth would’ve been all-too blatant.
Mac now found himself cursing his own cussed refusal to familiarize himself with Joe’s back catalogue on the drive down. He had no idea how ‘his’ song compared, in stylistic terms, to those Joe had recorded and released. Having sold shed loads, it seemed likely that the record buying—oh f’fucksakes. Downloaders? Paying punters? Music lovers, that would do…might revere a few likely suspects alongside him. One in particular. So they sure as hell couldnae hope to delight in a duet, or see them share a stage this lifetime. Suggesting Adele or Ariana as replacements to Joe’s fans would probably go down about as well as an apple martini rather than absinthe.
Nevertheless, the melody that infiltrated Mac’s memory after one fleeting listen—now weaving its artful way around his heart—was world’s away from Wembley Arena. Its charms were far better suited to wreathing the air at Scarborough or Appleby Fair…or the Memory of a Free Festival, featuring pre-Hunky Dory Bowie and The Kinks. Love-child of Faithfull and Dylan, rather than Swift and Eminem. (Top selling f/m solo artists of the twenty-tens; courtesy of Mac’s recent search history).
It was the indefinable aura of bygone times he’d found so enchanting. As if he were being lulled by the whispers of wandering minstrels in cambric shirts following the clarion call of their muse… Okay, the Scarborough Fair nostalgia fest is getting out of hand. Mac would be in desperate need of a good dose of “London’s Calling” before stepping so much as a foot in that fair City.
“I’ve never seen a more splendorous sight slink through that door bearing bounty. Whatcha got?” Joe asked, neck like a periscope to peer over the edge of the tray.
“Rum, water, crunchy-nutters and banana.” Mac reeled off, blanking the big ol’ beam his use of that sodding name inspired.
“Are you in cahoots with the vicar’s wife? She’s forever trying to fatten me up,” Joe snickered.
Never, in a long and inglorious career had that particular accusation been levelled Mac’s way.
“If I was, then I’d be shovelling steak and chips down you. I’m trying to keep you alive, despite your sterling efforts to the contrary. Drink this first…” he instructed, handing Joe a pint glass of water.
“Couldn’t you find a bucket?” Joe pouted, eyeing the water suspiciously. As if suspecting it might play host to a shoal of piranhas.
“That seemed counterproductive on the sick-encrusted front,” Mac noted with a nonchalant shrug.
“Charmin’,” Joe huffed, pretending affront.
“Perhaps…but nonetheless probable.” Mac’s poker-face had withstood somewhat sterner tests, thankfully.
After indulging himself in a long suffering sigh, Joe glugged the water as if drinking it for dare. Watching his Adam’s apple bobbing beneath ivory skin made the desire to sink his teeth into it as ridiculous as it was almost irresistible. But resist, Mac did. For now…
“There. It’s drunked. Aren’t you having something to eat?”
“I had a sandwich while you were away with the fairies. Here you go…eat these…” Mac handed him the bowl of bloody cereal, adding: “Then I’m done nagging… ”
“I don’t know why I’m putting up with all this bossy-boots business, y’know. Downright deviant of me, ’tis.” Joe grumbled.
“The latter I am prepared to believe. The former was a bare-faced lie,” Mac snorted.
“Just a titchy white one…” Joe conceded with an unabashed grin before turning his attention to his ‘trouble is they taste too good’ spoonful. A claim so clearly founded in fact, Adam had missed a trick in not slapping a contract with Kellogg’s on Joe’s table. A far less edifying fact? That first mouthful included a glee-inducing sliver of banana; proving that Mac’s potassium overload had rendered him delirious.
“I wasnae expecting your music to be so…melodic,” Mac found himself confessing as he lit a cigarette.
“You’d never heard it before?” Joe managed to ask, while pebble dashing himself in soggy cereal. “I’m glad. I thought it had become inescapable…”
“Not knowingly, at least,” Mac couldnae help but grin. “I only listen to dead musicians, according to Vince. I beg to differ, ‘though I don’t suppose Keith counts, being immortal, an’ all…but Dylan and Davies are very much with us.”
“It was an era worth a wallow in forever though, so I don’t blame you one bit. Anyhoo, I’m doubly glad, cos you didn’t arrive thinking it was crap. Or worse…loved it. Then wound up gutted when you got here…”
“I’d gleaned enough from Google to know that I’d rather make up my own mind, but that’s it. Sufficient to guess that the portaloo wasnae your finest moment…” Said loo almost won Mac’s poker-face war, it must be owned.
“I have no recollection of this incident. It was a complete fabrication…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Joe declared with a lofty sniff. Then. “A bit like its floor…”
“Oh, give me strength. You. Are impossible,” Mac spluttered, dead-pan demeanour floored by a sucker punch. “Shut the fuck up and sing for chrissakes.”
“I’m not being difficult but…” Joe cackled with glee.
“Oh fuck off.” Mac grunted, snatching the dish out of his hand to dump it back on the tray.
“Cruel, that. Wafting fucks my way if you don’t intend following through. Cock tease.”
“I thought you intended to play…” Mac pointed out.
“Am I singing for my supper now?” Joe asked with an irrepressible smirk that didnae detract in the slightest from the draught unleashed by his lashes.
“That sure beats the view from the other end of the telescope…” Mac sighed.
“I think I’d need to pilfer more rum than Jack Sparrow could polish off to fathom that…” The miscreant shot Mac a side-eye that suggested the recovery of his plot might require a compass.
“Only one of us is being rewarded for my presence, Joe. In a much less worthy way.” Mac had aimed for wry…rueful at worst. Ballsed up both. Crap.
“If you’re shagging me for filthy lucre you should look into getting a better agent…” Joe plucked a string with a frown; erased by the incremental tweak of a tuning knob. Unless Mac’s hearing was too shot to shit to detect such subtleties, he couldnae detect a difference. Attunement, perhaps? Mac might be able to distinguish weapons by sound if there was an audible distinction, but Joe could probably identify the brand of bloody pin by the ting it made when dropped. This, while tossing off a quip so sharp it left Mac gaping in the wake of his own sour words.
Having cornered himself in an alley as dank as it was dark, Mac cut his losses. Distraction was about his best bet. It hadnae failed him yet.
“I’d be prepared to stay for a packet of peanuts and a bottle of Irn Bru, so I got a damn good deal by my reckoning,” he shrugged. “You don’t have to sing it, if you’d rather not…” Mac threaded his fingers together and rotated his wrists to swing his arms skywards, arching his back to…knock the kinks out.
“That’s one helluva torture technique, Mr McBadass. Is m’supper off the table, if I don’t?” Joe bit down on his bottom lip, worrying at it while waiting for Mac’s response…which died in his throat when it dawned on him that Joe might just believe that being sent to bed without ‘supper’ was a possible—let alone probable—‘punishment’.
Almost before Mac realised he was about to toss the set list to the wind, he’d grasped the neck of the guitar and hefted it out of the way. It landed on the floorboards with a discordant grunt of protest as Mac clasped a fistful of feathery hair and tugged Joe’s head up. To crush his mouth down on lips parted in wordless wonder and dart his tongue between them to claim what Mac couldnae forsake if he tried.
Fuck…He’d never felt so craven in his goddamned life. Sing for his supper, for chrissakes? Mac could scarce keep his hands to himself even when Joe was unconscious.
“Impossible…” Mac hissed, somewhat belatedly, smudging his mouth across Joe’s jaw. He seemed to be straddling Joe’s lap, although he wasnae sure when, or how, he’d got there.
Why the hell hadnae thought to whip his pants off first? A single layer of cotton that felt as thick as a slab of concrete when he tilted his hips, desperate for friction. Tongues tangling as hungrily as their hands clutched and hips writhed.
“I wouldnae give a shit if you never sang another word…” Mac muttered, eventually, at Joe’s ear. Then tugged on its lobe with tender-sharp teeth before fastening at his neck.
“Mmmac…” Joe arched into it, clasping Mac’s nape, his meaning as clear as the mark that would be branded there long after they left for London. “Nor me, if it makes no neverminds…”
“Easy to say…here, now…stripped of the warmth of spotlights…the adulation of thousands…”
“Mac…tell me what you want to hear. I’ve run out of ways to say the same thing…”
Joe was right…their words were forever swirling in circles. Before whirling down the drain; neither believed nor negated. Banter flowing back and forth, doubling back, darting forwards, then retreating again. Like swordplay with tongues.
“And I might even believe you mean it,” Mac sighed, lifting his head. Fool that he was. Dooming himself to obsidian pools of liquid light, drowning deep, as dark as dread. “Here…now.”
“But not in London, no matter what I say…” The distractions of the city were the surface scurf of the fears Mac could never express. Joe wouldnae want to hear them any more than Mac was willing to voice them. “And yet…I don’t want to go. You’re making me do it. Let me stay here, Mac. Stay with me. Just me. That’s what I want…but you won’t. You’ve promised Adam, and your boss…Vince? You’d never forgive yourself if you reneged on your word, or didn’t deliver what they’re expecting you to pull off. You’ve signed a contract…put your honour on the line. The one thing you’re less likely to surrender than your reputation. I haven’t got one worth saving…and everything I crave is here. Now tell me who’s got most to lose if I refuse to go.”
Fuck. Mac blinked, staggered by the onslaught of Joe’s words and blindsided by brown. Another means to an unfathomable end? A trap Mac had been too lust-drunk to notice until he’d lost the lot? Foiled, on all fronts.
Crave. One word, salvaged from that torrent of truths. Prompting a flash of thought that scythed through them as the irrelevences they were.
“I cannae refute being called out as a cold-hearted bastard.” Mac stated, every word couched in icy calm. “So, you should, by rights, have won. But. Let’s say we did a deal…a staring competition, if you like…”
Midnight eyes widened—improbable but true—agleam with intrigue. “All you need do is sit on a chair, one each, to decide whose truth stands. Yours, or mine. Based upon who folds first…now tell me you’d have a leg to stand on. How long before you’re crawling the fucking walls for that shit? Two hours…four at the absolute outside?”
Joe’s inner flinch was so instinctive Mac felt it despite the determinedly blank stare boring holes in his head. “You know damn well that I could do four days with a canteen of water so…a bonus round seems fair. Playing to your specialist subject. One simple decision that makes the first result null and void. Six hours fix-free. Wide awake. Then choose one. Just one. No caveats or amendments. Smack…?” Mac held out an upturned palm—“Or….”—raised his right, completing the set of scales as he added, “Shag. Me.”
“Shag you?” Joe gaped. “But…y’said, ‘I don’t bottom ever’.”
“It’s a hypothetical choice,” Mac groaned.
“Well, it’s not a choice at all then, is it? It’s one hypothetical thing I can’t have, and one real thing I can have,” Joe huffed. Christ...it was like talking to a labyrinth. With landmines: “Does ‘I do not bottom’ mean: You never have or…you won’t bottom for me?”
“It means I won’t. Full stop,” Mac spat.
“That’s not what I asked. So full-stop-off,” Joe retorted. “You would’ve said straight out if you’d never had a cock up your arse…and we both know it. So shove that up your pipe, and y’might smoke the truth out.”
I don’t want to go…you’re making me do it. Let me stay here, Mac. Stay with me. Just me. That’s what I want…but you won’t.
Joe believed this with every fibre of his being as he said it; it was a mere echo of dreams he’d nurtured for a wee while. Of staying forever in his attic hideaway…as safe as those sacred hours of early morn that seemed to belong only to Joe. Writing, reading, playing…pottering about to his heart’s content. Contentment. The holy grail. Worth so much more than it was given credit for by those who sacrificed it at the altar of ‘happiness’. Joe wasn’t quite as daft as he oft made out, to cut himself some slack. No one else had offered of late…until Mac.
A belief that might well spring from stoned illusion—or batshit delusion—Joe had to admit, if only to himself. Chances were he’d drive himself doolally in a week if he did stay. Shortly before he found himself crawling the walls and chatting to the teapot.
It was comforting to wallow a while in his pipedreams though, because Joe was so, so weary of the fight. Dog-tired of being a product on a conveyor belt; churned out and swallowed up by the monster of his own making. Sometimes he was so bone-weary he could barely crawl out of bed…tramelled by too many forces making too many demands. Too many tainted dreams turned to dust. Sweet ’n’ sour sorrow that felt like failure. Scored into Joe’s skin as he paid the piper and danced the dance. Resenting them for snatching his soul away, even while trying to convince himself its integrity remained intact. Loathing that he let them.
It was akin to being trapped in an ever-contracting circle of snakes, knowing he couldn’t escape any sooner than flee from himself. Or his relentless, unmanageable emotions. Too many, too messy, too much. Feelings Joe could express far better in rhythm and rhyme, when that felt allowed. Even welcome. A way to finally unleash them, without fear of censure. To give them form, let them flutter free. Free? It had felt that way at first. Now they just fed the monster, fuelling the flames of the inferno that raged around him. A despair Joe tried to douse with much the desperation he clung to the tatty remnants of his wide-eyed dreams. Like a broken child clinging to a comfort blanket on a bitter cold night.
A despair he turned on Mac now, utterly certain that his bad-ass had his own piper to pay. Joe knew that his words rang true. Saw guilty indignation glint in the green before Mac quelled it, with but a blink. Crikey…he was good. Joe couldn’t have managed it; his eyes shared his secrets with all and sundry no matter what he said. Ever more ludicrous lies rustled up on the spur of the moment to twist people up in words…trying to distract them from truths so easily accessible elsewhere.
“You’ve signed a contract…put your honour on the line. The one thing you’re less likely to surrender than your reputation. I haven’t got one worth saving…and everything I crave is here. Now tell me who’s got most to lose if I refuse to go…”
The truth Mac had demanded went down about as well as a cup of cold sick. As oft tended to be the case.
““I cannae refute being called out as a cold-hearted bastard.” Mac acknowledged, as if Joe had accused him of such fallacious twaddle. “So, you should, by rights, have won. But.”
Bummer. Why was there always a but? This honesty malarkey was getting a tad out of hand. Quite why folk set so much store upon it, Joe had no idea. It was a Pandora’s Box of horrors waiting to be unleashed upon the unwary. The truth never went well. Especially when you got coshed over the head with a corker.