The Taylor household finally grew quiet in the small hours of the morning, but Paul had long abandoned the building in favour of the snowy little park across from his home. The night was almost perfectly textbook from the Winter Wonderland scene that was always used to advertise Christmas. The dull yellow of the street lights offered the only colour across a backdrop of black skies and white snow. No grass was visible, and but for the footprints that he had left behind, there were no signs of life or trespass here.
His creature comforts were limited to the damp seat of the solitary intact swing. He had brushed off the snow with his jacket, but it had left behind just enough to wet his arse and cause no end of discomfort. Nevertheless, this was much preferable to staying in the house while his parents argued and his brother hid away in his bedroom with his headphones on. Midnight had passed as a plate had been smashed. Today was Christmas Day. Paul Taylor, at only nine years old, was simply not prepared to handle it.
He had been sitting alone, listening to the shouts and the cries for almost two hours when the argument finally started to die down. The entire neighbourhood must have heard his mother, father and aunt. It had sounded as though they were trying to kill each other. His watch, emblazoned with the face of the green Power Ranger, told him that two o' clock had just passed when company managed to slip it's way out of the house next door to his and wander over to join him. Ally, in the contradictory attire of a thick winter coat with a summer dress poking its hem out of the bottom, was coming to join him.
Everything, even the bags around her eyes, looked vibrant and alert. Merry Christmas, were the first words that she said to him; the bite of sarcasm on her tongue. What was the problem this time?
Paul didn't want to go back over it, but that would mean ignoring Ally, which he could never do. Dad said the gammon was a little dry, he told her. His words were as lifeless as his body felt. It all rolls up bigger, like a snowball, you know? I guess this is how family works.
At least you'll always have me, replied Ally, with a warm smile and completely without sarcasm.
Her lips were turning blue, which was hard to miss, even under the limited light available to them. Of course, Ally was here just for him, as usual.
Roadkill was a place of utter genius in Paul's eyes. Not only did a serve a wide selection of cheap and potent intoxicants, but it also had the best music, the best company and without a doubt the best chairs in the world. This was only his third day before it was time to vanish from University for their Christmas break, but he had so far been here four times this week in celebration of being young, drunk and loaded for at least a couple of days before grim reality reared its ugly head. This was living.
As Paul had walked here, he had passed a Santa collecting for charity, a selection of carollers and even a hen night of kinky elves, which were his personal favourites. Christmas was an inescapable annoyance it seemed, since he hadn't bothered to buy any Christmas presents yet. He was fully aware of the cost and profit of going home. The profit was time to spend with his brother Ronnie, and, even better, Ally next door. The cost was his family. His mother and father were the worst, but his aunts, his uncle and his grandparents had all decided to join the eternal fun this year. There was already a divorce going through with his aunt and only uncle, and yet they would both be there. Thankfully, a good hug would go a long way to fixing his mood, and that was what he received as soon as he walked in the door.
To have the choking inflammation of stale cigarette smoke, early morning vodka and fast food bacon breathed on his neck was actually incredibly welcoming for Paul. This was the smell of his closest friend, Jace, and the reason that it was on his neck was just because of the embrace that he was receiving. There was nothing quite like a Jace hug. It was tight enough to choke, close enough to choke and carried almost enough love to choke. It was nice.
They separated, and both sank into the near addictive seating available to them. There was a moment during which they both sighed at the pleasure moulding around each of their arses, and then they were back to attention. They were sitting in a pub again. Since they had started at University, this was almost daily routine. Their group had both shrunk and grown over time, while they developed rapports and ultimately found a dislike for people. Just this once, the meeting had a purpose other than the inhalation of alcohol that was the usual one. Today was going to be a little celebratory goodbye before they all went off their separate ways for Paul's little group of four.
How drunk do you think we can get before they arrive? Jace inquired. He had been here when Paul had walked through the door, claiming the table and buying the drinks in advance. The welcome had been accompanied by a fistful of notes that Paul had been owed, and one full glass amongst many empty ones sitting on the table.
How drunk are you already? countered Paul. In truth, he wasn't much concerned. Jace's drinking habits were nothing compared to his other addictions. His alcoholism was positively tame.
Not drunk enough, came the simple response, it's not like I'm planning to make any music here; this is your chance to show off and impress your little flame before you have to live so close to each other she can hear you fart. You going to get the acoustic out for open mic night and show off your fancy chord skills just as soon as you know shes watching?
I like displaying talent, yes, Paul replied with a curt nod and a sly smile. I think that, as plans go, showing off to a girl is a marvellous one.
There was a pause, during which both of them indulged in their chosen liquid poisons. In the original plan for the day, Paul had had no intention of drinking anything but coke, but Jace had a particularly persuasive personality. Also, the drink had already been in his hand before he had found time to sit.
The music question was a frustratingly good one, as was the question of showing off to Ally. Paul hadn't secured a single gig yet, and this was made all the more difficult by the fact that he had a nameless band composed of a singer/guitarist and a drummer just drunk enough to drown him out. Then again, they had only been trying for a month or so. There had been a plan for his musical dreams, but playing guitar to impress a girl didn't seem all that worthwhile anymore.
Why did you bother inviting the kid, anyway? Jace asked. This, sadly, was his usual reaction when it came to Adam. Two months of spending time together had done very little to bridge the gap between them.
Paul spent a moment considering what to say. Adam was a shy little thing - a difficult one to talk to from the off, but his talent for blending into the background gave him strong potential for taking over the vacant Bass guitar spot. They hadn't talked about it much, and Adam had thus far been playing the guitar when they played together simply because he didn't own a Bass yet. Hopefully, it would change, and give Paul the backing he needed to try something a little more complex in the spaces for guitar fills. Acoustic Rock was not his ideal choice of genre, and the options for lead guitar were extremely limited. Rick Ash sort of have it entirely covered. There was nobody better.
Its Christmas, started Paul. Jace looked him over sceptically. Paul could understand why. You know what I mean, man. Good will to all men and all of the relative crap that comes with it. He's going off, on his own, and he doesn't exactly have all of these long, close friendships to fall back on. I just thought it would be nice to make him feel a little more included. Maybe that way he'll use his money for the sake of preparing our own little ploy and falling nicely into line.
Still think you'd be better off doing bass, replied Jace. You can do plenty of fancy shit there. You're good at it. I don't even know who this kid is and you're already talking about bringing him into the fold. You might as well invite that weird kid who sits under the trees at Uni playing Dream Theater riffs.
I should; he's awesome. He doesn't just play covers. You should hear some of the incredible stuff he comes out with.
The odd kid in question was somebody that they had never spoken to, and nobody else seemed to speak with him either. Nobody admitted to sharing lectures with him, or knew why he would sit and play his Stratocaster wherever he wished. He wasn't even busking - he just played whatever he wanted to, ignoring the movements of the world around him. He was a surreal experience.
You know his name yet? Jace asked.
No, came the answer. Every now and then, usually just after passing said solitary performer, Paul would consider approaching him and inviting him to join their nameless band. There was somebody capable of challenging Rick Ash, but he didn't look like the sort to perform amongst other musicians. That would simply make him better than any guitarist that Paul had ever known. Jace would goad a little, likely in the attempt to ensure that it might actually happen one day, but Paul just hadn't gotten around to it yet. The talent was clear, and he would make a fantastic addition for his musical preferences alone, but he was also considerably ahead of anybody else Paul had ever heard performing. I'll get there. I just want to put together a decent combination right now. He could still say no, so, whoever he is, he's not exactly my highest priority.
Well, what if somebody else asks him first? countered Jace. We could end up having him poached right out from under your nose. It's a cut throat game, man. You have to play your cards fast to keep everybody on their toes and make sure you're as impressive as you can be.
This was more forward than Jace usually was. Perhaps he had ended up with a lot more to drink than the empty glasses on the tables presented.
You know, I've always kind of wondered what Ally's natural hair colour is, said Jace. Maybe you could help me with that?
Ermno. Actually, I have no idea.
The night had not gone altogether to plan. Adam hadn't turned up, and Jace had been caught in the bathroom smoking something that wasn't altogether legal. He was quite lucky to have escaped potential jail time, but the Roadkill owner had a certain understanding when it came to most of the people that spent time in his establishment. That said, the desire to be there had died quite quickly. This left Jace going off in one direction, and Paul and the late arriving Ally moving in a much different direction together.
Ally's arrival had certainly been the highlight. She had been out with a few girls during the day, but their collection of trance bars and dubstep events had disagreed with both her ears and her choice of clothing. She was wearing a loose, but short black dress, and had just died her hair black, with a purple streak running down the front. In the dim light, her dark tights made it seem as though her pale skin was toned and tanned. Paul had so many memories of walking through snow with Ally. He even had a few of the carol singers that they passed on the way back to their student halls. Today though, she had simply never looked so physically enticing.
Why do you keep looking at me like that? she asked him in her high tones as they moved into the park. Here, the trees were coated with glistening white, and the slick ice underfoot was treacherous.
Her question confused Paul, but raising his eyebrow did not seem to earn him further explanation. What do you mean?
Oh, you know what I mean, responded Ally. I know my legs look good in these, but they're not purely for your benefit, you know. The world can benefit from these things.
The tease was impossible to miss. I can't believe they're going to be just one wall away in a couple of days. We get to spend more time together back at the old park.
Expecting a brand new collection of fights, are you? she asked him.
Of course, he replied smoothly. Far from looking puzzled, Ally simply accepted this as fact. There would be arguments, there was no denying it.
There is something I've been meaning to tell you, began Ally next. She seemed intent on looking away from the moment that she said it. It turns out my parents have gone to Cyprus for Christmas. It sounds like they couldn't wait to be rid of me to be honest. My first year outside of the house, I become pretty much the enemy. It does mean I won't be able to be there for you this year.
But you're always there, said Paul, a little stunned. Every year since I was nine you've been there when the family starts fighting. Ronnie's rich enough now that he can call up a car and vanish for as long as he wants, but I'm nowhere near that level. What am I going to do without you?
Though she certainly didn't look happy about it, Ally didn't look nearly as crushed as Paul felt. Something was very wrong there. Perhaps this year had changed her, or perhaps a certain event had changed her that had happened weeks earlier, starting in the very park that they were walking through.
I got you a Christmas present, Ally told him. This was an obvious attempt at changing the subject, but Paul let it go.
What did you get me?
It's down my top, she said with a teasing smile. This was a perfect answer in Paul's mind. Go ahead. Reach down and see what you feel.
For a moment, and this was a brand new thought, Paul was sorely tempted to refuse simply out of spite. She had refused to be there when he needed her, and playing with her chest would ultimately be playing right into her hands. However, then he looked down and his mind was immediately made up. He examined the sight before him for a moment while they paused in the cold. She had goose bumps, but it certainly didn't look like there was anything down there. Still, a good fumble would make that obvious one way or the other.
He looked her smirk in the eyes and pulled the front of her dress forwards before slipping his hand down her cleavage.
What do you feel? she asked him.
Do you feel better?
Merry Christmas From Disbelief!
Tom Colohue is a writer from Blackpool, England. Though he specialises in Fiction, he also writes music theory articles, and new media articles based primarily on the internet. On occasion, these also intermingle. He is well recognised by numerous critics and analysts for his integrative descriptive work and his cynical textual mannerisms. For more information, Tom Colohue keeps a Facebook Fan Page, which contains updates from new articles and his personal blog, Mental Streaming. This page can be found via this link.