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Authors: Erin Kelly

Tags: #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Ties That Bind
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He wanted to call Jem and tell him how it had gone, but he was with clients all day. Knowing that his route home would take him near his old maisonette, he called Viggo to see if he was in the mood for a tea break and was delighted when he said he’d put the kettle on. As he hung up, the phone ran out of power. Oh well. He’d just have a quick cuppa and still have time to go to Waitrose and get something nice in for the evening meal that he was learning not to call tea but supper.

Luke’s old room was a proper study now and the sitting room was tidier than it had been for years.

‘Enjoying the work?’ Luke asked him.

‘Mm-hmm. Aminah’s quite high-maintenance. She doesn’t know what she wants. Her story keeps changing and every time it does, the whole thing has to be run through this massive team of lawyers. And she knows some
horrible
people. She grew up with drug dealers and pimps, actual pimps. I don’t know why you find all this gangland stuff attractive. It scares the shit out of me. Anyway, enough about me and my downward social spiral. How’s love’s middle-aged dream?’

‘It’s good,’ said Luke, wondering why the question felt like an accusation.

‘Why doesn’t he ever come out? Why don’t
you
ever come out any more? Have you started going out with
his
mates instead?’ Viggo pulled a horrified face, hand splayed on his breastbone. ‘Luke, are you seeing other people?’

Luke laughed and shook his head, even though he didn’t like to be reminded that Jem didn’t seem to have a single friend apart from him. Presumably his old friends were still living cosy hetero lives in Headingley, continuing to comfort Serena. The one time he had raised the subject, Jem had snapped, ‘I had a best friend, and I’m divorcing her,’ and the weather in the room had changed so abruptly that Luke had let it lie ever since.

‘No, it’s mainly just the two of us. Staying in, sharing a bottle, watching films.’ Viggo folded his arms and gave him a disbelieving stare. ‘What? I
like
staying in.’

‘Sure you do. I don’t suppose you fancy a quick drink in Charmers?’

 

Luke lurched out of the lift and onto the penthouse floor at one in the morning, kebab in hand. He hoped he’d remember to get up early enough to clear up the chilli sauce he’d spilled in the lift, which currently looked like the murder scene from
The Untouchables
. The key spun silently in the lock, and he took off his shoes and tiptoed.

Jem was on the sofa in the dark. The only light came from his phone, which he had in his hand as though he’d been obsessively checking it.

‘This better be good,’ he said.

‘Sorry, baby, my battery died,’ said Luke, placing his kebab gently on the Corian worktop. ‘It’s no big deal. My interview went really well,
thanks for asking
, and I went for a pint with Viggo to wind down after it, and . . .’

‘A pint that ends now?’

‘It’s
early
. I was never asleep before three until I moved in with you.’

‘Did you fuck him?’

His severe expression stifled Luke’s laughter.

‘Or someone else? Who’ve you
really
been with?’ He sniffed him all over like an animal. ‘You stink. You can have our bed. I’ll stay in the guest room. For fuck’s sake. You’re not a teenager any more, Luke, you’re with me now.’

‘Suit yourself,’ said Luke, puzzled and angry, and went to the bedroom where he passed out fully clothed.

In the morning he forced himself up, still confused and hungover and smelling like onions and not quite sure what had happened, certain only that Jem couldn’t leave for work until they had sorted it out. They apologised to each other; Jem had overreacted, Luke had been insensitive. They acknowledged that they had survived their first argument and, after Luke had, at Jem’s insistence, had a shower and brushed his teeth, made fast, urgent love where they clung to each other like drowning men.

‘I’m sorry for being a silly jealous fool,’ whispered Jem into Luke’s neck. ‘It’s because I want you to myself. I love you too much for my own good. You’ll meet someone your own age and I won’t see you for dust.’

‘It doesn’t work like that,’ said Luke. Jem was more than enough, he was too much sometimes. How could Luke make him understand that it wasn’t the freedom to see other men, but the freedom to see
himself
again, reflected in his old friends? ‘I don’t want anyone else.’

Suddenly Jem was pinning him down to the bed.

‘Do you mean that?’ he said. ‘Do you really mean that?’

He tightened his grip. Luke wriggled away, breaking a sweat with the effort.

‘Of course,’ he said.

Jem let go. When he had gone to work, Luke saw red fingerprints on his skin and reflected that while it had taken all his strength to struggle free, he could tell from the set of Jem’s shoulders that he had barely been trying.

Chapter 6

An email pinged through from Maggie, with BAD NEWS in the subject line and a link to a story in the
Bookseller
. Len Earnshaw had sold the rights to his memoirs for a ‘high five-figure sum’, and would be writing them without the aid of a ghost writer. The quote from the delighted publisher echoed Luke’s sales pitch almost word-for-word.

‘You
bastard
,’ said Luke to the screen. ‘I
found
you. You were
my
idea. This is
my
book.’ He was angry at Earnshaw for the betrayal but angrier still at himself. He was an idiot to be surprised that a man like that, someone who had sent his own friends to prison, would double-cross a young writer he had met once.

He re-read the rest of the email a dozen times. Maggie said that although, there was no way they could now do an unauthorised biography, she had every confidence that Luke would find another subject. He must, however make sure it was an exclusive, with a strong angle. She signed off saying she looked forward to hearing from him. At least she hadn’t let him go. She had taken him on after the second Stonewall Award, and he had yet to show her a single page of a book. Her patience would not last for ever.

Jem came through the door at seven and found Luke on the balcony, a beer in hand. He knew straight away that something was wrong.

‘Darling, what’s happened?’ he said, dropping his bag and coming to kneel at Luke’s feet. It was the old Jem again, not jealous or controlling, just concerned.

‘Fucking Earnshaw got a book deal without me,’ said Luke. ‘Reneged on the whole agreement. All that work, all those phone calls, all those hours, it’s all come to nothing.’ He had worried that Jem would think badly of him for fucking up, for wasting his gifted time and money. Jem offered no admonishment but did exactly the right thing, just held him and said nothing for a while, his fingers tracing the corkscrews of Luke’s curls.

‘Wait there,’ he said when Luke was eventually ready to let him go. ‘I’ll be two minutes. We’re getting changed and then I’m taking you out to dinner.’

They stood before their shared wardrobe, Jem’s grey work suits forming a patient queue behind his other clothes in linen and cashmere and silk. Luke’s part of the rail sagged with expensive denim and leather but Jem steered him towards the suit, made-to-measure, that he’d not yet worn.

The minicab took them out of Leeds, riding across the darkening purple moors to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Ilkley. Jem paid the driver to wait at the kerb. The maitre d’ recognised him and asked after Serena, and Jem’s face darkened as he explained that they were no longer together. Luke waited for further explanation, for Jem’s hand in his to make his new situation clear, but it didn’t come. Luke was not so consumed with his own problems that he didn’t notice the slight, but he also noted with a little flare of concern that it didn’t bother him more.

Once they were seated, Jem encouraged Luke to order the most expensive things on the menu. It was true, thought Luke, slicing solid serrated silver through a ten-day aged steak, that money
could
make things better. He couldn’t bear to think how much worse the blow would have been if this had happened while he was skint, and working at the gallery. Jem kept the wine flowing while Luke went over and over the contents of the email, analysed his own behaviour and speculated on what this might mean for his relationship with Maggie and his career. Jem listened with perfect patience then astonished him by saying, ‘Well, it’s probably for the best.’

Luke stopped chewing, unsure that he had heard correctly.

‘What do you mean, for the best? I’ve been pursuing this for the better part of a year.’ He had a sense of something inside him rapidly and repeatedly folding in on itself, becoming denser each time.

‘Maybe this isn’t the story you were meant to write.’ Jem was trying to sound casual but they knew each other too well now for guile and Luke could tell from the way he picked up his wine glass and gulped from it that this was something he’d been wanting to say for a long time. ‘Perhaps you should turn your sights on something a bit more . . . a bit less . . .’ his eyes left Luke’s and made a nervous tour of the room.

‘What?’ said Luke, setting down his knife. Blood trimmed the blade.

‘All right, then, something a bit less low-rent,’ said Jem, finally locking his gaze on Luke’s. ‘I mean, all this organised crime. It’s a bit
tabloid
, isn’t it? Why don’t you turn your talents to something worthy? There must be dozens of interesting men – or women – people who’ve achieved something great, whose stories would make an amazing biography. I mean, don’t you ever want to do something with a bit more merit, a bit of cachet?’

Luke threw down his napkin. ‘Christ, Jem. I knew you were repressed but I honestly didn’t think you were a snob as well.’

‘Look, it’s my money paying for all this. Don’t you think I should have a say in it all?’

His expression was brazen. No, worse: it was righteous. He didn’t even know he’d fucked up. Luke’s full belly hollowed itself out as it hit home that the person he thought knew him best in the world had never understood him at all.

The rest of their food went untouched, and the cab ride home happened in silence, the gap between them on the back seat as wide as Luke could make it.

He was glad when Jem fell asleep without him. If he had made a move, the previously considered unthinkable would have happened: Luke’s flesh would have flinched at his touch.

In the following days, the old darkness descended again. Days rolled into weeks in which Luke did not write a word. Now that there was no work, he was forced to confront how strongly he identified with it. Everything interesting and worthwhile he had ever done had been in pursuit of a story. Without a project to pursue, he felt that he had nothing to offer. He felt that he
was
nothing. Without focus, he could not rouse himself to find something new to write about. It was a vicious cycle that tightened around him like a tourniquet.

To inspire him, Jem brought home books about great men from engineers to electoral reformers, but Luke couldn’t get into any of them. Even if Jem was right and he was selling himself short, even if Maggie was right and these old cases from the sixties had been done to death, what else was there to write about? When he was alone in the flat, Luke obsessively re-read his notes, wondering how Earnshaw’s book was going, hoping that the editor who’d bought it was having a hellish time dealing with the truculent old git and that they’d have to hire a ghost-writer at punishing expense.

‘You’re a shite housewife,’ said Jem when he came home again to find that Luke was still in drawstring sweatpants, papers spread out on the desk before him. Luke looked up, unsure from Jem’s tone whether it would be delivered with a wink or a scowl, but his face had gone completely neutral, the way it often was now. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll order in.’ He ordered Japanese without checking whether Luke was in the mood for it. The meal cost forty-two pounds and when they took the lid off, it was nothing more than a few slivers of fish on rice, and four bottles of cold Asahi. Jem left the change in a pile on the sideboard. He was terrible with cash, leaving it strewn around the house as though the supply was infinite. When two days had gone by and he still hadn’t touched it, Luke put it in his own pocket, heart beating, telling himself that he wasn’t stealing, he was just not letting the cash go to waste.

He started to think in terms of a rainy-day fund. He could not, at that stage, voice even to himself the word
escape
.

 

‘I thought I might go out tonight,’ ventured Luke. ‘It’s two years since the magazine folded. A bunch of us are going to get together to catch up and bitch about the industry.’

It was the middle of September and he’d been preparing the ground for this since August, being good, staying in, not smoking, only seeing Viggo for lunch when Jem wouldn’t find out about it. Clearly it had been to no avail.

‘Who’s
we
? Mostly men? Mostly gay?’

‘Well, Charlene’s gay, but obviously she’s female, and Alexa is up from London and she’s straight. Come on, Jem. It’s not much to ask.’

‘Luke, don’t put me in this position. If you go out tonight, it’ll really upset me.’

‘Are you
forbidding
me to go out?’

‘I’m asking you to stay with me. It’s different. We’ll download a film, get some food in. Get an early night? We haven’t been together in a long time.’ He reached between Luke’s legs and Luke felt himself shrink away. Jem’s face darkened a shade. ‘You’ll enjoy it once you relax. Why don’t I run a bath for us?’

‘OK, OK,’ said Luke, the placation at odds with the rising panic in his gorge.

‘Good boy,’ said Jem, like he was talking to a child, or a dog. He disappeared into the bathroom. As the steam clouds of Acqua di Parma began to billow, Luke plundered his mind for excuses but he had feigned illness and exhaustion too regularly of late and it was empty.

True temptation came from the glittering city below and he had his shoes on before he really understood what he was doing. Using the roar of the fast-filling taps as cover, he let himself out of the apartment. He hesitated as the lift descended, suddenly seeing his abrupt departure as it would look through Jem’s eyes; cowardly and cruel. There was still time to go back. But as the doors parted to let him onto the dock, the hit of freedom made him giddy and he reasoned that the exhilaration was worth the hell he would have to pay when he got back home. Who knew, it might even act as a wake-up call. Words weren’t getting through to Jem so maybe drastic action would shock him into seeing what was happening to them.

BOOK: The Ties That Bind
8.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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