In Your Blood
IN YOUR BLOOD
When Lee enters the room, he sees Jolly posing in front of the mirror, topless and in a ridiculous-looking, rimmed black hat. He is twisting his tattooed torso left and right, craning his neck to check his reflection from different angles. Strands of his usually spiky black – recently, anyway – hair peek out from underneath the hat.
“Oh hello mate,” Jolly greets as he enters the room. “How do I look?”
“You look ridiculous,” Lee says and throws his leather jacket on the bed but flashes a grin at his friend.
“Cheers.” Jolly responds to the grin, takes the hat off and throws it on his own bed in a practised move. Lee can almost smell the new stage antics accompanying the headgear.
“Where have you been?” Jolly asks. He doesn’t look at Lee. He’s busy looking for something in the bag on the only chair in the room.
Lee smiles, and he’s aware that his entire face lights up.
“I walked Isa back to her hotel.”
“Did you now?”
For a moment, it looks as though Jolly hasn’t really taken note of the gargantuan announcement. Then he pulls underpants from the bag, lifts them closer to his nose and gives them a careful sniff.
“I can’t figure that girl out. Sure, she’s pretty as hell-“
“I didn’t realise hell was pretty,” Lee says, sitting down on the bed, still grinning like a lunatic which catches on with Jolly.
“If hell’s as pretty as Isa, I want to go!” They chuckle out loud while Jolly makes his way towards the bathroom. “I mean, yeah, I get that she’s a freelance photographer, like, but she still hangs around us a lot. Does she ever have any other assignments? I just don’t get it.” The bathroom door closes behind Jolly – sort of. The door handle rattles for a moment while Jolly tries to close the door properly and then gives up realising that it’s not going to happen.
Lee lays back on the bed, arms crossed under his head. Yeah, Isa is very pretty, but it’s not just that. There is a mystery about her that enchants him. She does keep showing up, but she also makes it worthwhile every time. Tonight, though, was the first time anything had happened.
She had lingered on after the show until everyone was gone, and Lee had made sure that security hadn’t kicked her out. Then, when all the band’s gear was loaded back in the van and they were ready to leave the venue, he had offered to walk her back to her hotel. It was sort of in the wrong direction, in New Town whereas their accommodation was just off the Royal Mile in Old Town, but he wouldn’t exactly have called that a sacrifice. His friends had just shrugged and let him go.
He had pretended to know Edinburgh well, which wasn’t entirely true. Sure, he had visited the city a few times, but he had let on that he knew it better than he did thanks to his Scottish father. That wasn’t a lie, but his dad was a Highlander.
In any case, Isa’s hotel was just across the railway tracks – not far enough, if anybody asked him. They had strolled by the Princes Street Gardens and past the Scott Monument, and he had tried to impress her by imparting all his information on said monument. It wasn’t all that much even though he had climbed to the top of it once – all 287 steps. He hadn't mentioned that he had suffered from a most heinous case of vertigo at the top.
While they had been gazing at the top of the monument, his face close to hers while his arm had been pointing upwards, there had been a moment, and for once in his life, he had gathered up the courage to seize the moment. Suddenly their faces had been close together, he had felt her warm breath on his lips – slowly turning blue in the cold Scottish winter’s night – and he had gently put his hands on the sides of her head.
Then she had pulled away.
Her chin had fallen down in something like shame, and an unfulfilled “What?” had escaped from his mouth before he had had the chance to stop it.
They had remained like that for a moment, his hands on her shoulders, his eyes on her face while she stared down. A few late night walkers had passed by, either oblivious to their situation or curious but not willing to show it.
“Why?” he had whispered.
“I can’t. It would be disloyal.”
“Disloyal to whom?”
She had merely shaken her head.
“Please just drop it. I’m sorry. I can make my own way back from here.”
He had refused, of course, and walked her back to her hotel, awkward as it was. At the front door, she had given him a warm hug accompanied by a genuine smile.
There had to be something she hadn’t told him. Perhaps there was a boyfriend that he didn’t know about. He had always assumed there was none because she always showed up on her own, but she was doing her job. People didn’t bring their partners on work trips.
Still, there had been a moment, and it had been close. It meant that there was an attraction.
The handle of the bathroom door shakes again, and Jolly bursts into the bedroom, his head buried in a large, white towel.
“Man, that shower is crap. Cold, hot, then freezing again, and if you adjust it, it goes to boiling. There’s, like, this much room for adjusting it.” His index finger and thumb display a gap of a few millimetres. “So good luck.”
“We don’t have to get up early, do we?” Lee asks while starting to take his shoes off.
“Nah. We’re setting off in the afternoon. Lie-in tomorrow.”
Jolly does a little dance around the room.
* * *
They had been born two weeks apart, him and Jolly. Lee had been born on a thunderous night and Jolly a fortnight later in the middle of one of the most memorable heatwaves of the 1990s. Jolly Martin, born Joseph Jeremiah Martin - nicknamed Joey by his parents and his sister who was eight years his senior - was the sunshine of the lives of everyone he knew. While not a studious kid, he did well in school purely by being witty and a logical thinker. Lee, on the other hand, was bookish and interested in his studies but didn’t come across that way because of his shyness. Had it not been for Jolly, he would not have had any childhood friends.
They lived in the same street growing up, three doors down – or up, depending on how one looked at it – from each other. It had been heartbreak time when Jolly’s father had got a promotion which had finally given the family the chance to move into a bigger, more comfortable house a couple of districts away. Jolly had changed schools, and at the same time, Lee's parents had divorced and he had found himself living with his mother. An only child, he missed male company. His parents had broken up on good terms, and he saw his father regularly, but losing his best friend and his father at the same time was too much.
Jolly didn’t do well in his new school either. He started getting into trouble, hanging out with some older kids because those his age didn’t like the look of him. It was a better school, and Jolly didn’t fit in with the posh kids. After a few months, his parents decided to return him to his old school, and the friends had vowed never to be parted again.
* * *
Lee watches the countryside flow by as they drive south. John, their friend and jack-of-all-trades, is driving, sipping his coffee whenever he can. Fatigue is a constant friend on tour.
Benson, their bass player, is watching something on his tablet, buried in his own world with headphones on and with a travel cushion around his neck. Vic, the drummer, is reading, also in his own world. Jolly is sitting in the passenger seat, and judging by how quiet he is and by the way his head keeps nodding, he's asleep.
Lee is sitting in a corner wrapped up in his own thoughts while they pass endless villages and towns, some of which are household names and some of which he has never heard of. Touring is a funny way to travel. One sees very little although one travels all over the country. Lee, although a natural hermit, recluse and introvert, doesn’t think he could put up with it if it wasn’t for the company of his friends. Apart from his three bandmates and John, he doesn’t have many friends. He never has had.
He has been friends with Jolly since before he can remember. They built sandcastles together, kicked a football together and shot water pistols at each other. Later, they rode their bikes around the estate and camped in a tent in Jolly’s parents’ back garden. It wasn’t until they entered their second decade of life that Jolly started having other friends, and Lee struggled with that. It was like suddenly he wasn’t enough.
Jolly was a somewhat popular kid in school. He was chatty, outgoing and smart and excelled at sports as long as he could keep up his interest in them. Lee, on the other hand, was clumsy and awkward in all senses of the word, and nobody wanted to be friends with him. He ended up knowing other boys only because Jolly kept dragging him along to random-number-of-players-a-side kickabouts, birthday parties and sleepovers. It was all good fun even though he was as uncomfortable as a chicken in a fox’s den if Jolly left his side for a moment.
Then they got older, into their pre-teens and early teens, and suddenly Jolly discovered something more interesting again: girls. Lee discovered them too, possibly a little before Jolly even, but he was terrified of doing anything about them, so he just watched them from afar. Jolly didn’t need to. Being popular with other boys meant that he was also popular with girls. His smiles and winks came naturally, and girls – the pretty ones too – were tossing and twirling their hair at him. For a while again, Lee thought that he had lost his best friend as Jolly always seemed to be busy seeing girls. Jolly seemed to get up to all the naughty stuff too – kissing and things that meant nothing to Lee. He was 15 before he even managed to snatch a kiss.
Apparently, Lee has been told, he isn’t bad-looking. In fact, girls quite like his height and his floppy blond hair, but he lacks confidence, and that is – if not quite a turn-off – a hindrance. That is what his friends have told him. He wishes that one day he will wake up and see himself in the mirror with different eyes, but every morning without fail he is met with the reflection of an awkward and insecure, slightly odd-looking young man who is afraid that a woman will turn into dust at his touch.
“Right, boyos, we’re here!” John shouts from the front seat. Lee looks outside and is met with the sight of a huge brick wall.
“That’s the venue, my dears,” John continues and starts getting out of the van. Everybody else is still in a haze.
* * *
They are playing support that night. They are finished with their set early, having played first on the night. For such a small venue, they have a surprisingly generous dressing room of their own. They are all drying themselves off with towels, sipping beer, Coke or water depending on their requirements. Vic in particular is drenched with sweat from his efforts behind the drums, and he has towelled himself thoroughly before spraying practically the whole room with deodorant and getting changed into a cleaner t-shirt.
Lee is sitting in front of the only mirror in the room trying to get his hair back into shape when he sees the door open in the reflection. He hasn’t heard a knock, but they are a noisy bunch, so it's no surprise. His jaw drops when he sees Isa enter the room, complete with her enormous camera with one of the massive lenses.
“Hi boys,” she says with a smile. There isn’t anything flirtatious about it although there could be, was it said in another tone. They chorus a greeting back at her although Lee finds himself choking on his words. He notes through the mirror how Isa’s curious eyes follow Jolly around the room. He is walking around topless, showing off his physique, hairless chest and jungle of tattoos. Lee tells himself that it's the tattoos Isa is admiring. She has one herself – at least one that he has seen. It's a Pegasus on her upper right arm – a beautiful little thing, just like her.
“I didn’t realise we had the pleasure of your company tonight,” Jolly says with a grin while drying his hair on a towel. He has given up on the spikes now and prefers to just let it hang loose, possibly under that silly hat, but it keeps getting in his way on stage in sweaty streaks, with hair gel running down his face. Jolly doesn’t seem to mind it, but Lee sometimes gets bothered by it when watching his friend on stage. That kind of things trouble him.
“Oh? Did I not say that?” She says, her large eyes all innocent.
“Not that I recall,” Jolly says with a look around at the others.
“Sorry about that. Do you mind if I grab a few shots?”
“Fine by me,” Benson says and grabs his phone from the side table. Nobody disagrees. Lee would rather not have his photo taken, not the way he looks, but he very much likes the idea of Isa hanging around.
“Good show tonight?” she makes conversation while snapping away. The others chat away excitedly, but Lee remains quiet. He is intrigued by this creature with her red hair, tiny frame and the delicious body hidden underneath the white, lacy dress. He doesn’t know how to get through to her though. He thought he had his chance the other night, and then she turned him down at the last minute. It was hard to understand. She doesn’t pay him much attention now either. Perhaps she feels awkward about their last encounter. She is friendly towards him, smiles at him and makes brief comments in his direction, but there is nothing to indicate anything more intimate. He is disappointed to note that her eyes and camera linger on Jolly even after he has thrown a fresh t-shirt on. Jolly looks more like a rock star than the rest of them, but he is not a handsome man either. The thought of Isa falling for him is unbearable. Jolly is not interested in settling down, but Lee knows that he doesn’t have much of a mind of turning a pretty girl down either. Jolly agrees that Isa is pretty too.
Isa takes her leave when she hears the headliners start their set in the main room. She disappears in a flurry of skirts and red hair and is gone as quickly as she arrived.
The atmosphere in the room remains relaxed. Everybody is chatting away. It's only Lee who feels that the temperature has dropped and the air has started moving more freely. He is breathing again. He keeps his eyes on Jolly, but his friend seems to have forgotten about Isa’s appearance and is focused on chipping off the peeling black varnish from his fingernails.
* * *
They move to a bar just around the corner after the gig is done, they have loaded their gear back into the van and have chatted to a few fans. There aren’t many of them yet, but they exist and are all the more precious for that.
There is a whole group of hangers-on at the bar. The main band, all of their own crew, some fans and a girlfriend of the headliner’s tour manager, who doubles up as the girl who sells t-shirts. There is also a smaller group of girls, one of whom is Isa.
Lee almost stops in his tracks when he spots her. She appears to be with a couple of friends, who are all happily drinking their cocktails and giggling over them. He hasn’t seen her like that before. She is usually a little shy although still sociable and not awkward. She is used to being on her own but clearly flourishes in the company of friends.
Accompanied by Jolly, Lee steps over to the girls. He notices the slight flush on Isa’s pale but made-up cheeks. She looks coyly at them but smiles sweetly. Her friends are chatty – probably thanks to the drinks they’ve already consumed – and glad to be introduced to real rock stars in the making. Jolly is comfortable with that definition of himself, but Lee isn’t. Vic and Benson don’t mind either way and hurry over to the bar and return a moment later with a round of drinks. Benson is generally considered the good-looking one. He looks like a nobleman stuck in the wrong century. He has a steady girlfriend though and remains faithful to her, despite the attention he often receives when they are out. Vic, on the other hand, is ordinary-looking but seems to have a string of less steady girlfriends. Lee was looking for a girlfriend but stopped the search when he met Isa some three months earlier. He isn’t sure of her relationship status. He has looked her up on Facebook, but not everybody flaunts it publicly.
Lee downs his first drink quickly. He gets a second round and finishes that quickly too. Being tall is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to drinking. He can hold his drink, but it is also harder and weightier on the wallet to try to get drunk. By the time he has consumed enough alcohol to try striking up a conversation with a creature as gorgeous as Isa, Jolly is already quite, well, jolly, and has his arm around Isa’s shoulders while grinning at her like the cat who got the cream. Their faces are close.
Lee feels the hair on his arms bristle like the hackles on a dog threatening attack. He can feel it flowing through his blood, riding inside his veins and all across his body, like a poison reaching his brain and eventually his heart, slowing it down and eventually stopping it in its final beat. His ears are ringing, not hearing the music pounding around him, but a deep, low, dark music inside his own mind. He grips the edge of the table in an effort to feel something else but the blinding jealousy and the inevitable loss that is going to follow. He has been there before, and he is there again – always second best. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Never getting the bride either.
As the night goes on, everything gets blurrier – everything except the image of Jolly and Isa right across the table having eyes for no one and nothing except each other. Jolly is so easily led. He hasn’t even noticed Isa until she is practically the only option available, and then he is all over her. Lee is disappointed that Isa has succumbed to his charms. He considers telling her that there is no way Jolly is going to settle down with anybody. It isn’t that Jolly is the kind of bastard who enjoys breaking hearts, but he is too busy with the band to have a girlfriend. He has said that himself. On the other hand, is it Lee’s place to get involved? Who exactly is he trying to save here?
He grabs another Jägermeister handed by someone in their party and downs it.
* * *
All he remembers the day after is Vic and Benson walking him to the van afterwards. He remembers thinking that they left Jolly alone with Isa and that was a terribly bad thing. Then he remembers waking up in a cheap and gloomy hotel room somewhere in the outskirts of Carlisle and the sound of rain pounding on the window and of Vic snoring on the bed nearer the door. Lee’s mouth is parched, and he reaches out for the bottle of flat Coke on the bedside table. In doing so, he has an image in his head of Jolly reaching in to kiss Isa. He suddenly feels nauseous and is aware of the bile rising up in his throat. Then he is on his feet and in the tiny toilet throwing the very liquid contents of his stomach into the WC. It is uncomfortable for a man of his stature to kneel in that room. His feet are resting against the door, cold against his bare soles. What exactly has happened to his shoes and socks? His head is swimming and his skin is clammy. Maybe he is dead. This is probably what hell is like. Throwing up in a tiny space that makes him feel claustrophobic, with a pounding headache and ringing ears and with the knowledge of losing the one person he loves filling every pore of his body until they are ready to burst in blood-ripping sores.
Make that two people he loves. Although it's hard to comprehend just now, he loves Jolly. They have been best friends since birth.
He remembers a time when they were around ten. Jolly’s mum, a nurse, had brought home some new equipment that she had been introduced to at a conference. They were just harmless syringes and not supposed to be within their reach, but Jolly had found out about them and had sneaked one out.
They wanted to be blood brothers, so close was their bond. The only problem was that they weren’t even distantly related, but they figured that they could fix that if they shared some of the same blood.
So that’s what they did. They inserted a needle into Lee’s arm, sucked out some blood in a very painful process and then injected that into Jolly. They repeated the process the other way round and from the opposite arms, just to be sure they didn’t transfer the same blood back in. They hadn’t realised how dangerous that could be. The amount had been tiny, but they had no idea of each other’s or even their own blood groups or even that such a thing existed or mattered. They could have infected each other with any number of diseases that they luckily didn’t have. They were just pleased that they were blood brothers. Their parents were less pleased when they found out as they inevitably did when Jolly’s mother couldn’t find the syringe.
For a long time afterwards, they had both been convinced that something magical had happened and they were now as good as brothers, never to be parted.
Lee leaves the toilet. Vic is sitting up on the bed squinting, his hair in a serious bedhead-do.
“Alright mate?” Vic asks.
Lee shakes his head. It hurts.
“What time is it?” Vic asks in what turns out to be a rhetorical question as he picks up his phone.
“Thank fuck for days off,” he mutters under his breath.
Lee goes over to have a huge sip of Coke.
“It’s five past eleven. We’re gonna get kicked out,” Vic continues. He is still squinting, running his hands through his messy hair and trying to gather up the guts to get up.
“I’ll go have a shower,” Lee says in a weak voice. He does not feel well.
He tries to frighten himself to life with cold water, but he hates cold showers more than anything. It doesn’t make him feel any better either, so he turns the temperature up. He feels even sicker than he did previously, but at least he's clean. His mind is messy though, and no amount of running water is going to clear that. He had tried directly adding large amounts of liquid into his brain the previous night, and that clearly hadn’t helped either. There are horrid, nightmarish images running through his head every time he closes his eyes. If he keeps them open, he finds himself just staring at whatever is right ahead of him. HAIR WASH AND SHOWER GEL. PLEASE HELP OUR ENVIRONMENT. Hang your towel on the rack if you want to re-use it. Towels left on the floor will be replaced. FORGOTTEN SOMETHING? Toothbrushes, toothpaste and combs are available from reception.
He steps out of the shower and towels himself dry, his hair hanging limply down the sides of his head and dripping water down his neck and spine. He gets dressed in somewhat clean clothes – there never are enough properly clean clothes on tour – and leaves the steamy room.
“We need to hurry up. They’re already chasing us.”
Lee looks at Vic in astonishment, as if he has never seen him before.
“John and Benson, you know.”
There is a question on Lee’s mind, but Vic airs the answer before he has the chance to ask.
“Jolly’s MIA. Never slept in his bed last night.”
Lee’s knees feel weak all of a sudden. He sees black and red for a moment before he swings around on his heels and rushes back into the bathroom. When he re-emerges a few minutes later, Vic has thrown all their stuff into two bags in random order which means that nobody will find anything later that day.
“We’re going for breakfast. Sure he’ll turn up when he’s good and ready.” Vic gives him a wink and a cheeky, conspiratorial grin. Lee’s stomach turns again, and he isn’t sure whether it's the mention of breakfast or the suggested reason for Jolly’s disappearance that causes it.
* * *
A month later, Lee is returning from work one evening into the townhouse he shares with Jolly. It's tiny but cosy with a minimal front garden that just about takes a couple of chairs whenever the weather allows sitting outside. Two bedrooms, kitchen-sitting room type of thing with a shared bathroom. It's cheap, cold in the winter and holds the bare minimum in everything except a wall of lively wallpaper in the sitting room which is supposed to liven up the space.
He turns the key in the door off the hall and steps into the living space. There's a handbag and a coat in one of the mismatched armchairs. The door to Jolly’s room is slightly ajar. There are sounds within – human sounds, but not speech.
Everything in Lee’s line of sight goes black and red. There are stars and swirls, bubbles and skulls, question marks and exclamation marks. The hair on his arms stands up, his skin prickles and he can feel his arms stretch towards the bedroom. His skin feels tight, his lungs constrict and his gums itch. Although he can’t see anything except the blur in front of his eyes, he can hear the voices as if in surround sound and at full volume. They are shagging in Jolly’s room, and he can tell by the accessories on the armchair that the woman is Isa.
His head is filled with images of such a mixture of pleasure and pain that he thinks his brain is going to split. In his head, she is divine, soft and pale with that gorgeous red hair all over her white skin, pink nipples, curled toes… And Jolly’s tattooed, skinny body all over hers like some slimy snake. She is enjoying it. The bitch is enjoying it.
The word snaps him out of it. That isn’t right. Not right. Everything about this is not right.
Lee turns around, exits through the front door he has just used to come in and goes back out to the street.
He walks for a long time around the housing estate where they live. He walks and walks, past playgrounds and through parks, past people hurrying in and out of the supermarkets with their phones in hand, carrying bags of groceries and pushing prams as if everything is ok. Seemingly everything is ok for them. He hears snippets of conversations. “You want me to grab a Chinese on the way home?” “Is there anything good on in the cinema?” “Did he eat his dinner?” “Go and do your homework, Ella! I’ll be home in ten.” “Can you go and let the dog out? I’ll be late.” “Did he say that? Well I never…”
He walks until the sun sets and the evening chill sets in. He eventually returns home, unlocks the van outside the house next to the kerb and crawls into the backseat. It isn’t the first time he sleeps in the back of that van.
* * *
He wakes up with goose bumps all over his skin and with a full bladder. He's on the floor of the van now, curled up as small as he can get and still freezing. The sun is streaming in through the windows. The clock on the dashboard shows 7.34.
He crawls onto his knees, minding his head near the backseats. He is covered in dust from the carpeted floor which hasn’t been hoovered in some time, probably littered with crisp crumbs, pieces of chocolate, sand, spilled beer and God knows what else. He isn’t feeling the freshest although he doesn’t remember spending much time awake. He is generally a sound sleeper.
He unlocks the side door and stumbles onto the footpath. His legs feel numb, and every other part of his anatomy is sore.
He is just reaching for the small gate outside when he notices someone at the door of his home. It is Isa.
He doesn't have time to gather his thoughts or his courage. He tries not to stare. Even in jeans and a jumper, she looks stunning, and he can’t look away, his eyes fixed on how the rays of the morning sun catch in her auburn hair, tied back as it is. There are barely noticeable dark circles around her eyes, but her skin is perfect even without make-up as he believes she is.
She has seen him, and they meet at the gate where he awkwardly steps aside to let her pass.
“Good morning,” he manages to say, “How are you?”
“Morning Lee. I’m good.” She gives him a small smile. She has stopped.
“You’ve been with Jolly.”
Talk about stating the obvious.
Lee clears his throat. “Is he…. treating you well?”
She looks surprised.
“Of course he is. I thought you were best friends.”
“We are,” Lee says with a frown.
“Well then.” Her arms are crossed now. Is she cross with him?
“I just mean… has he said anything about it being serious?”
He scratches his head. He isn’t making a great impression. He can’t talk to this creature without turning into an imbecile.
“I can’t see how that is any of your business.”
“No, no… It’s just, like you said, we’re best friends, and I don’t think he-“ He stops abruptly, not sure how to carry on.
“What is it?” she asks, hoisting her bag higher up on her shoulder. Lee has learned to think of that as a nervous gesture in women.
He clears his throat again. It's blocking up on him.
“He doesn’t want a relationship.”
“How would you know that?” There is a sharpness in her voice, and her gaze is sceptical.
“He’s said as much.”
“About me?” She looks hurt, like her little heart has just been scrunched into a ball and thrown into a paper bin. It makes his fists clench and his arms want to clutch her to him in a conflicting mess of emotions.
“Not as such.” He scratches his head again. “He said it recently though. I thought you should know.”
“Well, now I know,” Isa says and hoists her bag up on her shoulder again. Her voice is tight and her face a painting of disbelief, heartbreak and tortured love.
“See you later,” she says then and turns around towards the nearest bus stop.
He looks after her a while, still clenching his fists and fighting the urge to run after her. His bladder gets the better of him in the end and he turns to go in.
“Morning,” Jolly greets before he has even seen Lee, who isn’t prepared to meet him this soon. Jolly never gets up before ten; he doesn’t work at the moment. He does most of the stuff for the band, such as booking shows and promoting it. Lee wonders if that would work better with a black eye or two.
“Cuppa?” Jolly asks with a teal coloured mug already in hand. There is a Christmas mug of steaming tea in front of him already.
“Sure. Be right back,” Lee mutters and heads into the bathroom.
He stares at himself in the mirror. He looks tired and pale, his hair a dusty mess after a night on the van floor. He can hear the fridge door open in the kitchen. Then the drawer opens and shuts. The stirring of a teaspoon in the mug as Jolly adds sugar to the tea. God, does he need that sugar this morning. But Jolly… what will he do about Jolly?
School never prepares one for the practical dilemmas of real life, such as when you realise that your best friend is shagging the girl you want and doesn’t actually care for her. Is a fist fight acceptable in such a scenario, or should one settle for a few stern words? Lee can’t decide, not while trying to think rationally, but the muscles in his arms are bulging in anticipation of a scuffle. He doesn’t believe in violence, but he can tell by his maddened eyes and heated blood temperature that his body does not agree with his mind.
He splashes some cold water in his face, wipes it on the grubby face towel by the sink and returns to the living area, throwing his leather jacket on one of their chairs.
“You alright mate?” Jolly asks and hands him a mug of steaming tea. Lee sits down in the chair with his leather jacket and takes the proffered beverage.
“Yeah. Good night?”
Jolly grins and sits down opposite him.
“Oh yeah. She’s marvellous.”
In other circumstances, Lee might find it amusing. Now he looks away for a moment, through the window and onto the street where he spoke to Isa a moment earlier. Then he turns back to stare into his mug. The tea is warm between his hands. He feels cold despite the rising heat of aggression. What a strange mixture.
“You should have a chat with her.”
“With Isa?” Jolly looks confused.
“She seems to think you’re headed somewhere you’re not.”
Jolly grimaces and takes a sip of his drink.
“Like relationship-wise? She thinks we’re going somewhere?”
“Yeah, she thinks it's getting serious.”
“Oh man! Women. I never said that.”
“You must have otherwise implied it then.”
Jolly rubs at the hair on his chin, not quite a beard but more than stubble.
“Jeez. I don’t know what I’ve said. She’s great, she really is, but you know I don’t want a girlfriend just now. I don’t have the time.”
Lee wants to say that he seems to have plenty of time to sleep with women who could go out with someone else instead, but he bites his tongue.
“I know,” he says instead with the emphasis on the first word, “but she doesn’t know. It’s not me who needs to know.”
Jolly leans back in the chair in a gesture of frustration.
“I don’t want to let her go though. She’s too much fun. I thought she was game for a bit of fun. What am I supposed to do?” He spreads out his hands as if in surrender and ends up spilling tea on his arm.
“Shit!” he exclaims while wiping his arm on his t-shirt.
“I can’t tell you what to do,” Lee says in a gesture of gallantry that takes him by surprise. “You need to be fair to her though. Don’t leave her hanging. She’s a decent girl.”
Jolly eyes him oddly, perhaps curiously, as if wondering if this is the friend he has known for the last 25 years.
“Yeah, you’re right. She is. I’ll talk to her.”
* * *
The nightclub is busy that night. It's Friday, and a rowdy rock night too. That's why they are there; an up-and-coming band has to be seen even though Benson is missing in action that night. The rest of them are out; Vic with his latest squeeze, Jolly with Isa and Lee is just hanging around in the vain hope of having some time with his best friend’s girl. He feels lousy about it and tries to keep himself busy with the hangers-on they have attracted – the workmates, the cousins, the acquaintances that nobody remembers where they know them from. It's probably someone’s birthday, Lee thinks fuzzily as he makes his way towards the toilets, but he isn’t sure whose. There must be a reason they are all out.
The corridor is long and narrow, all shades of black and red and wooden floors with old-looking fake paintings on the wall. To one side is a room with a discarded pool table and some chairs. There is a fireplace too. Lee wonders why the area is not used. It's just barricaded off.
His thoughts are wandering. He looks at himself in the dark light in a cracked mirror, wondering when he has become so pale. The veins in his arms are throbbing. The walls seem redder than they did on the way in. Is there a smell of coffee from somewhere? The music is thudding from within, all bass and drums and no discernible beat. People are evidently having fun within, judging by the laughter. There's a clicking of heels up ahead. He's sweating. He should get out of his leather jacket, but it is oh, so cool to look at and has to improve his looks at least. There is definitely a smell of coffee – burnt coffee from a coffee maker.
The voice comes from beneath his chin. He looks down directly into Isa’s exquisite, enquiring eyes. She looks so pretty with her red-painted lips, in her white blouse and tartan skirt, wearing sexy heels and still being so much smaller than he is.
“Hi,” he says in what he hopes is a sexy voice. “Good night?”
She nods. She has her arms crossed across her chest in a defensive gesture.
“Yeah, it’s ok. I just think you might have been right.”
He blinks at her for a moment, not having a clue what she is talking about.
“About Jolly. I think you were right about him.”
“Oh, right.” Lee’s brain is ticking. He is trying to locate information on what they have been talking about, but if it concerned Jolly, he probably has been right. It had been about them, hadn’t it?
“You mean about him and you?”
Isa nods, looking past him down the corridor where a green light flashes above the fire exit door.
“I don’t think he wants a girlfriend.”
“Has he said as much?” Lee scratches his head in his usual awkward gesture.
“No,” she shakes her head, “but I get the impression. He’s not capable of such a commitment. Not just now. All he ever talks about is the band. In Your Blood, In Your Blood, In Your Blood, it’s all he ever talks about.”
She smiles briefly at that.
“And I get it, it’s a big deal for you guys right now, but I’ve met him right now. I like him now. I want a boyfriend now.”
There is a feeling in Lee’s chest that reminds him of walking on broken glass. He tried that as a child once. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation.
“Could you not find someone else?”
To his surprise, she chuckles at that, but it's a sarcastic chuckle.
“Maybe. It’s just a shame that I happen to like Jolly. If I didn’t, maybe then I could… Before that night in Carlisle, there was kind of someone else I thought it might have worked with.”
She looks up at him then, directly into his eyes.
“Oh.” He gulps for air. “Is it too late then?”
She nods but doesn’t take her eyes off his.
“It is. It’s Jolly I want now, but before then, it could have gone the other way. It’s just not easy to say no to him.”
Lee feels those smithereens of glass grind into the sole of his foot. It makes him want to cry out in pain.
“It was you, by the way.”
“What?” he responds stupidly, having been so caught up in his agony that his brain can’t keep up with her words.
“It was you,” she whispers and stands up on her tiptoes to plant a kiss on his lips before walking past him.
He finds himself making his way to the bar in a dizzy haze of reds, blacks and blues. The blood is thumping in his veins, and there are waves of pleasure travelling all across his skin and nervous system. His hands are shaking up to the point that he thinks he is going to break his pint glass when he grabs it to calm his nerves. It's no use; his system is out of whack and his body out of his control. He has never felt like that after a kiss, and particularly not after a mere peck on the lips. This is serious. All that pain of moments earlier is mixed in with the enjoyable shivers, like bloodthirsty sharks in his beautiful ocean, and he is drowning, easy prey to the beasts while his attention is drawn away by his selfish desires.
* * *
They are in Bristol. In Your Blood has played a one-off support slot to a big name. There is a good crowd at the venue, bigger than they are used to, and they received a warm welcome. It's a nice feeling, especially in front of someone else’s fans.
Lee likes Bristol. It's green in all senses of the word – there are trees and parks everywhere, and people are fond of the environmentally friendly travel mode of cycling everywhere. The river provides lots of cosy bars, cafes and restaurants by the side of it, and it's impossible to get lost in the city if one sticks to the flow of the river. People are friendly too and extremely polite, and he never stops to wonder why Bristolians find it so easy to carry their rubbish to the litter bins provided, while elsewhere, it ends up on the streets.
They are in a large beer garden out by the river after the show. Being the weekend, it's busy, and Benson and Jolly have also brought their ladies along for the show. Benson rarely takes his missus along. She is not overly fond of the occasional female fan that clings to her other half even if he is good at avoiding their advances.
Isa and Jolly have disappeared inside some time earlier. Lee hasn’t bothered finding out what they are doing because it hurts every part of his fragile body to imagine it, but he figures they want some alone time. It's like a constant honeymoon with them. He's better off drowning his sorrows and keeping an eye on the free females in the beer garden. One of them eyed him up earlier, so there is some hope there… The thought of other women doesn’t really appeal to him, but pining for his best friend’s girl is painful work and morally wrong.
He has just accepted a rare cigarette off Vic when he sees Isa flying out of the door. She walks over to the table and grabs her jacket off it so quickly that it's hard to tell, but Lee thinks it looks as though she has wiped tears off her face. She is hurt. There is pain in her face. His arms ache from the need to grab her and hold her until she is better, but she is gone before he can say a word.
“What’s up with her?” says Megan, Benson’s girlfriend, looking after her with a slight frown, but she doesn’t seem overly worried. The girls barely know each other.
At that moment, Jolly bursts out of the bar looking like an insulted psychopath. There is a crazed look in his eyes that Lee doesn’t like, mixed with hurt and anger and something that might be concern.
“Why do people have girlfriends?” he says with a roll of his eyes while walking past their table and hurrying after Isa.
Girlfriend. He called her his girlfriend.
* * *
The walls, the ceiling, the floor are all mixtures of blood red and black. Everything. Curtains, furniture, mirror, doors, windows. It's pitch black in the room. He isn’t even sure how he can see anything, but he can.
There are two human forms in the middle of the room. One is splayed across an armchair, legs thrown over one armrest and arms and head over the other. This one is a female. The wide, black skirt is loosely hanging off her bloody legs. Her blood-matted hair is almost touching the blood-soaked floor, leaving an even blacker shadow on the already black floor.
There is another form on the armchair opposite, this one a man’s. He is sitting upright but completely still, lifeless. The eyes, a curious mixture of black and red, are open and staring right at him. There is blood all over the man’s arms and hands, his black shirt is soaked in red stains that shouldn’t be visible but are. There is blood dripping from his facial hair and running down his neck from the strands of hair plastered to his skull. There is something odd about his mouth that is hard to place. It's deformed somehow.
There is an eerie sound in the room, like music but not melodic. He can’t figure out where it comes from and what instrument could make such a sound. Nothing is moving, and yet there is a presence in the room.
* * *
Lee wakes up with a start, drenched in sweat and heart thudding. He is gripping the duvet with white knuckles and the veins ready to pop in his arms. He slowly lets go, his fingers, hands and arms aching from the effort. Having shaken off the duvet, he starts to cool down. The sweat dried to his skin, his bed clothes and underwear is like a film of unpleasant memories. His heartbeat slows down when he realises he is in his own bedroom and, behind the roller blind, the sun is shining.
The image won’t let go though.
* * *
Lee comes home from work at about 5.30. It's a nice enough early summer’s day, and sun streams in through the glass pane on the front door when he goes in, illuminating the door to their downstairs apartment.
He opens the front door and steps into the sitting room. He stops dead in his tracks.
Isa is lying in the armchair nearest the door. She is in an unnatural position, her arms hanging over the armrests and her neck in an awkward-looking twist. She is like a corkscrew. No human being should ever be in such a position.
Then he sees the blood caked on her neck and running down her multi-coloured dress. It's hard to see the blood stains for the pattern of the fabric, but they are there. He can smell it in the room – strong and plentiful.
He steps closer to her and puts two fingers gingerly on her neck to test her pulse. There is none. She is cool to the touch – not completely cold, but not the temperature she should be. He watches her for a moment. Her chest is not moving. She isn’t breathing. Her heart isn’t beating. She is dead.
Through tearful eyes he inspects the wound on her neck. The cut is deep and has severed an artery. That explains why she has bled so much. There is other damage too. She has bruises on the other side of her neck and on her arms. She is fully dressed and is still wearing her tights although they too are ripped. What's happened?
He straightens up and looks around. Her leather jacket is flung across the back of the chair, and her handbag is on the floor next to her.
He senses movement at the other end of the room, where the bedrooms are. Jolly steps out.
His white t-shirt is covered in blood, particularly on the chest, but there is also a certain amount of it on his chin although he has clearly tried to wipe it away with his hands. He has blood stains on his arms, and Lee thinks he can see a few scratch marks on them too.
“What the fuck have you done?” Lee asks quietly. There is a part of him that wishes he has misinterpreted the situation; another part of him knows that he hasn’t.
Jolly wrings his hands. There is something odd about them. His fingers look wrong, too long and sharp somehow. When he comes closer, Lee notices that his arms look different too. Although Jolly is fit, he is not that muscular. When he speaks, his mouth looks a strange shape.
“She was going to leave me.”
His voice sounds off too. It's lower.
“She was going to leave you?”
“She said there was someone else. Do you know anything about it?”
Jolly’s eyes are piercing through him.
“You killed her because she was going to leave you?”
Jolly seems to jump at that. He glances at Isa’s lifeless form on the chair.
“I didn’t… I didn’t mean to kill her. I just got so angry.”
He seems to be shrinking right in front of Lee’s eyes. The muscles seem to shrink, the mouth droops into a hurt, pained expression and his eyes soften.
“I didn’t want her dead. I don’t know what came over me.”
“She’s dead, man. She’s dead. She’s fucking dead!” Lee screams, stepping closer to him and pointing at the corpse of the woman that he still loves.
“You’ve fucking killed the woman I love!”
Jolly looks at him with a confused expression that starts to turn into fear.
“You-” he starts.
“I love her, and you’ve killed her!”
He can feel the blood flow rapidly within him. His heart beats faster, making him feel powerful and strong, almost immortal. He sticks a hand out and hits Jolly across the chin, making him fly into the wall behind him.
“She’s dead, you motherfucker! She’s not like you and me!”
He hits him again, this time even harder. Blood pours out of Jolly’s split lip, but Lee doesn’t stop. His muscles twitch now, they have a life of their own, and they are out of his control. He goes for him blindly, not stopping to survey the carnage. He is stronger than Jolly, always has been, and he knows he has more of a monster within him than his blood brother ever has or ever will. Jolly is helpless.
* * *
It's silent work. There isn’t a sound from the ordinary-looking townhouse while a young man kills his former best friend. Passers-by don’t know that anything out of the ordinary is happening that late afternoon. Nobody even thinks to look through the open windows, unshielded as the room is from the street. It's a noiseless killing.
* * *
Tabloid the morning after:
Singer Joseph “Jolly” Martin, 25, from underground rock band In Your Blood was found brutally killed and horribly mutilated yesterday evening in the apartment he shared with his fellow band mate Lee Henry, also 25.
Also found on the scene was the bloodied and badly mangled body of 23-year-old Isadora Gaeda, known as a photographer and also Jolly’s current girlfriend.
While the police are yet to reveal details of the deaths, it is evident that this is not just a robbery gone wrong. Despite the carnage, time of death has been announced as late afternoon or early evening. The living room – where the deed took place – has been described to be “the most shocking I have ever seen” by some professionals on the scene and “like a butcher’s” by others. The tenants living upstairs from the rockers and sharing the same front door have been evacuated to spare them the gruesome sights.
Rumours have it that there are tooth and claw marks on the bodies and that no murder weapon has been found. Speculation ranges from wolves to vampires and stray dogs to cannibals while others believe in an earthlier explanation of a love triangle.
In Your Blood singer-guitarist Lee Henry has been missing since before the bodies were found although his employer has confirmed that he left for home at the usual time. The police have been unable to get hold off him.
The remaining band members, bass player James Bensonand drummer Vic Waverley, are shocked at the news and in disbelief at the suggestion that Lee Henry may be the culprit.
“Lee and Jolly have been best mates since they learned how to walk. They can’t exist without each other. Lee would never do this,” Benson explains.
“I’m worried about what might have happened to him. We both are,” Waverley adds.
In Your Blood released their first album, Fingertips, 18 months ago, and has continued a steady but slow rise in the music world ever since. Their music is dark and lingers on the heavy side but, in their own words, “has a positive vibe to it”.
The police would be grateful for any information from the public.