Love Plus One
P.A. Friday © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Anyhow, Laurie hung around outside, a little distance from the shop. He was grateful that it was a decent evening, even despite the cold. Finally, he heard the door begin to open and walked towards it.
“Don’t stay, Al. I can manage from here,” Fen called.
“Yeah, okay.” Al’s voice sounded a little strained, and Laurie moved more swiftly towards him, unwilling to let him hang around alone on the doorstep.
“Hey,” he said, tapping Al gently on the shoulder as he came up to him.
“Laurie!” Al let go of the shop door and clutched his chest in an age-old gesture of shock. “God, you scared the bejesus out of me.”
“Hell. Sorry,” Laurie apologised. Appearing out of the darkness at someone who got attacked a couple of days earlier by a group of people appearing out of the darkness. Nice one, Laurie, he castigated himself mentally. “I didn’t want to hang around in the shop looking like some sinister spectre at the feast in case your boss didn’t appreciate it,” he explained guiltily. “But I should’ve thought. Sorry.”
Al gave a weak grin. “No, you’re right. Fen would probably not have wanted you standing about watching her cash up. I’m just a bit twitchy. Sorry, yourself.”
“I feel like an idiot,” Laurie apologised.
“Nothing new there, then,” Al said, his grin widening. Then he sobered up, touching Laurie’s arm. “Seriously, though, thanks for this. Meeting me, I mean. Didn’t realise how much of a fucking wuss I was until it came to going out, and it was dark, and…”
Laurie bit his lip. Bastards. He felt the now-familiar wave of anger wash over him. So much for being a peaceable sort of chap. Laurie would quite happily have committed murder at the moment, given the right targets. He pulled Al into a one-armed hug.
“Not a problem. You’d do the same for me.”
Al looked at him, his strange green eyes lit by the street light above them. “Yes, I would,” he said quietly. “I’m glad you know that.”
Laurie felt his cheeks flush, despite the cold. He hadn’t known, not really. If he’d thought about it, he’d have presumed that Al liked him well enough—but probably more as James’s boyfriend, not for himself particularly. His own feelings for Al were one thing (and he was slightly embarrassed about his level of protectiveness, not to mention love, towards the younger man), but he had no thought that they were reciprocated, and he hadn’t been unduly bothered by that. They didn’t have that sort of relationship. But there was something simple and genuine in Al’s response that was touching. It wasn’t the normal, teasing young man who Laurie usually knew. Laurie mumbled something incoherent and left his arm around Al’s shoulders as they walked towards home. James was too tall to hold like this; Laurie’s hand always fell across his back and rounded his waist on the far side. But Al was five or six inches shorter than Laurie, and Laurie’s arm slipped around his shoulders quite comfortably.
“What did Fen say—about your face?” Laurie asked.
Al shrugged. “Told her I got in a fight.”
Laurie raised an eyebrow. Of all the people to get in a fight, Al was one of the least likely. Al stared at his and Laurie’s feet.
“Told her she should’ve seen the other guy,” he mumbled. “Wasn’t true. They were fine.”
“They were a ‘they’,” Laurie said, trying not to sound as angry as he felt. “With a knife.”
Al shrugged. It was such a familiar gesture, but this time Laurie’s arm was around Al, so he could feel it go through him. It seemed as if he could also feel the self-hatred Al was experiencing, too. It burnt, and Laurie felt helpless to do anything about it.
“Yeah,” Al said, at last. There was a silence. Then, “Laurie,” he said.
“I think I’m ready to tell the police now.”
Laurie could feel Al tense as he said the words; it was not going to be an easy experience for him, Laurie knew.
“You’re bloody brave.”
Al huffed, a little puff of cold air escaping from his lips. “Hardly,” he said. “Think I’m being anything but.” He stopped walking, shivering a little. “Thought how I’d feel if they did it to Fen. To someone else.” He leaned his head against Laurie’s arm. “I have to, don’t I?”
“No,” Laurie said quietly. “You don’t. But you will, because you’re brave. Because you’re you. Because you’re thinking about someone else two days after you—”
“Yeah,” said Al, cutting him off quickly. He hadn’t let them say the word—not Laurie, not James, definitely not himself. “I was shit. But—”
It was Laurie’s turn to cut Al off. “No, you weren’t. And no, you aren’t.” There were moments when one-armed hugs didn’t cut it. Laurie pulled Al close in against him, holding him as tightly as possible without pressing against him too painfully. No need to remind Al of all the bits of him that hurt in quite so physical a fashion. “You’re being incredible, all right?” Laurie whispered in Al’s ear. “Don’t think otherwise.”
“Going to carry on hugging me like this?” Al asked, sounding a bit happier. “Because you’re having a decent effect on my ego.” He gave a little wriggle, pushing himself up against Laurie. “More than my ego,” he added thoughtfully.
A warm Al pushed up against him was rather too good for a public street, Laurie thought. He said as much to Al, who laughed.