Jay pulled the blanket tighter around his body, his breath coming out in white smoky puffs. His blanket now had a crisp feel to it, the icy air turning it stiff. It was so cold he couldn’t sleep. Every so often he emerged from the shop doorway to walk up and down the pavement, stamping life back into his feet. In any other circumstances he would probably have found the scenery quite attractive; the frost had covered everything with a glittery white coating that sparkled in the glow of the street lights.
Jay couldn’t remember feeling this cold before; his fingers and feet felt painful and numb, his face felt stiff and his front teeth were starting to hurt. All the pubs were closed now so his previous excursions to the Gents to warm himself under the hand dryer were no longer an option. He was going to have to find somewhere warmer to stay tomorrow; the shop doorway offered little real protection from the elements – and he was too cold to sleep for very long.
Pushing his hand into his armpits, he rested his head on his knees and started to doze.
“Jay?” The deep voice brought him to instant consciousness, and his head shot up.
James’ imposing figure stood in front of him, his body silhouetted against the glow of the streetlamp.
“How did you know it was me?” Jay spoke sharply, both surprised and embarrassed to find his boss standing in front of him.
“Oh, I took a wild guess. What other idiot would spend the night trying to freeze to death in a shop doorway when they could have stayed at a friend’s?” James sarcastically enquired.
“Well what the fuck has that got to do with you? Why don’t you get back into that nice posh car and fuck off home?” Jay pulled the blanket back around him once more and turned slightly to indicate to James that he had been dismissed.
“Get up, you stupid little fool, you can’t stay here.”
The harsh words were like a red rag to a bull; it was all that was needed to ignite Jay’s volatile temper.
“Who the hell do you think you are, you toffee nosed git? Don’t fucking tell me what I can and can’t do. I don’t need your fucking sympathy or your bloody charity.” Jay’s face became a mask of anger, his fiery eyes challenging James to reply.
James stood staring at him for a few moment, his features like chiselled ice.
“Fine, freeze to death, it makes no difference to me.” With that comment James spun on his heels and walked away.
Jay could feel his heart beating against his ribs, adrenaline still coursing through his veins as he watched the retreating man. He took a shuddering breath and felt the prick of tears behind his eyes. He felt so alone – a part of him wanted to run after the receding figure and apologise, to go with him, to feel wanted, safe and warm. But that so wasn’t going to happen, why would anyone really want to help him? Hugging his knees tightly to his chest, he rested his head on the shop door and, staring into nothing, let his tears silently flow.
Greg watched the striking individual stride aggressively towards the car. Every step spoke of an anger that wasn’t totally being suppressed and prompted Greg to think that he must have found Jay. No one else ever managed to raise such emotions.
Trying to hide his smile, Greg casually enquired, “Any luck?”
James’ hand slammed onto the roof of the car, leaving a melting handprint where the frost had started to form. He appeared to be undergoing some sort of inner struggle with himself, trying to calm down.
“Luck? How can you fucking associate luck with that little sod? I found him all right – in a bloody shop doorway, freezing to death.” James gave a harsh laugh. “He doesn’t require my assistance, thank you very much.”
“Well, pass me the keys and I’ll start the car, get the heater on.” Greg held his hand out patiently.
James stood still and stared at his friend – the stare was returned without a hint of expression.
“You’re a right bastard, you know that?” James threw the car keys at Greg, who caught them one-handed and grinned.
“Takes one to know one,” came the jovial reply. He couldn’t help smiling to himself as he watched the tall figure, coat billowing like a sail in the wind, striding back up the street.
Yes, he was enjoying watching this relationship develop; fire and ice, they were made for each other, even if neither of them had recognised the fact yet. Jay had thrown James’ totally ordered life into chaos.
“Get up.” James’ voice ricocheted around the doorway. “NOW. I’ve had enough of your nonsense.”
Just for a brief second relief flooded Jay’s body, but it was just as quickly replaced by annoyance.
“I thought I’d made my feelings crystal clear. I do not require anything from you,” replied Jay through gritted teeth.
“I won’t ask you again; now get your arse off the ground and move.”
“And for the last time….F U C K O F F.” The last two words were spoken loudly and slowly, as if addressing someone with a hearing problem.
Jay stayed sitting on the floor, his body quivering with a rage he couldn’t restrain. He kept questioning himself as to why this man should have such an effect on him; within minutes of being in each others company they were always at loggerheads.
“RIGHT!” the word was instantly followed by James reaching down and grabbing the front of Jay’s coat. Yanking him to his feet, the blanket dropped to the ground and the momentum moved the two of them into the street.
“Let-me-GO.” Jay tried to pull away, and when that failed he kicked out at James’ shin. The connection made, James let out a grunt of pain and released his captive.
Jay took a step back – suddenly frightened and embarrassed by his action. Before he could respond any further he found his arm grabbed and his body turned sideways as James’s hand powered into the seat of his jeans.
The sensation of pain exploded, intensified by the cold, and Jay involuntarily let out a gasp – his hand flying back to clutch his backside, his face expressing shocked emotion.
“I think that makes us about even, but if you feel inclined to continue this fight let me know now and I’ll find a bench that I can sit on.” To Jay’s surprise there was no real anger in the words, just a sort of matter-of-factness about them.
James raised an eyebrow inquiringly, “Well, are you ready to go or do we need to discuss this further?”
Swallowing his immediate response Jay lifted his head slightly before challenging: “Go where?”
“Greg is waiting just outside Woolworths. Both he and Mark request your company for the night.” James followed the statement with a diminutive bow and a sweep of his arm in the direction of the car.
“Sarcastic prick.” Jay retorted.
Turning, he reached down to pick up his blanket before totally ignoring James and storming off up the street, his head held high.
Greg sighed before answering the demanding voice on the other end of the mobile.
“Yes, we’ve found him and, yes, he’s fine. Now, can you just run a warm bath? We’ll be home in about 20 minutes. Yes, I love you too. See you in a minute.”
Greg smiled as he clicked the phone shut, disconnecting the call just as the back door opened and Jay clambered in. Fastening his seat belt he sat po-faced staring straight ahead at the headrest in front of him. Seconds later James entered the car and, after doing up the seat belt, began to drive off.
Greg looked from one man to the other: both appeared to be in filthy tempers and the little devil that always reared its head on these occasions prompted him to say cheerfully:
“Well, it’s a bit chilly out there tonight; mind you it’s even colder in here, don’t you think?”
Neither man spoke.
“I’ll shut up shall I?” Greg said, tongue-in-cheek.
James glanced over at him and snarled sarcastically, “What a good idea, you do that.”
The rest of the journey was made in silence. As soon as the car pulled onto the drive, the front door of the house opened and Mark stood in the floodlit hall waiting for his friend. Jay muttered a tightly spoken ‘thank you’ before departing from the car and shutting the door with a little more force than was strictly necessary. The two remaining men watched the lone figure walk up the driveway and enter the house, the door closing behind him. A few minutes later a light went on upstairs.
Greg watched James pinch the bridge of his nose as he let out a deep sigh. Turning the ignition off James lent his head back against the seat rest.
“You all right?”
“Oh, yes, I’m bloody brilliant –my head feels like it’s about to explode, I’ve a bruised shin and I’m just about holding on to my temper. God, you ask some bloody stupid questions at times. No, I’m not all right, that little sod gets right up my nose.”
“Just thought I’d ask. You want to come in for a drink….some headache tablets? I think we’ve got some witch hazel somewhere, that’s good for bruises.”
James glared at Greg. “Are you trying to be funny?”
Greg’s shoulders started to shake and he desperately tried to stop himself laughing.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve never seen you get so uptight over someone before – I wonder why that is?”
With a calculated smile James replied: “Maybe, instead of thinking about me, you should concentrate on what you are going to do with your house guest – not so funny now is it?”
“O-oooh, no you don’t, we’re in this together – you made me ring Mark to see if he had heard from Jay, you were the one that was concerned, so don’t even try to pull that one.”
Greg turned in his seat to look James fully in the face, before continuing:
“I shall expect you here tomorrow afternoon to help find a solution to this problem because, my friend, whether you’re ready to admit to it or not, he’s got under your skin and the sparks are flying for a reason, and not just from pique. So don’t even think of coming the aloof businessman to me, I’ve known you too long.”
Reaching for the door handle Greg opened the door.
“And on that note, I’ll wish you goodnight. I suggest you try to get some sleep because come tomorrow I think we will have a bit of a fight on our hands.”