Today I bring you a ficlet, originally written for my little corner of the UK Meet's USB which was provided to delegates. Since many of my friends couldn't attend I decided I would share it with you here.
Since this free story was written for the UKMeet 2014, I though it only fitting to revisit with Tomak and Jerome from Waiting for a Spark, which originally appeared in the Lashing of Sauce anthology.
‘When the boat comes in’ catches up with Tomak and Jerome about 6 months after the events in WfaS.
When the Boat Comes In.
Warily Jerome picked at his fish. As he pushed it around the plate, Nav’s warning bounced around his brain. Under the table, a warm hand landed on his thigh and a waft of Tomak’s familiar scent gave him cause to hesitate.
He flicked his gaze from the plate as Tomak leaned in.
“You okay?” Tomak asked, his voice low enough not to attract the attention of the other diners seated around the table. Although, Jerome doubted they would be heard over the fierce debate going on about…well, it had been football, but Jerome had been so engrossed in his fish that it might possibly have changed.
“Sure,” Jerome said with a smile, just because Tomak was close and touching him. Tomak was his and Jerome still couldn’t comprehend that fact even after all these months.
“Is your fish alright?” Tomak’s concern was showing, again. He frowned. “I know you like fish. I’ve seen you eat it often enough. Or are you one of these weird people who will only eat it smothered in batter?”
Jerome shook his head, a fond expression on his face. “You know full well that I pick the batter off my fish.” He pulled a face. “Hideous stuff.”
The first time they’d had fish and chips, they’d been sitting on Brighton beach. The cold October wind had given them an excuse to huddle together, the paper holding their meal spread across their laps. On the train home Tomak had teased Jerome mercilessly, once they’d gotten their breath back after running away from all those seagulls dive-bombing them for the scraps. Dangerous things seagulls; they could have your eye out. Who knew seagulls love chip shop batter? Not Jerome.
“So what’s up?”
“Nothing.” Jerome slipped his hand under the table, settled it over Tomak’s and squeezed reassuringly.
“Good.” Tomak’s smile reached his eyes, dragging Jerome’s attention along with it and for a moment he got distracted as he lost himself again in their blue depths. Eyes so blue they had attracted Jerome across a crowded bus. The rocking hot body had helped, too. Tomak grinned as if he knew what Jerome was thinking.
“Good,” Tomak reiterated as he waved his fork vaguely in the direction of the far end of the table, “because Uncle Demetri, he caught fish fresh this morning.”
Tomak paused to spear a forkful of fish and slip it between his lips. He chewed the mouthful, and Jerome’s gaze dipped to the movement of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed. “From duck pond on the green.”
The duck pond. Jerome swallowed thickly; tasting stagnant water, even though nothing whatsoever had passed his lips. The duck pond held nothing but carp, residing there compliments of the local council, and a plethora of No Fishing signs. Once upon a time it had only been heron that the council had to worry about stealing the fish. Surely Nav couldn’t have been right?
“Carp?” Jerome croaked out, his mouth working before his brain could stop him. He didn’t want to offend Tomak or his family. Not the first time meeting them all.
“Uh huh. Is good. Meaty fish.” Tomak glanced down at his plate and took another forkful.
“Isn’t it poisonous?” Again with the uncontrollable urge to speak when he should shut up. He refused to lose Tomak over a bloody piece of fish.
“A little. Eat. Build immunity.” Tomak’s lips twitched. “You be fine in a day or two.”
There was something wrong with the situation, but the whole dinner with the family scenario—and, really, Jerome hadn’t expected there to be so many of them—had knocked Jerome’s bullshit detector all out of whack. He frowned and glanced around the table, attempting to put names to faces; strange foreign names that he had little hope of remembering.
He flashed back to his arrival at the house trying to recall an Uncle Demetri among the crowd of friendly men who pumped his hand enthusiastically. The women had cooed over him and kissed his cheek. Tomak’s babcia, a tiny old lady with a powerful grip, had pinched his cheek, hard and muttered something in Polish that Tomak didn’t bother to translate. Jerome’s big strong boyfriend had blushed at his grandmother’s words, though, and her tone sounded fond, so Jerome hadn’t asked for clarification.
“Hang on,” Jerome said, after he searched the entire table and the roll call of names and faces came to an end. “Why are you talking like a Hollywood Russian?”
Tomak’s right cheek hollowed, as if he was biting at the flesh, and his lips tightened. Just like the time when he had attempted to teach Jerome certain essential words in Polish. Prosić. Please. Dziękuję. Thank you. Obciąganie. Blowjob. The bastard was trying not to laugh.
“You’re winding me up again. You don’t have an Uncle Demetri.”
Tomak burst out laughing, attracting the attention of those closest to them. He leant in close and muttered the BJ word in Jerome’s ear. At least Jerome thought he recognised it as such—it had more accent than when they used it between the two of them—but the blush on Tomak’s cousin’s face and the way she glared down at her plate more or less confirmed Jerome’s suspicions.
When everyone around them had returned to their own conversations, Tomak finally answered with a grin, “Actually I do, but he lives in Poland. Maybe he does eat carp, maybe he doesn’t. I’ve never met him. This,” he speared a chunk of the fish, from Jerome’s plate this time, and raised the fork to Jerome’s lips, “is tilapia. Maria brought it over from my Uncle’s shop this morning.”
The prongs of the fork applied the lightest pressure to Jerome’s lips and he opened his mouth allowing Tomak to slip the fish into his mouth. The fish was solid but delicate, fresh with the overlying tang that only a good helping citrus can bring to a dish. Jerome batted Tomak’s hands away from his plate and tackled the fish with his own fork.
“Tasty. And you,” Jerome gestured to Tomak with his fork, “are far too bloody good at winding me up.”
“Sorry, couldn’t resist.” The hand on Jerome’s thigh slipped higher and squeezed. “Promise I’ll make it up to you later.”
Jerome didn’t dare attempt to whisper Obciąganie. His attempts at Polish tended to come out to harsh and too loud. It would be extremely bad form to kill half the family off during one meal simply by propositioning his boyfriend. From the quirk of Tomak’s lips, he knew what Jerome was thinking anyway.
“On my knees.”
Oh, he could take some gentle ribbing if his reward was Tomak’s mouth around his cock. “I’ll hold you to that.”
“You do that.” Tomak winked and leant in close enough to whisper in Jerome’s ear. “A tight grip on my hair.”
A strangled noise crept from Jerome’s throat and he glanced around nervously before turning his shocked expression on Tomak. An expression that Tomak promptly wiped off his face with a fleeting kiss that left an oily residue on his lips from the lemony butter. Before Jerome could accuse his boyfriend of being a different kind of tease Tomak’s mother’s voice shattered the cacophony of noise that had cocooned them in a facade of intimacy.
“Tomak! No kissing at the dinner table. You know the rules. If it’s good enough for Maria, is good enough for you.”
Maria poked her tongue out but all eyes were on them as Tomak’s mother continued, now directing her comments at Jerome. “I’ve never had to apply the rule to Tomak before, but then you are the first boy he’s ever brought home to meet us.”
“I was beginning to wonder if telling me he was gay was just an excuse because he couldn’t get a girlfriend,” she said with a smile so fond even Jerome knew she was teasing her son. “Both hands above the table. More potatoes?”
Jerome waved away the offer with murmured thanks and returned to his fish, trying not to put too much import into what it meant to be the first boyfriend Tomak had brought home to meet his family. Gradually, the volume levels rose back to a level where their conversation wouldn’t be heard unless someone was actively listening.
Tomak nudged Jerome with his shoulder, but the topic of conversation, when it came, wasn’t what Jerome had expected.
“Carp isn’t poisonous unless it isn’t properly cleaned. Same as any fish, really. You know carp was brought into Britain by monks in the 13th Century. They bred them as a food source, going so far as to cultivate them to have fewer scales, which made them easier to prepare for cooking. What?” Tomak asked.
Surprised, Jerome’s fork stilled halfway to his mouth and he stared at his boyfriend.
“What? Just because you’re the journalist, I can do research too, you know. And I know how to check the reliability of my sources.” Tomak sighed. “I don’t understand why you listen to Nav and his Daily Mail attitude.”
Jerome laid the fork on his plate, ducking his head to try and hide his guilt. “I didn’t believe him. Not really.”
“But nothing. I was being stupid and ungrateful. Meeting your family, it’s—”
“I was going to say amazing but it’s certainly an experience.”
“Not to be repeated.” Tomak suggested with a faint smile.
“I love to come again, if they’ll have me.”
“You’re always welcome, syn,” Tomak’s mum said from several seats down. “Just no canoodling at the table.”
“Mama! There’s no privacy at this dining table,” Tomak said as he turned back to Jerome, but there was a fond smile on his face. He lowered his voice. “She called you son.”
Warmth flooded through him, and Jerome couldn’t help but smile, both at the easy acceptance of Tomak’s family and his boyfriend’s expression. The feeling of belonging took him by surprise, so much so that he didn’t notice the way Tomak paused until the look on his boyfriend’s face turned tentative, almost uncertain.
“We do eat carp but it’s expensive. That’s why we only save it for special occasions like Christmas. Or weddings. Maybe you can try some then.”
“Who’s getting married?”
Tomak coughed and his face turned red as he sucked in air. “Christmas. I was asking you to Christmas. Not marriage. Not that I wouldn’t… Gówno! Christmas. Would you like to come over for Christmas?”
“I’d love to,” Jerome replied. Then he grinned; Tomak wasn’t the only one who could tease. Although the nervous flip of his stomach left Jerome wondering who the joke was really on. “And that other thing. Maybe you should wait until our first anniversary.”
Waiting for a Spark can now be purchased as a standalone story from JMS Books.