"Oh my God, Benji, are you planning on opening some kind of gay porn lending library?" Zoe's voice carried through from my bedroom to my office and roused me from my coding-induced trance. I flushed.
"Oi! You're meant to be cleaning, not snooping."
Zoe stuck her head around the door and smirked at me. "Just thought the contents of your cupboard could do with a dusting." She held up a box: Gay Gladiator: He will bring them cock, and they will love him for it. "This one looks interesting. Mind if I borrow it?"
"It doesn't actually have Russell Crowe in it, if that's what you're hoping. And there's not much of a plot that I can recall."
"Does it need a plot with all those hot men in it?"
God, she really did look interested. I wasn't about to lend porn to my sister, though. That would just be...disturbing. I got up and swiped the box from her hand, then tapped her on the head with it.
"It's not for you, little sis. Besides which, it wasn't all that good." It was one I'd bought in one of my early, indiscriminate buying sprees. I was getting far more selective these days and trying to seek out films with the kind of guys I really went for. Problem was, there weren't all that many pornos out there featuring cute, skate-punk delivery guys with purple hair. Okay, I tell a lie; there were none. I had to make do with my own imagination for those fantasies.
God, what was I going to do for kicks if I lost interest in the films? A man needs some kind of vice, and since the kidney failure, I'd been banned from practically everything else that was bad for me. I really, really didn't want to have to start gambling. Knowing my luck, I'd end up bankrupt and homeless, and seeing as how my home and income were about the only things I had left going for me, the thought of losing them brought me out in a cold sweat.
The doorbell chimed, and I jumped. I glanced out the window and spotted my favourite yellow van outside. The driver was out of sight, hidden down the side of the house where the front door opened onto the driveway.
"It's okay, I'll get it," Zoe said, already on her way to the door.
"No! I've got it." I pushed past her and practically ran down the hallway. That familiar, purple-crested, green shape waited behind the frosted glass.
"Hey there," I said as I opened the door, vainly trying to suppress my panting. Damn, I was so unfit. I tried to get in some daily exercise with my Wii and my rowing machine, but I tired so quickly these days. "Great to see you." Oh God, I sounded so fucking desperate. I tried to rein it back in. "You have something for me?" I was trying to remember if I was due a DVD today.
Ollie had tufty purple hair, big brown eyes, and one of those weird piercings that went through the top part of his ear twice. That combination of punk and cute always gets me, and he was cuter than a Manga-style kitten.
"Hey, Ben," he said, beaming at me like I was an old friend rather than just the weird recluse on his delivery round with the three-DVD-a-day habit. His smile revealed that gap between his front teeth, and I couldn't help staring at it. What should have been a flaw only made him more bloody adorable. "How's things?"
"Yeah, not so bad." I sounded croaky and had to cough to clear my throat. God, I must have looked like I was on death's door. Mind you, I suppose I was. It was only the dialysis keeping me going.
He was still smiling, but there was a trace of concern in his eyes. I tried not to look into them--can't stand being pitied--so I ran a furtive gaze down his body instead. That was probably a mistake, but you can't blame a guy for looking. I might not have been in a fit state to go out on the pull anymore, but I still had twenty-twenty vision and a vivid imagination. It was currently working overtime trying to strip Ollie's uniform off him. Somehow, he always managed to make the forest-green polyester look sexy.
Ollie was slight, and I dwarfed him by at least six inches, but he gave that impression of barely restrained energy like smaller guys often do. The shirt fit him well, hugging his lean body. I could see part of a tattoo peeking out from under a sleeve but was distracted from trying to decipher it by the ropey muscle and dark hair of his forearms. His trousers were baggy and frayed at the heel, with one of those long key chains hanging down over one thigh, and his black boots had chunky soles. The skate-punk stylings made him look like he was barely old enough to buy cigarettes, and I was starting to feel like a dirty old man for lusting after him.
"Looks like another DVD today. You watch more films than anyone I know." He held the scanner out to me while I struggled with the fiddly little stylus and attempted to create something like my usual signature on the slippery screen. It was even harder to focus because I could see him straining to peer around me and was suddenly paranoid that I'd left something embarrassing on view in the hallway. I had to fight the urge to look around and check.
It wasn't like there'd be anything that incriminating, after all. There was a stack of boxes full of the next month's dialysate bags, but Ollie wouldn't know what they were, and I was fairly sure I wouldn't have had cause to leave a porn magazine in view. I don't tend to wank in the hallway. Actually, I've never wanked in the hallway. Maybe I should try it sometime; I was all for infusing a little variety into my solitary sex life. It would probably be more of a novelty than the contents of the parcel Ollie had tucked under his arm, after all. Best not to think about that, though. Not right now with the smell of his spicy-sweet aftershave tickling my nose and his hands only inches from mine.
"You know, you've got a great place here. Is it all yours?" Ollie wasn't bothering to hide the fact that he was openly checking out my hallway.
"Yeah, but just the ground floor. Bought it before the property market went mental." I'd been lucky, because even a year later, there was no way I'd have been able to afford it on my beginner's salary. Money had been tight for the first few years, but it'd been worth it to be able to bring Zoe up in a pleasant neighbourhood of Victorian, red-brick semis in a quiet part of Reading. They were all large houses, and my flat had two good-sized bedrooms at the front, with the kitchen and living room opening onto a sunny courtyard at the back. My bathroom was a windowless afterthought crammed in at the end of the hallway, but I'd kitted it out with as much loving attention as the rest of the rooms.
Thirteen years and a river of sweat and tears later, the place was looking pretty damn good inside and out. Every room was tastefully restored to retain the period features, but with modern furnishings in carefully coordinated, muted colours. Great. Now even my house was better looking than I was.
"Mind if I poke my head in?"
"Uh, yeah. Okay." Shit, why did he have to suggest that when Zoe was sitting in the kitchen, no doubt listening to every word? I could have invited Ollie in for a coffee if it were just me.
Who was I fooling? There's no way I'd have risked being shot down by him. Much better to have at least the vaguest hope in my head than to know for sure he thought I was a creep.
"Hey, nice key holder."
Oh God, I'd forgotten all about that. My one piece of tasteless kitsch; it would have to be the first thing he noticed, wouldn't it? It was a life-size cardboard cut-out of Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler in the second X-Men film. I'd put nails through the card and hung my keys off them so it looked like he was carrying them. I might as well have put a sign up proclaiming "nerd in residence".