Novel No. 1 – Chapter 3: Red wine

Aaron played with the glass stem as he looked at the mop of grey hair lifeless on the table.

He pulled the glass towards his lips and sipped the wine. Swallowing, he finally asked, “So what happened?”

“Nothing.” Came a gentle voice behind the mop of hair.

Aaron laughed quietly. “Something must’ve happened. You look like shit.”

The mop of hair remained dead. Aaron inhaled silently. Even after fifteen years, he still feels silly talking to a decapitated head on the table – or rather, the head’s hair.

He could converse with it more naturally now. Aaron swallowed another sip of red wine. Maybe it’s his occupational hazard.

The mop of hair shifted an inch. And finally, the meek voice sounded once more. “You look like shit too. What happened?” The hair was thrown back to reveal a pair of familiar round puppy eyes. They observed him behind the glass stem.

Aaron looked away in a chuckle and returned with a shrug.

Hugh focused at the glass stem, returning to his own thoughts. How should he face Tom tomorrow? He managed today with some help from fate and luck. His luck might run out tomorrow.

He should take leave.

He sighed. Tom will get suspicious. He is always looking out for Hugh. His wandering gaze fell on Aaron, who then switched to looking at something above his head. Hugh rolled his eyes and felt his lower lip protruded more.  He straightened his back and stretched. “So are you going to call Leslie?” He reached for his glass finally as Aaron shrugged nonchalantly again. Hugh rolled his eyes again as the wine touched his tongue. He winced at the taste.

Aaron watched as Hugh’s glass tilted to the ceiling and smirked when the glass was shoved to his face, empty. He reached for the bottle and poured into the glass. “What about you? Are you going to tell him?”

Hugh’s face fell. His brows flattened. He glared through the half-opened lids.

Aaron smiled as he replaced the bottle on the table, then showed a palm. “Okay, okay. We’re not telling him.” He watched as the glass tilted skyward again and forced a smile this time like it’s the only thing he could do to lighten the atmosphere.

He couldn’t help and remark in a half-joking tone. “Are you rushing for bedtime, old man?”

Hugh choked. Wine splattered all over him and on the table. Aaron decided to laugh first, then went for the cloth at the sink.

In between his coughs, Hugh tried his best to sound audible. This mischievous prick deserves a good scolding. He may be twenty-seven but he acts like a frickin seven-year-old brat. An old neighbour or not, Hugh needs to give him a piece of his mind.

He heard Aaron’s laughter and coughed harder. His glass was already removed and a cloth was wiping away the red wine on his hands and sleeves. He watched the long fingers cradling his hand and felt the cloth gently caressing his sleeves – something squeezed his heart. Panicked, he pulled his hand away. Aaron stared back in surprise. Hugh felt another itch in his throat again and squeezed his eyes tighter as he let out more coughs.

Aaron recovered instantly and finally laughed. “Okay, okay.” He left the cloth beside Hugh’s glass and sat again. Chuckling, he apologised to the glaring red face and reached for the bottle again. He kept his gaze on the wine as it fell into Hugh’s empty glass.

“Here, have some more.” He pushed the glass towards Hugh. “Then, take an MC tomorrow.”

Hugh continued glaring and Aaron reached for his own glass. “Okay, okay. Don’t take MC then.”

Hugh didn’t stop glaring until the coughing subsided. He then croaked in disagreement, “I’m not old okay.”

Aaron pressed his lips together and ended up smiling. “Okay, as long as you’re happy.”

“Thirty-six is NOT old.” Hugh sniffed and reached for his glass. He sipped and glared at the same time.

Aaron swallowed and nodded slowly. “Definitely not.” When Hugh replaced his glass on the table, he added while looking at his own glass, “Just older.”

When he finally lifted his gaze, Hugh looked ready to pounce on him. Aaron flashed his impish grin.

Ignoring the glaring red face, he emptied his glass into his stomach and went for more wine. He noticed Hugh’s empty glass, then sighed as he placed the bottle on its rim and poured in the wine.

Hugh said nothing. Then took the glass to his lips when Aaron was done. The glass tilted skywards for the fourth time and was back on the table.

“The wine’s good, huh?”

Hugh wiped his lips with his sleeves. Then nodded with closed eyes.

Aaron sighed, took the bottle and empty it into Hugh’s glass. He wasn’t sure to be thankful or not. It was sooner than he had expected. He watched Hugh slurped on the last of the poison, and returned to his half-filled glass – he only had two glasses.

Returning to Hugh, Aaron now found him struggling to stay on the table. Perking on one elbow, he rested his chin on the palm and began pouting. Aaron turned to the kitchen sink and then heard Hugh cried out in annoyance, “Call Leslie!”

Aaron swallowed hard and reached for his last sip without looking back. He scolded his wits – bringing wine over is a bad idea this time.

Hugh’s voice turned into a lazy drawl. “Tell her you’re sorry. Everything will be fine.”

Aaron rolled his eyes at the kitchen sink. “What makes you think I’m the one at fault?”

“Because you are an imp, kiddo.” The slurring voice has a familiar genteel. But Aaron was starting to get annoyed.

He unwillingly returned to Hugh who was inhaling his drink with his cheek resting on the same palm. He muttered to the soon-to-be-drunk idiot. “I’m not a kiddo.”

Hugh paused and frowned. He put the glass down carelessly on the table and crossed an arm over his lips again, then chuckled softly with both eyes closed. “Okay, you’re not.”

His cheek finally slid off the palm, and his head now hung loosely from his neck like a half-decapitated zombie.

Aaron repeated, sounding more clearly and firm. “I’m not a kid.”

“Okay, okay.” Hugh sniffed with his closed eyes hidden behind a curtain of his ash-grey fringe. “I get it.”

“You don’t.” Aaron hardened his jaw.

In his usual drunk slur, Hugh advised once more. “Okay. Apologise to Leslie. Say it as you mean it and she won’t call you a kid.” His head was oscillating like a pendulum as a finger swayed in Aaron’s direction.

Aaron growled, “I’m not a kid. And there’s nothing to apologise.”

When Hugh said nothing, Aaron dropped a hand onto the table. “And why do you always assume that I’m the one at fault?”

“Cause Leslie’s a nice girl and you are a jerk.” Came the instant reply that sounded too lazy to be considerate.

Hugh forgot how long he was knocked out. When he stirred, Aaron was still in his seat, frowning. Shit, he slapped his forehead silently, he must have gone too far this time. What was it that he said? Jerk. He called Aaron a jerk. Inhaling deep as if to gather energy to lift his head. It was heavier than usual. He ended up lifting it only to his hand and rested it on his palm again. His cheek felt warm. “Sorry.” He heard his soft voice.

Aaron didn’t answer. He watched in silence at the fair-skinned guy, with a child-like face and cherry moist lips, in grey hair and a black sweatshirt. For years, he watched him switched from one guy to another, enduring all the pain alone, and never once getting the closure that he deserved.

Those guys are the jerks. Aaron inhaled again, hoping to calm the growing rage. Not him. He’s not them. He’s different. He’s… … different from them. Wide-eyed, he checked his empty glass and returned to Hugh, who was now observing him beneath those bloody long curled up lashes. Aaron noticed the pout again and turned to the kitchen sink.

Hugh saw the anger in his eyes and fight the wave of sleep overcoming him. He wanted to reach over, but it seemed like a Herculean task. His entire chest ended up on the table. “I’ve overstepped. Sorry, bro.”

Aaron didn’t budge. He felt the heat radiating from Hugh’s fingers and squeezed his eyes to push all the what-ifs out of his mind. Opening his eyes again, he turned back and looked down at the sickeningly handsome face pouting up at him. He fought the urge to turn away this time. “I’m not a jerk.” He emphasised again. This time, with newfound courage and determination.

“Okay. You are not–.”

“I’m not them.” The strength in the voice suddenly sounded foreign to Hugh and he couldn’t look away. Them? Who’s them? He wanted to ask his old pal until warm fingers grabbed his cheeks and he was pulled forward. Then, something warm, wet and soft hit his lips and his eyes snapped shut by the unexpected force.

A shiver shot up Aaron’s spine. He inhaled again and reached behind Hugh’s neck to hold his lips in place, as he pressed on more. He ignored the push on his shoulder and tilted his head to suck more of the lower lip. A weak moan, probably Hugh’s, sent another shiver up his back and he tilted the other way to nibble the upper lip.

Hug felt a strong arm around his shoulder and his free hand shot up to his attacker’s chest, pushing against it. Stop! His mind screamed. But, the heart was not letting go of the familiar comforting feeling. Why can’t he just enjoy this? He deserves it just like anyone else. If Tom is kissing Priscilla, he could kiss Aaron.

Aaron… …?

His eyes flew open. The attacker’s face came into view. His fingers were suddenly aware of the smooth fabric of Aaron’s shirt. Panicked, he used all the energy left in him and pushed. Once freed, Hugh backed against the wall with numb lips and his cheeks that felt like hot water splashed on them.

Aaron looked like how he would appear at Hugh’s doorstep on mornings after his usual jog – face red and moist. He would be panting slightly while asking to be fed. Hugh cringed – Aaron’s touch still lingers on his lips and shoulders and he is thinking about it. He winced away, holding his palm to his forehead. “What are you doing?” He breathed.

There was panic in his voice. Uncertainty. Aaron almost smiled at the red cheeks, swollen lips, half-opened mouth and slight heavy breathing. But, Hugh didn’t look pleased and Aaron was not about to ruin his only chance. Knowing Hugh, he needed to tread carefully. “Kissing you.” He replied coolly and held his gaze.

Hugh rolled his eyes. “I know what you did.”

“Then why did you ask?”

“I’m–.” Hugh paused and closed his eyes, then opened them again. “I mean, why?”

Aaron pretended to think about the question and shifted slightly to his left. “Why did I kiss you?” He saw Hugh winced at the mention of the word and grinned silently.

When Hugh didn’t answer, Aaron looked hard at him with determination and gave the answer he had stored away since he was seventeen. “I like you.” And then, he saw the wave of panic flashed across Hugh’s eyes. He took another step. “Hugh…”

Hugh seemed to know what he was doing and moved further in the opposite direction, towards the living room.

“I like you, Hugh,” Aaron repeated and took a large step around the table.

“Stop it.” Hugh raised his palm.

“Stop what?” Aaron took another bold step.

Hugh kept a cautionary view on Aaron, but continue to back away. “Stop talking crazy.”

“I’m not.” Aaron’s gaze pierced through.

Hugh caught the sight of his bedroom in the corner of his eye. “You are.” A plan instantly formed in his mind.

Aaron followed Hugh’s gaze and called out once more, “Hugh.” He tried to inch forward.

“No.” Hugh sounded loud and clear. No matter what, it cannot be Aaron. It just cannot be him. Not Aaron. He sighed, “Do you know what this means?”

“Yes.” Aaron held his gaze and tried another step. “And, it doesn’t matter.”

“Stop it, Aaron.” Hugh held up his palm again. “Please.”

“No.” Aaron made a final lunge and met his face. His whole body covering Hugh’s. “I like you, Hugh. And I’m not backing away this time.”

Hugh saw the glimmer in his eyes and felt a rush of heat up his neck. He lowered his gaze and caught the sight of Aaron’s lips. He recalled the pressure of them on his, the strong arms around his shoulders and shivered slightly.

Hugh didn’t budge as Aaron inched closer. “Hugh.” He heard Aaron’s whisper and couldn’t move away.

Aaron took this as a hint and carefully lowered his head.  

Hugh turned his cheek. “No.” The comforting voice was irresistible. But, this is Priscilla’s brother. He just can’t. He needs to be the wiser one.

Aaron stepped forward and sandwiched Hugh with the wall. He muttered the name again and waited until Hugh turned back before he tried again and lowered his head. This time he felt more hopeful as his breath started mixing with Hugh’s. He saw Hugh’s mouth slightly opened and dipped down.

“No!” Aaron was push back again, his butt knocked against the chair. When he recovered, the bedroom door closed with a slam. 

Aaron chuckled softly at the floor. After a sigh, he walked towards the door and knocked on it lightly. “Hugh.”

“Go away.”

“I’m not leaving until you come out. We need to talk.” Aaron smiled to himself. He imagined Hugh’s annoyed expression and his smile widened.

“I’m not coming out until you leave. We don’t need to talk.” Aaron chuckled again. This is all too familiar. Whenever he tries to get his way with Hugh, Hugh would mimic him to insist his way. Secretly, he enjoys bickering with Hugh and watched on as his emotions played raw on his face.

Hugh’s muffled voice brought him back to in front of the shut door. “Go home.” He now commanded. “This never happened. You’re drunk.”

Aaron inhaled deeply. He is not going to back down this time. In his surgeon voice, he mimicked Hugh, “I’m not going home. This happened and I’m not drunk.”

“Damn it, Aaron!” Hugh blurted. “What do you want from me? Do you think this is funny? It’s not, okay?!”

“I want you. Only you.” He paused to let his words sink into that silly man’s brain. “I’m not kidding.”

Another paused, followed by a sudden peal of soft laughter. Then, “What about Leslie? You’ve been with her for five years. You planned to propose to her, remember?” Hugh couldn’t believe what just happened and what is happening now. His hand was shaking as he continued, “Stop this nonsense, Aaron. Just go.”

He knew that Aaron always liked a good prank – but this is way too much. He knew better than to use Hugh’s sexuality as a joke. Even if Hugh didn’t mind a good laugh, kissing him and saying that he wants to be with him is really too much! What the hell is this idiot thinking? How would his girlfriend feel? How would Aunty and Uncle feel? Does he plan to drive all of them to their graves?

“Leslie is a les, Hugh.”

Hugh almost missed it. He blinked at the darkness. The silence suddenly seemed deafening. The cool air numbs his senses.

As if reading his mind, Aaron repeated, this time in a voice that is louder, crispier and more determined than ever. “Leslie is a lesbian, Hugh. And, I – like – you.” A slight pause and, “I’ve liked you for ten years now.”  

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