Sixes and Sevens, by Mayumi Hirtzel
That Black British Protestant girl was everything Peter ever wanted. What’s a White Irish Catholic boy supposed to do?

Written for the 2007 NaNoWriMo. My third NaNo, but the first time I wanted to carry on the story long after November had ended, and the first time I’d tried playing with much more complex plotlines. (Readers familiar with Fearless will also notice earlier character outlines here for the slightly more conflicted characters to come in that later story.)

One fun – if slightly odd – thing I did with this story was break the novel into parts and chapters, each one named for a music release from the time period. I think I had the most fun looking through old Billboard and Top 20 charts than I did doing any “real” research!

Read the first bit below!

PART I: Ready or Not

Chapter 1: Breathe (1996 September)

The streets of London may have been filled with old men in worn-out shoes, women who carried their lives in shopping bags, and Alzheimer’s-stricken World War II veterans, but this evening Peter Gerighty felt that no one could be as miserable as he was.

No. That wasn’t exactly right. On reflection, Peter realized that his life was rather privileged. He was twenty-four-years old, recently graduated from the exclusive Master of Science architectural programme at the prestigious Bartlett School, and a rather right fit bloke, to boot:

He was tall enough to command attention but not enough to stand out too much in a crowd. Broad-shouldered and narrow-waisted, with enough muscle and mass to turn heads at the leisure centre pool but not enough to deter anyone from a knockdown if he happened to get into trouble. Likewise with his looks, he was a conventional, everyday-chap kind of handsome, with dark hair and deep-set brown eyes, though no one would have mistaken him for a movie star. If he had been asked, he would have said that he thought his nose was too snub and his mouth too wide, but overall he thought he looked pretty good.

He had a tenner in his pocket, his lucky black leather jacket that made him look a bit of a tough, and an invite to what he was told would be a smashing party.

Peter just wasn’t feeling it.

He had done well at university, but he was currently on the dole, the only money coming in from a few odd jobs and random, small-level commissions (a painting job here; a papering job there) that had come in over the last six months, and those prospects had started to wear thin the further away he got from graduation. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life standing in the dole queue, waiting for a government cheque – he had talent, a portfolio, and drive. He had earned his degree because he liked designing, loved drafting, and he honestly wanted to do something worthwhile.

The job situation was only part of the cause of his moroseness, though. More than that, he was lonely.

It had been two whole years since he had had even the slightest sexual contact with a woman (his hand under a young lady’s blouse in a West End theatre); three years since he’d had the pleasure of proper female company in the sack. And even that memory was still a bit distasteful, especially the way that Nadine had essentially admitted to him then and there that she had only fucked him for old times’ sake, and because he seemed like he needed a proper cheering up. He and Nadine were better friends now than they had been lovers even at the height of their affair, but the memory still stung.

Even ostensibly innocent social outings with his old university friends had become almost a chore. Most of them were in relationships (some of them were steady, like Jamy and Amber; others were just flirting around, like Nadine), so it usually made Peter feel like an unnecessary – and unwanted – third wheel when they went out. He knew – had even been told – that none of his friends begrudged him for being alone, but that was a bit of the point. Peter was the one who begrudged his friends their happiness.

Just the other night, Jamy and Amber had invited him to dinner (Amber loved Tandoori-to-go but always said it was silly for just the two of them, especially when they tended to order enough to feed a small village). It had been a fine time overall, but then they had put in a rental movie – Léon. It was a brilliant action film with a smart cinematographic sensibility, but it was hardly a romance. Still, Jamy and Amber managed to start cuddling throughout the second and third acts, and Peter had spent the entire second half of the movie thinking that all his friends wanted was for him to leave them alone for a while.

He had ended up taking the tube home in sullen silence. He remembered all too well the way that he had stared out the window of the car, watching the underground lights flare by, street by street and neighborhood by neighborhood, until he arrived back in Clapham. By the time he had gotten home, he was too tired to do much of anything except wank off to the picture of Gwen Stefani in one of his random music magazines. He hadn’t felt particularly good about the whole thing (except for that singular fleeting moment, of course), until Jamy had called him the following morning to apologize for the canoodling on the sofa.

Good old Jamy.

Since their first day together at school, Jamy had always been the gentle, considerate, well-mannered one, and Peter, the creative, brazen smart arse. Of course, they had latched onto each other instantly, and they quickly became the best of friends. When Jamy met Amber at university, their friendship remained the same. It wasn’t until Jamy and Amber graduated that things started to change, as their relationship became more serious and they became more of a couple. Peter had been genuinely happy for Jamy – and he had come to be very fond of Amber, as well – but he couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous of his friend.

Peter’s own regrettable relationships with women over the years (Penelope, Tasha, Nadine, Indira, Nadine again) had made him think that maybe he just wasn’t meant to be with anyone. He liked women, to be sure; he just couldn’t make it work with them. They were too flighty, too demanding, too reserved…too something. Always too something.

Even Peter’s little sister, Hannah, had had better luck in the romantic scene, of late. She was currently embroiled in a thirteen-months-and-running affair with one of Peter’s old mates from school. And while her relationship was not a perfect one by any means, at least she had the luxury of regular comfort from a member of the opposite sex.

Hannah was sensitive to Peter’s needs, of course, especially when the subject of romance arose. As his sister, she had spent enough time around him to know his moods without having to be told. Before he had left for the party that night, she had stopped him in the family kitchen with a request:

Try to have fun tonight,” she had told him, as she walked her supper dishes over to the sink. “I worry about you, you know.”

Peter had grinned sheepishly at her; he felt a little silly having his baby sister express concern over his wellbeing. “Hey, I’m a big boy. I can look after m’self.”

Hannah had smiled back at him, but he had been able to tell that it was forced. “You’ve been so down since graduation. I just want you to be happy.”

Then he had patted her on the head, in a way that was condescending but also a touch loving. “Yes, Mum,” he had joked, and offered her a wave before he left.

Peter got onto the tube and sat down in one of the hard plastic seats, away from everyone else. The last thing he wanted was some stranger trying to chat him up for some spare pence (he had none) or to change his religious inclinations (he had none of those, either). He spent the ride in solitude and silence, save for when a pair of girls who looked far too young to be riding this late in the evening came to sit near him.

One of the girls – a blonde in braids and a skirt that showed off too much leg – smiled at him and asked him which stop was Mile End. He smiled back and pointed to the tube transit station map on the wall of the train. The two girls thanked him, sat down in their seats, and spoke quietly between themselves for the next ten minutes.

At Mile End, they stood up and asked him if he wanted to go to a party.

Peter looked at them in disbelief. (How old were these girls? Sixteen? They were younger than Hannah!) He thanked them for the offer but told them, “I think I’d rather party with your mum.”

The girls scoffed at him, then stepped off the train, still muttering about how rude he was even after the doors had begun to close.

Peter settled back into his seat and smiled. He had suddenly started to feel a little better about himself.

It was a shame that the feeling wouldn’t last.