The hot water ran out again, halfway through making a cup of tea for Doc. That’s the second time that’s happened, Jack thought crossly, how many people are in this house?
Somehow, no matter how many cups of tea Jack made there was always one more thirsty person demanding Jack make them a cup too. Each time he boiled the kettle Jack had told himself that he was about to sit down and enjoy a drink. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong. He was also just about to run out of teabags and milk, mostly because he was the only one to bother buying either. Jack had decided the day he moved in that it would be unfair to expect to use his new housemates’ milk and tea. It appeared that the housemates did not feel the same way.
“Any chance of a bit more milk in mine?” Santa asked. The large white-haired man dressed in bike leathers held up his mug. His pink face peered from a frame of beard and hair in a way that made Jack think he looked like an oversized cabooched monkey. “When you have a moment,” added Santa.
“And sugar,” added Dave. He winked at Lilly and continued to stare at her until he was sure she noticed. His stare slowly drifting south until he was clearly staring at her chest.
Lilly folded her arms feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
Zack looked up from his phone. “That was Doc,” he said. “He asks if someone would bring him out a large mug of tea and some biscuits.”
“I haven’t got any biscuits,” said Barry, “because Doc always eats them.”
“Nor me. I haven’t been shopping yet, this week,” said Lilly doing her best to ignore Dave but failing. “Maybe someone can pop to the corner shop?” Lilly looked at the one person who had yet to say anything for support. Please say we should go to the shops, she thought.
Suzie did not pick up on her friend’s silent plea. “Don’t look at me,” Suzie replied defensively. “I don’t even live here. Haven’t you got some new guy moving in? How about-”
“Right, that is it!” Jack slammed the teaspoon onto the counter. Being no more than a teaspoon it did not slam very well and bounced back up, spraying droplets of tea over his white shirt. “I have been in the house less than four hours,” hissed Jack, “And so far I have been insulted, assaulted, and tricked into serving tea to half the country. Would it hurt you to get your own damn biscuits?”
Santa lowered his mug and gazed into his own beard. “Sorry,” he said softly.
“I am boiling the kettle for the third time,” said Jack, “and I am making myself a cup of tea and using the last of my milk. If you want anything else you can get it yourself.”
A guilty silence settled on the kitchen. Barry felt deeply uncomfortable and not just a little hypocritical. He knew that he had failed to treat a potential new friend in a way that was any different to the way Doc treated the rest of the housemates. He knew that he should say sorry and maybe even offer to let Jack use his secret stash of tea. The problem was, if he announced the secret stash to the room, it could be gone by the morning.
“We haven’t exactly been very fair,” said Barry. “Listen, Jack, we are sorry you feel taken advantage of.” He looked around the crowded table. “Right?” Barry strongly hoped that he could keep his own supplies a secret.
“Suzie and Lilly are always very fair,” said Dave. He leered at the ladies in a way that made the whole gesture extremely extra creepy, even by Dave’s own low standards.
“I made my own tea,” said Zack looking at his phone. It was well known that Zack had his own supply of tea, milk and other groceries but not one person had ever seen them. “None of you lot seem to know how to brew properly. Which is probably why you’ve got Jack doing it, he seems to have a clue.”
Jack took a deep breath. That sounded like a compliment. The kettle boiled and switched off with a click.
“Yes, we are sorry, Jack,” said Lilly. “You were very kind to feed Normal on your first day with us. Here, come and sit down.” She shifted along the bench making a gap between her and Suzie.
“Who wouldn’t want to be in that sandwich? Am I right!” Dave waggled his eyebrows to fill the awkward silence. “Oh come on, I would have thought by now I was owed a little snuggle time?”
Both Lilly and Suzie shuddered in unison.
Jack poured hot water into his mug and topped up Doc’s mug. When he was done making the tea he came over and sat down between the two ladies.
“There now,” said Lilly. “You are a proper part of the gang now.”
“What’s he got that I haven’t?” Dave asked.
Each person around the table, found themselves clamping their mouth shut to avoid giving a different rude, if truthful, answer.
“Welcome to the madhouse,” said Barry. “Let’s do some proper introductions as if we were civilised or something.”
“That’s a nice idea,” said Lilly, she wrapped her arm around Jack’s.
“Sure,” said Jack trying to ignore the invasion of his personal space and the envious looks Dave was giving him. He was feeling a little bit embarrassed about his outburst and this seemed like a good way to move past it as swiftly as possible.
“So then,” said Barry. “The big guy here is Santa. He doesn’t actually live here but it feels like he does.”
Santa managed a gruff, “hello.”
“Next to him,” Barry continued, “is Dave Chippy, from next door. You’ll probably get used to his creepy comments because people keep letting him in here.” Barry took a mouthful of tea so that he did not give in to the temptation to say exactly what he thought of Dave.
“Unintentionally creepy,” said Dave. “I’m not really an axe murderer. Or am I?” He gave a strained grin which left Jack feeling glad he was not alone with the guy. “No, I’m not. Or am I? Dun dun dunn…”
“Shut up, Dave,” said Santa. “You are not the least bit funny.”
“At least I am amongst friends,” said Dave. He hugged his mug with his hands and looked around the table feeling pleased to have so many friends.
“Yeah, Okay,” said Santa into his tea.
“At the end of the table,” said Barry, “in the polo-neck sweater, is Zack. He does something or the other with computers.”
Zack waved a hand but did not look up from his phone.
“That’s about as talkative as he gets,” said Santa he stared forlornly into his mug. It really would have tasted better with more milk. “He makes a good cuppa, though.”
Zack’s wave converted to a thumbs up and then his hand joined his other hand back at his phone.
“Moving on,” said Barry, “next to you is Lilly. She’s a hairdresser and the demon cat is her’s. Be careful, it scratches.”
“Nonsense,” said Lilly looking genuinely shocked. “Normal is a darling. You think so, don’t you Jack?”
“Erm,” said Jack. The memory of his conflict with the cat was still fresh in his mind. He was not sure if he really heard the cat talk but demon seemed an apt description, nevertheless.
“Only for you, Lilly,” said Barry. “On the other side of you, Jack, is Suzie. Suzie doesn’t live here either but she’s around so often that we should charge her rent.”
“I live next door,” said Suzie. She smiled at Jack. “Thank you for a lovely cuppa, by the way.”
“You are welcome,” said Jack “You live with Dave?” Jack asked.
“God, no,” said Suzie. Her tone suggested that she would rather have here eyes pecked out by an army of crazy ducks than live with Dave. “I’m next door but on the other side.”
“You say that like it would be a bad thing,” said Dave. “I bet you’d love living with me.” He made what for anyone else might be a slightly flirty and suggestive facial gesture but as usual, for Dave, it just came off as creepy turned all the way up to eleven.
“I really wouldn’t,” said Suzie firmly.
“I’ll have you know I am a generous and giving lover,” Dave protested. Even Zack grimaced at that comment. He picked up his mug and took a swig to cover his expression.
“Doc’s not here,” said Barry, “He’s the weird old guy who spends all his time in the garage, building stuff. You met him earlier. He eats biscuits like it’s a drug habit. And I’m Barry.”
“Barry works at that little independent game shop in Greene Street,” said Lilly.
“Only for very low values of working,” said Zack without looking up.
“Yeah, well, they don’t pay me enough to break a sweat,” said Barry defensively.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Zack. “You pay rent, so it’s all good. I’ve got to go. Someone bring Doc a mug of something or he’ll sit out there and sulk all evening.” Zack stood up and walked out of the room without another word.
“You’ll get used to Zack,” said Lilly.
“You can get used to me if you want.” Dave winked awkwardly at Lilly. Lilly hugged Jacks arm all the more tightly.
Jack had taken about as much of the creepy neighbour as he could stomach. At least for his first day of sharing the house. He was not at all sure if he liked being treated as a drop-in boyfriend by Lilly. “I’ve got work later,” he said which was only half true. He had work much later. “It was nice to meet you all. Catch you, tomorrow?”
Jack extracted himself from Lilly’s grasp and stood up.
“Catch you later,” said Barry. “Look, sorry we all took advantage there. It was nice of you to make us all drinks. The next round is on me.”
“Thanks,” said Jack.
The housemates and their guests sat in silence as Jack walked up the stairs and went into his room. The sound of awkward tea skipping filled the kitchen.
The sound of awkward tea skipping filled the kitchen.
Lilly scooted along and stayed close to Suzie. She was feeling a little guilty that she had maybe done exactly what Dave did and left Jack so uncomfortable that he left. “I feel bad,” said Lilly. “We were a bit mean to Jack. Anyone else would have told us to make our own but he seems too nice to do that.”
“We said sorry,” said Santa. “What more do you want?”
“According to Zack, it’s his birthday in a few weeks,” said Lilly now fully committed to over compensating. “We should get him a present.”
“That’s a lovely idea, Lilly,” said Suzie. “Do any of you know what your new housemate is into?”
“Don’t ask me,” said Santa. “I don’t live here.”
There was another long silence.
“Did any of you help him move in?” Suzie asked.
No answer was the loud reply.
“What? None of you?” Suzie was not sure what to say to that. She was beginning to see why Jack had felt a bit put out.
“I was at work,” said Barry feeling guilty.
“I watched him arrive,” said Dave. “I was hoping I’d get another foxy neighbour.” He winked at Lilly. Lilly gave an involuntary shudder. “He had a lot of robot figures.”
“Robots?” asked Santa. His huge white beard twitched as if he might have actually grimaced under all that hair. “How’d ya see that?”
“What?” Dave asked. “I’ve got good binoculars.”
“Gross,” muttered Lilly.
“They are for bird spotting,” said Dave. “Mostly.”
“So, all we know,” said Barry, feeling the conversation getting away from him, “is that Jack possibly likes robots.”
“Could we get him a robot?” Lilly asked, looking around the table with a vacant expression. She was not sure exactly what robots were, some sort of boy thing was all she needed to know.
Dave tried to produce a look which suggested pity yet loving affection. It was chilling. Lilly shuffled closer to Suzie almost pushing her off the bench.
“I think making a robot might be asking a bit much,” said Barry. “I was thinking more like a box of chocolates.”
“That’s pretty gay,” said Dave. He glanced at the girls to see if they smiled at this. The glance turned into an uncomfortable stare as he waited for eye contact to be returned.
“You should know,” muttered Barry. Suzie tried very hard not to smirk.
Good one, Dave told himself. I’m winning them over here.
“I could do that,” said Santa. They all looked at him. “I’d need a bit of help from Zack and Doc but I could help you make a decent robot for Jack.”
“Really?” Barry asked. He sounded like he had just been told that some drawing he did at school had just won a major fine art award. “Sorry, I did not mean it to sound like that. An actual robot? Could you do that? For the price of a box of chocolates.”
“Yeah,” said Santa. “Give us a week or two.”
“Do you need anything from us?” Suzie asked.
“I think Doc has most things,” said Santa, “but if you have a spare hair-dryer, some scrap aluminium, and a box of toothpicks, I can manage the rest.”