Today I am so pleased to welcome Alexis Hall to Joyfully Jay. Alexis has come to share an exclusive excerpt from his latest release, Pansies (which Michelle reviewed and loved!). He has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Alexis a big welcome!
Winter is coming. That’s funny, and you won’t know why. But winter is coming, undramatically, in a gathering of grey. It wasn’t until I moved away that I realised how much winter is its own kingdom here. I wish I could see things the way you did. But all I see is this ghost of a ghost town.
I walked through the promenades at Little Haven today. That’s such a Victorian word. Promenades. A place where you promenade. I probably should have had a parasol, and a pink dress with a bustle, and a gentleman to take me by the arm. But all I had was the echo of my footsteps, and the promise of winter’s silence all around me.
Not even a group of kids with skateboards to shout obscenities at me as I passed. Do kids still have skateboards? But that’s what I remember, the rattle of wheels on tiles, the kick-punch laughter of recognisable strangers. Alfie Bell never had a skateboard, but he was here sometimes, slouched against one of the pillars, self-conscious, with a cigarette between his fingers.
They were so frightened of cigarettes, these rough-tough boys with their mincing inhalations. By the time I was fourteen, I was on a pack a day, and so proud of it. And I didn’t just stand around trying to look cool, I smoked. I really smoked. It was the perfect vice for me, so good, so bad, teaching you how to love the thing that hurts you.
I used to imagine, sometimes, smoking with him. With Alfie Bell. I’d watched him, fumbling, trying to make it look casual, like he knew what he was doing. (The way he kissed me by the Rattler, all bravado and confusion and tenderness.) So I would have to light his cigarette for him, just like in the movies, and give it to him, his lips pressed to the place where mine had been. And I’d dream of this too. Not this mediated kiss, but the light wavering at the tip of his lighter, or the matchbox slipping from his unpractised hands.
I didn’t know you knew about the smoking, but of course you did. It was Dad, in the end, who made me stop. I’d come in from school, and I was making toast with too much butter, just like we like it, so that the plate glistens afterwards. I can’t remember what he was doing, but I remember what he said, sort of conversationally like he was asking if I had a lot of homework or if I’d had a good day at school (I always said yes, but I never had good days at school).
He said, “Why are you making your mother watch you kill yourself?”
Which is ironic on some level, isn’t it?
So, anyway, I stopped. And I’ve never smoked since. But maybe it wouldn’t matter, since there’s nobody to hurt right now but me.
And Dad. But what would he say? How would he stop me, how would he help me, now he can’t sneak his love in next to yours as if I wouldn’t notice, and say “your mother thinks” or “your mother wants”? How do we do this without you?
He said it to me yesterday. As if nothing has happened or changed. As if it’s still true. “You know, Fen, your mother loves you very much.”
Oh, why am I still thinking about Alfie Bell, when I have so much else to think about? And your shop to run. Which I’m failing at, by the way, ruining everything you loved, losing you all over again. It’s so funny, though, if funny is the right word, which I think it probably isn’t, that he’s a Londoner now. It was all over him, from his voice to his suit. It was only when he was naked—all hair and muscles and that gorgeous, vulgar tattoo—that he was real to me. The same boy who had hurt me inside this man who held me. The strangest thing is that I could never imagine him anywhere but here. And yet I’m the one who’s here. He’s the one who’s gone.
I’ll never see him again. Not after what I did when he came after me. I’m almost glad it’s just another thing you’ll never know. It should have been a victory—payback even—but I’m just embarrassed. I wish I could have been cold and scornful and indifferent or, at the very least, calm. But, instead, I keep showing him all these cracked and desperate bits of myself, everything I thought I’d put behind me a long time ago. It was probably just the shock of him, making the past feel closer than it should. But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. How I’m supposed to bear this. Old anger and new pain, and the pure simplicity of missing you.
The truth is, I never expected to see Alfie Bell again anyway. I haven’t thought of him in years, except for the occasional flash of remembered resentment. And I told David, of course, lying in his arms as we swapped the stories of our pasts until it all seemed as trivial as cockle shells and sea glass, compared to this fresh, new love. But, somehow, it’s all become real again: this bold, beautiful man I have loved, hated, and forgotten, who has never, ever spared a single thought for me.
Beyond the promenades the amphitheatre is empty, and beyond the amphitheatre the half-shell fountains are dry.
I’m cold all the time, except I don’t feel cold. A proper Northern boy, at last, wandering the clifftops without a coat.
Alfie Bell is . . . fine. He’s got a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, the car he swore he’d buy when he was eighteen, and a bunch of fancy London friends.
It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie hasn’t met anyone like Fen before.
Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.
Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Connect with Alexis:
- Website: quicunquevult.com
- Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
- Twitter: @quicunquevult
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall
To celebrate the release of Pansies, one lucky winner will receive their choice of 3 ebooks from Alexis Hall’s backlist. Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on October 15, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
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