Donald Scripps claims to hate the many nicknames he’s been given over the years: Don, Donny, and all the other diminutives, and he does hate them. But the one he hates the most is ‘Scrippsy’, which is unfortunate, because that’s the one that’s been scrawled along his forearm since birth, mocking him in its melodramatic way:
‘Oh Scrippsy, I can’t bear to listen, but I want to hear every word.’
He’s lucky, he supposes- most people’s sentences are common phrases, or only one or two words long- but he can’t decide whether to curse himself or his remaining faith in God for letting himself one day fall in love with someone who calls him Scrippsy.
For a short while- a thankfully short while- he entertains the idea that it might be Dakin.
Dakin becomes friends with him sometime in their second year of grammar school, and Scripps wonders why for a good few years. It’s only when they’re older, around sixteen or so, that Scripps gets a good look at Dakin’s words, along the bottom of his ribcage.
‘Taking off my glasses is the last thing I do.’
Scripps recalls getting his disgustingly huge glasses, being one of the few at Cutler’s to have them, and Dakin entering his life soon after. And Dakin, on occasion, has called him Scrippsy, when he’s feeling particularly dramatic.
So, Scripps thinks on Dakin for a while, and then decides dead against it, because despite the words kind of matching, he can’t see Dakin as anything more than a friend that at times he’s very unfortunate to have.
In the midst of their O-Levels, the words are temporarily pushed to one side, but once over, the fascination returns. It’s not a thing that they discuss often, other than an occasional joke, but Scripps felt the need to ask on one rainy evening in the summer, when Dakin had come over to steal his copy of Henry IV.
“Do you have an idea on who yours is?” he asks, spinning around in his chair to face Dakin, who has sprawled himself over Scripps’s bed.
In return, Dakin lifts a sarcastic eyebrow. “Been reading a lot of Housman lately, Scrippsy?”
He has, but that’s not the point, so Scripps throws a book at him. Dakin just laughs.
“I only vex you the more I try.”
Scripps swivels back to face his desk, ignoring the snickering. “Dickhead.”
There’s a quiet, drawn-out pause, where he can hear Dakin shifting behind him, sitting up properly for once. “Not really, if I’m honest.”
Dakin shrugs. “The words. I don’t really think about them. Or I try not to.” He sighs. “I just hate hanging around for them, that’s all. It’d’ve been more convenient if they gave you a name or an address or something along those lines, but no. The first thing they say to you after you fall in love. At which point it’s a bit redundant, isn’t it?”
Scripps stares at him, regarding Dakin’s uncharacteristically forlorn expression. “Don’t think about them? The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
He smirks when Dakin flips him off.
“Go on then. Who do you think yours is?”
It’s Scripps’s turn to shrug. “I’ve no idea. It’s not someone I know, I don’t think. It doesn’t sound like anyone I can think of.”
Dakin furrows his eyebrows. “It occurs to me, Scrippsy darling,” -Scripps screams internally- “that I actually don’t know what your words are.”
“Fuck off. You must have seen them at least once.”
Scripps scoots his chair over to the bed and rolls up the sleeve of his jumper to his elbow, letting Dakin read to words printed there, hard and black against his untanned skin. Dakin chortles for a second, but then Scripps can practically feel Dakin’s eyes on his skin, scanning the letters over and over again. He tugs his sleeve down nervously, and Dakin gives off a low whistle.
“Shit, Don. I hate to say it, but it sounds like they’re in love with someone else.”
It’s not the first time the thought has crossed Scripps’s mind, but it’s different to hear it out loud, and his stomach sinks to his feet. “Trust me to get this kind of poetic crap.”
Dakin rolls his eyes. “I know. Hector’d love it. All the unrequiteds. Austen. Westbrook. Tchaikovsky.”
“All of whom died alone or committed suicide, if I recall correctly.”
“I think you’re being a bit presumptuous.”
“I think you’re being a bit facetious.”
“That’s fair. But I tell you, Scripps,” says Dakin, crossing his legs, “I reckon it sounds a bit like Posner.”
Scripps frantically does a mental search of everyone he vaguely knows, finally coming up with a fragile-looking blond boy in Dakin’s form. “David Posner? From Totty’s history class?”
Dakin nods. “We’re in the same English Literature. You should hear him wax poetic on the Shakespeare comedies.”
“Why do you even think it’s someone at school?”
“Logic. Unless you’re planning on introducing yourself as Scripps at university, I can’t see why anyone would be calling you Scrippsy at all.”
Scripps considers as Dakin packs up his rucksack to cycle home. He’s halfway out of the door when he turns back. “He sings. You should ask him if he wants to do a duet sometime.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“And anyway, I think he’d appreciate the finger skills.”
Scripps throws another book at him as Dakin races down the stairs, cackling all the way to the door.
When they go back to Cutler’s in September they find that the five forms that they had in the lower school have been reduced to two for the A-Levels, so Scripps finds himself in a form with Dakin, who cocks an eyebrow at him and indicates a boy sat at the front of the room with an evidently much-loved, dog-eared copy of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Dakin’s already situated himself at the desk behind, so Scripps sits himself next to him. He’s halfway through unpacking his books when he hears the long, beleaguered sigh from in front of him.
“Not again, Pos.”
It comes from the boy sitting himself down next to Posner- Akthar, Scripps’s brain eventually supplies. “Five years already and he’s stuck himself behind us again.”
Scripps can see Posner roll his eyes. “It’s not like I asked him to sit there.”
“True. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a twat and I can’t complain about it.”
Scripps realises that they must be talking about Dakin, who was somewhat of a terror in the lower years. He half-expects Dakin to be affronted, but instead Dakin has the cheekiest grin he’s seen in a while. “Good summer, boys?”
Scripps hears Akthar mutter a half-hearted “Go fuck yourself,” before slumping over his bag. It’s just Posner who turns around to face them. “Excellent. You?”
“Good enough. Happy to be back?”
“Present company excepted, yes, I am.”
Dakin pouts in jest. “Are you really that unhappy to see me?”
Posner looks him dead in the face with steely eyes. “I heard a rumour that you’d died of syphilis and I threw a party to celebrate.”
Scripps can’t help himself at that, and cough-chokes while Dakin leans back dramatically in his chair. “You wound me, David. I am slain.”
Posner grins, breaking character. “Good. Wouldn’t want to let my funeral casserole go to waste.”
Dakin leans over the desk to slap both Posner and Akthar on the back. “Good to see the pair of you.” He settles back into his chair, falling into an old and familiar routine which Scripps hasn’t seen before. It occurs to Scripps that he’s never really seen Dakin interact with his friends from form. “This is Scripps, by the way.”
Both Akthar and Posner give him a nod by way of greeting, and it’s Akthar that addresses him first. “So, you’re friends with this idiot too?”
Posner laughs at that, and then peruses the books that Scripps has already unpacked. He indicates to a sheet of music for Fur Elise that Scripps is using as a bookmark in a book of letters from Elizabethan earls. “You play piano?”
Scripps nods, and Posner beams. “That’s great- I sing, you see, and I can never find an accompanist. Maybe we could work together sometime?”
Scripps nods again, dry-throated, pointedly ignoring Dakin trying not to smirk beside him.
Over the next two years, Scripps has plenty of time to think about why he wasn’t friends with Posner before. The short answer is, of course, he hadn’t had a bloody clue who Posner was, but there’s something there that just makes him wonder.
Posner does wax poetic on his long-dead playwrights, but he’s self-aware enough to know it’s endearingly sad. He’s just caustic enough for him never to be called sweet. He has a dry sense of humour that verges more than a little on the self-deprecating, and a confident, dramatic streak that at times rivals Dakin’s.
Scripps finds himself easily adopted into Posner’s life and Posner’s friends- which generally seems to just consist of Akthar and another boy called Lockwood, though he seems more Akthar’s friend than Posner’s- and in between work and church and piano practice he finds himself floating away from Dakin, a bit.
It’s a little sad, but they’re growing up. It happens. Dakin goes in one direction with his people, and Scripps wanders off down his own path. Scripps goes down academics; Dakin goes down socialisation. They’re still friends, but they aren’t as close as they once were.
Despite Dakin (or maybe because of it) Scripps pushes the thought of Posner as his soulmate out of his head. He’s brilliant, and they’re friends, and he wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s just not right, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And he doesn’t know what Posner’s words are.
It’s in the term when Scripps decides to be an idiot and stay for an extra four months at school when two major developments happen. The first is that Posner falls in love with Dakin. Which is fine, really.
It’s the open secret that they only address once, when Posner’s found the sheet music for another tragic love ballad that Scripps has to change the key for so that Posner can sing it. He reads the lyrics, and closes the book while Posner sits in a plastic chair by the side of the piano stool.
“Does he even fit?”
Posner looks shocked. “What do you mean?”
“Dakin. Does he even fit what it says?”
Posner’s hand drifts to his right shoulder, where Scripps guesses that his words must be written. “He could do. It’s not particularly specific.” He shrugs. “It’s not him anyway, though. It’s not what he said.”
Scripps stares at him. “So why bother?”
“The romanticism, maybe? To have the experience of being in love more than once?” He gives out a long sigh, full of pathos. “If you think about it, the whole idea’s kind of terrifying, isn’t it? Here’s the person who’s perfect for you, who’ll love you forever. No mistakes, no exceptions. Except there are- or else you wouldn’t have soulmates killing each other, or unrequited marks, or people without them at all.”
Scripps gawks. “You don’t believe in them?”
“It’s not a case of not believing. I just don’t think they’re infallible, that’s all. And vis-à-vis Dakin,” He smiles softly- “It’s non-committal. Safe. I can have the feeling of being in love before it means anything- I’m only young once. So, I’ll let myself enjoy it while it lasts.”
Scripps can’t think of anything profound to say to that, shocked at the genuine depth of self-analysis Posner has, while still being lanky and sandy-haired and more like a boy than the rest of them. In the end, without anything intelligent to add, he just jokes, “Byron would be proud.”
Posner grimaces. “Please don’t compare me to the worst Romantic.” He picks up the songbook and flips it open to the page they were on before. “Now play.”
And Scripps does, letting his fingers fly over the keys while off in another world, thinking of Posner trying to enjoy his love, scared of when it might mean something bigger, while Posner sings an unrequited tune in a tiny room with bad acoustics.
The second major development is that a new teacher turns up.
Who wears glasses.
And Dakin’s obsessed with him.
Scripps is trying to find a half-decent primary source in the library when Stuart Dakin come wholeheartedly crashing back into his life. He thinks he may have found it, but then Dakin slams himself across from him and starts tearing papers out of his bag.
“Have you seen this? ‘A piece so lacking in any interest whatsoever that one might find it relegated to the local interest section of a village newspaper.’”
Scripps attempts to keep working but acknowledges internally that it’s ultimately futile. “What makes you think that I care, Dakin?”
Dakin looks surprised and a little hurt. “I just thought you’d want to talk about it.”
“Tell Timms. Tell Crowther. Hell, tell Rudge.”
“It’s not the same.”
“They’ve got ears as much as I do.”
Dakin rolls his eyes. “You know what I mean. They hear, but they don’t listen.”
Scripps looks up. “Is this your way of trying to say that you’ve missed me?”
“No.” But the look on Dakin’s face is clear that he means yes; that he needs someone to talk to, to think about what he says, that won’t make his problems a joke. He won’t say it- or can’t say it- but Dakin is begging for his best friend back.
Scripps flips his book shut. “Go to the shop and we’ll talk about it?”
Dakin lights up, practically beaming. “I owe you a pick’n’mix anyway.”
And just like that, they’re friends again.
“How’s it going on the Posner front?”
Scripps ignores him. It’s his own fault for trying to do his homework at Dakin’s, he supposes. He feels something bounce of his head- Dakin’s throwing balls of socks at him. “I said, how’s it going on the Posner front?”
Scripps picks a pair of socks up off the floor and lobs them back, Dakin dodges. “Nothing’s happening on the Posner front. There is no Posner front. And anyway, he’s in love with you, your great tit.”
Dakin singsongs. “It’s him, I tell you.”
Scripps glares back at him. “How’s it going on the Irwin front?”
Dakin looks affronted and turns back to his work in a huff. Scripps chuckles to himself- it wouldn’t be so funny if it wasn’t so obvious that Dakin was so utterly fascinated with Irwin.
But then it happens.
Scripps should have known that Dakin would ultimately be the trigger for the words.
Dakin uses a convoluted metaphor for his relationship with Fiona, and Posner shoots down his point every time. It’s Posner’s reedy voice going “You’re not disputing the territory, you’re just negotiating over the pace of the occupation.” that does it.
Scripps turns around to quip at Dakin when he says that, and sees Posner enjoying himself. Nervous, but grinning, and so undeniably clever. It’s great to see him like this- he’s been too withdrawn lately, what with all the stress, and Scripps can’t help but think that Posner should look like that more often- warm, full of jokes, sarcastic, casually perched on a desk. He looks happy, and Scripps realises that he really, really likes seeing Posner happy.
And that’s when it hits him. But he says nothing.
Dakin’s not really left the room when Posner turns around to say it.
“Oh Scrippsy, I can’t bear to listen, but I want to hear every word.”
Scripps sees Dakin swing around in the corridor- obviously he heard. But he thankfully doesn’t come back in. It still leaves Scripps high and dry though, with no idea what to do in such a situation. He’s in front of a piano, and he panics, going into default.
“He’s a fool. And don’t I know it…”
Posner laughs at that, and picks up the rest of the song, not noticing Scripps desperately trying to process as the other walk back in.
He’s in love with Posner. Posner’s in love with Dakin. Dakin’s not Posner’s soulmate, but Posner likes being in love with him anyway. Posner’s scared by soulmates, he likes being in love, being young, he doesn’t want the big commitment just yet, he’s only just eighteen.
If he said anything, he might break the spell that Posner has with Dakin.
Would Posner resent him if he did that?
But Posner’s his soulmate.
But is he Posner’s?
The thoughts run around in a terrifying loop, over and over and over again until the song finishes, and Scripps has to go and sit next to Dakin, who has that ugly smug ‘I-told-you-so’ look on his face, which Scripps (in a moment of great Christian forbearance) decides to ignore instead of punch.