IF IT AIN’T BROKE …
© Clare London
Bernie sat back on his heels, pushing his hair off his forehead. In his left hand he held a couple of lengths of spliced wire and three – unmatched – leather gloves; in his right, he held a foot-rule snapped off at the eight inch mark, several marbles and a torn cover from a thermal underwear catalogue. Women’s.
Steve peered over the top of his reading glasses at the booty. “Is that the extent of your tool kit, man?”
Bernie grimaced. “Very amusing. This is just a selection of the crap I found down the back of the box. Something had knocked out the SCART socket. No wonder you can’t get a picture. I’ve cleaned it up and reconnected it, and you should be fine now.”
Steve looked at the selection of screwdrivers he had in his hand. “And Paul tried to tell me it was something to do with the local oscillator.”
“It’s a giant plasma screen, not an old style TV set. He’ll be talking about RGB inputs next. They say you shouldn’t buy the kit unless you know the fit,” said Bernie dryly, then he caught Steve’s eye. “Sorry. Didn’t mean your guy’s an idiot or anything.”
Steve shrugged. “It’s OK. We all can be, in our way. It’s just that Paul’s particular mental block is about domestic appliances. Mine is… hmmm.” He paused and rolled his eyes thoughtfully to the ceiling.
“Like you’re Mr. Perfect?” grumbled Bernie. “I think not. Seem to remember you stapling your thumb to a chair when we did up the spare room last summer.”
Steve grimaced back. “Well, you’re not so great a plumber, as I recall. That night we were meant to come over to watch the game but ended up baling out your bathroom with buckets and jugs…”
Bernie shrugged, grinning. “OK, fair enough. Could be worse, of course. It could be…”
“Howard’s cooking,” murmured Steve, just as Bernie finished his sentence with “…Howard’s cooking.”
They caught each other’s eye again and they grinned. Bernie shifted the equipment back into place and brushed the excess dirt off his hands.
“You want a beer?” Steve collected a couple of cans from the kitchen and brought them into the lounge. He watched Bernie tune in a couple of missing channels and they settled on the couch together, opening their drinks. Steve flicked away on the remote, not really settling on anything in particular.
Bernie waited a couple of minutes until the silence stated to nag at him. “So what’s up? Don’t tell me it’s missing a couple of episodes of your favorite game show.”
Steve snorted. “I’m fine,” he said, but he shifted on the couch as if something were itching his back.
“You and Paul?” When Steve turned and glared at him, Bernie held his hand up in mock surrender. “Hey, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine -”
Steve sighed. “No, sorry. You’re my best friend, after him. But we’re fine, OK? Just a couple of recent… misunderstandings.”
Bernie sipped thoughtfully, giving Steve a chance to say some more. Which he didn’t. “Is it the money thing again?”
Steve nodded. Bernie nodded back. It was enough. They both took another sip.
“It’ll pass,” Bernie said. “Couple of arguments are good for getting the adrenalin going. Maybe you should talk to him about it some more, though.” When Steve still said nothing, he felt a sharp twist of alarm. “I mean – you’re not seriously -?”
“God, no,” Steve hastened to reassure him. “We’re good. Very good.”
“Pleased to hear it,” said Bernie. He settled back into his seat; took a decent draught from the can. They were comfortably silent for another few minutes.
“Howard looked a little pissed last Saturday,” said Steve, quietly. The TV was flashing through some diamante bracelets on one of the shopping channels.
Bernie shrugged. “Yeah. He was. But it’s passed.”
Steve nodded. “I’ll get us another beer.” When he came back, Bernie was examining the movie trailers rather too closely.
“You were quiet, too,” Steve said. “Unusual for you. You two okay?”
Bernie sighed. “Yeah, it was the same old, same old. I talk too much, he has to have words peeled out of him with a sharp tool. We had words. Well, I did, and he left the room. Just all gets on top of me sometimes.”
“Him as well, I imagine,” murmured Steve. “Maybe you should change your approach sometimes, too.”
Bernie looked at him, sharply. “Like Paul says the same about you. Also says you’re a fool to worry so much about your differences.”
Steve raised an eyebrow, but he nodded again.
“You’re just very different guys,” Bernie said. Steve’s eyes snapped up to him. “No offence,” he added.
“None taken.” Steve sighed. “You’re right. But then – you two are, as well. And it’s passed, you said?” Bernie grunted agreement.
“Good,” Steve murmured. “Damned good.”
They both dropped their gaze to the can in their hands. The TV trumpeted some new model of car and the benefits of a shampoo being ‘because you’re worth it’.
Bernie tapped the thin metal, apparently aimlessly. “Of course, that’s what makes it so good. The differences. Right?”
Steve looked across at him again. He had his own thoughts, his own theories, but his grin was as wide as Bernie’s. “Right.”
“He pushes all the buttons I used to keep hidden,” said Bernie, thoughtfully. His eyes sparkled when he smiled. “Living with someone else… suddenly you have to be alert in all new ways. Life bounces off you both and comes back at you a whole different play. He’s… challenging like that.”
“My guy makes me laugh harder, work harder, makes me question every damned thing about me.” Steve seemed pretty content with his analysis.
“My guy annoys the crap out of me,” Bernie added, still grinning. They turned to each other and raised their cans in a comic toast. “Look at us,” he laughed. “Nodding like a couple of old guys on the front porch.”
“Speak for yourself,” growled Steve. He adjusted the glasses that had slipped slightly down his nose. He stabbed the remote at the TV, killing the volume on a thrash metal music channel.
Bernie waved his nearly empty can at the screen. “Anyway, it’s good to clear the cobwebs out now and then.”
“Like behind the TV box,” said Steve, dryly.
“Yeah.” Bernie wriggled around on the couch, restless. “And the make-up sessions are worth it, too. But you know what they say.”
“Your turn to get the beers.”
Bernie heaved himself up, laughing. “No. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Steve rolled his eyes. But he was smiling.