A Heather Bay Short Story
“We’re thinking of having a New Year’s party,” Oliver said one evening in early December when we were all clustered around various tables in the corner of the Sleeping Goose.
“Are you going to let Laurie make the drinks again?” I asked, half-teasingly, half-serious as I looked down the table to our resident goth, who was wearing a black Christmas jumper with what looked like skeletal reindeer on.
“You liked the last ones,” Laurie pointed out as he sipped his mulled wine. “I just didn’t realise the effect they’d have.”
“You put two fucking bottles of rum into them,” Lane said. “What did you expect?”
“That you lot could hold your liquor,” Laurie said with a wry smile.
“I can do it instead if you want,” Theo said. He was also wearing a Christmas jumper, but this one was bright pink with a printed knitted pattern that said Sleigh the Patriarchy on it.
“No,” Laurie said sharply. “We don’t want to kill people.”
“Oh come on, my drinks aren’t that bad.” Theo rolled his eyes and smiled fondly at his roommate. They were so funny to watch, but in the sweetest way. I was still convinced they were together, even if they hadn’t said it out loud. At least, not to us. Maybe they thought it was obvious enough.
“I’ll do drinks,” Alex said, putting an end to the discussion. “But you can all bring at least one bottle. I’m not paying for all you fuckers to drink.”
“Perfect,” said Spencer from beside me. There was a beaming smile on his face and it made my heart melt a little. “What about food?”
“I can do food,” Oliver said. “It’s not a problem.”
Spencer frowned. “You’re not doing all of it! You’re offering to host, you can’t do all the food as well. It’s too much.”
“Agreed,” Theo said. “We can all bring something. I can make another trifle if you want? Or am I not allowed to do anything involving alcohol?”
“Don’t be petulant,” Laurie said, raising an eyebrow and giving him a knowing smile. I bit back a smile, wondering if that look meant what I thought it did. “Just because you’re not allowed to do drinks, doesn’t mean you can’t apply alcohol liberally to trifle.”
“In fact you should,” Lane said. “Very liberally.”
“Done!” Theo grinned. “Okay, I’m doing trifle. Oliver has to make that cheesy tear-and-share bread again or I’ll die. What else shall we do?”
Somehow this had gone from a casual discussion to a full-on party planning session, but I didn’t mind. I’d rather we got it sorted now, rather than two days before hand when everything would likely end up on Lane and Oliver’s plates. Because, as Spencer had correctly pointed out, they shouldn’t be expected to do all the food as well—not if we were taking over their house.
Spencer and I agreed, as a pair, to bring some form of pie, like the delicious chicken and mushroom one I’d made everyone drool over when describing in great detail, and baked goods. Those were left surprisingly nebulous, because everyone agreed that they didn’t mind what Spencer made because they knew it would be amazing.
And frankly, I agreed.
For the past few weeks his house, which I was starting to affectionately think of as ours, had been filled with a variety of delicious baking smells as Spencer tested various recipes. Some of them were for last minute specials at Novel Tea, while the others were just because he fancied trying them.
I wasn’t going to complain, and neither were any of our friends, or members of the science department who occasionally got tins of buns, cakes, or biscuits delivered when Spencer had made too much. Katie had already told me I was never allowed to break up with Spencer, simply because she couldn’t bear the thought of going without his gingerbread or chocolate and orange buns.
“What do you think you’re going to make?” I asked as we walked home, hand in hand, along the streets of Heather Bay, both wrapped in multiple layers to shelter from the bitter wind blowing in off the sea.
“Not sure,” Spencer said. “Definitely something chocolatey, because that always goes down well, and then… I don’t know, maybe something lemon? Or raspberry? I feel like it needs to be something sharp, especially since Theo’s doing a trifle.”
“Whatever you decide, I know it’ll be amazing.”
“Of course it will! Especially because we’re going to do it together!”
I stopped dead in the middle of the street and stared at him. “Seriously? Can’t I just be your assistant and that be enough?”
“Nope!” Spencer grinned. “If you can make cupcakes, you can totally help me make a dessert. It’ll be awesome!”
“Oh François, what the fuck have we gotten ourselves into?” I muttered, wiping my hands on a tea towel as I looked over at the extra Christmas present that Theo had brought Spencer and I: a taxidermy mouse dressed in chefs whites holding a little mixing bowl and whisk.
I’d been slightly taken aback when we’d opened the box together on Christmas Eve, but Spencer had thought he was adorable. It wasn’t quite the word I’d have used, but on the other hand, it wasn’t a frog in lingerie so I figured it could have been worse.
Spencer had named him François simply because he “looked like a François” and placed him on the kitchen windowsill so he could oversee everything without getting dirty.
And I’d apparently gotten so used to seeing him there over the past week that I was now talking to him.
Wasn’t that how Ratatouille started?
I looked around at the mess that seemed to be spread across every inch of the Barbie kitchen. How had it gotten this bad? We were only making a pie and two puddings.
“I should have just bought everything from Tesco,” I said before glancing at François again. “You know, you could help. You seem more appropriately dressed for this than me.”
“Who are you talking to?” Spencer asked, walking into the kitchen and pulling on a clean hoodie. He’d been forced to change the other one when he’d spilt the mixture for the melt-in-the-middle chocolate puddings down both his apron and hoodie. I wasn’t even sure how he’d managed it.
Maybe it was because I’d casually mentioned Spencer fucking me later as a reward for all his hard work.
And because I’d need the stress relief after all of this.
My baking skills were marginally better but this was a whole new level and I really wished I’d insisted we buy everything instead. But Spencer had said it would be fun, and I loved the idea of spending time with him. Plus, I hated the idea of him doing everything by himself.
“François,” I said, pointing the tea towel I was holding at the mouse. “I was asking him when he was going to start making himself useful. I mean, he’s been living here a week now, surely he can help out?”
Spencer laughed. He came up behind me and put his arms around my waist, kissing the side of my head. “Do you really want a mouse doing the baking?”
“If it gets it done, then yes.” I grinned and turned in his arms. “It works in Disney movies and Beatrix Potter, why can’t it work here?”
“Only one mouse stands between two men and disaster,” Spencer said dramatically, mimicking the ridiculous voice overs that movie trailers used to use. “Only he can save the day for he is… Baker Mouse!”
I burst out laughing, shaking my head as Spencer started humming the theme to the old kids TV show, Danger Mouse. I vaguely remembered watching the reruns on Cartoon Network with my grandad when I was a kid, and I was sure the BBC had done a new version at some point. I thought one of my students had mentioned it.
“Seriously, Danger Mouse?”
“Yeah it fits,” Spencer said with a bright smile. “And we can be his sidekicks.”
“Surely he’d want to keep himself a secret from us? Isn’t that one of the basics of being a superhero?”
“Hmm probably… does this mean we need another mouse to be his sidekick?”
“Please don’t ask Theo for another one,” I said. “François is enough.”
“Are you sure? We could get one for each end of the windowsill,” Spencer said, his smile turning teasing. “François and… I don’t know… Raymond. Or Amaury, like that chocolatier on TikTok who does all that ridiculously awesome stuff with chocolate.”
“That makes him sound less like a sidekick and more like an arch nemesis. Would they even be able to work together then or are we just going to end up with a Batman verses Joker situation in our kitchen?”
Spencer snorted and then frowned. “Wait, François is Batman right? I don’t think he can be Joker.”
“He can be Batman,” I said and leant up to kiss him. “We can build a tiny Baker Mouse signal to summon him. Although, given the state of the kitchen, I’m pretty sure he could tell we need help.”
“It’s not that bad,” Spencer said as he looked over my shoulder. “It won’t take forever to clean up and finish everything.”
I sighed and then kissed him again. I loved Spencer’s eternal optimism, especially when I was tired and reaching the fuck it stage. “Okay. I believe you.”
“Good.” He kissed my nose and I laughed. “Come on, you and Baker Mouse can make the pie filling. Or you can at least prep everything—that would be super helpful.”
“I think chopping chicken and vegetables is about the level of my skills today,” I said, giving him one final kiss before I went to get everything out of the fridge. I cleared down a space on the counters away from the other food, grabbed a knife and a chopping board, and started slicing.
Behind me, I heard Spencer humming as he started making another batch of chocolate batter for the puddings.
Despite the stress I really loved moments like this, when it was just the two of us together, doing our own things in the same space. It made me feel like Spencer and I were truly building a life together, and I could see us doing this for years to come.
“You know,” I said, as I finished chopping the punnet of chestnut mushrooms I’d been working through. “We should have everyone round at some point. Maybe just for a games night or something, it doesn’t need to be formal.”
“You think so?” Spencer asked and I turned to see him frowning as he poured egg whites into Betty’s bowl to start on the meringue for the lemon meringue pie he was making. “Do you think they’d come?”
“Of course, they’re our friends. Why wouldn’t they?”
“I don’t know. I just…” He sighed deeply and pulled his lip between his teeth.
“What’s wrong?” I asked gently, setting my knife down. “If you don’t like the idea, we don’t have to have anyone over.”
“It’s not that. I think it’s an awesome idea, it’s just… nobody’s been here before, not really. Only you and Alex and Will. And what… what if the others don’t like it?”
My heart ached and I quickly washed my hands so I could give him the biggest hug imaginable. “They’ll love it,” I said firmly. “I promise. Our friends are never going to judge you for having a gorgeous, colourful house. And if Alex says anything I’ll set Baker Mouse on him.”
“Yeah, you think they will?” He looked so nervous and I wished I could take that worry away. I would be having words with Alex though. I loved my best friend, but he needed to learn to keep his opinions, and his acerbic tongue, to himself sometimes.
“I know they will. I can guarantee you’ll never get Theo out of your kitchen, Lane and Anders will love your living room, so will Oliver and Bastian. And as for the bathroom… who doesn’t love flamingos?”
“Do you love them?” he asked. “I mean, I know you’re not living living here but you kind of are and it’s all things that I like. Is there anything you don’t?”
“No,” I said without a shadow of a doubt. “I fucking love this house Spencer, and I love you. I don’t want to change anything.”
“Not even Baker Mouse?” His lip twitched in a grin. “I know you think he’s kinda creepy.”
“Not even Baker Mouse,” I said. “He may be slightly cursed, but he’s our slightly cursed stuffed mouse.”
“I love you,” Spencer said, squeezing me tightly and kissing me softly. “You’re awesome, did you know that?”
“Thanks. You’re pretty awesome too.”
Spencer looked around the kitchen and nodded. “Yeah, maybe we will have everyone over… end of January or something. When we’ve all recovered from tonight.”
I groaned. “Don’t say that, why would you say that? You know Alex’s drinks are going to be worse than Laurie’s!”
“I know, that’s why I got us a couple of bottles of Pepsi to take too.”
“You’re a star, and I love you.”
“I love you too.” He kissed me softly and then released me from his embrace. “Come on, we better get this food made or we won’t be allowed in later.”
“That’s almost tempting,” I said with a wry smile. “We could have a whole evening with just the two of us and we’d have food too.”
“True, but, like, do you really think any of them will leave us alone? You know they’ll send a search party looking for us.”
“For us or the food?”
Spencer laughed. “Definitely the food. Theo’s already messaged like three times about the chocolate puddings.”
I chuckled and returned to my pie filling. I could probably make this myself, and if I needed help Spencer would be there to lend me a hand as always. “That man is a menace.”
“Yeah, but he’s a sweet one,” Spencer said. “You okay over there or do you need assistance?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, digging in the cupboard for one of the large, deep, frying pans. “And if all else fails, I’ll light the Baker Mouse signal. Which, by the way, is just a picture of me cursing the oven.”
“Nah,” Spencer said, and I could hear the grin in his voice. “It has to be like a little whisk or something. Ohhh, I wonder if Lane’s any good with electronics… maybe he could make us one?”
I laughed fondly. “We can ask.”
“I’m totally asking! If not, I bet Andrew could do it. He knows how to do loads of random shit.”
“Meringue pie first,” I said. “Then Baker Mouse signal.”
“On it,” Spencer said, switching Betty on as he started humming the Danger Mouse theme again.
I smiled to myself and put the frying pan on the hob.
I really couldn’t wait for our life together because I knew I’d never stop smiling.
It was going to be amazing.