You need me like the wind
needs the trees to blow in
Like the moon needs poetry
you need me
-The Magnetic Fields, “Come Back from San Fransisco”
They’re drunk, that’s how it starts.
They’re drunk, and it’s Posner’s birthday, and somehow they work it out of him that he’s never…well anything, really. Scripps gives him a look that is too sympathetic, so Posner looks away into his (fifth? sixth?) lager and then to Dakin. He always ends up looking to Dakin.
Only this time Dakin is looking back, curious and tipsy and determined, and Posner swallows a bit too hard, and Rudge claps him on the back when he starts to cough, and when he looks back, Dakin is still looking at him, and that’s never happened before.
Later that night, they’re walking home, and Posner doesn’t know how but he’s alone with Dakin when they reach his college, and Dakin smiles and says, “Invite me up,” so Posner does.
He’s thought about this a lot, just how this moment would go. In his head, Dakin is sweet and apologetic and waxes poetic about how he never noticed Posner until tonight, how he’s wasted so much time, how he’s been blind and stupid and all sorts of other things, until Posner takes his hand and graciously forgives him for all the years of being ignored and pushed aside and insulted, and they go to Posner’s bed and get lost in the perfection of their bodies finally meeting.
In reality, Dakin is sloppy and rushed and he tugs impatiently at Posner’s clothes and teases him about saving himself for this moment.
“It’s always been me, hasn’t it, Pos? You’ve been waiting for me.”
It’s true, so Posner doesn’t try to deny it. Instead, he shuts Dakin up with another sloppy, drunken kiss, and they don’t so much go to bed as fall into it, half-dressed still, fumbling and awkward. Dakin’s elbow lands in Posner’s stomach, and Dakin laughs instead of apologizing, and Posner thinks he should be bothered but he isn’t. Their trousers get tangled in their shoes, and Dakin says it doesn’t matter, it’s only a wank, and Posner wants to deny it, but he knows it wouldn’t change anything, so he leaves it, tangled and complicated and yet as simple as his hand on Dakin and Dakin’s hand on him.
There’s a mess and Dakin laughs at that as well, wiping it up with Posner’s shirt before getting up and stumbling into his clothes.
“Stay,” Posner says and gets another laugh in response, muffled somewhat as Dakin pulls his t-shirt over his head and swaggers to the door.
“Happy birthday,” he says with a grin and leaves Posner half-naked and dismally satisfied.
Scripps knows. He doesn’t say anything, but Posner is sure of this. It’s in the disappointed way he looks at Posner and the annoyed glances he gives Dakin.
As for Dakin, Posner is tempted to believe he doesn’t even remember. Nothing changes, and Posner is mildly relieved by this. Nothing has to change. He knows what happened that night, and that’s enough. It doesn’t matter that he feels the need to keep repeating this to himself.
Two days after Posner’s birthday, Dakin has a new girlfriend, and Posner finds he isn’t as upset by this as he thought he might be. It doesn’t occur to him to question this until two weeks later when Dakin shows up at his door with a bottle of wine.
“Girls are so difficult,” Dakin bemoans later, when they’re sharing an illicit cigarette in Posner’s bed, surreptitiously blowing the smoke out his window. “It’s not enough that they fancy you. They’ve got to trust you or something ridiculous like that. Why can’t they be more like blokes? Why can’t they be more like you?”
“But I do trust you,” Posner says, frowning at the smoke ring dissipating above their heads.
“Do you?” Dakin asks, like he hasn’t even considered this possibility. “Well, I guess that blows that theory.” He takes another slow drag and says, “Speaking of…,” and waggles his eyebrows.
Posner rolls his eyes, but he slides down Dakin’s body anyway, gratified to be asked.
“I’m going to Paris,” Dakin announces when the three of them are all together, furiously revising for their exams, as if they were back at Cutlers.
“What, to practice law?” Scripps asks, smirking, amused.
“No, just to get away. Mum and dad are giving me a trip as a gift for getting a first.”
“But you haven’t got a first,” Posner points out.
“But I will do. You should come with.”
“Me?” Posner expects he’ll be denied again, for old times’ sake.
“Both of you,” Dakin clarifies, which Posner takes as an improvement upon the past. “Mum reckons I’ll get into trouble if I go alone.”
“And she thinks we’ll keep you out of it?” Scripps asks, laughing.
“Not you.” Dakin shoves Scripps’ shoulder. “Wee Posner here. ‘Such a sweet boy,’” he says, mimicking his mother’s tones. “I said I’d bring you both if they’d pay for it.”
“And she agreed?” Scripps is incredulous, but all Posner can think of is being in Paris with Dakin and having a chance to do this properly, whatever ‘this’ is.
He can’t go wrong in Paris. Nothing can go wrong in Paris.
They get a tiny, two-room flat, and David spends half his time sharing with Scripps and half of it in Dakin’s room, soothing his ego when he’s been rejected by whatever girl he tried to pull that night.
“What do you two even talk about?” Scripps asks him one night, as they lay across the bed, pretending the tiny fan whirring in the window is doing anything at all to cool them off and that they don’t know exactly what the thumping noise from Stuart’s room is.
Posner shrugs, peeling off his t-shirt and thinking about how different it is to be half-naked in bed with Don than to be in the same position with Dakin. “We don’t talk much, really. Except…”
“Except what?” Scripps prompts.
“Except sometimes I tell him how beautiful he is.”
“Which he knows already,” Don points out.
“He does,” David agrees. “But it doesn’t matter until someone else thinks so too.”
The thumping increases its pace, and there’s a deep groan and a muffled cry of pleasure.
“Someone else clearly does,” Scripps offers dryly.
“But in the morning, she’ll be gone, and I’ll still tell him how beautiful he is.”
“And who tells you how beautiful you are?”
David frowns and turns onto his side. “Good night, Scrippsy.”
Stuart takes a job in Manchester, and Don gets hired at a newspaper in Cardiff. David spends a few years in London, pretending he likes the glamour of the city and that he fits into it somehow. Eventually, he does a teaching course and moves back to Sheffield.
When he was in school, he’d planned on leaving and never looking back, and when he does end up back in his old home again, he knows exactly why he’s there.
His parents have both passed on, so there’s the house of course. But he spends most weekends out redoing a cottage he bought just out of town.
The school he’s in is good as well: bright boys, quick and thoughtful. No one calls him Posner anymore. It’s David to his colleagues, and a very respectable Mr. Posner to his boys. He wonders sometimes what they call him when he’s not around, thinking briefly of Hector, a homosexual and a sad fuck, according to Stuart. He doesn’t touch the boys, of course, but some of them are so very beautiful, and that longing he remembers from when he was a boy hasn’t gone away. He wonders if that doesn’t make him more like Irwin in the end. He never gets an offer like Stuart’s though, and that’s all right. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he ever did.
His therapist tells him that it’s a defense mechanism. He only lets himself be attracted to people he’s certain will reject him to save him the trouble of hoping to be accepted. He nods and smiles and when he goes home, he tells himself that isn’t it at all.
When he finishes the cottage, he sells his parents’ house for a decent enough sum that if he has another breakdown, he can afford to be out of work for a while. He spends his evenings at home with a glass of wine and his computer, delving into the internet, where he is known as Daphne, a twenty-something shopgirl in Oxford, and where he feels no one judges him even if no one actually knows him.
The real reason he’s here, of course, is that the other boys occasionally come back. Adil is close enough that David sees him once a month or so. Peter is based in Sheffield, though David rarely sees him at all. Don manages to come back for holidays most of the time, and he and David keep up in other ways.
Stuart makes it back every few years, more often for David’s birthday than for any other reason. They always get drunk and go back to David’s cottage, and David tries to pretend he doesn’t look forward to these sporadic visits more than any other event in his life.
When Don gets the wedding announcement, he calls David immediately.
“I knew already,” David says pacing with his phone.
“He invited you?”
“Bastard,” Don says, and David can feel his disgust over the line.
“He asked me to usher.”
“I hope you told him to fuck off.” At David’s silence, Don snorts. “No, of course not.”
“He really wants me there,” David argues.
“You mean he asked you while you were fucking.”
“We’re friends.” Or something like friends, David thinks. Closer to it than he is with anyone but Don.
“Oh, Pos,” Don says. He only ever calls David Pos when he’s disappointed or worried or both.
“Anyway, he needs his friends there.”
Don sighs into the phone. “Oh, Pos.”
After the stag do, David is helping Stuart up to his room, and Stuart presses him into the door, slurring into David’s ear, “You’re still waiting for me.”
For a moment, David wants to take Don’s advice and tell him to fuck off. Instead, he fumbles the door open and helps Stuart inside and into bed, moving to pull off his shoes.
“You’re always waiting for me, Davey,” Stuart mumbles.
“You’re drunk, love,” David says quietly.
“I’m still right.”
David helps him out of his jeans, determined, at the moment, to leave it there. “Well, there’s no use waiting for you anymore.”
He gets Stuart down to his boxers and his socks and tucks him in, and Stuart grabs his wrist and tugs him down onto the bed, drunkenly wrapping himself around David.
“Let’s go to Paris for your birthday next year.”
After a moment, David says, “You can’t go wrong in Paris,” and Stuart laughs and David stays right where he is.
“You clean up well,” Don says to him as they get ready for the ceremony the next day.
“Stop, you’ll make me blush,” David remarks, shaking his head.
Don looks at him then, and David realizes that what he’s always taken for sympathy is something else entirely. Resignation, perhaps. Or understanding.
After a moment, Don says, “Your being beautiful belongs to nothing
I don't believe they should praise you
but I seem to believe they should
somehow let you go.”
David stands, dumbstruck, not knowing what to say, not having to hand the poetry he was promised.
Don just shakes his head and says, “Come on. He’s waiting.”
At the front of the church, Stuart grins and wipes his hands on his trousers as David straightens his tie.
“Tell me I’m beautiful, Davey?”
David smiles a smile that isn’t for Stuart at all, and says, “Fuck off.”