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Cold in November

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Saturday had been shrouded in mist and drizzle, but on Sunday the sun shone from clear skies. When they set out after lunch to stroll along the river towards Grantchester, they discovered it was chillier than it looked. Undaunted, Clive stuffed his hands in his pockets and was soon deep in conversation with Greene about Sophocles. Howard and Taylor immersed themselves in rugger talk, walking all the faster the more heated the conversation got, and were soon ahead. Maurice felt restless. He had been walking with Clive at first, as was their habit, but when he realised after a while that he had lost the strand of Greene's argument, he gave up on trying to follow the conversation. The sunny November day was too good to be wasted on Sophocles, so he quickened his step to catch up with Carter, who, walking a little ahead of them, seemed to have been completely lost in his thoughts. When Carter shivered in the breeze, Maurice challenged him to a race to warm up.

It went well, their feet stomped dully on the leafy mass on the ground, they laughed when they sidestepped puddles, and he was winning until he slipped and before he knew it, found himself sitting in a puddle deeper than it looked. By the time Carter had pulled him up to his feet, his trousers and drawers were soaked through and the laugher in him had died.

They turned back after that. It had seemed to him they had hardly covered any ground at all on their way out, but walking back in wet trousers took longer than he expected. The sunshine no longer felt golden but cold and harsh, like in the winter. The spark had gone out of his day, and no matter how hard the others tried to draw him into their conversations, he resisted the attempts, sullen and embarrassed of his childish games and clumsiness.

He separated from the others on the college courtyard, to get changed out of his wet and muddy clothes. It was warm by the fire, and once he had put clean clothes on he didn't feel like leaving the room to cross the courtyard to return to the others who had gone to have tea in Greene's rooms. He made himself tea, poured a drink and settled in the chair by the fire to prepare for the Dean's difficult Greek translation for Monday. Carter, whose rooms were next to his, looked in when he returned later that afternoon, and stayed to talk for a couple of hours, the abrupt ending to the morning's walk all forgotten.

His throat was sore when he got up on Monday morning, signalling the start of a cold. He struggled to concentrate on his lectures, and his turn to translate in the Dean's class in the afternoon was interrupted by sneezes he couldn't suppress, to the extent the Dean asked Greene to take over. After the translation class he was shivering and declined Greene's invitation for tea. He hadn't been back in his rooms for more than five minutes when Clive looked in, intent on discussing something he had heard from Risley, now in London, but Maurice didn't take any of it in. Clive must have sensed it, as he stopped mid-sentence, and asked if he was all right. He mumbled something in reply, he didn't feel too good. Clive came up to him and felt his forehead. Finding it hot, he ordered him to bed. Too tired to resist, he obeyed. It was a relief to close his eyes and drift into feverish sleep.

When he woke up, the room was nearly dark. Clive was sitting in a chair by the fire poring over a book, a familiar sight. He looked up, sensing that Maurice was awake, and closed his book.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, walking up to the bed and feeling Maurice's forehead again. "You're not as hot as you were."

"Have you been here all the time?"

Clive nodded. Maurice felt touched, they had been very close since coming down last month, they saw each other every day, but within the boundaries of Clive's rules. This seemed different. He had never imagined Clive would look after him. Whenever he had thought about one of them being ill or unwell, he had thought it would be Clive who shivered in harsh winds and always had cold hands, no matter how warm the room was, Clive who hurt himself in their horseplay bouts during the last Lent term. After that, he had felt protective of Clive, never thinking about if Clive felt the need to look after him too.

"What time is it?"

"Nearly time for dinner. Do you think you can get up and eat?"

"I think so."

"Good, I'll see you there then. I promised Greene I could lend a book to him, I'm going to drop it off before dinner."

Clive hesitated for a moment before placing a light kiss on his temple. Then he was gone. Maurice closed his eyes for a moment but he was no longer sleepy. He got up, changed out of his creased and sweaty clothes. Being awake brought about another bout of sneezing and he rummaged his drawers to find a clean handkerchief.

He returned to his rooms after dinner, not feeling like company, and tried to read, but couldn't muster the concentration required. Every time he felt he was getting into the rhythm of the text, he sneezed, and fumbling about for his handkerchief meant he lost his place, and had to start again. Frustrated, he slammed the book shut. Then Clive knocked on the door and came in, reading Maurice's posture in a split second.

"If you don't want company I can go."

"No, stay and talk to me. But don't expect me to be good company."

"I'll stay. Just tell me to go when you get too tired."

Maurice busied himself with making tea while Clive recounted a conversation he had had with Howard about a debate at the Union. It was an amusing story, and Clive told it well, even if you could hear he wasn't completely taken by it. By and by, Maurice forgot his running nose.

It turned out to be a pleasant evening after all, despite frequent bouts of sneezing and occasional shivers. Greene and Carter both dropped by to see if he was well after his dip in the puddle, but hearing he had been feverish they finished their cups of tea fairly quickly and left. Although their presence had relieved Maurice from any pressure to provide conversation, he was happy with having Clive to himself, which didn't happen every day; Clive was at times very much in demand, and even quiet evenings like these were punctuated by people dropping by, staying to talk and have a drink. Even when Maurice didn't quite follow all the intricacies of conversation, or didn't have much interest in it, he felt proud of Clive.

But having to share Clive with others so often made him treasure moments like this even more. It was for these moments that he had apologised to the Dean, to be able to return to Cambridge. It was moments like these that made him feel like the happiest man on Earth.

His contemplations on his happiness were interrupted by a huge yawn.

"You're tired, I should leave you to rest," Clive said.

"Stay, just a little longer. I'm too tired to read, will you read something for me?"

"If you want. What shall I read?"

"Anything. The Symposium."

He drifted to sleep to the sound of Clive's restful voice, reading the dialogue he'd come to learn by heart, that had become part of him with Clive.

The next morning, he woke up with the familiar morning sounds of doors opening and closing, men going up and down in the staircase, going to the bathroom, their gyp tidying rooms. He stretched and got out of bed. His fever was gone, and he felt well again, as if the past two days had been just a dream, his fall, the fever, and Clive reading to him. Then there was a knock on the door, and Clive came in, which he had never done on a morning before Maurice's illness. Something had changed, in however small a way, and made it easier for two of them to reach out to one another.