Gary turns his face to the ceiling and scrunches his eyes shut, trying to will quiet the voice in his head screaming that Miranda's there! Right there! There, on his left side! He could roll over right now and stroke her hair, kiss her neck, leave a lovebite on her thigh! and so on by reminding it that it's Christmas Eve, she's trying to sleep, Clive and Tilly and Stevie are in the next room, and anyway they're just friends now, again, and be grateful for that. Yes, yes, alright, the voice relents, Miranda is our friend, and Gary sighs and lets his face relax, thinking sleepy thoughts, until the voice purrs, there's no harm in looking, is there? People are allowed to look at their friends.
Slowly, carefully, Gary rolls over, and slowly, carefully, he opens his eyes. “Oh,” he says, startled.
“What is it?” Miranda asks, too sharply for her to have been anywhere close to asleep.
“I think this mattress has a dip toward the middle.”
Miranda twists her torso back around towards Gary, and blinks when her shoulder hits his chest. “Oh,” she says. “Will you look at that.”
“You see what I mean?”
“We're practically spooning.”
“I did not do that on purpose,” Miranda says, shaking a finger at the ceiling.
“Me neither,” says Gary, shifting his arse backward as a first step in squirming his body away from hers toward the far side of the bed.
“Although I suppose . . . would it really be so bad if we did?”
"Spooning's not the end of the world, is it? People can spoon and have it not mean anything. In a bed this small you almost have to."
"I thought we were just friends again."
"Oh, we are. Definitely. Good friends." Miranda nods. "This is about economy of space."
"Right," Gary says slowly, warily. He maybe gasps a little when Miranda scootches back towards him. "Right," he says again, and hesitantly brings his arse back in line with his upper body. He puts his hand on her hipbone, over her pajamas, under the blanket. "Is this okay?"
"Yes," Miranda says. "That's fine." She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, settling into the sagging mattress and into Gary's touch. “See? This is fine, this is nothing.”
"Of course," Gary says, and laughs. It feels a little forced, so he closes his eyes and sighs like she did, all parts of his body sinking and softening. All parts except . . .
"Oh dear." Gary rolls away from her onto his back.
"What's wrong?" Miranda twists to follow him, taut and nervous.
"Nothing," Gary winces, then snorts. "Just a little 'night-before-Christmas' stirring, that's all."
"I'm getting an e—” Catching himself starting to mouth like Miranda and her mother do, Gary frowns, clears his throat, and repeats the word like a newscaster: level, neutral, with only a minor stutter, “erection.”
“What, really?” Miranda says, and Gary flinches at the pitch and volume of her voice. She says it again, quieter, “really?”
“I'm sorry.” Gary slips a hand into his pajama pants, under the blankets, holding his swelling prick down against his thigh. “I don't know if I should just ignore it and hope it goes away or go to the bathroom to take care of it, but I feel like if I tried Clive or Tilly or Stevie would catch me and it's been almost fifteen years since anyone's walked in on me wanking off in someone else's toilet and I . . .” Aware that he's babbling, Gary turns his head to look at Miranda and swallows. “I'm sorry.”
Miranda stares at him for a long moment before blinking and twitching her head. He can only imagine what her inner monologue is saying now, and isn't sure if he's relieved or worried that this time it's staying inner. “No, that's fine,” Miranda says. “I mean it's nothing to be ashamed of, just a . . . perfectly . . . natural . . . I'm sorry, did you actually just say that you weren't sure if you should wank off in my bathroom?” She doesn't even stumble on the shenanigan-related words, although she does blush a bit when she's finished.
“Right. Well that's . . . that's . . . As you were,” she says abruptly, rolling back onto her side.
“Gary, it's okay. I understand. It's just one of those embarrassing things that bodies do sometimes, like belching and the breast clap. I know it doesn't mean anything. So . . . don't worry about it,” Miranda nods to herself, then mutters, “besides which, I'm kind of curious to know what it feels like.”
“Belching and the what?” Gary says, then shakes his head. “What I mean is, I don't think it does not mean anything; I mean, it does mean something. Miranda, I still have feelings for you. I'm still attracted to you. I know that if I were sharing a bed with Clive or Tilly or Stevie, I would not be having this reaction. And that's all, it's just me, I'm not asking you to do anything about that, I know I screwed things up between us and I'm lucky you're still talking to me, just . . . Some parts of my body don't always listen to logic, and now being this close to you they're getting their hopes up, as it very much were.”
Miranda is uncharacteristically silent, for long enough that Gary starts to worry.
“Miranda?” Gary says. “You know I missed you when I went away. The first time, I mean. I missed a lot of other people too, of course, including some I didn't expect to, but with you it was like, I'd go somewhere and something would happen and think 'I wish Miranda could see this, she'd freak right out,' or 'I know Miranda'd have something clever to say about that'. Or whenever I was bored or lonely and wishing for a familiar face, nine times out of ten the first face I wished for was yours.” He feels Miranda snort into her pillow and presses on, smiling.
“Coming back to Surrey was like a dream come true, in that regard, but it also reminded me of all the things I hadn't remembered or never knew or thought about, how you weren't just some caricature or a voice in my head. When I went to Hong Kong it was different, or not really different but more intense and I had a different idea about what it meant. Miranda,” he continues before she can say anything about Tamara, “you are my favourite person. You're warm and creative and funny and good, and when you smile it makes my insides tingle, and yes, you're weird and awkward a lot of the time, with a brain like a saucepan full of pop music prone to boiling over under pressure and a tendency to spout off ridiculous lies when you're embarrassed, but you know what? I'm weird too. Deeply so. And you're one of the only people in the whole world that I've ever felt able to comfortably be my weird self with.”
“Hm, yes,” Miranda says, too sweetly, and Gary knows he's not out of the doghouse yet. “I suppose it is a bit weird to lie about your marital status.”
Gary groans and scrubs his face with the hand not cupping his still somewhat stupidly optimistic cock. “I've told you a million times that I'm an arse and I'm sorry. Which part are you more angry about, anyway, that I married her or that I didn't tell you straight off?”
“Honestly? Both. And you didn't tell me at all, actually, Clive did.”
“I was going to, though! I just . . . I only got together with her in the first place because I was trying to convince myself that moving to Hong Kong wasn't a thoroughly terrible idea and because spending time with her made me feel young and interesting, that is until it made me feel old and left-out. I liked her, I still do, but it was never . . . and we broke it off long before I started thinking about coming back to England. The marriage was just paper, truly. It was only ever about helping a friend get citizenship.”
“Then why didn't you just say that? When she started working at the restaurant, why didn't you introduce her as 'my friend Tamara whom I dated briefly and oh by the way we're sham-married, don't tell the government'?”
“Would you have been alright with that? When I'd only finally got up the guts to try dating you?”
Miranda sighs irritably. “Probably not, no. But you could have told us all earlier, like maybe as soon as you got back, before things had the chance to get all complicated and awkward.”
“You mean when the first thing I saw after I got into town was you snogging an American in the middle of my restaurant? I'm sorry, it slipped my mind.”
“Oh, for—” Miranda shuts her mouth, sucks a breath through her nose, and continues at a much lower volume, “we'll have the whole flat in here any moment.”
“I'm sorry,” Gary says. “Do you want me to leave?”
“No I don't want you to leave!” Miranda hisses. “I want you to put your hand back on my hip and say more nice things about me and what an arsehole you've been while I try to sort out what the hell I'm feeling right now.”
Gary laughs softly and curls back towards her, his left hand still shielding his prick despite its final return to recumbency, and places his other palm back on her hip where it was before. Only now she's fretted and squirmed so much and her shirt has ridden up so that instead of flannel he finds warm skin. “My god you're soft,” he whispers, and rolls his eyes at her flatly intoned, “thanks.”
“I meant your skin.” He moves his thumb a bit, rubbing it back and forth. “It's positively creamy.”
“And there's so much of it!”
“God, Miranda, please don't do this now. It's not like you. It's part of why I love you so much, that you don't get hung up on all that assumed frailty and self-denial, that you actually let yourself enjoy things. You live in your body—which is fine, by the way; everything that art teacher said about undulations is true, your sweep is a stunner—and that's beautiful. You're beautiful.” Without thinking about it, Gary slides his hand higher up, skimming the dip of her waist to rest on the side of her ribs until the tip of his thumb brushes the underside of her breast.
“Gary . . .” Miranda says, a quaver in her voice.
“Yes?” Gary says, shifting closer, trapping his hand as he presses his body up against hers and feeling his cock spring back to attention.
“You just said you loved me.”
Gary blinks and smiles. “I did, didn't I? And I know I'm not the only one. You've got more admirers than I think you realize; I mean, even in this flat you've got—I'm surprised there wasn't a fight over who'd get to sleep this close to you tonight. I really don't know why there wasn't, but I don't believe it had anything to do with wind. In any case I can't say I regret where I've ended up.”
“Gary,” Miranda says again.
“Miranda,” Gary answers, and gives his cock a squeeze before moving his hand out of the way, tucking his left elbow under his body.
Miranda jumps and squeaks, “Oh where's it gone!?”
“What?” Gary frowns. “Miranda . . . that was just the back of my hand.”
“Oh!” Miranda says. “Oh. Of course it was. Sorry.”
“It's—I'm,” Gary continues, canting his hips to nestle his erection against Miranda's tailbone, “right here.”
“Oh,” Miranda sighs, and Gary can't quite tell if it's with approval or disappointment, but he likes the little gasp she lets out upon grinding experimentally against him and feeling him pushing back, the fingertips of his upper hand tightening their grip on her ribs.
“Gary,” she says for a third time and starts to roll over to face him, then gasps and snaps back around with another audible smack.
“What?” Gary says, looking over his shoulder. “There's not actually a duck in here, is there?”
“No!” Miranda moans. “The clock, it's after midnight!”
“So it's Christmas Day! We can't do this on Christmas Day, it's just not right!”
“'How so'?, Gary, it's the Baby Jesus' birthday! Can't have shenanigans today, that would be, like, express ticket to Hell. Christmas Eve is fine, it's even a little romantic, and Boxing Day's alright if you're not still too crammed with pudding, but Christmas Day?” Miranda shakes her head emphatically. "Not on."
“Right,” Gary says, easing back onto his back and stretching out his trapped arm.
“Look, it's not that I don't want to,” Miranda says, turning over to curl toward him with a hand on his shoulder. “I just . . . can we stick a pin in it now, and talk later? I don't mean stick a pin in your—obviously, I meant . . . you know.”
“We should probably think more about this anyway.”
“I suppose so.” Gary looks up at the ceiling.
“This is frustrating for me too.”
“I believe you.”
“Gary,” Miranda says one more time, and Gary tilts his head to look at her. Miranda opens her mouth as if she's going to say something more, then licks her lips and kisses him instead.