I’m staring at the popped hair, where it’s frayed and fluttering as I move the bow, and I don’t even hear them behind me until there’s a gnarled sound from someone’s throat.
“You were easy to spot.” When I turn, I find his eyes hastily retreating to my ponytail. Mine go to his, too. But for different reasons. The horsehair tickles the back of my hand. Anders. Anders of the Seven-Year-Dropoff. He hugs me, uninvited, and it feels like I’m trapped in my clothes. But it’s not just his arms and his chest, his voice is thin, too, and he whispers to my lapel, “Hi.”
“H-hello.” As if I hadn’t missed him like breathing. As if he didn’t know the shape of me in the dark.
“Wow, I guess you got a little heavy with your bow, huh?” He fingers the edge of the frog, letting the defunct horsehair slide through his palm. Heat fills up my skin, fulfills the implication of darkness he seems to think I retain. If he’d been the first to ever notice … and the last to hear me explain how many bows I’ve gone through. How much gray tail. Why the press on strings is never as hard as I need it.
I look at the man standing behind him, symphony program curled into a tube fit for plumbing. “Der Tiefe Ast” becoming just “Tiefe” along the tight curve. And I stop myself from laughing at how absurd it actually is.
Anders sees me eyeing his…companion. The man I knew would have let me believe they were together. This one doesn’t. Whatever he sought when he left, I can’t find it on him. That I lament for him again, and that it’s on my face, tears at things I’d closed. Anders looks away from me.
“This is Kris,” he gestures at the grizzled man. Who shakes my hand, despite Anders’s edge of embarrassment, with surprising warmth and vigor. As with any aged man, I compare him reflexively with my father. And as usual, I like the stranger more. Anders heaves a breath under his sweater. “We’re working together. On a project.”
I don’t ask him about it. The bow and its wisp of broken hair are stowed. Latches latched. The rest of the orchestra has buggered off, and the side-door swings wildly with each thumping case that passes out into the night. Before it closes, I see that it’s snowing.
“Are you hungry?” He sniffs, hands going into his pockets. Kris stands off to the side. To me, he looks like a bodyguard. A sentry in a navy peacoat.
“Anders.” Fuck off. And, every night until it faded to every other night, Why?
“Please? My treat.” The voice isn’t thin anymore. Giddy Anders. You-can’t-help-yourself-Anders. The sound of him, it’s the lightning blue of veins I can see where his huge sweater sleeves are pushed up. His treat?
Suspicion confirmed: he’s not the same. Still, I just can’t…smile. The way he’s looking at me makes me think it’s something I used to do.
“Let’s go. There’s a pub ‘round the corner.” I sigh, and collect my case and coat.
Kris nods as if to a contingent of other guards, and we shove out into the street.
They walk a little behind me. I wish I’d put on my coat, even for two blocks. When I look back, their heads are bowed against the snow. They’re identical in a small way, height and weight measuring less than the sunken purple of isolation in their faces.
If he were less beautiful than seven years of silence. But he’s every bit of it.
Then I do smile, but only when I turn back around. Because I’m thinking of my father’s Huberman. What a mess I’d made of his prized Strad. And how much worse it would have been in Anders’s hands.
Yes. I’m hard on the strings and the bow and the horsehair. I’m hard. But, Anders was rougher, heavier, on everything he cared about.
My case turns shiny, wet with snow. We cross at the light and I point at The Vigil’s carved sign. Beside me, they nod in unison.
Chapter 2: The Minor
We don’t sleep together. And for someone who keeps telling themselves that it’s the proper thing, I spend a remarkable amount of time dwelling on it. Fucking my hand to the realization that it’s a power I’ll never possess, this unperturbed desire, and one that Anders likely doesn’t even know he wields. Bully for him if he does. And the thought of his flippancy makes me as hard as the image of him on his knees begging for forgiveness. Which blessedly comes up only once, in dreams.
In the days after he shows up at the concert, Anders calls on me. Never the other way around. Sometimes he brings Kris and sometimes not. There are a series of meals and brief chats over coffee or beer. Each time, I tell myself to pay attention to what he’s saying, chiding myself for the instinct to be bitter about any measure of happiness he mentions. The problem is that there are so few. Even Kris, who doesn’t smile so much as raise his eyebrows now and again, tells me he has only known Anders to be a man of “sincere wretchedness.”
I stop myself from telling him about the homemade t-shirt Sig sent him, the one he wore to pieces. The Whys, the Whos and the Whats in fuzzy, iron-on velveteen letters.
But Anders doesn’t need to say anything. I’d rather he not. I’d rather we not. The most revolting thing is to skip the parts that lead where you want to go . . .and then to feel betrayed by your need to go there at all. How Lilah would laugh if she knew.
Over tea, in a shop near my flat, he tells me that he doesn’t sleep well with Kris in his apartment. This, too, interests me less than making him want, as headily as I wanted. . .something only I can give. Anders takes my mug and goes to get more water from the counter girl. In my lap, I release the fist I didn’t know I was making, and watch the red crescents fade on my palm. He won’t talk about the night he left because I won’t ask him. There’s a flood waiting there, and I don’t owe him the pleasure of unleashing it.
It feels like a dream because, as I’m starting to see, it is a dream. Nothing about these meals, these moments, is the way it actually happened. Unlike my reality, this is perfect in the center and nebulous on the edges. When he returns with the fresh tea, my un-version of this shows me a long-fingered hand on mine. The feel of it is jarring because he hasn’t actually touched me. While I’m busy deciding why I can’t touch him, I look up to find Kris retreating to the loo in the back of the Vigil. We’re in the Vigil now. And when he’s out of sight, Anders kisses me. He tastes wet, like beer and salt, and then we go dark. Which is the nature of my dream.
When color and sound return, I’m farther back, into something I know instead of the seduction of things I only allow myself to crave here, asleep. No, this last scene is literally the last of Anders, in the time when I didn’t know he was leaving, but he did.
Only in this dream, I fucking well know.
It’s a rotten, unsatisfactory fantasy where I move inside him, listless, and don’t let him touch me. Here, it is far darker than our actual bedroom had been, and far colder. He smiles up at me, perhaps seeing nothing but the depth of my hurt, and reaches for my face. I flinch away so hard that I tilt, body jerking. And I wake; not the gasping and heaving sort of jolt from the movies. I simply open my eyes, and there’s no more Anders groaning, tight, around me. Nothing greets me in the dark but my bedroom and familiar shadows. A perfect parody of how it happened, in fact.
Beside me, the digital clock face blares something with a three. My pajama top is on the floor, which effectively solves the mystery of my shivering awake. I’m about to lean over to pick it up when I hear soft snoring from the living room.
Fuck. That’s right. Not drunk, just couldn’t sleep in his own place. Please, just tonight? Right.
I blot out everything with my hands firm over my eyes, rake them upward through my hair, and swear audibly. My fingers tug hard, nails digging into the hidden skin.
“Bloody fucking hell.” It hurts like mad. I can’t get rid of him, and don’t seem to actually want to. My scalp and my chest and my bow arm quake. The snoring stops.
Before I can think of a way to convince my body not to, it is moving through the flat, doorframe to doorframe in a memorized pattern my feet know in the dark . I just need a glass of water, I tell myself, and ignore how bare I am. The living room is a cave of bookcases, cradling the crowded baby-grand with its towers of sheet music leaning together like drunks. Faint light from the VCR casts a bluish glow on the rug in front of the couch. It’s just enough light to see by. To see him.
I pad halfway through the room, determined to pass around the back of the sofa, but take the front instead. Because he’s a catastrophe that I veer toward, I take myself right to him.
Anders is still in his clothes, of course. I’d offered him nothing but the couch, and what was left of my bottle of Cabernet. He’d turned down the wine, leaving me to fall asleep wondering who was really occupying my couch. But it’s him, undoubtedly. My hair slips over my ears, brushing my shoulder, and I realize it’s because I’ve moved closer, looking down at the even rise and fall of his chest. If I look away, move on to the kitchen, get my water, and go back to bed. . . I will still see him in everything.
Anders with his cat, sitting together behind the unfurled newspaper. Two golden heads in deep concentration. Anders smoking pot with me in the practice room, comparing the Beatles to Bach. Anders with his sculpted fingers made for stroking keys and skin. Now, I watch them lay loose on his belly and curled around the arm of the couch. Every day I swore they were just for me.
Why? Even when I dream I don’t ask him, and he doesn’t say. I squeeze my eyes shut, the fantasy of him, hot around me in the cold room, still lingers. Nate, what’s wrong? Reaching for my face as if he wasn’t about to tear the world away.
But this? This person with two-day scruff and loose hair? He’s not the bastard from my dream. He’s a man on my couch in a sweater that doesn’t fit and corduroys that do. Seven years of his silence unfairly pressed into a weekend of mine. I can’t focus on it. I’ve so thoroughly wasted the very days I’ve been counting all this time. Me. I ruined me, not him. We . . .worked, once, fluidly and without regret. What if we can again?
Below me, Anders murmurs in his sleep, brows pained. My eyes sting. Whatever he offered me, with all that he was, I had promised to be a safe place for him to store it. Standing here, the shape of him blurring into the couch, I’m ashamed of how utterly I had forgotten to tell him. God, I felt it, though. Then he was gone, and with him parts of me that were, unwisely, stored within. We were a harmony of sorts. And then he lifted himself out of the movement. In the most stubborn way, I had spent these years believing he’d done so for no good reason.
I look the place where his sweater rides up, revealing belly and ribs and silken twist of hair. It’s not like we eroded, as so many do. It’s not like love fell away on all sides of us, leaving no option but to jump. Though, that’s how I feel now, teetering over him in the dark like some half-assed Nosferatu.
So, I kneel.
Without meaning to, I realize that I don’t expect him to leave. That I’ve let the poorly-healed part of me actually count on him to stay. This close, I can hear him breathe, and smell the otherness of his apartment on his clothes. He is blue, and gold, and a continuous line of soft shadow propped on the arm of the couch.
I lean into him, finding the juncture of skin and corduroy. For a moment, he doesn’t move. And I don’t breathe. To press a kiss there, perhaps to follow with my tongue, would not be enough. The weight of me pours into my cheek, and I follow where the ache takes me. Corduroy under my face, where I can feel the dip of his pelvis. I rest, sinking into him, and remember to breathe. He smells like nothing I remember, nothing we made together, and the first sound I utter since waking in rage is a broken sigh into cloth, joining the heat beneath. To my lack of surprise, I’m crying before he wakes.
“Nate?” This groggy voice is something I’m not ready for. He was sleeping so soundly that I feel like a right tit waking him from the first decent rest he’s had. Quickly, I forget to care. Anders moves, but doesn’t remove. Instead, he adds a perfect weight to mine, fingers in my hair and on my shoulder. I squeeze my eyes shut. Please don’t speak. Not yet. I can’t make this work if you’re . . .real. My arms plunge into the couch on either side of him, hugging him close, and I still can’t look as I drag my face along the corduroy. When I turn, my lips catch the edge of his fly. Anders sucks a breath. “Oh, God. Nate.”
Not Nate. Nathaniel, I want to scream. Though I haven’t been Nate in seven years, I want to wear it again and respond to it again.
“Shut up.” I whisper, and it’s a sound too small to be unkind. Even my voice is so desperate to keep this, to keep him, that it tightens. “Please.” My words are dark and simple against the broad wale of the fabric. When I pull, Anders opens his legs, and I slip deeper between. Once, I could think of anything to make him happy. I’ve forgotten it, but I can make it up. My mouth shapes him through the pants. The taste of it, the flutter of his hand in my hair, makes my toes clench on the rug. That this should be where I kiss him first, eyes still shut, is the very flavor of pathetic. And I don’t care. I do it again and again, until the corduroy is damp, and my thighs ache, crouched on the floor, and I’m so hard I’d fuck the couch itself to be rid of this pain. Anders writhes under my face, growing stiff and finally waking.
When I open my eyes, feeling the hand on my shoulder slide over to my face, I find this older man staring back at me. His eyelashes are wet, the glorious line of his nose dipping low in . . .shame? Regret? Anders licks his lips and I want him inside me. What a strange thing to suddenly be so sure of, considering we virtually never did that. He speaks, and the way his chest catches on the last bit is like a tiny shockwave in my heart. “I’m so. . .f-fucking sorry.”
What does he expect me to say? Anders is a clever person, imaginative in a way I will never be. Surely he’s thought of every response. And so he searches me for it, his expression so beautiful in the knotted parts between his eyes, and the fullness of his lip. I don’t nod. My hands push up, under his sweater in the back where his skin is hottest from sleep.
“Touch yourself.” I say.
Slowly, his hands do the work of unbuttoning, unzipping. I barely give him room, and I don’t let go. And when his cock is out, half-hard and exactly as I remember it, I lay my head back down in the space between his ribs and hips. From here, I watch the elegant fingers start their work. His left arm goes around my shoulders, hand rubbing my neck. There is a rush of breath in the lungs under my ear, and his heartbeat is deafening, drowning my own. Anders. Inside me. It’s all I can think about as his cock grows, thick and red. So I blot out my resentment by each stroke, and kiss his belly until he sighs. We are farther from content than this act would imply. And not as near to contempt as I had thought.
He rolls his palm over the tip, starting to pull in strokes too short. The hand at my neck goes rigid, and I almost feel him needing to be quick. If I weren’t on the brink of sobbing hysterically, I would laugh instead. He was always so quick, but happy; not at all impatient, just quick for life and love. I kiss him again, shedding the remaining tears for the good that haven’t let myself forget after all.
“Let me.” My voice cracks, severed by need. Even for this I can’t let go of him. Something like I’m afraid he’ll get up and leave if my arms aren’t tight around his hips. So they stay there, and I take him whole in my mouth.
“Christ, Nate.” Pizzicato consonants bound over me in the dark. Nate. I can be Nate again. Anders holds himself because I can’t, and we manage this together. I duck low to spread as much saliva and heat as I can, with Anders still stroking, and he thumbs my lips when they come close. He sounds like a man I knew, and one I don’t. He tastes of cock, of course because nothing else can, and the skin of him is smooth and hot as delirium. The ache in my jaw replaces the less tangible ones. Anders, the one I might recall as mine, moans and thrusts inside the mouth that hasn’t even kissed him yet.
The kiss we’re coming to eventually, I know it will carry the salt of seven years. And if it’s cum or tears it makes no difference.
Under his sweater, Anders is a livewire. A twisting thing of muscle and bone and a steady whine under each shortened breath. I push the softness away to look at him, and he holds the sweater back for me a moment before dropping his head. He’s caught in me, in the way I can suck. He was always better at it. God, if he did now . . .my cock strains, poking into the side of the couch. But I’m measured, consistent, if not creative. Sucking him is vibrant in a way that drawing a bow is not. My tongue spreads flat around his cock. I move my palm over a nipple, and roll it in the space between thumb and forefinger. His head snaps up, hair flying into his eyes.
“Nn-nn. Jesus, yes.” He croaks, hips alive and bumping my chin.
I think I can do this for Anders, so I do.
I fill up my throat with him, smashing my nose against curls and sweat. If I never breathe again it will be worth the sound he makes, raw and adoring. “Love. Oh. . .fuck me.” His hand bunches in my hair. I choke and pull back, trailing so much slick. Encouraged, and courageous perhaps, my tongue goes around for good measure, and I sink in again. My lips press against the fingers he’s still got wrapped at the base when I do it. The burn gathering in thick waves around my jaw reminds me to swallow, and to breathe. He is deeper still, and I swallow again, the thought of seven becoming just a number. It’s a bloody orchestral percussion, this seven, pounding in my temples for rhythm. I let it go, and Ander’s does too, with his strangled breath and sweet complexion. “Ahh. Nate. Oh, fucking hell.”
The flood is brief, tasting no worse for its bitterness than any conversation we could have had. Better, in fact, than I remembered. I swallow it, and forget it. How is this easier than everything else? The tip of his cock is silky, still hot, and when I kiss it he whimpers, curling over me at last, pulling me onto the couch. If I lay on him I might just fucking come in my pajamas. I do it anyway, rubbing like a cat because I can’t help it, and because his legs go around me as I settle.
Anders touches my face, making himself almost exactly the thing I dreamed. Whatever justice there might be in hating him, turning him away, escapes me. So, unlike my dream, I don’t flinch. We kiss finally, and it’s rougher than I planned. His lips on mine, parting, invite my grief so readily. I pour it over with accidental teeth and vehemence, and he gives it right back, bucking hard into me. But I don’t want to fuck on the couch, and I’m done feeling like a morose asshole in my own skin. Below me, Anders waits and doesn’t do any of his own flinching when my thumb traces his eyebrows to the worry-knot.
“I won’t ask why. There’s little point to it.” I watch him, and feel him moving along every part of me. Please be good. Be whole. It is the only thing I have dared to deserve. Not even the Huberman was worth this much. “But. . . I need something from you.”
Before he can answer I have to kiss him again, to take his tongue in my mouth and slow the hammering in my chest. Somewhere in this kiss I hope to gain the actual words.
“What?” Anders blows his hair out of his eyes when I release him, long fingers on my naked back. “Whatever you want. I’m so s-”
“Pardon?” For the first time in days, he smiles like he means it. It comes from somewhere pure, and I have missed it more than London misses sunshine. He closes his eyes, still wet. “I thought you were going to ask for your records back. Or maybe even the car. Which I don’t have anyway.”
“Anders.” It’s a growl. My dick, trapped between us, slides inside flannel and over corduroy. If he’d just be there, inside, I could move on. With him if he wants, if I want. My head bumps his and I can see the super black pupils, wide inside gold. “Please?”
I nod, pulling back as he scrubs his face with his hands. Anders peeks at me, uncontained shock. He’s . . .charmed. That’s a new one for me.
“I just. You’ll have to excuse me if I take a moment.” He blinks, smile verging on shy.
“Don’t take too many.” I make his smile into moan, grinding into him, relishing that I can. Thighs squeeze my hips, and it seems we’re both thinner than we were, on the edges anyway.
“Do you have what you need?” Up on his elbows, Anders’s lips skate my neck, suckling sounds hidden in my hair. I nod. “No time like the present, then.”
With no small effort or any amount of grace, we hobble through the chilled apartment back to my room. I don’t let go of him.
There’s a lighter, a pack of cigarettes (bought, after two years without, on the night he came back), and a candle beside the bed. When the flame pops apart the blackness in my room, his eyes go to the little table. Anders is a toucher. As long as I have known him, his compulsion is to touch everything he can get his hands on. Trinkets, clothes, people. He touches me, sitting on the edge of the bed while I fiddle in the drawer, trying to gather too many things with my one, unoccupied hand. But his curious fingertips leave me, and pick up the bottle of pills behind the alarm clock.
“These are. . .” He slumps, holding the tiny bottle with both hands. “My migraine pills? But these must be.”
“Of all the things to keep,” murmurs their previous owner, face retreating to the masque of shame. Part of me hopes he’s imagining how it had been to look at them every night and every morning. Some people, I think distantly, keep picture frames for this sort of thing.
I’m going to lose it. The bottle might fly across the room. It is far more likely that I will lose my erection and my chance at feeling normal, or at least feeling anything that isn’t a careful arrangement of notes and warming wood under my chin. Until I’d knelt on the floor in front of the couch, I wasn’t sure I could. ‘Conflicted’ and ‘hopeful’ are still feelings, I remind myself.
Anders sets the pills exactly where he found them, turning the label toward the wall. Then, he pulls me against him. I’m blocking the candlelight, but he still glows, and he kisses the dark hair at my navel. The pajamas slide off, and my instinct to push him back on the bed is so. . .present. But, I stand still to help him off with the sweater, bending for a kiss.
“I missed. . .” He starts, reaching for me. I stop him.
“You don’t get to say that.” My hand isn’t tight on his wrist. Long fingers slip along my length. God help me, I let them.
“It’s true. All the same.” And he takes me in his mouth, cutting us both off.
“Anders.” How many times can a man hear his name as a groan? I pitch against him, drop the lube and the condom on the bed, and clasp my arms around his head. “Bloody hell.”
I don’t remember the number any more, but I do remember how fucking good he is. There’s only how soft his hair is, how lean and hard his shoulders are. The realness of him is so bright that melancholy abandons me, and I don’t spend these minutes comparing the Anders that used to do this, that mouth and this one, with the man he is now.
“We’re getting there.” He promises, dragging his two-day beard over my dick, making me hiss.
He finds the bottle, fingers like instruments themselves under the cool glisten of liquid pouring over them. I think of Paganini. All those inked portraits of deftness, like a single-minded sculpture from God. I suddenly wish it were honey making a slow trek down those digits. But it’s not, and I catch myself holding a breath. Two things happen at once, the fingers and his mouth, and I’m still standing when he does it.
“Jesus.” I don’t know what to do with myself. Anders is on me, and in me, so I open as much as I can. My legs spread, the breath in my chest, and the fists on his shoulders going loose. It’s not the first time. And maybe since it happens so infrequently those occasions should stand out more starkly than they do, like glittering bulbs in a mostly dull string of lights. Though I’ve forgotten how to do it this way, I do not lose the most critical aspect.
God, do I love it.
Anders makes a sound, hot and trembling around my cock, and deepens the press into my ass.
“Yes. Oh, please just . . .more.” I don’t ache over his fingers. It’s just that everything, all of what I asked for, is real this time. His mouth and his fingers aren’t phantoms. And the way I can look past the arc of his eyelashes, the cheeks, to how hard he’s become in the still-open fall of the corduroys, is killing me. How he’s here, in every sense of the word, is lifting me.
I do push him back, then. Bless him, he rolls with it, and manages to stay connected when I climb over him and take his mouth. I forget how quiet this place is, until it’s suddenly not. When he pushes as far as his hand will allow, spreading me, I cry out into the reddened spot I’ve sucked on his neck.
“Shh. I’m sorry. Nate, are you. . .?”
“Good. It’s good.” But, I can see that the whimpering man who goes so tense above him might seem like a fucking liar to Anders. So I push, and ride, and he smiles before adding another finger. My body doesn’t protest, exactly, but it’s extraordinarily tight. Anders chuckles because I gaze at his cock, wondering how much of this is necessary.
“It’ll feel bigger than it looks.” He assures me with a lopsided smirk, and pumps for emphasis. I laugh, convinced more by my desire than his, and drag a hand over my face before kissing him. There’s giddiness to this, something we cling to. It’s in the careless but sensational way our dicks rub and slide, and in how hard he’s working while appearing so splendidly in love.
And that’s it, really. Not just I missed you but also, I never stopped loving you. And I’m near to believing it’s not just the feel of me, but also the thought of me . . .in the mundane as much as the sensual. I pause. Anders lets his free hand wrap loosely around the two of us, eyebrows pinched in query.
I nod, letting a moment pass while I tear open the foil, and I measure the grim lines that form beside his mouth, ones that likely match my own. We’ve had lives, disused as they were, outside of each other. There it is, and it can’t be changed. As I squint, trying to see which end is up, Anders snatches it from me. We aren’t urgent, it seems, but we are needy. I need to be fucked while Anders has yet to explain exactly what he needs.
Instead of all the asking I should have done, the moment he appeared at the concert, I brace over him and let him in. I spread my knees and give it up. I kiss him for the way it doesn’t burn as badly as I feared. He fucks me for an unrelenting collection of minutes, like it’s two people telling him what to do, and he can’t or won’t decide between them. I ride it out while Anders never stops touching me — my face, my chest, my cock— guiding me through this with filthy cooing in my ear. Which is good, because I can’t focus on anything but how right he was. He feels immense inside me, and there’s no angle that doesn’t make me whine and gasp.
“Fuck, Nate. If I’d only known how sweet you’d be.” He smiles, the wistful play of nails on my chest so incongruous with the battering I’m getting. I squeeze myself, and pull for all the rawness I can handle. This race is lost to me, or won depending upon the viewpoint, and I pitch forward bracing against the wall to bear down so hard that Anders can’t move for a moment. So, he’s pinned, twitching beneath me when I come on his stomach. We go over, then, and my shoulder crashes into softness, followed by my back, before Anders opens me again with a grunt.
Yes, he likes my ass. But it’s his doing all the work, and I don’t remember until I reach to clasp him, to knead the muscles there and bring a harder ache, that he’s still wearing his fucking pants. My fingers go under the fabric, pulling him tighter, and Anders gives a spasming chuckle into the mattress beside my ear, shoving a hand between us to swipe at his belly.
“Here. Open.” He says, and I find fingers in my mouth that I didn’t know I’d be hungry for. Anders rolls up, hips like a wave machine, and watches his digits disappear between my lips. This, I think, tastes finally like something of us, and I close my eyes. Perhaps he does too. But, as I’m sucking, I hear only the pebbled groan in his chest and the corduroy-dampened slap of us together. When he comes, wet fingers slipping away, I add my own sound to it, ushering off discord with a grip on his hair and his name spilling from my tongue onto his skin.
“Mff.” He replies, lips crushed against the sweat at my temple. When I start laughing, he does, too, and my knees go slack around him as the bed shakes. The instinct to laugh is nerves, I know. The crazed trickle of it between us fades, and I hug him so tight that he squeaks.
We smell divine, alive, and I hadn’t marked the loss of a human scent on me until it drifts up where we part.
“Stay there.” Anders kisses my chest and rolls away, slow and bent. When he returns, he’s fully naked and rushing in the chilly room. He slides back beside me with a wet cloth, hand on my hip. “Roll over.”
“Blighted balls, that’s cold.” The pillow catches almost all of my protest as he runs me once-over with the towel. But the clinging stickiness is gone, even if the ache isn’t. And I’m strangely thankful for it. When he’s done, I don’t notice where he tosses the rag, and can only care about the unfocused grey of sheets, and the body at my back. Anders sweeps aside the damp strands of hair and kisses my shoulder.
We sleep together, and for the first time in ages I don’t dream. When I drift off, it’s the fade of one oblivion into another; the dark of my room, with a hot length of skin beside me, traversing to a soundless place, dipped in ink, that’s warmer than I remember.
Rain pulls me from. . .nothing. An unsteady patter of wind current and little feet on the windows guides me out of sleep. Beside me, under his arm, Anders groans.
“Thank God.” He whispers when I roll over to look at him. “I’ve had to piss for ages.”
What on earth this has to do with me I’ve no idea. I’d ask, but he traces the furrow of my brow in the grey light and kisses me. We taste every shade of awful this morning, and I don’t care because this doesn’t feel like the farce it might have been.
He rolls gingerly from the bed, a mass of dark gold hair sticking up on the left side of his head, and staggers to the bathroom. I follow the dip of his back, his bottom, until the door shuts. The clock makes no sense, but I keep staring until it does. Nine twenty. My ass feels like a new rubber band on quality control; tested and approved. I rub the crud from my eyes, and just beyond the clock I spy the newly benign bottle of pills. It hits me, like shivering awake from a dream. Bladder be damned, he’d wanted to be there when I woke up.
From the bathroom, Anders moans with the exquisite release of a long morning piss. I shove the blankets away -- Anders drumming, and waiting, and loving in my groggy head -- and pound across the room, clattering through the bathroom door as the toilet whooshes.
“Bloody hell!” His eyes go so wide I can see all the white.
It’s not the most romantic thing I’ve ever done, stalk a pissing man just out of bed, but I take his startled face in my hands and kiss him because I have to. And I’ve still got the momentum from being barely awake, and Bambie-like on my legs first thing in the morning, so we skitter a little bit between the toilet seat and the wall. Anders holds onto me for dear life, barking a laugh into my shoulder when I hug him and say nothing at all.
I reach out, fumbling along the tile, and turn on the shower with him still in my arms.
“Just a sec.” Anders bites his lip, sprinting from the bathroom, and returns a moment later with a condom from my drawer. He looks bashful, but I could have it wrong. We’re both still yawning and creaking from sleep, and we’re new at being old in front of one another, I find.
The shower goes well enough; all that hot water and the basic splendor of soap on lagged muscles is a blessing. Anders grips the towel bar when I fuck him like he asks, bent and stiff and catching what water comes off me. I pull him to my chest after, sliding back into the tile on wobbly legs, and I think I might be crazy. He seems taller than I remember.
We take the morning slowly from there. Lingering in the bathroom, I rake a comb straight back through my hair, frowning at the clutch of silvery ones, front and center, that seem to multiply by night. I’m going to look like a skunk or a villain before too long. Cruella deHowe. The mirror comes closer as I lean into it, inspecting my lines, and the sound of the piano startles me. At first I think it’s the record player, but the piece stops and starts over with the frustration of a lost talent. I stare into the reflection, into its humid center, and actually see what it looks like when I roll my eyes. It’s the Suite Bergamasque, for Christ’s sake, and he’s butchering it as only Anders can, with some rare combination of caprice and force.
I pull on a heavy, black sweater and go to investigate, wondering if Debussy was ever so divided.
“Kettle’s on.” He says over his shoulder.
“Thanks.” I pop my head out the front door and scoop up the paper from the hallway. But I can’t read anything now, not with how pale and proper he looks at the piano, long fingers stuttering the shape of this music. I can’t read anything but the sweater and the pants, and think of how they’d tasted in the dark. The paper gets tossed on the kitchen table and I perch on the edge of the bench beside him.
“How can you be so terrible at this?” I shake my head, not smiling but feeling like I could. He bumps my shoulder, smirking down at the keys, and I watch him fail at this stanza for a third time. But he doesn’t stop.
“I haven’t played at all. In six. . .seven years I never touched one.” Anders never stops the movement of the notes under his fingers, forgets to pedal, and lets his head hang a little lower. I realize I’m hovering on him, and finally my hand sweeps over his fresh hair to tug the little ponytail. He straightens up, sighing, and looks at me steadily with amber eyes.
“Then, I think you sound remarkably good.” Judgment amended, I pull myself closer to him. We hear the kettle when it keens, but he kisses me like a man who decides what he can be, and I want so much to feel it when it happens. I gather his hands off the keys, let them find my chest, and whatever’s left of me sort of goes across into him as the last vibrations inside the piano die.
“Tea?” he asks against my nose.
“God, yes.” I reply, remembering the shrill whine of steam, and not really hearing it.
Chapter 3: The Sarabande
Box and bag.
We say nothing as the carriage fills up. Anders sits on the seat at the end, near the door, with the box between his bloody awful shoes. I stand in front of him, grungy metal pole in my palm, watching through the window past his shoulders as Croydon’s weekday traffic slumps away in the haze. We’ve thirty minutes to avoid talking about Kris and their flat. To pretend not to think about what we want. Not enough time to finish the conversation, and too much time for small talk. It leaves me with nothing but to look around the carriage at the old women, at the rocking shoulders of suits and cheap jackets.
I can’t help but score the scene I’m trapped in. The train is a Satie piece, I decide, all grey and yellow dripped-over with black. It’s mathematical atmosphere instead of a soaring arrangement. People sway in short beats, and I feel myself doing the same even though my eyes are closed to focus on the Gymnopedie in my memory. Amid lilting piano notes, I feel the sole of a shoe between my legs, hard leather skimming gabardine, and I open my eyes to find Anders watching me. He’s crossed an ankle over a knee, letting the flat of his sole find my thigh where it’s hidden by my overcoat.
Anders’ face is all artless question. I must be pulling a look as we stare at one another. Something between Tom and Lilah. Something that makes him huff a shallow breath, as if to preserve the best air. What my face must say, then, is that this will never be easy. He swallows hard, sole bouncing lightly up and down, like the ropes on a flagpole.
“You don’t understand.”
“No.” I agree. He knows I won’t acknowledge what he’s doing, won’t step back or tell him to stop. Are there limits he can reach in me? I press. “But, not because I don’t want to.”
So we go like this for twenty minutes: Anders teasing my leg where no one can see, and me never looking away because I’m afraid it will stop. Satie never grows insistent in my head as the rails trundle beneath us. The music only carries on, more lovely, more lavender than grey, and as the shoe between my legs dips with the movement of the carriage I think of nothing but bending Anders over the couch.
Before him, I’d planned for mundanity. I planned for dinner, and I planned for concerts or haircuts. Now, I tense against the pole, watching the plunge of his eyebrows, feeling the hard edge of leather climb my thigh, and I plan to suck his cock so slowly that his voice breaks when he begs me to finish.
If I thought I could do this I was mad. Mad and so, so willing.
“Are you ever going to tell me about Kris?” I ask, voice so quiet and graveled that I’ve mimicked Kris himself without meaning to. The way he’d been in the slight seconds before Anders shut the door on him. Before we bustled away with his whole life in a box and a bag. I look down to inventory the little world bristling out of cardboard at my feet: a small photo album, a zippered shaving kit, an embroidered pillow, a coffee-maker, and an old scarf. The whole thing is a picture of haste and sentiment, of Anders himself.
“I keep telling you there’s nothing.” He shifts low, more pressure on my thigh, higher. “It’s not like that. Never was. If I tell . . . when I explain, it will change things.”
I feel a vibration and pull my phone from my overcoat.
LILAH – up 4 a visit?
Leipzig to London for . . .what? A too-short weekend? The annoyance spiking through me only means I’d really like it if she came, and feel unworthy of the time, and thoroughly taunted from every angle. Especially between my legs. I don’t text back. Instead, I lean a little closer to Anders’ shoe, the pole in my hand turning clammy as I picture his long fingers pumping me. His sole slides back and forth along my leg, unseen by anyone but us.
“I’ll hear it when you’re ready.” I mumble, trying not to watch him nod through this victory, or to watch his shoe, or the climbing ridge in my trousers. That leaves precious few places to pitch my gaze.
He slips even lower in the seat, loose hand barely cupping over his lap. We are close to hard. In public. I have to shut my eyes then, because when he looks at me it’s years ahead of this. In the dark behind my eyelids, even with the roll and jerk of the train, it’s Anders in my flat making tea in a bathrobe.
I take a deep breath, forcing it past the sharpness in my throat.
Yes, I’m still on the train, but I’m off in the sarabande. Which only means the drag to the next step, the transition to greater complexity. Satie’s measured notes break through, carrying me past this and straight through to Anders in the possible future. He pushes my legs apart, tasting me. It’s years gone by and Anders is still there, kicking in the sheets and buying better beer than we can afford. And whatever is behind the door with Kris doesn’t darken the image.
When I look again, I find him staring. He chews the inside of his cheek, worried.
“Nate?” Anders stops the clever circling of his foot, leaning forward to take my coat in his fingers.
I shake my head, feeling the creeping urge to grin like a lunatic. “I’m fine. You just. I’d very much like to be home.”
A smile spreads beneath the point of his nose. “Me too.”
At the Bridge we bolt from the train car, bag and box and stiffening cocks jumbling through the station’s crowd and into the day. On the street, I close my coat and raise my hand, not missing the way Anders smiles and pulls his own jacket tighter.
“Taxi now, I think,” I say without asking, and he makes a thumb-and-forefinger whistle at the black cab rolling by. They’ll be wet, the fingers from his mouth, wet and warm and it’s what I think about as we pack ourselves into the taxi. The driver grunts when I tell him, voice cracking, “Old Church and King’s.”
I can’t leave it, though. I sit back in the cab and I can’t let it go, let the sound of them arguing just filter away like turning the knob down. The hallway had smelled of public places, incapable of beauty and overused . . .and their voices volleyed behind the peeling door.
‘Go if you need to. Take this, too.’
‘Don’t look at me that way. I deserve-‘
My phone vibrates. We’re suddenly fifteen again in the dim cab as Anders follows my hand deep inside the pocket to squeeze, pushing into the lining. He strokes me through two layers. I check the message and try not to writhe.
LILAH – guess that’s a no?
Fucking now? Yes that’s a no. Like hell I’m giving over, and the phone drops into the pocket beside his roving digits.
Anders pushes the box a little, making room in his lap, and I don’t need a shoe for this. Or a fight. I palm him, sinking low into the seat, into the tobacco smell and my lack of shame. We’ve got a bag and a box to hide behind, every last thing of his rolling through Chelsea toward my flat, and my hand on him goes heavier.
“Nathaniel, Jesus.” He hisses, face turned into the window, though I see his tight smile reflected there. The street music bounces on, wheels like dragging steps, and Anders presses his fist against his lips. I don’t stop until we stop.
There’s some business with my billfold and the cash that I won’t remember if my life depended on it. He could charge me fifty quid and a box of bon-bons; this part is just a black-edged tunnel. First this exchange, getting past it without grousing, then we’re on the street again, bag and box and harder than ever.
- We go inside like a bad movie, clutching cardboard and wool.
For the second time today Anders passes over a threshold as if chased by a storm, and though this is clearly better (Oh, better! The way he smiles backwards at me . . .) my mind lets me have none of it without comparison to the first. To how I’d heard him seethe and stomp before the door had clattered open, and shut again.
‘What do you want from me? Nothing has ever been enough and I’m starting to see-‘
‘-had a plan. I’m simply-‘
‘No. Just. . .here. It’s all I have. I’ll be back when I can.’
In the entry, he lets the box fall, pulling me in without a sound. “L-lift.” I say, between his tongue and the taste of skin. Anders goes up on his toes, hooking a leg around my ass, missing the meaning if not the strain. I choke on my laugh, sucking his neck, “No, get in the lift.”
“Oh, good.” He winks, slinking down to grab the box, and I follow with the bag drooping and my cock aching. As Anders slides the gate shut, I don’t feel the buttons, the gravity of the lift, or the strap of the bag . . . just his mouth and the remains of Satie painting the day, brushing away Kris and Croydon.
“What do you want?” He’s asking about now, with my coat pushed open and a couple of belt buckles catching. He smells like a medley of his grotty apartment and my soap. But I see more, want more, beyond the floors gliding past the gate, beyond even the couch (God yes, fuck him over the couch. That!). Anders kneels for the box when the lift stops, but I kick the blasted thing into the hallway. It’s too harsh, the way I breathe while he looks at me. While I sag into holding him, the two of us leaden against the wall, Anders watches me struggle.
“You. Live with me until . . .not until. Just live. With me.”
He takes the keys from my grip.
“We’re already doing that, I thought.”
“Yes?” Because it’s the gesture I meant to make, I think it’s my hand that comes to my forehead, but it’s his. He’ll be there, just there where I meant. “Yes, of course.”
Anders kisses me, toeing the box forward and not letting go until we finally make the door.
“I thought we’d never make it up. Nate, you . . .” Metal grinds in the keyhole, and I don’t let him finish. Blood makes its way faster than we can, crashing through, and my hands fly to push the door and close it again. Anders leads, dancing for us both, shucking his jacket. What box? Fuck the bag. Bloody tea in bathrobes forever. All I see is blonde, scrape my nails on stubble, and reel toward the couch.
“Fuck.” I whine when he connects with it, stopping us hard, and I feel hot breath, feel him smile against my temple.
“Anders? Good to see you!” Calls a sweet voice from somewhere outside the fog of us.
Sweet and low and . . .Lilah?
We stiffen, turn toward the kitchen, and find my sister there. Polka dots and modern hair, with her feet propped on the table. She waves, voice like a dark bell.
“I brought a friend. Didn’t think you’d mind.”
I do mind, Lilah, love. I’m burning up with texts, and teases, and blighted Anders wriggling against the couch. And then I don’t mind at all.
Not when I hear the chirping meow from across the room.
Chapter 4: The Ostinato
not a true chapter, but more of an interlude. with art commissioned from the brilliant spader7 on tumblr.
At the close of the evening, when we’ve said nothing approaching our peace, only stepped backward, carefully, into footprints well-laid, Anders pays for the meal. It’s how I’m certain of his guilt, and that the difficulty stitching itself under his eyes, pale violet and unguarded, is also my fault.
At several points I’ve said, “We don’t have to do this now,” and not meant a syllable of it. What I mean is that I need an explanation from him, its exposure will cause him pain, and there’s no avoiding it. I’d sooner smash my own fingers to pink, pulpy bits than hurt him.
So we can actually look at one another, Anders refracted under that sweater, because we don’t have to do this now.
We have to do this, and it’s my fault we don’t. My pain loses.
Anders turns his cup in a tight circle, and I notice his chewed fingernails. What should have been, has been, a dead habit is now resurrected. Since when? His knees under the table seek mine, and I think that sometimes loving him is a rabbit-and-hat trick.
“No? Well good,” he says, exhaling and rubbing his neck. “There’s loads of other…well, stick a pin in it for now. Shall we?”
We stand, and before I can do it myself Anders has my coat in his hands, holding it open like a vaudeville tramp valet. His fingers brush my neck, and though I see myself kissing his cheek the way I’ve done a hundred thousand times in the last six months…I don’t.
Repetition doesn’t lull, it seduces.
I know how to touch him, which floorboards creak when he gets up to sneak food in the middle of the night, where to look on his face when he’d rather be invisible, and none of it’s boring. Not the way people like to think. Repetition means every new thing stands out, every minor alteration to the stanza making the whole grander than it seemed at the start. Making you sit still and hunger for the same.
He paid. We go through the cafe door and it’s the first time I think about snooping behind his back.