I can't sleep the night before I start my new job. I lie in bed next to Laurie and listen to him sleep, his breathing deep and regular, and I'm not jealous of his sleep, but I am frustrated. I made sure that I had a crazily busy day so that I would be dead-tired when we went to bed and I wouldn't end up lying here, staring at the shadows on the ceiling. I'm running through every single trick I've used over the years to get myself to sleep and some that I've just come up with tonight, and I've been doing the last thing in my bag of sleep tricks, listing foreign cities in alphabetical order for the last twenty minutes. This hardly ever fails me: for whatever reason, I'm usually asleep by Kraków. But I'm up to Vienna, after having already cycled through the alphabet once, and still completely wide awake.
Laurie did his bit to help tire me out, after I explained why I'd made us both get up so early. He took me out for breakfast and then we spent hours tooling around Oxford Street. Ostensibly Laurie wanted new shoes, some shirts for work, maybe a tablet - he wrote out a list at breakfast.
He ended up getting almost everything on that list, but I think there was another list, one that he didn't need to write down because he'd been thinking about it for a while, because I somehow ended up with several new things as well, more than he bought for himself, in fact. I'm also pretty sure that the tablet is more for me than him, since he hardly ever even uses his laptop now that he doesn't need to seek out anonymous kinky sex on the internet.
I don't need much beyond my phone, honestly, but my commute to the restaurant is going to be well over an hour, and he said that he'd rather I carried a fairly light tablet than a heavy book or two to read on the Tube, as the new job is likely to be even more physically challenging than working at Greasy Joes had been. He had a whole speech about the kind of back problems that can affect people who work on their feet all day and then carry heavy bags, and I let him get about two minutes into it before I took the tablet and set it up with the same profile I have on my phone. I said something about how convenient it is that they're the same brand, and he flushed a little. He was so adorbs that I had to stop setting up the tablet to kiss him for a bit.
I seem like a spoilt little twink, going on about all the things my rich older boyfriend bought for me, but I'm not really thinking about the shopping. What we did today is bigger than Laurie buying me a new messenger bag and a couple of pairs of jeans. We're still figuring each other out, but we'll probably be doing that for the rest of our lives, like every couple who is honest about this shit. But after the last few months - and especially after all the talking we've done since he turned up in my bed at the loft last week - I feel like we've finally got down the fundamentals.
I know him in a way I've never known anybody, am known by him in a way nobody has ever known me. It feels huge, sometimes, this thing we have, and at the same time, it's as easy and innate as is breathing. Like today. He knows I don't need anything from him except him, and I know that part of how he shows his love is buying me things that he either thinks I need or that he wants me to have.
So we spent several hours engaged in vigourous and senseless consumerism, as my mum would put it. Then, since we were already in the neighbourhood, we went to Hyde Park and made out by the Serpentine. All right, we had a picnic tea with some delicious tarts and a few other things that we'd picked up from Selfridges, and watched the kids launch their toy boats on the pond. But there was also some excellent kissing action.
When we got home, Laurie dropped to his knees by the door and got me off almost before I'd shut it. Then he poured a hot bath and basically poured me into the tub, because my knees were still a little weak from that fantastic blowjob. He got me off again in the tub, and then again after, and, oh, God, I can't think about this right now.
As much as I love nothing more than spending hours replaying every touch, every kiss, every noise that Laurie makes when he gives himself to me, it's making me hard. I don't know if I can get off four times in one night, and, if I can, I want Laurie to be awake for it. But he has to work tomorrow, and it's even more important for him to get enough sleep than it is for me to do so. If I'm lucky, I'm going to cut some veg tomorrow at work. Laurie might have to cut into a human being to save a life. What if he's exhausted because he woke up to take care of me, so tired that his hands are shaky, just a little bit, but enough that he misses his mark and hits an artery or something? What if he hurts somebody instead of saving them? He would never tell me that was why he'd lost a patient – if he told me at all that he'd lost one, and didn't just brush it off by saying he'd had a shit day at work – but I still would have been responsible for that life, and for him being hurt because of it. For all that I want to hurt him in bed, I do so in a way that makes him happy. I never want to do anything that might make him unhappy. That might not be possible, but I've at least got to try.
Ugh. I can't keep lying here, thinking of the ways that I could inadvertently make Laurie unhappy. I sort of slide out of bed, doing my best not to disturb him. For once, I am apparently as stealthy as a ninja, because he doesn't even stir. I take his robe from the chair on my side of the bed. No point in walking about the house completely starkers if it's just me. His robe is miles too big for me, but it's made up of this lovely warm flannel and somehow still smells like him even though I've been appropriating it for months now. He's said a couple of times that he'd happily buy me one just like it, but I think he likes seeing me in it just as much as I like being all wrapped up in it.
I'm reading on the sofa in the living room when Laurie comes downstairs. He's pulled on pants but nothing else, and I can see the outline of his soft cock through the taut cotton. He's gorgeous, as always, even though his eyes are barely open, and he looks sort of disgruntled and confused. I pull back the blanket I've snuggled under, and he nestles in right beside me, his head on my chest. I bury my hand in his hair and pet him a bit, and he's so quiet and still at first that I think he's fallen asleep again, until he speaks.
"Is this entire chapter about the history of béchamel sauce?"
"Yeah, think so," I say, lost in the kitchens of post-revolutionary France. "The next chapter is about the espagnole. Careme was the first person to create a lexicon about the four fundamental sauces of French cuisine. This dude basically revolutionized the way they thought about cooking. He's like the Jean-Jacques Rousseau of gastronomy."
Laurie laughs, pulling me back into this century, this room. "Right, I can see why sauces each get their own chapter, then. So, Careme at the Borough..."
The name of the restaurant where I start work tomorrow. I feel all shivery just thinking about it. "I didn't talk to Melissa a lot about this, but I've been reading a tonne of articles about the restaurant, and the concept seems to be, bringing classic French cuisine to one of the oldest neighbourhoods in London. Melissa only hires cooks who either trained or apprenticed in the U.K., and she has this really cool philosophy about how they don't deliberately need to make the food French-English fusion, but that happens anyway, because English chefs have such a different approach to cooking."
"You're amazing," says Laurie. I look down at him, not sure if he's having me on, just a bit, but he's looking at me with this look – well, there's no word for it but loving, and I'm hit all over again by how much this man loves me and how happy he makes me.
"More like incredibly geektastic," I say. "I think somebody actually amazing wouldn't keep their boyfriend up at four a.m. when he has to get up early and go battle death with a quick mind and a scalpel."
He yawns a bit, like I reminded him that he's awake in the middle of the night for no good reason. "You aren't keeping me up. I think I woke up because I turned over and you weren't there, but don't worry about that. I wasn't expecting to get much sleep tonight, which is fine, because I'm trained to do my job on even less sleep than this." He moves even closer and slips his hand inside my robe.
It's like he's magnetically drawn to my nipple ring - every time he puts his hands on my chest, one hand goes there first. It turns me on like crazy, both because my nipples are insanely sensitive – which, yeah, is why I got the ring – and because I still haven't got over how well he knows my body. I take a sharp breath, and he gentles his hand, so that it's barely whispering over my nipple. I'm grateful, because I need to think about what he said for a minute. "Why weren't you expecting to sleep tonight?"
The bed was already cold when I woke. I'd slept through Toby getting up, and that made me feel a bit old and rusty: when I'd done my residency, the softest beep from my pager had been enough to take me from the deepest REM to being on my feet, fully awake and ready to deal with whatever urgent case had come in.
I found him downstairs, completely absorbed in the book he'd ordered the day he'd been hired to work at Careme. Careme at the Borough, I corrected myself. Toby was insistent that we call the restaurant by its full name, that its Michelin star made it worthy of nothing less than total respect.
I'd been worried that he would be anxious, that he might even be having a panic attack, but he didn't look flushed or clammy, and, when I sat down beside him and put my head to his breast, his heartbeat was slow and steady. He opened his arms for me, stroked my hair as though he was soothing me, but he didn't talk. That in itself was reassuring: my Toby is never quiet when he's upset. His ability to share his feelings is one of the things I most admire and cherish.
The book was about sauces, and I read along for a bit, but mostly I watched him. I recognized this single-mindedness from my own days as a student, although I was never as passionate about medicine as he is about cooking. We talked about what he'd been reading, and it didn't seem like he was worried about tomorrow, which was reinforced for me when he asked why I hadn't expected to get much sleep. He was genuinely surprised by that, and I sat up so that I could look at him properly.
"I didn't think you'd sleep much – and I was going to keep you company, rub your back, and, I don't know, listen to whatever worries you might have about tomorrow."
He looked at me like I had singlehandedly slain all the dragons at the mouth of his cave. I lived in hope of actually deserving that look, one day."
Laurie," he started, and then he stopped, like he needed to process what I'd said some more. "You were going to stay up to hold my hand because I might be worried about my first day at a restaurant."
The disbelief in his voice killed me. I cupped his face in my hand and softly rubbed my thumb along his jaw. "Of course."
Suddenly I had a lap full of Toby, his arms round and hugging me tightly. "Oh, my god, I love you. I know I say that all the time, but I love you so much, and you just keep getting so amazing, and I'm so sorry about how - well, everything that I think is going to happen."
I had no idea what he was talking about, but here was the panic I had expected when I came downstairs, his voice pitching high, his heartbeat almost doubling against my chest. I just held him for a minute, rubbing his back and pressing soft kisses into his neck. He slowly relaxed into me, but I didn't stop. As gently as I could, I said, "Darling, what do you think is going to happen?"
He sighed deeply, and buried his head in my shoulder for a minute before pulling back and looking me in the eye. That's my boy, confronting his demons – or dragons, rather – head-on. The words pour out of him, like he'd been holding them back for a long time. "Restaurants are terrible places to work in a lot of ways, Laurie. I mean, don't get me wrong, I think this is going to be awesome for me, but I think it may be this kiss of death for us. I'm going to be at work all the time, and I'm going to get home long after you've gone to bed, because even if I'm only scheduled for 8 or 9 hours, the truth is, even if I'm only washing dishes, I'm probably going to be there from open to close, because nobody leaves until the last dish is put away. It's like an unwritten rule in places like this. So we're never going to see each other. And I should have talked to you about this sooner, but everything has been so fucking amazing between us, finally, and I just wanted to keep it that way for as long as I could."
Oh, my poor sweetheart. I pulled him close to me again, and kissed him with all the love I felt for him, which was more than could ever be quantified by any means known. It was a sweet kiss, and he seemed a bit surprised by it, but I persisted, and eventually he was kissing me back just as tenderly, all the tension seeping out of him. I pulled back just a little, just enough to see him. I couldn't stop touching him, my hands caressing his face, smoothing his furrowed brow and the lines in his forehead, until he looked like my happy boy again. Then I said, "I know."
"Of course you do," he said, giving up the fight just like that. "You couldn't have told me that?"
He kissed me again, nipping at my mouth with sharp teeth, and I took the slight pain for him, as I always would. It wasn't really a punishment, but he'd been so unhappy and though I hadn't known why, I could have asked sooner, so I would gladly pay penance.
Toby sunk his teeth deeply into my bottom lip, and I whimpered and got hard, so of course he stopped hurting me and started talking again.
"So gorgeous for me," he whispered into my mouth, before squirming back so that his arse was pressed right against my cock. He moved his hips, creating just enough friction to make me harder, so that I was aching for him, and then he picked up the conversation as though we hadn't missed a beat. "You've been doing some reading of your own."
"There are a lot of blogs and whatnot about what an apprenticeship like yours is going to be like," I said. "I wasn't surprised, though. Training for anything is always intensive. The only way to become truly excellent at anything is to give yourself fully to it: why would becoming a chef be any different?"
We'd talked so much about what he wanted to do, and I'd reassured him repeatedly that I respected his choice, that I would always admire him, so, we didn't have to rehash the conversation about how his chosen vocation wasn't any less important than mine, thank God. He just sighed and snuggled into me. "I won't be any less yours, no matter how much I work. Just like you won't be any less mine."
"Of course not," I said, surprised. That hadn't even occurred to me, honestly. And I'd done a couple of things to make sure we still had almost as much time together, but we could talk about that later. "Sweetheart, we're going to be just fine. This is just going to make us stronger, I promise."
"Okay," he said, and I marvelled at how easily he believed me. We'd come so far in such a short time that I genuinely didn't think anything could throw us off-course now.
"Right," he said, rubbing his arse against my cock again. I moaned, and he smiled at me, more than a touch of evil in his face. Pressing down even harder, he said, "Let's go back to sleep."
I took a deep breath and nodded. I wanted to beg to come, but that wasn't what he needed from me right now. He needed me to obey him, to subjugate myself to him without a word, and, God, that kind of control just made me harder, which made me hurt more. I moaned again, giving him my pain, my submission, and he smiled at me before taking my hand and leading me back to bed.