Arthur looks at the business card in his hand as he walks down the quiet street. “Bellingham and Sons, Tailors”, it reads.
It’s been in his wallet since one of the senior partners took him aside at the office drinks party after his promotion and pressed it into his hand, muttering discreetly about a “proper suit”. Arthur had been mortified. He had been rather proud of his suits, up until then.
“No, no, dear boy,” the man had said, “Your suits are very nice … just, not, how shall I say? Just not quite the thing. For an associate.”
Which eased the sting a little, but even so, the exchange had driven home to him how much is different here in London. He’s been desperate to fit in at Smythe Consulting since arriving straight from business school. And he has, he thinks. Well enough to get promoted to “must wear tailored suits” level.
So, he has had the card for a few days, and with an afternoon off, he’s here in this discreet neighbourhood to get fitted by a tailor for his first bespoke suit.
He’s made sure to wear his favourite current suit, to make a good impression. Like good underwear for the doctor. He’s wearing new briefs as well.
A brass bell attached to the door chimes softly as he pushes it open and an elderly clerk looks up from behind a dark wooden counter. The walls are lined with shelves of suit fabrics. The floors gleam where they show under slightly worn Oriental carpets. It’s all rather “Downton Abbey”.
“May I help you?” says the clerk.
“Yes,” says Arthur. “I was given your card by a senior partner at my firm, Smythe. Mr Jenkins.”
“Ah yes,” says the clerk.
“I’m here to, um, get a suit. For work?” He hates the interrogative rise in his voice. And the childish hesitation.
“Yes,” says the clerk. “Certainly. Most of our tailors are busy, booked months ahead. But I think young Mr Eames is free now.” He comes out from behind the counter. “If you’ll just have a seat, Mr?” he says, gesturing at a leather armchair, “I’ll go and get him.”
“Kaplan, Arthur Kaplan,” says Arthur.
The clerk goes through a door at the back of the shop, leaving Arthur free to look around. The shelves are arranged by colour, a sweep of dark shades from grey to black, via navy. A glass display case of ties enlivens the sombre tone and there is another with cufflinks and tie pins and silver hip flasks.
Arthur is considering these when the door opens and the clerk clears his throat. “Mr Kaplan?”
He turns. Standing with the clerk is a man about Arthur’s age. He steps forward holding out his hand. “Eames,” he says.
Arthur takes his hand. “Hello,” he says. “Arthur Kaplan.” The man is smiling.
He is also, Arthur thinks, gorgeous, with a full mouth and shrewd eyes.
Arthur smiles. “Eames?”
“Just Eames,” he says. His eyes are warm and his mouth curves up. His grip is firm.
“So, you need a business suit?” he says. “Any ideas? Colour, fabric?”
He steps over to a shelf of navy fabrics. “Navy is a good choice for business. Serious, but not too sombre. Charcoal can also be a good choice. Even black, worn right.”
He turns to look at Arthur again. “Of course, with your colouring, you can wear anything.”
“Navy seems like a safe bet,” says Arthur.
“Safe, is that what you want?” says Eames, a speculative look in his eyes. “I don’t do ‘safe’. I do style.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean--”
“No, don’t worry, darling,” says Eames, grinning.
He has crooked teeth in a way no American of their age has, but he doesn’t seem at all self-conscious. Arthur considers his clothing. Eames is wearing pleated trousers and a soft shirt with the sleeves rolled up, revealing a tattoo of a rose on his forearm. He looks comfortable, but not very stylish, Arthur thinks.
“Well, we don’t have to choose fabric just yet anyway,” says Eames. “First, I have to take your measurements, and then we can discuss colour and style.” He steps aside and gestures to the door. “Would you come to my workroom, please.”
He nods to the clerk. “Mr Jones, would you write Mr Kaplan into my book?”
The door is open and Arthur steps into a corridor with doors on either side.
“Mine’s right down at the end,” says Eames at his shoulder.
They pass five doors.
“Here,” says Eames, opening the last door on the left.
The room is small, with a large mirror against one wall and shelves on two sides. There’s a table and two leather armchairs. A screen stands across one corner.
“Right,” says Eames. “For this next bit, you have to get undressed.” He smiles. “Down to your shirt and pants. Underwear,” he amends. “What you’d wear under a suit. So I can get your measurements.” He points to the screened corner. “You can do it there and hang your suit on the hook.”
Arthur had realised this would be part of getting fitted for a suit. He just hadn’t expected the tailor to be a hot young guy. He steps behind the screen and sits on the chair there to take off his shoes. Socks as well? The floor is bare parquet, it might be cold. But he doesn’t want to look like an old man. He takes his socks off as well. Stands up to take off his jacket and step out of his pants. There’s a hanger on a hook where he hangs his suit neatly, smoothing the lapels. He tucks his socks into his shoes and sets them under the chair. Steps out from behind the screen, feeling a bit foolish in shirt and tie and briefs. Eames is leaning against the table, ankles crossed and arms folded. He has a yellow tape measure draped around his neck.
“Right, if you’d stand here, please,” he says, gesturing to the space in front of the table. The mirror is behind Arthur.
“I’m measuring you,” says Eames, “You don’t need to look in the mirror. And besides, the measurements book is here on the table, so it’s just easier for both of us.”
“Fine,” says Arthur, “here?” He’s glad he doesn’t have to look at himself while Eames stands so close with his tape measure. Touching him.
“Easy ones first,” says Eames. “I know this can seem weird if you’ve never been measured before, but just relax, it’s not so bad.”
Arthur hadn’t thought his hesitance was showing on his face, but it must have been.
“Yes, it is a bit,” he says. “Weird, I mean.” He stands in front of the table, trying to relax.
“Okay,” says Eames. “Hold your arm out, 45 degrees.” He runs the tape measure from shoulder to wrist. “I’m measuring your arm, also, to your elbow, and from elbow to wrist.” He turns to make notes in a big book. “Keep your arm up, I need to measure the underside as well. And now the other arm. You don’t think they’re exactly the same, do you? You’d be amazed how much they vary,” he says.
Arthur relaxes under the soothing words, delivered in a soft accent he can’t place. Not that he’s any expert after just a year in London.
“So, Mr Kaplan,” says Eames, turning back from his book. “Where are you from?”
“Arthur, please,” says Arthur. “I bet we’re the same age. Um, Indianapolis,” he says. “Well, that’s where my parents live. I went to school in Boston. Uh, university. And I’ve been in London a year.”
“I have no idea where Indianapolis is,” laughs Eames, behind him, measuring his shoulders. “Never did geography. And I’ve never been anywhere. Outside the UK. I’ve lived in London my whole life,” he says.
“It’s in the middle,” says Arthur. “Sort of. Top right. Sort of. I didn’t study geography either.”
Eames smiles. “Now I’m going to measure your waist,” he says, reaching both arms round Arthur. The move brings him very close. He steps back, bringing his hands to Arthur’s navel. His knuckles press against Arthur’s stomach. “Umhm,” he says, turning to note it in the book. “Hips, next. Then chest.”
He reaches round behind Arthur again. Eyes serious and tongue poking out of his mouth just a bit. Arthur can feel his warmth, this close.
“Um,” he says, trying to distract himself. “Are you one of the ‘And Sons’?”
“What? No. There isn’t even a Bellingham anymore. That was the name when the place was founded in the 1850s. I’m just a humble employee.”
“Oh,” says Arthur, “What made you become a tailor?”
“Well, I was a bit rubbish at school. But I was good at art. And I used to help my mother when she sewed her own clothes. So my art teacher suggested I might like it. And you work as an apprentice. Doesn’t cost anything to learn. They pay you. So,” he shrugs, “here I am.”
He turns to note the measurement in his book.
“Chest now, lift your arms a bit.” He draws the tape close up under Arthur’s arms. “Lower them.” He raises his eyes to look straight at Arthur. They’re the same height. His eyes are grey.
“Right,” he turns away to his book. “Now your legs,” he says, crouching down and putting the book on the floor. He holds the tape at Arthur’s waist and runs it down to the floor. Arthur looks down. Sees that his name is written neatly at the top of the page. “Arthur Kaplan”. The measurements are listed below.
“Okay, now I’m going to measure your inseam.” Eames glances up. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’m a professional.”
Even so, Arthur flinches involuntarily when he slips his hand right up the inside of his leg. “Sorry,” he says.
“No worries. It is odd isn’t it? Alright, almost done,” Eames says, “your thighs.” He runs the tape around the top of each of Arthur’s thighs. “Now,” he says, “crotch depth.” He holds the tape at Arthur’s waist, reaches between his legs and touches the small of his back. The position tips his head almost against Arthur’s stomach. He closes his eyes and feels his face flush. Eames makes a note and stands up.
“Thanks,” he says. “You can get dressed and then we can talk style. Would you like a cup of tea? I’m dying.”
“Sure,” says Arthur. “Thanks.”
“Be right back then,” says Eames.
Arthur gets dressed and sits in one of the armchairs. His heart is beating fast.
“Here we are,” says Eames, coming back in with a tea tray that he sets on the table. “How do you take it?”
“Milk, no sugar, thanks.”
“Okay,” says Eames, handing him a cup and sitting down. “You need to tell me a bit about what kind of suit you want, then we can look at fabric again. Then I’ll make some drawings and you can come back next week and we’ll go from there.”
“Okay,” says Arthur. “Well, I work in financial consulting. I’ve just been promoted and one of the partners hinted, not very subtly, that I needed to up my game, sartorially.”
“Hmm,” says Eames, looking at him over his teacup. “That wasn’t very kind. Although, you will look fantastic in the suit I make for you, I assure you.”
Arthur blushes again and dips his head to sip his tea. “Thank you. I mean, I’m sure the suit will be great.”
He looks up to see Eames’s warm eyes smiling at him.
“Oh, both you and it will look great,” he says. “Now, navy is a good choice for an everyday suit in a conservative business. You can wear white shirts, blue shirts, striped shirts. Lots of ties work. Black shoes and belt, brown shoes and belt. Very versatile. Brighter than charcoal, less edgy than black. Save black for another day.”
“Because I’ll be back?” says Arthur, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, of course. You’ll see, you won’t want to stop at one.”
“Can you show me any previous suits you’ve made?” he asks, “So I can get an idea?”
“Yes, of course,” says Eames standing up and fetching a looseleaf binder from the table.
He comes over to Arthur’s chair and perches on the arm, holding the binder open. Eames flips the pages slowly. The pictures are of young men in well-fitted suits.
“You can see, I tend to cut close to the body,” he says. He glances at Arthur. “Closer than your current suits, I think. Would that bother you?”
“Um, I work in finance, not fashion,” says Arthur.
“Darling, trust me,” says Eames. “I won’t make you something that makes you uncomfortable. But it won’t hide you like that suit does.”
The whole thing is said lightly, but from the “darling” Arthur feels himself flushing.
“Okay,” he says, trying to recover his composure. “What fabric do you recommend?”
“I’d really like to use something with a fine check. I wonder if you’d like that?”
“I’m not sure …” says Arthur.
“Why don’t I show you in the shop?” says Eames, taking Arthur’s empty cup.
They walk out into the narrow hallway, Eames letting Arthur go ahead of him.
Mr Jones looks up as they step back into the shop. “All done measuring, Mr Eames?” he says.
“Yes, thank you,” says Eames. “Would you make an appointment for Mr Kaplan next week? What day would suit you, Arthur?”
Mr Jones raises an eyebrow.
“I have time free on Wednesday again,” says Arthur.
“Great,” says Eames, “Wednesday at three? Now, would you like to look at fabric? I have some ideas.”
Eames steps over to the shelf of navy fabrics. He runs his hand over the bolts of cloth. Up close, there is a great deal of variation: colour, texture, subtle patterns. His hand stops on one that has a very fine pattern in the weave, navy and a darker navy.
“I really like this one, what do you think?”
“Um, I’m not sure,” says Arthur. “I’m really hoping for something that will help me fit in, not stand out.”
Eames narrows his eyes. “Hmm, not sure I can achieve that,” he says, smiling. “But, okay, here’s a plain one.” He rubs his fingers over another bolt. A slightly brighter blue, but plain.
“Alright …” says Arthur. “I don’t know. How will we choose?”
“Well,” says Eames, “I’ll make some drawings, I think my ideas will be a bit different depending on the fabric, and then you can decide which you like more. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun!”
“Till next week, then?” says Arthur, holding out his hand. Eames’s hand is warm and he smiles.
“Till next week. Bye, Arthur!”
It’s only when he’s walking down the street again that Arthur realises he has no idea how much this will all cost. Probably his entire raise. Oh well, it’s the price of acceptance. And he’ll enjoy seeing Eames.
“He seemed a nice young man, Mr Eames,” says Mr Jones as Eames turns away from the door.
“Yes. Bit of a stick in the mud, perhaps, but we’ll see about that,” says Eames.
Back in his workroom he tidies the tea tray and gets out his sketchbook, settling in an armchair. He starts with a sweeping line that resolves into a leg, and recalls Arthur’s flinch as he had taken his inseam measurement. He’s a pretty good reader of men and he doesn’t think he’s read Arthur wrong. Time will tell.
By the time he has a whole suit on the paper, it’s gone five, and Mr Jones puts his head round the door.
“The others have left, Mr Eames, and I need to lock up now,” he says.
“Sorry, I lost track,” says Eames, getting up and reaching for his jacket. He slips the book into his bag.
As he walks to the Tube in the afternoon sunshine, he can’t help thinking about Arthur Kaplan. So serious and nervous. He’s going to be fun to dress. And to jostle out of his shy hesitance.
His phone chimes and he takes it out to see a text from Yusuf, suggesting a drink. He’d been planning on spending the evening in with his sketchbook, but he hasn’t seen Yusuf for a few days. He texts back accepting and changes course towards their favourite pub. Yusuf is already there, leaning against the wall outside with a pint when he arrives.
“You’re looking very chipper!” he says.
“New client,” says Eames, going inside to get a drink.
“Ah,” says Yusuf when Eames returns, “someone fun to dress?”
“Yes, I think so. Nice body.” He grins at the memory of Arthur’s narrow waist and slender thighs. He’s going to look very good when Eames has finished.
“Oh,” says Yusuf. “Do you always get the pretty ones?”
“Well, I get the new ones. They’re not all pretty. Anyway, how’s life in the chem lab salt mine?”
“Fine, fine. We have a new kid. God, she’s so tiny!” He grins, holding his hand at chest height. “Very small and fierce.”
“Fresh from uni? Keep your hands off the children, man!” says Eames, elbowing Yusuf.
They finish their beers discussing football and agree to meet for the Saturday park kickabout.
On the Tube, Eames pulls out his sketchbook. He doesn’t usually draw his clients’ faces on garment sketches, but he can’t help adding Arthur’s serious frown and his firm mouth with a few lines. He’ll redo it for when he shows him, anyway.
Later, after supper, he takes the book out again and draws the suit from different angles, thinking about how the fine check will work. He won’t add too much detail to the jacket, but arresting linings have become a signature. One he can’t claim to have originated, but one he does love. He hopes he can persuade Arthur to accept it. Those uptight stuffed shirts at his firm deserve something to think about.
Good lord, he doesn’t even know this man and he’s ready to fight the establishment on his behalf, but the memory of how Arthur’s face had clouded when he described being told he wasn’t up to scratch in the suit department … he agrees, in a way, but only because he thinks Arthur is selling himself short. Still, as Arthur reminded him, he works in finance, not fashion, so Eames will have to be careful.
He goes to bed thinking about linings, and dark eyes.
The rest of the week is busy, with final fittings of a posh boy’s first tux (he’s used a shot silk that glows red seen from the right angle for the lapels and lining) and a first meeting with a pleasant middle-aged banker recently arrived in London.
But throughout, he is thinking of Arthur and his suit. He has redrawn his sketch and painted it, adding a swatch of the checked fabric and several options for the coloured lining. He’s left Arthur’s face off the final version.
He has also done another suit for the plain fabric. He has added details in the pockets, and a waistcoat. He has thought hard about this one’s lining too, choosing a shot silk that glints with deep purple.
Saturday in the park with the lads is a welcome break and he’s thoroughly sweaty and muddy by the end of their match.
“How’s your pretty boy’s suit?” says Yusuf in the pub afterwards.
“Oi!” says Eames. “He’s not ‘my’ anything. And he’s not a pretty boy, he’s a serious financial consultant. Whatever that is.”
“I’m glad I don’t have to wear a suit to work,” says Yusuf. “Not sure how you get away with it though.”
“Yeah,” says Eames. “Mr Grant wishes I would. I do, sometimes. It’s not as if I don’t like a well-cut suit. It’s just, if I’m going to to be crawling around on the floor, I rather wear something more comfortable. And those trousers are well made.”
Because his comfortable Forties-style pleated trousers and soft shirts are actually beautifully made. Eames makes them in his spare time, to practise techniques and keep his hand in, even though he doesn’t have to do much sewing at work.
On Wednesday morning, he chooses his clothes carefully, a white shirt and dark stone-coloured trousers. He adds a silk blazer in a greenish shade he thinks makes his eyes look less ordinary.
His sketches for Arthur are in a folder and he checks twice to make sure he has them before leaving. It’s a fine morning and he walks briskly to the station, smiling at passers-by.
“Morning Mr Eames!” says Mr Jones when he arrives. “Mr Grant would like a word, please.”
Eames tries to think of anything he could have done to warrant being called in by the frankly sometimes rather terrifying head tailor, but Mr Jones shakes his head. “No idea what it’s about,” he says.
Eames puts his bag in his workroom before knocking on Mr Grant’s door. For all he’s the head tailor and has been at the shop for decades, his room isn’t all that much nicer. He has a desk though, and he’s sitting behind it when Eames pushes the door open.
“Hello, Mr Eames,” he says pleasantly. “Sit down.”
Eames sits across the desk from him, raising his eyebrows.
“Don’t worry, dear boy,” says Mr Grant, “I just wanted to see how you’re getting on. Any interesting work? Mr Cholmondley was very happy with his son’s tuxedo, by the way. Says the lad will turn heads.”
“He said that? The boy seemed pleased as well,” says Eames. “I’ve got a new client, I don’t know if Mr Jones told you? A young American sent by a senior partner at his firm. First bespoke suit. I hope he likes it enough to come back.”
“That would be splendid, Mr Eames. We always want them back.”
“I could show you my sketches for him if you’re interested?”
“No, no, I’ve a fitting at 10,” says Mr Grant. “Later perhaps. When are you seeing him again?”
“This afternoon, as it happens.”
“Well, I’ll drop by, if you don’t mind?”
Eames isn’t sure how Arthur will feel, but he can’t refuse. “Of course, sir,” he says. “Three o’clock.”
Eames has a meeting with the seamstresses that takes a couple of hours and then he steps out to get a sandwich for lunch, enjoying the sunshine that is still bathing the streets. He wonders what Arthur is doing, whether he gets to step out of his City office and go for a walk.
Finally, it’s a quarter to three and he sets his Arthur folder neatly on the table, goes to make up a tea tray (would Arthur prefer coffee? Maybe, but tea is all they have).
He goes into the shop to wait for Arthur, trying to look as if he’s studying charcoal fabrics. Mr Jones smiles at him.
The doorbell chimes and Arthur steps over the threshold.
“Hello!” says Eames, stepping over with his hand out to shake Arthur’s.
“Good afternoon, Mr Kaplan,” says Mr Jones, “How nice to see you again.”
Arthur smiles. “It’s very nice to be back,” he says. “I’m eager to see what you have for me!” he says to Eames.
“Shall we go through so you can see?” says Eames, smiling at Arthur. He opens the door to the workrooms. “The head tailor, Mr Grant, is going to drop by. I hope you don’t mind?”
Arthur’s brow furrows briefly. “No,” he says. “Why?”
“He likes to meet all the clients. And keep an eye on me, I guess.”
“Oh?” says Arthur.
“No, no,”says Eames. “I’m an apprentice. They have to check. Don’t worry, he won’t stay long. And you’ve got your clothes on.”
Arthur flushes a tiny amount, just the tips of his ears.
Eames opens his workroom door. “I’ll just go and make tea, shall I? Let you look at the designs by yourself.” He hands Arthur the folder and steps out.
When he comes back in, Arthur is standing at the worktable, looking down at the drawing of the checked suit, his hand resting on the paper, finger stroking the fabric sample pinned to it.
He sets the tray down, and Arthur looks up at him.
“Eames,” he says, quiet. “These are, I don’t know what to say. These are … beautiful.”
Eames lets go of his held breath. “I’m so glad you like them,” he says.
“Like them? I can’t believe I can have them.” Arthur turns to face him. “I’ve always liked clothes, but I’ve never had the chance to own anything like this.”
Eames can’t help beaming.
“Wait till you actually have it,” he says.
There is a light knock and Mr Grant opens the door.
“Mr Grant,” says Eames, “This is my client, Arthur Kaplan. Arthur, Mr Grant, the head tailor.”
Mr Grant holds out his hand, shakes Arthur’s and says: “Has Mr Eames shown you his designs?”
“Yes,” says Arthur, flushing again, “he has. I like them very much.”
Mr Grant comes over to the table. “May I?” he says.
“Of course. Here,” says Eames, sliding the folder to him. “We thought navy for a business suit.”
He glances at Arthur. “I wanted to try this fine check, so I kept the design simple. And then for the plain fabric, there is more detailing. Arthur hasn’t decided which he prefers.”
“Very nice, Mr Eames,” says Mr Grant. “Quite a close cut, I see.” He looks at Arthur. “So you like the ideas? Good.” He hands the folder back to Eames. “Very good,” he says. “Carry on. Goodbye, Mr Kaplan.”
As the door closes behind him, Arthur looks at Eames and smiles. “I think you passed,” he says.
Eames grins. “Yes, seems like it! Thank you!”
He turns away to pour the tea.
“Thank you, Eames,” says Arthur.
Eames hands him his tea and waves him to an armchair.
“Have you decided which you prefer?” he says.
Arthur frowns slightly. “I really like both. But I think I’m going to be brave and choose the check.”
“Really? That’s wonderful, darling!” says Eames. “Brave?”
“Well, I know I said I didn’t want to stand out, but now I think, that might not be so bad, you know. To stand out a bit. Because I’m not sure I fit in anyway.”
“How so?” says Eames.
“Well, being foreign. Being young.” He holds Eames’s gaze. “Being gay.”
Eames just nods. “Yes.”
“I mean, I knew when they hired me. But still …”
“Do they know?” says Eames.
“Yes,” says Arthur. “I told them at the interview. It doesn’t come up, though.”
“Why would it?”
“And, of course, I’ve never tried to take anyone to a work function. So I don’t know …”
“Mmm, yeah,” says Eames. “They don’t care, here. But I’ve also never … not had anyone to take.”
They drink their tea in silence then. Eames stands up and holds out his hand for Arthur’s cup. Their fingertips brush.
“So how does this go, now? The suit?” says Arthur.
“Well, I make a toile -- a suit in cheap fabric -- to test the fit, we fit it, then we make the real thing, fit it again. Takes a few weeks.”
Arthur smiles. “Okay. Good,” he says. “And when do I find out what it costs?” He blushes.
“They’ll hand you a discreet envelope next time,” says Eames. “Don’t worry,” he adds, “I’m not that expensive, yet.”
Arthur smiles, apparently relieved.
When he has seen Arthur out, he returns to his workroom and tidies up, thinking about their conversation. He knew he had read Arthur right, and he’s glad Arthur has read him right.
Arthur walks down the street in the hot late afternoon sunshine, heading for the Tube so he can go back to the office and put in a few more hours to buy the time he’s just spent with Eames.
With Eames. The man’s his tailor (“his tailor”, god how weird that sounds) not his friend. Why did he get so confessional? Was it his casual “darling”? The warmth in his eyes? The hopeful way he looked at Arthur when he asked which suit he preferred?
That checked suit. Arthur can’t believe he’s actually going to own and be able to wear something as gorgeous as that. He shivers slightly.
But why did he go and add all that other stuff, about not fitting in?
Well, it hasn’t been that easy here in London. Harvard had been a jump from Indianapolis, and London had been an even bigger jump. Arthur is very glad to have made the jump, to have left everything behind, but it’s lonely, too.
Fischer looks up as he slips back behind his desk in the office they still share even though Arthur has been promoted.
“Oh hi. Where’ve you been?”
“Had an appointment.”
“Yeah, well, Mr Jenkins was looking for you. Didn’t say what for.”
Arthur sighs and gets up.
Mr Jenkins’s office is large and wood-paneled, even though the office building is modern.
“Ah, Mr Kaplan. Arthur. Come in,” says Mr Jenkins. Arthur hesitates. “Sit down, sit down!”
“What can I do for you, sir?” he says.
“I just wanted to say congratulations on the report you compiled for Redwood and Black. They were very impressed by how thorough you were. Said you ferreted out detail they would not have thought to look for, or even ask about. They feel very confident in their approach now, the chairman told me last night. No nasty surprises there.”
Arthur feels himself flush. “Thank you, sir. It was an interesting challenge.”
“Now, Arthur, did you take my advice about Bellingham’s? Grant see you right?”
“I did, sir. I met Mr Grant. But I’ve been handed to their youngest tailor, I think. A Mr Eames?”
“Mr Eames, eh?” says Mr Jenkins. “Well, well. I hope you’re happy with him. Are you?”
“He seems … very talented. I liked his ideas. And Mr Grant seemed to, as well.”
“Oh? Well, that’s good to hear,” says Mr Jenkins. “I suppose all the more experienced men were busy?”
“I suppose so,” says Arthur. He can feel a frown and wants to get away. “If that’s all, sir?” He tilts his head at the door and starts to stand.
“Yes, yes. Thank you, Arthur.”
“What’d he want?” says Fischer as Arthur comes back into their office.
“Oh, feedback from Redwood and Black.”
He hasn’t told Fischer about the discreet tailor hint. Fischer’s family are loaded and all his suits are tailored. Hell, his school uniform was probably bespoke. Still, it’s Arthur Kaplan from Indiana who got the first promotion.
“You coming for a drink later?” says Fischer, stretching and looking out of the window.
Arthur doesn’t want to, really. But he says, “Yes, okay. A quick one. I’ve got to stay later, seeing I went out earlier.”
What he really wants to do is go for a run in the park. Take advantage of the summer weather. Ponder his intriguing tailor. Was Mr Jenkins’s slight sneer just because Eames is young, working class? But aren’t all the tailors? Polished, but not old boys’ network. Arthur wishes he understood the intricacies of the English system. He wonders if he ever will.
He spends the next hour doing preliminary research for his next report, laying the groundwork, getting an idea of the kinds of questions he needs to ask in order to advise the client.
Fischer has gone off somewhere. To get coffee or talk to someone in another office. Someone he went to prep school with. Or played cricket with or something. No such distractions for Arthur.
Finally he feels he’s done enough to leave without causing raised eyebrows. Fischer comes back in. “Ready? Let’s get out of here while it’s still light.”
It will be light for hours yet. It is good to be out in the evening sunshine, the sidewalks full of people hurrying home, dodging the strolling tourists, thronging pub doorways, heading to the theatres. They walk a short distance to the wine bar Fischer likes. The wide windows are open and people are standing on the sidewalk sipping their drinks. Another thing that had been strange to Arthur at first. Now he likes it, in fine weather. To stand on the street, watching passers-by.
Friends of Fischer’s are already there. On their way to drunk. A bit loud. They’re all talking about a school friend’s wedding last weekend, so Arthur tunes them out and watches the crowds walking past. After one drink, he figures he’s stayed long enough to be polite, so he says goodbye and leaves the bar. If he hurries he can still get in a run, not waste the good weather completely.
When he moved to London, he’d had no idea where to live. A classmate had put him in touch with a slightly older American transplant, and Dom Cobb isn’t a bad roommate. He has a nice flat in Shoreditch, which is close enough to the City, geographically, and far enough from it, culturally. Not that Arthur really fits in among the carefully styled beards and statement moustaches, either. But still.
As he runs in the park, side-stepping skater kids and strolling couples, Arthur allows himself to consider Eames. His courtliness with the tea-pouring and careful inquiries after Arthur’s opinions. His casual, but, Arthur has come to realise, carefully considered clothing. His undeniable gorgeousness.
Sighing, he turns for home and an evening of television and idle chat with Cobb, who is sketching fantasy buildings and won't really listen to Arthur, even if Arthur wanted to confide in him.
Eames loves the moment when he begins to transform his sketches into something real, in cloth, on a tailor’s dummy.
The toile is the part where he is alone with fabric and his ideas. He adjusts a form with Arthur’s slender measurements, fetches the cloth and his formula patterns and starts to draw the dimensions of the slim, close-fitting suit he created in his head.
Arthur clearly likes clothes. He’d been wearing a nice suit the day he first came. Probably his favourite, the one he thinks shows him to best advantage, but Eames had seen beneath it, to a more adventurous Arthur waiting to be invited out. And he knows he can lure him out. Arthur likes the drawing, Eames wants him to love the reality.
He has no appointments and no interruptions and he only realises the morning has disappeared when his back twinges and his stomach calls out for lunch. It’s a grey, drizzly day, but he goes out anyway, hunched into his peacoat. The beanie he pulls on makes Mr Jones raise his eyebrows a bit, but Eames just gives him a cheery wave.
By the end of the day, Arthur’s suit — the ghost of Arthur’s suit — is on the form, following its lines, nipping in at the waist, buttoning high, the trousers narrow. He can’t wait to see it on Arthur himself.
The week stretches out ahead of him. He will have to force himself to focus on his other tasks.
As he walks to the Tube in the evening he sees a man wearing an outrageous red plaid suit, and wonders what Arthur would look like in something like that. He finds himself drawing him in a small notebook. He shouldn’t dream of too many future suits, of course. Who knows if Arthur will even want another.
Wednesday does come, at last, and Eames decides to see if he can make Arthur really look at him. He puts on his blue-grey plaid three-piece. One of the first things he had made for himself that he’d truly loved, and which Mr Grant had been seriously impressed by. His calling card, in a way. The suit that got him clients.
As he enters the shop, Mr Jones gives him a sharp nod and a raised eyebrow. Not much gets by Mr Jones.
He is in a fever of anticipation, tweaking the toile, angling the dummy just so.
Three o’clock, three-thirty. Where is Arthur? Just when Eames is ready to give up in despair, he arrives, flushed and out of breath.
“I’m so sorry!” he says. “The Central line is closed for some reason.”
“That’s okay,” says Eames. “Come and catch your breath, I’ll go and make tea.”
Arthur is so distracted he doesn’t seem to have noticed Eames’s suit.
When he comes into his workroom with the tray Arthur is standing in front of the tailor’s form, his hand running down the lapel of his suit’s jacket. He turns.
“I didn’t expect … I mean, I liked the drawing, but this …”
His smile is shy. And then he seems to notice Eames for the first time.
“You look … different. That’s a gorgeous suit! Oh sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” He turns back to the dummy, the tips of his ears red.
“No,” says Eames. “Don’t be.”
He puts the tray down and steps over to Arthur.
“So you like it? It can be hard to see a suit when it’s in this form. It’s sort of insubstantial. I mean, we tailors can see it, but clients are sometimes horrified.”
“No, no, I can see the lines. I can’t wait to try it on.”
“Well,” says Eames, “Tea can wait.”
“Yes,” says Arthur, “May I …?” He tilts his head towards the screened corner.
“Yes, of course. I’ll bring it over.”
Arthur steps behind the screen and Eames takes the suit off the dummy and hands it to him. He pours himself a cup of tea while he waits.
He can hear Arthur behind the screen, undressing. It is almost unbearably intimate.
And then he steps out, smiling shyly.
The suit is like a dream; fully realised, but insubstantial, somehow. Arthur can hardly believe it will be his.
He’s out of breath, embarrassed to have kept Eames waiting, and now he stands in front of the suit, alone in the room. He reaches out to touch it.
Eames comes in with a tea tray, in his courtly, old world manner, and Arthur falls over his words.
And then he notices Eames, properly. He is wearing a suit of blue-grey plaid. The waistcoat defines his chest in a way his soft shirts have not, and Arthur embarrasses himself, gushing.
He escapes behind the screen, horribly aware of Eames waiting.
He can't help smiling when he steps out, though. The suit is cut very close, the jacket follows his body, the pants … the pants fit almost like jeans.
Eames beams when Arthur stands in front of him.
“Ah,” he says. “Arthur!”
And Arthur can’t help it, he feels his face light up in answer.
He hasn't even looked in the mirror, but he has seen himself reflected.
“Come and look,” says Eames, moving towards the mirror. Arthur turns and catches an unguarded sight of himself, before he is quite ready.
He looks taller, narrower, sharper.
Eames has used a dark grey heavy cotton fabric for the toile and the effect is more finished, to Arthur’s eyes, than Eames implies.
“Eames!” says Arthur, “you’ve made me look … so different.”
“Have I? Perhaps you look like your true self?” says Eames. He smooths the collar and runs his hand along Arthur’s shoulder. His hand is big and warm. It lingers briefly.
“You see, I think you are letting ordinary suits tell people you’re ordinary.” He raises an eyebrow. “But I agree, this isn’t going to be any ordinary suit.”
He turns away to his worktable and grabs a tin of pins and a thin white square. “Chalk,” he says, “there are a few things that need adjustment.”
“Really?” says Arthur, “This fits better than any suit I’ve ever owned.”
“Well,” says Eames, “it’s pretty close, but it’s not perfect.” He grins, showing his crooked teeth. “I’m good, darling, but even I can't get the fit exactly right first go.”
He’s let that endearment fall again, seemingly without noticing. It must be a British thing.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Hold the pins? And turn when I tell you,” says Eames, making a mark on the left shoulder. “Now, Arthur, what is it exactly that you do?”
“Oh,” says Arthur, holding still, “research for companies looking to buy other companies. We do the due diligence, find out if the target is hiding anything in their financials. That sort of thing.”
“Interesting, is it?” says Eames, around the pins he’s holding between his lips. God, his lips!
“It is. I’m good at it. I like detail,” says Arthur, but he is suddenly struck by how dry that sounds, how small. “It’s not very creative.”
“Mmhm,” says Eames. “I’ve adjusted the shoulders slightly, so now it hangs perfectly evenly. No one’s shoulders are exactly the same height, did you know that? It’s one of the things we can really help with. I like detail too.”
He smiles. His mouth is gorgeous, but it’s his eyes that make his smile so warm.
He crouches down, careful of the knees of his pants, far less forgiving than the ones he’s worn before. Arthur can see the point of his usual style.
His eyes are level with Arthur’s crotch, but as Arthur glances down, he sees that Eames is focused on the hems of the jacket fronts. He “hmmms” and tweaks and Arthur tries to stand still.
“Right,” he says, “take off the jacket please. I need to see the trousers now.”
Arthur takes off the jacket and twists to drape it on the one of the chairs.
“Turn, please,” says Eames, and Arthur turns slowly so his ass is in Eames’s view.
Eames runs his hand along the waistband and down Arthur’s hip.
“Pretty good, but it could be a little closer.”
“Closer? These pants fit closer than the jeans I’ve had since high school!”
“Hmm, oh? Try sitting down, please.”
Arthur sits down in the armchair. The pants don’t pull or ride up or down. They are starting to fit just a bit tighter in the crotch, though. Damn!
“I’m going to take them in a fraction, just on your hip. Stand up again, please. I need to check the length.”
Arthur hopes his situation isn’t too obvious, although he doubts Eames is that unobservant. Or that too many bankers suffer the same dilemma. He can feel himself flushing. If Eames does notice, he is kind enough to give no sign, just makes a chalk mark on Arthur’s left pants leg and pins the side seam.
“Right,” he says, “You can get changed. Do you want tea? I’ll go make a fresh pot.”
“Um,” says Arthur. He’s torn between wanting the tea, and wanting to get out while he still has a shred of dignity left. Still, if Eames goes to make tea, he might have a chance to get himself under control. “Okay. Thanks, yes. Tea. Thanks.” And now he’s just gabbling. He steps behind the screen, feeling intensely foolish.
Eames is gone long enough for Arthur to calm down and he is standing at the table where the bolt of checked cloth is lying when Eames comes back in the teapot.
Arthur has developed a taste for tea over the last year, for its “keep calm” properties.
“Are you sure you like this fabric? You mustn’t just humour me, you know,” says Eames, after he’s handed Arthur a cup.
“No, I really do. It’s a bit different, but nothing my boss could object to, I don’t think.”
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t want to make you something that makes you uncomfortable,” says Eames.
When Arthur is walking to the bus stop, armed with the number of the correct bus to take, it’s the warmth of Eames’s eyes that he remembers, not his own embarrassment.
Eames puts Arthur’s suit back on the dummy, makes notes to himself about the needed adjustments and washes up the tea things, thinking about Arthur. There is going to be more to their relationship than that of a tailor and his client.
Sighing, Eames closes the workroom door.
“How’s your young man?” asks Mr Roberts pleasantly, locking his own workroom, opposite. Eames feels himself blush at the words, so like the inquiry of a doting grandmother.
“It’s going very well, thank you. He seems pleased with his suit, so far.”
“Ah, well, lucky you. Mine doesn’t like a thing I suggest. And he wears baggy pants.” Mr Roberts winks at Eames and heads for the door, leaving Eames to ponder the relationships of tailors to their clients.
As he works on the suit the next day, adjusting the toile, he can’t help thinking of Arthur. He seems so astonished at being fitted for a bespoke suit, as if he can’t believe the turn his life has taken. Arthur had said he comes from Indianapolis, wherever that is. He implied he doesn’t consider it home anymore.
Eames knows what it’s like to feel out of your depth. He’d come straight to Bellingham’s from school, feeling out of place and truculent. It had taken him a while to work out that beneath their polish, the other tailors were more like him than like their smart clients. They were men from his background: clever and artistic but lacking the money and the inclination for university. They all loved clothes and most of them were happy to work for an established company, with little risk involved.
Sometimes Eames wonders if he will work here for decades as well, making clothes for the same men year in and year out, and then for their sons.
He texts Yusuf and suggests a drink, it’s ages since they just had a beer after work. When Yusuf arrives at the pub he has a tiny woman in tow.
“Ariadne, Eames. I’ve known him since school. Eames, Ariadne. The new kid at the lab.”
“Oi!” says Ariadne, giving Yusuf a friendly shove, which looks pretty ridiculous, since she hardly comes to his shoulder. “Have you been talking about me behind my back?”
Yusuf holds up his hands. “No, no. I just told Eames there was a new girl at the lab.”
“A tiny new girl,” Eames reminds him.
Ariadne laughs. “Well, that’s fair.” She climbs up onto a barstool. “Mine’s a pint of Guinness, please.”
“Oh yes,” says Yusuf. “Don’t let her size fool you. Ari here has taken to British booze like a champ.” He signals for the bartender.
“So Eames, what do you do?” says Ariadne.
“Didn’t he tell you? I’m a tailor. Bespoke suits for bankers.”
Her eyes widen. “Wow! I’d love a suit that actually fit. I buy jeans in the boys’ department.”
Ariadne would look fantastic in a tailored suit.
“Only bankers, though?”
“Well, and lawyers. And rich men’s sons. We’re not trendy. Not too many actors and rockers.”
“But have you ever tailored for a woman?” she asks, leaning forward on her stool.
Yusuf pushes his pint across the the bartop and hands Ariadne hers. Her hand almost doesn’t fit round the glass.
“I haven’t,” says Eames, trying not to assess her body. “I think it would be interesting, though.”
“But I’ll never be able to afford it, I guess,” says Ariadne, clinking her glass to his and to Yusuf’s. “Cheers!”
Ariadne is fun company and an hour flies past, till she scrambles down off her stool to go to the loo.
“Isn’t she great?” says Yusuf, watching her walk through the crowded pub.
“She is,” says Eames. “Don’t do anything rash. She’s a colleague.”
“Nah,” says Yusuf, “she’s not interested in me. But she does make work more fun.”
When she returns, Eames says: “You know, I’ve been thinking. About you wanting a suit. You couldn’t afford one from Bellingham’s, but I’d like the challenge anyway. I make some of my own clothes at home. Would you like me to try making you one? I think it would be fun.”
“Man,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “That would be amazing! But are you sure? It can’t be fun doing the same thing after work as you do at work.”
“Oh, I don’t actually sew that much at work. Shall we go and find fabric on Saturday? I live in Shoreditch. There’s a great shop there where I buy all my own fabric.”
When he leaves the pub, Eames has something to think about other than Arthur, who’s threatening to take over his brain in a possibly hopeless way.
Yusuf is right, Ariadne is fun, and spending more time with her while tailoring her a suit will be interesting.
He texts her on Friday to arrange to meet for coffee before they go to the shop where he knows there’s all kinds of fabric he thinks she’ll be able to afford.
Saturday turns out to be sunny and the streets of Shoreditch are full of trendy people wanting to see and be seen. There’s still a pavement table free at the cafe and he grabs it and orders coffee while he waits for Ariadne. He’s sipping the giant Saturday indulgence when Arthur walks towards him.
Eames almost doesn’t recognise him in jeans and a T-shirt, carrier bags in hand. He stands up.
“Hello, Arthur,” he says.
Arthur frowns. “Eames?” he says. “What are you doing here?” Only then does he appear to notice Eames’s extended hand. “Oh god, sorry,” he says, shifting the bags and taking Eames’s hand. “Hello!”
“Hello! I’m waiting to meet a … friend.” Ariadne is a friend. A new friend. “Care to join me?”
Arthur frowns again, an expression Eames has become rather familiar with. “Uh, I don’t want to intrude.”
“Quick coffee, Arthur. She’s coming from Acton. She could be delayed.”
“Okay,” says Arthur, setting his carriers down. Eames catches the waiter’s eye and turns to Arthur. “Espresso, please,” says Arthur. “No, wait, a hazelnut latte, please.” He sits down. “Their hazelnut lattes are amazing. I try not to indulge too often.”
“So you live nearby?” says Eames. “So do I!” He picks up his coffee to hide the grin he feels taking over his face.
“Yes, I share a flat with another American. It’s quite convenient to the City, but far away, too.”
Eames looks at the crowds on the pavement. Skinny jeans, beards, waxed moustaches, tattoos, blue hair. “Yes, you could say that,” he says.
Arthur grins at him, displaying the most bewitching dimples. “It really helps to cope with Smythe if I can escape to here.”
“Likewise,” says Eames.
Arthur’s huge coffee and Ariadne arrive at the same time.
“I love the Tube,” she says, “but it’s so crowded with tourists and their giant suitcases at this time of day!” She sees Arthur. “Hello! I’m Ariadne.” They have both stood up, and Eames introduces Arthur: “Ariadne, Arthur.” He doesn’t add that Arthur is his client. Arthur can bring it up if he wants.
She flops into a chair. “Phew, I need a drink!” She glances round for the waiter.
“Eames,” she says when she’s ordered. “I’m so excited about this suit! I’ve always wanted a proper suit, but there aren’t any my size in vintage stores. Well, not unless I want to look like a 13-year-old Bar Mitzvah boy.”
Arthur snorts into his coffee. “Oh god, don’t remind me,” he says.
“Bad, was it?” says Eames, delighted.
“You don’t want to know,” says Arthur, rolling his eyes, “and I refuse to tell. I’m scarred by the memory.”
“You can trust me, I’m a professional,” says Eames, grinning at them both.
When their coffee is finished, Arthur stands and picks up his bags. “It was great to meet you, Ariadne,” he says. “Nice to see you, Eames. Wednesday afternoon, then?”
Impulsively, Eames says, “May I give you my number?” Arthur has the Bellingham’s card and he can contact Eames at the shop, if he needs to.
“I’d like that,” says Arthur.
Eames writes his mobile number on the back of the coffee bill.
“Here,” says Arthur, “this is mine.” He hands Eames a card with “Arthur Kaplan, Smythe Consulting” on the front, and on the back an office number and a mobile number.
“You have to give clients your mobile number?” says Eames.
“We have to be available,” says Arthur with a shrug. He holds Eames’s gaze. “I’ll see you,” he says, and walks off down the pavement among the Saturday crowds.
Eames watches him go.
“He’s nice,” says Ariadne. “Cute, too.”
“Cute? Hmm. Not the word I’d choose,” says Eames. “Right, you ready?”
He walks them to the unassuming frontage of one of his favourite places in the whole of London. Inside, suitings and linings, silks and tweeds, linens and lawns are stacked to the ceiling.
It takes Ariadne a while to choose, but eventually they agree on a soft, muted slate wool and a chartreuse lining.
“Rockin’!” says Ari.
They pick up sandwiches for lunch, which they take back to Eames’s place so he can measure her and make a start on his design.
“So, Arthur,” Ari says, biting into hers.
“Hmm?” says Eames.
“More than a client,” says Ari, not asking a question.
Eames feels himself blushing. “Um, yes. No! Today was the first time I’ve seen him outside of work. Only the fourth time ever. It was totally unexpected. I had no idea he lived ’round here too.”
Ari looks at him over her roast beef, eyebrow raised. “Still, more than a client,” she says.
“Yes, fine! I guess he didn’t need my number to discuss his suit!” he says.
Ari just laughs, and Eames wonders how she became the little sister he never had.
Measuring her and making a few sketches takes the rest of the day and Eames walks her to the bus stop in the late afternoon.
As he’s walking home, he wonders where exactly Arthur lives. He pulls out his phone on an impulse and texts:
It was great to see you this morning. Till Wednesday!
It would be wonderful to see Arthur again outside work, but he’ll let him make the first move.
Eames tries not to be too disappointed when he gets an answer about ten minutes later:
It was. Can't wait till Wednesday!
He supposes he will just have to wait until Wednesday.
Arthur is ironing his shirts for the week when he gets Eames’s text. Seeing him was great, and he almost texts back an invitation for a drink. But he stops himself. Perhaps Eames is just being polite. Getting to know English people has been so difficult — a whole year at Smythe and he’s never been invited to anyone’s home. Dom has assured him this is normal English reserve, but he wishes it wasn’t quite so hard to break through his own reserve and everyone else’s.
So when his phone pings while he’s walking from the station to the office on Wednesday morning, he’s amazed to find it is from Eames.
Wednesday at last. I hope you like it when you see it!
Arthur doesn’t think, just texts back:
Yes, finally. I really can’t wait
He’s about to put the phone back in his pocket but he stops himself and sends a second text:
Would you like to get a drink afterwards?
He can’t help the grin he feels bringing out his annoying dimples as he walks the rest of the way and waits for the elevator.
His phone pings as he steps in.
Lovely! See you later :)
Arthur is still smiling when he steps into his and Fischer’s office, where Robert is deep in an animated discussion on the phone. He glances up and raises an eyebrow.
“Good weekend?” he says when he hangs up.
“It was!” says Arthur, logging on and diving into his email. He’s certainly not going to tell snooty Robert all about his crush on his tailor.
His warm, gorgeous tailor who seems to be flirting gently with him.
He’s deep in writing a report when his phone buzzes.
If you come later, we can go straight out after
Good point. 4.30?
He works through lunch to make the time pass faster, eating a sandwich he cajoles one of the PAs to pick up for him. It wouldn't do to go drinking on an empty stomach.
Arthur is trying not to glance at the time too often, but at last 3.30 comes. He packs his things and stands up to leave. “Appointment with my tailor,” he says, in answer to Fischer’s questioning look.
“I didn’t know you were seeing a tailor,” Fischer says, “You should have told me, I’d have got you in with my man. Where did you go?”
Arthur really does not want to compare tailors. “Bellingham and Sons. Brilliant young guy,” he says.
“Oh,” says Fischer, smirking. “You got the junior? Good luck with that.”
“Bye,” says Arthur. His back is rigid as he walks out. He’ll never fit in with Fischer’s public school set, he knows. He’ll just have to keep on being better at the job.
The closer he gets to Bellingham’s, the more his sour mood lifts, and he’s smiling when he opens the shop door.
“Good afternoon, Mr Kaplan,” says Mr Jones, “Would you like to go straight through?”
He knocks on Eames’s workroom door and opens it in answer to his “Come in!”
Eames is standing next to his worktable, the tailor’s dummy in the centre of the room. On the dummy is the suit. Arthur stops short.
“Wow!” is all he can say. He looks from the suit to Eames, whose face is lit up.
“So you like it?”
“Like it? That doesn’t come close, Eames.”
Arthur approaches the dummy and reaches out to run his fingers down the lapel. The subtle check looks serious and light at the same time. He looks up and meets Eames’s eyes over the dummy’s shoulder.
“It’s so beautiful. Thank you.”
“Hurry and put it on. I want to see it on you,” says Eames, taking the jacket off the dummy and handing it to Arthur.
Arthur goes behind the screen and takes off his suit. As Eames hands him the trousers, their hands brush.
The pants fit even better than the toile had, Eames’s minute adjustment had been necessary, after all. The jacket feels almost weightless. It’s not lined, and there are lines of white thread tacked down the the front.
He steps out.
“Oh darling!” says Eames.
Arthur feels a tiny frown, fleeting. He’s just not used to this kind of casual warmth. He flushes.
“Come and see,” says Eames, turning him towards the mirror with a hand at his back.
Arthur looks at himself.
He looks … he can’t even say. Taller, more stylish. And in some subtle way, more his age, a man, not a boy dressed as a man.
Eames is standing behind him and once again their eyes meet. Eames runs his hand across Arthur’s shoulder, smoothing the fabric. And down his arm to his elbow, where it stops. Arthur can feel its warmth.
“I can’t believe this is mine,” says Arthur, “I can’t believe how well it fits. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever worn. Thank you, Eames.”
“Mmm, beautiful,” says Eames, his other hand on Arthur’s shoulder. He is standing very close and Arthur can smell his cologne, spicy and warm.
He shakes himself and steps back.
“It’s almost perfect,” he says, “but I have one other thing.” He turns away to the work table, turns back holding a tie — possibly the most flamboyant tie Arthur has ever seen. It’s in a multicolored paisley.
“I made this for you,” he says, holding it out. “But if you … It might be too much—”
“You made it?” says Arthur, taking the tie from his hand. “You made it? You? For me?”
Eames looks almost shy. “With my own hands,” he says, and laughs.
Arthur has never owned a tie like this. “May I?” he says, reaching for the tie he’s wearing. Eames takes the new tie back and Arthur undoes the knot and flips his collar up. Eames drapes the paisley tie around his neck and steps back, out of his space. Arthur ties the knot, studying himself in the mirror. Can he ever wear such a tie? It’s gorgeous, too gorgeous for the sober confines of Smythe. He’d taken a chance when he told Eames to make the less conservative suit, but this may be too far. How far is Eames trying to push him? And why?
“Eames?” says Arthur. He turns away from the mirror. Once again, Arthur sees himself reflected not in glass but in Eames’s eyes.
“Arthur,” he says, very soft. “What’s wrong?”
“This is too beautiful. For me.”
“Really? Too beautiful? How can something be too beautiful?”
“For me. For my life,” says Arthur.
Eames takes a step closer. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. But you’re more than your job, too. I hope?”
He reaches out and runs a finger down the tie. Lightly. He’s not really touching Arthur. Not enough to feel how Arthur’s heart is pounding, how his breath is fast and shallow. Arthur nods and turns back to the mirror.
“I really wanted this job. And I’m good at it. But … I hope there is more, too. Than Smythe and going home to TV and Dom Cobb.”
Eames meets his eyes in the mirror. “There surely is,” he says.
Arthur nods and shakes himself. “Okay, do you need to make any other adjustments?” he says, to give himself space.
“Yes, a few. Just bear with me, Arthur,” Eames says, crouching down. “May I?” he says, his hand hovering.
“What? Yes, of course,” says Arthur, and Eames places his hand high on the inside of Arthur’s thigh. Arthur can’t help his flinch. It’s not supposed to be an intimate touch, he knows. But it feels intimate.
Eames twitches the fabric, frowning. “I’m sorry,” he says, looking up. His face is so soft, and Arthur looks again at him. His soft shirt, striped with lilac. The tattoo on his arm, so unlike the cliches most people have. His warm eyes and generous mouth.
And he is glad Mr Jenkins gave him a card and a hint and sent him here.
Eames takes the tray with the undrunk tea away as Arthur changes back into his own clothes.
Has he pushed Arthur too far with that tie? When he’d seen the paisley silk while shopping with Ari, he’d bought it on a whim, and making it for Arthur had given him time to think about what he really wants. Giving it to him had felt a bit like presenting a bouquet. But Arthur had been so troubled by it.
Arthur is standing in front of the dummy, which he has dressed in his suit again, when Eames comes back into the workroom. He has changed back into his own suit, of course. But he is still wearing the paisley tie. He smiles tentatively. “May I?” he says.
“What? Of course!” Eames can’t help the huge grin spreading across his face, answered by a proper, dimpled smile from Arthur.
“Shall we go?” says Eames.
“Yes, please,” says Arthur.
Eames grabs his bag and lets Arthur walk ahead of him. In the shop, Mr Jones looks up from his ledger. “Off out, Mr Eames, Mr Kaplan?” he says, smiling.
“Yes!” says Eames. “Good afternoon, Mr Jones.”
Out on the street, Arthur is waiting. “I don’t know this area,” he says, “You’ll have to choose, even though I suggested a drink. I’m sorry.”
“Arthur, you have to stop apologising,” says Eames. “There is actually somewhere great, not far.”
He hesitates before placing his hand at Arthur’s back to turn him in the opposite direction. “It’s up this way.” The heat of Arthur on his palm, and the faint shiver he can feel, are thrilling, but he drops his arm as they walk.
The mural room at Sketch isn’t crowded, yet, and they take the low chairs in the corner. Arthur looks around. “This is … not the City.”
“Don’t think I come here a lot,” says Eames, “but I didn’t feel like a pub tonight. I am more of a pub drinker, normally.”
“It’s great,” says Arthur. “Quieter than a pub. Thank you.”
“Yeah, I didn’t feel like shouting and getting jostled.”
“Champagne?” says Arthur. “I want to celebrate my gorgeous suit!” His hand reaches up to smooth the tie. “And this. I’m sorry if I seemed uncertain.”
“No, no, darling. I pushed you quite far with that. I’m sorry too. I couldn’t help it though.” He sees the faint blush spreading. “Oh, Arthur, I’m embarrassing you. But I won’t say that it doesn’t mean anything.”
He’s said it and he can’t take it back. Doesn’t want to. He smiles at Arthur, hoping for a full, dimpled smile in return. He is not disappointed.
A waiter comes over and Arthur orders two glasses of bubbly. Not planning a long evening, as well as naturally reserved, Eames supposes. Well, they both have to work in the morning.
“I still find it hard to believe I live in London and can order champagne in a bar,” says Arthur as the waiter withdraws.
“I didn’t grow up on champagne either, I’m sure you’ve guessed,” says Eames.
“Where did you grow up? If it’s not prying too much to ask,” says Arthur.
Eames laughs. “We’re out for a drink Arthur, I’m not your tailor here, I hope.”
Arthur frowns briefly and blushes. “No, I know,” he says, “but the social rules here are impenetrable, sometimes. I’ve been here a year and I’ve never been invited to anyone’s home.”
“Really? That’s terrible!” says Eames. “We Brits aren’t all that stuck up and shy though. I had Ari over eating sandwiches the other day after knowing her for a few hours. And she took her clothes off.” He stops, horrified with himself. “God, what a stupid thing to say! I’m sorry, Arthur. Only to be measured for her suit.”
Arthur laughs. “Of course! I liked her.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual,”says Eames, stopping himself from telling Arthur that Ari had called him “cute”.
“So, where did you grow up?”
“In a boring suburb too far from London proper,” says Eames. “Dagenham, to be precise. My dad worked in a car factory and my mum in the greengrocer’s. And I wasted my time at school fooling around and doodling in my exercise books. So my results were rubbish, as I told you. But tailoring’s fine. It’s fun. I like it.”
“And do they treat you well, at Bellingham’s? Do you fit in?” says Arthur.
“Yes, I suppose,” says Eames. “The place is posh, but most of the other tailors are like me. State school boys, a bit artistic, good with our hands.”
Their champagne arrives, along with a little bowl of nuts.
Arthur raises his glass. “To a wonderful suit!” he says. His free hand strays to his tie and he smiles.
They clink glasses and Eames says: “I’m glad I made you happy.”
Arthur raises an eyebrow fractionally, but he’s still smiling.
“Your turn,” says Eames, “how did you get here?”
“Well, I did well at school and I was a runner. I got a scholarship to Harvard. Then Smythe was recruiting and I thought, ‘why not?’ I sure didn’t want to go back to Indianapolis. But it was a pretty big jump. Now I share an office with a guy who went to Eton. He knows the princes. And all his suits are tailored.”
“Yeah, well, I bet his junior school uniform was tailored when he was packed off aged eight. I wouldn’t envy him!” says Eames. “And he probably goes to his father’s tailor,” he adds.
Arthur grins. “He offered to set me up. Thought it was some sort of tragedy I had ‘the junior’.” He gives Eames a steady look. “I don’t,” he says.
Eames reaches for the nuts to cover up what feels like a glow taking over his face.
“I’m glad,” he says, and has to clear his throat. Arthur reaches for the dish at the same time and brushes his fingers across the back of Eames’s hand.
When they sit back Arthur gives him another steady look and drains his glass.
“Would you like to walk with me?” he says.
Eames drains his glass too.
Eames reaches for his bag and leads the way down the stairs. Outside, he pauses. “Where to, darling?”
Arthur is getting used to that. And Eames had said he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it.
“Not straight to the Tube. Let’s just walk.”
Eames smiles, apparently delighted by this idea. The evening is bright and the sidewalk is not crowded. Eames’s bag bumps Arthur’s hip and he shifts it to his other shoulder, his hand brushing Arthur’s arm.
And now, right now, it’s too much. Arthur looks round. The other people on the street seem intent on getting home. The doorway of a closed shop is close. He jostles Eames towards it, backs him in and moves into his space, watching closely for any hint that this is unwanted. Eames gives no such hint. His eyes widen and he lets the bag slide to the ground. Arthur brings both his hands up, one to Eames’s shoulder, the other to run lightly along his jaw. He leans in. “Eames?” he says.
“Yes,” Eames says, very soft.
Arthur leans the rest of the way in and kisses him. Softly at first, but Eames gasps and grabs for Arthur’s shoulder, pushing into him, his mouth opening, his tongue slipping out. His mouth! Arthur gives himself up to the feel of Eames’s mouth. He’s been imagining it since the first moment he saw Eames, in the shop, weeks ago. The reality is just as warm and giving as it looks. Arthur steps even closer. He’s no longer leaning in, their hips are twitching against each other.
Until Eames pushes lightly on his shoulder. “Darling,” he gasps. “Stop.”
Arthur pulls back. Eames brings his hand up to the back of his neck.
“No, not like that. Just—”
“Too much, here.” He slips his hand along Arthur’s cheek, his thumb tracing his jaw. “But come with me, stay with me, don’t go.”
“I’m not going, Eames,” says Arthur.
Eames drops his hand to Arthur’s tie, twitches it into place. He’s still smiling and his mouth is swollen. Arthur’s must be too. He steps back, and Eames picks up his bag.
“There’s this great square. Lovely place, nearby. Walk with me there, darling?” says Eames, his voice dropping. They step back onto the street and the rest of the world comes rushing back. People walking quickly, headed for home, or the pub. A woman glances at them and smiles.
“It’s not far,” says Eames, “let’s just cross over here and get into a quiet street.”
They are walking close together, not quite touching, but Arthur is acutely aware of Eames at his side as they wait at the crosswalk, taxis trundling by.
The square is lovely, surrounded by trees, with a statue in the middle. There are modern sculptures there as well.
“I love this place,” says Eames, but he doesn’t linger, heading for a bench under a tree. He sits down and holds out his hand. “Sit with me a while?”
Arthur sits, and lets his hand drift towards Eames. Eames drops his own to the bench and they sit with their fingers just brushing.
“You’re the first person I’ve met here that sees me, I think,” says Arthur. He doesn’t look at Eames.
“How blind they are,” says Eames, turning to look at Arthur. “When I saw you in the shop, that first day, I think I saw … something you weren’t putting out into the world.”
“Thank you,” says Arthur. “But why, Eames? Why stop?”
“Back there? Arthur, I want so much more than a snog in a doorway. And I think you do too.” Eames moves his hand, takes Arthur’s in a firm, warm grip. “Not that I didn't like snogging you, you know,” he says, grinning.
“Yeah, I do. Know. And want,” says Arthur, feeling his dimples showing. “A snog on a bench under a tree, just for now?” he says, raising an eyebrow.
“Mmm,” says Eames, leaning in.
The sounds of the busy square fade away. Arthur is enchanted by the contrast of Eames’s luscious mouth and his crooked teeth. The warmth of Eames’s thigh, solid next to his, seeps through their clothes. Finally, they draw apart. The sun is starting to set and the square is emptying.
“Now you'll walk me to the Tube?” says Arthur.
“I will!” says Eames, standing up and gallantly offering his hand.
They walk for a few minutes in silence. The streets are much quieter now that the evening rush is mostly done.
As they near the Tube station, Eames says: “I can’t wait till next week to see you again.”
“God no!” Arthur is surprised into a laugh. “No, a whole week? What are you doing on Saturday?”
“May I show you that not all we Brits are like your colleagues? Would you come to dinner?”
“At your house?”
“Well, tiny flat, actually, but yes. At my house.”
Arthur feels a flush rising, and swallows the flutter in his chest.
“I’d love to, Eames,” he says.
There aren’t seats together on the train. Arthur studies his shoes, and smiles back at Eames when he looks up and catches his eye.
Seeing they both live in Shoreditch, they’re both going to Old Street station. Arthur wonders if parting there will be awkward. What if they both need to walk the same way? He almost decides to walk in the opposite direction from Eames anyway, but that could just be really strange and weird later. It turns out he doesn’t have to fake it.
“I’m down this way,” Eames says, nodding towards the opposite direction from Arthur’s route home. “Um, I’ll text you?” He leans in and just brushes his lips across Arthur’s, the merest hint of a kiss. All promise. “Goodbye, Arthur,” he says. “Till Saturday.”
“Till Saturday,” Arthur echoes. “Thank you, Eames,” he adds. And turns to walk away.
Eames walks slowly home, stopping at the hole-in-the-wall greengrocer on the corner for tomatoes and basil. As he steps through his front door his eyes are drawn, as they have been every evening since he pinned it there, to the sketch of Arthur, the drawing he’d done on the Tube after their first meeting. He’d better remember to take it down before Saturday; he doesn’t want to embarrass Arthur, make him think he’s some sort of creepy voyeur. He smiles at it though.
He puts water on for pasta and chops some garlic, sets it to warm gently in olive oil while he chops the tomatoes, thinking of what he can cook for Arthur. He doesn’t even know if he has any particular dislikes. No pork, he guesses, after what Arthur said about his Bar Mitzvah.
After supper, all that has happened today comes rushing back, and he gets into bed thinking about Arthur. Wondering if he is thinking of Eames. At least it’s only two days until Saturday.
As he drifts off, his phone pings with a text. From Arthur.
“Thank you. Good night”
Thank you? How quaint. But Eames thinks there is actually a lot hidden behind the seemingly trite phrase. Arthur may not say too much, but he means a lot.
“Good night, Arthur”, he types. And then: “Saturday can't come soon enough”
His phone pings again: “yes! :)”
Eames falls asleep smiling.
The next day, he gives Arthur’s suit to the seamstresses for its final adjustments. Mr Grant is in the sewing room too and examines it.
“Very fine work, Mr Eames. Mr Kaplan is pleased?”
“Oh yes,” says Eames, entirely unable to hide his grin.
“Wonderful. I can see how it’ll flatter him, indeed,” says Mr Grant, smiling at Eames.
There’s nothing more for Eames to do to Arthur’s suit, but there are other jobs to get on with, difficult as it is to focus on them.
When he goes out for lunch, he gets a text from Yusuf: “Footie on Saturday?”
“Sorry, mate. Making dinner for Arthur”
“My client. Well …”
“Enjoy. Drink next week then”
Eames can imagine Yusuf’s expression. And he’s sure Ari will hear the news too. It's okay, he’s feeling too pleased with life to want to hide it. He smiles at the cashier in Prêt and is rewarded with a flirty wink.
He takes his sandwich to Golden Square. The bench he and Arthur sat on is occupied, so he sits under another tree and recalls the look Arthur wore when he pushed Eames into that doorway — hungry, intent, relieved. Eames had assumed he’d be the one to make the first decisive move, but obviously he had underestimated Arthur’s resolve. Though from every hint Arthur has dropped about himself, it's clear he pursues what he wants, when he decides on something. He’s remade himself in the move from Indiana, it seems to Eames. He wonders if he has ever pursued anything with that much dedication. And shivers slightly at the thought that he is the focus of Arthur’s attention. The way he has looked at Eames. His gaze steady and full of implication.
Time has drifted while Eames sat on the bench lost in thoughts of Arthur and he has to hurry to get back to the shop in time for his next appointment with the pleasant, if paunchy, banker.
It's a long two days for Arthur. Fischer is planning a country weekend, shooting or some such, he’s not been listening to the details. Arthur has tuned him out and been free to think about his own weekend.
He’s certain of Eames’s regard, but not entirely sure of his intentions. Dinner could lead to more, or not.
It’s been a while. A long while. Arthur has been focused on his career, and he’s told himself not to care about anything else, but it’s been a long while. He’s complained about it in emails to his college roommates, but has not been inclined to really try to do anything about it.
On Friday, he has a meeting with his current clients, or rather, with a person from the accounting department there. A pleasant woman he gets on well with. At lunchtime, she suggests they get something, and they walk down the street together in a light drizzle.
“You look … happy?” says Joan, as they wait for their food. “Something good at the weekend?”
And Arthur doesn't usually confide, but he likes her warm, no-nonsense Northernness.
“Yes,” he says. “Sort of a first date.”
He knows he shouldn't get too personal, but he can't help it.
“He’s my tailor, actually. So we’ve met several times.”
“Your tailor? Arthur!” But she’s grinning at him.
Arthur feels his blush. “Oh god, that sounds so, what’s the word? Poncey. Yes, he’s making me a suit.”
He expects her to tease, but she just smiles. “That’s great, Arthur. It’s so hard to met people here, you have to grab whatever chance you get.”
Arthur smiles at her in return. “Yes, it really is. He’s the first person who’s invited me to his home. I got a bit … confessional the other day. Oh god, I'm doing it again. I’m sorry!”
Their food arrives then, so Arthur has time to recover slightly. But he doesn’t really regret confessing to Joan; she’s an outsider too, in much the same ways he is. Her warmth brings home to him how hard being an outsider at Smythe has been. How desperate he is for company. He hopes that isn't all there is behind his feelings for Eames.
The weather has cleared when he leaves the office, so he hurries home and heads out for a run in the park. He clears the work week out of his head, and keeps his Wednesday with Eames, turns it over and examines it from all sides.
Eames had been so genuinely delighted by his reaction to the suit, had taken him somewhere special, and had been so eager when he pushed him into that doorway.
His caution hadn't seemed reluctance; but rather the opposite, and Arthur is grateful that Eames had slowed them down. His invitation to dinner was so … kind. In the best way. Eames has heard Arthur and responded.
The next day, Arthur goes to a wine merchant to choose a good bottle, and he stops at the flower market. Eames’s frankly pretty tattoo has intrigued him from the first day, and he picks out roses and peonies. He hopes it’s not too much, but he wants to show Eames his appreciation for the home invitation.
He spends some time in the afternoon pondering what to wear. Not a suit, of course. What had Eames been wearing when they had coffee last week? Jeans will work. On impulse, he gets out a white shirt and the gorgeous paisley tie. Too pretty for work, but it feels like a bouquet Eames has given him.
His phone pings with a text at about four.
“I never said where I live. How well do you know the area?”
“Well enough. I’ll get a cab”
Eames texts a smiley face and his address. It’s not that far, but Arthur doesn’t feel like walking with wine and flowers, and anyway, it’s started to rain.
Dom hadn’t been in when he got back, but he’s in the living room when Arthur steps out of his bedroom at six.
“Wow, where are you going?” he says.
“Date,” says Arthur.
“A date? You never go on dates,” says Cobb. He stands up to follow Arthur into the kitchen where he’s getting the wine out of the fridge and the flowers out of the ice bucket in the sink where he put them to keep fresh.
“No, I just haven’t had a date since I moved here. And now I do,” says Arthur, putting the wine into his messenger bag and shaking the bouquet gently.
“I won’t wait up,” says Cobb, smirking.
“Yeah, don’t,” says Arthur, closing the door. He can’t help smiling on his way down the stairs though. The minicab he called is idling at the kerb. A bubble of excitement rises as he gives the driver Eames’s address. It really isn’t far and in only a few minutes the cab stops outside Eames’s flat.
Eames has not been looking at the clock every few minutes while tidying and checking on his coq au vin, but when the doorbell rings, he is still a little startled. He grabs a tea towel to wipe his hands and glances in the mirror in the hallway as he presses the buzzer to let Arthur in.
"It's on the first floor," he says, adding, "Up the stairs."
He opens his door and steps onto the landing as Arthur gets to the top of the stairs. He's carrying a large bouquet of roses and peonies.
"Hello," says Arthur, flushing.
"Hello," says Eames, also feeling a little awkward. Which is ridiculous.
Arthur holds out the flowers."I hope you like flowers," he says.
"Of course, thank you!" says Eames, taking them. Arthur has stopped short.
"They're gorgeous," says Eames. He reaches for Arthur's hand, tugs him closer. "Thank you," he says again, leaning in and kissing Arthur on the cheek.
"Oh!" Arthur seems a little startled. Eames steps back. "Come in, Arthur," he says, keeping hold of his hand.
Arthur is blushing. "Thank you," he says, following Eames over the threshold.
Eames's flat is small but he has made the sitting room comfortable with a big sofa and a table under the window. He’s set the table already.
"This is nice," says Arthur, looking around, smiling. "How long have you lived here?"
"Quite a while. Come through to the kitchen while I find a vase for these?" says Eames.
Arthur follows him.
"Dinner smells amazing!" he says, following Eames over to the sink. Eames reaches up to get a vase down from a shelf and Arthur steps up behind him, crowding close. Eames turns round, holding the vase and the flowers, and Arthur kisses him.
Eames sags against the sink as Arthur takes the vase and the flowers from his hands and puts them down. “That’s better,” says Arthur, against his mouth. “God, I’ve been waiting to do this.”
“Mmmm,” is all Eames can manage as he pulls Arthur closer.
Arthur has one hand at the back of Eames’s neck and the other pushing into his shoulder. Both Eames’s hands are on Arthur’s arse.
Arthur pulls away, breathing hard. “I’ve forgotten how to do this,” he says, dropping his mouth to the side of Eames’s throat, nipping and sucking, not quite hard enough to leave a mark.
“No you haven’t,” says Eames. He pushes a hand into Arthur’s hair, tugging gently to get Arthur to come back to his mouth. “There you are,” he says as Arthur lifts his face.
He strokes a thumb along Arthur’s jaw, feels it working.
Eventually, Arthur pulls away again.
“Eames,” he says, “Eames,” apparently too overcome to form a complete thought. Eames feels the same. They stand there, Eames’s backside pressed up against the sink, chests heaving, just looking at each other. It’s hard to come back to the mundane.
It’s Arthur who recovers first.
“I'm sorry,” he says, “I manhandled you a bit. Hope I didn't leave marks all over you.”
“Don't be!” laughs Eames.
Arthur steps back and Eames turns to deal with the flowers and give himself breathing room.
“These are really gorgeous, Arthur,” he says.
“Well,” says Arthur, gesturing at the rose on Eames’s arm, “I figured you like roses.” He smiles, dimples framing his mouth.
“And other lovely things,” says Eames, turning with the vase. He sets it on the counter. “Let me get you a drink.”
Arthur reaches into the messenger bag that is still slung on his back. “I brought wine. I wasn’t sure what you’d be making …”
“Coq au vin,” says Eames, taking the bottle of white wine. “I have this one open,” picking up the red that’s standing on the counter.
“Right, ok,” says Arthur, looking flustered.
“No, no,” says Eames. “It’s just, I cooked with red, so …”
He pours two glasses, hands one to Arthur.
“Welcome to my home, darling,” he says. “I hope I can make up for the rest of my miserable countrymen.”
“I don’t care about them,” says Arthur, clinking his glass against Eames’s.
They sip their wine, and then Eames says: “I’ve just got a few things still to do here, then we can go sit down.”
“Ok,” says Arthur. “Can I help?”
“Sure,” says Eames, “Chop the parsley?”
Arthur unbuttons his cuffs and pushes up the sleeves of his sweater.
And Eames notices he’s wearing the paisley tie.
“Arthur, you’re wearing it,” he says.
“Of course!” says Arthur. “You gave me flowers first.”
He smiles, and Eames can feel himself blushing. “I did. I'm so glad it wasn't too much.”
“No,” says Arthur, “not at all. Why do you think I was bold enough to push you into that doorway? Do you think I just tackle people in the street as a matter of routine?” He slides a sidelong glance at Eames.
Eames can’t help laughing. “Of course not, darling.”
“Where’s that parsley?” says Arthur, blushing himself.
He chops the parsley with his tongue poking out of his mouth, and Eames can't resist leaning over and kissing him quickly. Arthur just smiles.
Eames slides the casserole out of the oven to check on the chicken.
“Shall we go sit down?” he says.
As they walk down the short hallway, Arthur glances through the bedroom door, standing ajar, but he doesn't ask for a tour.
“This is a lovely flat, Eames,” he says.
“I'm very lucky to have found it,” says Eames. “I moved in before Shoreditch got so achingly hip, and the landlord’s a lovely old man who’s lived here all his life. He likes me.”
“Of course he does.” Arthur smiles.
Eames sits down on the sofa, holding out his hand to Arthur, who sits down close.
“You live here alone?” he says.
“I do,” says Eames. “Suits me.”
“I wish I did,” says Arthur. “I mean, my roommate is fine, we don’t see that much of each other. But after a whole day with the suits, I sometimes wish he wasn’t there, mooning over his crappy social life, you know?”
“A day with the suits? Oh darling, we both spend our days with the suits!”
Arthur laughs, and relaxes against Eames’s shoulder.
“I love suits, what am I saying. Not the stuffed shirts inside them sometimes though.”
“So do I, but, yeah, some of the occupants …”
They drink their wine and Arthur looks around the room. Eames has left a sketchbook on the coffee table.
“Would you show me?” says Arthur.
“Um, yes, ok,” says Eames. He knows a picture of Arthur in the imagined plaid suit is in the book.
Arthur picks it up and opens it across his knees. The first few pages are people walking past his favorite cafe, the one they met at. Then Arthur turns the page to the picture of himself. Eames feels him go still. He looks at Arthur looking. Arthur runs a finger down the line of the suit, a tiny frown between his eyes, then he looks up at Eames.
“You drew me, just to draw me?” he says.
“Oh darling, don’t be cross,” says Eames, reaching for his hand. “I hope you don’t think I’m a stalker. You were in my head. I saw a guy in this mad suit and I wondered …”
Arthur is looking at him, still frowning, starting to smile.
“You saw a guy in a loud suit and you thought of me?” He grins. “Of me? Wow.”
“Of course. I told you, you’re hiding in dull business attire, Ar--,” says Eames, cut off by Arthur’s mouth on his. He brings his hands up to Arthur’s shoulders, pulls him closer. Arthur pushes forward, pressing Eames into the sofa.
When they pull apart, panting, Arthur keeps his forehead tipped against Eames’s and laughs, softly. “God, Eames. Is there anything you don’t see?”
“Plenty. But you wanted me to see. That makes it easy.”
They’re too close to focus, all Eames can see is the slope of Arthur’s nose, his mouth, swollen and delicious.
“I did. I didn’t even know it, but I did.”
Eames runs his hand along Arthur’s jaw, runs a finger down to the knot of his tie.
“I needed someone to see, I guess.” He leans back and looks away. “God, I’m not actually this pathetic.”
“Don’t say that,” says Eames.
They sit and finish their wine in silence. Eames stands up. “Are you hungry?”
Eames walks through to the kitchen, leaving Arthur on the sofa.
He looks back at the sketchbook, lying open on the cushion. Eames has caught his likeness in a few deft strokes, filled in the plaid more thoroughly.
He goes to join Eames, who is taking a casserole out of the oven. He lifts the lid, releasing a cloud of delicious steam.
“Don’t worry, I left out the bacon. I never asked you about food, but I assumed?”
“Yes, no bacon. I’m not strict though,” says Arthur, touched that Eames has thought of this from just the hint of his name.
It all feels so very domestic and homely and plain friendly. Arthur has missed this more than he knew.
Eames carries the casserole to the living room table, where he startles Arthur by pulling out chair and gesturing for him to sit.
Eames dishes up the aromatic chicken, with little onions and mushrooms, and sits down himself. He passes bread and leans over to pour more wine.
“Thank you for coming to my home, Arthur,” he says, raising his glass and looking rather intently at him.
“Thank you, Eames,” says Arthur, holding his gaze.
“God, this really does smell amazing,” he says, digging his fork into the tender chicken.
They eat in silence for a few minutes, then as Arthur reaches for more bread, his hand brushes Eames’s and he grasps it.
“This really is the nicest meal I’ve had all year,” he says, “and I’ve been taken to some pretty fancy places. Business lunches.”
They talk then, about films, and books, and TV, and it’s easy. They have some tastes in common, and other things they argue mildly about.
Eventually, Arthur can’t eat another bite of chicken or the salad that Eames served afterwards. Eames stands up and takes the plates into the kitchen. Arthur follows him. At the sink again, Eames turns into him, slips his hand up Arthur’s neck and Arthur’s hands are on Eames’s hips, on his ass, sliding up his back under his T-shirt. Eames’s skin! Eames’s hands are at his waist, untucking his shirt and then his hands are on Arthur’s back. Big and warm and sure. Arthur has been thinking of his hands since the the first day with the tape measure.
But Eames leans back. “Darling, let’s not do this here, eh?” he says, tilting his head to the door. “Come to my bed?”
It’s been so long, and of course he wants to, has thought of it, hoped for it. Eames steps away from the counter, takes Arthur’s hand.
“Yes,” says Arthur, “god yes!” And follows Eames down the hall into his room.
Eames turns to him and tugs at his shirt again, pulling it from the waist of his jeans, and skating his hands up Arthur’s chest. Arthur gets his own hands up under Eames’s shirt. He can feel the definition of his muscles, can’t wait to see everything. “Take this off?” he says.
“You too,” says Eames, freeing his hands and grabbing the hem his shirt. As he lifts it, his abdominals flex. He’s far more built than his loose work shirts have suggested. He pulls the T-shirt over his head, drops it on the floor. His hair is ruffled and he pushes it off his face. The tattoo of the rose on his forearm continues up his bicep, a branch of thorns twining round.
“You too,” says Eames again, and Arthur realises he’s just staring. He pulls off his sweater, reaches up to undo his tie, scrabbles with his shirt buttons, before giving up and pulling it over his head, in his haste to get his hands on Eames’s skin again.
He runs his hands up Eames’s arms, across his shoulders, down his chest, thick with muscle. “You didn’t get all this from tailoring,” he says.
Eames laughs. “No.” His own hands are on Arthur’s waist, fingers dipping below his jeans, thumbing his hip bones.
Arthur skims the thorns around Eames’s upper arm. “The pretty part is on display, the painful part is hidden?”
“That’s always the way, isn’t it darling? I will tell you. Another time. Because right now …” he says, bending his head and kissing his way down Arthur’s throat, across his clavicle. Arthur tilts his head to give him access and brings his hand up to the back of Eames’s head, where his hair is short and soft. His stubble scrapes gently on Arthur’s skin.
He pushes Arthur backwards, onto the bed. He’s standing between Arthur’s thighs, pressing close, and Arthur catches himself on his elbows. Eames reaches down to his belt, hand pausing briefly, waiting for permission to continue before pulling his jeans down. He crouches down and unties Arthur’s shoes, pulls off his socks, gets his jeans off and stands up, pushing off the rest of his own clothes as Arthur looks up at him, chest heaving.
He crawls up on the bed, looming over Arthur, his thighs flexing. It’s rather overwhelming. Arthur moves backwards and sits up, his hands on Eames’s shoulders, stilling him. Pushes him down into his lap, brings a hand up to Eames’s jaw, regaining control. Their kiss is gentler then, a pause, until Eames twitches his hips forward and urgency reasserts itself.
It has been a long time since Arthur last fucked anyone, even longer since his last first time. It’s always awkward, bodies negotiating. But they do fit, they answer each other, and afterwards, comfort falls over Arthur as he lies awake against Eames’s side listening to rain gurgling in the gutters.
The morning is dark with clouds and Eames wakes late. Arthur is curled on his side reading on his phone. “Hi,” he says softly, turning back towards Eames.
Eames cranes to look at the clock. Ten. Hours before Ari comes over for her suit fitting.
Arthur kisses under his jaw and stretches. Sighs and reaches for Eames’s hand. It’s not awkward like the next morning can be. Arthur seems perfectly relaxed.
“Good morning, darling,” says Eames, brushing Arthur’s hair off his forehead and kissing the top of his head, all he can reach.
They are cocooned together, but all too soon reality reasserts itself and Eames needs to pee. He gets out of bed. “I went before,” says Arthur in answer to his raised eyebrow. “You’re a pretty heavy sleeper.”
Coming back into the bedroom he says: “What do you want to do today? Ari is coming over this afternoon for a fitting.”
“I guess I should go then,” says Arthur, sitting up.
“Well …” says Eames, “not necessarily. I need tea now though. Coffee for you? We could go out.”
“Ok,” says Arthur, swinging his feet off the bed.
“Or stay in,” says Eames. Outside the rain is coming down heavily. The air in the flat is chilly and he reaches for a pair of trackpants. “Stay for a while at least?” he says.
“Yes,” says Arthur. “Where are my pants?” He gets out of bed and bends down rooting for his jeans in the pile of clothes on the floor where they fell last night. He shivers a bit.
Eames goes to the wardrobe and grabs two hoodies, hands one to Arthur. “Here you are, darling,” he says, “you can wear this.”
It’s rather big but Arthur pushes the sleeves up and rolls his shoulders, getting comfortable.
They take their drinks to the sitting room and Arthur curls on the sofa, pulling his feet up, obviously feeling at home. Eames curls his hand round his bare ankle.
Outside passing cars swish through the puddles.
Arthur sighs. “It’s so nice here, Eames,” he says.
“Well, stay. Ari would love to see you again.”
“Won’t she be shy to have a fitting with someone else here?”
“You can leave after she arrives,” says Eames. “Don’t you want to see her toile? It’s really different fitting a girl, but I think the suit’s going to look good. She’s so tiny, it can’t be easy getting clothes that fit, let alone a suit.”
“Yeah, I’d love that,” says Arthur, settling further into the sofa.
“Let’s have something to eat and shower and then I’ve actually got to do a bit of work on the toile,” says Eames.
He makes eggs and offers Arthur first turn in the shower, hunting around for a new toothbrush.
Afterwards, Arthur puts the hoodie back on over his shirt and wanders over to look at the bookshelf. Eames gets his sewing machine out and fetches the toile. He’s made it out of a black and white floral print, just for fun. If it doesn’t need too much adjustment, Ari may be able to wear it. Arthur laughs delightedly when he sees it and settles on the sofa while Eames works, asking questions and watching closely as the jacket takes on a more finished form.
“So you like the sewing, not just the designing?” he says.
“Yes, I do,” says Eames. “I’m not as good as the seamstresses, of course, but I do like it.”
In fact, since he started working on this suit for Ari, Eames has been thinking about what it is he wants from his job.
“You know,” he says now, “I’ve been thinking. Lots of different people might need a good suit, but they’ll never come to Bellingham’s, and couldn’t afford it anyway.”
“What do you mean?” says Arthur.
“Well, women, of course, but what about trans people? Everyone needs clothes that fit the person they are ... what if there was a tailor’s where you knew you wouldn’t be judged?”
It’s not a fully formed idea, just something he’s been turning over. Arthur’s wistfulness over his own life sparked the thought.
“Could you do that, Eames? Set up on your own? It would be a huge risk,” says Arthur.
“Well, not a whole shop, straight away, but maybe a few more private jobs first? I don’t know,” says Eames.
“Hmmm,” says Arthur, “has it been done anywhere else? Have you researched it?” He pulls out his phone.
“Darling!” laughs Eames, “It’s just a thought.”
“May I look into it?” says Arthur.
“Well, of course,” says Eames, “If you want to.”
Arthur’s head is bowed over his phone and Eames turns back to his sewing. He can’t help smiling. Arthur needed a suit to fit his conventional job and now here he is, researching how to help Eames alter his own life.
Eames is absorbed in his sewing, the machine buzzing, when Arthur comes over and shows him an article on a New York tailor shop that does exactly what he’s thinking of. Makes suits that suit how clients feel in themselves. Suits that express who they are.
Arthur stands behind him, leaning over Eames’s shoulder as he reads.
“That’s it, darling. That’s what I’ve been thinking of,” he says. He reaches for Arthur’s hand, turns to him. “Thank you, Arthur.”
He supposes he could have found the same information, but he’s glad it’s Arthur who found it for him.
The grey sky means it’s difficult to know the time, and the doorbell startles them both. Eames gets up to buzz Ari in and opens the flat’s door. Soon she is in the sitting room, taking off her damp coat.
“Oh, hi, Arthur!” she says. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Um, yeah, hi,” says Arthur. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to stay and spy.”
He turns for the hallway door.
“Let me see!” says Ari, coming over to the table. Eames holds up the jacket.
“Oh my god! Eames!” says Ari, reaching for it. “Oh my god, it’s amazing!”
She hands it back and pulls her jumper over her head, reaches for the jacket again and puts it on, as Arthur comes back in, now in his own clothes.
“Look at this, Arthur!” She twirls in the centre of the room. “Isn’t it amazing?”
It does fit pretty well, Eames thinks.
“Try the trousers too,” he says, handing them to her. “Is the bedroom …?” he says to Arthur.
“Yes,” he says. “You look great, Ari! Well, I’ll be off then.”
“What?” says Ari. “Stay and see the pants, Arthur!”
“Are you sure?” says Arthur, looking from Ari to Eames.
“Sure!” says Ari, as Eames shows her to the bedroom, where Arthur has made the bed and picked up Eames’s discarded clothes from last night.
He comes back into the sitting room where Arthur is leaning against the table.
“That went well,” he says. “She loves it.”
Ari comes back in, head to toe in black roses. It could look silly, but it fits her so well that it doesn’t.
“I adore it, Eames!” she says, twirling again.
“It’s only a toile, though,” says Eames, but he can’t help laughing at her delight.
“You look fantastic,” says Arthur. “I’m going to go now, Eames.”
Eames follows him to the door and out onto the landing. “Thanks for tidying the bedroom,” he says. “Thank you for staying. Thank you for … everything.” he reaches for Arthur’s hand, pulls him in.
As they kiss, Eames stops being conscious of Ari inside. He leans into Arthur. It’s Arthur who pulls away, finally. “If we don’t stop, I won’t be able to,” he says, slowly letting go of Eames’s hand as he turns for the stairs.
Eames goes back inside, aware of how flushed he is.
“So,” says Ari. “More than a client.”
“Yes!” says Eames.
As Arthur steps through the door, Eames is standing next to the tailor’s dummy, smiling.
“Here it is, darling,” he says.
Arthur wants to try on the suit, but he hasn’t seen Eames for two days and the suit can wait. Eames staggers slightly under Arthur’s weight. “Hello, love,” he says.
“God, Eames,” says Arthur, when he leans away from their kiss.
“Want to try it on?” says Eames.
“Yes!” says Arthur. He takes off his jacket and lays it on the table, unbuckles his belt. “No one’s going to come in, are they, Eames?” he says, sitting down on the armchair to take off his shoes.
“No.” Eames laughs, turning the key in the lock.
Arthur stands up and takes off his pants, draping them over the chair. Eames hands him the new pants and he steps into them, tucking his shirt smoothly. Eames hands him his belt, pausing to run his hand down Arthur’s chest and turn him with a hand on his hip. “Mmhmm,” he says.
Arthur hasn’t looked in the mirror yet. He takes the jacket from Eames and slips it on. It settles on his shoulders perfectly, weightlessly. Eames smooths it and Arthur leans slightly into the warmth of his hand, recalling the first time Eames touched him like this, so many weeks ago.
Finally, he is ready to look at himself in the mirror. He turns to the glass, catches Eames’s eye over his shoulder. He looks tall and confident, slender and stylish. The rich dark tones of the check are serious, and yet playful. He is glad he was brave enough, when Eames first suggested it.
“It’s perfect, Eames,” he says, turning to him. “It’s beautiful! It is everything you said it would be. Thank you!”
“Arthur, you look … as gorgeous as I knew you would,” says Eames, running his hand down the lapel. He turns to his work table where there is a small vase of flowers, selects a daisy, tucks it into Arthur’s buttonhole.
Arthur catches his hand. “Come to dinner tonight? I booked. I knew we’d want to celebrate,” he says.
“Of course we do,” says Eames. He kisses Arthur lightly, sweet, but full of promise. “Now I’m going to put you and this into a taxi,” he says. “I’ll come to yours?”
Arthur reluctantly takes off the suit, allows Eames to zip it into a bag. He has taken the daisy from the buttonhole and tucks it into the buttonhole of his old suit. Squares his shoulders and steps through the door. Eames follows with the suit bag.
In the shop, Arthur goes to Mr Jones’s desk and takes out his credit card.
“Everything in order, Mr Kaplan?”
“Oh yes! Perfect,” says Arthur.
The bill isn’t small, but it’s worth every penny. No price can be put on your life changing.
Eames walks him to the door and hails a taxi. “I’ll see you in a bit,” he says, bending to hand Arthur the bag. Their hands brush.
A taxi all the way is an indulgence, but it’s an indulgent day, and Arthur leans back in the seat, his hand on the bag. The suit bag that contains so much more than a garment.
At home, the flat quiet in the early evening, he hangs the suit on his closet door and examines the details he didn’t grasp when he first saw it. The lining is exquisite, a silk that changes color as it moves. On the inner pocket, beneath the Bellingham and Sons logo, is a date, today’s. Below that, smaller, is: “E for A” and another date. The date of Arthur’s first meeting with Eames. He swallows the lump in his throat, his finger tracing the stitching.
He showers and shaves, combs his hair a little less severely than normal, dresses slowly, ties the paisley tie carefully.
The sound of the doorbell startles him and he goes to open the door. Eames is wearing a slim dark suit Arthur has never seen before. He grabs his hand, draws it to his chest, where the stitching is. “Eames,” is all he can say.
“You found it, darling,” says Eames, kissing him.
Much later, after the restaurant, where more than one admiring gaze had followed them as they walked to their table, after strolling along the Embankment, after yet another taxi ride, as they lie in Eames’s bed with the light of the streetlamp outside allowing Arthur to see just a bit, he traces the thorns twining around Eames’s arm.
“You said you’d tell me. Tell me now?”
“Oh darling. The usual, you know? I told you I was rubbish at school? Well, I was. School didn’t suit me. Teenage boys are cruel, when you’re a sensitive, arty, pretty, queer boy.” His fingers card through Arthur’s hair. “But I changed myself, and I choose to show the beauty. The rest has faded away.”
“You only changed your outside. A bit,” says Arthur. “They couldn’t see you. But you let me see you.”
A year later
“How many more can he need?” huffs Arthur as the photographer snaps away.
Eames takes his hand. “He can’t get enough, darling, you look so devastating.”
Arthur looks at him. “I have a brilliant, bold tailor, you know. One who sees what others do not.”
“Brave clients help, love, if the tailor listens to their stories.”
Arthur does look devastating in his plaid suit, a deep red, as they stand outside their shop posing for pictures that will go with the newspaper article on EAMES, the business they have just managed to open.
The business Arthur has helped him dream about and plan, from a tentative idea on that rainy Sunday over Ari’s suit. The business Arthur, with his financial skill and surprisingly helpful contacts, has helped him make a reality. The business that’s already drawing a stream of clients who want to be seen as they are.
Eames turns to look at the name, his name! painted on the windows of the former pub down the street from his old flat.
“Right, thanks!” calls the photographer. “I think I have some great shots of you two now.”
“Thank you,” says Arthur, “You’ll use pictures of our clients as well? They’re the important ones.”
He steps away towards the door, looking over his shoulder to see if Eames is following, but Eames pauses where he is, savouring the moment.
Everything he wanted is right here. Arthur, going into their tailor shop, about to climb the stairs to their home.