When Mr. Ducie drew the pictures in the sand, had explained to him the mysteries of love, women, and sex, he had also supplied something else – the myth of the soulmate.
“It is said that all human souls were once joined with a perfect other half, and separated by the gods eons ago. But it is still possible to rejoin into one bonded being, not literally of course, you wouldn’t be wandering around with four legs!” Mr. Ducie laughed as Maurice stared out at the brackish water. “However, when two mated souls meet, and touch, they will know, and become connected.”
“How do they know?” Maurice asked.
“You see the world differently,” Mr. Ducie explained, not sounding entirely sure himself. “Some reported instances of soulmates finding one another say that – that the hues, the color of everything is warped, and clearer. And it will remain that way so long as you and your soulmate are both alive.”
“But then – if you or, or they die, that means your sight goes back to how it was before?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Maurice couldn’t fathom why having an improved vision was so fantastic, he could see perfectly well. The idea of having something be taken away nagged at the childish nature within him all the same. “I think I would prefer to not have a soulmate, then.” Mr. Ducie laughed, and explained that it didn’t really matter anyway, soulmates were so rare that it may just be a legend, fed by a few cases that couldn’t really be proven. And at any rate – “One doesn’t need a soulmate, any nice girl for you, Maurice, you’ll see. In fact, in ten years’ time, I shall invite you and your wife to dine with my wife and I.”
And on it went. Maurice stared at Mr. Ducie, the sand, the waves, the sky. He tried to picture how things would be different with a soulmate, but having little artistic imagination, soon gave up. Then Mr. Ducie was stuttering about the infernal designs on the surf, racing back the way that they had come, and Maurice’s thoughts were pulled in another direction entirely.
Risley may have been tiring in their first meeting, but he was so different from any of his usual set like Chapman and others from school, that curiosity drew him to the other’s rooms in Trinity. So far university had been illuminating, but he felt that Risley, with his words perhaps, could turn the candle flicker into a flood of light. So off he went.
But Risley was not in his rooms. A smaller, handsome man was on the floor, surrounded by music rolls in their boxes. He introduced himself as Clive Durham, and had evidently heard something of Maurice – “You’re in your second year, aren’t you?” Maurice was about to leave, still in the aperture, but Durham continued to talk. “I’m stealing his pathetic symphony –”
Maurice hadn’t intended to wait around for Risley or Durham, but the latter seemed intent on following him out of the Trinity gates, and he made himself useful by taking some of the boxes – a few clattering to the ground in the process.
He had gone to Risley’s rooms despite Chapman’s warnings, despite the disdain he inspired from their friends, because there had been something about him, some aspect of likeness he wasn’t certain of. But as he and Durham chatted on the walk back – about classes, about the Dean’s stuffiness and his Greek translation class, during which Durham seemed to take pleasure in quizzing him about the said Ancients – he found that perhaps there was something alike within both he and Durham, as well.
Maurice had all but forgotten about the idea of soulmates until university – or until the Greek translation classes – or until he met Clive Durham.
Durham didn’t mention it himself, but he did give Maurice the Symposium to read over the break. He plowed through the stories, more so that he could return to school and offer his own practiced thoughts on the subject that Durham studied and spoke of so ardently. Some of it was understood easily, other passages he read over without anything being absorbed. Then came the section of Aristophanes. If Durham did believe in such a thing, as he seemed to believe in nearly everything that came from Ancient Greek thought, then perhaps the myth itself truly did have some modicum of truth placed within it. Of course, even Aristophanes accepted that not everyone could find their soulmate, merely mix with the sex they so desired.
When he returned from the vac, when he sat in his rooms with Durham by his feet, stroking his hair, talking a few words, he thought again of the book, thought of asking Durham his opinion – but then the other man had gotten into his lap, looked like he was about to say or do something even more important. Naturally, they were interrupted, and Durham slipped away before either of them could say their piece.
Durham’s confession of love confused Maurice, and in his bewilderment he struck out, not with his own heart and mind, which were too dormant to respond so quickly to such a statement, but instead with what society had instilled within him. He had hurt his friend, and the pain of it soon turned back on him until they were both, privately, in agony.
A civil apology didn’t help, but sneaking in through the window – that had done the trick exactly. His preference of action over Clive’s for words had won out in this instance.
When he had kissed Clive’s mouth, overly excited, harsh, but lovely, he felt buoyant, younger even, though he was already young. He climbed back down the vines and walked through the campus back to his own rooms that evening. He noted the smell of flowers and wet earth, took in the glistening drops of moisture on the passing surfaces. Everything certainly seemed clearer, within his mind and body as well as the world surrounding him, blanketing him in pleasant senses.
He slipped into the bed in his dorms, twisting this way and that with excited resolution: This, he thought, this was what it felt like to find one’s other half.
The grass was tall, successfully shrouding them – although who would come across them here was beyond him. It was the middle of the day in the middle of the week, and they were off the beaten path – his stalled motorcar accounted for that! And still it was perfect, he and Clive, lounging in the sun. He had taken some sense of victory in stealing Clive away from the halls and books, and even the books he brought were ignored in favor of dozing in the sunshine.
“Clive, when you read the Symposium…” At that the other man perked up. “What did you think about the one with – the soulmates? The other halves?” He deflated then.
“That one? A sweet little myth, I suppose. Interesting as a metaphor, I suppose, but ultimately impractical – merely entertainment.”
“It’s just that I remember hearing about it, an old teacher I had.”
“Figures of all things to mention from Greek literature directly it’d be one of the least stimulating.”
“I was fourteen, you can’t expect someone that age to go off and understand complicated literature on Democracy and the Forms and Love and such.” Though Maurice hardly understood any of those things now. Clive merely hummed; knowing him he had started to read Plato around then. “I found that story compelling. It would be nice, I think, if you knew there was someone out there that was perfectly right for you.” As he spoke, he half recalled a dream he had around the same time. Yes, perhaps that vision was a premonition to this moment now.
He turned over and crept closer to Clive, kissing him. The other accepted the affection, then resisted, speaking now instead about the varieties of love, how the physical aspect of them was nothing important, nothing to dwell on. Maurice still rested his cheek on the other’s chest, staring out at the water further down the hill.
Maurice resented getting kicked out of school because the Dean reprimanded him like a child, and because it would be harder to be with Clive all of the time. He did not, however, resent being plucked from a world of ancient books and translation classes and theories – he was quite happy with taking up the role as stockbroker, as his father did before him.
While work wasn’t as fun as congregating with his friends in the dormitories, he had the reward of visiting Pendersleigh, or Clive coming down to London himself, to ease him through talking to his middle-class clientele about whether they ought to invest four or five percent in railroads or coal or what-have-you. Things carried on seamlessly between them for some time. Occasionally their other friends from university or some other part of society would reappear, bursting in on their dyad for a time before fading with little lasting impression.
Then Risley was arrested; they both read it, separately, in the paper. Clive had even snuck into his trial. And after that the illness came.
Clive had always a sicklier disposition. But fainting at dinner, being too sick to ride home, needing a nurse despite Maurice’s willingness to help him back to decent shape, it marred the easy nature of their relationship.
Despite the lingering sickness, Clive insisted on travelling to Greece by himself. Maurice had tried to make their goodbye meaningful, loving, but Clive had taken his hand out of Maurice’s grip and gone off with Mrs. Durham back to his estate to pack. Maurice had hoped it was a passing contention – they had survived him bungling up Clive’s confession so many years ago.
Certainly, after everything, nothing would wrench them apart again.
Clive returned different. Cold and aloof. Insistent on changing himself and Maurice. His callousness infected Maurice and he didn’t stop, didn’t think until Aida – “You were always unkind to us,” she said, hand to her lips and tears in her eyes. He told her it wasn’t his fault, but of course she didn’t listen. Of course even he wasn’t convinced of the words in his mouth.
He tried to go on. There was the Mission, there was work. Soon there was Aida’s wedding and Clive’s own marriage, and –
Weeks after the incident with his sister, he tried to appease the both of them by offering his congratulations of her union with Chapman. He was received coolly, and the house he had domineered for so long now seemed morphed and strange to his own eyes. It was now that he became so desperate to change, as Clive had managed to. After writing to a doctor, he returned to Pendersleigh on Clive’s invitation, reluctant for another test of will but resolute to appear normal, as he may soon well be. At the very least, Clive’s sprawling estate had always been intimating and impossible to navigate, with its dark lawns and high-class hosts, and Maurice had since grown used to finding relief in reliable settings, despite their persistent uncomfortableness.
It was his birthday, and his closest friend was off canvasing, happy to pass him into Mr. Archie London’s care. They wandered the grounds, shooting till the mist came down – Maurice wasn’t trying, Mr. London was, they were both rather awful. The only thing that set some hope within him was the telegram he received that afternoon, about an appointment with the therapist.
“Happy birthday, sir!” The under gamekeeper told him. He folded the telegram up quickly, embarrassed, and sent the man an acknowledging nod.
Excusing himself to Anne was easy enough, though she assumed he was going back to the City to romance some woman – if only! Though, who knew, perhaps in a year’s time that would be the case, if the doctor was truly as good as the recommendation had been
He spent the rest of the evening listless, smoking and staring at the crack in the drawing room’s ceiling until it was time to turn in. Again was the under gamekeeper – he helped him move a piano from the deluge so he wouldn’t have to walk with the other guests to their rooms.
Laskar Jones asked for a history of his condition upon his first appointment. He had only gotten a page into his problem’s past when Clive appeared, grinning, laughing, saying “Aren’t women extraordinary?” Maurice smiled, though he couldn’t bring himself to agree.
Now that Clive deemed him safe he took Maurice’s hand and kissed it; their eyes met. Maurice didn’t feel nothing, per say, but he felt an absence of what had been there before, the half-recalled memories of a simpler time. “Quits, and I’ll go,” Clive said. Maurice kissed the back of his hand, and he still felt the absence of the past. Clive was delighted, at least, and he left soon after.
Maurice smoked, nervously, staring down at his notes, at the door. He was growing tired of this place, just like he was growing tired of the Mission, of home, of his office. The rain pattered loudly outside and he stood, opening the window, slightly at first, then wider. The scent of wet earth and fresh cold water filled the room, sweeter than any flower or cologne in the moment. He stuck his head out the window, shaking his hair around. For a moment he was free of everything, and he heard his voice call out, though he swore his mouth remained closed. Revitalized, he shut the window again and continued with his report. Soon, he thought. Soon the muddle he always found himself in would be overcome, and he wouldn’t have to feel tired of everything.
The morning was overcast and predictably, raining. Torrential, practically. Maurice stood, yawning next to Mr. London, bag by his feet. He spotted the under gamekeeper running up onto the porch, dripping and panting. He caught Maurice’s eyes and tugged off his sodden cap in some form of greeting or other, and Maurice walked obligingly over to him, brandishing a few coins. He expected the other man to take them and grab his bag, a pattern he had done a hundred times over in his life with no change whatsoever. Instead the servant’s hands remained clasped around his cap. He smiled slightly, but said “No thank you, sir.” Confused, Maurice left the man, seeking out Mr. London again and immediately complaining. What were servants coming to, they wondered? Mr. London went over to see about it and Maurice ran his eyes along the foyer.
Privately he thought the listless help, horrid though it might be, fitted Pendersleigh more than any other home he’d stepped foot in. It had yet to go completely down, but it was perhaps beyond help, halfway to ruin; the Durhams paid attention only to specific details instead of the overarching issue presented, fretting about maintenance and staffing useless help and hosting cricket matches. Mr. London came back, saying the servant took his bag. “I expect you gave him more,” Mr. London sent him a look of bashful agreement.
Anne and Clive saw them off; Anne had a mirthful expression on her face as she guessed about the girl he was going to see. He tolerated it well enough, down to the detail of the girl having bright brown eyes. Though – “I’ve never noticed eye color, particularly.” It all seemed to change by the lighting, any rate. He was just itching to leave the place at that point, and soon he and Mr. London went out to the car.
As he settled in, shaking the raindrops from his overcoat, Maurice could see behind him the under gamekeeper had put his suitcase into the back, after all. Well, right he should!
When Lasker Jones told him that he made him see a picture on the wall where there was none, he felt relief run through him, relaxing his body even more than being put into a trance had done. The process may not have been easy or short, but so long as he could be cured, be normal! Clive’s kiss on his hand had nearly ruined him the night before, and he was growing paranoid at the help at Pendersleigh. They all seemed to look to him with Clive gone so often, and he had quite given up the will and desire to run his own house, much less Pendersleigh.
Simcox was one annoyance, though at least he was merely doing his job. The under-gamekeeper – Scudder, was it? He had little business conversing with him, though perhaps it had all been a plot to get a better tip at the end of his stay. Far be it from him to give a servant gold just for cleaning their guns and taking his bag! With any luck his being stiffed would incent him and the rest of the help to leave Maurice alone.
He was not left alone. Lady Durham’s inane dinner conversation, Simcox’s questions on the cricketing match, the Reverend – by the time the evening was over and Maurice was left to his own devices, wandering around the property. He was almost glad to see Scudder, like the day’s absence softened his opinion of him, he thought: At least there was one person on the property who didn’t feel the need to speak paragraphs to get to the point, or just speak with no point at all.
Maurice remembered the other was sailing to the Argentine. Scudder seemed surprised that he knew, and so they walked some paces through the garden, brushing shoulders, both smoking. It was peaceful. Though he hadn’t known what to make of Scudder’s apology earlier that evening – again, the two of them smoking around the perimeter of Penge – he had a suspicion that Scudder may have merely been a genuine sort, like some of the better men from the Mission, perhaps, though he didn’t say that to him.
“Goodnight, sir!” Scudder called out, before going away. Maurice went up to his room soon after, hoping for sleep.
Rest wouldn’t come. His dreams pictured the surreal, but their implications were realistic enough to leave him sweating and waking every quarter hour. He got up after one such vision, opened the window, and stood on the roof, breathing in the cold air. He touched at the ladder that had been left leaning against the wall below – had the under gamekeeper forgotten it? – and then crawled back to bed with the hope of getting some rest on his newest attempt at sleep.
Instead he heard a noise and looked up. He saw the ladder quiver, a silhouette move up the rungs, jump onto the roof, climb inside his bedroom…
It was Scudder, there was no mistaking it for anyone else, despite the low light making his features delve into dark shadows. “Was you calling for me, sir?” he whispered. Had he? His heart was thumping in his chest as he looked across the room; Scudder’s eyes were black, pupil and iris mixed and producing a half-crazed look. He crept closer, and closer, then sat on Maurice’s bed. A hand came up, moving towards his face. “I know, sir, I know,” he said, and touched him.
– Scudder’s hand recoiled and he stared at it, then Maurice’s face. “What did you do?” he demanded, in fear and awe. “I can see –”
“Everything. It’s all different now,” Maurice added, wrenching his hands from their desperate grip in the bedsheets to examine them himself, before rubbing his eyes furiously and blinking, wondering if he was imagining it all. His eyes refocused and the colors remained.
This was it, wasn’t it? The myth, the riddle – what it felt like to find your soulmate.
This was what the world looked like.
The first thing Maurice truly took in about the change was that Scudder’s eyes weren’t actually horrific and black – it was just how the dim lighting and his old vision saw them. His irises were dark, yes, but warm. Maurice didn’t know the dark could be warm. He supposed this was what brown honestly looked like. Before – of course he didn’t know better until a moment ago – before it was all grayscale, and they had a name for each and every shade, white and black and the hundred hues in between.
Maurice took in the differences of his vision, using the man sitting next to him as a specimen. His skin was so different from the ashy tone of before. Scudder looked much healthier in color, face and hands darker than his own, tan from the sun. His lips were red and his hair, that was the only bit of him honestly black, a mass of dark curls barely contained beneath his cap.
Their eyes locked. Scudder smiled. His teeth seemed even brighter.
“I – I heard a story, when I was young,” Maurice started, feeling he owed the other man an explanation of some sort. “That humans have a mated soul – a, a person that they’re destined to be with. And that you’d know when you found them, when you touched. Things would, they would look different.”
“Think my Ma said somethin’ like that once,” Scudder murmured. “Like some fairy tale. Never dared believe it.”
“Neither did I. Not entirely, anyway.”
Scudder’s eyes flicked over Maurice’s face, as though reading a book, and his smile went wider. “You’re even more handsome like this, I think.” Maurice felt his cheeks grow hot.
The other’s countenance had gone wolfish and he took his hand, the one that had touched Maurice before, and he reached out again, fingers curling along the side of his face, cupping his cheek, pulling him just a bit closer.
Maurice’s arms were around Scudder a moment later. He was confused, perhaps panicked, but he wanted this. The thought of being normal, even the thought of being Clive’s all faded into a monochrome wasteland when he kissed and touched and held the man in his bed, and let Scudder do the same to him.
The colors the morning sun brought in were so staggering in their variety, richness, and beauty, that Maurice was quite glad they had touched late at night, for he didn’t think he could have handled such a ranges of hues without some preparation.
Scudder’s tanned shoulder peeked out from the covers – the latter actually white, one of the very few white things he could see as such. The other’s hair and eyelashes were still black, and the man himself was still gorgeous. When he opened his eyes, rubbed at them a bit before smiling softly up at Maurice, he had to look away for a moment to collect himself.
When he turned back, Scudder was preoccupied with studying the room’s new colors, just as Maurice had been before. Their thighs brushed against each other. Maurice felt around for Scudder’s hand beneath the blankets and took it, his companion tangling their fingers immediately. Their eyes met again.
“Had I best be going now, sir?” A refusal was on the tip of his tongue – what if they could only truly see when they touched? Only then did Maurice remember they had parted twice, once in the initial shock of their new sight and again earlier that morning, when Maurice had gone to lock the door.
All he could think to say was, “You musn’t call me sir,” Then; “May I ask your name?”
The other man frowned. “I’m Scudder.”
“I know you’re Scudder. I meant your other name.” Funny what etiquette one neglected when faced with other, pressing matters.
“Only Alec, just.”
“That’s a lovely name to have.”
Alec looked away. “It’s just my name.”
“I’m called Maurice.”
Far off, the church’s clock tower struck; four prolonged rings, and Scudder sat up.
“What is it?” Maurice asked. Alec sighed.
“I’ll have to start the day, I’m afraid.”
“No, no,” he protested, sitting up as well.
The awkwardness Maurice had felt when he first awoke disappeared as he maneuvered himself over Alec, who merely protested by saying, “Sir, the church has gone four, you’ll have to release me.” Maurice grabbed his wrists and pinned them to the bed.
“Maurice, I’m Maurice,” he gently corrected. Alec’s wary expression melted, his captured hands folding down to touch against the other man’s, skin against skin wherever they could achieve it.
They talked on – about Alec bailing out the boats for the guests, about the particulars of diving, and though they never once touched on the fact that something had passed between them the night before, not just the physical joining, but the spiritual bond, the colors, the fact that they were the elusive paired soulmates, so rare it was considered more fiction and myth than fact. That they never touched on, not explicitly, anyway. Even in the early morning, even behind a locked door, it was too much to say anything more than ‘You was taught what wasn’t the case’ and ‘Have you ever dreamed you had a friend?’
It appeared as though the world had changed when he went down to breakfast some time after Alec had left. Rather, he had changed, but change similarly implied he had some sort of operation to follow, or an epiphany to arm himself with. Instead he was petrified by the saturation of life around him, and tried to concentrate on one thing at a time – his letters, his toast, his hand on the table cloth. He learned that a great matter of manmade things were hellishly ugly, as most artists and designers had labeled grays and no idea what looked good with what.
It was a partial relief to go out of doors for the match. There were some disastrous outfits amoung the women, but most of the men were in white, and the green shades of the grass and trees, the blue of the sky, those were beautiful things.
He had even managed to enjoy himself when he batted with Alec. It was a dance between the pair of them, the most fun he ever had playing cricket, and the annoyance and trepidation of the morning faded as he stared down Alec and fought to keep their side – or really just themselves – afloat against the others.
Then Clive returned and Alec faded away. He was out rather quickly after that, sitting just behind the servants. Alec shot him a look before shifting forward and whispering something to another worker. They laughed, and again the sick feeling he had briefly put aside overcame him again, worse than before.
He ran up to the house, head pounding. The colors had grown electrified, so strong they appeared behind his lids even when he squeezed them shut. He went to his room, hoping for the dullness of yesterday, of Before, but was again disappointed, and he was forced to wallow in his own illness.
Clive volunteered to take him to the station. He, Anne, and Mrs. Durham fancied him in love, interpreted his sickness as anxiety over a girl’s affections. If only that was all it had been! He saw Alec, wandering down the lawn in his flannels, white against green contrasting painfully. He looked back at the road.
Maurice asked Clive about the under gamekeeper. Scudder was shrewd, Clive said in so many words; of course he was. Maurice put his hands over his eyes. “Is your head feeling rotten again?”
“Putrid,” he answered.
His feelings didn’t abate when he returned home to his family. Worse so was the night, when all he wanted was Alec again, despite himself. His body had split into factions of what it wanted: to remain with Alec until his emigration or to get back on the path towards normalcy. They were soulmates, weren’t they? But they were too different, their coupling too impossible despite how he may have wanted it.
He tried to push it all beneath him, within him, but no matter how he wished it, he still saw red, yellow, blue, green – he had nearly criticized Kitty for going out in olive and orange.
The telegram, and the letter after that, didn’t help. Alec was clearly of the mind that them being soulmates was worth little compared to whatever could be extorted from him instead. He said as much to Lasker Jones, after a failed appointment.
“England has always been disinclined to accept human nature,” the man had said, before inquiring whether Maurice’s admittance had been exhaustive. Maurice said that it had; he mentioned the sharing, the letter, the character of the under gamekeeper. He did not mention that they were soulmates.
He was not surprised that Lasker Jones’ final attempt to put him under failed entirely.
Alec wandered into his office on a wet Tuesday evening. Thank God Maurice saw him before he made it far into the building. He went to him, aware of his colleagues standing some paces back, watching the exchange. What a pair they made!
They went on – Maurice wasn’t comfortable but Alec was more perturbed, his emotions sitting higher, thoughts on his brow as they came out of his mouth. Maurice wasn’t too sure on his own feelings himself, but when Alec mentioned him and Clive Durham, speaking slowly, meaningfully, Maurice made some signal over his shoulder to his co-workers and dragged Alec out of the office.
There were restaurants, pubs, even libraries to go to, but Maurice took Alec down some streets – through the park, Bedford Place, right on Great Russell – and they went up the steps of the British History Museum, ducking inside.
The contention lingered between them, and Alec had just begun to brag about his ability to go off – have a child, be normal – when he caught sight of the strange statues stood against the wall in some large corridor. He ran a hand along its hide. “Big enough, ain’t he?” he asked. Maurice smiled at Alec’s quick change in expression. “They must have owned wonderful machinery to build a thing like that.”
“I expect so,” Maurice agreed, trailing along Alec’s mate on the other wall. “Mine’s got five legs.”
“So’s mine! Peculiar notion when you think about it.” They stared at one another and smiled, but then Alec’s face went hard again and he went to Maurice. “It won’t do, Mr. Hall.” But Maurice couldn’t dredge up any feeling of worry when he looked at Alec. He had gotten fearful in their time apart, but together – Alec may have realized it himself, for a moment later he looked down and excused himself, walking away. Of course Maurice followed, and despite the words exchanged in the last hour – Alec’s heated, Maurice’s cool – they traversed much of the museum together.
Seeing Mr. Ducie again in one of the halls was a surprise. “Surely you are one of the old boys.” Maurice and Alec stood side by side while Mr. Ducie rattled off a few names, none of them Hall.
“I’m Scudder,” Maurice lied, tired again.
“He isn’t,” Alec interjected. “I’m Mr. Scudder and I have a serious charge to bring against this gentleman.”
“Yes, awfully serious.” Maurice put his hand on Alec’s shoulder, fingers touching the nape of his neck; somehow this seemed to be the trick to derail all current thought and emotion from the man – just as their initial touch a few nights ago had been.
Mr. Ducie was eventually called away, and Alec similarly tried to leave. But now Maurice felt set for a fight. “Where are you going with your serious charge?” Alec protested, Maurice countered, but on his end the volleying hit harder and struck him into anger for some moments. “If you’d split on me to Mr. Ducie I’d have broken you. It might have cost me hundreds, but I’ve got them, and the police always back my sort against yours. Good as I…” Maurice frowned, took a large breath. “Come outside, we can’t talk here.”
The rain splashed around their shoulders as they huddled under Maurice’s umbrella. The sky was light gray, much of the buildings were similarly drab; white or brown, brick and stone. A few of the doors were brightly colored, punctuating the street like stamps on a page. “It rained harder than this at the boathouse. It was even colder, too. Why did you not come?”
“I was frightened,” Maurice admitted. “You let yourself get afraid of me, too.”
“I wouldn’t take a penny from you, I wouldn’t hurt your little finger,” Alec responded. “Come on, let’s get over talking…” His hand gripped Maurice’s. “Stop with me, sleep the night with me.” This touch was even better than the one in the museum, and it signaled the end of their peril, their fight. Maurice longed to say yes, and yet –
“I’ve got a formal business dinner… Meet me another day?”
Another flurry of comments – what a thing to try and arrange! In the end Maurice muttered ‘to hell with it’ and he let Alec lead him away, to some strange hotel perhaps.
As they were walking:
“Your suit is an awful sight,” Maurice supplied. Alec let out a peal of laughter.
“Don’t I know it! Shame we got this one before, eh? Another thing between us.” Maurice hummed, smiling.
Alec was chatty enough in the morning – they were both in fantastically good moods, hard to imagine why. But as the minutes stretched on and they talked more, they were pulled apart by their thoughts; Alec’s almost wistful memories of Pendersleigh and Maurice’s plans for the future. And all too soon Alec had rolled them over, embraced him tightly, and got up, heading for the wash basin. In just a few days he’d be gone, but not if Maurice could help it.
“Stay with me,” he said, taking hold of Alec, looking up at him imploringly. A frightened look swept over his face.
“Stay? Miss my boat? You daft?” He tugged out of Maurice’s grip and started to pull on his clothes. “Of all the bloody rubbish… What’s this about?” He cast a glance back at Maurice. “It’s the – the colors, ain’t it? The soulmate bit, yeah?”
Maurice felt even if they hadn’t been intrinsically tied in that way he would have still fought for Alec; they were connected, bonded, but not just by fate. Maurice did not believe fate could control men – or at least, it could not instill emotions and will in men where there were none, just like love couldn’t instill bravery. “In a manner of speaking…”
Alec did up his trousers. “We were parted for a few days. The colors didn’t fade, did they?”
“Then there’s no reason for us to stay together, we’ll both be able to see the same, and go on and find our own ways, separate. Not like the bond is anything more than.” He moved his hand in some explanatory motion, tucked in his undershirt.
“But we’re soulmates, aren’t we? We love each other, besides.”
Alec hummed. “Soulmates. What does that even mean? Hardly anyone finds theirs in the first place, and you don’t see much of a difference, do you? Most everyone is perfectly happy settling down with anyone half decent, and we could both do the same and not suffer for it.”
“It was a chance in a thousand we met, perhaps more. We can’t just throw that to the side.”
“And all the other thousands of people that didn’t get their shot – they’re still living, ain’t they? Happy enough.” Happy enough – Maurice felt most of his life was dullness with a few detailed points of happiness, of joy. He looked out the window; the gray light was turning yellow, and they were running out of time. And yet Alec remained unconvinced of his talk – love and logistics both didn’t move him, and soon he was dressed in that hideous suit, looking as miserable as Maurice was. Even so, his words didn’t change, and he was at the door. “Well, I’m off,” he said, casual-like, as if he was going to the store, as if he were coming back. He pulled at the cuff of his jacket. “Pity we ever met really, if you come to think of it.” He said something else – about the room, about money, always practical, that Alec.
“You’ll be alright,” Maurice said. The door closed, Alec was gone. He was alone in the room, the world, again. The sky outside had since gone blue, the rain was over with.
The Normannia left Saturday from Southampton. Maurice was there, smoking and holding a goodbye present for Alec.
He’d yet to show up. Maurice tried to entertain himself by studying the colors around him, but even that was beginning to lose its entertainment as a sport; one got used to things, as it were. He had gotten used to his new sight as he had gotten used to Alec, as both a presence and an entity that would be there, roaming Pendersleigh, constantly in a state of emerging from the forest and wandering the lawn. But even that had to come to an end. He merely hoped that a farewell from here would provide a sweeter, final note, a better – damn it, he just wanted to see Alec once more. One last time.
But he had yet to show up. His family were there, and he politely exchanged a few words before lapsing into silence. Then Mr. Borienus arrived, of all people – he tossed his head around to see if anyone else he knew had decided to make themselves known.
He felt itchy and hot under his coat as the reverend spoke on and on, reprimanding Alec’s behavior with his own family standing not ten paces away. But the way he spoke, of Alec sneaking down to the city earlier that week, of alleged fornication with women – so close, and yet – it was nearly comical, though Maurice concentrated on steeling his face.
The ship’s whistle went off, passengers settled in and Alec’s family and the reverend tried to flag down the captain, all of them swearing that Alec wouldn’t have missed his boat, of all things.
Maurice dared to think he knew better, and he got off the boat, hailed a taxi, and waited.
He arrived at Pendersleigh a few hours later, starved, exhausted. But he carried on, something beyond his own body carrying him away from the main drive up to the house and instead towards the pond, the boathouse. He didn’t entertain what he would do if the other wasn’t there – not that he didn’t take it as a possibility, but he simply couldn’t envision what he would do, it was an imagining he could not undergo.
The door was unlocked. He went inside, tossing down his overcoat and hat as he went. “Alec?” he asked, no answer. He crept into a room off to the side, for a moment thinking it empty, only to see his beloved asleep on the floor next to a fading fire. He was at his side immediately, calling his name and wrapping his arms around him. “Alec,”
“So you got the word, eh?”
“Sent a telegram to your house tellin’ you –” He yawned. “Tellin’ you to come to the boathouse without fail.”
“I went to see you off in Southampton,” Maurice admitted. “When you didn’t show I raced here instead, figured – out of all the places –” Alec grinned and Maurice followed suit. “No word needed,” he whispered.
“S’pose not, you’re here now. Now.” Alec wrapped his hand around the back of Maurice’s neck and Maurice pulled Alec closer, bringing him up to his feet as he embraced him, kissed him. His weariness was pushed aside, and the restlessness he felt in his soul quieted. He was in some sort of exhilarated contentment, now. They had met and fought and against all odds, they had won. They were here.
“Now we shan’t never be parted,” Alec whispered in his ear. He kissed him again, and again, and again after that.
Of course now was the time to start plans – together in a comfortable room where no one would disturb them. Maurice nearly suggested it, but Alec was walking them backwards, towards the little cot against the wall Maurice had missed when he first scanned the room. They fell onto it, the frame creaking, Alec laughing before pulling Maurice more fully on top of him and shoving at his jacket, muttering, “Off, off, been thinkin’ about this – Maurice, please…”
Plans could wait an hour.
Three hours later or so Maurice had slipped back into his clothes, smoothed his hair down until it was presentable, and went up to the house. Alec hadn’t been thrilled at the prospect, but Maurice desired it – he was ready to chuck his job, his family, his title, his position, and of course he was ready to chuck Clive for good. But as far as the latter was concerned he felt he ought to get one last word in.
Clive had just come outside onto the patio when Maurice approached. Clive saw him and looked pleasantly surprised, nearly going back to the house to announce his presence to everyone there. “No, I’ve only a few minutes,” he protested, coaxing Clive down to a shadowed part of the garden below.
“Well, that’s fantastic – Maurice, Anne will be furious if you don’t spend the night.” Perhaps something in his countenance tipped him off, for Clive the ventured, “Maurice, I hope nothing’s wrong.”
He smiled. “Pretty well everything – to you, at least.” Clive led them further away from the patio, and again Clive implored him to tell Anne – tell Clive’s wife! Imagine! “It isn’t trouble with a woman, Clive, it’s miles worse for you than that. I’m in love with Alec Scudder.”
Clive, who had taken a seat on the stone bench in the alley where they talked, stood up and took a step away. “What a grotesque announcement.”
“Most grotesque,” Maurice murmured. He recalled, ages ago now, how Clive’s words seemed to confuse him, carry him skywards or toss him aside in intermittently. Only now did his words not move him, his argument and chivalrous scorn passing over him like a breeze. In the end what one did always mattered more than what one said. “I’m flesh and blood, Clive, if you’ll come to such a low thing. I shared with Alec. He slept with me in the Russet Room while you and Anne were away.” Clive seemed to wither at the fact. “Also in town, also –” Maurice stopped himself lest he give the other man away. Already he missed Alec, even staring at the man he had loved for a longer time, he longed for Alec more.
“Surely, surely we agreed that the only reason for two men to be together is that it remain purely platonic.”
“I don’t know, I’ve come to tell you what I did.” The word ‘platonic’ brought his mind speeding to his next confession. “You remember the Symposium?” Maurice asked suddenly.
“The Sym – Maurice, this isn’t university. I’m not about to debate with you the finer details of Athenian society and relationships.”
“Do you remember? The part about Aristophanes?”
“Yes,” Clive groused. “I remember, now what –”
“When Alec and I touched, I found we were soulmates.”
“I’m sure you did.”
“I can see what you can’t – colors as you can’t even imagine them. If you’ve ever read the supposed accounts of what it’s like to see differently, see better, to be whole, it’s all true. It happened to him and I. It’s extraordinary.” A strange look crossed over Clive’s face doubt and intrigue and sadness at once, before a confident smirk replaced it.
“Well! Well. Alec Scudder is no longer in my service. In fact he’s no longer in England. He sailed to Buenos Aires today.”
“Didn’t. He missed his boat. He risked everything for my sake, without a guarantee.” Of course Clive implored him to change his mind, even after all that. Both men were now thinking how the other had changed so drastically in the few years since they met.
As Clive tried to beckon Maurice back to the house – or to his club the next week so that they could hammer out details properly, Maurice was content to fade away, his steps quiet enough that Clive was still talking after he had crossed most of the lawn and had vanished into the tree line.
He had gone a roundabout way to the boat house, in the slim case he’d been followed. It was impossible to tell if he was lost or not, all was dark and unfamiliar. The leaves overhead insulated him in an organic tunnel, where he could hear rustling but not see the source of the noise. Despite this, he was unafraid, for even the treacherous appearance of nature merely reminded him of the man he was walking ever closer towards. Eventually he found the pond and walked its perimeter until he was at the boathouse once more. Looking over his shoulder and finding nothing, he ducked inside. Alec waited just inside the threshold, taking his hand as soon as Maurice shut and bolted the door.
“It over then?”
“Yes, it’s finished. Really finished.”
“You tell him off, then? I can already tell – you have that certain smile on – I wish I could’ve seen his face!” Maurice huffed out a laugh as Alec led them back to the side room. They agreed before Maurice went up to the house that they’d spend the night there, and set out by train in the morning, for by the time they went to the small station near Pendersleigh there was a decent chance no train would be coming that way till sunrise. Moreover there was little risk of them being discovered in the next few hours, and so Alec’s boathouse was their haven for a while longer.
“I may have mentioned the Russet Room two weeks ago.”
A disbelieving, delighted gasp: “No –!”
“And town – nearly mentioned here.” They laughed, Maurice undressing again.
“Sounds like you showed him what for, eh?” Alec asked, still overly pleased with the other. Maurice supposed he had been hard and melancholy when Alec had crossed his path, only now he may get a glimpse of him being impish or joking – he hoped Alec liked those sides of him as well, though he had little doubt otherwise.
They went back to the small cot, squeezing in together for warmth and the sake of touching. “I told him we were soulmates. You know he was the one who told me to read the book that story came from.”
“What’d he say? Realize what he’s missing?”
“I don’t think he believed me, or if he did, convinced himself not to. Then he told me you left for the Argentine and I told him you hadn’t –” And so it went, Maurice recounting the conversation, not for the sake of remembering his last moments of seeing Clive, but more to amuse Alec, who took in the details of his retelling rapturously. Maurice imagined half of the interest was it was all in the spirit of what Alec wished he could say to his old employers, Clive, his mother, and all the guests beside.
But eventually he ran out of things to retell, and their conversation turned to other things, before devolving into sleep.
The one window looking over the pond also faced east, so they woke with the sun – or Alec woke with the sun and beckoned Maurice out of sleep soon after. They dressed – Alec informed him that there was a particular path they could take which would lead them through an orchard, which would serve well enough for breakfast.
The outside of the boathouse was better in the daylight, in the bright colors around them. The forest was swathed in dark greens, the fog that had settled over it turning the scene almost blue in spots. The grass glistened from the rainstorm that had just passed that night, and the sun was shining, though feebly. They were the only two people in this part of the estate, and soon they would be gone; off into the wilderness, or hidden in a town? Maurice did not yet know, but the lack of knowledge didn’t bother him, nor make him think he was in a muddle.
Alec’s hand found his, squeezed it briefly before letting go, though their shoulders were still pressed against each other.
“It’s beautiful,” they said in unison – then laughed, then walked into the greenwood together.