Maurice looked down at his hands. Hard work was proving harder than he had expected. Both his hands were a mess, completely butchered; it was even painful to flex his fingers. Wincing, he put his work gloves back on. Looking up for a moment, he could see Alec’s bent back just ahead. He was shovelling earth as if the whole mound they were supposed to shift had personally offended him. Alec was in one of his moods. They had quarrelled over some stupid thing none of them could remember, and hadn’t said a word to each other all morning.
They worked all day side by side, in stubborn, cold silence. Maurice knew better than to try to make up too soon. When the whistle blew at five o’clock, he hadn’t given their quarrel a thought. He knew Alec’s moods and he knew it wouldn’t last. It upset him a little, but he had grown accustomed to it. He worked, head empty, all attention focused on each movement, on his hands, and on the pain. It was a dull, sickening pain, but concentrating on it made time pass faster. He stretched, trying to ease the ache on his back and shoulders. A husky, low voice close to his ear startled him.
He looked back. Alec, sweaty and filthy, just as he knew he was himself, was looking at him with hungry eyes.
- Not here… - he whispered back – There’s people watching…
They had a room in a shabby boarding house, and walked in silence for the ten minutes it took to get there. At the door, they conferred what each one had to do, to avoid having to go up and down the stairs more than needed. Alec fetched hot water from the common kitchen; Maurice went around the corner to get a couple of big baked potatoes with cheese for supper.
Once inside their room, Alec took just the time to put the hot water jugs safely next to the fireplace before turning to hold Maurice as if his life depended on it.
- I am sorry! I don’t want to quarrel! – he said passionately, his breath hot on Maurice’s neck.
Maurice, holding two very hot baked potatoes wrapped in three layers of brown paper in his right hand, warned:
- Be careful, you’ll burn yourself… – and set the parcel on the table, his left arm around Alec – I don’t want to quarrel either. I can’t even remember what we fought about, to tell the truth.
He held Alec closer, then cupped his face in his hands and kissed him lightly.
- Let’s wash first. We’re so dirty it is probably dangerous to kiss.
He had some difficulty getting rid of his work clothes; his hands felt throbbing and clumsy. Alec helped him. Then, taking Maurice’s hands, he looked at them almost in tears:
- Look at your poor hands! I don’t know how you can even move them, they look so hurt!
- It’s taking longer than I thought it would, but they will get better in time. Don’t fret over it! Come, let’s wash, the water is getting cold and so is supper.
They helped each other wash, for there was little hot water and it took some skill to get clean on such a short supply. Afterwards they sat on their bed, eating their baked potatoes and playfully teasing each other.
- We ought to get some sleep… - Maurice said, running a finger over Alec’s lips only to stop at the corner of his mouth – You’ve got a bit of cheese there.
Alec licked the bit of cheese, and nibbled at his friend’s finger, muttering:
- Hmmm, yes, I guess we ought to… You know, you don’t taste that bad… I could have a bit of you for supper. Kind of side dish…
Maurice smiled. That was his Alec back, no sulk.
- Let’s get under the covers. Shall I turn out the light?
Alec gave him one of his falsely shy looks, eyelashes halfway down, brown eyes glinting behind.
- No, leave the light on, I want to look at you.
Oh, Alec! He knew the power of those words. They got out of their pyjamas under the covers. It was cold outside.
Later, as Maurice turned out the light and they curled up together, Alec whispered softly, holding Maurice’s hand to his chest to let him feel his heart beating.
- You feel so good! I don’t want us to fight, not anymore. I wouldn’t know what to do without you…
Maurice held him snugger, grunting like a contented puppy, drowsy.
- Tell me…
- I love you.
- I love you.
- The other thing…
- My Alec…
- My Maurice… I love you too.