Lensky can tell that it’s getting late. They’d finished off the second bottle of wine and the sky had long since changed from thick lilac to a navy blue. He fingers a folded note in an inner pocket of his tailcoat with some apprehension, wondering if it would be wise to read his new poem to Onegin. Something tells Vladimir that his older friend indulges him but not without an inward laugh. Onegin is far from sentimental.
Now, the Petersburg dandy lies in one of the armchairs in the cozy sitting room, his legs swung over one of the armrests with his head on the other one. Lensky is sat across the small coffee table from him, watching Onegin’s face, trying hard not to stare. Vladimir was not an artist – drawing never came to him – but if he were, he would have drawn many a sketch of his new friend. Onegin was handsome in a way which was both masculine and classic, yet also pampered and boyish. The contrast was astounding, but as hard as he tried, Lensky could not capture it in words.
“Say, mon cher, would you fancy a game of billiards?”
Lensky is drawn out of his thoughts. He lets go of the note in his pocket and looks to Onegin with some uncertainty. “I’m not…I don’t really play,” he stutters, suddenly feeling embarrassed.
“You don’t play billiards? Who doesn’t play billiards? Is that a German thing?” Onegin finishes off the last of the wine and sets his empty glass down on the floor.
“I couldn’t say,” Vladimir admits. “I’ve seen it played and I know some of the rules. Never bothered to learn how to handle a cue though.”
“How strange.” Onegin pauses for a moment, thinking, then sits upright in one fluent motion. There is something mischievous in his eyes. “I think it’s time you learned.” He stands and waves for Lensky to follow him.
Vladimir sets aside his glass and follows obediently, slightly curious as to Onegin’s enthusiasm. They cross into the game room where the billiards table is and Onegin picks up a cue and places two balls onto the table. Lensky watches his movements with mild apprehension.
“Come here.” Onegin brings Vladimir to stand by the table and puts the cue into his right hand. “Wrap your thumb and index finger around the cue,” Onegin begins. “Now bring the rest around it lightly.” He reaches over and fixes Lensky’s hold on the shaft when Vladimir fumbles slightly in his attempts. “Right, now you want to keep your knuckles parallel to the floor once you go to make your shot…” He continues giving instructions, showing Vladimir how to make a bridge with his left hand and position the cue on it correctly. At some point, Lensky realizes that he has lost track of what Onegin is saying. He finds himself drowning in that thick, low voice with its slightly French notes and intonations. The notes of Onegin’s voice drift over Vladimir’s conscious and send shivers running down his back. Lensky can feel heat rising into his cheeks and…other places as well. The room is suddenly far too hot and he finds himself unable to concentrate property on the lesson.
Onegin begins to talk about choosing a good angle for the shot and moves behind Lensky. Onegin puts both hands on the younger man’s waist and guides him into the proper position. Vladimir can feel the warmth of those hands through his shirt and he suddenly realizes that he must be very drunk because the jumbled thoughts running through his head have begun to form unruly and vulgar pictures. He suddenly wants to turn around, drop the cue and kiss Onegin on the mouth, taste his lips and drink in the scent of his cologne. Onegin’s voice in his ear is a soft purr and in the dim candlelight of the room, Lensky cannot quite tell which visions are reality and which are not.
“Swing the shaft lightly, aim, let it slide through and…release.”
The billiard ball goes flying off the table and lands with a crash. Lensky had hit it far too hard. The sudden noise and Onegin’s good-natured laughter bring reality sharply back into focus. Vladimir looks over his shoulder at his friend and cannot find any words. He wonders if Onegin could have guessed at his thoughts and he flushes bright red at that thought.
Onegin, obviously unperturbed, walks across the room and picks up the ball. He holds it up and grins good-naturedly at a blushing Vladimir. “Not bad for a first time. We can try again tomorrow, but now it’s getting late. Super will be served any moment. Come.”