I received Francis's letter a year after the last time I'd seen him. It was a brief and brisk note, scrawled in slanting, wobbly script, it read,
My grandfather is dead and I am divorced. You should come visit me.
I couldn't help but smile upon reading the note, I was glad for Francis, when I had last seen him at his wedding he had been an absolute wreck, sloppy and so drunk that he was hardly coherent. I remember watching him stumble and reel through the first dance, my cheeks burning with secondhand embarrassment.
I thought that I would very much like to see Francis in a better state than he had been in back then, so I wrote a quick reply telling him that I would be arriving in New York the next weekend and purchased a plane ticket.
Francis was waiting for me in the airport and he did indeed look much better than he had at the wedding, he grinned and his eyes shone. I was vaguely disappointed to see that he no longer wore the pince-nez that I had found so intriguing in my first weeks at Hampden college.
"Richard," He said pulling me into a hug and clapping his hand firmly against my back "How are you, old friend?"
"I'm alright," I said vaguely "And you?"
"I am fantastic," Francis said, his whole face was open and shining, almost generating its own light, "I was beginning to think that wretched old man would never kick the bucket."
"You were only married for a year," I pointed out.
"Ah yes, but one year feels like a lifetime when spent in the company of that dreadful woman," I smiled lopsidedly at Francis, his energy was frantic and eager and overexcited, not at all anxious or exhausted as I had known it to be for most of our friendship.
"I'm glad you're doing well, Francis," I told him.
"Thank you, Richard," He said, nodding "Let's go get a drink," we went to the same piano bar that we had visited shortly after his suicide attempt.
I didn't drink nearly as much as I had back in college, but that wasn't saying much because whenever we hadn't been in class we had been drinking heavily.
At the bar Francis ordered us both glasses of scotch without consulting me and proceeded to talk about his grandfather's funeral,
"It was awful. I was expected to give a eulogy, but I could barely get through the speech without breaking into a fit of laughter," He said as he lit the cigarette that was currently pressed between his lips.
"What have you been doing? Since he died, I mean," I asked.
"Oh I don't know. This and that. I filed for divorce immediately after I heard, since then I've mostly just been enjoying my rediscovered personal space."
"There's no..." I trailed off and made a vague, sweeping gesture with my hand.
"Boyfriend?" Francis asked, I nodded "No, nothing like that."
"What happened to the lawyer? The one your grandfather caught you with?" I asked.
"Oh he's old news. I don't even know what he's doing now."
"Right," I said. Some part of me feared that this new, manic Francis would try and make a pass at me, but a larger part of me almost hoped he would.
Francis's apartment was spacious and full thriving potted plants, on the eastern facing wall there were several large windows that I guessed would let in pleasant natural light during the daytime. Everything from the drapes to the coffee tables were elegant and expensive.
We stumbled in, both of us breathless and giddy and drunk. I collapsed onto a cream colored Chaise lounge and fumbled to unknot my tie.
"Here," Francis murmured and kneeled in front of me. His long fingers moved deftly to undo the tie, even in his inebriated state.
Maybe it was his fingertips brushing against my throat, or his eyes fixed determinedly on the knot in my tie or the strange, sepia tint of his face in the pale, watery moonlight, but something about the moment struck me and I felt compelled to kiss him, I brushed my lips chastely against his.
"Oh," He murmured "Oh," I pulled him towards me by his lapels and our mouths met in an awkward crush, I tilted my head slightly so our noses were no longer pressed uncomfortably together and suddenly we were kissing for real. I shivered as I felt his tongue brush against my lower lip and I parted my lips to give him better access. His tongue slid into my mouth.
I splayed my fingers out and slid them into Francis's wild curls, Francis made a pleased noise in the back of his throat. Suddenly he pulled away, but before I had the opportunity to think about it his lips were on my neck, I groaned and tightened my grip on his hair.
One of my hands slipped under the thin fabric of Francis's shirt, the skin underneath was cool against my fingers. Francis pulled away abruptly.
"No," He murmured reluctantly "You're drunk," that surprised me.
"That's never stopped you before," I said.
"Mm, maybe I've changed a bit since college," He said. We stayed suspended in that position for a brief minute before Francis stood up "Come to bed with me? Just to sleep, I mean," He said, and extended a hand.
"Oh," I said "Alright then." I took the hand and followed him to his bedroom. I sat down on the edge of his queen sized bed and fumbled with the buttons on my shirt. Francis was getting undressed on the other side of the room.
I crawled under the heavy quilt on his bed wearing nothing but my underwear, the bed dipped beside me moments later and seconds after that I was fast asleep.
When I woke up the next morning the bed was empty beside me. I had a faint, throbbing headache and the bright morning light shining through the tall, high windows on the wall opposite Francis's bed did not help.
Reluctantly I climbed out from under the heavy covers and padded into the kitchen, the wooden floor cold against my bare feet.
Francis was sipping coffee and reading his newspaper at the kitchen table. I lingered in the doorway, waiting for him to notice me, when he did not I cleared my throat. Francis looked up from his paper.
"Oh. Good morning Richard," He said evenly "There's coffee in the pot if you want some." And without another word he went back to reading his paper. I thanked him and went to pour myself a cup.
When I sat down at the table he folded his newspaper and set it down.
"I know this great French bakery," He says "It's just a couple of blocks away, we should get pastries."
"Sure," I said agreeably. We walked down the busy street with our shoulders bumping against one another's every so often.
We entered the bakery, a bell rang faintly above our heads as we opened the door. Francis began inspecting one of the large, glass cases full of baked goods while I looked through the other.
"Richard," He said delightedly and tugged at my sleeve "Look at this. There's a pastry called divorce," it was two puff pastries, one frosted in light brown, the other in dark brown, the two pastries were connected by a thin strip of white icing. Francis ordered two of them without asking me what I wanted, I found that I didn't mind.
We went back to his apartment and ate them in his living room. I watched as he bit into his divorcé with his eyes shut. He sighed contentedly.
"Ah, the sweet taste of divorce," He said, and then nearly choked laughing at his own joke, I smiled in amusement.
The day proceeded in a lazy sort of way. We lay about on couches in Francis's living room and drank and read and had brief, scattered conversations. Francis mentioned something about visiting an art museum, but I doubted that he wanted to leave his comfortable spot on the couch any more than I did.
We didn't talk about the previous night's events, but it didn't feel as if we were dancing around the issue either. I supposed it took a lot to faze either of us after our experiences at Hampden.
At one point in the late afternoon, when the sunlight shining through the windows was blazing low and golden, I found myself fixated on the glossy black grand piano on the other side of the room.
"Do you play often?" I asked, glancing towards Francis, who had a book opened, splayed across his face.
"Hmm?" Came his muffled voice.
"The piano," I clarified "Do you play it often?"
"Oh," He murmured, and took the book off of his face, placing it on his chest instead "Sometimes. Not as often as I used to,"
"Play something for me, would you?" I asked.
"Alright," He agreed. In one languid movement he rose off of the couch and crossed the room. He began to play something I didn't recognize, I watched him intently. His long fingers danced gracefully over the keys, never stumbling once, his ginger curls were a halo, backlit by the afternoon sunlight.
Unthinkingly, I stood up and approached him. The music ceased abruptly when I seized his wrists, they were slender and my hands fit comfortably around them. He looked up at me with large, inquisitive eyes.
I leaned down and tilted my head so that our mouths fit comfortably together and then we were kissing, lazy and easy kisses, breaking for air occasionally, but leaving our foreheads pressed together and letting our breaths fan across each other's faces.
"You seemed very opposed to this sort of thing back at school," Francis murmured against my mouth.
"Mmm," I hummed "well that was back at school." And then my lips found their way to his neck, without hesitation he tilted his head back to allow me better access to the soft and sensitive skin. I bit and sucked hard enough that there would certainly be marks.
Francis let out a breathy moan, I took that as my cue to go to unbutton his pants.
That time, he didn't stop me.
The days that came after that proceeded in much of the same lazy, careless manner. We spent a lot of time tangled up in Francis's bed, but besides that we read and ate and Francis played piano while I listened. And as was only natural for us, we drank consistently throughout the day starting as early as eight in the morning.
It was a pleasant existence and I would not have been opposed to spending the rest of my life like that, but around a week into my stay reality worked it's way back to the forefront of my mind and I remembered my real life back in California.
I voiced this to Francis one night while we lay sweaty and sticky wrapped up in one another and in Francis's lightweight bedsheets.
"Francis," I said miserably, carding a hand through his tousled curls "I think I need to go home."
"Hmm," he said sleepily "why?"
"I need to get back to my life. To my job," Richard says. Francis sighs.
"How boring," he says.
I managed to get a flight two days later. Francis, who was being petulant refused to see me to the airport.
"It's not like I'm your boyfriend," he snipped when I questioned him on this decision "I don't have any obligation to you." I was far too accustomed to Francis's moods and personality to be at all phased by this.
Before leaving, I pulled him into a hug, buried my face in his hair and said against the top of his head.
"I'll be back as soon as I can get away again,"
"Well," Francis huffed "I should hope so."