Looking back, I cannot recall when exactly Maurice and me started this peculiar habit of sharing a bed. There was a time of blurred transition when travelling in Italy. More than once, we had been forced to share a „matrimoniale“, and it happened thus that we got comfortable with the idea of being close to each other at night. I guess the first deliberate time we did so in my London apartment was on a rainy November night – at least this is the occasion I remember most vividly. The performance of the „Pathétique“ we had attended had left me devastated and confronted with my excruciating internal struggles, expressed so heartbreakingly in the music. The cold, damp weather and the fact that we had to wait rather long for a taxi after the concert left me miserable and needy. I was desperate for warmth and the soothing closeness of a human body beside mine. So it seemed only natural to ask Maurice if we could sleep in one bed. He obliged, always too willingly, poor soul.
But he had enough self esteem not to initiate those shared nights. He knew his position as a guest very well. It was either me taking his hand tenderly after he had opened my cufflinks and undone my tie in front of my bedroom door, or me knocking on his door when I could be certain not to surprise him in an indecent state of undressing. We never saw each other naked, nor did we touch more than we had earlier consented to. Granted, this involved the occasional chaste kiss, even holding each other in the night, but never any deliberate wrong-going of the unspeakable sort.
It was rather surprising how a night in late spring turned out. It was an occasion when I had asked before retiring already if I could come to him. I felt hopeless and spent this evening. The amount of studies for my bar exam seemed to increase with every chapter I had finished, and I felt discouraged if I would ever make it. On top of it, I accompanied a nasty case at court which left me insecure if I could take the look into human abysses for my whole life. My shoulders ached, my back hurt, and all I needed was Maurice beside me, helping me to forget all my worries.
As soon as I settled down beside him, I felt my body relax and sink deep into the mattress. The pressure on my shoulders ceased and I felt my limbs grow mellow and easy. I sighed and searched for Maurice‘s hand. He smiled, a bit melancholy and concerned, but gave my hand a quick peck before turning out the light and gliding nearer to me. I was so exhausted, I must have slipped off into dreams a few seconds after lying down. The last thing I realized was the soft ticking sound of rain on the windowpane.
It rained still when I woke up in the dark. I had no idea how long I had slept, but my back hurt suddenly even more than before. I tried to turn as quietly as possible as not to wake Maurice, but I soon felt his eyes on me, the white shining in the dim bedroom:
„Are you all right?“, he mumbled sleepily. „Need anything? You groaned...“
„Sorry for waking you. Go back to sleep.“
„I say, what is it?“ He looked at me. I turned onto my back and tried to stretch myself a bit but stopped abruptely when a new sharp pain shot into my back.
„It‘s just – I don‘t know, it‘s silly, but my back hurts. Sitting too much at my desk, I guess.“
„Where does it hurt?“
„Down my spine, you know, lower back.“
„Let me see. May I?“
„How do you mean, see?“
„Feel with my fingers. Tell me where. Turn onto your stomach.“
„No, Maurice! It‘s all right. It‘s really not that bad.“
„But it woke you up. Come on, Clive, darling. I can see the thoughts racing in your head. I‘m not making a pass at you. I‘m practically sleeping.“
A lamp on the street offered the little light we had in the room. We looked at each other. I didn‘t know how to lie anymore because of the sharp pain and sighed once more.
„Don‘t be silly. Turn on your side, your back to me.“
I did as he told me, with less difficulty than I had feared. The new position was better, and somehow, everything was better at once as soon as I felt his hand on my shoulder.
„Down your back, it is?“, Maurice asked.
I nodded, and, unsure if he had seen it in the dark, mumbled: „Yes.“
His hand wandered slowly and cautiously down my back, creating unwelcome goosebumps on my arms. How good it felt to be touched. And Maurice did it so lightly and so matter-of-factly that I slowly let go of my fears. When he arrived at the awkward spot, I groaned:
„There you go.“
He laid his warm flat hand onto the end of my spine. The heat alone felt soothing, as well as his tender touch.
„That would be your spinal disc. It‘s a weak spot in most people working mainly sitting at a desk. Does it hurt when I look further, like here? Or here?“
„No, it‘s fine. It hurts, but your hand feels good.“
Maurice sighed softly:
„Poor dear. Usually, when there is pain inside here, one starts to move awkward to avoid more pain. That‘s why the muscles tighten. Like you have here. And here. I will massage them a bit, all right?“
„Isn‘t that – uncomfortable for you? Strange, somehow?“
„Clive“, he said, sounding disappointed. He kissed my cheek, light and quick, like a tiny bird. „Besides, we do this all the time at the gym. On each other, I mean. We are not the sort of fancy gym that employs experts to massage the athletes, so whenever something hurts, we tend to each other.“
„Really? You – you touch each other? You touch other men?“
„Yes. Did you never?“
I shook my head again, indulging in his warm fingers on my pyjama.
„Of course, never like that. I mean, all alone, in the dark.“ He laughed a little. „It‘s just, you know, everyone changes, or washes, and talks and chatters, and you look for a quiet spot to sit or lie down to attend to a fellow. No big deal.“
He started to gently knead my really low back. My buttocks, rather. But it felt too good to protest.
„And do you ever have, ahm, unwelcome feelings?“
„Unwelcome is a question of perspective, isn‘t it? But I know what you mean. No, not there. Definitely not. It‘s rather, you know, very interesting to feel muscles, and joints, and bones, to learn more about your body, to know when you overdid training. I learn an awful lot by helping others on how to be good to my own body.“
„I guess I never learned that.“
„Never too late to start.“
He gave me a delicious circular stroke with his knuckles. I felt so much better already but wanted to get more of him.
„Think I will turn onto my stomach, if you don‘t mind?“
„Just see if you can – if it doesn‘t hurt more?“
I was able to turn around and relax. We faced each other, and Maurice asked:
„Do you want me to go on?“
„If you don‘t mind… It feels really good.“
„Would you mind if I go under your pyjama?“
I swallowed. How could he ask something like that so completely innocent and unconcerned? As he still waited, I nodded very slowly and said:
„If you think that‘s better...“
„Mmh, I guess so. Tell me if you like it more.“
When he smoothed his whole big, warm hand gently onto the crucial spot, it felt so delicious that I couldn‘t but moan.
„Did I hurt you?“, he asked concerned.
„No. No. It‘s just – too good to be true. Please don‘t stop.“
He smirked and started to stroke the whole of my lower back, kneading skin and muscles tenderly up to my sides, back again to the hurting middle, up my spine, even down my spine and under the waistband of my bottoms, all the while holding my gaze. I felt so peaceful, so relaxed, that I closed my eyes. I was certain Maurice wouldn‘t transgress the boundaries we had set, even if he was theoretically on dangerous grounds. Now how would this sound in court? „Did the accused have his fingers in your pants and on your bare bum?“ No, no thoughts of work. And law. And everything forbidden. Maurice‘s touch was gentle and innocent. I certainly could feel that he didn‘t loathe this job as he stroked and massaged me so deliciously slow and loving. But there was nothing nasty or sordid in it, and the pureness of his friendship allowed me to indulge in his fingers on me.
Maurice was patient and loving, but after some minutes I felt his hand go slower, the circles on my skin getting lazier and messier. When I looked at him, I saw that his eyes were closed. He looked peaceful and innocent and was obviously slipping back into sleep. Suddenly, he jerked, opened his eyes wide and muttered:
„I want to be in a balloon with you. A china blue balloon with golden ribbons. I want to fly through the clouds with you… See the stars from above...“
I nodded. My back didn‘t hurt anymore when I listened to his tranquil breathing.
I woke early, in dim, still gray morning light and to the sound of steady rain. I had one arm around Maurice and my nose buried in his neck. With a flash of embarrassment, I remembered in what physical closeness we had fallen asleep. As if to mock me, my body reacted in it‘s very own, wicked way and I tried to get away from Maurice before he felt my erection. I was almost out of bed when he stirred and turned. I stopped, hunched over as to conceal my tented trousers and crept to the door.
„Morning, Clive“, he whispered.
„Morning. Go back to sleep, I have an early meeting. Have a nice day.“
„Clive – how are you? You look so twisted. Is it your back again?“ He gazed at me with large blue eyes, concerned and kind. I turned to the door:
„No, I‘m fine. Go to sleep. Bye.“
I wouldn‘t have needed to look back to know that I hurt him. I felt his pained gaze between my shoulderblades when I closed the door quickly.
In the bathroom, I regretted my curtness. Maurice had been so good to me, had sacrificed his own sleep because I was in need. And I behaved beastly out of fear, feigned a meeting I didn‘t have in order not to look into those blue eyes. I almost couldn‘t bear it to look at my face. When I did, seeing my frowning forehead and strained look, I knew I had to make up for it. As soon as possible.
Maurice‘s bedroom door stood open when I had finally dressed and went to apologize, the bed crumpled and empty. I found him in the kitchen, watching the tea kettle intently, avoiding my eyes. When I didn‘t move, he turned his head and said tonelessly:
„Have a nice day too.“
„Maurice.“ I stepped into the gray kitchen. „I have hurt you. I‘m sorry.“
„Yes. You did. You fled as if I had – plague, or cholera. Did I do anything wrong?“
„No. Quite the contrary.“
He looked at me askingly.
„You were so kind to me. Oh god, Maurice, I feel awful. You were kind and helpful, and I was – scared that you meant… That you thought we‘d… I cannot tell you what I was scared of, but it was huge.“
Maurice glared at me expressionless. The rain drizzled and dribbled in front of the window. The dim back courtyard looked even more hopeless than usual.
„We were close last night. I – enjoyed it, sorry if this increases your panic. I felt close to you, and I was open and vulnerable. Your reaction did sting somewhat bad.“
„Oh dear. I‘m truly sorry.“ I took one more step towards him. Our eyes locked. I saw longing and despair in his gaze.
„I felt – close to you too. It was – like a state between being awake and dreaming. Like becoming one. I have never been touched like that before.“ He shrugged his shoulders, as if he wanted to say: you could have had it all the time. I had rarely seen him this depressed. The kettle started to whistle. Maurice turned off the stove without caring about the water.
I went to him and laid my head silently onto his shoulder. He was still leaning on the sideboard, not moving, not welcoming me into his arms. Until I slowly let my hands wander over his back and pulled him to me. He hugged me, cautiously and still distant, but got up and came closer.
„I‘m standing in my own way. Sorry you are suffering because of me.“
„You really do. Clive, darling – we could be so happy.“
„We are happy, aren‘t we?“
He looked at me, thoughtfully:
„Why, yes, of course. I love our domestic arrangement. I love having you here. Cannot imagine what the apartment and my life would like be without you. It would be dreary and sad.“
He was still silent.
„It‘s almost like being married, isn‘t it? Without all the nuisance married life brings with it!“, I tried to cheer him up.
„Connubial pleasures, you mean?“
I felt my cheeks turn hot. Tension hung between us for two, three heartbeats when he suddenly grabbed my arms violently and almost cried:
„Sleep with me, Clive. Let‘s unite like true lovers do. You want it also.“
„Now? It‘s Thursday morning!“
„Oh, a new argument. Thank you.“ He held me firmly. I felt his fingers claw into my arms. „I mean it. Why do you deny yourself so much?“ His face came closer and I couldn‘t escape his intense eyes. I put my hands onto his, trying to free myself.
„Maurice. We talked about this...“
„You talked. Do you think me disgusting? Ugly?“
„No! Dear, you are the most beautiful man I know. Your beauty deeply affects me. And you know that I‘m attracted to you. Much more than I should be.“ I tried to stroke his tense hands. I swallowed and felt my heart in my throat:
„If I ever should sleep with a man, it will be you.“
He relaxed and leant back onto the board.
„And last night – that was a very sensual experience. It could easily have turned into something - different, I guess.“
He looked at me expectantly.
„But we can‘t.“
„Why? And don‘t say we covered this already. Look here. Clive, listen. We practically live together here on four days of the week. Our families know. Your housekeeper knows. Why can‘t we take it further? Nobody needs to know that, and nobody will find out, but – it feels almost as if they had accepted us as a couple.“
„There you are mistaken. Unless you can give my mother the heir she desires?“
„Don‘t be vulgar.“
I sighed, growing impatient by the futile discussion. Maurice gave it another try:
„You said yourself we were close last night. And that you liked it. How about we do it only at night, in this in-between-state you mentioned? And we get up, and you can forget all about it because it‘s just our nocturnal secret? And we go on living as usual?“
„Come on. Don‘t delude yourself. Besides, it wouldn‘ be fair to you. I can tell you would always want more.“
„Maybe you would want more also once you find out how good it feels.“
I dropped my eyes. I was certain I would, and that‘s exactly the reason I didn‘t want to open this Pandora‘s box. We both sighed, simultaneously, and smirked sadly. I closed the distance between us and took his hands in mine:
„We need to get to work. How about I pop down to the bakery and get something nice for you because I behaved rotten?“
„You? To the bakery?“
„Yes. I can‘t sleep with you, but I will get you a honey bun.“
„Oh Clive“, he smiled wearily. Hugging me, he mumbled: „Sometimes I don‘t know if you are a parody. Or just being yourself.“
„Why, I am completely myself! I think a honey bun sounds not too bad, don‘t you?“
„I‘m just not certain – have you ever been at the baker yourself? I mean, do you know how to behave, what to say…?“ He looked at me mockingly.
„I will manage, don‘t you worry.“
I put my hands around his waist:
„Maurice, thank you for last night. It felt – grand.“
He nodded and added:
„But tell me, is your back really better? You stood so awkward earlier?“
I felt his hand on my lower spine.
„It wasn‘t my back...“ I blinked and averted my gaze. „Rather – something happening in front...“
Maurice snorted, highly amused:
„And you were afraid I would take advantage of your – situation?“
I grinned and raised an eyebrow.
„You are a parody, in every situation...“, he said.
He looked so adorable and relaxed all of a sudden, I couldn‘t but kiss him. I hadn‘t planned this, but I found myself with my lips on his mouth, accompanied by a strange surprised noise from him. But he kissed me back. We did so much longer than usual. I heard the rain, something clanking in the courtyard, but apart from that: only our ragged breath and smacking sounds, my hands making a strange scratching sound on his silk bathrobe. I gently played with his lips with mine once more before pulling myself away.
„I love you. You know that? I love you so much that I go down to the bakery in the rain for you.“
„Be dressed when I get back. It‘s temptation enough to have you here at all. No need to torture me further.“