I had hardly raised my fist to knock on the door when it swung open, Linder’s manic grin greeting me on the other side. “Hello, I’ve arrived,” I offered, flatly and without much enthusiasm. I had a ragged bouquet in one hand, but I didn’t hand them over to her. They were for me. I had picked them on the way over because they had looked quite striking against the rainy Manchester sky, and they made me look like a proper Wildean dandy.
“I can see that!” Linder crowed, too loud as always, and yanked the flowers away from me before wandering away towards the kitchen. I frowned at that but came in anyways, taking the time to toe out of my loafers and overcoat, my scarf and gloves. I kept my cardigan on since it was a bit chilly in the house, pulling it tight around me like a blanket.
I walked towards the rampant sounds of pornography trilling from the living room and saw Howard sat calmly on the couch, looking at the violent sexual acts on the screen with his typical blank stare. He was only here because of what Linder planned for us all today - he preferred to be left alone otherwise - and I sat down timidly in the nearby armchair, too shy to say anything to him.
Linder waltzed back in with a tea tray and dropped it on the coffee table with a flourish. “Sugar today, my love? Or are you still watching your figure?” I told her I’d take two sugars with extra milk, and she gave me three sugars with no milk at all, using it all on her own cup instead. “Howard?”
In an instant, his too wide eyes snapped from the television screen to her. “Just black, s’all,” he said after a few long moments of silence. Linder had stayed smiling the entire time, and it was hard to know if she was just being polite or if she had something really humorous on her mind.
I sipped at my tea when it cooled, and Linder sunk herself down next to Howard to drink her own cuppa. “Tell me about your day, Steven. Proper like. I want to know exactly what you had for breakfast and what time you shaved.”
“It was beans on toast, and I got ready, hm...probably about half past ten. I penned an immaculate review for Sounds right afterward - which they will never publish, thus further tarnishing the genius I bring to this dreary city.” Linder nodded in agreement, sat her mug down, and shuffled through a few magazines on the coffee table, as if suddenly inspired by the melancholy of it all. “I mailed off a few postcards, as well, but I fear I will never see replies for them as they’ll likely think me dreadfully boring and uninteresting - and they would be right.”
Linder was still nodding as she flipped through a home and garden magazine with a pensive expression. “It’s just a matter of time, love. Sometimes you’ve got to wait for the right moment and other times the door is already open. It’s only a matter of time though.”
“I’m not sure how much time I’ve got left,” I said, sighing. I understood that most people considered being 19 years old the peak moment of their tiny, insignificant lives, but I strongly suspected that I was already on the down slope, heading straight for an early grave - well, I had hoped I was anyways. It was hard to be sure about these things. “I’m not particularly interested in how your day has been, but I’m sure you’ll tell me about it anyways.”
“You’re right, I will,” Linder said as she tore a page out of the magazine and sat it aside. She then frenziedly picked up another one, ripped away the black bag it was taped in, and shook it out. It was some sort of lesbian erotica that involved whips and chains and long black boots. “I woke up this morning, alone - Howard was already downstairs - and I took it upon myself to tear apart all of my university books. It was exhilarating.”
“Fascinating,” I said, tapping my fingers on the sides of my mug. There was probably no deeper meaning to be gleaned from that, but it sounded freeing in a way - a departure from the old life to the new. I would have to keep it in mind if I ever had any significant upheavals in my otherwise dull existence.
“Go on and head upstairs, won't you? I’ll be just a moment. Howard?”
I had almost forgotten Howard was even there. It looked like he had forgotten he was there, too, judging by the look on his face. He nodded after a long moment of silence and stood up from the couch like an abnormal reptile, full of unnatural grace and dignity. “Sure.”
Linder waved us off, and I followed Howard up to the bedroom. There was still a mess of glossy pages on the floor, a chaotic explosion of facts about artists and illustrators from the mid to late Romantic era. I squatted to pick a few up only to have Howard yank me towards the bed - he had already gotten undressed and was intent on pulling me out of my own clothes just as quickly.
“I think I can unbutton my own shirt, thank you,” I huffed, a touch aggravated, as I tried to push Howard back a little. I’d never been naked with a man before and was terrified to have myself stripped of my dignity so fast, so inelegantly. Howard just shrugged at me in response, indifferent as ever.
“Suit yourself, man.”
Howard unflinchingly sprawled himself onto the bed and reached for his cigarettes on the nightstand. I tried to calm myself, reminded myself that Linder would be up any minute now and that I had promised her that I would go through with this, no matter what. She had wanted to capture the perfect loss of innocence on camera and claimed that I was the perfect subject for it, that no one else would do. I disagreed, of course, but Linder was very persuasive.
“Sure you don’t need the help?”
I realized I’d been standing stock still for an unreasonably long time. Clearing my throat, I shook my head and carefully tugged off my cardigan, folding it and setting it on the dresser, before toeing off each of my socks, left then right. Each button of my shirt took longer than the last seemingly, and I was sure I’d aged twenty years by the time I got it off and set it on top of my cardigan.
“Howard! I thought you’d have him ready by now. Oh, love, come here, come here.”
Linder was now next to me, her black hair pulled back in a messy bun, and I let her pull off my undershirt as well as my jeans. She thumbed the waistband of my underwear, plain and white, but decided to let me keep them on - a small mercy for not only myself but everyone else that might have been subjected to the heinous sight of me naked.
Without a word, I was sat next to Howard on the bed, shoulder to shoulder, and I quickly tugged my knees up to my chest to hide. I heard the click, click, click of Linder’s camera go off before she paused to pull my chin up a little, smiling down gently at me. “That’s good, Steven. You’ve such natural poise.”
After another few clicks of the camera, Linder decided to set up a few photography lamps around the bed. I watched Howard’s tiny, bony fingers slowly wrap around my knee, more curious than anything, and let out a soft sound of pleasure when he pressed a wet kiss to my neck. It was so hard to be near him in this way. His maddening voice had filled so many of my most private hours, his every word a revelation to me, and now I sat here with his warm breath billowing across my face like we were lovers.
“Alright, love. Let’s get you stretched out on the bed.”
The lights were hot on my skin, blindingly bright, and I was grateful to sink into the mattress, burrow my face into my arm. I felt Linder’s soft hands pulling at my ankles, positioning me a bit more enticingly, but I doubt it did much good - there was no way to tastefully arrange my spindly limbs without it looking like a Shakespearean tragedy had occurred.
I bit at my lip as Howard began to kiss across my chest, that warm breath now making me flush with excitement. My thighs tipped open a bit as he started to grope me, squeezing my cock some before he yanked my arm away from my face and tilted my chin towards him. “There you are, little dove. I’d thought you’d gone somewhere far away.”
Our lips met with bruising force. I writhed against him, hardly able to hear the click of Linder’s camera anymore, and desperately wished I knew what to do with my hands. I settled them on his shoulders eventually, but by then he was already kissing back down my chest. I must have looked ridiculous with my mouth agape, my head pressed back into the pillows, but Howard’s mouth felt so good - I hated sex, it was always uncomfortably messy and sticky, but this was far better than the brief fumbles I’d had behind the bike shed with some girl that smelled of sour bubblegum.
“Howard? Pull back just a little for me, sweetheart - just there.”
Linder’s voice drifted into my ear like a rush of cold water, awakening me from the depths of my lust. I blinked up at her camera, panting and visibly aroused, and thought about the word debauched - it was a verb that was used when someone had been ‘seduced away from chastity,’ or when someone ‘had been led away from virtue,’ and every time Howard touched me I felt like the embodiment of it.
After Linder had got the required shots, Howard pulled me into his lap, my back to his chest, and rocked his erection along my arse in a way that made me shiver. My cock twitched and strained for release, my underwear clearly stained with precome, but I didn’t dare touch myself, I was still far too self conscious for that.
“Open your legs a bit more for me, love,” Linder said as she reached to adjust one of her lights, and I tried to do as she asked, tried to wriggle back a bit to get my knees spread out, but Howard was an absolute deviant. He wouldn’t stop pressing his tongue into my ear, giggling like a school child whenever I moaned.
“Do you like that then?” Howard whispered, nosing into my hair. I nodded, rocked my hips up in answer, and let out a breathy sigh when he grabbed me through my underwear again, fisting me through the thin cotton. “Bet you like a lot of things, you pretty boy. Don’t you? What dark things go through that head of yours, hm?”
I twisted helplessly against him, planting my feet into the mattress for leverage. The sound of his voice was so intensely erotic I thought I might lose my mind completely. The snap of Linder’s camera was the only thing keeping me grounded - but even that was steadily losing its grip on me as Howard pulled me closer and closer to my climax.
“Oh -” The world tilted, shifted, and rocked. My world became just this moment - Howard’s touch and the bright lights and Linder’s thoughtful eyes behind a camera lens. I grabbed at Howard’s arm, hardly able to stop what was about to happen, as my back bowed, awash and adrift in an unknown land as I began to come.
When I was able to blink my eyes open, Linder had already gone off to her dark room to develop the film. Howard had stayed behind, smoking and reading a book I didn’t recognize. He hadn’t gotten dressed, and I was still in my underwear. “I’m about to cook us dinner if you’re staying late,” Howard said without looking up.
“No, that’s alright. Mother would worry if I didn’t get home before six,” I said, mouth uncomfortably dry. I pushed to sit up and walked over to my clothes. Gathering them in my arms, I went to the bathroom to rinse out my underwear as best I could before putting them in the laundry basket - I’d collect them from Linder later and just make do with my jeans until I got home.
I went to knock on the dark room door before I headed out. Linder called me in, and I hurriedly walked inside, trying to keep the light out. The room was strung with dozens of photos of myself, which was quite disconcerting, and Linder rushed to crush me in her arms. “They’re perfect! You’re perfect, love.”
“You must be joking,” I muttered but held her back anyways. She smelled of chemicals and ink, and I loved her more than life itself. “I’m about to head home. Will I see you again soon?”
“Not soon enough,” Linder whispered, her soft lips touching mine. I kissed her back, just as chastely, and sighed.