To my hidden heart unlocked
From your honesty
The next morning came with the bright sun shining hard and hot on Francis’ face. He winced, covering his face as he felt the light burn his retinas from behind his eyelids. He felt so insanely soft and content right now, the bed so comfortable. Francis actually felt warm for once, greeted by the actual sunlight as opposed to waking up to the blare of a wakeup call in a hotel room with absolutely no windows. He turned over with a sigh, happy to be in covers that didn’t scratch him when he nudged his knee against something else warm and fleshy. A soft groan escaped into the air that wasn’t his own and Francis’ eyes flew open.
Unrelated and unfortunate memories came flooding back to Francis at that moment, reminding him of similar times he had been in this precarious situation. Luckily, he quickly realized that although this seemed familiar, it was in no way related to his previous hotel endeavors with strange people. It had been insane couple of days as of late and it was quickly taking a toll on his already wounded mental state. In fact, a small part of him was wishing he could reenact something much more romantic elsewhere to help take his mind off of this situation here.
Arthur was facing him in the bed, slowly bringing a hand up to his own face and rubbing at his eyes as well, slowly opening them up. Francis dropped his gaze from those emerald green eyes, biting his lip nervously, bracing himself for another shocked and judgmental outburst from Arthur.
“Morning…” said Arthur with a weak smile, seeming relatively docile about all this. Francis had a feeling that Arthur’s brain was fuddled by the early morning fog as well, for that smile unnerved him. He was pretty sure that smile wasn’t really for him, but he didn’t have the heart to say anything and break Arthur’s illusion. He could only feel the sadness lingering in the air, growing heavier as time went on. Francis’ history lesson on Arthur’s wife had given him a lot more insight into their relationship and their love.
The blast of reality seemed to finally hit Arthur when his eyes opened wider, staring quietly at the guilty look on Francis’s face. He turned away and pulled the covers off of him, rubbing his face harder. Francis sat up in concern as well, worried that there would perhaps be a quart of vodka hidden in the nightstand that Arthur would make a beeline for. Instead, Arthur looked back at Francis with a shrug. “How…did you sleep?” he asked, staring past Francis out of the window.
“Ah…Very well.” Answered Francis truthfully. He felt solemn, uncomfortable. Being around Arthur was like being in a vortex of confusion and complicated feelings. “It’s been a long time since I really had a good nights sleep. Thank you.” He said, running his fingers through his blonde curls and sighing. Even his hair hadn’t ended up as tangled and fluffy as it normally did overnight. “I didn’t disturb you at all last night, did I?’ he asked, sincerely hoping that he hadn’t made any “strange” movements after he had fallen asleep.
“I didn’t wake up at all until now, Don’t trouble yourself, It’s alright.” Said Arthur, ruffling his hair as well and turning back around to stretch. His hair was always shaggy and messy and he had simply grown to accept it rather than waste precious moments stressing over something so trivial. He yawned and stretched in the other direction, hearing the satisfying sound of bones popping and cracking. As his vision cleared, he spotted something strange on top of his drawer. “Mmm…What’s this?’ he said curiously.
Francis’ sleepy eyes shot open and he lunged forward with a sharp gasp. “Oh! No-Nothing for you to worry about! Let me get it.” He chattered, trying to get the drawing he had crated last night, lost in a heat of inspiration after looking over Hana’s journal and seeing Arthur’s peaceful face. Arthur dodged him and huffed, holding Francis back with an arm as he picked up the paper.
“Anything in my house is something for me to worry about.” He said, standing up and holding the paper in both hands, peering closely. Francis fretted miserably, putting his hands in his hair and squeezing nervously. How could he have been so incredibly stupid. Why in the world had he let something like that just be left lying around. He shook in the bed, palms sweating as he looked up, trying to gauge Arthur’s reaction. Arthur didn’t say a word, didn’t even move a muscle as he stared at it. Francis bit his lip harder.
‘Go ahead…rip it apart.” He thought in dismay. Francis was already saying his goodbyes to that picture, envisioning Arthur calling him a sick pervert, ripping up the paper and calling Antonio to bitch about creepy Francis was. To his great surprise, when Arthur looked up from the drawing into his eyes, there was a look of wonder on his face.
“Did…Did you do this?” he asked, moved. He stepped forward and sat down on the bed again, showing Francis the picture. He ghosted a hand over the lines, careful not to touch the paper and smudge the marks. Francis slowly lowered his shaking hands to his lap, relief creeping in. He swallowed and reached forward to grasp a corner of the paper, nodding.
“Yes Well…it’s only a sketch, let me just get it out of your way.”
“A sketch?” huffed Arthur, pulling away to admire it some more, away from Francis’ desperate grabby hands. “No No No… I think it’s amazing.” He said with a soft smile. “Everything- I mean…The light, my hair…the face. I didn’t know you were so talented. It may sound foolish but… but this looks more like me than I do!”
“Oh stop.” Said Francis, smiling as well, flattered by the praise. “Thank you Arthur, Ah, but don’t you-”
“Why did you do this?” asked Arthur suddenly, growing serious as he looked to Francis. Francis found himself flustered again from being put on the spot. He thought back to that lovely journal, wondering if there was a poem within those pages about someone having to hide their true intentions, both from themselves and someone else.
“Well…I’m an artist.” Said Francis with a shrug, getting out of bed so that he could stop feeling so vulnerable. “It was what I did to make money when I was on the streets. Portraits of people, mostly for tourists from America. I suppose I just couldn’t drop the habit.” He said weakly. “I honestly didn’t think you had an appreciation for the arts Arthur.” Francis looked away with a frown, touching his with a tinge of regret. Arthur rose as well, looking a bit more tense.
“I think it’s very impressive to be able to do something like this.” He said somewhat defensively, reading Francis’s modesty as something else entirely. He liked this picture a lot, and this strange attitude of Francis was making him feel almost guilty. “Of course I appreciate the arts, it takes a lot of work to be able to express yourself in such a way.”
Francis looked up, struggling to process all this praise. “I appreciate it.” He said. “I’ve also been able to draw from my imagination as well-” he added, instantly regretting spilling that tidbit the moment it left his lips. It sounded so childish. “Aha…so would you like some breakfast?” asked Francis, changing the subject.
Arthur smiled, carefully setting the picture down on the bedstand. “Ah yes, what did you make?” he asked. Francis paused for a second and felt a spear pierce through his heart in sudden realization.
“Oh my goodness…” he gasped, clutching his chest. He had been so busy snooping around last night that he had forgotten to prepare anything beforehand. Poor Alfred and Matthew must have had to gone to school without breakfast. How could he have been so irresponsible! Seeming to sense Francis’s feeling of doom, Arthur waved his hand.
“Hey…It’s alright if you didn’t do it yet.” He said with a smile. “Alfred and Matthew normally have cold or nuke their breakfast on the weekdays. Cereal, Toast and the like. I haven’t had a chance to make them something good in quite a while, certainly not pancakes.” Said Arthur, his smile faltering as he thought it over.
“I could make them! They’re very simple to do from scratch.” Offered Francis eagerly, wanting to shift attention off of him and start filling their stomachs, hopefully clearing away their muddled heads as well.
“Then let’s head to the kitchen then. You can tell me more about your art.” Said Arthur in genuine interest, leading the way out into the hallway.
“Oh no, it’s fine. I can handle it by myself.” Said Francis. He didn’t really want to continue that conversation. “Why don’t you just have a quick shower and breakfast should be ready by the time you’re out.”
“I’m not worried about the time.” Said Arthur with a shrug. “A shower feels best with a full stomach in any case.” He said.
That’s what Francis was chiefly concerned about. Arthur heading over to the refrigerator and getting a head start on maintaining his beer belly. He knew that with an reliance as ingrained as his, it was impossible to quit cold turkey, but Arthur could at the very least hold out until later.
“Hey, maybe I could help?” asked Arthur, opening the fridge.
Francis grabbed the door with a smile. “Oh yes! That would be wonderful! Why don’t you get the flour from the pantry?” he suggested, trying to get Arthur as far away from the intoxicating bottles as possible.
Arthur smiled naively. “Ah, of course.” He said, turning off course to retrieve it. Francis held in a sigh of relief, getting the other ingredients from the refrigerator and laying them out on the counter. “So.” Said Arthur, bringing the bag of flour and setting it aside with the other wet ingredients. “When did you start doing that? The drawings?” he asked.
Francis set to work pouring everything into the bowl, mixing it as he went along. “I started when I was a child, back in Roubaix. There’s plenty of art in France. I was inspired by it all I suppose.” He said with a shrug, stirring in a fervor.
“Why did you make your way here to England anyway?” asked Arthur with innocent curiosity, getting a pan out onto the stove to heat it up for the pancakes. “I haven’t been to Roubaix specifically, but I’ve visited the rest of the country on several occasions.”
“Ah…That’s a bit of a long story.” Said Francis. “France will always be my homeland, but on my wandering travels, England just seemed to call to me more than anywhere else I’ve been too. Especially here in Manchester. Once Antonio and Lovino announced their engagement, I wanted to stay close to them. After all of their kindness, I still feel as though I’m in debt to them.” Explained Francis, feeling a little calmer as he discussed it. Despite his reservations, he couldn’t blame Arthur for being so suspicious. Especially if Francis was still going to keep quiet about himself after he had jumped into the deep dark well of this man’s troubles by his own decision. He sighed and rubbed a stick of butter on the hot pan, the sizzling sound and sweet smell filling the air.
Arthur breathed it in with a sigh, getting the tea kettle and filling it with water to place on the burner as well. “I don’t know if I would describe Lovino as “kind.” Said Arthur. “But…they really are both very supportive.” He said, looking through the tea cabinet. “Earl Grey okay?” he asked, getting a bottle of loose tea leaves.
Francis looked up curiously. “Oh, yes that’s fine.” He said. He would have preferred coffee but had only found instant in the cabinet the day before. “Thank you.”
Arthur nodded wordlessly, preparing the teacups with a quick rinse. “When did you first meet those two?” asked Arthur. “Antonio and I were friends in college. I didn’t meet Lovino until the time they finally met in person. I think they met online or something.”
“Yes that’s right.” Said Francis with a nod. “Antonio and I were friends since Secondary School. After that I was going to an art school until…” He grew quiet, getting out the spatula to flip the pancake.
“What were the circumstances?” asked Arthur, trying his best to keep his tone neutral.
“Family.” Said Francis, without much elaboration. Arthur’s curiosity only intensified, but he was starting to sense Francis was becoming uneasy again. It was a delicate operation, probing each other about their pasts, especially when they both struggled so hard to keep their history under wraps from the cruel and judgmental outside world as well as from their own critical egos.
“Family…” echoed Arthur, looking forlornly around the house. He squeezed the dish towel tightly, wringing the water out and dutifully washing off the counter top. He considered talking about his own for a brief moment, opening his mouth but the breath caught in his throat. “Y..Yes…”
The kettle whistled with a loud hiss just as Francis scraped the pancake off onto a plate and poured a second one to cook. “They kicked me out.” He said, grip tensing on the spatula. He waited with fury for Arthur to dare ask what Francis do wrong that had prompted his family to “do the right thing” or “what was best.” Instead, Arthur snorted in disgust, pouring the tea into the cups.
“A family like that I would have run away first.” He said. Francis blinked, trying to reign in his defensiveness, especially since that phrase didn’t seem accusatory. Instead, he laughed.
“So would I! But Ha…I’d spent so many nights riding my bike until legs burned and my body ached. Ha! And it didn’t help that I used to smoke back then too, I could never get very far before I changed my mind and rolled back home. They never even noticed I was missing…” he said, trailing off as he scooped up the other pancake onto the plate.
“I wanted to do the same thing when I was young. Only did it a few times though. I guess there’s something about the desperation and the air outside that just…makes everything easier to process.” He said, blushing a bit from being so revealing. “Ah…I don’t know if you think I’m making any sense or not.”
“It makes perfect sense to me.” Said Francis, trying to comfort Arthur as he set the table and opened the refrigerator again. His heart felt so heavy after revealing so much. He pulled out a beer and showed it to Artur with a weak smile. “Nip?” he asked. Talking about smoking had reminded him about how bad withdrawal was. Sure he had gotten furious about Arthur drinking a beer early in the morning, But that was only because he hadn’t yet known just how bad of an alcoholic the mean really was. He really did need this and it would a take a while of dilution and rationing before he could be weaned off for good. Arthur stared with wide eyes at the can, quiet for a moment before he looked up, a weak smile spreading as he reached out to take it.
“You know…I had completely forgotten about that until you offered.”