“Let’s stay in,” I murmured into Bertie’s ear. I was well versed by that time in what Bertie liked and didn’t like, a study I had taken up from even before we had started dating and had yet to grow tired of, and knew exactly what buttons to push: use my seductive voice (which Bertie had once described as vocal velvet), lick the ear I spoke into, and nuzzle the part of the neck I was closest to. I don’t do the same actions consecutively nor in the same pattern so as to keep things fresh, but certain things had certain levels of effectiveness, and it was cold, I had went to bed late the night before (work kept me up), and there was nothing in the world I wanted more in that moment than to curl up in bed with my boyfriend. If I was manipulating him, then I can say nothing in my defense except that he had as much to gain from the experience as I did.
Bertie, as expected, shivered, but didn’t succumb and return my attentions. I was dismayed to watch him sit up and flash an apologetic smile, saying, “Sorry, dear, but I have work. But I don’t have anything else for the rest of the day, how about we do something later? How does that sound?”
I gave him a severe, dry look, which was as close to a glare as my face ever came, “That sounds horrible. Doing something sounds awful. I want to do nothing.” It was a very strange role reversal, which I would have been highly disconcerted by had I been a bit more awake; it was usually me that wakes up first and Bertie who needs cajoles, kisses, and a bucket of ice water to get him out of bed in the morning.
Bertie smirked, “ Absolutely nothing? Are you sure about that?” He climbed out of bed and set about spelunking about the debris we had made the night before for his pants.
I stretched, in a feeble attempt to wake up now that I was short one source of heat (in more ways than one), and then kept an arm curled above my head while the other escaped under the covers. I stared at my boyfriend as he continued his quest to make himself respectable, both for the excellent view and to place him under the effect of my most powerful, smoldering gaze. If he had to leave, he may as well leave thinking about me, for I would most certainly be thinking of him. And pining. I hated to admit it, even in my thoughts, but it was a simple fact that I would be pining for him to come back all while he was gone. I had nothing else to occupy my mind for the day.
I was rewarded for my efforts by an appreciative once-over, so at least my latter objective was a success. Sleep was like a weight pulling me down but I somehow found the strength to prop myself up. “Why do you have to leave?” I said, trying my best not to wine. I don’t think I did very well.
“ So , I have wedding gig today. Remember?”
Ah, yes. The twenties-inspired one that wanted ragtime and stride music that Bertie had been looking forward to since he was contracted for it. It was one of those rare occasions, he said, when the musician’s and contractor’s tastes were one and the same, and the music the musician wanted to play was exactly what the contractor wanted to hear. I did remember, actually, but I was still half-asleep and four hours of sleep wasn’t enough for my brain to work through these details. But sleep was slowly falling away from me and my eyelids stopped feeling as if there were ten ton weights pulling them down, so I was able to heave myself out from under the warm covers and follow Bertie out of our bedroom. Bertie went off to run around searching for his things (which he never puts away) and panic, before finally coming to me and asking whether I knew where he had put something or other. I went to the kitchen to make breakfast and wait for that last stage.
It took ten minutes, which was actually a decent amount of time, for Bertie. “Reggie!” He shouted from somewhere in the flat, “Do you know where my tie is?”
“Which one?” I called back. My perfectly-diced vegetables went into a pan with some oil, then I seasoned it and left it to mix the eggs for the omelets.
“The red one with the crisscrossing black lines,” Bertie said in a normal voice, having appeared in the door way. He had his shirt on and was now fumbling with his cuff links, trying to put them on with little success.
I stopped his hands and took the cuff links from him, fixing it in place for him. “It’s in the drawer,” I said with exaggerated patience. “I put it there yesterday. It looked lost forlorn where it was on the floor.”
The sarcasm went over his head. He smiled at me with gratitude and scampered off once I had finished fixing his cuff links. I turned back to the stove, where the omelet was almost about to burn. I averted the crisis and set the table.
Bertie soon came back with the tie hanging from his neck so he wouldn’t forget it and we tucked into the food I had made together. Bertie chattered away about how excited he was about this theme, how ‘awesome’ it was, his music selection (”Some Scott Joplin, of course, because how can you play ragtime without at least one selection from the master himself? But I’m not going to do Maple Leaf; it’s too cliche, I think.”), his clothes, and even asked about the groceries, what were we eating today, and did I know when the new season of Doctor Who was coming out? I told him it was the nineteenth of September without needing to think about it and Bertie was impressed by this, as he usually was, and asked what he would do without me, to which I replied he would go to wedding gigs with badly-creased trousers, and he laughed. He had a lovely laugh.
But his time was almost up, so he got up to get dressed and I washed the dishes. Bertie cut a handsome figure when he came back, fully dressed at last. I think he can go too far at times, looking as if he had walked straight of one of those etiquette guides from the twenties, but it was alright since the Jazz Age was the theme of the wedding he was going to. So he had told me, gazing at me with beseeching eyes, worried I would be upset he would wear something so old-fashioned. It is not necessarily the clothes in and of themselves that I don’t approve of but the fact that we live in the twentieth century and he simply had to come to terms with that; I put my foot down when he tried to wear a three-piece suit to the movies once. Aside from that, he looks very good in the style and very dashing — or perhaps I should say dapper. He wore a gold waistcoat with a thin, brown window pane pattern over a plain white dress shirt, and a pair of beige dress trousers, perfectly pressed. I was responsible for the crease in his trousers, of course; he couldn’t crease his trousers if his life depended on it. He had never asked me for help but watching his feeble attempts was painful to me, so I had taken over. His suit jacket was single breasted with peaked lapels. I smiled, which is to say, the sides of my mouth may have come up an entire fourth of an inch, at the spectacle… until Bertie put on his hat. My smile melted away. It was a white fedora with a black band, which clashed hideously with his brown suit. Brown , Bertie, what are you thinking? I thought. I was, however, too disgusted to say anything. I merely stared at it the way you might look at a beetle that had found its way onto your fork.
“What?” Bertie asked, who must have noticed a change in my expression. I wondered what he saw. He always saw more of my feelings than anyone else ever had, sometimes more than even myself, but I didn’t even know what my face was like. Was the horror I felt registered there? The disgust? The pain?
“Bertie… that hat…” I sounded breathless.
“Isn’t it great? I’ve been wanting a chance to wear it ever since I got it and now seems perfect.”
“It would seem our definitions of ‘perfect’ must be more different than I thought.”
“I’m afraid I’m not of the opinion that this would be the ‘perfect’ occasion to wear That Hat.” I wasn’t so childish as to make air quotes but the quotes were quite visible nevertheless, as were the capitals.
Bertie sighed and looked away for a moment, as if he was the long suffering one. “Reggie, it’s a perfectly good hat! What’s wrong with my choice of clothing now ?”
I paused and took a breath, because what lie ahead was very thin ice. In the beginning of our relationship, I had had the habit of disposing of whatever article of clothing I thought especially ugly or inappropriate, and it had resulted in many arguments. Actually, I had been in the habit of many other deplorable, invasive actions that I now find myself ashamed to admit. They had pushed Bertie to the limit and beyond, when he finally said that we ‘needed some space’ and we had stopped seeing each other for two weeks. In that time, I had missed the man dreadfully and realized that I was hardly being a very good boyfriend and had to break these habits of mine or else lose him entirely.
Which was why I now hesitated. I would never again, I had promised myself, ‘accidentally’ destroy his things, no matter what I thought of them, but nevertheless the subject was still a touchy one. Hence the delicate pause. I would have to navigate these waters with the exert touch of an expert smuggler, slinking past navy ships and avoiding wrecking my ship on the hidden rocks below water.
“There’s nothing wrong with the hat itself,” I began, because it was a safe place to start. Personally, I wasn’t all too keen on the hat but there were worse things to have than a plain white fedora with a black band, so I had never commented. “It’s just that… your suit is brown.”
“The colors don’t really go.” I tried to say this firmly without seeming like I was pressuring nor manipulating him.
“But black and white go with everything!”
“Perhaps, but only when on their own. With brown trouser, brown jacket, gold waistcoat, and red tie, there isn’t much room left for black-and-white. It seems a bit disconnected from the rest of the outfit, don’t you think? Look, wouldn’t it be better if you a brown or a red hat so as to match the rest of what you’re wearing?”
Bertie frowned, unconvinced.
“Here, I’ll show you, one moment,” I went to our room and found his brown beret that I had got him a year back, then went back. I replaced the ill-chosen fedora with the brown beret and dragged him in front of a mirror. “Doesn’t that look better?”
Bertie looked at himself with the beret, then went back to the fedora, then beret again. He looked annoyed but soon relented. “Fine,” he grumbled, “You know best, I suppose.”
I kissed him on the cheek and took his hand, rubbing my thumb against his knuckles. “I’m just good with colours and clothes,” I demurred, “You say so yourself. The way you’re good at music.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” he said. Except that was untrue, because the praise seemed to have smoothed ruffled feathers. I meant to show that I simply had good taste (which he did acknowledge) and was suggesting, not ordering, and also reminding him of his own talents. Bertie can have such low self-esteem at times. I blamed his Aunt Agatha, the relation who had taken him in when his parents had died when he was ten, who seemed to have missed the FYI that raising a child includes love and kindness, and not just discipline. But I only blamed her in private, because there was nothing to be gained from saying it. Sometimes I felt like I wanted to punch her but she did honestly love Bertie and would do anything for him. It wouldn’t be good for Bertie for me to start a fight with the relation who raised him and I had spent much of the beginning of our relationship not thinking of what was best for him.
I did my version of a smile and he smiled, and I felt the tension melt away. “You do look very dapper in this suit,” I told him, meeting his eyes in the mirror. I moved behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders, then ran them down his sides to come at a rest on his hips, with my chin resting on his shoulder “It makes you look like one of those models you see in ads and illustrations from the twenties. You look very good in red and gold. Makes your hair look golden.”
Bertie smiled and puffed up his chest, but dropped his gaze all the same, because the poor dear isn’t used to praise, much as it pleases him. We stayed standing there for some time, drinking in each other’s presence and nearness, until Bertie finally said, apologetically, “I have to go. I’ll be late.” He didn’t make any move to break the moment, so I took it upon myself to remove my arms and move away.
The spell was broken so Bertie found it easier to make it to the door. He paused in the open doorway and looked back. “I can’t wait to get back home, though,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to stop thinking about you.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I replied, “I’ll be right here waiting for you. Now go. Break a leg.”
“This isn’t Broadway, you know,” but he smiled all the same. I kissed him on the lips, and we both lingered like that for a moment, before we pulled away and Bertie finally closed the door shut between us.
I sighed. The sunlight seemed that much less bright already and it hadn’t even been thirty seconds. I was hardly in the mood to read Spinoza. I went to look over the bookcase and decided on Madcap Myrtle by Rosie M. Banks , because I am a hopeless sap who reads lame romance novels. I curled myself up on the sofa, resigned to pass the time until Bertie came back.