Toots and Sam had been tucked away for hours and Fanny’s mother, exhausted but aware of what was happening in a way that made her daughter nervous, had finally climbed the stairs and shut her door.
That had been her signal.
She watched him from the doorway before walking forward and rubbing the back of his neck, clammy from the fever, after a particularly nasty bout of coughing. Fanny slipped into bed beside him and moved her hand down his back as he tried to sit up.
“Should you be…,” she tried to intervene but he brushed her off and reached for a vase filled with violets on his bedside table.
He picked one of the flowers off, placed it behind her ear and she could hear a slight rattle in his voice as he said, “I’m well enough minx.”
She smiled softly even though she knew it was a lie and mimicked his position, turned her body into his and rested her head against his shoulder even as she felt him tense under her touch. He reached up and fiddled with the ends of her hair hesitantly, stated, “we shouldn’t,” like the words cut him as they left his mouth.
“Shhh,” she answered gently and pulled him back down flat and into her arms, whispered, “you never finished teaching me about poetry.”
He sighed and she could feel him relax, “I didn’t?”
She shook her head and cuddled closer to him.
“Why do you want to learn?”
“Because you love it,” she pushed the hair back from his face, “and I want to understand everything you love.”
“Well,” he said and his voice sounded steady and sure, if he knew anything for sure it was poetry, “maybe we should begin with the functional side this time.”
She nods her head, more interested in the curve of his jaw but willing to listen to him speak. She’s always willing to listen to his words.
“There are a few who write freely ...”
“Write freely,” she asks and he goes on to explain.
“I mean those that use no meter or sonnet forms to create; they record the words as they come to their mind.”
Fanny narrowed her eyes, “but is that really poetry then If they do not follow the forms? Wouldn’t it just be writing?”
He leaned his head back in thought, “they make their own form. Look,” he said suddenly and pulled her hand up, “if I were to touch you here,” and ran the tip of his finger along the bend where her hand connected to her wrist.
“Then here,” he continued and tugged on the lobe of her ear making her grin, “that’s something like what they do.”
“Well, though they touch on separate ideas and words that seem as though they wouldn’t work well with one another they make them fit.”
“How would you know that? How can you tell that those reading see the connection?”
John leans in and even though he’s pale and his eyes are dark, he looks more handsome than she can ever remember seeing him, “because you smiled.”
Fanny hugged him close and pushed away her sudden urge to cry, said, “you made me do that,” and he kissed her.
She worried for a moment about his cough, about his ability to breathe when it seemed as though he was trying with everything he had to take her breath away but he pulled back before she could do anything. Dragged his finger along the scoop neck of her bodice and kissed the side of her neck damply.
He seemed tense again but in a different way this time and despite her mother’s honest attempts otherwise, Fanny knew something of the world. She knew what this meant, she knew she wasn’t afraid. She began to pull her sleeve down when he stopped her with a touch, kissed the newly revealed flesh and pulled away.
“Then there are odes.”
Fanny took a shuttering breath, “what?”
“It’s another poetry form.”
He ignored her irritation with a sad smile, “It’s one of my favorites. Do you know why?”
She crossed her arms over her chest and he slipped his palm under her neck, turned her until she had no choice but to look at him again, “the symmetry.”
“It’s as if I were to stroke you here,” he murmured and slipped his hand into her bodice without looking away from her face and circled his thumb against her nipple.
“Then here,” he went on lowly and began to pull her nightshirt up to above her knees then slipped his hand in-between them.
“Even though the places I chose to alight upon seem separate they complement one another,” his hand slid up incrementally, she let her knees fall open and when he touched the juncture of her legs she was past caring about his illness or rumors or propriety or what was right or even her soul.
“You feel both in the same place don’t you minx?”
She didn’t answer; just stared into his eyes as he nimbly touched her through the damp cloth between her thighs. She groaned in frustration that he wouldn’t venture beneath it and scrambled to take hold of his forearm when he focused his attention on one certain spot.
She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to be quiet as waves of heat made the slightly over warm room they were in feel unbearable. It was coming; that thing she’d read and giggled over nervously in those books she kept at the farthest corner of her wardrobe.
She could feel his breath against her face as he leaned closer and she moaned, “John,” lowly because she had to say something.
His movement stumbled at the sound of her voice before he started again, before he finally decided to part the opening in her drawers and touch her skin to skin. She bit her bottom lip against a groan and nuzzled her face into the jacket he’d never taken off. The one she’d never get to mend because he was leaving her tomorrow.
She put her feet flat on the bed to give him more room and pushed the knowledge of his imminent departure away. If these were their last moments together, she wanted to enjoy every one. She licked her lips and pushed into his touch shamelessly; searching for something she’d never realized she wanted so badly.
He leaned closer to her, panted, “come on minx,” and she reared up, pushed her face into his neck and broke against his hand quietly.
When she opened her eyes, he was staring at her with a flushed face and breathing harder than she was. Fanny reached up and touched his cheek with the back of her hand languorously, whispered; “now you’ve been swallowing rosebuds,” and he stared down at her, sloe eyed and amazed. Like he’d just created a miracle with his bare hands.
She let her palm travel down the side of his neck, over his chest and down to the space between his legs where he took it away and kissed it. He looked shamed, started to say, “I can’t Fanny…,” and she touched the back of his neck and pulled him down to her lips without waiting for him to finish.
She didn’t want to know.
He seemed surprised but gave into her easily enough and the hand between her thighs started to move again gently; soft as the fur on Topper’s neck, sweet as their first kiss.