In the end, contrary to all logic and historical precedent, it had been Dakin who’d gone looking for Posner.
It was three in the morning. Posner was enjoying a lovely bout of insomnia that left him staring at a pile of unopened books, exhausted and bored and restless. But mostly exhausted.
There was a loud series of knocks on the door, scary in the empty and quiet darkness. It was the suddenness of it that sprang Posner into action and to the door. At another time, he might have just ignored the sound and pretended he wasn’t home, as he had done a few times already.
« Who’s there? » his voice only shook a little, although his throat was raw with disuse.
« It’s me, Stu. Open up, Pooosneeer. »
It was unmistakably Dakin’s voice, true, but that made the event itself even more worrying.
On opening the door, Posner was assaulted by the smell of beer.
« Are you drunk? »
« Barely tipsy. The other guy, well, one of the other guys emptied a pint on me, » Dakin explained, barging into the room like he owned it, laughing wildly and looking happier than Posner had ever seen him. Posner was, for a moment, surprised by the thought; although the self-satisfied smirk had been pasted on Dakin’s face for however long they’d known each other, Posner had never seen such a carelessly happy version of him. It was surreal. It made him want to fall in love again.
More importantly, however, Dakin’s face was mottled with bruises; there was a cut on his lower lip and his jaw looked worse for the wear. His pretty nose had somehow been spared.
« What happened? » Pos tried to keep his voice even. He wasn’t sure if he managed.
« Absolute twats, that’s what, » Dakin sat down on Posner’s bed without waiting for an invite. It might have been all his dreams come true, once.
Posner was out of his depth. He was standing in front of Dakin, tormenting his own hands, silent.
« You know my friend Guy, the one who’s been flirting with you shamelessly all term? »
This made Posner find his voice again. « With me? He was flirting with you! »
Dakin shook his head with a resigned sadness at the stupidity of the world that reminded him a little bit of Tottie. « Oh, Pos. »
« Don’t call me that. »
Scripps used to call me that , he didn’t say. Dakin probably had known, but what he knew and what he noticed and remembered were often different things.
« Fine, David. » he stopped and looked horrified « I can’t call you David. It’s like… like a suburban dad from a bad American film. There are too many other Davids. »
« There’s a fair amount of Posners, too. »
« I guess you’re right. I guess we never really asked each other how we wanted to be called, back then. »
« I think we were just taking our cues from the masters. »
« True. I don’t think I even learned all of your names for the first year or two. So. You want to be called David, David? » Dakin asks, snickering like he just made some amazing joke.
« I would quite like that, yes. » the other boy replied, incredulous and still worried « I would also like to know what happened with you and Guy and the rest. »
And what made you come here, rather than go bother Scripps or Akthar , he didn’t ask.
Contrary to all logic and historical precedent, Dakin looked a tad uncomfortable. Embarrassed, even, though the two concept should not have belonged in the same sentence.
« Well, you know how it goes, here, right? You must know. All, well, all the straight boys getting it on with each other… This whole town is like neutral territory. Or Las Vegas. And I thought it was cool, at first. »
Posner hadn’t. He didn’t tell Dakin, but that was the reason why he hadn’t “got on” with anyone yet. For so many, it was going be a phase, and David was not ready to have his heart broken like that. With the wisdom of his nineteen years, he had decided that falling for Dakin had been a youthful mistake from a time when he hadn’t yet learned how to be guarded, and it would not happen again. There would be, of course, other boys like him, but he didn’t know how one went about these things.
« But? » Posner pushed, incapable of figuring out a conclusion for that ramble.
« But for all this, » Dakin held out a hand, palm up, and then the other, as if to balance invisible weights « There are some real pricks who have it out for any and all that do not behave straight enough. »
Posner leaned against the desk and made a grimace. « I am aware, yes. »
« I mean, they live with a level of paranoia… So. Anyway, sorry to tell you, you’ve lost your chance with Guy. He was telling me he’s in love. There’s this boy from another college, a first year. They went out for dinner and didn’t even fuck, I shit you not. Guy’s done for, no hope for him » Dakin laughed, not unkindly, at the ridiculousness of new love « He was telling me about it, and I was making fun of him, as it’s only fair. But apparently I was leaning too close. And because he’s, well, he’s made no secret of the fact that he fully intends to carry on being a homosexual after university, my leaning towards him (look, a gerund!) was misinterpreted. »
« So you punched them? »
« Yessir, yes, I did. » Dakin looked downright giddy « Because they tried to punch me first, though, you must understand. And Guy. He can hold his own in a fight, but there was three of them, so it would not have been a fair fight. It was fun evening, all things considered. »
Posner considered that for a moment. « So you came here to gloat? About how you’re the defender of the oppressed? »
Dakin blinked a few times, confused. « Oh. Oh . You’d see it like that, wouldn’t you? No, actually. It was really just self-defence, no ideological fight, there was no Stonewall Inn in sight. Aaaand, one of them lives in my building, so I’d rather not go back there tonight, in case he’s brought friends. Can I stay? Please?”
« Your tale of chivalry and daring has earned you the bed. »
« What, no, Pos- David, you don’t need to-
« I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t using it anyway. But I will kick you out of it, if I need it. »
« I don’t think I can sleep, either. Not just yet. »
« Must be the adrenaline. »
Dakin nodded, then kicked off his shoes and sat cross legged on the bed, back against the wall. « At least sit down, don’t stand there like that, it’s awkward. »
Posner gave him one of his self-deprecating smiles. « I’m always awkward, sitting down won’t change that. »
« I always considered you a bit ridiculous, you know, but I never thought the idea of liking another bloke like that was disgraceful. Plenty of women are really poor choices, too, and no one kicks up a fuss about that. »
« Thank you. » Posner said pointedly.
Dakin shrugged. « What I mean is… When someone fancies you and you don’t fancy them back, what else can you do? If you start to let yourself think, then you might, I don’t know, pity them, and that’s worse. It’s easier, I think, to be the one in love. Morally easier, at least. Less… awkward. »
« And you would know because…? » Posner asked, knowing the answer full well, but wanting to see Dakin squirm. After all, he’d just been called ridiculous. He had a right to a bit of vengeance.
As per, Dakin went red in the face and said that he didn’t. It was all supposition.
« Nothing to do with Mister Irwin, then? »
« I was not in love with him. »
« It sure didn’t seem that way, from where I was standing. And I was usually standing pretty close to you. »
« I sure remember that bit. » Dakin said frowning.
For once, they were studying, or at least trying to. Navigating through dates and definitions through the end-of-term stress, climbing up archaic sentences and digging for meaning.
Though he could be an excellent study partner and an excellent student himself, Dakin seemed off, like a normally cheerful melody that had been transposed into a minor key. He was fidgeting and distracted. At first, Posner had attributed the crumpled, tired look to a brave night out, but it was not quite like that.
« Out with it. » he spat out after one long, exhausting and silent hour, exasperated, surprising himself more than Dakin.
« I think I might be queer. »
Posner gasped. Dakin smiled. He looked relieved at having actually said it out loud, and Posner knew with absolute certainty that he was the first person to hear that particular piece of news. He did not question why Dakin hadn’t gone to Scripps first.
He understood he needed to be silent for this, so he just waited Dakin out.
« I don’t know how to say it, really, and I decided I might as well make good use of such a vague word. » Dakin snorted, sounding somewhat self-deprecating. Well, that was a first. « I still appreciate the appeal of a lovely wet cunt, and that of softer hips and sharper words, which I think would not be… well, you don’t, do you, Pos? »
« No, » he replied with a thin, incredulous voice.
« Then I believe I am not a homosexual. But I do find myself attracted to… other guys, at times. Not just because they’re willing, either. It comes from me. »
This time, Posner did not mention Irwin, though he was at the forefront of both their minds. So Dakin surprised him yet again by mentioning the man himself.
« I always thought I was true. Authentic. When there was something I wanted, I went after it. That’s why I made that stupid offer to Irwin, and never thought of questioning myself or my motives. But lately I think I might just be going through the motions. I know how to look successful, but what am I, really? What do I want? »
« Not many people know that when they’re thirty, let alone when they’re twenty. »
« You always seemed to know. »
Posner gave him a wry smile. « I am not so sure of anything any more. »
« That’s exactly what Scripps said. I think he’s going through a bit of a crisis, with his God. You haven’t heard from him recently, have you? »
Posner looked out of the window rather than towards Dakin. « We met for coffee just the other day, but we didn’t talk much. No time, you see. »
He didn’t know how to describe the frightful, widening chasm that he felt opening, gaping wider and wider between Scripps and himself, every time they met. They acted almost like strangers. They had forgotten how to be friends with each other. And because it was so terrifying, Posner avoided Scripps, and Scripps was, possibly, doing the same. Maybe it was what always happened. Maybe that was what growing up, really growing up was like. They’d drift apart and find new, adult friends. But was it supposed to hurt this much? Posner had no answer, and he wasn’t even sure he had the right questions.
Dakin made a non-committal noise and stared down at his Universities in Medieval England book like it had personally offended him. The afternoon went on as normal for a while, with some actual studying, as if nothing had changed. Maybe nothing had, really. Posner couldn’t help but wonder: would things have been different for him, had Dakin come to that realisation sooner? Probably not. And now it felt too late. For once, they had somehow become real friends. And Posner himself had stopped caring.
Except when he cared too much and disliked himself for it. Because of what Dakin had confessed to, Posner thought back on the first time Dakin had been to his room. He had never told Dakin of the pills and gin hastily hidden in his laundry when he heard the knock that night, but he supposed Dakin suspected something. Surprisingly, David was willing to share, a bit.
« I am failing my exams. »
« But you said… »
« I lied. I couldn’t face it. »
Dakin looked properly offended. « You thought we would judge, or make fun of you? »
Posner smiled at him. « That, I would have felt I deserved, but no. I feared you might offer pity or understanding - I didn’t think I deserved any of that. I didn’t want to be comforted. »
Dakin seemed to thought on it for a while. « So what are you going to do? Catch up, skip the year or quit forever? »
« I don’t know. »
« Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away... »
Surprised, Posner laughed. « A. E. Housman? Really? »
« He had a pretty hard time at university, but still became a great poet. And he was a bit of a nancy, » Dakin added mischievously, trying, quite badly, to imitate Timms’ voice.
« Do you think that’s why? »
« Do I think you’re flunking exams because you like dick? No, Pos, I don’t think so. If that was reason enough, no one here would ever graduate. »
« Why don’t you talk to Scripps more? » Dakin asked from what he’d claimed as his spot in Posner’s room, on the floor beside the desk, with a stolen pillow under his head and his feet against the radiator.
« What? »
« I probably shouldn’t say this, I think he told me in confidence, that he is half worried and half offended. He thought you’d be spending more time together. »
« I’m not not-talking to him, it’s just… I wouldn’t even be talking to you, if you didn’t come here to badger me all the time. »
« That’s what I told him. He didn’t listen. I think he’s offended and wants to be won back. »
« Won back? What is this, a medieval romance? »
« Quite possibly. Scripps being the maid and you the knight, of course. How comes you never played the man, in our endings? »
Posner was close to answering with a flippant “Do you need to ask?” or something of the sort, but he decided to actually think about it. « It was a break from expectations. »
Posner skipped a Tudor Economics lecture in favour of throwing up from how anxious he felt about missing the lecture - but the thought of being trapped in a crowded room was even worse. By the time he was finished dry-heaving in the library toilets, he had no energy for people, but he was also caught by a shaking and cruel terror of being completely alone. He ripped a page from a notebook, scribbled something for Scripps and dropped it into his mailbox on his way back to the relative safety of his own room.
The note read: “Sorry I’ve dropped off the map. Life is even duller here than in Sheffield, how is that possible? David.”
It wasn’t much at all, but that was all the effort he could muster just then.
A few days later, a note appeared underneath David’s door. He hadn’t heard steps at all, and found it worrying for a moment. Upon opening the folded piece of paper, he was relieved to see Scripps’ terrible, doctor-like handwriting. Like a dam had been broken, relief kept pouring and pouring, until he didn’t know where to put it anymore and he just stood like a right idiot, in the middle of his room, with the paper in his hand without even having read it, sobbing wetly and without tears.
When he calmed down enough to see through the blurry vision of unshed tears, he read: “It’s probably so dull because you don’t have the right company. Fancy sneaking into the Fellows’ room to sing with me? They have a real good piano. Don.”
It was so natural and kind, with no recrimination or demands of explanation. Posner wondered if Dakin had told him anything, but somehow he trusted him to have kept the content their conversations to himself.
« So you’re now hanging out with Dakin and ignoring little old me. Is that it? » were the first words out of Scripps’ mouth. He was trying to be funny, but fuming with jealousy without even realising it. So much for kindness and lack of demands, then. Posner steeled himself for a fight or rejection and wondered why he’d bothered coming out at all, but Scripps hugged him (something they never used to do, before) and led him towards the piano room.
« Seriously, though, what’s up with Dakin? Just punch me if you think I’m out of line, but I am worried for you. I love the guy, but this is quite a sudden change. »
« I stopped being in love with him a long time ago, if that ’s what worries you. It just took me a while to realise it. And it’s not sudden. He just… I guess he needed to be around someone he couldn’t fuck up with. I can relate. »
« How exactly are you someone he can’t fuck up with? »
Posner started singing. « He's a fool and don't I know it, but a fool can have his charms… »
« You just said-
« I know what I said. But nothing he did or said could have made me fall out of love with him, back when I was so smitten. In the same way, nothing he could say or do now could make me fall back in. You understand? »
« Not really, but then again I rarely understand either of you. »
« That’s why you like us both so much, isn’t it? »
« Have you told Scripps yet? »
« What about? »
« Your big revelation. You know he’ll never forgive me for hearing it first, and it gets worse every time I see him and know what he doesn’t know. »
« I don’t see how it’s any of his business. »
« You’re being deliberately dense. »
« It’s possible. You could tell him. I never asked you to keep it a secret. »
« I would never. You’re a fool, Dakin. »
« Also possible. »
It was right before the Christmas holidays. Everyone was done with university work, and the whole town was full of people almost sleepwalking through the day. One could smell laziness in the air.
In the music room with the good piano, Posner was sitting cross legged on a table, almost smiling. It was a good day. Scripps was balancing on the back legs of a chair, feet up on the same table where Pos was, scribbling away in his notebook.
They were enjoying mutual silence. It was often the case, right before or after playing and singing together.
Scripps looked up from his notebook to find that Posner was already looking at him. They didn’t smile, but they were quite pleased. Content. Cat-like peaceful.
Posner took out a book from his bag and started reading, while Scripps’ notes descended into random words and doodles.
Posner’s face scrunched up in distaste.
« What? »
« I don’t like Berryman. I don’t even know why I took American Lit in the first place, really. »
« Dickinson, probably. »
« Probably. »
« What do you want to do after this? »
« Do you mean for the holidays I don’t celebrate? Besides hoping that your mum will save me some of her pudding, of course. »
Scripps laughed in that lovely way of his, with his whole face, eyes and cheeks and all. « No, you doofus, I mean after university. »
Posner had been very careful about avoiding the subject, including in his own head. He did not want to know. He did not. A scrap of conversation with Dakin popped into his mind.
« Is it true your love affair with God is hitting a rocky stretch? »
« What’s this got to do with anything? »
« Sorry, I thought we were asking uncomfortable questions? »
« Ouch, Pos.» he put a hand on his heart.
Posner had the sudden instinct to reach out and smooth Scripps’ hair down. He did. It was a short touch, fingertips barely grazing the tips of his ears, at the end. « I never mean to hurt you, you know that, right? »
Scripps whispered: « Of course I do. »
From the door, Dakin’s voice interrupted the moment.
« Are we having a moment? »
Scripps got his feet off the table. « We? You’re not having anything. »
« I only came to say goodbye, I’m leaving early. » Dakin had a sudden thought and smiled « Can I get a farewell song? »
Posner smiled and then looked at Scripps, waiting for him to answer.
« Of course you can. » replied Scripps.
« What do you want? » Posner asked.
« Surprise me, David. »
Upon arriving in Sheffield, an unusually quiet Scripps and a somewhat subdued Posner discovered an interesting fact, in the shape of one Mrs. Dakin, who was passing in front of the station to go to the shops.
« Hello, boys. How are you? » she asked. So far, pretty normal. But then: « How’s Stuart? He said he was coming in a few days, still so much to study. Is he actually studying? » she asked, with a knowing look that much resembled her son’s.
They lied, of course, and said they’d left him still at the library. But they wondered.
« What is he not telling us, do you think? » Posner asked once they were out of earshot.
« Lately, quite a lot. » was Scripps’ somewhat bitter response.
Posner was unsure of how much he would be allowed to divulge, but he volunteered some information. « I think it’s about Irwin. »
« Irwin, still? Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. What do you think he’s doing? »
« I think maybe Dakin just needs time to think. Irwin is still here and Sheffield is small. They might meet. »
« How comes you don’t call him Stuart? »
« I never did, why should I start? »
« He calls you David, though. »
That jealousy again, undetected and undirected, and all the more wild and violent for that. Scripps seemed to think of himself as separate from the world, even from his own feelings, but Posner knew better.
« He asked, I said I’d rather not be called Pos. Not by him, anyway. »
« Does it bother when I do it, then? »
« No. »