A/N: Hallo there, everyone. This is something as incredibly cheesy as a Christmas one-shot. I wrote it as a Xmas greeting to The Falconer, and I'm posting it here as a Xmas greeting to anyone who happens to come across it. Bit of a long Christmas card, but there you have it.
On a purely practical note, this story contains hardly any descriptions of people in terms of looks and whatnot. That means you can imagine them any shape or form you want.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
It's funny how I still expect Christmas to be white, when this will be my 22nd Christmas and I can count the white ones on the fingers of one hand. It's also funny how I still expect Christmas to be about chestnuts roasting on the open fire, decking the halls with boughs of holly and building snowmen then pretending they're Parson Brown when I've never done any of those things. Even funnier is how I still expect Christmas to be a family holiday when, really, I should know by now that my family don't share that expectation and have never given me reason to think that they do.
For some reason alien even to me, I just presumed that I would travel from Leicester, where I'm currently living and studying, to Oxford, where my parents live, and spend Christmas there. This seemed so obvious to me that I didn't think to check with my parents to make sure they'd even be home. When I phoned my mother a week ago, it was merely to settle the details of my journey to Oxford.
"Well," my mother started. I could picture her by the phone in the hallway, leaning in the doorway between hallway and sitting room, looking oh, so chic, twirling the cord to the phone around her finger. "Your father and I were planning to go away over the holidays."
"What?" I don't know why I bothered to sound affronted, because I learnt long ago that any sort of emotional display is unlikely to register with her. "Where are you going?"
"Morocco. We were thinking, what with you being in Leicester and Luke in Barcelona, we might as well get away from the cold."
My brother Luke, two years younger than me, had left for Barcelona a couple of months previously. I had wrongly presumed that he would return to Britain over Christmas, but apparently he preferred Spain.
"I was planning to come down to Oxford over Christmas, though," I whined. I'm not sure what I expected her to do – it wasn't as if they either could or would un-book their trip to fucking Morocco so that they could stay in the lovely Oxford bleakness, spending a week staring at my morose appearance. However, the fact that I understood this and kind of sympathised with the idea just made the whole thing seem even more depressing.
"Oh, Matthew, honey," my mother said, and I could perfectly picture her detached smile.
"Right. Say hi to dad from me and send me a fucking postcard," I growled and hung up. For a brief moment I felt guilty about using the f word when talking to my mother, but knowing her, she didn't even hear it. She has an amazing knack of hearing only the things that fit into her neat, inoffensive universe.
When I told Gwen about it, she was close to tears. She hugged me and told me how much they would love to have me staying over Christmas. Gwen is my landlady and plays the role of surrogate mother with alarming credibility. She treats me more like a son than my biological mother ever did, though that isn't really saying much.
My living arrangements are a little unorthodox, I guess. When I was accepted to do Economics at the University of Leicester, I had already decided that I didn't want to live on campus. Generally, I wanted to avoid student accommodation to any cost. The thought of sharing a kitchen with kids who still haven't realised that garbage doesn't magically disappear and fridges don't magically dispose of rotten food was enough to make me shiver. I didn't want to share a bathroom with girls who spend hours in there or boys who leave their stubble all over the sink. I don't mind partying, but I want to go to the party, I don't want the party to come to me. Especially not if I'm cramming for an exam whilst the last days of Rome are replaying on the other side of a too thin door. I've done it in the past, and never – never! – again.
Needless to say, there were few places that corresponded to both my desires and my budget. Very few. In fact, two weeks before the start of term, I still had nowhere to stay. That's when my mother told me of a friend of a friend of a friend of hers who was looking for a tenant. It wouldn't be my own flat, but it would be a room in a house together with my mother's friend's friend's friend, who presumably wouldn't leave rotten food in the fridge, stubble all over the sink or have orgies outside my room. It didn't seem ideal, but with two weeks left to the start of term and no accommodation I was getting desperate, so I decided to see the room.
As it turned out, it wasn't so bad. The room was decently sized and neutrally decorated, located on the top floor of a large detached house in one of Leicester's more respectable areas. Not exactly around the corner from the university, but close enough to cycle or walk. And I would get my own bathroom. Tiny, but still. The couple who owned the house, Mr and Mrs Sunders, seemed like the typical middle-class and middle-aged pair. He's an accountant with a couple of years left to retirement, she's a housewife. My first impression of them was that they had somehow managed to get stuck in the 1960's. And I soon learnt that not only were they very unlikely to leave rotten food or stubble around, Mrs Sunders, Gwen, is something of a household saint. What can I say? It's a house of home baked goods and ironed sheets. It's perpetually spotless.
Overall, my landlords are very friendly and pleasant people. It took me about a second (and a cup of tea and Gwen's homemade scones) to decide to move in, and I was immediately accepted into house and family alike. Though definitely giving me the privacy I need, and never questioning any late nights or so, Gwen has a tendency of fussing over me. However, since I was never fussed over as a kid, the novelty hasn't worn off even after three months in the Sunders house.
So far, I've not once regretted moving in there. I don't see Mr. Sunders – Rupert, as he insists I call him – that often since he's usually at work during the days and I'm usually out when he gets back, but I see quite a lot of Gwen. They've a son as well, Steven, who I've not seen at all other than in a school photograph on the mantelpiece. In that photo, he looks about seven, and very much like the typical English schoolboy: dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin, comely features.
Steven's room is the one next to mine, and when I had been staying with Gwen and Rupert for a week or so, I decided to go snooping around in there. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything of any interest whatsoever. Everything was neatly stacked away, ordered in razor sharp lines and when I looked underneath his bed (where I figured his porn stash should be); all I saw was the clean floorboards. His room showed a certain military order, which is appropriate since he's in the army. This, of course, was the reason I'd yet to meet him. He had been posted in Afghanistan since July.
As it turns out, a significant part of Gwen's excitement over Christmas is down to Steven's return. I suspect that Gwen is one of those overly mothering types, who have to have someone to look after. That would be where I come in. My guess is that I'm the son equivalent of a nicotine patch. In order for Gwen not to go completely mad over Steven's absence, they bring in a stray student to replace him. Not quite the real thing, but will tide you over the worst moments of withdrawal.
I'm also suspecting that a significant part of Gwen's excitement about my staying in Leicester over Christmas is down to Steven's return. Since I told her that I won't be going home to Oxford, she's taken every opportunity presented to talk about how swell (her word, not mine) I'll get on with Steven. How much we'll have in common. How she's sure he'll love me. I don't really know what to make of it all. I mean, I'll happily admit that I'm not against the idea of spending Christmas with a soldier. A man in a uniform, and all that. But I find it difficult to whip up the enthusiasm that Gwen seems to think would be appropriate.
When Steven finally arrives, early morning on Christmas Eve, I'm still not dressed. In fact, I'm still lounging about in my room wearing nothing but my dressing gown. I throw a glance at myself in the mirror doors of my wardrobe and decide that there's no way in hell that I'm going to meet anyone for the first time looking like this. And certainly not someone who, during the last week, has morphed from a mummy's boy to a hard-muscled, sexually deprived army man with a leaning towards the love of which you can't ask, nor tell and either way, dare not speak its name. I've always had this innate inclination towards unrealistic daydreams.
I escape to my little en-suite bathroom and take a quick shower. I shave, because let's face it; I look a tad on the homeless side when I've not shaved for a few days. I brush my teeth and sort my hair out, and then I throw on a pair of jeans and a shirt. Once all this is out of the way, I venture downstairs to introduce myself to the returning soldier.
The first I see of Steven is his back. He's sitting by the kitchen table facing the opposite direction. He's wearing army greens and his hair is cut short, though not shaved (in my dreams, he had a buzz cut, as the Americans would call it). I hear him talking to Gwen about something, in a deep, rumbling voice. His voice isn't loud, only very deep. I can almost feel the vibrations.
"Ah, there he is now," Gwen says when she spots me.
Steven turns around, and spotting me, he stands up, holding out his hand. I shake hands with him, thinking about one of those cock-and-bull stories I heard in middle school about how the firmness of your grip corresponds to… Well, it doesn't matter.
"Alright there, mate," he says. He comes across as a little gruff, but he looks friendly nonetheless. Not quite as hot as in my pervy dreams, but certainly a handsome man.
"Alright," I reply. "Nice being home?"
"Hell yeah," he says and starts an eternity-long recount of his doings in Afghanistan.
Gwen nods for me to sit down and puts a full English breakfast in front of me. I eat in silence, listening to Steven's war stories. The more he talks, the more I understand two things. First, that I was definitely right about being the nicotine patch son, because Gwen treats Steven as if he's still ten (when in reality, he's my age). Second, that even though he's still a man in a uniform – and I'd still do him given half the chance – nothing is ever going to happen between us. Unless my straightdar is severely malfunctioning, this guy wouldn't even bend over for the soap in prison.
By lunchtime I'm tremendously bored, so I excuse myself, pretending that I have studying to do, and I withdraw to my room.
I spend the afternoon on my bed, reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and listening to a mixed CD that my brother Luke made for me before buggering off for Barcelona. It's mostly the kind of stuff I imagine he likes listening to when he's stoned, but despite this, or because of it, it's very mellow and nice. If I wanted to study like I said I would, I could always start revising for my national economics exam in early January, but I need to recharge my batteries, as people are wont to say. Gwen and Rupert are having my least favourite friends of theirs around for dinner tonight. The Cousins. As in, the Cousins family. As in, their last name is Cousins.
Normally, that name is deeply intertwined with loathing and fear, but today, it sort of makes me want to laugh. The thing is, that it's Christmas Eve and Gwen and Rupert are having the Cousins over. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and Gwen and Rupert are having the cousins over. That's cousins as in they're Steven's cousins. The funny part about it is that even though I've heard "the Cousins" and "the cousins" being said a billion times in the past few days, no one seems to see why it's funny.
When Gwen told me that the cousins were coming around for Christmas Day, I had a brief moment of panic, before she cleared up the situation. For some mysterious reason, it seems that Gwen and Rupert always know which set of cousins the other one is talking about and they show very little understanding of why it's confusing me. In the past few days, I've been trying to introduce the terms majuscule-cousins and miniscule-cousins to tell them apart, but to no avail.
The Cousins aren't really evil, I'm sure. It's just that they're so hysterical. They have a daughter in her early teens who treats me as if we're engaged to be married. I walked past her school once at the same time as the students were let out, and she virtually jumped me. It took me half an hour to explain to a very aggressive mother to one of the other students that I wasn't her boyfriend, not really. If this was the only problem I guess I wouldn't mind them so much, but Mrs Cousins have a tendency of also treating me like we're engaged to be married, up to the point of grabbing my buttocks in the kitchen once when she thought Mr Cousins couldn't see her. Which he could. Then hell broke out.
This extreme situation have led to the for me quite extreme action of going out on my own. Thing is, so far I've managed to make no friends who are actually from Leicester thus still here over Christmas. Everyone I know has returned to their respective hometowns. But I need to get out, so I've no choice. And however socially awkward I might feel on my own in a bar, I'll be a helluva lot happier there than with the majuscule-cousins, that's for sure. I only have to survive dinner, and then I'm out.
To my own immense surprise, I do survive dinner with the majuscules. Just about. It's not awful, just uncomfortable. Still, when I put on my jacket and get out of the house, it's as if a weight has been lifted. I walk slowly through the mild early night, from the respectable area where Gwen and Rupert live to the city centre. I know where I'm going. Same place I always go, though this will be the first time I'm there on my own. The club is described as "gay friendly," but in reality, it's as gay as it gets.
It takes me 20 minutes or so to get there, and when I've handed in my jacket and, more importantly, ordered my first drink, it doesn't feel too weird to be there alone. Most people seem to be on the prowl anyway, which normally is quite a solitary activity. I blend in pretty well. I finish my drink quickly, feeling like a bit of an alky. But hey, what the hell, it's Christmas. What better way to celebrate the birth of our saviour than to get thoroughly pissed? With that thought, I decide to get another drink.
I lean over the bar, shouting my order at the bartender. It takes him no time to produce a mojito for me. I take it and sip happily at it. Yeah, this is what I need to get back to normal. I walk up to a pillar by the edge of the dance floor, lean against it and take a few deep breaths. Suddenly, I hear a voice and feel a pair of lips almost, almost touching my ear.
"Hullo there!" The voice says excitedly. I turn towards it, and come face to face with Jason Arrowsmith.
When I first arrived at Leicester Uni in September, I signed up for an evening-class in Latin. Unlike everyone else in that class, I didn't do it as part of my degree – I did it because I was labouring under the misconception that I would enjoy it. In reality, it was a most masochistic pursuit. I went there thrice before I dropped out. But for three Wednesday evenings in a row, I formed an odd sort of bond with the class wunderkind. Jason Arrowsmith seemed to have a natural affinity for the language, and from the very start, I spent more time focusing on the way his face would light up and his eyes sparkle when he realised something, than I did learning what I was supposed to learn. Thus my eventual dropping-out.
Jason and I were the groups' most avid coffee drinkers. We'd get a ten-minute break in the middle of class, and whereas most other students went for a smoke, Jason and I went for a coffee. I like to think that we had an understanding of sorts, but I don't know whether that's reality or wishful thinking. I mean, if there was an understanding there, it somehow seems I should've understood that he's gay. Well, either way, that was ages ago, so I'm surprised he even remembers me.
"Hi," I reply, lifting my drink in a "cheers" sort of movement.
"I had no idea you batted for this side," he says, smiling like he's either just had a religious epiphany or like he's the Devil himself. "Because you do, right? You're not just a tourist?"
"No, no," I assure him, "I'm a permanent resident."
"Nice…" He gives me another dubious saint-or-Devil smile, making me take another sip from my drink just to put my perverted thoughts on hold. For the blink of an eye, it would seem that I've actually managed to stop myself wondering what Jason looks like naked, what he likes to do in bed, if he's a top or a bottom.
But then he leans in close. This time his lips are definitely touching my ear as he asks if he can have the next dance.
It's such a cheesy line, so old-fashionably chivalrous, that it makes me laugh and nod. He grabs me by the arm, dragging me through the sea of bodies until we're somewhere in the epicentre of it all. It seems a little calmer here than on the fringes, so I guess it's true what they say about the eye of the storm. Jason holds his drink in his right hand, but puts his left to my hip, pulling us close. I move against him, his thigh lodged softly between mine. He looks into my eyes, and I realise how beautiful he really is. Even the green lights pulsating against his skin seem to work to his advantage. He moves in a little closer still. Wraps his left arm around my waist, his hand resting over my bottom for a moment, before sneaking down the back pocket of my jeans.
This close to him, I can smell the alcohol on his breath, the products in his hair, the clean sweat of his neck, the after-shave that is so reminiscent of the one I use that I'm willing to bet it's the same. He's hot in my arms, radiating, blazing. I can feel a blush creeping up from underneath my collar towards my cheeks, and it has everything to do with Jason's body close to mine, and nothing to do with the heat of the dance floor. He drinks from his glass of beer, and as I follow it to his lips, I notice that he's blushing as well, he's flushed and glowing.
Once he's finished his drink, and we've been dancing for however long, he leans forward towards me, putting his lips to my ear again, and says,
He pulls back, smiling at me. I must look as baffled as I feel, because he leans close again.
"Your drink," he specifies. "Finish it so we can leave."
He leans back again, his arm still around my waist, as if he's hanging off me.
"Where are we going?" I ask stupidly.
"Well…" He looks around, as if he's about to let me in on a secret. "I figured either my place or yours."
I laugh at him again. I can't help it; he makes it bubble up inside of me. I pull him to me, close, close, and now it's my lips against him. During the moment of impact before I've started talking, when my open mouth is just softly brushing against the delicate lobe of his ear, he holds his breath.
"I share," I tell him. He doesn't need to know the exact nature of my accommodation right now. Maybe later, God willing.
He turns his face so that we're almost cheek-to-cheek; mine ridded off three days growth only a few hours ago; his covered in short, soft, gold brown stubble.
"My place, then," he says. The hand still in my back pocket gives me a squeeze, and for a moment, I think how stupid it is that we didn't do this three months ago.
I only nod my consent, meeting his smile. When we walk towards the wardrobe, I drop a couple of steps behind him. Not to check him out, because I know since my brief career in Latin class that he's got shoulders (broad), back (v-shaped) and arse (…I'm sure there are better ways to describe it, but all I can think right now is "tight") that poets should write sonnets about. I just drop behind him to admire it all.
Jason and I don't say a word to each other as we wait for our jackets. Jason gets his first and it's one of those functional but not very fashionable numbers. Down, multiple pockets, bright red. It's charming, but it does nothing for his figure. It kind of makes him look like the Michelin man. He gets a stripy scarf from one of the pockets, wrapping it casually around his neck. That's all it takes to put him right back into the cute and intelligent category. A haphazard scarf and a Michelin man jacket.
I get my coat shortly after, and then we're out the door. In the short time I've been in there, the mild evening has transformed to cold, crisp night. The street is covered in frost, and gazing up, through the film of light pollution, I can sense a spray of stars, and in the centre of it all, the full moon. For a weak moment, I can almost believe that this is a night of magic. The night of Santa's improbable journey across the earth to deliver gifts to nice children. I can even imagine three camel-mounted magi braving the desert and its dangers to make it to a small Judean town in time to pay their respect to a newborn Jewish boy in a manger.
"Penny for your thoughts," Jason says, bringing my attention back to the here and now.
"Just thinking about Santa," I smile.
"Worried you've been naughty?" He stands right in front of me, then turns his back to press it against my chest. I rise to the bait and wrap my arms around him. His puffy jacket makes a deflated noise as I press the air out of it to get my arms around him.
"Oh, I know I've been," I say, wishing his damn jacket wasn't stopping me from kissing his neck.
"Ah…" He says playfully. "What's that then? Staying up past your bedtime?"
It probably says a lot about my place in the Sunders household that the mentioning of anything being past my bedtime makes me think that I should let them know that I'm spending the night somewhere else. I know Jason noticed a reaction in me, and he turns around to face me.
"Seriously?" He asks.
"No, God, no…!" I try desperately. "It's nothing like that." I get my mobile phone from my pocket to check whether it would be too late to phone Gwen. "I'm staying with an older couple; I just don't want them to worry about me. I know it sounds insane, I mean, I don't normally phone them, it's just that I'm supposed to spend Christmas with them and whatnot." I'm embarrassed, and it makes me babble.
"It's cool, Matt," Jason says with a crooked grin. If he knew me any better, he'd be taking the piss beyond mercy; I know it. He knows it.
As it turns out, it's only twenty to eleven, so with a diffuse "just give me a second" type of gesture at Jason, I dial the Sunders' home.
"Hallo?" I hear the voice at the other end. It's Gwen, sounding a little tipsy and a little worried.
"Hiya, it's me," I say.
"Oh, Matthew! We were wondering where you went to!"
Jason walks up to me again, and sneaks his winter-cold hands underneath my shirt. I feel them against my warm skin, I feel the goose bumps forming from the cold of them, and I squirm. I've always been ticklish. Jason notices this, and looks excited about learning something new about me - but instead of letting me go, he laughs. A soundless, beautiful laugh.
"I've been to the pub with a couple of mates," I say, wriggling like a worm underneath Jason's soft hands. "I was just phoning to let you know that I'll be sleeping somewhere else tonight."
Gwen makes a little "oh" noise that makes me add, "at a mate's house," so that she won't think I'll be up to no good.
"Oh!" She says again, sounding a little relieved (though that might just be my imagination). "Well, we'll have Christmas dinner by four tomorrow, love, and the cousins will arrive an hour before then. Will you be home for then?"
"I'll be home well before then," I tell her.
"Good boy," she says, sounding very mother hen-ish. "Thank you for letting us know. Have a nice night now, dear."
"I will. And you, ok?"
"See you tomorrow, Matthew."
"See you. Good night."
I disconnect the call and slide the mobile back into my pocket.
"Are you allowed to stay out now?" Jason asks, still teasing the skin on my midriff with feather light touches.
"If I behave myself tomorrow and don't crease my shirt before the guests arrive," I say, catching his wrists in my hands, pulling them out from underneath my shirt. I guess I should let him go, but I can't really bring myself to pull away. "So where do you live then?" I ask.
"Not too far away. We could get a taxi though, if you're impatient," Jason says. He doesn't even struggle against my grip, he just surrenders to it and I'm loving it.
"Oh, I can wait," I say, winking at him. He laughs again. "Let's walk."
I release his hands, and he leads the way down the street, out of the city centre, southwards. He's humming some Christmas Carol that I just about recognise, looking at me every now and then. I put my hand on his shoulder, because I'm a little more impatient than I like to let on. He gets even closer to me, and I begin to regret suggesting we walk with an intensity that is almost overbearing.
Stopping, I put both arms around him, pulling him as close as his stupid jacket will allow, and I kiss him.
It's probably a stupid thing to do, for so many reasons. Not least because we're not exactly the only people walking back from the pub, and we're currently in an area notorious for muggings and beatings. I know this, yet that seems less important than his lips against mine. Jason seems surprised at first, but shortly his arms have sneaked underneath my open jacket, wrapping around my waist, and his mouth opens up to mine. His tongue makes me feel like I'm going to burst. Arousal hits me with a force that makes me all but tremble. This is passion, desperation, pressure and submission all wrapped into one and it's delightful.
His hands holds my body in place against his; my chest against his chest, our legs strangely tangled, my groin against his, and it's only immense willpower that stops me from rubbing against him. Even though I don't want to, I break free.
"How much further?" I ask.
"Ten minutes," he says feebly, his lips a little shiny with our saliva. He licks them carefully. I watch and swallow.
"If we walk really fast?" I probably meant it to be humorous, I don't even know anymore, but I don't laugh or smile. Neither does he.
"Ok, let's go."
He gives me a short kiss with cold, closed lips, and pulls away with an exhale of such hopeless frustration it makes me want to wrestle him to the ground and devour him. When I look down at him, I can clearly see the outline of his erection through his pale blue jeans. It makes me smile; I can't help it. He smiles back and shrugs, before taking me by the hand and dragging me towards his home.
When we get there, to the top floor flat where he lives, I'm struck by how it looks just like it…should. Jason Arrowsmith should live in a place like this, somehow. He locks the door and kicks off his shoes, he removes scarf and jacket, hanging them on a hook in the hallway. I do likewise. Then he walks into the room, turning on a floor lamp next to the bookshelf. It casts a warm, soft glow over the room.
It's a small flat, tiny even. A single bed against the far wall, a nightstand next to it, laden with books. There's a desk underneath a small window, and it's full of course literature and papers, of pens and writing pads. On top of a writing pad full of scribbled notes is a pair of reading glasses. I don't remember him wearing reading glasses in Latin class, but I can immediately picture him wearing them now. I imagine him by his desk, glasses at the tip of his nose, dressed in a pair of brown corduroy trousers (like a pair I see thrown over a hamper in a dark corner of the room) and a stripy shirt, a pencil in his hand, making notes whilst flipping through old, dusty books. God… I've no idea when I developed this intelligence fetish I seem to have. Probably the moment I heard Jason conjugate facere like he was born to do it.
There is a tiny kitchenette next to the small hallway, a bathroom opposite the window, and that's the full extent of the flat. But the books… There are books everywhere. Towers of books. There's a Windsor style chair next to the hamper, identical to the one by his desk, stacked with books. The bookshelf is overflowing. The windowsill is stacked with paperbacks. Looking out the window, I see the stars. Plenty of them. Night of magic, indeed.
"Six minutes," Jason says, looking at his wristwatch.
"That took us six minutes. Guess we were walking really fast."
Jason is getting closer to me, slow, slower, and looks at me intently. I take his head in my hands, kissing him. His lips aren't even cold anymore; they're just soft, soft like silk or rice paper. He moves me towards the bed, still unmade, and before I know it, we're there. I sit down on it, whilst Jason keeps standing in front of me. His hands tangle in my hair as I lift his shirt to kiss his bellybutton. Back in September, I saw him in a t-shirt once. That's the most of his naked body I've ever seen. Until now.
I unbutton the bottom three buttons of his shirt, and push the fabric aside, like the curtain of a theatre. There's a fine line of hair starting right underneath his bellybutton, drawing my eyes south until the line disappears down the waistline of his jeans. The only thing marring his skin is a pale appendix scar, and I'm not even sure if it's marring or if it just adds to his appeal. I trail it with my tongue, noticing the different texture of the scar compared to the surrounding skin.
I could get caught up with it, I suppose, and I probably would've, but the rustle of fabric as Jason lets his shirt fall from his shoulders to the floor wakes me from my hypnosis. I stop kissing and licking, and instead I grab his brown leather belt, as if I'm launching an assault upon it. I want to, need to, get him naked. I'm swift now that I have a clear goal. His belt opens with a little metallic clink, and I easily rip the buttons open in his well-worn jeans. Once open, they slide down his shapely thighs, all soft skin, soft hair and hard muscle. Now the black boxer-briefs. The final frontier, if you will. I hook my fingers in the elastic band, look up to meet his lust-hazy eyes and half-parted lips, then I pull them down.
He's beautiful. Finally, I have Jason Arrowsmith naked, and he's absolutely, stunningly, beautiful. He's all even, smooth features; every detail of his body, even the appendix scar, seem to pull together to create perfection.
I had designs on taking him in my mouth, but he puts a halt to that idea by kissing me and gently guiding me to my back in his bed. He follows me down, straddling me, roaming hands underneath my shirt.
"Get naked," he says. I'm not sure if it's a wish or command, but that makes no difference whatsoever.
I unbutton the top two buttons, then raise my upper body and pull the shirt over my head. So far it's fine, but the cuffs get stuck, of course. I tug at them none-too-gently until the button surrenders and I can pull it off me. Jason moves off me to give me room to remove my jeans. It takes me a second. When our clothes are only a neglected pile of textile on his floor, Jason grabs the duvet and pulls it over us. He mumbles something about the "bloody cold", and I agree. The heater hasn't warmed up yet.
But now he's next to me, around me, on me, underneath me, kissing me passionately. His body is warm and hard against mine; it's novel and unusual, but delicious.
"Jason…?" I ask, but he's busy kissing my neck. "Jason?" He looks up. "How do you want to do this?"
"Preferably, I want you to do the doing," he says, smiling brilliantly at his cheesy pun.
I just smile and bring his lips back up to mine, thinking "score!" He's perfect. Almost so perfect I would've bottomed for him if that's what he would've wanted, and that is saying a lot coming from me. I hold Jason in my arms, warm and cosy underneath the duvet, as he reaches for a drawer in his bedside table. When I see that he has books in the drawer as well, I laugh. Books, lube, condoms and – unexpectedly – matches. I wonder what he uses the matches for.
He hands me a Durex, and I rip it open quickly, dropping the foil on a copy of On the Road on his bedside table. As I roll it down myself, the scent of rubber mingles with the scent of clean sheets. Jason applies a generous amount of lube on me, and then leans to the side to put away the bottle. I seize the moment and embrace him from behind. It's a single bed, so both of us on our sides seem like the logical position.
"This ok?" I ask, before I do anything.
"More than ok," he replies, voice trembling just enough to bring my arousal up yet another notch.
I slide in easily, my left hand on his chest and my right on his lower abdomen. His erection is nudging the back of my right hand, so I move it down a little, taking him in my hand. He makes the most amazing sounds I've ever heard from anyone. He doesn't scream or even moan, he mewls. I kiss the nape of his neck, his hairline, his left shoulder, the skin right beneath his ear. Before long, I'm just pressing my lips against his skin, gasping as the sensations get overwhelming. His hand find mine around him, guiding my motions, a steady up-and-down that I'm too far gone to manage on my own.
I thrust into him, so close to climax now. The speed of his hand increases, the noises he makes sound more desperate now. He's shuddering in my arms; I feel his muscles clenching and I hear the occasional hitch of his breathing.
"Jason…" I say, quietly, hotly.
He sounds like he wants to reply something, but it just comes out as unintelligible noises so hot that they almost knock the air out of me. His free hand throws aside the covers, and we roll halfway around, so that we're almost on our backs. We're still moving frantically; it's as if his weight on me just added the last crucial pressure. I feel him tense against me; he cries out, a long, amazing, almost guttural 'ah' that goes straight to my groin, and he ejaculates over his chest and stomach. I've never seen anything so hot. I quickly wipe off his semen with my hand, then turn back so that we're on our sides again, and I thrust furiously, because I'm so, so close. I hold on to Jason as hard as I can, and then I come. My vision blacks out for a blissful moment, fuses burning in my head and soul, and I'm sure I'm making some sort of noise, but God knows what and who the hell cares anyway?
When I return to this earth and this life, Jason has pulled the duvet back over us. I pull out of him, carefully remove the condom, tie it up and drop it on top of the foil wrapper, then roll to my back. Jason throws his right arm over my chest and right leg over my legs and puts his head on my arm. I hold him again, but much gentler this time.
"Oh my God," he says, and when I look down at his face I see the most sated smile I've ever seen.
"I know," I agree.
"I'm so glad you were allowed to stay out this late," he says, giggling. "Though, who knows, you might end up on Santa's naughty list."
"If I do, it was bloody well worth it," I sigh happily.
"Seems like an odd question somehow," he starts, "but you'll stay the night, right?"
"God, yes," I say. "I'm in no condition to get anywhere. I'd get lost."
"Ah. Well, we wouldn't want you missing over Christmas."
A while later, he gets up to turn off the floor lamp and fetch us a couple of glasses of water. When he returns, he snuggles up against me as if it's the most natural thing in the world.
Most days, waking up is a brusque transition. From deep sleep to startled confusion in the span of a few beeps from my alarm clock. Today, it's a mellow process. It's like I'm taking gentle baby steps towards consciousness. I'm pretty sure Jason has stayed in my arms all night. I woke up once, unused to the weight of his head on my arm, and before I went back to sleep, I was listening to his slow breathing and looking down at his serene face. He's as beautiful asleep as he is awake.
There was no alarm clock this morning, no sudden feeling of panicked hurry. Jason stirs in my arms, that's the first sign that night is over. His hand travels from my hip, leisurely up my waist, ribcage, shoulder, then down to my chest. I'm still only just about awake, somewhere in sleep's no man's land. I feel his legs move a little, and I turn towards him, hugging him to me. His hard cock brushes against mine, and I let out a pleasured sigh.
A little more alert, I move against him a little more insistently. He rolls us over, so that I'm on my back and he's on top of me. I brush away his hair from his face as he rubs down against me. I kiss his forehead and his closed eyes. I kiss the bridge of his nose, and then stop. I want him to look at me, and when the kisses cease, he does just that. I see his brown eyes up close, so close that I see speckles of green in them that I've not noticed before. I smile at him, he smiles back. I raise my pelvis against his, and his smile vanishes, replaced by a surprised look accompanying his sharp intake of breath. I have the time to think, "Oh God, I think I love him," before he jolts my existence by sneaking a hand between our bodies, catching us both in a firm grip.
I close my eyes again, thrusting into his hand and against him. I notice, through a haze of comfort and arousal, that I can tell how close he is to climax just by listening to him. His initial panting, those adorable mewling noises, the gasps as he's getting close. I beat him to it, but not by long. I shudder, and suddenly it's hot, wet and sticky between us, but it's still amazing. Jason rests his forehead against mine, tenses for a moment, and things turn hotter, wetter and stickier still.
"Good morning," I say weakly.
"Good morning," he replies on a whisper. "And Merry Christmas."
"Oh yeah," I say with a laugh. "Christmas morning… Somehow I managed to forget."
"I don't blame you," he says, smiling, and lifts himself up a little. He looks down at the mess between us and almost, just almost, looks a little embarrassed. "Err, I'll get a tissue. Hold on."
The heater has kicked into action during the night, and the tiny flat is comfortably heated. I watch Jason as he walks over to the kitchenette. He turns a corner to where I can't see him, but I can hear him tear off a bit of paper. I hear a hushed rustling sort of sound as he presumably wipes his own stomach, then running water, then another tear of paper. He walks back into the room and he looks just as ruffled as I would've hoped that he'd look. His brown hair is all over the place, and he has that straight-out-of-bed look that I love.
"So how about a shower and then breakfast?" He asks, handing me the kitchen towel.
"Sounds brilliant," I say, wiping my stomach and chest as carefully as seems appropriate when I'm just about to shower anyway.
We shower together, standing in his bath. Showering with someone will never be practical, and showering with someone you fancy the socks off will always be time-consuming. I wash him, very thoroughly indeed; he does the same to me. I shampoo his hair, and I can't get enough of the way the strands of silky wet hair slides through my fingers. After a while, the bathroom is like a steam room, so he turns off the water and we step out.
We dry off with his fluffy white towels, and I get back into the clothes I wore yesterday, save a pair of boxer-briefs I borrow from Jason. Either he doesn't care about getting them back, or we're going to meet again, and I prefer the last alternative. Jason pulls on a pair of dark brown corduroy trousers and a white shirt, immediately rolling up the sleeves. He has the whole studious look down to perfection.
"Could you, uhm, put on your glasses for me?" I ask, feeling a little worried and embarrassed that he'll realise that it would be a wet dream come true for me.
Jason stops what he's doing, looking at me with an amused smile.
"Why? I only ever wear those when I read," he says.
"Just want to see you wear them, is all," I say, shrugging.
He chuckles, but complies. And he is a dream in those glasses. I can't even bring myself to smile about it, I just look at him helplessly as I'm propelling back to fully-fledged arousal.
"You're such an oddball, Matt," he says, laughing.
"Sorry," I say sheepishly. "You're just so hot like that. You look like your brain is full of complicated theories, but we all know that beneath that well-behaved surface—"
"I'm a complete sex fiend?"
He laughs and kisses me. When he pulls away, I make a pathetic little noise of loss.
"Sorry, I can only satisfy one need at the time," he says, moving towards the kitchenette, "and right now, that need is the need for breakfast. Any funny eating habits I should know about?"
"I like my toast with a little frog on the side?" He gives me a pointed look, but I see the smile tugging at his beautiful, beautiful lips. "Fine. None. I'll eat anything."
He puts on a CD with Christmas Carols before he goes to the kitchenette. I stand leaning against the kitchenette doorway, watching him fry bacon and eggs, make toast and (God bless him!) coffee. Once everything is done, I help him carry it to a tiny little table in the room. He moves the towers of books away from one of the chairs, and takes the other one from its place by his desk and put them by the table. His flat is surprisingly functional, considering how it's both very small and overflowing with books.
We make casual conversation whilst we eat; I ask him what he's doing apart from taking evening-classes in Latin (he's doing his final year of an Ancient History degree), I ask him how old he is (21), where he's from (he's "native Leicester," he says, and I guess I should've figured that one out since he's here over Christmas… Then again, I'm from Oxford and I'm stuck in Leicester over Christmas).
"So, uh, anyway, how would you feel about hooking up again tonight?" He asks when we've finished eating and are drinking our coffee. "Once I've fulfilled my family duties and you've fulfilled your, uh…landlord duties."
"I'd love to," I say. I try to hold back the smile, since I'm still pretending that I have a sulky, hard-to-get, silent type image to protect, but I fail. I beam at him like a child at Christmas. Ha-ha.
"Brilliant!" He beams back at me. "So… I don't know, eight, nine? You think you'll be done by then?"
"I'm sure I will," I reply. "If I'm not, I'll leave anyway."
I leave Jason's place by one. Well, I try to leave. He walks me to the door, and when I'm standing there with my hand on the doorknob, he kisses me. I let it get to me, let it pull me in and stop me from doing anything useful at all.
"I really need to get going," I mumble against his lips, but I'm not convincing anyone.
"So go then," he says, hand sneaking down to my thigh. I'm bursting.
I lean back against the front door, forcing myself to pull away from his lips. He gives me that saint/Devil smile (emphasis on Devil) I recognise from last night. He lets his hand slide up the inside of my thigh until he gently cups me. My eyes roll back in my head, and I get that hollow, burning hot yet freezing cold feeling of absolute horniness. I feel Jason getting closer to me, and I realise too late that he's opening the front door and nearly fall out.
"See you tonight, lover boy," he says, grinning.
"Yeah…" I mutter. "See you."
The door closes to his flat and I stand outside it for a few moments, composing myself. Buttoning my coat, I stalk down the stairs and get out. It's still cold like it was last night, colder than it has been for many weeks. I look around, trying to assess my general whereabouts. I know I'm in the vicinity of Victoria Park, but for someone who's as new to this city as I am, that's not enough information. Seeing a taxi driving down the street, I decide that if I'm ever going to get back to the Sunders in time for Christmas dinner, I'll bloody well better get it.
My taxi driver is a middle-aged Sikh bloke with a huge turban, who spends the 15-minute journey back to the Sunders talking to me about Christmas traditions and seeming to feel very sorry for me when I tell him how my parents abandoned me to go to Morocco. I tell him that it turned out to be a pretty good thing after all, though I don't tell him about Jason. Obviously not. There's a limit to how much information one wants to share with taxi drivers – even if my budding affaire with Jason makes me want to shout from the rooftops about how beautiful he is.
When I walk through the doors of the Sunders' house, the smell of Christmas dinner hits me. It smells absolutely gorgeous. I find Gwen in the kitchen, looking flushed and stressed as she stirs a myriad of pots and pans.
"Can I help you?" I ask, spotting Rupert and Steven lounging in front of the television, drinking beer.
"Oh, no, that's fine, dear, thank you," she replies. She's the perfect household martyr.
I notice both Rupert and Steven wearing suits, so having deemed myself useless downstairs I go up to my room to change out of yesterday's clothes.
I spend a couple of hours drinking beer with Rupert and Steven and feeling very guilty indeed that Gwen has to slave away in the kitchen without anyone even lifting a finger to help her. I'm sure that's the way she prefers it, but it makes me uneasy nonetheless. Five past three, the doorbell rings.
"Oh, golly! The cousins!" Gwen sings from the kitchen.
"Don't worry, mum, I'll get it," Steven calls back, and with a sigh that seems to say that he's the one pulling the weight around the Sunders house today, he gets up, smoothes out imaginary creases from his suit and goes to open the front door.
I hear the door open, and then it's like an explosion of sound. The voice of a young girl, shouting "Merry Christmaaaaaas" at the top of her lungs, then the elephant-like thumps of her feet as she runs around in the house. I hear the voice of the girl's mother telling her to "calm the bleeding hell down", and I hear general pleasantries being exchanged.
"Ah. Well. Time for introductions, then," Rupert says apologetically to me. Then adds with his usual dry voice, "You've already heard Jessica. Thankfully, she's the only child. Though she makes enough noise for an entire kennel."
"A kennel of children?" I ask, cracking up.
"Yes," Rupert replies in his uniquely matter-of-fact way.
Then a tall, handsome woman appears in the sitting room, and Rupert introduces her to me as his sister. I would've never guessed in a million years. They look nothing alike. Next, I'm introduced to the sister's husband, who looks a little bit like Einstein. Well, he has the unruly hair and moustache like Einstein anyway.
"Where are your offspring?" Rupert asks the woman. "Lost them already?"
"Oh, they're here somewhere," she says, moving a little out of the way. "Jessica! Come here!"
A girl of maybe ten or so appears, wearing an adorable red satin ballerina dress. Loud and annoying as she's already managed to prove herself, she shakes hands with me when her mother introduces us.
"I have a couple of sons as well," Rupert's sister says to me in a tone of voice that makes me think that she's probably as likely as Rupert to talk about a 'kennel of children'. "Where are—Ah! Here."
A boy of about 17, dressed impeccably in a dark grey suit, walks up to us. He's introduced as Jacob, and gives me a bored look before slumping down next to his father in the sofa. Then Steven comes walking back from the hallway, engaged in conversation with…
…wait a minute?!
That's Jason! What the hell?!
"And this is my oldest one," Rupert's sister says, and the look on Jason's face when he sees me is priceless. I've never seen anyone look so absolutely confused. "Jason, this is Gwen and Rupert's tenant, Matthew."
Jason gives me a bright smile, taking my outstretched hand and says, "Nice to meet you".
"And you," I stutter, trying so, so hard not to think of that same hand between our naked, sleepy bodies just a few hours ago.
Introductions done, we all sit down. Rupert gets drinks for everyone. Steven and Jason sit next to each other in the sofa and continue to talk, whilst I steal glances of Jason whenever I think I can get away with it. He's shaved since this morning; his chin is perfectly smooth. It makes him look different. He looks sort of neat. I internally contrast the image of him now with how he looked when he got out of bed this morning, his tousled hair and tired eyes. Oh God…
"Nah, just another term," I hear him tell Steven when I zone back in. "But then I'll probably stay on. Can't really see myself doing anything else, to be honest."
I can't see him doing anything else either. He's one of those born academics. He'll be a scatter-brained professor one day, I'm sure. I cross my legs, lean back in the comfortable chair and sip my drink in silence. I don't particularly want to talk right now. Instead, I start wondering whether he's out. The fact that he pretended like this was the first time he met me makes me think that he's not. Or maybe he's trying to protect me, who knows? Do I need protection? I don't know. I've not told Gwen and Rupert that I'm gay yet, but on the other hand, I've not told them I'm straight either.
Dinner is an uncomfortable affair, although I'm sure I'm the only one who thinks so. Everyone else seem happy enough, and Jason certainly looks like he's enjoying himself. When he asks me if I want to pull my cracker with him, I can virtually see the flames of hell flaring in his eyes. Thankfully, the majority of the company are steadily working towards a state of being too tipsy to notice any innuendos from Jason or blushes from me.
Once we're all thoroughly fed, and dinner's finally, finally over, I find myself alone with him, at last. I've helped Gwen clear the table, and standing in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher, I feel a pair of arms circling my waist.
"I can't believe," Jason says, making me smile by his mere presence, "that you're the tenant. I've heard about you, you know."
"Oh?" I ask, a little nonplussed.
"Oh, yes. The surrogate son…" He lets go of me and slides up to stand with his back against the counter. He grabs a stick of parsnip from a dish and nibbles at it. "Now that I know you live with Aunt Gwen, it makes so much sense to me that you would make that phone call last night."
We both laugh. I knew it would come back to bite me in the arse eventually. I finish putting the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, then turn to him. He's still eating leftover parsnips.
"Do they know about you?" I ask him quietly.
"Well, that you're gay, I guess. Or bi. Or whatever you are."
"Gay," he says, grinning. "Sure they do. Bloody hell, I'm 21, Matt… How long can you stay in the closet?"
"Some people never leave it," I say, sounding more wistful than I intended.
"Ah," he says shortly, his smile disappearing.
"No, not me! I'm just saying that it's not an unreasonable question. I was just wondering why you pretended like you'd never seen me before."
"What was I suppose to say," he laughs. "Oh, right, yes, Matthew! Yeah, I know him; he spent last night shagging my brains out."
"Oh. My. God."
Jason and I both freeze at the punctuated sentence, looking at the source of the sound. Jessica is standing in the doorway, looking between Jason and me. I don't know whether she understands the full extent of what she overheard Jason say, but it's clear beyond any doubt that she understands the potential of it. The look on her face is absolutely – absolutely – diabolical. Jason clearly recognises that something needs to be done, so he takes a step towards her.
"Muuum!" She cries, running away from Jason's outstretched hands.
I hear him mutter "fuck", running after his sister, and probably arriving in the sitting room at the same time as Jessica makes her announcement to everyone gathered;
"Mum! Jase says Matthew shagged his brains out."
I cover my eyes and take a few deep breaths to force down the nausea. I'm going to have to move away. Like, right now. As soon as I'm sure I can open my eyes without vomiting, I'll go to my room and start packing my things. This is what I imagine being in the centre of a nuclear explosion would be like. The bomb hits the ground, there is a moment of absolute silence, and then hell breaks out.
Right now, I'm trapped in the moment of silence. And awful, sickening, horrible moment of absolute stillness and silence.
Then hell breaks out in the form of howling laughter from the sitting room. I dare to open my eyes and sneak close enough to the sitting room that I can see some of those gathered: Steven, Jessica, Jason (looking more embarrassed than I've ever seen anyone), Gwen and Rupert's sister.
"So you've met Matthew before, have you?" Steven laughs.
"Well, I—" Jason starts.
"Jason and Matthew sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!" Jessica chips in, grin on her face like she's saved the evening or something.
"Christ…" Jason mutters.
"Well, darling, the other way to have done it would've been to tell us straight away," Jason's mother – Rupert's sister – says. "Not least because it would've saved your sister using words like that."
"Sorry," Jason says sheepishly. "So, uhm, since the cat is out of the old bag, do you guys mind if Matt and I take off?"
"Not at all. You kids go right ahead," Gwen says with a voice that makes me dare hope that they won't throw me out.
"Ok, cheers," Jason says.
As I hear him returning to the kitchen, I hurry back to the dishwasher, resuming my tortured look with closed eyes and fingers pinching the bridge of my nose. I don't look up, but I hear his steps drawing near. I hear his breathing, the rustle of his trousers. Then he grabs my hand, the one pinching my nose, and takes it in both his.
"Matt…?" He leans in to peck my cheek. "Let's leave."
I say nothing as we go to the hallway to pick up our jackets. He pulls on his bright red down jacket and his stripy scarf over his suit and thus manages to look too adorable for words.
"What?" He asks, when he notices I've stopped to stare at him.
"Nothing, nothing…" I button my coat. At least I have a proper coat to go with the suit. Heh. "Ready?"
"Oh, hell yeah." Another peck at my cheek. "Bye!" He shouts to the sitting room.
"Yeah, bye!" I add, though wishing I could just leave without anyone noticing me, then disappear forever.
The cousins and Steven call "bye" back, but then there's Gwen's voice asking us to wait. I look at Jason, who just laughs at the panic that is probably showing on my face. Gwen and Rupert come out to the hallway. She's still giggling, and he's looking… Well, amused, in his own very dry sort of way.
"Look, I'm so, so, sorry," I say to my landlords, looking down at the floor.
"Oh, nonsense! You have fun now, dear," Gwen says, hugging me. "Do you boys want any leftovers?"
"You're not going to throw me out?" I ask at the same time as Jason says, "Yes please."
"Don't be absurd," Rupert says, a little impatiently, as if I've insulted them by even considering the possibility.
Gwen disappears to the kitchen and appears a moment later, holding a couple of Tupperware containers.
"It's just a bit of turkey and roast potatoes," she says, handing the containers to Jason, who nods his thanks. "Are you getting a taxi? No? Well, walk carefully then. And Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Jason and I say in chorus.
I'm just about to close the front door when Gwen's voice stops me.
"I presume you won't be back tonight?"
"Ok, just checking. You don't have to phone us later to let us know."
I close the door, and walk up to Jason, who is laughing at me again. I stick my tongue out at him. We start walking down the street. The trees are full of little twinkling lights, and the grass in the gardens is glistening with frost.
"At least this turned out to be a very memorable Christmas," Jason says.
"Yeah, I'll remember it, alright. I've never been so bloody embarrassed in my life."
"Tell me about it… Still, turned out pretty well, I think. And it was kind of nice to spend Christmas with you."
"Yeah, it was…" I'm just about to say something else when I'm interrupted by something light and white falling down from the sky and landing on my nose.
"Oh my god!" Jason says excitedly. "Snow!"
"It'll melt before it hits the ground," I mutter, but really… It's pretty damn magic.
So there we are, Jason Arrowsmith and me, walking down a dark, snowy road on our way back to his place. It's dark but for the lights in the trees and the stars in the sky, and looking through the windows of the houses, we see people exchanging gifts, eating and drinking and acting like all the stupid Christmas clichés are true.
It's not that I believe in Christmas miracles or anything, but this night actually seems a little on the divine side. I might not have decked the hall with boughs of holly, the snow falling on us is never going to be enough to build a snowman, let alone pretend he's Parson Brown, and when Jason and I get back to his place, we sure as hell aren't going to be roasting any chestnuts on the open fire. And maybe my parents preferred going to Morocco to staying in Oxford watching the Queen's Speech with me, but still. I got to spend Christmas with someone I'm falling madly in love with. Could be worse.