Life of the Party
by Dannye Chase
Go directly to:
Stephen Fletcher was beautiful in a mesmerizing kind of way, where once you looked at him, it seemed ridiculous that you would ever want to look at anything else.
His physical appearance was striking: Stephen was tall and fit, with broad shoulders, a strong jaw, and high cheekbones. His eyes were a very deep blue and glinted when he smiled, which was often, and his blond hair was light in the sun and gold in the shadow. He moved with an effortless grace and gestured smoothly with his large hands, in a way that could easily fascinate a person. His personality was equally appealing: always amiable and full of cheer. And for some incomprehensible reason, Stephen had picked out Walter Amesbury, who was shy and quiet and plain as gray wool, as a friend.
They’d met two months ago. Walter had just moved to town, and Stephen was a cousin of someone who knew a cousin of Walter’s or some such thing. Whatever the reason, they’d been invited to the same party, and though Walter detested parties as a forced intimacy with people he’d rather not even meet, he’d been dragged along by his cousin. He’d ducked into the library of the sprawling house as soon as he was able, and planned to spend the party holed up in there with a volume of Italian poetry he’d discovered, and a small glass of port. He had not been prepared for his refuge to be invaded by the most gorgeous man he’d ever seen, who was holding a half-eaten pear.
“Oh, hello!” the man said. “You’ve discovered my short cut.” He had a radiant smile on his face, and Walter could not believe that somehow he’d merited such a look from such a man. “There’s a private door at the back, into the garden,” the man explained, “but it’s also my hiding place if I tire of the party.” Of course, the man’s appearance immediately betrayed him as the gregarious playboy he was, and Walter doubted he’d ever tired of a party in his life. The man extended the hand that wasn’t holding the pear. “Stephen Fletcher. This is my cousin’s place. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
Walter took the man’s hand, not surprised that it was warm, and his grip strong. “Walter Amesbury. I’m— not sure why I’m here.”
Stephen laughed at his gaffe, and Walter was startled to find it was not derisive, but delighted. “Why are any of us truly here?” Stephen asked grandly, dropping gracefully into a chair opposite Walter. “Any answer in your book there? Wait, is that in Italian?”
“Quite so, you look like a man who’s accomplished at languages. How many do you speak?”
Walter knew he appeared studious, with the glasses he wore, and besides that, he was average height and thin, with dark hair that never quite lay right, the curls always dropping over his forehead rather than staying where they ought to. But oddly enough, Stephen didn’t seem to have intended the remark as an insult. “Just— just the four,” Walter said. “I read others, but I haven’t fully mastered the spoken part yet.”
Stephen looked impressed, which left Walter in turn impressed with his acting skills. “And what’s it about?” Stephen asked. “Your book.”
“Oh, it’s poetry.”
“On some lofty subject, I imagine.”
“Yes, um— on love.” Walter’s voice had fallen soft, but Stephen was watching him very closely, and didn’t miss it.
“Some would say that is the answer,” Stephen said, with a sage air. “Perhaps we’re all simply here to find love.”
Walter, who was pale as paper most of the time, felt the heat in his cheeks that said he’d blushed bright red. When he glanced up, mortified, he found that Stephen wasn’t looking at him, but Walter couldn’t be sure he wasn’t hiding a smile in a bite of pear.
Walter learned that first evening that Stephen Fletcher was an effortless conversationalist who could manage to make even Walter feel listened to and at the center of attention, and also that it was ridiculously difficult to refuse the man anything. Rather than hiding, Walter found himself on a tour of the garden, including the pear tree, having a wide-ranging discussion of poetry, art, and music, with a touch of social gossip and even tentative forays into politics and religion. Through it all, Stephen focused very narrowly on Walter, seeming to find his opinions and stories fascinating. Walter had left his port behind in the library, but he’d fallen under a far more intoxicating spell than alcohol could ever cast.
From time to time, people came looking for Stephen, as he was the kind to be missed by everyone, and Walter could see they all adored him as much as Walter already did. Stephen greeted them as friends and exchanged happy conversation, and yet somehow at the end of the evening, Stephen was still with Walter, perched on a garden bench with his long legs gathered beneath him and bent at odd angles, somehow still looking utterly elegant.
Stephen’s smiles had become fonder as the night went on, and his manner more intimate. He would occasionally rest a hand on Walter’s arm, and once brushed an errant lock of hair away from his eyes when Walter got animated during a discussion. Walter couldn’t remember the last time he’d had an animated discussion, and he’d forgotten to keep a close rein on his hair.
Walter did know, of course, that Stephen had to be like this with everyone. He was obviously kind and welcoming by nature, sociable and sympathetic. He’d seen Walter hiding away and wanted to draw him out, let him enjoy the party. This attention and care would only last for this night, and Walter was already dreading the moment he would have to go home and not see Stephen’s blue eyes any longer, his beautiful face or exuberant smiles. Despite how ill-matched they would be as friends, Walter honestly felt as if a kinship was forming between them already. An illusion, surely, but it was a tempting one.
When Walter’s cousin finally came to collect him for the trip home, Stephen even managed to look disappointed, and when Walter extended the courtesy invitation for a visit to his home, Stephen promised to take him up on it.
When Stephen actually called at Walter’s family home a few days later, Walter was at a complete loss as to why. But it was just as easy to fall into conversation with Stephen then as it had been the night they’d met, just as impossible to refuse his request for a walk in the orchard, and far more difficult for Walter to try to protect his heart from its inevitable break when Stephen found himself a new shy young man to focus his sympathies on.
Two months later
Stephen was telling a story. Walter, who was sitting beside him on a sofa, had long since stopped paying attention to it, largely because it had to do with athletics, and he honestly had no idea how to follow along. Instead he simply listened to Stephen’s voice, marking its rise and fall, the measured pauses where he stopped to breathe, the grand theatrical delivery that came so easily to him. The illusion was broken when Walter failed to laugh at something Stephen clearly thought was funny, and Walter felt a hand on his arm.
“You’re not listening,” Stephen accused gently, looking fond and indulgent rather than irritated. Walter had never once seen Stephen slip from his constant good humor.
“Of course I am,” Walter lied.
“Then am I discussing baseball or boxing?”
“I— haven’t the foggiest idea. But I’m glad you enjoyed it so much.”
Stephen laughed and squeezed Walter’s arm gently before letting go. “Well then, you must tell me, Walter, whatever am I to do to get your attention?”
It was that kind of sentence that still had the power to destabilize Walter. Stephen Fletcher had a naturally flirtatious manner, and despite how ridiculous it would be to have a man like him— not that there were any other men who could hold a candle to him— display romantic feelings for a man like Walter, Walter’s heart still longed to hear such a thing as if it were in earnest. As if Stephen wished Walter to admit that all it ever took to get his attention was for Stephen to simply walk into a room. Perhaps even to say that if Stephen wanted the rest of the world to fade away permanently, he would only have to remove his jacket and tie and unbutton the top of his shirt. Walter had spent far too much time alone imagining what Stephen would look like with his shirt unfastened.
“So long as you don’t start up your limericks,” Walter said.
Stephen leaned back on the sofa, adopting a careless pose, with his hands folded behind his head. It only emphasized the broadness of his chest and the length of his muscular arms. “Now, I must protest that. When have I ever engaged in such base entertainment as limericks?”
“A month ago at that picnic your uncle hosted.” Walter hadn’t wanted to go to the picnic, but he’d been dragged along again. He’d told himself that it would be worth it to see Stephen, yet when he got there, he still hung back, feeling worried and out of place. But when Stephen had realized Walter was there, he’d gotten the most beautiful smile on his face.
Stephen had the same smile now. “Oh, yes. Dreadful affair. If I recall, the only redeeming quality of the whole afternoon was my limericks making you blush so becomingly.”
“Of course, how entertaining to have me be completely mortified.”
“I didn’t want you mortified, I wanted you to blush. It’s very pretty.”
“I’m sure I looked sunburned.”
Stephen was still looking at him fondly, and put out a hand to steady a curl that was beginning to misbehave. “Walter,” he said in an oddly light voice, “have you ever kissed anyone?”
Walter nearly choked on a breath of air. “What?” He felt his cheeks flame. “Oh. You’re trying to get me to blush.”
“Yes,” Stephen admitted, looking entirely unashamed of himself. “But I’m also serious.”
It was an impossible question to answer. Walter hadn’t, of course, because who would ever want to kiss him? But he hesitated to say so in front of a man who was well known to have had a series of ardent, though brief, affairs with men and women in his social circle, people nearly as beautiful as himself. Even without the gossip, you could tell Stephen was experienced with the art of love just by the air he had— comfortable in his attractions, confident in his flirtations. Of course, no one had managed to capture his heart yet. Walter assumed that Stephen, fun-loving playboy that he was, was probably uninterested in any lasting romance.
It seemed Walter’s silence was answer enough. “Have you ever wanted to?” Stephen asked. “Or is it not something you’re interested in?”
“I’m…” Walter’s voice came out with a bit of a squeak. He turned away, addressing one of his bookshelves. “I’m not uninterested. I just—”
“Would you be interested in it with me?”
Walter could feel himself blushing so hard that his eyes watered. “That’s not funny.”
Stephen placed a gentle hand beneath Walter’s chin and turned him back around. His expression was searching and sad. “I’m not being funny. Honestly, Walter, I’ve told you how much I love to spend time with you, and I don’t think you believe me.”
“I believe you see me as a friend,” Walter said hastily. “A good friend. And I see you the same way. But you’re just— you’re very—” Stephen had his eyebrows raised, looking as if he were terribly interested in the end of that sentence. “Kind,” Walter finished quietly. “I know you’re being kind to me. You think I should have a friend. But you’d never really want to— with me.”
“Now, why on earth would you say that?”
“Because— I know I’m hardly anything to look at.”
It was the plain truth, but Stephen didn’t seem to like it. “I don’t know who’s told you that, my darling, but I wouldn’t trust them to report if the sky was blue.”
“But you are so—”
“Do you find me attractive?” Stephen asked, looking like he honestly didn’t know the answer.
“Everyone finds you attractive.”
Stephen hummed a little, dismissively. “That’s very generous. Right now I’m only concerned with you.”
Walter looked at the man sitting beside him, golden hair and bright blue eyes, today in a warm brown suit jacket and a pink shirt, with high waisted trousers and fitted vest that showed his toned physique. Stephen was so effortlessly beautiful. God, what would he look like with that shirt unbuttoned? “Of course I do,” Walter breathed.
Stephen seemed to relax a bit then. “They say everyone deserves to be properly kissed at least once in their life. It’s a pleasure everyone should know, if they’d like to. My dearest Walter, I’d very much like to be the one who kisses you.”
Stephen’s voice fell low. “Why don’t you let me show you why?”
Obviously, there was no way Walter was ever going to be able to reject this. If Stephen really wanted to kiss him, for whatever inconceivable reason, Walter would give in. No matter what a terrible idea it was, or how quickly a thing like this was going to break his heart. “Okay,” he said faintly.
Stephen’s hand moved to cup Walter’s cheek. Stephen was smiling softly at him, looking reassuring and tender as he leaned in and pressed his mouth against Walter’s. Walter could feel Stephen’s breath on his lips, and the gentle pressure of his mouth made his whole body shiver. Walter’s hands would not stay still, one of them grasping at Stephen’s jacket and the other nearly reaching his waist before Walter got it under control.
Stephen released him, and sat back. His gaze flicked from Walter’s mouth to his eyes, studying. “Was that all right?” he asked.
Walter was still coming to terms with the fact that Stephen Fletcher had kissed him, him, that the world had shifted from a place where he’d never known physical love to one where he’d been kissed by the most gorgeous, charming man he’d ever met, and that it was now over. And likely would never come again. He managed to nod.
Stephen smiled gently at him. “Then open your mouth for me, my darling.”
Walter gasped, and Stephen caught him at the back of the neck to hold him steady as he took advantage of it. His tongue swept into Walter’s mouth, slow and sweet, as if he wanted to taste Walter. As if Walter was something he actually wanted.
Walter was overwhelmed almost immediately by the feel of it, by the knowledge that for one more undeserved moment, he was the focus of Stephen’s Fletcher’s romantic attention. This time he couldn’t stop himself from grasping at Stephen’s clothes with both hands, trying to pull him closer. Stephen groaned softly and Walter heard it but also felt it against his mouth, which made him shiver again.
Stephen brought up his hands to cup Walter’s face and turned his head a little, sliding his tongue in deeper now as they fit together better. It felt impossible, unthinkable for Walter not to join in the most beautiful thing he’d ever felt, and so he found himself kissing Stephen back, tangling their tongues, clumsy and inept, but ardent.
Stephen’s grasp tightened, his fingers sliding into Walter’s hair, catching in his curls. He showed no sign of minding Walter’s inexperience, continuing to kiss him with an intense focus, as if he might honestly be enjoying it.
Walter, meanwhile, felt as if the world had become a firework exploded in slow motion, with color everywhere, and a feeling of being weightless and falling. He knew experienced men did not become aroused from mere kissing, but he couldn’t help it, he was harder now than he’d ever been in his life. If Stephen lowered his hand to Walter’s trousers, Walter would probably climax right here on the sofa with just the touch of those graceful fingers. He didn’t even have the energy to feel ashamed of it, with his whole body and mind mesmerized by this kiss.
Eventually things slowed, and Walter realized Stephen was bringing them to a stop. Still Stephen took the time to give him a series of shallower kisses, a last taste of the inside of Walter’s lip, a last slow slide of tongues together.
When it was over, Stephen kept one hand cradling Walter’s cheek, and his expression was as fond as ever. “That’s why,” he said, sounding slightly out of breath and looking extremely pleased. “There’s so much passion in you. You’re gorgeous when you let it out.”
Walter could hardly speak. “I’m not—”
“Oh, really?” Stephen laughed. “Because that was a hell of a first kiss.” Stephen pressed his lips lightly against Walter’s forehead. “It drives me mad how you usually hide that fire inside you, and all the while I know it’s there. I saw it the night we met, in your dark, sparkling eyes. I wanted to kiss you then, but I wasn’t sure you’d let me.”
Walter had never in his life been called passionate, or ever considered the idea that someone might want to kiss him. “You think I would ever refuse you?” he asked, quite before thinking it through, and his face immediately blazed red.
“And there are those blushes,” Stephen whispered, and kissed him on the cheek. “Walter, you are a delight.” A look of gentle remorse crossed his face. “And now you’re quite overwhelmed. Come here, darling, rest against me and tell me all about whatever book you’ve been reading lately.”
Stephen drew Walter close, until his head was cushioned on Stephen’s chest, stretching an arm around him and letting his fingers run through Walter’s curls.
Walter at that moment had absolutely no idea what books he’d read lately, but Stephen didn’t seem to mind the silence.
Walter Amesbury did not like parties.
Knowing Stephen Fletcher— being helplessly in love with Stephen Fletcher— did not change his opinion. Because parties were the natural domain of Stephen’s other friends.
Stephen was without a doubt the most well-liked and admired person in the entire social scene. He was utterly captivating to look at, with a handsome face and a strong, athletic form, and his personality was just as appealing, sweet and gregarious. Stephen naturally had a very large number of attractive, confident friends who liked to dance with him, to drape their arms over him and sit in his lap, and— well, all right. Walter didn’t actually know what Stephen’s friends liked to do, because he was too afraid to find out. But he could imagine it well enough.
Walter had met a few of Stephen’s friends at that first party, and a few at Stephen’s uncle’s picnic, but at those events, Stephen had for some reason been very focused on Walter. Probably because Walter was so very shy, and Stephen was being kind to him. But eventually, that fondness was going to wear off, Walter knew, and Stephen would start to resent him for being so needy and demanding. So better to avoid that situation entirely and refuse to go to parties.
The problem was, Stephen seemed to really want Walter to attend parties with him. He asked constantly, and looked disappointed when Walter declined. But Walter knew it was for the best. Getting in the way of Stephen and his other friends would only end things between them prematurely.
Walter knew it would end, of course. Their friendship might endure long-term, but all of this special attention and interest— that would not last. It couldn’t. It wasn’t like Stephen was going to come across Walter hiding at a party, fall desperately in love with him that first night based on compatibility as friends plus some apparent inward passion that only Stephen had ever noticed, happily give up all other love affairs and settle down to married life with a socially awkward, inexperienced man with a physical beauty that also existed only in Stephen’s overly charitable imagination. The whole idea was ludicrous. Impossible. Walter falling in love— well, that was expected. Everyone loved Stephen. It was not going to happen the other way, and Walter knew better than to even hope for it.
What Walter did hope for, of course, was another kiss. He knew he shouldn’t. That kiss had been a one-time thing to satisfy Stephen’s need to be kind, and if it was going to happen again that was actually worse, because it would do nothing but make the heartbreak harsher when Stephen broke it off. But Walter couldn’t help it. There couldn’t be a single person that Stephen had ever kissed that didn’t long for more.
Walter had thought about the kiss constantly for the last week, the way Stephen’s broad hand had cradled his face, how Stephen’s tongue had moved against his own, slow at first and then with growing fervor, how that groan Stephen had made had shaken its way right through Walter, like he was an extension of Stephen’s very voice.
Walter was thinking about the kiss right now, with Stephen by his side, walking through the orchard, a mile or two away from the house. And Stephen, bless him, was not helping.
They had been talking of plays, because Stephen had professed an interest in the works of Moliere— which, to be fair, were actually quite funny, so perhaps he was being honest— but Walter had lost the topic when they’d come to the little stream that wound its way through the orchard. Stephen had taken his hand as they picked their way across the water from stone to stone, and once on the other side, he hadn’t let go.
And so now Walter knew what to do with exactly one part of his body— he knew to cling to Stephen’s larger hand, to let their fingers fold together. But he had no idea what to do with the rest of him. He supposed he ought to be walking, or talking, but he couldn’t quite work out how to do that anymore. Fortunately, Stephen didn’t seem to mind. He was giving Walter that fond look again, the one that Walter could feel like the sun on bare skin.
“You know,” Stephen said, “I’ve been trying all afternoon to think of something dashing and suave to say to you and I’m afraid my wit has quite deserted me with you being so close, and looking so—” Stephen’s eyes traveled the length of Walter, from his plain gray suit jacket down to his brown and white oxfords, and then back up. “Delicious,” Stephen finished, sounding a bit breathless. “So I suppose I ought to just be plain about it. Walter, my darling, I had a wonderful time kissing you the other day.”
Walter found himself holding his breath. “You did?”
“I did think I was rather obvious about it.” Stephen smiled, but he also looked a little nervous for some unknown reason. “I— so I was wondering if you might like to explore a little more. With me, that is. If it would make you comfortable— or not uncomfortable— damn it, I can’t get this out right. Walter, will you let me kiss you again?”
Walter wanted to be suave too, but he had no idea how to even begin, so he had no choice but to let the words come out as they would. “Oh, god, please.”
Stephen’s blue eyes widened, and then he used their joined hands to pull Walter firmly into his arms and press their mouths together.
And so that was what he was supposed to do with the rest of his body, Walter thought, with relief. He was supposed to cling to Stephen with his whole self, not just his hand. He was supposed to wrap his arms around him, and maybe he was holding on too tightly, but it was all right. Stephen was holding him too.
The kiss was open and fast-moving. Walter, inexperienced as he was, really should have hung back and let Stephen lead everything, but it was just so impossible not to respond to this taste of paradise that Walter kissed back immediately. Stephen made a little sighing noise, and after a moment, he slipped a hand inside of Walter’s jacket to curl his fingers at his side. Walter jumped at the sensation, Stephen’s hand only a vest and a dress shirt away from Walter’s skin.
Stephen broke the kiss to move his lips to Walter’s cheek, his neck, tugging aside his collar to press a kiss as low as he could reach, and then back up to the soft skin of Walter’s earlobe. “Darling,” he breathed. “I thought I’d imagined how good it was to kiss you.” His mouth met Walter’s again with what truly seemed like hunger.
Walter was unable to keep quiet. The next time Stephen released his mouth, he announced, “You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
It was the wrong thing to say, Walter realized, as Stephen froze and then pulled back to look at him. Because surely Stephen knew he was beautiful. He didn’t need to hear it offered as a clumsy compliment from a naive man. Walter should have said something more meaningful, or at least more artful. Didn’t he have poems memorized? Entire books of poetry in the library of his mind? Why would none of it come to him now? Why was he left with nothing but brutal honesty at a moment like this?
Stephen looked stunned, his blue eyes wide and searching, and Walter floundered, not sure how to fix what he’d done. Then Stephen pressed his hand against the middle of his chest, and Walter could feel the heat of it through all of his layers. “Let me make love to you,” Stephen said.
Walter forgot how to breathe again, and could only make some sort of weak coughing noise.
Stephen seemed unconcerned. “Let me bring you to pleasure. Right here in my arms. Oh, darling, I’m dying to see it.” Stephen leaned close to press kisses against Walter’s neck and Walter, despite himself, began to shake.
Stephen froze again, and then his hands gentled. “Oh, god, I’m sorry. That’s much too fast, isn’t it? I just can’t seem to find my footing today. Here.” Stephen moved back enough to unbutton his jacket and slipped it off of his shoulders, laying it on the ground. When he straightened up, Walter was shocked to see Stephen’s arousal clearly outlined in his blue high-waisted trousers. Stephen got just the hint of a smile on his face and reached over to unbutton Walter’s jacket as well. When he got a look at Walter’s trousers, the smile only deepened.
Stephen guided Walter to sit down on their jackets and pulled him into an embrace, letting Walter lean back against his chest, pressing slow, gentle kisses against Walter’s neck. “There you are. Just relax, my darling. I’m sorry to have overwhelmed you again. I just got so caught up.”
“I’m not— I’m all right.”
“Oh?” Stephen asked, and Walter could hear the smile in his voice. “Well, then. Let’s see.” His kisses against Walter’s neck grew heavier, and he tugged the collar aside again.
Walter immediately pulled at his tie, loosening it, and Stephen’s nimble fingers unfastened the first few buttons of Walter’s shirt and slipped inside. Feeling Stephen’s hands against his actual skin made Walter shiver, but in a nicer way this time. He leaned his head back to rest on Stephen’s shoulder, giving him access to the skin he’d bared.
“How’s this?” Stephen murmured, even as every press of his mouth strung Walter tighter, making him ache for more.
“Good— nice.” There had to be better words, but Walter could not think of them.
Stephen hummed a little and started on the rest of Walter’s buttons. Walter pressed up into the touch, unable to help himself.
“Do you want this?” Stephen asked, his voice grown dark.
Honesty was apparently all Walter had at his disposal today. “I’ve never wanted anything more.”
Stephen pressed a deep kiss against Walter’s throat. “Then stay relaxed for me, my dearest. I’m going to take you right up to heaven.”
Walter made an embarrassing little whining noise, but Stephen didn’t seem to mind. He worked until he had both vest and shirt open and Walter’s chest was exposed to the warm spring air. Walter had spent so much time imagining what Stephen would look like with his shirt open, and he knew there was no way Stephen had thought of the same thing about him, but at least Stephen didn’t seem too disappointed.
Stephen’s hands were clearly experienced, trailing light touches across Walter’s skin that made Walter’s cheeks flame. When Stephen dragged a thumb over Walter’s nipple, Walter jolted in his arms.
“Sensitive,” Stephen said, between kisses to Walter’s jaw. He pinched the nipple lightly, which made Walter gasp. “I’d hoped you were. We can explore that a little more later.”
Walter couldn’t answer, he was too preoccupied with the hand that was straying close to the high waistband of his trousers. Slowly, and with obvious practice, Stephen unfastened the button and zipper, and moved his hand inside.
“Oh, god,” Walter gasped, as Stephen’s fingers made contact with his cock, a cool grasp against his blood-hot, rock-hard erection.
“Oh, my dearest,” Stephen said. “You’re delightful. So hard for me, and slick as anything.” His fingers were finding no resistance, sliding easily up and down the shaft with all of the pre-come that Walter was leaking.
“I’m—” Walter closed his eyes as the world swam around him. “I won’t last—”
“Of course not,” Stephen said, with a kiss to his cheek. “You’re not meant to. Just let go for me, darling.”
“I—” Walter was bucking up into his hand, grasping at Stephen’s arms, the grass around their coats. “I— oh, god, Stephen.” Walter arched his back and came, spurting right over Stephen’s fingers and onto his own stomach.
“Oh, you’re perfect,” Stephen said. “Just like that.” He kept pumping at Walter, gentler now, but twisting his thumb against the head in a way that kept Walter coming longer than he’d known he could. When he was finally spent, Walter collapsed back against Stephen’s chest.
“I knew you’d be gorgeous,” Stephen said. “Oh, Walter, look at you.”
Walter didn’t want to look at himself. He only wanted to think about Stephen and his touch, and the erection he could feel at his back. “What— what about you?” Walter said. “I don’t know how, but I can—”
Stephen embraced him tighter. “Shhh, my darling. It makes me feel good just to make you feel good.”
“I’m in heaven with you, I assure you. You have no idea.” Stephen produced his handkerchief and he cleaned Walter’s stomach gently.
Walter had never felt so wonderful or so confused in all of his life. Perhaps that was what a trip to heaven really was. A lovely place, but foreign and unfamiliar, without clear rules. Stephen laid back on the bed of coats and pulled Walter in so that his head rested on Stephen’s shoulder.
“There’s a party on Friday,” Stephen said, his voice partially muffled as he pressed a kiss to Walter’s curls. “Nothing much. Gini’s having a few friends over to tackle a massive jigsaw puzzle her aunt sent her. We’ll probably all lose our minds over it.” Stephen stroked a hand down Walter’s back. “Might turn on the radio and do some dancing. Oh, and she makes a lovely chocolate cake.”
Walter could not dance. He could do jigsaw puzzles, only they tended to take his whole focus and that probably wasn’t a very nice thing to do at a party, to ignore everyone else. And what if he got chocolate stains on himself in public?
“Will you come?” Stephen asked, with clear longing in his voice. “It’s just— I’d love for you to get to know everyone.”
Walter closed his eyes against the soft fabric of Stephen’s vest, breathing in the scent of him. “Yes.”
Walter dressed carefully for the party on Friday.
Normally he wore grays and browns, but he did possess one blue suit, a little lighter than navy, nothing too outlandish. But Walter felt foolish wearing it, because he couldn’t settle on a reason why he’d put it on. Was he trying to portray himself as less shy and conservative than he normally appeared? (He could hardly claim to be entirely conservative now that he’d let a man bring him to orgasm in an apple orchard at three in the afternoon.) Did he want to look younger? Older? Taller?
Or, Walter suspected, perhaps the reason had to do with Stephen himself. But did Walter honestly think Stephen would find Walter attractive in any situation, let alone because of a certain suit color? Stephen professed to think Walter beautiful. Stephen professed a lot of things, all of them very kind. But Walter knew exactly what he looked like— skinny, with glasses and ill-behaved black curly hair, dressed up in a blue suit and off to a party with a man he was in love with who saw him as a friend, and all of his beautiful friends besides.
Walter almost stayed home.
But when he knocked at the door of Gini’s house, it opened before he’d hardly started. Stephen stood there, and the look on his face was the warmest thing Walter had ever seen directed his way.
“Walter,” Stephen whispered. “You came. Oh, darling, I wasn’t sure you would.” He had grasped Walter’s hand by this point and was drawing him inside. “You look wonderful. That suit brings out the blue in those beautiful dark eyes of yours.”
Stephen was in warm colors again, with another of those pink shirts he favored, looking as gorgeous as always. Obviously, there was no reason for him to ever worry about what to wear.
“Listen,” Stephen said, “there is one thing I need to talk to you about first.” He took a quick look up and down the hall, and seeing that no one else was near, he pulled on Walter’s hand and led them into a nearby room.
Walter was trying to prepare himself for whatever Stephen was going to say— Just wanted to ask if you’d keep quiet about your books today, it’s not the most exciting subject for a party. Or more likely, My friends don’t know we’ve been intimate, so forgive me if I don’t sit near you this afternoon.
“What—” Walter started. He didn’t get to finish the question because Stephen seized him and pulled him into a ravenous kiss.
Walter was not expecting the kiss and he had no defense. He wound his arms around Stephen and kissed back, forgetting where he was or why he was there, forgetting there was anything in the world besides Stephen. What else could he ever need, anyway?
Stephen was just enough taller than Walter, with such broad shoulders that Walter seemed to fit perfectly into his arms. Stephen had a hand at Walter’s waist, with a few fingers beneath his blue vest, their heat blazing through the thin gray dress shirt Walter wore. Walter wanted so desperately for Stephen to take off his suit jacket again, and he might have even attempted to work on its buttons if they hadn’t gotten interrupted.
The door opened and someone gave an exasperated sigh. “Stephen Fletcher. Walter has been here all of five minutes and you’re monopolizing him.”
Walter jumped, but Stephen held him steady as the kiss broke.
The speaker was a woman with fair reddish hair that Walter was fairly certain was Gini, the hostess. “The rest of us want to get to know him, too,” she said. “Though maybe not quite so closely.”
“You had better not,” Stephen said.
Gini smirked and left the room, closing the door behind her. Walter let his head drop forward to hide against Stephen’s shoulder, forgetting his glasses until Stephen hooked them out of the way at the last moment before they could be crushed.
Stephen tightened his arms around him and pressed a kiss to Walter’s curls. “I’m sorry, darling. I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but you needed to be immediately and very thoroughly kissed. I really had no choice at all in the matter.”
“Oh,” Walter said against his shoulder. “Well— I appreciate it, then.”
Stephen hummed a little. “Of course, I do plan to utterly ravish you later.”
Walter felt his cheeks blaze and he groaned. “That one you did on purpose.”
Stephen passed his glasses back, and when Walter had them on, Stephen winked.
There were four of Stephen’s friends at the party: Gini, her cousin Peg, Peg’s boyfriend Henry, and Alice, who was probably related to one of them in a way Walter didn’t quite catch. They were very friendly, and Walter actually started to relax a little as the afternoon went on. It helped that Stephen had, in fact, sat next to him on the sofa, and draped an arm over his shoulders in a way that felt almost protective or even possessive, although Walter was sure it was meant to be neither.
When the jigsaw puzzle came out, everyone took seats around a large table. With 5,000 pieces, it took a while just to get parts of the edging put together. There was a bit near the bottom that was a row of bushes with red flowers, and Walter snagged all of the pieces of it as he found them. The conversation was ongoing, and he’d hoped having a small bit of the puzzle to do would help, but he still worried that he was ignoring everyone. In hopes of being more efficient, Walter flipped the pieces upside down and organized them by shape. Then fitting them together was merely following a system and he could contribute again.
They were talking of music when Gini caught on to what he was doing, and pointed. So then everyone else saw it too.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Walter said, flustered to find he’d managed to cause the opposite effect of what he’d wanted. “I was just trying to do this sort of by rote.”
Stephen had noticed it earlier, but had said nothing, and now he had a faint smile on his face. “It’s like I mentioned the other day,” he said. “Walter’s the smartest person I’ve ever met.”
Walter looked at him in complete surprise. “What?”
“Oh, he talks about you constantly,” Alice said.
“Well, of course I do,” Stephen said, smiling as he fitted two pieces of sky together. “Can you blame me?”
Peg reached over and turned on the radio, and there was a burst of static followed by dance music. “Oh, let’s dance!” she exclaimed, grabbing Henry’s hand.
Walter looked over to see that Stephen had extended a hand to him. “I don’t know how,” Walter protested.
Stephen shrugged. “Neither does Peg, doesn’t stop her.”
“I pretend there’s an insect on the floor and try to stomp on it,” Peg said, and Walter laughed, surprising himself.
Stephen stood up, his hand still held out. “We’re all friends here. Come, darling, I want you back in my arms.”
Of course Walter could not resist that request. The others smiled at him approvingly as Stephen pulled him close.
“You don’t have to be shy with us,” Henry said. “We don’t care what you look like dancing.”
“Oh, he’s not that shy,” Stephen said, with a smirk.
There was a light gasp from someone, and Gini scolded, “Stephen Fletcher! That poor innocent lamb.”
“Oh, he’s not that in—” Stephen began, and Walter panicked and put a hand over Stephen’s mouth before he could finish. Everyone burst into laughter.
“About time someone muzzled him.”
“Anytime you want to do that, Walter, you go right ahead. We’ll be very grateful.”
Walter took his hand down and Stephen grinned at him. “Sorry, darling.” He looked entirely unrepentant, of course. “Would you like to learn to dance?”
Walter figured he couldn’t blush any harder, so there was probably no harm in it.
“All right,” Stephen said. “We’ll have you do it forwards and I’ll do it backwards.”
“Does that mean I’m leading?” Walter asked.
“And why shouldn’t you? Now, right leg here, left leg there, left leg again, there, see? It’s not so hard for the smartest person I know.”
In the end, Walter’s feet more or less learned the pattern, but probably only because Walter stopped paying attention to them. Being in Stephen’s arms was always marvelous, but dancing with Stephen was something else entirely. He had a natural athletic grace that made every move seem easy, whether it was the right step or something done to cover up Walter’s wrong step. And he looked so happy. Walter had never thought about being happy when doing something imperfectly.
When the dancing finally ended and they sat down again, Stephen didn’t let him go, pulling Walter onto his lap.
A few hours later, Walter was still on Stephen’s lap, but they were in a room by themselves now, some sort of study. Walter hadn’t exactly gotten the chance to look around.
“What,” Walter asked, in between kisses, “do they think we’re doing in here?”
“Precisely what we’re doing.”
“But this is your friend’s house.”
“Our friend, and she’d give us a room for the night if we asked.”
“I didn’t ask,” Stephen assured him, placing lazy kisses against Walter’s throat. “I think Henry’s planning to stay over with Peg, though.”
This must be normal for parties, Walter realized, and felt chilled suddenly, wondering how many people Stephen had taken into this room.
But now, for this one beautiful moment, he was with Walter. “Stephen—”
Stephen looked up at him with that overwhelming fondness in his blue eyes. “Ask me for anything, my darling. I’ll give you the world.”
Walter pushed at Stephen’s jacket. “Off. Will you take it off? Your shirt.”
Stephen had his hands on the fastenings already. The jacket, the vest, the tie, and when that was done, Walter took over. He opened one button at a time on that soft pink shirt, placing careful kisses on each bit of skin he revealed. Above him, Stephen gave a shaky sigh.
When the buttons were all done, Walter slowly spread the shirt open, baring Stephen’s chest. Stephen was every inch as gorgeous as Walter had imagined. Smooth skin stretched taut over natural muscle, a clean, masculine scent, a trim waist that flexed beneath Walter’s exploring hands.
Walter didn’t know what else to do but to pay devotion to his beautiful friend with lips and tongue, pushing the shirt off of Stephen’s arms, kissing each palm and finger, and then back, to mouth at the firm, flat nipples on Stephen’s chest. The texture was rough and Walter loved feeling it on his tongue.
Stephen was hard below him, as hard as Walter was, and his hips started to lift in a bit of a rhythm. Walter shifted his hips to move himself out of the way, not ready to be done, and aware that he would come in his trousers without much more stimulation.
What he didn’t expect was for Stephen to claim to be in a similar state. “Walter, you are going to make me—”
Walter looked down at him with wide eyes. “Oh, please, you’ve got to let me.”
“Yeah.” Stephen seized Walter under the arms and lifted him right off of his lap, in a casual show of strength that made Walter’s own hips stutter. Stephen caught Walter’s mouth in a hungry kiss as he made quick work of Walter’s clothes, having him bare to the waist as well before Walter had a chance to realize it.
Walter managed to slip out of Stephen’s embrace and sink down between his legs. “I don’t know how to do this,” he warned.
Stephen was breathing hard, and Walter could see that he’d left a few faint pink marks on his chest. “That’s all right.”
Walter figured he could at least start with freeing the bulge in Stephen’s trousers, and he pulled the zipper down carefully. Stephen hissed as Walter adjusted him, putting hands on him for the first time. “You’re— you’re as large as the rest of you,” Walter said, nonsensically.
Stephen didn’t seem to mind. He gave a low moan. “Oh, god, I’ve dreamed of this.”
Walter looked up in surprise and Stephen’s expression darkened. “You may not believe me about how much I care for you, my darling, but you can’t doubt that I desire you.”
Walter couldn’t doubt it, with his hands wrapped around Stephen’s stiff-swollen arousal, but neither could he still completely believe it. “What do I—”
Stephen gave a little laugh. “Well, you certainly knew what you were doing earlier to get me into this state.”
Walter did find Stephen’s cock just as gorgeous as his chest. He knew what he wanted to do.
Walter leaned forward and licked at the tip, where there was fluid beading.
“Fuck,” Stephen said, dropping his head back. Walter took that as encouragement, and began to taste the rest of Stephen, licking him from the bottom to the top and down again, until he could resist no longer and put his mouth over the head.
Stephen hissed and his hips jerked a little. Walter gasped, pulling off.
“Sorry—” Stephen started, and Walter realized he had the completely wrong idea.
“No,” Walter interrupted. “No. God. Please do that. I— I want to feel—” How much you want me, he thought, though he couldn’t say it. He fitted his mouth over Stephen’s cock, sliding down a little, and as Stephen gently lifted his hips, Walter moaned.
Walter was in heaven again, this time having climbed the stairs by himself. He hadn’t understood how all of his lust for Stephen could crystalize on this, wanting Stephen to push inside of him. He wanted nothing more in the world than Stephen all around him, his larger form holding him close, covering him, shielding him from everything, and finding his own pleasure within Walter’s body
Stephen stayed very gentle. His slides in and out of Walter’s mouth fell into a slow rhythm, with Walter letting him push in and then trying to give him resistance pulling out, sucking instead of letting him go easily. Stephen seemed to be enjoying it, since he kept swearing softly, but all of a sudden Stephen put a firm hand on Walter’s shoulder and pulled him off.
Walter sat back, surprised. “I’m sorry—”
There was immediately a hand covering his mouth. “Don’t you dare,” Stephen said, flushed and out of breath. “Walter, that was— indescribable. But I don’t want to, not this first time. It’s not always pleasant for the one on his knees. Come up here, darling.”
Walter followed, the sting of being removed fading under the words this first time.
Stephen put his hands on Walter’s face and kissed him, hungry and consuming. They were both naked from the waist up, and it felt incredible to have their skin pressed together. Stephen’s hand was busy on the zipper of Walter’s trousers, and when he wrapped his fingers around both of their cocks together, Walter gasped. And then he came, immediately, drenching Stephen’s fingers and their cocks in come.
“Oh, god, sorry—” he started. “I—”
But Stephen was shaking. “No. God. Fuck.” And he was coming, too, hot and heavy. Stephen’s hand on their cocks continued to move in a tight grip, and Walter felt himself pushed unexpectedly into a second, weaker orgasm, which was something he’d never experienced before. He shook and almost sobbed against Stephen’s chest, as Stephen’s expert fingers pumped him completely dry.
When Walter came back to awareness, he could feel himself being gently cleaned, probably with Stephen’s handkerchief again, and then Stephen kissed him, slow and gentle. Walter leaned against him, hazy with the realization that he was Stephen Fletcher’s lover. Obviously not his only lover, but still. A man like him, with Stephen Fletcher coming beneath him.
Stephen had his hands in Walter’s hair now, caught in the curls. “You know, you have the most beautiful hair,” he whispered, sounding a little hoarse and achingly fond.
“It won’t ever stay where I put it,” Walter complained sleepily.
“That’s exactly why I like it. It reminds me of you. Such passion that it can’t be contained.”
Walter wanted to say how silly that was, but it was nicer to just lean against Stephen’s bare chest and feel his strong arms around him than it was to bother to think of how to say words.
Walter’s mother wanted him to attend the town picnic.
“I don’t understand why you don’t want to go,” she said. “You attend parties with your Stephen, don’t you? You don’t mind those.”
Walter could not inform his mother that a large part of the reason he agreed to attend parties with Stephen (who was not actually his Stephen, by the way) was because they usually found them an occasion to have sexual relations. Even if Walter had a suspicion that if his mother did know about such habits, she would actually approve, because to her it would appear that her son was finally working toward finding himself a spouse.
Walter wisely kept his mouth shut about all of that, and therefore found himself dragged to the picnic. It was a warm day, and Walter envied the ladies in their summer dresses instead of the suits the men were forced to wear. He dutifully had some ice cream and lemonade and wished ardently for a shady spot and a book.
What he found instead was Alice, in a brown dress and hat, smiling at him as if they were friends. And actually, Walter realized with a bit of a shock, they were, weren’t they? Alice looked very glad to see Walter, and was introduced to his parents, and even linked her arm with his as they walked. But after a little while, she had an errand to run, and so left again. Walter still felt quite happy to have run into a familiar face.
It would have been nice, of course, to have had Stephen there, but he’d made no mention of the picnic to Walter. And at that thought, Walter was filled with a sudden cold dread, realizing that the reason might be that Stephen was attending the picnic with a different lover.
The sun felt blinding at that moment, enough to cause Walter’s head to ache. His mother looked at him in concern, and then suddenly brightened, as Walter felt an arm slide around his shoulders, an embrace that he recognized at once.
“Now if I’d known what delicious men they’d have at this affair, I’d have been here hours ago,” Stephen announced. He stepped in front of Walter and lifted Walter’s hand to his mouth for a kiss, giving Walter a look that sparkled with mischief. “Hello, my darling,” he said, in a voice that was so obviously rich with shared secrets that it made Walter a little dizzy.
“Stephen,” Walter breathed. “You’re here.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning to be, but Alice gave me a call and said she’d seen you. I could hardly stay away.” Stephen dropped the seductive tone from his voice to greet Walter’s parents. “Hello, Mrs. Amesbury, Mr. Amesbury.”
Walter’s mother looked immensely gratified. “Stephen, how lovely to see you again.”
Stephen had put his arm back around Walter’s shoulders. “Now you must forgive me if I borrow Walter for a little while. I know it’s your first time at the picnic, being new in town, so he needs to know what our set gets up to. I promise not to have him back too late.”
And after that, as far as Walter could tell, the sunlight was dimmer, the air sweeter, and the day cooler.
“Your parents are very agreeable,” Stephen remarked as they picked a path between booths selling watermelon and candy.
Walter had not anticipated that Stephen would misunderstand something like that. “Oh,” he said, hesitantly. “Well, actually, they— I think they believe you’re— courting me.” It really was a rather awkward thing to explain to one’s short-term and non-exclusive lover.
“Seems like a reasonable assumption,” Stephen said.
Walter nearly missed his step, and Stephen quickly tucked Walter’s hand into his arm and covered it with his own. “Now, my dearest, I must tell you that there’s a reason I don’t usually care to attend the town picnic. It tends to devolve rather quickly after sundown, I’m afraid. Too wild even for me.”
“But you love parties,” Walter said.
Stephen smiled, every inch the amiable playboy. “I love champagne, and dancing, and laughing with friends, and well— other pleasant activities. I’ll never understand why some people think it’s more fun to drink to excess and start arguments, but that is the town picnic tradition.” Stephen squeezed Walter’s hand. “Don’t worry, darling, I won’t have you anywhere near that sort of thing. Alice called a few other friends as well, and we’ll have a bonfire of our own tonight.” He pressed a kiss to Walter’s cheek. “And I’ll make love to you under the stars,” he whispered. “How does that sound?”
“You know,” Walter said, with an air of challenge, “the sun is warm enough today that my cheeks are already red. No one can tell that you’re making me blush.”
Stephen gave a surprised laugh. “Oh, is that so?” He took a look around and Walter realized that Stephen had (predictably) led them away from the crowds and toward a little grove of trees. “Well, you know what that means?” Stephen asked in a low voice. “It means I can do absolutely anything to you and no one will know.”
Stephen tugged Walter out of sight, pushed him against a tree, and kissed him, full and sweet. Walter felt at that moment that the world must be a truly wonderful place if it allowed something as beautiful as this to happen, with this lovely man with his golden hair and blue eyes and broad hands that held Walter so tenderly.
Stephen started pressing soft kisses to Walter’s neck. “Absolutely anything,” he mused. “What shall I do first?”
Nearby voices startled Walter, and he put a hand over Stephen’s mouth to quiet him. Stephen looked at him in amusement as the voices grew closer and then passed by, fading again.
Walter had enough time to get a little flustered about what he’d done, and as usual, that left him with no words except stark honesty. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I wasn’t done kissing you.” He put a hand behind Stephen’s head and pulled him back down.
Somehow it was not a kiss quite like they’d ever had before: not ravenous or lustful or shy, but romantic. Like there was nothing else in the universe but this kiss, and there didn’t need to be. They’d never have to move away from this embrace, Walter thought, holding each other up, like they were one creation instead of two.
Stephen’s tongue moved against Walter’s with its usual grace, unhurried. Their lips met and broke and met again at new angles, back and forth at a measured pace, as natural and necessary as breathing. Walter could not understand how he’d existed before this, before learning that you could love a man so much that you wanted him more than you wanted to breathe.
When it finally drew to a close, Stephen seemed almost dazed.
“Sorry,” Walter said. “Was that too—”
Stephen took in a shaky breath. “Walter, one does not apologize for a kiss like that. I— I don’t think I can feel my toes.”
Walter gave a little laugh, feeling something new inside of him, something he barely recognized. Confidence.
Stephen put a hand on Walter’s cheek. “Do you have any idea how much I—” After a moment, he dropped Walter’s gaze. “Value your friendship?”
“I value yours too,” Walter said at once.
Stephen nodded. “Then come, my dearest, I’ll buy you dinner and we can listen to the band.”
The bonfires were built on a bit of beach by the lake, and Stephen’s friends lit theirs as the sun was going down. They had a few bottles of a nice red going around, but nothing stronger. Walter knew most of the people there: Alice, Gini, Henry, and Peg, a couple of people Stephen had gone to college with, and a set of male twins who bickered amiably with each other and passed a guitar back and forth. It was a much quieter gathering than some of the ones Walter could hear down the beach.
They’d spread blankets over the sand, and Stephen was lying on his back with his head in Walter’s lap. Walter was running his fingers through Stephen’s soft golden hair, and every once in a while Stephen would hook a hand behind Walter’s neck and pull him down for a kiss.
The group talked of music and recipes and memories. Everyone seemed desperate to tell Walter stories about Stephen in which he’d ended up playing the fool or being the butt of jokes. Stephen weathered the teasing with grace, his good humor as robust as always. In fact, it didn’t wane until a man Walter didn’t recognize arrived at the bonfire.
A few people had been wandering over from one of the other gatherings, and Walter had expected it— everyone knew Stephen, of course, and who wouldn’t want to be near him? But one of them was a man named Charles, who was apparently a neighbor of Stephen’s, and for some reason Stephen didn’t seem very glad to see him.
Perhaps it was just that Charles had clearly had a bit too much to drink. That had been obvious when he’d given Walter an overly wide smile and a blatant once-over on being introduced. Stephen had stiffened slightly in Walter’s arms, and Walter petted his hair to calm him. It wasn’t as if Walter had never been around a drunk person before, and Charles wasn’t starting any arguments, so Walter wasn’t quite sure why Stephen was upset.
The topic switched to memories of school, and Walter took part occasionally. He still wasn’t quite expecting everyone to listen to what he had to say, but it felt awfully nice that they did. Someone brought up Shakespeare and Henry attempted one of his favorite quotes: “My bounty is as bounty-less, no, sorry boundless as the sea, my love, infinite—” He trailed off, frowning.
“‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite,’” Walter said. “Romeo and Juliet.”
There was a little bit of applause, which startled Walter. “Which scene is that from?” Gini asked.
“Act two, scene two.”
And then came the question Walter should have seen coming: “Do you have it memorized?”
Walter looked down at Stephen, wondering if he was going to say something. But Stephen just smiled at him, gentle and reassuring. Walter knew Stephen well enough now to see that he wasn’t going to tell Walter’s secret, but he clearly thought that Walter should.
“I don’t mean to,” Walter said. “It just sort of happens when I read something. It stays in my head.” He’d never admitted that to such a large group of people before and his heart was racing.
“What, anything you read?” Henry asked.
“Well, sometimes I have to read it twice. But then, yes.”
“So you have Romeo and Juliet memorized?” Alice asked.
“And what other plays?”
“Um— all of them.” Walter’s voice was getting a bit faint.
Stephen sat up and arranged them so that Walter was leaning back against his chest, with Stephen’s arms wrapped closely around him. “All of Shakespeare,” Stephen said, sounding extremely proud. “Poems and plays. And a great many other things. Walter has an entire library in his mind.”
When Stephen had coaxed the truth about this out of Walter a few weeks ago, Walter hadn’t minded too much. Stephen was so very kind that Walter knew he wouldn’t be teased for his bizarre quirk. But he had not thought that anyone else would actually seem to admire it. That had certainly not been the way it had gone at school, which is why over the years the memory thing had become a secret.
“Have you read The Odyssey?” Henry asked, looking excited.
“So you can recite The Odyssey.”
“The whole thing?”
“Well, let’s hear it then!” Gini exclaimed.
At that point Stephen leaned forward to rest his chin on Walter’s shoulder. “Well, if you want that one,” he said, sounding mischievous, “you’ll have to specify English or Greek.”
There was a lot of exclamation in response to that, and the consensus was that people wanted to hear both. So Walter did a minute or so in ancient Greek first and then a bit more in English. When he stopped, there was applause, and Stephen moved his arms so that he could join in. Walter felt a hand on his knee, and looked up to see Charles, grinning at him drunkenly.
“Very impressive,” Charles said. “Should have you recite for me sometime.”
Charles’s hand was seized and thrown off of Walter’s knee before Walter could even think what to do about it. Walter had never seen Stephen’s good humor vanish so completely, or hear him speak so sharply as he did then. “I’m afraid you’ll have to get your own beautiful, brilliant scholar, Charles. This one is entirely mine.”
There was silence for a moment, everyone seeming a bit taken aback to see Stephen upset, although a few of Stephen’s close friends looked rather amused. As conversation began to drift back in, Stephen stood up and held out a hand to Walter. “Come with me,” he instructed, and Walter, of course, did exactly that. He was fairly certain that he couldn’t have recited his own name at that point, the word mine reverberating in his head.
They walked down the beach, away from the fires. The night had started to get cooler, but beside Walter, Stephen was radiating heat. “Listen, I’m sorry,” Stephen said.
Stephen’s voice was uncharacteristically morose. “I shouldn’t have been so possessive of you. It’s not an attractive trait in a lover. Obviously, you’re free to— associate with whomever you please.”
Walter stopped walking. “You can’t honestly think I’d prefer anyone else to you.”
Stephen’s face was only just visible in the faint light from the fires. “No?” he asked, sounding sort of weakly hopeful.
Walter almost laughed. “Are you unaware that you’re Stephen Fletcher?”
Stephen sighed. “Yes, well, that has its good and bad points.”
“Is it a lot of pressure to be the most eligible bachelor? Life of the party?”
“It’s more that it can be intimidating to people I’d really rather not intimidate.”
“But that’s why you’re so adored,” Walter protested. “You try so hard to make friends with everyone. Especially shy people like me.”
Stephen opened his mouth for a moment and then smiled, sort of sadly. “Of course. Come, my darling.”
Stephen held up a blanket that Walter hadn’t noticed before. “I promised I’d make love to you under the stars, didn’t I?”
Walter slipped his hand into Stephen’s and Stephen gripped it tightly. They walked into a dark stand of bushes and trees and Stephen found a place to stretch out the blanket. Stephen started to kiss him, and Walter was lost to it at once.
Stephen seemed a little impatient, pushing off Walter’s jacket, cradling his head in one hand so that he could kiss him hungrily, while his other hand worked at Walter’s tie. Walter was bare to the waist in moments and Stephen pulled him hard against him, sliding his hands over his back and down to grasp his ass.
“So you are mine, then, are you?” Stephen murmured, and Walter opened his mouth to say yes, but unexpectedly, the word failed to appear.
Stephen pulled back, looking concerned.
“It’s just,” Walter said, haltingly. “It’s just. You must have. Yourself. Other lovers.” He didn’t mean to say it or even want to say it, but the worry made itself manifest anyway.
Confusion crossed Stephen’s features, then realization, and then what looked like horror. “Forgive me,” he said. “I thought it was clear.”
Walter’s stomach lurched and he wished suddenly for his shirt. The air seemed very cold. “Of course,” he said. “Of course you do. Silly of me, really. I’m sorry. You only just said that— that possessiveness was unattractive, and here I’m—”
Stephen seized Walter’s shoulders and spoke forcefully. “I don’t want anyone but you.”
The nausea in Walter’s belly only grew. “What?” he asked.
“You don’t believe me.” Stephen dropped his hands and stepped back. “It’s my fault. I’m sorry. I know I have a reputation—”
“There’s nothing wrong with your reputation,” Walter said, feeling even colder now that Stephen had moved away. “It’s me. I’m hardly the type of man—”
“I really had hoped to make more progress changing your mind on that,” Stephen said. His gaze met Walter’s and he looked almost haunted. “But at least let me be clear on this. Walter, I desired you on the night we met. I told you I would have kissed you, but the truth is that I would have done a hell of a lot more if you’d have let me. And now that I am able to bring you to pleasure in my arms— I don’t want any other lovers. Whether or not you will ever believe me on the reason why, at least please trust me on that.”
“I do trust you,” Walter said, sounding as faint as he felt. Stephen nodded, and Walter could see in the weak light that his eyes were wet.
Walter stepped forward and kissed him, and Stephen’s arms came up around him again, and then Walter was no longer cold. In fact, he felt like there might actually be an inner fire in him, like Stephen always claimed, wonderfully warm. Walter’s heart wanted so badly to believe, and it seemed like his mind might finally be giving up the struggle.
Stephen wanted him. Walter could feel it as a hot, stiff erection pressed against his hip, in the hungry kisses Stephen was giving him. Stephen wanting only him— well, perhaps such a thing really was possible.
Stephen moved away from Walter’s mouth and trailed kisses down his neck and then his bare chest. Walter pushed at Stephen’s jacket to get him to remove it, but Stephen resisted, instead sinking to his knees on the blanket. Walter felt all the air leave him in a rush as he realized what Stephen was doing, his hands on Walter’s zipper.
“Oh,” Walter said, almost a gasp rather than a word. “I’ll fall over.”
Stephen looked up at him with amusement, and it was a relief to see a happier expression on his face. “Come down here then, my darling.” Stephen tugged on Walter’s hand and then arranged him on the blanket on his back. Stephen started over on the kissing, beginning with Walter’s mouth and moving down with a focused thoroughness. He lingered over Walter’s nipples, licking and mouthing at them, rolling them slightly in his fingers. Walter had never felt anything quite so sharply pleasurable and his hips rutted up against Stephen’s.
“Shall I make you come, my dearest?” Stephen murmured. “Once now and then again when I’m inside you?”
Walter’s hips stuttered and Stephen gave an amused little hum against his throat. “My beautiful, brilliant Walter. Just relax for me. I’ll take care of you.”
Stephen unfastened Walter’s trousers and freed his aching erection. “Always so hard for me,” Stephen said. “So gorgeous.” He licked a slow stripe up Walter’s cock from bottom to top and Walter stuffed a hand in his mouth to keep his noises down.
Walter tried very hard to last through Stephen’s gentle, open-mouth kisses, his tongue moving slowly across the head of Walter’s cock, licking up the pre-come, but when Stephen took him in his mouth, Walter could hold on no longer.
It was an incredible experience for Walter to come in Stephen’s mouth, his cock surrounded by a wet heat and a skillful suction that was more effective than a hand had ever been. Walter felt almost light-headed as he climaxed, his hips lifting off the blanket as Stephen swallowed around him, making a soft humming noise that sent a dizzying vibration through Walter’s body.
When Walter came back to himself again, Stephen had a very pleased look on his face. “I wish you could see how beautiful you are,” he said. He kissed Walter, full and slow, letting Walter taste himself on Stephen’s tongue. “And all mine.”
“Yes,” Walter said, without hesitation.
Stephen kissed him gently on the cheek. “And do you want me, my love? Inside of you?”
Stephen kissed him a little more roughly. “Darling, you don’t know what you do to me.”
Walter wrapped his arms around Stephen’s neck to hold him close and they kissed and kissed as if there was nothing else they ever had to do in the world. Stephen started removing his own clothes, and when they were both naked, he drew up half the blanket to cover them.
Walter was hard again by that point and Stephen was careful not to excite him too much as he began to prepare him. Walter was in heaven anyway, entranced by Stephen’s careful fingers stretching him. Walter’s mouth was open on a continuous soft moan, experiencing a pleasure that was entirely new to him.
When Stephen’s fingers withdrew, Walter whined a little, and Stephen was quick to place a kiss against his throat. “Patience, my love.”
Stephen pushed Walter’s legs up gently and moved in between them. “I need you to tell me if I’m hurting you, all right? You’re incredibly tight, darling, and I want this to feel as good for you as it will for me.”
Walter nodded, and he felt the blunt head of Stephen’s cock pressing at his entrance. When it pushed in, Stephen groaned, and Walter surged up to kiss him. They kissed as Stephen pressed farther in, and then farther, until his hips were snug against Walter’s ass. Stephen’s expression above Walter was a dazed sort of bliss, and Walter felt that odd confidence in him again. He shifted his hips, and Stephen moaned, putting a hand on him to hold him still.
“Keep a close rein on that passion for just a little while longer,” Stephen said, with a shaky smile. “Let yourself get used to it, and then I promise you, my love, I’ll make you forget your own name.”
“I don’t need a name,” Walter assured him. “I just need you.”
Stephen kissed him again, and he began to rock his hips slowly, pulling out slightly and pushing back in. Walter gasped in pleasure and Stephen’s hands tightened on him. “How is that?”
Walter couldn’t answer, he just gave a little moan. Stephen snapped his hips a little harder. “God, Walter. You’re taking me so well. knew you would.’
“Take me,” Walter begged. “Stephen, please.” And that seemed to be the end of Stephen’s own patience. He began thrusting faster, pulling out and pushing back in with a steady rhythm.
Walter lifted his hips to try to take Stephen deeper, needing the hot, hard press of him inside more than he had ever needed anything. He wanted Stephen to come, he realized. Almost more than he wanted to come himself. He wanted Stephen’s spend inside of him, proof that Stephen had found his pleasure with Walter, that he desired him, that he was with Walter and no one else.
Stephen’s thrusts were growing harder, and Walter could feel him everywhere, naked skin against skin, the sweat between their bodies, the places Stephen gripped and caressed and kissed. Walter’s cock was caught between them and rubbed against their stomachs, slick with pre-come and sweat.
When Walter orgasmed, Stephen gasped in surprise. “You— untouched. God, Walter.” He thrust in three more times, finally hard enough to almost be painful, and then cried out, and Walter could feel the hot rush of come inside of him. Stephen’s hips kept moving, gentler, as he rode out his climax, until he let himself down on top of Walter. It was beautiful to feel Stephen’s weight there, his cock softened but still inside, his spend making a mess of them both.
Stephen kissed Walter, soft and sweet and tender, and Walter felt a profound peace settle into him, like he could live in that moment for the rest of his life.
The peace lasted until the bonfire broke apart. Stephen and Walter made their way back to their friends, and Walter lay his head in Stephen’s lap this time. He drifted pleasantly in and out of sleep as people chatted, with Stephen’s hand stroking his hair, and Walter’s glasses hanging from Stephen’s vest. They were one of the first parties to break up, though, just as Walter was starting to hear shouting and arguing from down the beach.
Stephen’s car wasn’t far, but it was quite dark, and Stephen asked Walter to wait while he pulled up closer. Walter didn’t mind, even when he found himself waiting alone for a few minutes, until Charles strolled up with two women Walter didn’t know.
Charles looked drunker and quite irritated. “So,” he said, giving Walter another once-over, this one less flattering, “Stephen Fletcher’s got a shiny new toy.”
Walter held his tongue, looking out toward the lake.
“He will tire of you,” one of the women said. “He always does. That’s his pattern. A new love every few months, a passionate romance that fades as quickly as it comes. And you— you aren’t even his type.”
“Stephen’s just playing around with him,” said the other woman. “The way you try on a hat to see if it suits you.”
“You don’t suit him,” Charles informed Walter, leaning in. “Look at you.”
Walter bit his lip with the effort of keeping quiet. Good advice always said to ignore mean-spirited people and they’d go away, but of course, they never did.
The first woman’s tone gentled. “We’re only trying to help,” she said. “It’s fairly obvious he’s your first. Your only. You don’t want to make the mistake of falling in love with him.”
“Lots of people are in love with Stephen,” Charles said, in a drunkenly wise tone. “Stephen doesn’t feel it back. He’s not the type to settle down.”
“Oh, look at him,” one of them said. Walter had ceased to pay attention to which one of them it was anymore. “He wants to settle down. Have a house. Adopt children with Stephen Fletcher.” They were laughing then.
Walter saw the flash of headlights in the parking lot and he broke away, wiping tears off of his cheeks and hoping Stephen wouldn’t notice.
It really shouldn’t have gotten under Walter’s skin so easily, the things Charles and his friends said about Stephen.
Walter was used to bullies, he knew they were cruel without cause. But the problem was, everything they claimed was true.
Stephen had said Walter was his only lover, and Walter believed that. But for how long? The facts were the facts. Stephen had engaged in many passing affairs. He didn’t tend to leave bitter enemies behind, but that was probably because no one expected him to be more than a temporary lover.
And Walter knew full well that Stephen wasn’t really interested in him. Their dalliance had started because Stephen was being kind, and had lasted this long because for the moment Stephen found Walter desirable enough to be a pleasant distraction. Walter knew that. But at the same time, he hadn’t really dealt with it. He’d dutifully labeled it as temporary in his head, but had spent no time trying to prepare himself for what was going to happen when it was over.
Walter was going to have his heart broken. There was never a chance of any other outcome. He’d fallen in love with Stephen the night they’d met, and it was worse even than that, because Walter didn’t make friends easily. He tried to imagine himself sitting around a bonfire with Gini and Alice, seeing Stephen across the blanket with a new lover in his lap. Walter would never be able to stand it. When Stephen left, Walter was probably going to lose all of his new friends.
Surely that wasn’t the outcome that Stephen had wanted. But it wasn’t his fault. Walter was the one holding on too hard.
Stephen released Walter from a kiss only to have more room to unbutton Walter’s trousers. The hedge behind Walter dug into the skin of his neck where he was pressed against it.
“At some point,” Walter said, “We’re going to have to learn to do this in complete privacy.”
Stephen grinned at him, sliding his hand into Walter’s trousers and palming his rigid cock. “Everyone knows full well that the only reason to have a hedge maze on your property is so you can fuck outdoors. And this is the August Ball, my darling. The last party of summer. The hedge maze is tradition.”
Walter tried to let a moan cover the sudden chill he had, wondering who Stephen would take into this maze next year. Maybe they never would learn to do this in private. Maybe this was the last time.
Stephen stilled his hand. The sun had set and his face was pale in the semi-darkness. “What is it, my love? You know we don’t have to do this.”
“No, Stephen, I want you. Please.”
Stephen still looked uncertain. He’d noticed that something was wrong with Walter, starting after the bonfire. Walter hated to see the concern on his face, knowing that it was his fault. Stephen should always look happy, and Walter was worrying him.
Walter leaned forward and kissed Stephen again, and Stephen kissed back, a little harder now, and then turned Walter so that he was facing away. There was a pedestal in this corner of the maze with a statue attached to it and Walter braced his hands on it. Stephen went back to caressing Walter’s cock and Walter pressed back against him, grinding against Stephen’s erection.
Stephen gave a low laugh and slipped his other hand over Walter’s ass, his fingers circling his entrance. When he pushed in, his finger was slick, and Walter realized he must have brought oil with him in the pocket of his tuxedo. It made Walter’s hips stutter to think how Stephen was always planning ahead like that, imagining them together, and he thrust up against Stephen’s hand.
Stephen hummed against him, sounding more sure of himself now. “Oh, not yet, my beauty. Not til I’m inside of you. You can wait for me, can’t you?”
“You can wait.” Stephen pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Oh, darling, you feel so good. Do you know—” another kiss— “that I have you memorized? I can’t do it with books like you can, but I know you by heart. Even here in the dark, I know just how to get you ready for me.” He kissed farther down on Walter’s neck as he slipped a second finger in.
“I memorized you too,” Walter confessed.
“Did you?” Stephen had that old fondness in his voice. “I hoped so.”
“I won’t ever forget you now. I can’t.”
Stephen shifted suddenly, removing his fingers and pulling on Walter’s hips to set him at a better angle. “I would never let you,” he said, in a hard voice, and pushed inside of Walter in a long, slow slide.
Walter bit his lip to keep his voice down, moving back against Stephen to take him faster. They had learned this part together. Stephen knew exactly how to angle himself to hit Walter’s sweet spot and Walter knew what Stephen liked, which was for Walter to let go and let Stephen take him back to that heaven they shared.
It wasn’t difficult. Being with Stephen like this, moving in tandem, making something beautiful out of the two of them— Walter was already floating in the clouds. “I’m close,” he gasped.
Stephen growled quietly. “God, Walter, you’re perfect.” He grasped Walter’s hip and started the harsher thrusts that Walter knew meant he was nearing his climax.
The feeling of Stephen roughly taking his pleasure from Walter’s body pushed Walter over the edge. He came untouched, spurting onto the ground in front of him. Stephen slammed into him once more and came as well, flooding Walter with hot pulses of come.
Stephen pressed kisses to the back of Walter’s neck as they panted together in the darkness. “So what do you think of the hedge maze, my darling?”
Walter groaned a little as Stephen pulled out and began to clean him. “Highlight of the party.”
Stephen laughed. “It had better be.” He turned Walter and kissed him deeply before helping him to adjust his clothes.
The August Ball was the last event of the summer season. It was black tie and tails, elegance and grace. Walter had acquired a tuxedo, and managed to wear it adequately enough. With Stephen’s help after the hedge maze, he probably wore it a little better.
But nothing else about Walter fit quite right into this crowded party. He couldn’t make proper conversation with people he didn’t know, who made up most of the attendees. He was too afraid to eat in his fancy clothes. And he still couldn’t dance very well. He and Stephen had a lot of fun practicing, but that wouldn’t be appropriate here in front of everyone. He would embarrass Stephen. So when Stephen asked him to dance, Walter declined.
Stephen accepted the refusal with grace, but he was back to looking worried again. Walter couldn’t stand to see it. “You should dance with your other friends,” he said, putting on a brave smile. “You love to dance.” When Stephen hesitated, Walter gave him a light push. “Go on.”
Stephen did. And he looked wonderful out there on the floor, moving under the lights. When Stephen had stepped into the parlor of Walter’s house that evening in a tuxedo, Walter had stumbled over his own feet. His mind had gone right back to that first night when he’d felt mesmerized by Stephen’s beauty and his ready smile, his charming manner.
Walter had never felt so strongly that he didn’t belong with Stephen, and he felt the same way now, watching Stephen dance with other people. There was a woman in a blue dress who seemed utterly infatuated with Stephen, staring up at him and blushing. Walter knew it was the same look he often wore himself.
Walter slipped out of the ballroom, hoping that if he wandered long enough, he might locate a library. Before he’d gotten far, he felt a tug on his arm, and he realized that Stephen must have been paying a lot closer attention to him than he’d realized.
Stephen looked more concerned than ever. “I push you too hard, don’t I?” he asked.
“The parties. You really do hate them, don’t you? The crowds and the dancing. I’m so sorry. I should never have— come, I’ll take you home.”
“No,” Walter said, horrified. “Don’t miss the party. You love parties.”
“I couldn’t care less about any of this,” Stephen said, waving his hand around. “I only care about—” He broke off, looking down at his feet. “I’m pushing you again. I’m sorry. The last thing I ever wanted to do was to make you uncomfortable.”
“I know,” Walter said. “You’re very kind.”
Stephen turned away abruptly. “Let me find someone to take you home.”
Walter found himself wandering about in a bit of a daze, eventually ending up outside on the veranda. He could see the hedge maze from there but couldn’t bear to look at it. He was resolutely gazing at the stars when someone joined him.
“You held onto him longer than I thought, I’ll give you that.”
Walter recognized the voice. “Charles. How lovely to see you.”
One of the women was with him again, in a perfect gown that matched her perfect face. “But where is he now?” she asked, sounding gleeful.
“Off dancing with someone else again, I’m sure,” Charles said.
“What do you want?” Walter snapped. It was a mistake— they scented blood.
“It’s just amusing,” Charles said, with a smug smile. “From the way Stephen talks about you, we all thought you’d have been gone long ago.”
Walter said nothing, but it didn’t matter.
“He does talk about you, you know. To all of us. Talks about your, um— qualities. Such as they are.”
“Oh, it’s not his fault,” the woman put in. “Charles, be nice. Walter can’t help that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“The thing is,” Charles said, “Stephen could have anyone. You know that. Beautiful people who know how to please him. Why on earth would he be with you except as a source of amusement to us all?”
“Stephen laughs about you all the time,” the woman said. “Oh, the stories he tells.”
“You know, I thought you were supposed to be some genius,” Charles said, “so I don’t know how you missed it. I mean, when he tells you you’re beautiful, you know that’s a lie. So why would you believe any of the rest of it?”
Walter felt curiously detached from the conversation, as if he were floating up in the sky and watching it. He could see other people gathering around now, sensing something amiss. He thought he saw Gini for a moment, but she stepped back into the house.
It seemed the world was waiting for Walter’s answer and that he had all the time in the universe to answer it. It took barely a breath.
“I don’t believe you,” Walter said. “I don’t believe a single thing you just said. Not because I think I have what it would take to win a man like Stephen, but because I know there’s nothing so cruel about him. He’s been a good friend to me, and I know that was real. I know he cares for me.”
There was silence among the crowd on the veranda, which was why Walter heard a step he recognized. He turned to see Stephen and Gini come out of the house.
Walter couldn’t see any point in stopping then. “And as for me,” he said, looking at the best friend he’d ever had, “Stephen Fletcher, I love you.”
Stephen’s eyes widened and Gini put a hand on his arm, squeezing hard.
“And it’s not just because you’re so beautiful and charming,” Walter said, “but because you’re a good man. You’re kind and sincere, and the only people who don’t love you are envious and cold-hearted.” He shot a glare at Charles and his companion, who seemed a bit uncertain now, surrounded by a lot of people who weren’t looking at them very charitably.
“So— thank you for being my friend.” Walter gave a bit of a laugh. “You know, I was even starting to enjoy parties. I probably shouldn’t say why though.” He looked around, the reality of his large audience beginning to sink in. “I’ll go. I think it’s time for me to go.”
“No!” Stephen rushed forward and the crowd parted for him. He reached Walter and seized his arms. “No, don’t go. Walter, please don’t.”
Stephen looked utterly heartbroken. Walter had never seen him in such pain, and it nearly broke his heart as well. “Walter, my darling, you know I’ve adored you since the night we met. Your brilliance and your passion. You’re the most extraordinary person I know. And— and I should have told you. I should have made sure you knew from the beginning that this was something very serious for me.”
Stephen’s hands on Walter’s arms were trembling. “But I was so scared that you wouldn’t believe it. I worried you might think it was a joke or just something meaningless that I said to everyone. I didn’t know what to do, so I thought if I tried to develop an intimacy with you, as far as you would let me take it, then maybe when you saw how much I truly desired you, you’d believe me when I said I loved you.” Stephen raised a shaky hand to brush a curl away from Walter’s eyes. “Do you?”
Walter felt his eyes growing wet and tried to blink it away. “Like—”
“Like everything.” Stephen gave him a hesitant smile. “Like a friend, and a lover— and a husband, if you’d have me.”
Walter had never thought to hear such a thing, and definitely not from such a man, but this time, the thought settled right into his heart without resistance. “Yes,” he said.
Stephen’s eyes grew wide with a kind of stunned, desperate hope. “Yes?”
Stephen pulled Walter into an embrace and then a kiss that was half a sob. People on the veranda were cheering, and Stephen held Walter so tightly he almost couldn’t breathe. And then Stephen released him suddenly, patting his pockets, searching. “Wait, I have a ring!”
“You have what?”
Stephen pulled a box from his pocket. “My darling, you have no idea how much I love you.”
Walter smiled at him, his beautiful Stephen. “Yes, I do.”