Personal Space

PERSONAL SPACE

© Clare London / 2010

I mean, you can’t call him cute, can you? Dammit, I tried it once, just in jest, and I swear to God he’d have knocked me across the kitchen if he hadn’t pulled his punch back in time. As it was, I dodged, tumbled down on my arse and broke a perfectly good couple of breakfast plates. He dragged me up off the floor and apologised rather shamefacedly, but said it sounded like I was describing a kitten; like I was enthusing over chocolate. He said he thought I was mocking him, that he wouldn’t really have hit me, that I’d caught him unawares. When he ran out of excuses, I just smiled.

But he is.

Cute, that is. And fascinating to me. And gorgeous. And, of course, he knows that’s what I think. He knows that I know that he knows… you know how that goes. Never really admitted, but it’s all known. Goes without saying, though I’m not always sure why. But if it were spoken aloud, it’d embarrass the hell out of both of us, I guess.

Well, I think it would him.

It gets me down sometimes. I’m not the world’s best at playing these games. I like to say what I feel; show it sometimes. But I put up with it, because that’s how he wants it. He calls the shots. Or likes to think he does.

So when he crashes at my place, I’m allowed to make him welcome. I’m allowed to feed him, provide shelter and washing and a kind of sanctuary. Perhaps I can even hold him for a while, and listen to his halting tales of depression and confusion, while he recovers some kind of sanity. Perhaps we might slip into bed sometimes together, and those times are rich with excitement and vibrancy that – for me – thrum along my nerves for days afterwards.

No-one else gets that close to me.

But it’s never enough to become an expectation, you know? He doesn’t need it, you see. Doesn’t need anything more than friendship. Though when he says that, his voice shakes, and his tone is sort of careful, as if he doesn’t want to upset his friends. Upset me. But the fucking is just for fun – it’s a release for us both. Or so he tries to explain, when I’ve occasionally been tired enough to let the question slip. He says we fit well together; we know exactly how to bring the best out in each other. Hell, do we!

And he’s always gone again before I can take anything for granted.

Look, I know it’s not a pity fuck, for which I’m grateful. Dammit, I’d probably be grateful even if it was, because at least I’d have that body in my bed, and that mouth on my throat, and that whimper of unbidden pleasure as my reward…

Anyway, enough of that. I just think fuckbuddies is too harsh a phrase to describe us. He’s more than just a buddy; our occasional nights are a damned sight more than just fucking. But I couldn’t categorise it any further than that. Don’t want to, really. Label it and lose it, is my motto. Take it and tolerate it is the far better option.

*

When he arrived earlier tonight, it looked like it had been a particularly bad time. He has them sometimes, dropping out of whatever job he’s been doing, turning off his phone, staying away from all of his friends for months. We don’t know where he goes, what he does – or what he’s done. We don’t know who looks after him when he’s out of our care. And usually he turns up at one of the others’ places first, even if he ends up sleeping on my couch or bed. Against my arching back.

This time he came to my place. To me, first.

But … Happy new year? I don’t think he had any idea of today’s date, or the fact he hadn’t been around since Halloween.

He wouldn’t talk about where he’d been. He ate with a barely controlled fury, like it had been a while since he’d had decent food. He drank more beer than he should have, though he took plenty of water as well. He wouldn’t call anyone, and wouldn’t let me call the others, even just to let them know he was okay. There’d be time for that in the morning, he said, his voice hoarse. I saw rips in his coat and stains on the cloth, and he winced when I accidentally knocked against his hip in the kitchen, fetching fruit for dessert.

I knew, of course, not to probe any further.

The sex? Yeah, there was sex. It took me by surprise – his aggression, his greed, his passion for me. We never even made it to bed. He fell on me right there in the kitchen, with a strange, gargled sound in his throat like a sob. His hands were clumsy and impatient on my clothes, but strangely reverent on me. I tried to make it comfortable for him, but he didn’t seem to see me clearly. I tried to hold him back – to give him more pleasure from it – but he raced on regardless. He took me like he’d never get the chance again, holding me down as if otherwise I’d make a break for it, dragging his lips along my skin as if he needed the taste of me to help him breathe. His fingers clutched me hard, his nails digging into me, while he moaned strange, incomprehensible sounds in my ear as he came. The garbled words made me shake with my own desire underneath him, even when the only sensible one I recognised was my name.

It had never been intense like that before.

He crashed out on my couch shortly afterwards, fighting it for a while, insisting he’d help me clear up after supper. I never expected him to, but he dragged himself up to do some of it. Then he stumbled into the shower almost before I’d run it to a decent temperature. He wouldn’t let me take his clothes to wash, or unpack his bag for him. He only agreed to use my bed because I insisted. Loudly, and with a couple of imaginative curses that made him smile. Very, very barely.

I didn’t talk to him after that. That’s never been a problem, though. Silence is as eloquent for us: we seem to operate on a more instinctive level most of the time. As I pottered around the bathroom, getting out clean towels for him, I thought I heard a sound from his mouth, as if he tried to say something to me. But when I turned around, there was no sound there. Just his pursed lips, the water streaming down over his hair, plastering it against his head, and the fluorescent bathroom light shining in the corners of his eyes.

I left the bathroom, to give him the time and space to get ready for sleep. Those eyes were – wild, is the only word that approaches a true description. Don’t want to use words like frenzied, like aggressive, like scared. He looked at me as I pulled the door over behind me, and he must have seen his reflection in my own gaze. He shuddered, and turned away from me.

*

And now he’s here, asleep in my bed. I stand in the doorway, watching. Like I often do, not that he knows it. His hair’s mussed, his jeans and shirt in a pile on the floor. Boxers riding up on one side of his thigh. It’s a pair of mine – he doesn’t seem to have brought many clothes with him this time. There’s a ring of bruises around his ankle and several on his torso; an angry weal on one calf. Nothing that seems to call for a doctor’s attention, but worrying nonetheless. And he looks a damned sight thinner than the last time I saw him.

But his eyes are closed now on the misery, and his limbs are at peace from whatever conflict there’s been. He’s the most relaxed – the most cute – he could ever be.

And I’m the one he trusts to see it.

There’s a trail of multi-coloured Christmas lights still wound around my bedside lamp. It’s been fun to have them on at night, even though it’s the end of the season and I should be packing everything up. I don’t turn them on tonight, though. I can see him well enough in the light reflected from the hallway.

He’s on his side, his left arm folded up under the pillow, though he usually scorns the number of cushions I have on my bed. There’s a glimpse of dark fabric under his cheek. I wonder if some of his clothes are caught up there, and I slip in quietly to move them out before they crease and irritate him in his deep sleep.

It’s not clothing, I realise. It’s one of my soft toys.

That used to be another topic of argument for him. They’re nothing but small souvenirs, but I keep a tumbled pile of them in my bedroom, so I can see them when I come and go. Okay, you don’t have to say anything, I’ve already lived through the jokes and the rolled eyes from our friends. They’re stuffed toys, they’re playthings, they’re for kids… but I still like them. They’re comfort. And adults need that, too, right?

He’d always criticised me about them, in the past. Then I got upset one late evening, about six months ago. I try not to be over sensitive, but fuck, I’ve had little enough of my own over the years, so I reckon I’m entitled to some indulgences. Well, that was the gist of what I said that night during a brief but heated argument, though there may have been a few more of those imaginative curses involved. I know I raised my voice to him, and that’s something … I try not to do. The startled pain in his eyes is too raw for us both to bear.

I’d waited for him to walk out, laughing. Or worse, in anger. But he didn’t. He stayed, and he didn’t mention the toys again, at least not in a scornful way. His eyes were on me for the rest of the evening, at least when he thought I wasn’t noticing, and he looked both puzzled and nervous. He was quiet and gentle with me that night. We slept together, spooned up in the bed as if we’d always been like that, and always would be. He stayed for a couple more nights, too, before he moved out again.

I smile to myself at the thought of the toys. They’re gifts that have been given to me, or I’ve given myself. There are memories there for me – memories of people, of places. Memories of a drunken night; of birthdays and graduations; of an injured child, a distant relative, and rueful apologies. Memories of tears and uncontrollable laughter. My life to date.

A couple I bought after he’d been to stay last time. A weird purple alien thing that made me laugh, and a loose-limbed rag doll, dressed like a Christmas elf, complete with a jaunty cloth hat and a broad, cheeky smile. With its mop of dark woollen hair, it reminds me of him. Without the cheeky smile, of course, and not even a fool like me would suggest he ever wore checked red-and-green shorts. But the facial expression is simple and friendly, which is how I’d like him to look: at peace, in the real world, with nothing more agonising on his mind than what to stock in the fridge or which movie to watch on a Saturday night. Maybe it’s how I imagine he would look, if his life had been different.

If I’d met him earlier.

I think he knew, that night we argued, there was something in my collection that was for me alone, something he had no call over. Despite his control of every other damned moment we’re together, whether deliberate or not. Something compensating me for my bleak childhood, that’s always there, that I treasure, that doesn’t change. Something he can’t reach. Something he doesn’t have.

He doesn’t realise I understand that about him.

And now here’s one of those toys, tucked up under his arm, resting against his lips, pouting where they press against the pillow. I take a silent step forward and look more closely. Yes, I guessed right, it’s the elf that looks like him. Well, sort of.

Bizarre, but I smile regardless. It’s looking ragged because I don’t mind admitting it sleeps many nights with me. Silly gesture, but comfort nonetheless. Shit, it’s probably carrying the thread of my drooling and sweat from those hot nights last month, when I was so restless in bed. I shake my head, though there’s no one to see my grimace. It probably stinks of me.

He stirs in his sleep, though I’m sure he won’t have heard me. I move silently around that room many a night. Sometimes I sit on the bed and breathe in his smell. Sometimes I lie down beside him, not yet ready to sleep, but just to feel the heat radiating from him. He’s cleared a space behind him on the mattress tonight, and I wonder when he got so unselfish. He usually spreads out in his sleep, filling whatever space he’s given.

But then, I give him as much of that as he needs, don’t I?

With a sigh, he rolls over on to his back, still clutching the toy to his chest with one hand, his torso moving with steady breaths. He looks much younger; much more peaceful at last. The elf is squashed against his face, the peaked cloth hat folded down over its face, its fabric arm bent double against his lower lip. As I watch, he sighs again. He draws in a deep breath, his nostrils flaring, as if he’s drawing in the smell of the bed, of the toy, of … me. His arms tighten around his captured comforter, and he smiles. Not as wide as the elf’s grin, but an unexpected delight for me nonetheless. He’s still asleep, his mind somewhere I don’t know or he won’t tell me about, but …

He’s smiling.

I can feel my heart beating too fast, my mouth is oddly dry. I slip out of my sweats and decide to let the rest of the washing up wait until morning. There’s something about tonight that’s different. I let myself down on the bed beside him at last, stretching out to match his length. My bare feet nudge against his, and when I turn my head, my lips brush his neck.

At the sound of his whispered voice, I almost jump out of my skin.

” ‘S new year.”

I wonder if I’ve misheard. His eyes don’t open, his body still feels asleep. I breathe gently against his shoulder, seeking to calm him.

“Changes. Need … changes.”

“Sh. Yes.”

“Mine?” It’s still a whisper, and I wonder what he’s dreaming. Does he mean the toy or some other possession? Maybe a person in his mind; a memory. Or a wish. Maybe … something I’ve wished for too, for a long time. The pattern of his breathing still hasn’t changed but his body relaxes against me.

I curl an arm around his waist, and press myself into the curve of his side. It’s enough for me. The warmth comes from a lot more than the bed and the rumpled blankets around us.

“Yes,” I whisper back, my lips soft and damp against his warm cheek. “I’m yours.”
 

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