Patrick unwrapped the gift box very, very slowly.
Partly to prolong his surprise at anyone buying him a present in the first place, partly because he knew Lee expected a bit of a production. And partly because the sticky tape was so bloody tangled, Patrick couldn’t get the flaps of the paper open without a real struggle.
“I had a problem with the wrapping,” Lee broke in. He sat across on the armchair opposite the sofa in their shared flat above the shop, With A Kick. His legs jiggled with tension, and his mouth didn’t seem to know whether to smile or grimace.
Over on the sofa, Patrick swallowed, his throat starting to dry. What the hell had Lee bought?
“I better tell you right now, I can’t take it back. I mean. If you don’t like it.”
Now Lee was defensive. Never a good sign. And Patrick had made so many stupid mistakes in the past, he was disproportionately worried about raining on Lee’s parade. “Rubbish. I’m sure I will.” Though… he wasn’t, actually. That look in Lee’s eyes, like he knew he was potentially heading for trouble? It always made Patrick nervous.
“It’s just a bit of fun,” Lee added quickly. Too quickly.
Patrick teased at the frighteningly-bright orange paper, revealing the edge of a cardboard box.
Lee audibly gulped. “Something for us both, I mean I know you don’t have truck with anniversaries and such-like, but I wanted to mark this one, it being three months engaged, right?”
Patrick warmed inside. No, he didn’t “have truck” with spurious anniversaries. And Lee did tend to mark everything, from three hours since they last kissed, one week since they created the latest new ice cream together, one month since the opening of their joint bank account, two months since Lee properly moved in with all his stuff, four months since they first had sex (further sub-heading: four months less some days since they first had sex on the freezer counter), to five months since the explosion at With A Kick—But. No. Patrick wouldn’t remember that day unless he absolutely had to.
And really? He loved these anniversaries. Anything that bound him closer to Lee: anything that celebrated the astonishing, wonderful, exciting, increasingly familiar thing that was Them being an established couple.
He pulled the paper fully off the box, exposing the brand logo.
Lee gave a sudden suck of breath.
Patrick’s mouth went even drier. Build a Bear?
“It was a special offer,” Lee said hurriedly. “I know you’ve never had time for soft toys. I know you think manufactured romance is both unnecessarily sentimental and manipulative.”
Good God. That sounded like a direct quote. Patrick felt ashamed of ever being so pompous. He lifted the edge of the lid.
“Fuck’s sake, Patrick.” Lee shook his head but he was grinning now. “If you could see the look on your face.”
Patrick drew out the small, brown, furry, toy bear. “This is for me?”
Lee shrugged, still grinning. He looked a bit pink now, too. “For you, yes. Us. You know, for the shop. Like a… a mascot. Something like that.”
Patrick stared at the bear which, to give it its due, stared right back at him. “It’s wearing… what’s it wearing?”
Lee gave a snort. “It’s a baking set. He’s dressed like a baker. Apron, hat—”
Hat? Patrick had never worn a hat to bake, let alone something like this jaunty red-and-purple striped beret… thing.
“—I couldn’t get an ice cream designer set, of course not,” Lee continued scornfully, as if anyone would ever expect that unique specialist job, “or even a chef set—”
Patrick wasn’t a chef, not really, though he’d had ambitions, once upon a long-forgotten time. He suspected he may have confessed those ambitions to Lee, in what they used to call ‘pillow talk’. How embarrassing! But nowadays that generated a private smile, rather than humiliation.
“—so I created my own decoration—”
The bear’s fur was soft, comforting, under Patrick’s fingers. It was a remarkable tactile thing. He stroked gently, thinking how he hadn’t owned a soft toy since he was a kid. And the shop’s name pasted on that ghastly hat was a touching thought.
“—including the ice cream.”
Patrick took his time examining the motif sewn onto the bear’s apron. It was very… bold. He’d never created a purple and blue ice cream. Perhaps he should. “Um. Thank you?”
Lee snorted. “You’re bloody lucky actually. For a wild moment—remembering a couple of school productions I was in—I was tempted by the light-up princess dress.”
Patrick reckoned he kept his wince of shock to himself, he really did.
“There was a Chewbacca sleeper suit, too.” Lee caught Patrick’s even more appalled look and burst into laughter. “Well, anyway. I thought the oven mitt was a nice touch. Cute. Provocative.” His eyes widened and he flushed as if he hadn’t meant to say that aloud. “I mean… provocative for a mitt. If it could be. Not that you’d use… you know. I mean.”
There was an odd catch to his voice that made Patrick glance up sharply. What did Lee mean? He patted the sofa beside him and Lee scooted over to sit with him.
“This ice cream,” Patrick said slowly.
“Hm?” Lee rubbed his cheek against Patrick’s shoulder. His hand rested on the bear as well so, as Patrick stroked, he caressed Lee’s fingers.
“It’s very suggestive.”
“What the hell?” Lee frowned, peering at the bear’s apron.
“The tip of the cone, hanging down below the apron,” Patrick said with a soft growl. “Pointing to his groin. Resting on his thigh.”
Lee started to laugh again. “That’s just my poor sewing.”
“It looks like he dresses to the left,” Patrick persisted. He let his fingertip run up and down the cone. “Like someone should take him in hand and… tuck him back in.”
“Bloody nonsense,” Lee snorted again, but his hand was warm on Patrick’s and his leg was jiggling again, except perhaps it wasn’t with nerves this time. “It’s just a bear. If you’re that bothered, you can re-sew it yourself—”
“No. It’s perfect as it is,” Patrick interrupted. “Because I like a pointer to where I should be looking.”
“I miss cues, don’t I? I know I frustrate you sometimes. But this bear is telling me exactly what to do. Where to go.”
Lee shook his head, rolling his eyes. But his breath had shortened. He leaned back on the sofa and his knees fell further apart.
“Thank you for my—our—bear,” Patrick murmured, as he leaned in to kiss Lee. “A perfect mascot. A lovely gift. Very thoughtful.”
“Stop taking the piss,” Lee gasped around Patrick’s tongue, his arms already snaking around Patrick’s neck.
“Don’t be insolent,” Patrick grunted back, his hand sliding down inside Lee’s loose jeans.
“Or… I’ll spank you with my mitt.” Patrick had meant it as a joke but he didn’t mistake Lee tensing up beneath him. Well, well, well. He laughed happily as Lee molded to him eagerly. He wondered if they’d make it to bed or just… hey. Do it right here. Patrick could take cues as much as any other man, even if that hadn’t been meant in the first place.
Meanwhile, the poor bear had rolled off Patrick’s lap and was squashed between them as they made out.
He still had a smile, though.
copyright clare london