© Clare London / 2011
Sam groaned and leant heavily against the door frame. His arms ached from the wrists up to the shoulders. Damned boxes! He still hugged one to his chest, one of the smaller but heavier ones, roughly taped shut at the top and with something awkwardly shaped poking out from the side into his ribs. He winced as he felt it raise a bruise: that’d match the one on his other side from when he moved the armchair.
Liam appeared from the door along the corridor, a couple of empty holdalls slung over his shoulder. Sam glanced over at him. “Sorry, man. I just needed a couple more bags, you know?”
Liam ran his eyes over the selection of boxes on the landing, the rolled up bedding, the zipped bags of clothing, the fishing rods, the set of saucepans lashed together with cord, the plastic carriers full of assorted holiday souvenirs, and the jumble of books and magazines. There was a battered soft toy on the top of it all, with no identifiable features on its head except for a single, chewed ear.
Sam grimaced. He knew the whole pile of Boxes So Far looked like it might topple at any time, if a strong wind blew through the building, or – which was more likely – the kid from downstairs rode his skateboard down the nearby staircase.
“More bags,” Liam said, slowly. “Okay. I can see how that might be.”
Sam flushed. He stared at Liam for a moment. Funny how he felt he needed to prepare his words more carefully this morning. “I appreciate this, you know? The helping me out.” He glanced around. “There’s more stuff than I thought, I must say. Amazing what you gather up at a new place, isn’t it?”
Liam nodded this time. He was swallowing quite carefully. His expression was strained and Sam knew he’d never been one for chatting a lot. Perhaps nodding was easier for him, right now.
“I mean, it’s been a great few months, hasn’t it?” Sam didn’t wait for another nod, but rushed on. “Who’d have thought when I moved in, all new to the neighbourhood and everything, rambling on to you about my plans, and dropping in every damned day with something else I needed to borrow…well, that we’d be standing here today like this, that we’d be…?” He paused. He felt very flushed.
Liam cleared his throat, but there still wasn’t much coming out in the way of words.
Luckily Sam had enough for them both, though his voice seemed to be running at a higher register than usual. “It’s been good to share it all with you. Painting over those purple walls, finding me a second-hand cooker that works at more than one temperature, sorting out that damp patch over the shower. And remember that fight with the mad dog owner in Flat 12?” His eyes prickled. “I’ve got some great memories of this flat. Be sad to leave it.” He hurriedly put a hand to his mouth, to stop the words squeaking like his voice was breaking all over again. Bloody stupid.
Liam dropped the bags on the floor with a thump and took a step towards him. “You don’t have to.”
Sam frowned, but he also took a hesitant step forward. “I do. I have to do it. I want to do it! Life moves on, so must I. So must we.”
“There has to be change, right?” Liam moistened his lips. His voice sounded odd, like he was being strangled.
Sam thought it was probably his turn to nod. “It’s just…”
“Scary,” Liam murmured, nodding too. His hands were clenched at his sides. His face was dust-dirty from helping Sam shift the Boxes So Far, and screwed up, too, like emotion was struggling to get out. Liam’s face was one of the things Sam had become tremendously familiar with over the last few months, an amazingly important study in his life so far. He’d never been so interested in how someone else looked; never known before then what it felt like to find someone else’s smile more precious than your own.
Sam kept nodding. He’d learned a hell of a lot of Liam’s expressions, but the current one was one he didn’t see too often. It made his gut clench in case it meant…
Liam cleared his throat again and his face twisted.
…that Liam was miserable. Sam really didn’t want it to mean that. He’d fight to the death to prevent it. Sam knew he was a simple guy in some ways, but sometimes there were things that seemed clearer to him than other people.
“Big changes in life,” he said, breathlessly, taking another step forward. “They just make me talk more. You know?”
“Make me talk… less,” Liam said, quite hoarsely.
Sam moved again towards his neighbour, friend and – since two months, four days and around six hours ago – lover. They were face to face.
Liam lifted a hand and touched Sam’s arm. He swallowed heavily again. Sam could feel the pinch on his flesh as Liam gripped him tighter. “You can change your mind. Even now. Even…” He waved the other hand towards the pile of Sam’s belongings. “Even after all this.”
Sam stared back. Maybe Liam didn’t talk a hell of a lot, but his eyes were like a twenty-foot high billboard. Sam felt like he could see right into the depth of the other man’s heart. What he saw there both warmed and scared him, just like every other damned time he gazed into Liam’s eyes. But he kind of liked the effect, too, like a combination of a rollercoaster and a sudden, hot shower and that bit at the end of E.T. where you get a bit tearful and have to pretend you’ve got dust in your eye.
Actually, it was after their first Mates-Night-In viewing of that movie – and with just that effect – that he and Liam had hugged up against each other on the couch, laughing with shared embarrassment, and then just stopped and stared as a rather different effect had taken hold. Then Sam had thrown the remote on to the floor and Liam had gasped hungrily and then they’d grabbed for each other and then…
Sam drew a deep breath. “You can change your mind, too,” he said, gently. “It’s a big step. Maybe I’m rushing things.”
“No,” Liam said quickly. Now his Billboard Eyes were lit up with something more than disturbance. “No, this is what I want! That apartment of yours was never good enough for you. Damp, cramped, poor electrics, crappy second-hand furniture…”
“Tiny bed,” Sam murmured, mischievously.
Liam flushed, but he smiled, too. He ran his hand lightly along Sam’s arm, up to the elbow. “Yes. Half the size of mine.”
Sam raised his eyebrows. “You could get lost in a bed that size, Liam.”
Liam grinned. “Not with your navigational help, Sam.”
Sam slipped his hand around Liam’s waist and pulled them in against each other. He could feel Liam’s swift heartbeat matching his own. “Still a big step, moving in together. You’ve been used to all that space for yourself. I might cramp your style.”
“You are my style,” Liam breathed into his neck. Sam arched comfortably against him, feeling a delicious shiver of anticipation down from his ears to his groin. Liam’s arms came around him, too, his head bent in close. Their kiss started very slowly and promised to last much, much longer.
Sam sighed happily and decided – even though they were in full view of any other residents who wanted to get up at this godforsaken hour of a Sunday morning – to use more tongue. To celebrate the occasion, right?
There was a loud, furious rattling from above, like the sound of a skateboard being ridden down the staircase. Followed by a creak and a thump behind them, as the pile of Sam’s belongings surrendered to both gravity and vibration, and spilled all over the floor. The Boxes So Far had become a Box Too Far.
Sam thought he’d share the joke later with Liam. Just right now he had his hands full. His mouth, too. He pulled away gently and rested his forehead against Liam’s. “That’s probably our cue, isn’t it?”
Liam laughed. “To finish moving all that damned stuff out of your flat, right.” He gestured back towards his open door. “And let’s get moving it into ours, okay?”