Chapter Nine

Jack lights a cigarette.

David is on his back, curled in sheets slick to the skin, staring into the dark. Jack is propped up against the headboard in a lithe slump. David can hear the funnel of his throat, the smoke rushing in, flowering out. The rain is easing off; it is still a hot night, but his breath is rough and cool. He feels as though he has broken the surface. He has come up for air, and it stings him.

"Your family know?" Jack asks. His voice is a quiet purr now, rough as a cat's tongue. David licks his lips.

"Know what?" He asks.

He hears Jack smile.

"I'm not," David says determinedly. In the close dark, a million miles from anyone he has ever loved, it is true. He isn't. Just for Jack, he thinks, as Jack's hand finds his hair, tousles, and grips. His flesh is blazing where it has been touched, he is glowing like an electric light.

"Don't tell them," Jack says after a while. "They don't understand." Another pause, longer. "Don't tell your sister," he says.

"I'm not telling Sarah," David says quietly. Jack pauses, slowly nods, and then they are quiet together, listening to the desert outside the window.

Jack finishes the cigarette and nixes it with his fingers, dropping the butt onto the nightstand. He twists his body until he is lying next to David, reaches for him, takes him in his hand and squeezes.

"You ready to go again?" He asks in his ear, hoarse. He strokes him until he is, and David's mouth opens, keens. He nods, and Jack's rangy, hard body covers him, rolls over him like a warm wave.

Jack keeps him up all night.

Each time, he lets David lie back on the damp pillows for a quiet moment after, mouth gaped and pale eyelids shut. Each time he smokes a cigarette and stares out the dark window. And each time he wakes him again, nudging at his cheekbone with his forehead, biting at his white shoulder with hungry teeth, or folding him into his mouth and holding him there until he is hard again, waking.

"Come on, Davey," he says in to his ear each time his eyes open, every time his hands reach out and find his friend's shoulders, his face, suddenly there in darkness. "This could be the last time."

And so David is held this way, between sleep and wakefulness, between a dream and the tender fact of Jack's body impossibly close and shockingly warm to the touch. Their bodies move in sync, through the sheets, slipping against one another and then catching, holding. When David does not know what to do Jack takes his hands and shows him. When David is too loud, Jack reaches around his head and lets his friend bite hard against his forearm. David does not think about Denton. He does not think about anything. He is simply a body in Jack's care, a cluster of nerves and muscles and bone stretched against Jack's chest, humming and alive.

"You do this in the city?" Jack asks him hotly against his ear, pressed hard up against his back.

"Naw," David groans.

He feels Jack grin against the back of his neck. "You're doin' real good Davey," he croons, tongue between his teeth, and David's heart turns over in his chest like a wounded animal.

He is finally lost to sleep at seven, as the horizon melts into dove gray, then pale blue, then a shocking, fleshy pink. Jack is awake. He sits up and smokes another cigarette, watching the sunrise, listening to the rotation of the clock. In a slow moment, David thinks he feels Jack's mouth press clumsily against his jaw, his neck, his shoulder, and then there is nothing, just absence, an accustomed void. He rolls over, burrowing his face into the pillow, his hand reaching out and curling around nothing. When he wakes up a few hours later, the light is wide and hot and Jack is gone.

He sits up in bed. The sheets smell of salt and are stiff against his legs. He is raw like a wound, but he manages to sit quietly, cool and dry and empty, watching the sun climb up the sky.

His train leaves later in the day, so David Jacobs has ample time to fold his clothes, pack his bags, and seal the finished article in a neat envelope. He places the envelope and his notebook carefully into his satchel, taking care that neither is bent, and lays the satchel neatly up against his suitcase. After a long while of staring, he rinses the whiskey glasses out in the washbasin and sweeps the cigarette butts into the basket. The pack and the bottle of Old Valley have vanished. When David checks his wallet, he is not surprised to see that the money inside it has vanished as well. He stands very still for a long time, before blinking hard, clearing his throat, and seeing to the rest of his things.

With everything done, he rests, sitting quietly on the edge of the bed with his hands on his knees, staring straight ahead. It will be good to get back to the flat, he tells himself. Good to be in his own bed, to be amongst his own things, to walk the route to his work that he knows as well as his own heart. He realizes, with a start, that his parents are expecting him back today. He should have spent the last three days on the train. He thinks of these days, and marvels.

He will wire them from the station. He will explain his relationship with Stevens.

You drive me crazy with worry, he hears his mother's voice, and he smiles. "Miss you," he says softly, and he can almost see Sarah's ironic smile, her knowing eyes. Outside, a child yells in Spanish. The wind blows.

He waits half an hour, and then rises to his feet. He straightens his collar, pulls on his jacket, and works his feet into shoes that have been bleached with dust. He will have to get them polished, once he gets back to the city. He reaches for his satchel, but stops, straightens, and turns to the bed. The dark quilt, the dimpled pillows. Without thinking, he moves towards it, stretches out his body along its length, and then rolls over, burying his face in linen. He breathes in, and Jack is there, next to him, unbearably close, strong and slow.

David leaves his room. There is no car waiting for him outside, and he suspects his absence from Stevens' exclusive soiree cost him this convenience. But he is a New Yorker. Her doesn't mind the walk.

"Mr. Jacobs?" A young voice in the lobby. It is the valet from last night, shined and polished as an apple in the new morning. David nods, remembering the scaled eyebrows, but the boy is extraordinarily decorous, and keeps his eyes firmly turned away. "Message for you."

The envelope bears the name of the hotel at its top, and underneath it David's name and the date, written in a firm, mannish script. David nods his thanks, clears his throat, and turns to go. The streets are still dampened, the dust tamed, and so it is with clear eyes that he tears off the top of the envelope and unfolds the personalized stationary inside.

Dearest Friend,

Such a shame to have missed you last night. Company at Stevens' was v. charming; yours truly had a great spell of luck at cards. Nevertheless I had to leave early, though I did manage to spot you and Mr. Seamus McMahon heading into the Hotel New Mexico. A bit late for a nightcap, but I'm glad to see you took my advice about sticking to the plaza – we tourist chaps have to keep an eye on one another don't we?

I write this in lieu of a proper farewell. I'm sure you're aware by now that I travelled here as a backer of Stevens' project and as one heavily invested in its longevity I will – alas! – remain in Santa Fe for three more days before returning to Philadelphia where I will be awaiting your glowing review of our little operation – the Tribune is such an excellent paper that I'm renewing my subscription. I'm certain I will find your piece to be complimentary. If there has been any occurrence that may have swayed your opinion, I'm sure Mr. McMahon will be able to explain this misfortune to Stevens directly.

V. happy at having made your acquaintance, wish you best of luck.



PS All jokes of kissing and canoes aside, do settle down soon, young Jacobs. People may begin to talk.

David stares at the signature in the blazing light. He feels nothing, except for a little fatigue. So their hands were at his throat. It wasn't exactly newsworthy. His mouth is dry, but he laughs a little, before folding the letter into neat quarters, placing it in his breast pocket, and stepping out into the street.

The train station is not busy, so David does not have to search every face for the one he wants. Just a few figures in the haze – a woman and a child, three men striding off the platform and down into the street, a porter sweeping the dirt from the steps. David watches him work, watches the dust blooming and settling exactly the way it was before. He feels like laughing, and then immediately, like yelling. Like howling.

He sits uneasily on a bench, placing his suitcase and his satchel close by his feet, a New York habit. Like it or not, he thinks, the city is in me. It is in my bones. He thinks of his mother, his father, Les. He thinks of Sarah. He thinks of his coworkers, his boss, of his apartment and his bed and his window, where the light comes through. All of it in his bones. And Jack. Jack too. He holds his head steady, keeps his neck still. He looks straight ahead.

When the train comes he has to throw an arm up over his face as the smoke floods the platform. When it clears, he picks up his things, stands. The door to his car opens and the porter is there, clean and stiff at the beginning of the journey, already reaching for his bags. David lifts them through, puts one dusty shoe on the stair, and then stops. He turns for one last look, but it is hard to see the street through the ash, and there is no one there anyway. In this heat.

He steps up into the car. For a second he thinks he hears a voice at his ear, but the train whistle blows, and it is gone.

Only Time of Day

Thank you Ankeel, PolyesterRage, and especially Falco for helping me so much.

Thank you Earl Grey, Macallan single malt, and Galuoises.

Thank you so much for reading, from the very bottom of my heart. I know I've been criminal in my prolonged absences, and I'm grateful you saw me through. I'm honoured to be a part of this community: keep writing, reviewing, critiquing, rewriting, creating. I'll see you next time.