It was the first Sunday before term started. Everything looked so different from when I had left Hertford College for the summer in June. The spires of Oxford disappeared in a faint mist. Even the bells sounded different in the moist, cool air. The gilly-flowers under my window were long gone and the quad was filled with fallen leaves, emitting a peculiar earthy fragrance. After a cloudy, foggy day, evening settled much earlier than we had been used to in the last weeks.
Sebastian had appeared in my rooms with a bottle of Burgundy he had managed to snatch from Marchmain House. He seemed to be envelopped in an equal kind of personal, gray haze like the whole town. We had shared a fair amount of the wine, lounging close to each other on the sofa. One of his legs was thrown over mine almost in reflex: whenever we spent time together in private surroundings, our bodies involuntarily seeked each other, mirrored the other, desired intimacy and a close corporeal connection. I watched the opposite building silently: one by one, the windows lit up in small, golden rectangles. Some stayed black. The quad grew grayer in the dim twilight, but I didn‘t want to get up to turn on a light. Instead, I drew Sebastian closer to me.
„You seem melancholy. Is everything all right?“
„No. Just look at this.“
I turned my head, curious.
„The night. It comes so early now“, he complained.
„Yes, but it‘s nice to be in here, together, isn‘t it?“
„I don‘t know. I much prefer summer. I miss going barefoot, having sun-warmed figs for breakfast, swaying with you in a gondola while the sun dapples the water, feeling the heat on your skin...“
I nodded. I could relate, but I was able to store those memories, look forward to another summer and be content with what autumn had to offer us. Sebastian was childlike in many regards. That was part of his charm, without a doubt, but he could be a bit annoying in asking for instant pleasure without doing the tiniest thing to deserve it.
He took another sip of the wine he had christened „the last ray of sunshine“ in his dreary mood and sighed:
„Do you remember when I said Venice was bleak? I was wrong. This here, this is really bleak.“
„Come on. We have each other, we have an excellent wine and a cosy fire – what more do you want?“
Flickers of light from the fireplace graced his delicate features in the dim room.
„I don‘t know. Maybe I want to have you around me all the time. I don‘t want to go back to another room later and sleep all alone.“
„I know. So do I.“
I still hadn‘t got used to sleeping alone again after the halcyon month at Brideshead and the fortnight in Venice where we had lived in utmost intimacy. I had spent only one night without Sebastian since our return, but I had turned in bed a dozen times, sleepily searching his warm, familiar body, desiring to bury my nose at the base of his neck and put my hand on his hip in vain. I never experienced emptiness and loss as much as in this night. How graceful fate is to deny us wisdom about coming pains.
I started to massage his neck gently, stroked the delicate skin very lightly like I knew he enjoyed it. And true, he shivered under my touch and leaned his head sideways so I could reach him better. His warm hand rested on my thigh. I gently took it with my other hand and laced our fingers together while kissing him on the forehead. He curled closer into me and we stayed silent.
Soon the orange glow of the burning logs in the fireplace was the only source of light in my otherwise dark room. It seemed obviously deserted, I noticed, when a man stepped into the open door, waited a second and disappeared again, not having seen us slid down on the sofa. We smirked. I kissed Sebastian again, with soft, affectionate little brushes: his cheek, his forehead, his cheek again. When I turned my head and attempted to touch his lips, he moved away from me abruptely.
„What‘s wrong? You are behaving so… I don‘t know. Did I do anything wrong?“
„No, it‘s not you.“ He sat up straighter and put his wineglass on the table. „Aloysius is in a really bad temper. And you know how it rubs off on me if he is.“
„Oh. I see. Can anything be done about it?“
„No, I don‘t think so.“
He slumped back, sulking.
„Besides, I got a letter from Mummy.“
I had known there was more to come and looked at him.
„She wants to come to Oxford to meet one of her people. She also wants to meet you.“
„Well, that‘s nice. I‘m delighted to meet her at last.“
„That‘s nice!“, he mocked me. „That‘s not nice at all, Charles! Don‘t you see how they encircle you with their charm? Julia and Cordelia first, my father in Venice, now my mother – soon you will struggle like a fly in a spider‘s net and even be proud of it. Because they are all so darn charming.“
I was shocked, to say the least. I turned to look into his eyes – he was deadly serious.
„Sebastian, dear, what are you talking about? It‘s just a matter of politeness to meet your mother. I want to thank her in person for the lovely weeks in Brideshead.“
„You don‘t have to. She doesn‘t expect it.“
I still couldn‘t understand his temper and was even a bit tired of his childlike behaviour.
„Sebastian, nobody wants to take anything from you - „
He interrupted me with a violent gesture:
„Yes, that‘s exactly what they plan. They will take you from me. You‘ll see. They do it all the time“, he wailed.
„Dear, stop being silly!“
His reaction was even stormier: „Which side are you on? Are you already on their‘s?“, he spat.
I sat dumbstruck for a moment.
„I didn‘t know there was sidetaking involved. I just wanted to meet your family“, I said softly.
„And see what came from it.“
He crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked away with his chin raised, a gesture I loved like so many other charming pretentious habits he cultivated. Usually, I cupped his chin when he got into this attitude and kissed him smack on the lips, but all estival playfulness had escaped me. I rather feared his temper. I tried it with logic – rarely a sure path with him, but maybe this time:
„I don‘t understand what you accuse me of. I never had the intention to do more with your mother than have a polite nice little chat like grownups do. And remember whose bed I shared in your father‘s infamous palace of sins? Not his, for sure. And may I remind you how many grave sins we committed there? About the gravest your church has in store?“
At last, I saw one side of his lips smirk up a bit. He relaxed a little and replied:
„I don‘t mean that carnal side of matters. I mean – are you loyal? Are you on my side? Am I“ - he hesitated - „am I important to you?“
He looked incredibly vulnerable and insecure all of a sudden. All rage was gone, and he was just a small child asking to be loved. I felt my heart melt.
„Dearest.“ I cleared my throat, but spoke very softly as my door still stood open. „You are the most important person on earth for me. And you will always be, until my last day. You are in here“ - I took his hand and put it on my heart - „you are deep in my heart. And you will stay there.“ His hand knotted my shirt and he let his head sink. I felt my heart beat, loud and thumping. I never had said anything like that before, neither to him nor to anybody else. I kissed his hair. He looked up again, straight into my eyes. He remained silent, but told me so much anyway. Keeping my gaze, his fingers slid flat onto my chest and he drew me closer with his other hand into a wordless, warm, never-ending kiss. I felt his hand wandering down my spine, pressing me against himself, and without planning our bodies started the familiar, slow dance of intimacy we had enjoyed so many times over the last weeks. Everything about him was familiar, his scent, his fine, warm hands, the way he blinked and shut his eyes when I nibbled at his earlobe. And we fit so perfectly together. When he licked my tongue with his, he started to stroke my nipple teasingly with the side of his thumb. I groaned softly into his mouth and saw the old sparkle, the malicious joy we shared when getting on more interesting grounds. I let my hand wander on his thigh and was well on my way to his heated, bulging groin when he stopped me:
„Why?“, I hissed. „I can close the door and we move on to my bedroom. Come on.“ Two nights on the train, third class, without a hint of privacy, and the night in London without him had left me ravenous.
„No. I have a meeting with Mr. Samgrass soon. It‘s enough if he smells the Burgundy and your exclusive cologne on me. No need to show him how dull his life is by turning up visibly aroused.“
I chuckled. Sebastian almost smiled and leaned back, suddenly serious again. The little light that was left in my green-panelled rooms gathered in his eyes. He frowned:
„So, what can we do about Aloysius? I don‘t want to spend a night with a sulking bear, I tell you.“
I eased his golden hair away from his forehead.
„How about a nice hot bath for him later? And getting his hair washed?“
„And being massaged and scraped a little on the scalp?“
„Yes“, I nodded.
He took one of my hands lightly.
„And could you also massage my neck a little?“
„Of course. And then – bed? And holding you? And just – being together?“
„Yes“, he sighed contentedly, squeezing my fingers. I raised his hand to my mouth and kissed it:
„I will come over then, shall I?“