Phil awoke to a sense of peace, not felt for many weeks. No anxious thoughts crowded his mind, and he felt happier than he’d ever been. He opened his eyes to see glimpses of sunlight shining through the gaps in the curtains and watched the dust particles swirling lazily in the rays glinting off the ceiling. He shifted slightly wondering why it was difficult to move. As his senses kicked in belatedly, he realised that Dan was sprawled across his chest, head in the curve of Phil’s neck, an arm flung across his chest and their legs tangled together. Warmth and heaviness covered him wherever their skin touched. Phil moved his free arm, running it down the length of Dan’s bare back.
Dan was still asleep, most likely exhausted from the unintentional late night they’d had together. Memories filtered back into his mind. Flashes of kisses down his chest, hands wandering up his thighs and the slide of sweat dampened skin against his own as Dan kissed him breathless. He felt pleasantly sore, a reminder of Dan above him, eyes closed and lips parted in the throes of ecstasy as Phil lay sated after his own release with his arms around Dan’s neck. As desire started to flow once more, he supressed the memories, wanting to give Dan more sleep. Time enough for that later. Instead he thought back over the last couple of months.
The terrifying night and the consequent aftermath on the headland had been a turning point for Dan, and for himself. Dan had continued to talk, his voice becoming firmer and more practiced each day. Initially it had been painful to talk too much, but to Phil’s surprise Dan’s voice had quickly become mostly normal within the space of a couple of weeks. Upon further questioning Dan had admitted although he hadn’t spoken since soon after the accident, he had continued to sing to music occasionally. Just in the house where no one could hear. Music had managed to make him transcend his negative thoughts when he allowed it.
Phil loved hearing the sound of Dan’s voice, its unexpectedness filling him with delight each time he spoke. Dan still, however, preferred to write in the notebook most days, seeming to find it easier to write rather than speak the words. His voice tired quickly and the words were still halting at least initially. Phil didn’t mind. When they were apart Phil still found himself reading and rereading the conversations over and over again, especially as the notes became declarations of love.
He now found himself with a boyfriend, as unexpected as it was heavenly. Dan had wasted no time once they got back from the headland that first afternoon after the rescue in sweeping Phil’s lingering doubts away about the validity of his feelings. No sooner had they had closed the door in Phil’s house then he had been wrapped in strong arms and kissed against every wall as they made their way into the bedroom. He’d been pushed down against the bed and kissed until his lips were sore. Occasional enamoured words had broken in between the kisses as they both caught their breath, only to subside under the press of lips once more. They were enough for Phil to be overwhelmed with their meaning, realising that his feelings were definitely returned and had been for some time.
Dan had apologised briefly the next day for the mixed messages he’d been sending over the last few weeks. Phil had been correct in thinking that Dan had been about to kiss him several times. However, his predominantly self-critical thoughts had prevented him from believing that Phil could ever return his feelings. A lingering feeling of responsibility for Jonathan’s accident had also been a major block in preventing him from moving forwards in his life or in a new relationship, though this had taken a while to be admitted. Phil hadn’t managed to get the full story out of Dan until a few days later. Remembering had still been too painful and they had needed several halting conversations and notebook exchanges before Dan had finally got through all of what he wanted to say.
“I just felt so guilty,” Dan had whispered as they lay entwined on the couch one evening. “We were the only two gay kids in town of our age, that we knew of anyway. It just seemed natural that we got together. We did love each other, but….”
Dan had trailed off into silence, pressing his face against Phil’s neck as he thought some more. Phil didn’t speak, not wanting to interrupt, instead squeezing his arms tighter. Eventually Dan shifted out of Phil’s embrace temporarily and grabbed the notebook on the coffee table nearby. Phil shifted upwards slightly so that Dan could rest back against him and write.
We had a great time for a couple of years, but we were so different. He liked fishing and I didn’t. I liked gaming, and he would play sometimes. But he preferred to be outside. We were drifting apart, and we didn’t realise. Eventually he kept being annoyed that I wasn’t joining him and would get my dad on-side to force me outside with him. He’d started diving by then and I had to take up drawing so I wouldn’t get bored on the beach waiting for him. He tried to get me to dive as well but it was way too much effort. Never seen the point of it. Anyway, it kept him happier if I was there on the beach at least. I talked about breaking up, but he didn’t want to be alone and it was just easier to be together.
Dan had stopped writing for a while and leant back further into Phil’s chest. Phil ran a hand up and down Dan’s arm, waiting and not sure what to say.
“It was my fault….” Dan choked out, his voice deteriorating into huskiness again as he swallowed and winced slightly.
“No Dan. You can’t blame yourself for what happened. There’s no way you caused that accident.”
There was silence, only filled by Dan’s occasional throat clearing as he tried to get his voice under control again.
They’d got past the fact that Phil already knew some of Dan’s back story. Dan had initially been furious at the gossip that still surrounded him, but several kisses had done what arguing hadn’t. Dan had subsided into occasional mutters of annoyance as the distraction techniques worked. Eventually he’d admitted that it was actually handy as he didn’t have to relive the whole horrible story while telling Phil. They’d glossed over it from then, until the story had reared itself again now. Dan had seemed to want to talk finally.
“It was my fault,” Dan muttered again, his hand not holding the notebook now holding Phil’s tightly. “You don’t know.”
“Know what, love?”
Dan turned his head at the term of endearment, pressing a quick kiss into Phil’s neck, and then settled back again.
“I was the one that suggested he go out diving that afternoon. I was sick of him griping on about me gaming. I promised to come to the beach and draw if he’d just shut up. I knew the storm was coming and so did he. He was slightly worried, but I convinced him he’d have time. I just wanted a bit of peace… I didn’t know … “
Dan’s voice broke and he threw the notebook on the ground, pressing his hands to his face as a couple of tears slipped from underneath his palms.
“No, stop it’s not your fault.”
Phil shifted sideways, so he could lift Dan’s chin up and prise a hand off. He caressed the side of Dan’s face, brushing the tears away with his thumb. Dan took a deep shuddering breath, removing his other hand and turning his head to face Phil. Phil took one look at the tear stained eyes before him and lowered his head to kiss the tears from Dan’s eyelids. He tasted hints of saltwater on his lips.
“You couldn’t have known what would have happened. Anyway, he was the expert in diving, not you. If he didn’t think it was safe, surely he wouldn’t have gone in, no matter what you said.”
“It was his choice ultimately. Not yours.”
“I was pleased he went diving. I didn’t even worry when it was way past the time he normally came back. It was so peaceful. No arguing. I didn’t even think about him until the storm came, and then I realised. I tried to get help. It took too long.”
Dan buried his head into Phil’s chest again.
“You did everything you could. It would have been too late anyway even if help had come as soon as you called. It sounds like nothing could have helped in time.”
Dan shook his head and didn’t say anything for a long time. Phil just tightened his arms again and rubbed soothing circular motions into his back. Just when Phil was starting to think Dan had maybe gone to sleep, he spoke again in a whisper.
“I guess…I felt guilty…because I didn’t love him anymore. And then he was gone, and everyone just expected me to be devastated. I was sad, but not enough. I felt …. so horrible. People kept asking me how I was, and I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t face anyone.”
“Is that why you stopped speaking?”
“It wasn’t a conscious decision. Like I said it was just too hard to explain. I couldn’t think. The words wouldn’t come. It was just too difficult to get the words out. To explain that I caused it…”
“Shhhh, Dan. No…. don’t talk like that.”
Dan just shook his head, curling more into Phil’s side and slipping his free arm around Phil’s waist, hand clenched tightly into Phil’s shirt.
“One day I’ll make you see. It was never your fault Dan.”
Phil had waited for a response but there was no answer. He wasn’t surprised as it was the longest conversation they’d had so far. He wished he could reach the notebook on the floor, wanting to see if he could encourage more dialogue. He still wanted to try and convince Dan that the accident was not his fault but eventually decided it would probably take a lot longer than one conversation. He settled for pressing his lips to Dan’s head and closing his eyes as Dan relaxed against him.
Over the next few weeks they had gone over it several more times. Initially only when Phil brought it up, but gradually Dan had opened up more, initiating talking when Phil had caught him looking pensive and had commented on the fact. They’d progressed from Dan talking about it being his fault, to talking about it more realistically, although after that first conversation most of the talking about that subject had actually been written. Dan seemed more able to open up about difficult subjects such as this through pen and notebook.
Phil had also apologised several times for the intrusion that had so upset Dan in the bedroom. He felt it was his fault for making Dan so distraught that he needed to go to the headland on that night. If he hadn’t been such an intrusive idiot then maybe they wouldn’t have ended up in such a dangerous situation.
After the third apology a month later, however, Dan had stopped him with a hand to his lips again.
“Phil don’t. I stopped being angry with you shortly after. In fact, I thought about coming after you that night, but I was a bit embarrassed about how I reacted.”
Phil had grimaced and tried to open his mouth to deflect from Dan’s self-censure, but he was overridden by Dan taking a large breath and blowing it out slowly
“I’m actually glad things happened the way they did.” At the sight of Phil’s raised eyebrows and incredulous look Dan had corrected himself. “Not me falling off the rocks you spork. My head still hurts. No, when you left me at the house the night before. All I could think of was that you’d left, and I hadn’t told you how I felt. I suddenly realised how much I missed you and how much I wanted you there with me. To move forwards with you.”
Phil pulled Dan into a hug as Dan slid his hands up Phil’s chest and played with the buttons on his shirt. He continued to explain slowly.
“I also realised that my feelings about Jonathan were still holding me back. So I spent all night thinking about how I could get closure. I went to the graveside the next day because…” He paused there, and his hand trembled slightly on Phil’s neck.
“It’s ok Dan, you don’t have to tell me. Michael told me what day it was.”
Muttering under his breath, Dan cursed the willingness of the town’s inhabitants to discuss things that weren’t their business.
“Well, anyway. I decided that the only way to get closure was to say goodbye. Permanently. To all the memories. I’d already given all the rest of his things and the photos to his parents ages ago and so I decided to throw the photo into the sea as it’s the only memory I still have of him. If anyone is to blame for what happened to us, it’s me, not you. I saw the clouds rolling in and thought about delaying to the next day, but all I wanted was to say a final goodbye and then to come and find you.”
After thinking for minute, Phil finally made a decision.
“How about we drop all the blame on both sides, and agree that both events were horrible accidents that nobody could have predicted?”
Dan looked at him for a few moments, considering this statement. Finally, a corner of his mouth lifted.
“You might have to remind me a few more times, but ok.”
“I’ll remind you every day if that’s what it takes.”
“Not every day. I want to try and forget. You’ll help me just by being here with me.”
Despite the agreement, Phil knew it would take a long time for Dan to get over the trauma of the last few years. If ever. However, he gradually saw the sunnier aspects of Dan’s character shining through. Smiles greeted him when Phil opened the door each morning to let him in. The dimples in Dan’s cheeks were ever present, even when they weren’t talking. Laughter now filled the house as Dan’s teasing scrawl filled more of the notebooks and softly spoken teasing became more frequent.
Spontaneous displays of affection increased with Phil finding himself subjected to arms around him and kisses all over his face when he least expected it. Not that he minded. In fact, he couldn’t get enough of the contact. He loved the warmth that Dan’s arms brought and the soft feel of his lips. Kisses progressed to more passionate embraces, and eventually to the situation that Phil found himself in now.
He stretched, his legs aching a little from being still for so long, keeping one arm around Dan’s waist as he tried not to wake him. It didn’t work, however, as Dan finally stirred and made a sleepy humming noise.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“S’ok, must be late. M’hungry,” Dan mumbled, his lips pressing small kisses to Phil’s chest as he spoke.
Phil snorted. Dan’s appetite had increased over the last few weeks. He was now spending most of his time at Phil’s place, and despite Dan bringing groceries over, Phil found himself making more trips into town than ever. He hadn’t asked Dan to come on these trips, knowing he’d not want the gossip and innuendo to focus on them. He resented the time away from him, although Dan hadn’t seemed to mind too much, spending the time apart practicing his drawing in Phil’s now discarded sketch books.
Phil had been slightly concerned that maybe Dan didn’t miss him as much as Phil did him, as he seemed to cheerfully wave Phil off whenever he needed to walk into town. Whereas Phil was slightly despondent all the way there and back until he could take Dan in his arms again and see the smile he loved so much. This concern lasted until he realised why Dan was so occupied every time Phil went out. On arriving back early one day he caught Dan looking at his old drawings, the ones of Dan’s eyes especially. As Dan smugly looked up, Phil’s face turned the colour of the setting sun outside, realising how many drawings Dan now had access to. Dan, however, had said it was sweet and that Phil’s skills were improving with the practice. Phil had sighed, and the next time he went to leave to get more groceries Dan had already got out the sketch books and turned to the pages that reflected his eyes.
Those eyes now turned to his, as Dan raised his head, resting his chin on Phil’s chest.
“Pancakes?” Dan asked hopefully, a small smile playing at his lips.
“No ingredients left. We finished the last of the eggs yesterday. And the butter.”
Phil’s stomach growled as the thought of food made him realise how hungry he was too. He was suddenly jolted as Dan moved upwards and out of the covers, then pulled halfway off the bed as his arm was grabbed and Dan attempted to move him into a sitting position. Phil gave a small scream and managed to grab the bed head with his other arm to arrest his fall.
“My place then. Come on.”
“My place!” Dan said brightly, his voice now muffled as he pulled on a shirt. “I’ve got plenty of ingredients for pancakes there. The eggs probably need using up too. About time you came over to mine, instead of me walking over here every day.”
Phil admired the long legs in front of him as Dan pulled on some boxers. His thoughts shifted to alternative activities to breakfast as his gaze lingered, but his half formed ideas were disrupted as Dan pulled the sheets totally off him, exposing him to the cool air.
Phil grabbed a shirt off the floor, and pulled it over quickly, trying to keep warm.
“No time for that. Maybe later.” Dan’s voice held a smirk as Phil glared upwards at him. “Come and help me make pancakes at my house.”
Phil groaned as Dan grabbed his hand again and dragged him out of bed. He was beginning to learn that once Dan had an idea in his mind, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Ten minutes later they were both dressed and walking along the cliff path, this time hand in hand. As they got near to the headland, Phil slowed remembering the horror of the previous walk along here and his failure to get past the narrow cliffside section subsequently. He could feel his face turning pale, as his heart started pounding and his hand started shaking in Dan’s grasp.
“Phil what’s wrong?”
Dan stopped and turned to face him; his face tight with concern as he realised how much Phil was affected.
“Phil, talk to me.”
“I… the cliff…. That night…..I couldn’t…..”
Phil couldn’t continue as he shut his eyes again. He felt arms enfold him as he was drawn into a tight embrace with Dan’s breath ghosting over the side of his face.
“Phil, it’s ok, I’ve got you, it’s ok.” Dan repeated the words over and over as Phil gradually relaxed in his arms. He concentrated on the sound of Dan’s voice, its smooth timbre shutting out the sound of the wind and waves below. It was several minutes before Phil could open his eyes again.
He found Dan looking into his eyes, his eyes narrowed and mouth in a grimace.
“Dan, I don’t think I can…”
His mouth was stopped with a brief kiss.
“Phil, trust me.” The words were an echo of those on the headland, but this time Dan’s voice was confident. Sure. Phil found himself closing his eyes again to keep the memory of Dan’s voice clearer in his mind.
“Good, keep your eyes closed.”
Phil drew in a sharp breath as the arms left him but was relieved to feel Dan’s hand clasp his own again. His other hand was similarly enclosed in Dan’s grasp. Phil was confused. Dan must be standing in front of him, facing the wrong way.
Phil felt his hands pulled gently forward as Dan presumably started walking backwards along the path. He tightened his grip until there was a small sound of pain from in front of him. A gentle quick pressure on his lips relaxed him slightly.
“Phil, relax, I’ve got you.”
“Talk to me. Dan, talk to me please.”
Dan obliged, continuing to move them forward along the edge as he started to tell Phil exactly when he started falling for him. Thus far he hadn’t divulged any of this information and it was enough to make Phil nearly forget about the cliff edge to his left.
“You were so chatty. I couldn’t believe you kept talking to me. I didn’t think you would want to be friends after I didn’t talk to you. But after you asked me in that first time, well …. I nearly said yes. I really wanted to. You seemed so nice. And so friendly.”
Dan paused to shift them slightly to one side, presumably around a rock in the grass verge.
“Then when you started writing in the sand to try and talk to me, that’s when I knew.”
“Knew what?” Phil found his voice, albeit shaky and unsure.
“I knew you were special.” Dan stopped briefly to press another kiss to Phil’s unsuspecting lips. Phil unsuccessfully tried to capture Dan’s mouth for a longer kiss but was disappointed as Dan moved away again to start moving them forwards again. “Plus, you had a cute butt.”
“Oh my…. Dan!” Phil spluttered as he stumbled over his own feet, his heart leaping in his chest. Dan caught him before he fell forwards. Laughter filled the air as Dan pulled him into another embrace.
“Open your eyes.”
Dan’s voice was slightly husky now with the excess of talking.
Phil cautiously opened his eyes, and to his surprise they were beyond the narrow cliff edge and nearly on the path to Dan’s house. He looked up at Dan, staring at the now familiar face before him. Dan was grinning brightly and looking very pleased with himself.
“Come on, mmmfff”
Phil put his hands to the side of Dan’s face and proceeded to kiss him with all the thanks and passion he could muster in his frazzled state. By the time he stopped, Dan was giggling through the kiss and pressing his hands to Phil’s chest to push him backwards.
“Dan, thank you. I couldn’t have got across there without you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. I’ve got a favour to ask.”
“Come on, I’m hungry. I’ll tell you after breakfast.”
Several hours later, Phil was lying on the couch with his empty plate on the floor beside him and Dan in his now usual position lying half on his chest. Phil groaned as Dan shifted his weight slightly.
“Ugh. You’re too heavy. I’ve eaten too much.”
Dan was lazily running his finger back and forwards along Phil’s collarbone and didn’t answer. He sounded half asleep.
“So, what was that favour you were going to ask?”
Dan’s finger stilled. There was silence. Phil waited but Dan didn’t answer.
“Is it that bad?” Phil asked slightly nervously.
Dan sat up, perching on the narrow edge of the couch not occupied by Phil. He didn’t look at Phil directly, instead looking around the lounge room, carefully avoiding Phil’s eyes. Phil sat up as well, wincing as his stomach lurched under his tight jeans. He took Dan’s hand in both of his, nervously playing with his fingers. Surely it couldn’t be that bad? But Dan was still looking away and Phil couldn’t see his face.
Brown eyes turned back to look into his briefly and then turned downwards, and it was another minute of anxious worry on Phil’s part before Dan pulled his hand out from Phil’s. He moved it hesitantly around Phil’s back and pulled the notebook and pen out of his jeans pocket. Phil was now even more nervous, realising that Dan himself was too anxious to speak.
want to ask you a favour
“Yes, you said that Dan. What is it?”
Dan paused again and started to write, his hand shaking slightly. Phil waited anxiously as the words formed before his eyes.
can you please help me clean the house
I don’t think I can do it by myself
too many memories
“Of course I will?”
Phil was so relieved but confused at the same time. What was the issue here? Dan had regularly helped him clean his house; in fact he’d done most of the cleaning in the last few weeks whilst shooing Phil off to write. He could understand the memories causing Dan distress, but it seemed more than that. More words were then formed in the notebook as he watched closely.
i was thinking that maybe you didn’t need to keep renting
seems a waste of money
Phil didn’t quite understand the words. They seemed to dance before his eyes, the meaning just out of reach. He looked up at Dan, confused but hoping.
When Phil didn’t say anything, Dan also looked up. His fingers played nervously with the pen, rolling it in between his fingers.
“Well?” Dan asked softly, his gaze not quite meeting Phil’s eyes.
Phil didn’t want to think around the words in case he was wrong. He grabbed the pen and notebook out of Dan’s hands and put them on the floor beside the plates. He wanted to hear the words themselves.
“I don’t understand. Tell me?” Phil lifted Dan’s chin with one hand and looked directly into Dan’s eyes. The eyes that were now regarding him with a mixture of anxiousness and fondness.
“Move in with me?” Dan’s voice could barely be heard but it was enough for Phil to finally gather their meaning. His answer was to push Dan back abruptly on the couch and kiss him senseless.
Sometime later, Dan spoke up from his position underneath Phil, who was pressing small kisses up and down Dan’s neck. His voice was now more confident again, and slightly amused.
“So, I guess that’s a yes then?” He gasped and squirmed as Phil found a particularly sensitive spot.
“Yes! Of course it’s a yes. When can I move in?”
Dan laughed loudly and brightly. His hands moved suggestively down Phil’s back.
“As soon as you like. But that’s why I need you to help clean. It hasn’t exactly been on my priority list.”
“The sooner we start cleaning, the sooner I can move in!” Phil raised his head and pressed an enthusiastic last kiss to Dan’s lips. He sat up quickly, ignoring Dan’s sudden pout with a smirk of his own. “Let’s start cleaning now.”
Dan sighed as he sat up, rubbing his neck absently, presumably as a couple of small marks that Phil had left were irritating him.
“Well sorry. We need to get some cleaning supplies first.”
“Oh no! Really?”
“Really.” Dan grimaced as he stood up and grabbed the plates, walking them over to the kitchen sink. “I have enough for basic cleaning, but not for the amount of cleaning this place needs. It’s a dump.”
Phil looked around and had to agree he was right. The place was tidy enough, but the dust was even thicker since he was last here, the floors looked they hadn’t been cleaned in months and he could barely see the trees outside through the griminess of the windows.
“Well I guess we could go back to my place. I’ve got a few cleaning supplies we could use.”
Phil wasn’t looking forward to the trip back along the cliff, no matter how distracting Dan had managed to make the trip earlier that day. He looked back at Dan, who had quickly rinsed the plates in the sink and was piling the frying pan in on top of them, leaving them to wash properly later.
“Well….” Dan turned to look back at Phil. He shoved his wet hands uncaringly in his pockets, seemingly thinking hard about something.
“What surprises are you going to spring on me now?”
“I was thinking of paying Michael a visit. I haven’t seen him for ages. Want to walk into town with me?”
“Isn’t it far?” Phil was surprised but slightly elated that Dan was thinking of them both going into town. Dan must not care now about the gossip that would invariably ensue once they were both seen together.
“No, I actually live closer to town than you, the coast curves so that it’s about half the distance from here to town, than from your place.”
Phil stood up and moved around the couch. In a few strides he’d reached Dan and pulled his hips close into his whilst moving his mouth close to Dans.
“You realise that once Michael sees us together, he’ll tell Margie and then it will be all over town by tomorrow morning?”
“Yes Phil.” Dan’s voice was amused as he wound his arms around Phil’s neck. “I do know how the town gossip chain spreads. I might leave you to do the talking with Michael though.”
Phil’s response was to pull him even closer and take up where he’d left off a few minutes earlier. Brief kisses on Dan’s neck meant only to last a few minutes, turned into a trail of clothes strewn across the floor leading to Dan’s bedroom. This time Phil’s mind was hazily aware of Dan beneath him, straining his wrists under Phil’s grasp as he entwined their hands against the bed above their heads. He heard Dan gasping out Phil’s name as he writhed underneath him, pushing his hips up over and over again. The ecstasy as they both came together was seared into Phil’s mind.
Afterwards, he spent a long time just kissing Dan’s chest and neck over and over, as Dan entangled a hand in his hair and struggled to catch his breath. No words were uttered this time and the silence was only interrupted by the sound of Phil’s lips pressing occasional kisses to Dan’s parted lips. It was mid-afternoon by the time they finally ventured into town.
The walk, as Dan had said, was much shorter and pleasanter from Dan’s house. An avenue of large trees on both sides, stretched like a green leafy canopy overhead for most of the way. The branches were spaced enough to let dappled sunlight through and Phil watched the light playing on the leaves and the shadowed patches of grass beside the road, turning his head intermittently to study Dan’s face as the sunbeams highlighted the small smile that Dan now wore. Their hands were joined and swinging gently, and Dan was quietly humming something that Phil couldn’t quite catch. He was too happy to interrupt and ask what the song was. He instead listened as the tune melded with the sighing of the breeze through the trees.
As they entered the final stretch into town, Phil dropped Dan’s hand, not wanting to pressure him into any displays of affection that he wasn’t ready for. His breath hitched, however, as his hand was immediately taken back up and squeezed firmly. He looked at the figure beside him, running his eyes up from their clasped hands, up over his own t-shirt that Dan had grabbed hastily off the floor and finally up to look at his face.
Dan was smiling fondly at him, not letting Phil’s hesitance affect his happiness.
“It’s ok Phil. Trust me.”
And Phil found that he did.