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A Love Song In The Language Of Hands

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With a mother whose arms had always been open for him to crawl into, a boisterous extended family during summer holidays, and friends who drape limbs over each other with thoughtless ease, Matteo has never had any real cause to be touch-starved. Yet, he finds that he has become most spoiled by the ready availability. He asks for nothing but observes how his bones ache and muscles cramp if he goes too long without physical contact. It sates that twinging discomfort to feel a hand on his back, passing over his hair, flicking the round tip of his nose. As he submerges in the warmth he realizes how much he had missed letting it soak in. Readily he gives back, reaching with his hands as once his heart could not, and revels in the care he can exchange. But while the affections of his family both blood and chosen quench his thirst, David is a pitcher of water drawn from an abundant well and the shady cool of a shelter to drink it in. Matteo feels quickly parched for want of the warm press of his body and chapped lips sliding over any available skin. Where the hugs of his friends soothe an ache David’s touch is a euphoric pleasure. So he’s always groping around for it in daylight, artificial light, and darkness. They are teased for their relentless displays of affection but any potential embarrassment rebounds off him without even leaving a scuff mark. Matteo isn’t particular about the method or the mood of their touches but he always craves them. Even a playful slap is good if its David’s hand that’s connecting. He doesn’t have a reason to need like this. But every day he does.

They have equally restless hands. David is an artist and through his eyes Matteo is the first masterpiece he can touch. Not like the stylized saints or marble heroes which awe viewers in museums. Nor the beautiful street art that spills over high city walls and the crumbling innards of abandoned buildings. Matteo is low to the ground, spindly, undecorated when he peels off his many patterned layers. David finds him a perfect canvas that begs for sweeps of paint and ink. The smooth hills of Matteo’s shoulderblades and the sharp mountain range of his spine make a small world to populate with myriad creations. Matteo loves David’s art with oceanic depth and power; he is eager to be part of it. It begins with a bird, a question, and a pen. They both find David’s little portrait on Matteo’s shoulder immensely satisfying. Later, Matteo volunteers to trial a design David is debating for a character and all frustration evaporates as he works. David admires the design after, blows air across the non-toxic paint to dry it, and says only ‘perfect’. With this in mind, Matteo discovers an excellent way to vent stress. When the feelings inside make David feel his skin is stretched too thin Matteo offers for David to communicate in the way he does best--- with art. He works so delicately and diligently, unspooling all the tangled cares of his day and putting them where they are felt, acknowledged, and later washed away by the shower. Matteo lies still for however long it takes, occasionally humming a gentle query or a contented encouragement, until David is almost as relaxed as the puddle of boy beneath him. With an admiring eye the artist observes his work and the way Matteo shows through in the spaces between lines. He smoothes his hands over the fresh ink, uncaring of the way it smudges in places, and presses a kiss to the top of Matteo’s tawny head.

It didn’t take long for Matteo to learn he loves the springy curls of David’s hair beneath his fingers. In quiet moments he strokes tender touches over the pleasantly textured strands, meditating with abstract appreciation how beautiful his boyfriend is. David never lets anyone else touch his hair (would understandably bristle if they tried) but he allows even the most provocative of ruffles because this is Matteo’s love language. His hands are not mean when they tug, not dehumanizing when they reach, not careless when they accidentally get tangled. They can give in their turn the softest admiration and comfort that cards away all worry. The underlying love can be felt no matter what the particular delivery method is. It would be a lie to say that Matteo doesn’t take advantage of his unique permission. Whether it is a playful mussing, sliding his hands into the tight whorls in order to push away or bring closer the face he loves so well, or reverent strokes reserved for private moments, it’s a treasured indulgence. David has grown to enjoy lying pliant under gentle attentions. When they’re curled together in bed or on the living room sofa with a film playing on the television he becomes so relaxed beneath the steady passes over his scalp that he’s fallen asleep on more than one occasion. Matteo buries his fingers in the thickness of the top, rubs over the shaved sides, traces the fine wisps that frame David’s hairline. He loves every hair on David’s head and what he can say with the ways hands move over them.

It’s not a feature most people give thought to but David thinks Matteo’s forehead is particularly well suited to kisses. It’s one of his favourite spots made all the more attractive for being usually covered by tangled ribbons of hair. They tumble into his eyes and move across in unpredictable patterns that shift the slivers of skin between with every movement. Matteo’s forehead isn’t seen in full often but David never forgets the warm plane and the way it curves around his eyebrows. There is a variety of ways to kiss it, each one a silent message that David’s intuitive boyfriend is an expert at interpreting. A slow press still humid with the shared moisture of many kisses says a silent ‘I love you’. A hard smack planted while Matteo tries to dodge teases ‘you’re my favourite idiot’. A feathery brush is an acknowledgment of connection when it feels like there is not enough time in the world. The lingering kiss that rests long and is eventually replaced by David’s cheek murmurs ‘there’s nowhere and no one better than you’. There’s a short peck reserved for praise which makes Matteo’s cheeks dimple and glow more than any flattering words. Sometimes his brow is wrinkled with the swells of his stressors and David traces his lips over the lines until they relax back into smoothness. When David is otherwise occupied with the demands of school, work, and his activities for the student group he volunteers with he apologizes for not being his best self with a firm kiss to Matteo’s temple. They’re still discovering the endless vocabulary of forehead kisses. And they have all the time in the world.

For all that David once fashioned himself a vampire it’s really more Matteo that has an interest in necks. David’s pointedly and specifically. It has always been this way even in the swaddled months of winter, back when they were both hiding in too many layers of clothes and anxiety and David first stood in the WG’s kitchen stripped down to a low-necked shirt. Matteo is quite enthralled with the long lean line his boyfriend displays when he turns his head. His eyes trace the curve from a distance, track the way it bobs when David swallows, shine with contentment when they come indoors from the cold and he watches David unwind his scarf. It’s Matteo’s special place to lavish kisses of both the tender and excited variety. A butterfly-soft contact to reassure, a passionate mouthing in the heat of the moment, a slow press in place of those three precious words. It makes his skin tingle and tighten pleasantly when he runs his lips over David’s throat in the early morning and a patch of stubble pricks him. Sometimes he buries his face there, just presses into the curve of David’s throat and breathes him in. It presses safety into his nerves, the shape slim but solid like the trunk of a young tree, and fragrant with his favourite person’s scent. Despite the strength of it this is such a vulnerable location and they both know it. The skin is thin over blood and bone and he sometimes revels in the fact David is completely at ease beneath his touch. Never shies, never tenses, instead tilts his head in invitation and wraps Matteo up in the warmth of his arms and sunbeam smile.

It’s a very common occurrence to find Matteo lying against David in lazy cat-like fashion and this sight is the one which readily comes to mind. But this is not always the case. It’s fact that David takes immense pleasure in curling his arms around the relaxed borders of the person that embodies home. He would do so until they both surrender to inevitable eternity. But the times where he curls into Matteo and lays his head down are also plentiful. They instinctively relax each other and find the grooves where they can fit together. Sometimes David releases the mindful control with which he guides his life and lets himself dissolve. With a contented puff of air he rests the head so heavy with thoughts in all the dips and bends of Matteo’s body. They cradle him with wordless patience and support. Whether it’s the soft bellows of Matteo’s belly, the sinuous hammock of his shoulder, or the firm plate of his chest, David feels the weight of his skull absorbed as easily as an empty eggshell. Other times, he is thinking of nothing serious at all and feels anchored to the world by the grounding pressure against his head. He turns his cheek into the divots between ribs and listens to the metronome of Matteo’s breath. Or Matteo does something annoying and David lets his head lift and thump back in fond rebuke. Or gently, so as not to jostle their brains, David slots his head just beneath Matteo’s and feels them rest like stacked stones. David can always rest his head on Matteo and the same is true in reverse.

Matteo is fascinated by David’s hands. They are useful in ways he loves to count and he thrills at what they can do. Yet they are not big or heavy with those abilities. The slim lengths of his brown fingers slide between Matteo’s pale digits like the tumblers of a lock clicking into place. Their palms are exactly the same size as he idly measured the first time they pressed together. Beautiful hands, he thinks, capable of both labor and the softest of touches. Long ago Matteo’s hands felt cold with emptiness that longed for another to enfold. It seemed perhaps he would never have that--- especially not from a boy. But David is always eager. In bed or on the street his fingers spread invitingly and prove ready to hook around Matteo’s. He loves those generous hands and how well they care for him. David knows when Matteo is anxious by the way his fingers twitch with the urge to fidget. The calloused pad of David’s thumb rubs soothingly over the nearest knuckle. If Matteo’s hand clenches suddenly tight he’s reaching his snapping point and David quickly places himself between whatever the trigger is and his boyfriend. When Matteo is wilting with the exhaustion of prolonged social engagement he slots their fingers together like a seamless mechanism, squeezes weakly, and David squeezes back in agreement. Then the former gets towed by the hand to an available space where things are less hectic. He’s tugged to lying his weary body against the strong support of David’s with their hands still intertwined. Their palms and fingers speak to each other with a language no one else understands.

Love can be expressed with roughness, David has discovered. He grins when Matteo shoves him across the couch, glares without real ire when teeth nip him, enjoys the way he can’t properly pin his boyfriend down because he fights dirty. The burn in his muscles when they wrestle is like a joyful flush. No matter how tenderly he’s cared for Matteo is still untamed. But that’s perfect--- David wants to be challenged and played with. Matteo pokes him in the side when he’s trying to focus and he slaps at the offending finger to make it go away, but it’s already been retracted in favor of an expectant expression that’s difficult to resist. If he wants to linger in bed (as happens every now and then) but Matteo wants to make breakfast he will seize David by the ankle and try to drag him off the mattress and even across the room should it come to that. They race each other and Matteo cheats to get ahead, but then David tackles him to the ground and they’re both yelling and laughing too much to go on. One day they are talking about something tedious and Matteo starts hitting him repeatedly with a pillow. With a frustrated growl David rips it from him and squashes the soft stuffing into Matteo’s face until he signals that he needs a breath. Even when David swallows it back because really he is irritated there’s always a sound of delight vibrating inside him. The other boy is a complete menace but it’s invigorating, lights him up inside, and is somehow more charming than good manners. His stomach jumps and then explodes upwards into butterflies when he’s given that devilish grin presaging some mischief. It’s not a delicate declaration of ardor but they are not fragile.

Their feet tangle and press when they lie together. Sometimes in the heat of summer cuddling is too sticky and they sleep sole to sole like sets of palms in prayer. Matteo loves thick socks, the fluffier the better, so the bottoms of his feet are kept smooth as silk. David began life running barefoot outdoors and his feet are calloused with years of pounding the ground, jumping, twisting inside his trainers so that the soles of his feet scrape. Matteo traces the arch of David’s foot with his toes and marvels at how the other boy is not at all ticklish. In the slanting light of another afternoon David balances a book at an awkward angle because their legs are wound together like a trailing plant and Matteo is cuddled under his other arm. Sometimes when they wrestle David seizes his boyfriend’s leg between both of his and holds tight against the wriggling and kicking as Matteo struggles to gain the upper hand. Eventually they declare a stalemate and lie panting with their limbs still twined. As their breathing quiets into sleepy softness Matteo burrows his foot beneath the edge of David’s trouser leg and runs his toes up the curve of the calf inside it, shivering as rough hairs brush against his skin. In winter Matteo’s feet are consistently freezing but David’s are always warm. They snuggle into the pile of blankets like two birds in the nest. Without being asked David stretches across the cool bedsheets and folds Matteo’s icy feet between the pleasant heat of his own. Like their hands, their feet are often holding each other.

The ways in which they affirm their love through touch are many and ever expanding. It’s impossible to count every expression and location and occasion. There are, David thinks, as many types of touch as there are words in the dictionary. Every one is listened to and remembered. Some spoken sharply, softly, slow and slurred, a burst of sound, an entire speech, staccato. They whisper in the dreamy dark and shout so suddenly it’s startling. Matteo has always been slow to find his words but he writes David beautiful sonnets with his fingers. David sometimes doesn’t know how to say what he is thinking but he can explain with the way he fits his body to Matteo’s. This language is foreign to some. But it is complex, evolving, equal, and most importantly theirs. They’ve had to learn it but it feels as comfortable as a mother tongue. When Matteo can barely lift his exhausted head let alone open his mouth he knows David will listen with his arms. On days that David can’t explain the feelings that throb inside his skin Matteo hears those thoughts through the head tucked beneath his chin. Sometimes they use words, sometimes they use touch, but they tell each other how much the other is loved twenty times a day. With their bodies they can talk, and talk, and talk.