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munchausen's dilemna

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"Then my friend’s wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair. 'You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!' It was worth a wound – it was worth many wounds – to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation."

     After the absolute, consuming misery of my winter break alone, the weeks with Henry felt like the happiest of my life. Now looking back, they might well have been. I had truthfully never experienced the kind of care and attention that he gave me. However awkward or unfamiliar it might have been to him, how inconvenient and tiresome, he did not let it show. Going back to the Hampden dorms was unpleasant. I found it harder to tolerate the numerous annoyances and indignities of living with so many people after the ordered serenity of Henry’s home. Slamming doors, the vaguely nauseating smell of generic cleaner and not quite disguised bodily fluids, the low hum and occasional crash of whatever mechanisms kept the plumbing and heating going—it all added up to something much less comfortable than I remembered.

     While I had mostly made a full recovery after that awful winter, some weakness still lingered in my body. Things became ever slightly more difficult, objects heavier, walks more strenuous, my grip looser. Some days it was like the air had been replaced by some liquid, not impossible to move through, but thicker, with less give. It was on one of those such days that I accompanied Henry to the Food King to get some last minute ingredients for our weekly dinner. Francis had discovered at the last minute that he was out of both rice and cooking brandy, both apparently key to whatever he had planned, and sent us out in a rush. Henry had been silent if amiable seeming on the way there, though he was driving as recklessly as usual.

     Going in, I felt a touch winded, I admit, but I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until we were passing through the frozen food aisle, Henry raising an amused eyebrow at the idea of a corn dog, that my head began to spin. I stopped, trying to collect myself.

     “Are you alright Richard?” I nodded vaguely, though my vision had started to narrow to points. Henry stepped toward me as I leaned against a display case, the edge of the cardboard digging at the spot between my shoulder blades.

     His expression was clinical and cool, his hands cool and dry enough that he might as well as been wearing latex gloves, but I swore there was a flash of compassion behind his eyes, a worried crease in his brow. He pressed gently at my jugular with two fingers, almost too much, almost like he was stroking my neck instead of feeling for a pulse. A sudden, heady, indescribable feeling washed over me. I almost wanted to tell him to push harder, to use his considerable strength, that I wouldn't mind a bruise, that I trusted him. I felt my cheeks flushing, my palms sweating, before he pulled away.

     “Hmm. Your pulse seems fine, but you really ought to eat something.” He insisted we wait a few minutes before checking out, and though my face was still flushed with embarrassment, I complied.

     We made it back to the house with no further incident and the groceries in tow. Henry said nothing of what had happened to the others. If he thought anything of it, he gave no indication.

     One of Judy’s friends, the one from Miami with long straight hair down to her elbows and a gap between her two front teeth, was nearly always sick. She said, when pressed, that New England weather didn’t agree with her but after she and Judy got into a tiff Judy told me she wasn’t really sick at all.

     “She just makes herself puke her guts out.” Judy said sharply as she reapplied her lipstick in the rearview mirror, swearing under her breath when some of it got on her teeth.

     “Oh?” I was really only half-listening. One of the girls from the soccer team, fit if more than slightly butch, was jogging on the sidewalk across the street in a sleeveless shirt and shorts.

     “It’s totally fucking pathetic. She just does it to get attention.” She was rummaging through her purse, throwing out receipts and gum wrappers as she looked for something. The girl had stopped, doing some sort of stretching up against a tree. Her muscles were well-defined, clearly solid and impressive even from the slight distance of the parked car.

     “How does she do it?” I asked politely. The girl’s shorts had ridden up. They were made of some stretchy, slightly shiny material, just barely opaque in the twilight.

     “It’s some syrup she drinks, it’s called ipecac? Like the stuff you keep in your medicine cabinet if you have a little kid that might swallow drain cleaner or something.” Judy had successfully retrieved her prize, a clear plastic sandwich bag full white pills. She popped two into her mouth before offering the bag to me. I took three, washing them down with a swig of lukewarm Coca Cola from one of the half filled bottles scattered on the floor of the front seat.

     “Huh.” I rolled my tongue around in my mouth, feeling at an irritating canker on the inside of my cheek. The girl had finished stretching and was now jogging again, her clean white running shoes the only part visible as she was enveloped into the indigo darkness.

     “Yeah, you know honestly it’s really sad. She’s had a hard life, you know? Her parents split up when she was twelve and her father never spoke to her again.” She was going through her purse again, less furiously than before, sighing slightly when she pulled out her sunglasses.

     “That is sad.” I had barely processed what she said. The Vicodin was kicking in and my limbs were beginning to feel pleasantly warm, the chill of night setting in no longer bothering me. Judy opened her mouth like she was going to say something but paused, biting her lip instead.

     “I shouldn’t have told you about it. Promise you won’t tell anyone?” I turned away from her, swatting a fly that had landed on my arm. I fidgeted in my seat, impatient to leave the parking lot and go back to campus.

     “Promise.”

     A few weeks later, when I had gone over to Henry’s to get some help on a particularly nasty translation Julian had assigned us, I felt a little under the weather.

     We were sitting at his kitchen table, going over some of the trickier verb conjugations, when I began to feel a throb in the pit of my stomach. I had not eaten anything particularly out of the ordinary that day, two eggs and toast for breakfast, roast beef sandwich for lunch, and a cup of coffee at midday. There was something going around on campus, one of those awful viruses that are suited to the particular sort of squalid lifestyles common to co-eds, but I thought nothing of it. My fatigue that day was likely just the result of my inadvisable sleeping habits and poor diet. In fact, I had already gone to the drug store that morning to get a quick cure to head off anything worse. I thus ignored the pain, hoping the medication would take effect and it would pass without incident, but I was not so lucky. It grew worse and worse, the throb mixing with cramping and churning, violent enough that the nausea was making it difficult to concentrate. Henry’s words began to swim together so much that I was not certain what language he was speaking. I stood up, swaying slightly.

     “Excuse me.” I said lightly, before running to his bathroom and emptying those two eggs, toast, roast beef sandwich, and coffee from my stomach into the toilet.

     I admit that I was a more than a bit embarrassed to monopolize Henry's washroom for something so disgusting. But Henry didn't seem to mind. He followed me in and stood next to me, as casual and placid as he ever was, ruminating aloud on the Roman practice of the vomitorium. His body was a solid black line at the corner of my eye, suit unrumpled and shoes polished to a shine. I took a moment in between heaves to look up to him, trying to force a smile from my cracked lips. The ice cold tile of the floor was uncomfortable under my knees, and I had fallen so hard when I first ran to the toilet that I was sure there would be bruising. I was burning up too, though I did not have a fever, at least as far as I knew. My throat felt raw, seared by the bile and tears ran down my face as hot as candle wax. It might have been the sickest I had ever been, even more so than the stomach flu from when I was eight years old and had to go to the hospital for dehydration. And Henry, as alien as he might have been, as distant and ancient as he seemed, noticed. He put his hand on my shoulder, stroked down my back, and when I finally stopped vomiting, arms shaking and threatening to collapse underneath me, he put his own arm around me and led me to his bed to lay down.

     His room was clean and dark, the sheets freshly laundered. I could not quite understand why he offered me his bed instead of the guest one, which was more than adequate by anyone's standards—perhaps more so as Henry's was a single and the guest a queen. But perhaps I could simply chalk that up to his impeccable manners.

     At first, Henry simply left me be, only checking in once or twice to make me drink a glass of water or take my temperature. As the night went on and sleep did not come, however, he stayed in the room with me, silencing my protests that he not sacrifice his own sleep on my behalf with a reminder of his own chronic insomnia. A first he merely pulled up the chair from his desk to read or write in his journal, presumably carrying on with his normal routine. But then, during an episode of severe abdominal pain that had me crying out, gasping and shaking with tears leaking out of my eyes, he took to lay beside me on the bed. I appreciated his presence intensely, his serenity and composure an anchor that kept me from being washed away in a storm of agony. He did not turn towards me, he didn’t touch me, didn’t sleep next to me—he might not have even looked at me.

     But he was there.

     My extended convalescence did eventually catch the attention of the others.

     They had all been acting especially strange after winter break, touchy and evasive at even the most benign inquiry. I was more than a little offended at first, but eventually I let it go, chalking it up to the stress of a long winter. Things had mostly returned to normal anyway, our weekly dinners continuing unabated, if slightly less enjoyable due to the increased intensity of Bunny’s less pleasant behaviors.

     Francis brought it up first. He, ever eagle-eyed and alert, commented on my persistently bloodshot eyes one afternoon at the country house as he poured himself a third gin and tonic.

     “Getting much sleep Richard?” I was laying down on one of the moth-eaten couches in the library, feeling very bloated and sore after a bad night in the dormitory bathroom.

     “About the same as usual. Why?” I wondered if I might be able to persuade Francis to make me a drink. I was in desperate need of a pick me up but was certainly not going to sit up anytime soon. He looked me up and down, eyebrows raised.

     “You look dreadful, quite frankly.” He turned away and downed half his drink in one gulp without blinking.

     “Thanks.” I snorted and looking over at him. There was no smile playing at his lips. He looked pale and rather gaunt, but it did nothing to decrease his aristocratic aura. With his red hair and sharp white face he appeared as a fallen first son of nobility, the sort of ne’er-do-well who ran off from an upright boarding school in favor of occult rituals and questionable poetry.

     “I’m serious Richard, we’re getting to be concerned about you.”

     “We?” I wondered if Henry had been talking to him about me. Certainly Bunny would not have cared even if he had noticed my illness. He spent most of his time in my presence now making more and more obvious digs at my background. Charles too had seemed disinterested lately, though much less maliciously than Bunny. I had not completed a single conversation with him in a month, he always pulled away halfway through a greeting to run off and talk to Camilla about something or other, whispering furiously into her ear.

     “Camilla and I.” I sat up. I had seen them together the other day, talking quietly with their heads bowed down, jolting up like rabbits as soon as I entered the room.

     “Is that what you were talking about the other day?” Francis stopped in his tracks, perfectly still and composed. He set his drink down on one of the dusty end tables. His face was unreadable for a moment before a placid expression slid over it. He smiled pleasantly.

     “Oh, yes of course. How about something to eat? I think there’s some chicken salad left in the kitchen from lunch.”

     What happened that night was really my fault.

     I was feeling no better than I had last time I went to Henry’s, some of the illness still lingering in my weakened body, but still I came, tramping through a light but steady rain. I should have known not to push myself, especially after the first two episodes, but I was determined to not let my long-running convalescence affect my routine. My chest was aching as I opened the door, some pain pushing at my gut and pressing at the back of my head.

     The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back on Henry’s kitchen floor with Henry himself leaning over me, forehead creased with concern. He was close, looming over me entirely. His head was directly in front of the light, giving an effect of bright halo, white and almost dazzling. I could feel his breath against my cheek, the sleeve of his shirt just barely brushing my wrist. The top collar of his shirt was undone. I must have caught him in the midst of getting undressed for the evening. I could see that his skin was pale and smooth, almost like marble not a freckle in sight. I wanted to see more, I can admit that now, but it was more about the aesthetics of him than anything—his undeniable solid beauty, the quiet magnetic quality to his masculinity. I reached for his sleeve timidly, catching at the fabric with my fingertips.

     He looked once down at his sleeve and then back at me. His eyes were so dark then, dizzying, impenetrable. Something in his gaze scared me, I swallowed once, my breath catching in my throat. He seemed so large then, so beyond myself, towering above like a titan. Then, suddenly, so quickly it almost startled me, something in his eyes changed. He softened somehow, eyes no longer narrowed and something like a smile tugging at his lips.

     “Is there something you need Richard?” If had been anyone else, I would have said the tone was teasing, playful.

     Momentarily stunned, I merely stared at him dumbly for a moment before I spoke, words tumbling out of my mouth like barely remembered lines from a play. “Henry, I...I’m scared.”

     He was even closer now, so close that I began to sweat even on the drafty floor. I could smell his cologne now, an oaky, earthy, almost heady scent like a shot of whiskey spilt in a old library. He grasped at my wrist suddenly and I realized I had still been fingering the fabric of his shirt, the cotton so fine it was almost like water. His grip was tight, immovable and vise-like, though I did not attempt to free myself. “What do you need Richard?” he said more viciously, harshly, almost meanly though that same half smile played at the corner of his mouth.

     I couldn't breathe, I couldn't speak, I was dumbstruck, pinned underneath his gaze like a rabbit run into the brush by a hunting dog. He tightened his grip almost painfully, fingers digging into the flesh around my wrist. I gasped out finally, words coming out against skittering anxiety and shame, “Hold me, hold me, I'm terrified, I'm absolutely terrified. I might die, I could I—“

     He released my wrist immediately and I was so surprised that my arm flopped onto the floor, but he was leaning in somehow closer even than before, his chest and shoulders blocking out the light almost entirely like an eclipse. He put his hands on my shoulders, pulling me up to sit with a delicacy that belied his size, before wrapping his arms around me and pressing me against his broad chest in a stiff embrace. I was frozen for a second, unsure of myself, but then he spoke again. His voice was softer, a murmur more than anything, barely discernible even in the tomb-like silence of the house.

     “You’re going to be fine Richard, it is all going to be all right.” His chin brushed the top of my head as he held me tighter, repeating that line over and over and over, deliberately and almost hypnotically. I realized then how absolutely exhausted I was. I collapsed into his embrace, completely and utterly boneless, my head foggy and my mouth dry. The words began to run together and the words might as well have been in Gaelic as strange and foreign as they sounded—an old ritual chant to calm a youth before they slit his throat in a sacred grove. I realized that I could not take it any more. I buried my face into his chest, the smell of his laundry detergent and the feel of his shirt fabric overwhelming my senses completely, and began, in earnest, to weep.

     After the incident in the kitchen, Henry no longer maintained any pretense of friendly distance—especially after I refused a visit to the hospital or even the doctor as I couldn’t afford it. He relented but nonetheless came to call at my room more often than he ever had before, offering to take me to lunch or to bring me orange juice and aspirin. Despite his newfound care, there was still something undeniably clinical to his manner, something cold and objective in his eyes, that made me feel utterly weak and pathetic. While the others took no notice, had no way of knowing about it fact since I did not mention it to them and I highly doubt that Henry did either, Judy certainly did.

     “Why is that creep always hanging around?” Judy had sat down with me at lunch without asking, simply slamming her salad and Cherry Coke down on to the table and swinging her purse to hang on the back of the chair.

     “Who?” I was annoyed by the interruption though I was sitting alone and doing nothing other than eating my meal in silence.

     “You know who I mean, that jerk friend of yours, Harry or whatever.” Her makeup was especially garish that day. Bubblegum pink lips and a matching blush with a kind of silvery blue eyeshadow behind outsize false eyelashes.

     “Henry.” I muttered under my breath.

     “What?” Judy regarded me suspiciously

     “His name is Henry.” She rolled her eyes.

     “Anyway, since when does he come and hang out with you so often? I thought he was too good to mix with the plebs.” I scowled. Why on Earth did Judy care about what Henry was doing? Didn’t she have her cokehead friends to gossip about? Why was she so insistent on wasting my time and meddling in my life?

     “I don’t know. He’s worried about me, I guess.” I snapped at her, hoping it would end this conversation. I had been persistently moody and irritable lately, my stomach aches and headaches draining the majority of my patience.

     “Are you sure about that?” I set my fork down rather forcefully. I was finding it difficult at this point to keep my emotions in check.

     “What are you saying? Henry is a good friend of mine who has done a lot for me and I don’t appreciate what you’re implying.” I paused, trying to keep my voice down. “He saved my life for Christ’s sake.”

     “Jeez, chill out.” She pushed her chair away from the table. We sat in awkward silence for a moment, Judy’s long acrylic nails tapping quietly on the side of her chair.

     “Why do you like him so much?”

     “I’m sorry, who?” I pretended that I hadn’t heard her.

     “Oh shut up, you know who.” I felt put on the spot.

     “Well...” I did not know what I was going to say exactly. There were many things I liked about Henry. He was impressive all around, indisputably a genius in everything he did. What he did not know was not the result of some intrinsic lack or ignorance, but of cool indifference. He was beyond most everything, all the ugly details of modern life. Even his driving, while occasionally somewhat erratic, was the result of the utmost control. While at first I loathed to admit it, he did have envious good looks. He was distractingly tall, towered almost everyone with a loping, genteel grace. His features were well-formed, strong but not hard, the solid lines of his glasses and jaw offsetting his rather plush lips. I cannot imagine he was the type to have much to do with grooming products, but his black hair was always as glossy and attractive as a raven’s wing. But how could I say this to Judy, how could I make her understand how kind he was, how thoughtful, how much it mattered that he took moments from his valuable time to look after me? She didn’t know how carefully he could dress a wound, how gentle his large hands could be. She didn’t know one thing about him.

     Luckily, I didn’t have to try to explain. Henry appeared at that moment, had silently stalked up behind me sometime during our conversation.

     “There you are Richard. Would you like to join me in the library?” He gently squeezed my shoulder, his thumb lightly brushing my collarbone.

     “Yes, definitely. You don’t mind Judy?” I didn’t give her a chance to reply, getting up immediately to follow Henry out of the dining hall. I had barely gotten a chance to eat a few bites.

     Once when I was child my mother went away on a trip and left me in my father’s care. I don’t remember exactly how old I was or where she went or for how long. I was younger than ten for sure and she was out of the state and she was gone for more than a week. Something happened to me while she was gone, an injury of some kind, a bruise or a cut or a headache. It doesn’t really matter what it was, only that I was in pain. I was wailing, as one would expect from a child, loud and pitiful and wet with tears. My father was not moved.

     “Stop crying.” I was pulling at his sleeve, trying to get his attention.

     “But it hurts.” I was not yet old enough to grasp what he was getting at. I reached out for him, hoping for a hug or some kind of comfort. He did not acquiesce, instead stepping backwards and folding his arms.

     “Crying is not going to make it better. Get up and walk it off.” He looked me dead in the eyes, as stern as he ever was.

     “But…”

     “Do it. I don’t want to hear about this again.” I wanted to argue, but I did not know how. I went back to my room as I had been told and curled up in bed, hugging the one stuffed animal I had left. It was a teddy bear, a terrible middle-class cliche with plastic eyes and a plaid bow, given to me by some elderly relative as an infant. I missed my mother and I missed her desperately, wished that I could call out for her and hear her voice. I did not tell her this when she returned. In fact, I barely turned from the television to greet her, only truly saying hello when my father shouted at me to do so.

     I thought about this moment often during college, during this time of persistent, painful sickness. The shadow that crossed over my mother's face when I refused to look at her, the way her smile was never quite the same.

     I wondered if there was anything I could have done to have brought it back.

     I tried to not let my poor health prevent me from partaking in my usual activities—namely, drinking. I did not want to appear fragile or weak, unable to keep up with the rest. It is for this reason I found myself at Henry’s house late one Friday night lying flat on my back in his bed. We hadn’t started at Henry’s. I had no designs on coming by home with him that night, but he had invited me back to his place after we had been drinking with the others and neither of us felt quite ready to turn in. On our walk, he was in an uncommonly jovial mood and shared his flask of bourbon with me as he told me about a book he was reading, something about Byzantine taxation systems. Everything he said went through one ear and out the other, but I savored his rich, deep voice with its barely detectable Missouri slur nonetheless. It was a cool night, not overly cold but enough to chill. I wished I had more than my suit jacket, but I had been in a rush earlier and was in no mood for Bunny to mock my rather threadbare overcoat. By the time we made it to his doorstep, I was more than a little unsteady on my feet. Henry had his arm firmly slung over my shoulders, now quite drunk himself and talking loudly into my ear. This was only the second or third time I had seen him drunk. Henry, more than any of us, was unwilling to lose control of his faculties. Of course he was no teetotaller, perfectly happy to have more than a few glasses of wine at dinner or brandy in the evening, but he never quite lost himself. When Charles and Camilla were scream laughing, Bunny flat on his back, Francis’ cheeks flushed red and my own limbs loose and fingers numb, Henry would be as quiet and still as always. It thrilled me to see him like this, a rare and magical event like a solar eclipse, something that the ancients would try their best to predict down to the second so as not to miss even a moment.

     “The empire would have been bankrupt if not for Theodora you know, it’s really quite extraordinary.” We stumbled into the threshold, myself more than him and kicked off our shoes before Henry insisted on showing me the book in his bedroom. The house was silent. I sat down at the edge of his bed and dutifully listened to what he read aloud, slowly sinking back and back into the mattress. It was a decidedly firm mattress, not overly plush by any means, but it was much more comfortable than any bed I had slept on at Hampden. His sheets were almost exactly as I remembered, clean and fresh smelling, but there was something else there, something musky and human that must have been purely Henry. I breathed deeply, trying to memorize the scent, copying every detail into my mind in the hopes that I could return to it later when I was alone.

     “Richard, are you feeling alright?” I realized that he had stopped talking. I was sprawled out on top of his sheets and truthfully feeling worse than what over drinking usually did. My face felt burning hot, my clothes unbearably heavy and itchy on my skin. I was no longer even a little bit cold, could not even remember what it meant to feel cold.

     “No, I’m afraid I’m not. I think I might have a fever.” He looked concerned, pressing the back of his hand to my forehead. I turned away from him, pressing my cheek to the sheets, unable to look him the eye.

     “You do feel a bit warm. Should I get you a glass of water?” I looked back up at him as he gestured out the doorway into the darkened hallway. His face was in shadow, only his glasses glinting in the stuttering light of the room’s sole lamp.

     “I don’t think so. I think I just need to get out of these clothes. Do you mind?” I tugged at my collar. I could already feel a thin bead of sweat trickling down my neck onto my back. I squirmed, trying my best not to reveal how much I wanted to be free of my oppressive garments.

     “No, not all, be my guest.” I immediately began unbuttoning my shirt, barely stopping at tearing it off before I noticed that Henry was watching me. He was leaning up against his bookshelf, something intent and almost hungry in his expression. He’d taken off his glasses, placed them at his side on the empty desk. I considered asking if I should leave and change in the hall when I realized that these were my only clothes. I made a decision in that moment, one that I’m not entirely proud of but one that I can’t say that I regret. I started taking off my clothes more slowly then, more deliberately, not breaking eye contact with Henry was I shrugged my shirt from my shoulders. I slithered out of my pants, a more difficult task than one might expect, and stood before him in my briefs. I put two of my fingers into my waistband and waited to see how he responded, rubbing up and down at space underneath just beneath my hips. He did not look away. I let out one shuddering breath before I turned my back to him and slid them off, bending down to get them past my ankles. When I stood back up he was standing so close I could feel his breath on my neck. His hands, those large beautiful hands, were resting on my ass. But they only rested for a moment before he was kneading at it, gently and then roughly kneading the cheeks, his fingers pressing hard into my flesh. One finger lightly stroked between them, just barely touching the skin there. I shivered.

     “Do you need to lie down?” His voice was quiet, less than a whisper even, but I could hear him as clear as a cathedral bell ringing in the deep blue of an early Sunday morning. I nodded as slowly as I could manage as I turned around to face him. He put his hand on my chest, pushing me back down and down with what seemed to be almost no effort at all. It was only a few seconds before he was on top of me, his body covering mine completely. I felt so small then, so weak and fragile, so unlike anything else I had experienced before. Those hands of his were on my hips, rubbing circles at my skin before they traveled upwards and stopped at my nipples. They only rested there for a moment of consideration before he tweaked them hard and I yelped. He laughed audibly and I felt embarrassed, ready to perhaps wiggle out from under him and make my apologies. But then he kissed me.

     It was gentle at first, nothing more than the press of lips on lips, but then it turned aggressive, violent almost. His tongue thrust into my mouth, one of his hands gripping tightly at my neck. His other hand was in between my legs, wrapped around my throbbing erection. As he pumped my cock, the kiss grew deeper, sloppier, more chaotic and overpowering. It was only the kiss then—my world narrowed to his lips and his skin and the heat of his body. He bit my lip, hard enough to be painful, and I felt something wet roll down my chin before I came with a cry. I can admit, I will admit, that under my cry was his name, almost undetectable though I am sure that he heard. He rolled off me and sat up, considering the stain I had made on his shirt.

     “Oh, let me make it up to you.” I slid off the bed and onto my knees before I tugged at his belt, stopping myself from eagerly unlooping it without his permission. I could tell that it was expensive, certainly made of real leather instead of the questionable material of my own. Henry said nothing, merely considering me from underneath half-closed lids.

     “Please?” I pulled at his belt harder, hands clutching at the top of his trousers. He nodded curtly. I tried not to seem too desperate as I unzipped him, quickly pulling down his pants and underwear in one efficient motion. He was hard already, the weight of him pleasantly warm in my hand. I am not ashamed to admit that his cock was quite a bit larger than my own and no one had yet shared any complaints with me. I sighed before I gave it one long, wet swipe of my tongue from root to tip. He tasted salty and clean, undeniably masculine and undeniably him. I took the head of his cock into my mouth, sucking on it and enjoying its girth. Henry really was magnificent in every way. He moaned and brought one of his hands down to thread his fingers through my hair. I sucked harder on the head instead of trying to take more into my mouth, hoping the tease would get him to be rougher with me. Hair pulling was always one of my favorite activities in previous encounters and I dearly wished that Henry would oblige me.

     “Richard.” I paused and looked up at him, his cock still resting heavy on my lips. His grip tightened in my hair and something fluttered in my chest. Henry’s gaze was cloudy with desire and I felt intensely proud, excited even, that I could have such an effect on him.

     “Would you mind moving forward?” He breathed out slowly as he spoke and I realized that he was blushing, cheeks flushed pinker than I had ever seen. I was about to say yes, of course, whatever you want, when I realized that speaking was the opposite of what he’d asked for. I then slowly, carefully, started taking more and more of his cock into my mouth. I had high hopes that I would be able to swallow him entirely. My long illness had left me without much of a gag reflex to speak of and I decided in that moment that something useful ought to be made out it.

     My effort, it turns out, was not needed. Henry’s shyness had left him and he was now thrusting into my mouth, his grip tightening painfully on my hair. It was no time at all before he shuddered and came down my throat, his eyelids fluttering and mouth hanging open. I took a moment before swallowing, considering the feel and the taste of him on my tongue. He let go of my hair and looked down at me, something soft in his clear blue eyes. I stood up, my knees slightly raw and red from the carpet, and sat back down next to him on the bed. I did not know what to say, if I should say anything, if I should just get up and leave, but he did me one last favor and answered my questions for me. He roughly took my face in his hands and kissed me. It was a long kiss, much more leisurely, less desperate than before. I reveled in it, wished that we could do this hours, days even, weeks in my dreams. I shivered when he released me, perhaps not altogether from the chill on my unclothed body. As I looked at him, at his lips red and wet and his hair sticking up all over, something indescribable came over me and I spoke before I could stop myself.

     “I love you.” My heart seized up in my chest. I wished I could swallow my words back up as soon as I said them, somehow magically turn back time and say nothing at all. But then Henry smiled, serene and wide and more luminous than anything I had seen before in my life, and I did not know what to say—at least until his smile fell away. He got up, picked his glasses off of the desk and began rubbing a spot off of them with the edge of his soiled shirt.

     “Richard, I have something I ought to tell you.”