|04:21 pm - The greater the love, the more false to its object... (Part 3)|
This is based upon the characters in Mary Renault's The Charioteer. They belong to her and I make no profit from them. This is PG rated.
Poynter had just nodded and handed Laurie a couple of manuscripts to work on that morning. By afternoon, Laurie's stomach was knotted with tension. He couldn't work for the man under false pretences, so a few minutes before closing time, with sweating hands he picked up the manuscripts and notes and marched into Poynter's office.
"Mr. Poynter, I have to tell you…"
Poynter raised a thin eyebrow. "What, O'Neil?"
Laurie sighed but decided he'd best not protest this time. "I'm not sure my friend, Lanyon, will agree to the contract." Laurie could feel heat rise up his neck to stain his cheeks. "He is a bit annoyed that I showed the novel, you see."
"Let me understand. You showed it around without his permission?"
He nodded miserably.
"Bloody silly thing to do." Poynter sucked on his cigarette. A thin snake of smoke drifted from his nostrils. "So will he sign, or won't he?"
Laurie shrugged. "He's pretty angry, but he hasn't said no."
"You're extremely lucky I need an assistant. That's the only reason I won't fire you if he doesn't sign it. However, I do not appreciate being made to look a fool in front of an editor. See that it doesn't happen again."
"Tomorrow afternoon, I'm meeting an editor from Routledge for drinks. You'll come along. Other than saying 'How d'you do', I expect you to keep your mouth shut, watch and learn."
"Thank you." He wasn't sure what exactly he was saying thank you for. He rustled the papers in his hands. "I'm still working on these, but I thought you might want to see them."
But Poynter had the telephone receiver in his hand and he waved Laurie away. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I have more important business this evening."
Laurie straightened his desk until he realised he was doing nothing more than postponing going home. He wasn't quite sure which he dreaded more, that Ralph would be there or that he wouldn't. He wasn't sure how he could stand another night of Ralph drinking his dinner and acting as though Laurie weren't in the flat. But if Ralph wasn't there, who would he be with? The very thought make him feel sick.
When he stepped into the flat, the emptiness echoed. He carried the package of cut sandwiches he'd picked up on the way into the kitchen. A drink might help him get one down, he thought. He hung up his coat, took off his tie and unwrapped the sandwiches. He managed to get half of one down that felt like a stick of wood in his stomach.
Then he remembered that drink. He was pouring the gin when he heard familiar footsteps in the hallway. Laurie couldn't help the smile when Ralph opened the door and came in. He wasn't out on the town after all.
He poured Ralph a drink, making it about twice and strong as his own, and held it out. "Ralph…"
Ralph took the drink and raised his eyebrows with a questioning look.
"I wish you'd just say…" Bloody hell, he couldn't go on like this even if Ralph could.
Laurie breathed out sharply. "Whether you're ever going to forgive me."
"It isn't so much whether I will forgive you." His level gaze was less angry than assessing. "I thought I could trust you. Finding that you'd do something like that makes me question whether I ever even knew you at all."
Laurie felt a pain in his chest. "Maybe you didn't. We've had so little time, maybe neither of us really knew the other." He went to lean his arm against the window frame, looking out into the street. In the lengthening shadows of early evening, a woman scurried past taking quick little steps in her high heels, skirt swishing around her legs. "Because the stupid thing about all of this, the stupidest, is that…" He looked over his shoulder at Ralph who was watching him with a steady blue gaze. "…it's that I did it because I love you. And I had no idea how you'd feel."
Something moved in Ralph's face, a softening of the tense muscles. "Is that why, Spud? Really?"
Laurie twitched a wry smile. "I don't always think things through, Ralph. You already knew that. One would think that I'd learn, but apparently I don't. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin things between us. I…" He finished his drink to try to get rid of the lump that was forcing its way up his throat.
Ralph shook his head. "Those reactions of yours do get you into trouble, Spuddy," he said gently.
He looked at Ralph mutely; there wasn't anything more he could say.
"Come here, then."
When Ralph put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close, Laurie leaned into his body with a sigh of relief. He felt the rasp of Ralph's stubble against his cheek and the heat of Ralph's body scorching him. He started to say to tear up the contract, but instead he pressed his mouth to Ralph's, ran his tongue across the edge of his teeth, explored Ralph's tongue with his. He unbuttoned two of the buttons of Ralph's shirt and touched the skin of his chest, feeling the strength of the muscles beneath.
"This won't fix everything," Ralph said against his mouth.
"Perhaps not, but it's a start." He leaned his head back and looked at Ralph from under half-closed lids. "I've missed you so much." He slid his hand down the ridged muscles of Ralph's stomach. "Let me…" His voice was raspy. "…let me love you." He reached tentatively for the top button of Ralph's trousers, meeting his eyes and looking for acceptance there until he saw that and something more, a familiar look of loving forgiveness.
A corner of Ralph's mouth turned up. "Bed," Ralph said, urging him firmly in that direction with a hand on the small of his back.