|“Cheer up, it’s supposed to be a party!” |
John Bettany didn’t reply, but merely nodded in thanks as the rather drunken guest topped up his glass with cheap brandy; spilling most of it on the carpet, before melting away into the crowd. There were too many people crammed into the tiny flat, but David and Rix seemed to have a lot of friends. All of them drinking, smoking, eating, laughing and enjoying themselves. Happy and content, in a way that John really was not. He had yet to see his brother or his cousin; they were lost in the noisy crowd somewhere.
The brandy had been a mistake, but his first mistake had been in not stumping up the train fare to go back to the Quadrant for his 48-hour leave. At the time, it hadn’t seemed worth the trouble to afford the time and expense of the long journey, now John was regretting it.
At least David’s wardrobe had provided a change of clothes. One of his messmates had mentioned something about opposition to the conflict at home, but John hadn’t taken it in until he had met with hostile glances and mutterings from people on the street as he walked across London in his uniform. It had shaken him rather; despite his low spirits over the whole disaster that was Suez, he had been looking forward to coming back to England.
The flat was small but convenient for the hospital in which Rix and David trained. There were two bedrooms, a sitting room, tiny kitchen and a bathroom that could do with cleaning. Rix had offered his brother his bedroom, but now the party had over-spilled. John yawned, and swallowed the last of the brandy, feeling unsociable and unwilling to join in any of the raucous discussions.
Getting up slightly unsteadily to go to the bathroom, his eyes met familiar dark ones across the room and he managed a quick smile and gestured to David’s room. He received a nod in response as his acquaintance promptly began to extract himself from his conversation, a seemingly difficult feat.
David’s room was small, cramped and filled with stuff. A desk, bed and wardrobe filled the space almost to its limits; while medical journals, textbooks, newspapers and other paraphernalia from David’s medical studies covered every surface. Clothes covered the bed and floor and John pulled a face as he moved his cousin’s filthy rugger kit from the bed where he would probably sleep that night. The sheets were surprisingly clean; at least John had slept in worse.
“I didn’t know you were here,” the voice from the doorway sounded pleased, if a little the worse for drink. John, in a similar state, smiled. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too,” John hesitated for a moment, but the other man had no such reserve and immediately threw his arms around him.
“Don’t talk to me like we’re strangers. I missed you. I was worried about you. Was it as awful as the papers said?”
“I haven’t read the papers…” John’s mouth met that of the other man’s and they kissed, colliding with the desk and sending papers cascading to the floor.
“I recognise this shirt – but I’d rather see you out of it.”
“I needed to change out of my uniform.” John glanced over at the door; the party was still going on. He hesitated, as the other man sat down on the bed, beginning to shed his own clothing.
“I’ve locked it. Nobody will come in. Come here…” his voice was husky with desire. “God, Jackie, I missed you so much.”
“This isn’t right…” John made his usual token protest, but it was lost as his lover kissed him again.
“It is right, we’re not hurting anybody. Nobody knows. It’s fine. You know how good you make me feel…”
“I know…” John didn’t want it to stop. He’d been missing this closeness, their relationship, whatever it was, the whole time. Deep down, he knew it wasn’t right. Nobody could say what they were doing, had been doing for the last couple of years now, was normal. It was entirely unnatural; but they didn’t seem to be able to stop.
They would hurt a lot of people if the truth ever came out. It would mean prison sentences; both their careers thrown away. John couldn’t even begin to imagine what his family would say.
On the other hand, the truth wouldn’t come out; not if they were careful. They could stop tomorrow; he had only a 48 hour leave, then he’d be away again, probably a long mission with the current situation in the Middle East. They could have one last night.
They were always having one last night.
It was only as he lay sleepless in the dark, afterwards, whilst his lover snored next to him that John came to a conclusion, of sorts. He hadn’t initiated their relationship but he could stop it.
The next morning, John was up first, and washed and dressed before his lover even stirred. When he did, sitting up and yawning, his dark curls in wild disarray, John was ready.
“I’m sorry. I really am. But - I don’t think we should do this again.”
“You’re probably right,” said David, and yawned.