Redhead

by Nick Thiwerspoon

Jack could tell from the way Patti was walking that she was still pissed off with him.  She stalked away from their table towards the toilets, her hips swaying, her shoulders swiveling angrily from side to side.

Jack had been passed over for promotion, again.  Patti thought that it was his fault, and he supposed it was.  Instead, it was his friend, Willem, who had become department head, and therefore Jack’s boss, and Jack suspected that their friendship would not now continue.  Willem had been fun – kind, witty and discreetly silent when he’d seen Jack’s eyes flick towards good-looking men.  He hadn’t minded when he noticed that Jack found him attractive, and had endured Jack’s half-arsed flirting with tolerance, even affection.

“You’re useless, aren’t you?” Patti’d said, when she found out.  “Are we supposed to live entirely on my income?”  It wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford to – she was a senior executive with the biggest national bank, and earned as much in a month as an average family in a year, and a fair bit more than he earned in a year.  And unlike many female executives, she didn’t have to come home and do housework.  Jack did the laundry, the washing up, the groceries, the vacuuming.  He thought that perfectly reasonable – she worked much longer hours than he did.  Sometimes, when she was in a good mood, she’d talked to him of her hopes, the first senior position, then later on, the seat on the board, and now, perhaps, chief executive.  Her salary package would soar into the millions if that happened.  He knew she could do it, and if she got the job, she would do it well.  Her staff were always coming up to him at office functions and telling him how nice she was, how efficient, how sensible.

He remembered how they’d met.  He’d been playing guitar at a pub near the university, with a group of friends.  He stopped for a moment, surprised at the memory.  He’d forgotten what having friends was like.  These days they only knew couples, dull people who were all executives or senior managers, half of them from the bank, who talked about holidays in Ibiza and Tuscany and New York, house prices in Toorak and Prahran, and the share market.  He was convinced they secretly despised him for not being the breadwinner in the marriage.

After the concert was over, she’d come up to congratulate him.  She was drop-dead gorgeous – a perfectly curved voluptuous figure, glorious cornflower eyes, and thick chestnut-blonde hair.  She was witty, clever, empathetic and – most of all – great fun.  He had fallen for her right there, his enthusiasm obvious to both of them.  They’d gone straight home to fuck, and the sex had been sensational.  He and she had lived together for a year, and had then gotten married after he graduated.  Jack sat staring at the wine glass, reliving happier times, wondering why it had gone wrong.

He felt eyes on him.  He turned his head a little.  A man sitting alone at a table in the corner was staring.  Hair the color of copper wire, a creamy Celtic skin dusted with freckles, cobalt-blue eyes, a strong neck and shapely chin, shoulders straining his T-shirt, a washboard stomach.  He didn’t look much over twenty-five.  He caught Jack’s eyes for a minute, and his own darkened to indigo as the sooty shadows of his pupils expanded.  Jack quickly looked away, glad he was wearing briefs not boxers.

When Patti returned, they ate their dessert and drank their caffe lattes in silence.  Patti paid, casually handing over her platinum American Express card.  As they left the restaurant, Jack avoided looking at the redhead, but he could feel his stare.  Why someone as handsome as that would ogle a paunchy middle-aged man was beyond him.  He had no vanity left, no foolish self-confidence.  He knew he was plain and unlovable and a failure.

Naturally, they’d come in Patti’s Mercedes coupé, but she’d had too much to drink, and without speaking, handed over the keys.  At home, they lay on either side of the bed, and fell asleep, separated by two feet of perfect Egyptian cotton sheets, and years of armed hostility.  It had been weeks since they’d made love.  He thought of the man at the restaurant, and rolled over so that his hard-on faced away from his wife.  He knew she wouldn’t be interested.  The last time he’d started to caress her in foreplay, she’d said, coldly, the lie obvious, “I’ve got a headache.”  He wondered if there would be enough time to pull his wire in the shower in the morning.  It might not be particularly joyous, but it was better than being unfaithful – not that anyone would look at him, anyway.  He smiled wryly to himself.  Easy to be faithful when no one fancied you.

The office Christmas party was the next day.  Jack hadn’t wanted to go.  Patti wouldn’t be attending.  She had something on at the bank.

“You must go,” Patti had said.  “It’s because you don’t network that you don’t get promoted.  Go and be nice and intelligent with the bosses.  And maybe next year you’ll get promotion.”  But Jack would rather crawl than suck up.  And, anyway, he knew why he wasn’t promoted – he wouldn’t have promoted himself, if he’d been in charge.  Networking wouldn’t help.

At the party, Willem had come over to talk, and then given up, driven away by Jack’s morose sullenness.  Jack knew he was being churlish and stupid, but couldn’t help himself.  In the end, bored and depressed, he headed for the door.  He felt a hand on his shoulder.

“A few of us are going to The Duke of Cumberland.  Come with us.”  It was Willem.

“No.  Can’t.  Got to get back.”  Jack shook off the hand.  “See you tomorrow, Vil.”  He gave Willem a small smile.  “Sorry I’m so grumpy, mate.  It’s not you  . . .  it’s just . . .  things are bad right now.  Enjoy yourself, mate.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Willem was thoughtful as he watched Jack leave.  He sighed, and went back to the party.

It was still pouring – a not untypical Melbourne summer.  The newspapers were full of the usual inventive headlines – ‘What’s for Christmas?  Wet dreams!’ being one of the better ones.  The rain was peculiarly depressing in the summer twilight.  The clothing shops were complaining that no one was buying summer clothing.  Consume or die, thought Jack bitterly.  The roads were busy – evening shopping, office parties, bedraggled Father Christmases in red velvet, glad not to be sweltering.  At the traffic lights just before their apartment (Patti never called it a ‘flat’ – that wasn’t grand enough), Jack stopped just in time to avoid a woman dashing across the road as the lights changed.  But, distracted, he didn’t see the man who was crossing at the same time on the side street.  He wasn’t going fast, but you can still do a lot of damage with two tonnes of steel and alloy.

“Oh God!  Are you hurt?  I’d better call an ambulance.”

“No!”  It was the redhead from the restaurant.

Jack cradled his head, his gaze meeting the redhead’s dark blue eyes.

“No,” the man said again.  “I’m not hurt.  Just a little.  Perhaps you could take me home.  I’ll be all right then.”

Jack shook his head.  “It’s unwise.  Someone should look at you, see if there’s any hidden damage.  Whiplash – or something.”  He didn’t know what, but was sure it would be dangerous not to be checked out.

Please,” begged the man.  “Just take me home.”  The desperation in his voice startled Jack.  Was he some kind of outlaw?

“All right, then.”  He gripped the man’s arm, and helped him up.  The concerned bystanders decided the drama was over, and scurried off.  The rain had kept away all but the most curious.  Both men were soaked through.  The arms and lapels of Jack’s jacket were stained with the redhead’s blood.

“Turn right, here,” said the man.  Then, after a minute or two, “It’s that house over there.”

It was an Edwardian terrace, small and pleasing, wisteria and jasmine thickly twined around the veranda posts.  They were only a block or two away from Jack’s home.  They climbed the three steps up to the tiny veranda with the redhead leaning heavily on Jack’s arm.  Jack felt distinctly uneasy.  The man was clearly much more hurt than he was pretending to be.

“I really feel I ought to call a doctor.”  Jack was worried.  Young men could be so needlessly macho.  He’d been, once.

The man was panting a little.  “No, I heal quickly.”  And he gave Jack a sudden smile that set Jack’s pulse racing.

Inside, the house was tastefully but inexpensively furnished.  There were bookcases and piled books and a good CD player, pictures and posters, flowers in a vase.  In the corner stood a music stand with sheet music on it, and the brass of a saxophone gleamed invitingly.  Shabby comfortable armchairs and a sofa were drawn up in front of an empty fireplace.

“You’d better have some tea or coffee,” said Jack firmly.  He dimly remembered the Red Cross first aid classes from his boyhood.  A person could die from the shock of an accident.  You had to drink sweet tea.  There was no answer.  Jack turned to find the redhead prostrate on the sofa, his eyes half closed, looking pale and sick.  “I’m calling a doctor,” Jack said, suddenly determined.

“No doctor.”  Insistent, almost angry.  Why am I bothering? was Jack’s first irritable thought.  Because I am responsible.  There had been an undercurrent of fear in the man’s tone, too, and Jack responded to that rather than the tenor of his words.  He went over to squat in front of the redhead.

“Why not?”

“I . . .  ”  The man looked at him.  Again Jack felt an electric shock run through his bones as his own eyes met the other’s.  The man swallowed convulsively.  Jack couldn’t stop glancing at the silky column of his neck, at the brush of red-gold fur at the throat of his shirt.  “I can’t.  I . . .  ”  The bloke paused again.

Without being conscious of it, Jack had taken his hand.  The man looked at their hands.  Jack had beautiful hands, big, and strong, with long fingers ending in blunt square tips.  They were warm and comforting.  He looked into Jack’s concerned brown eyes, alive with a warm intelligence, and he felt safe.

“What would you do if I was a criminal?”  He smiled a little as he spoke.  Jack wasn’t deceived.

“It depends what you’d done,” he replied, wondering what in fact the other man had done.  “What’s your name, mate?  I’m Jack.”

“Samuel.”

 “Well, what have you done?  It can’t be that bad.”  He was still holding Samuel’s hand.  “C’mon.  Tell me.”

Samuel shook his head, and looked down.

“I won’t harm you.”  Jack was looking at him with mild surprise.

“I’m afraid.”  The simple words fell into the soft susurration of the rain on the roof, the gentle insistent tick of the grandfather clock.

Jack cocked his head to one side.

“I need help.”  Samuel’s eyes were fixed on his, hope and anxiety clear in the dark blue.

Jack let go of Samuel’s hand.  “Try me,” he said, as quietly as the other man, brown eyes warm and strong and true.

Samuel looked down for a moment.  He raised his eyes again to Jack’s.  “I’m a vampire.”  He said it flatly, without inflection, waiting for Jack’s reaction.

Jack stared into the indigo of the redhead’s eyes, lost himself in the sculpted hollows of his cheekbones, the gold stubble on his chin, the intricate folds of his ear.

“What?” he asked, his mind clutching at the mundane, unable to credit what he’d just heard.

“You know – Nosferatu, all that stuff.”

“They don’t exist.”

Sam’s steady gaze unnerved him.  The blue eyes bored into his.

“You’re serious!”

Samuel continued to look at him, his expression solemn and hopeful.

Jack stared back, his pulse racing.  “Now what?” he asked.

“We heal quickly.”  There was a tense quiet.  “But I need to feed.”

“Shall I cook you something?  Or order takeaways?”

“I was speaking . . .  You know . . .  blood.”

“Oh.”

Jack felt faintly ridiculous.  The rational part of his mind simply couldn’t accept that Samuel was a vampire.  Some part of him rejected this as fiercely as his Eastern European ancestors would have devoutly believed it.  Yet he was unaccountably convinced that he could trust the other man, not just that what he said was true, but that he wouldn’t hurt him.  He could not have explained how this knowledge had come to him, yet when he looked into Samuel’s face, he knew deep in his bones that it was so.

He considered.  It was his fault that Samuel was in trouble.  He had to offer help – the other man could scarcely go looking for someone to feed from in his condition.  “Wrist or neck?” he asked, staring at Samuel, his voice trembling, all at once deeply afraid, despite his trust.  It struck him that perhaps Samuel would need all his blood, that he would end up a grey shriveled husk.

Samuel looked at him, and then smiled, his slightly mocking expression acknowledging Jack’s thoughts.

“Wrist.”

A moment’s hesitation.

Sam could hear Jack’s racing heartbeat, he could smell the scent of fear on his skin, he saw his dilated pupils.  He knew that Jack was terrified.  “You are the most extraordinary person,” he said, inexplicably moved.

Jack shrugged.  No one else thought so.  He held his wrist up to Samuel’s mouth, his arm trembling.  He watched as Samuel brought his mouth down to the soft skin next to his palm.  He felt warm breath, and then warm lips, and a sharp sting, no worse than the prick of an injection needle.  Then, bliss.  Ecstasy.  The slow thrum of his heart.  A smoky joy, better than dope, better than sex, better than a perfect gig.  Time slowed and stopped.  Welling waves of delight and enchantment.  An orgasmic flood of fluids inside him, a steely swelling in his groin.  Dazed, he began to fall, and felt strong arms grab him and hold him close.  Gradually time restarted.  The slow drumbeat of his heart renewed.  Heaven withdrew.  Sam licked the small incision on Jack’s wrist, and it began to heal as Jack watched.

Jack lay back against the sofa, as weak as if he had just climaxed, panting a little.

“Is it always like that?” he asked in wonder.

Samuel gave him a sly grin, the smile of a mate teasing someone he was fond of.  “I took a fair bit more than I would normally do.  I needed it.”  He stopped smiling but his eyes still held a trace of amusement.  “Sorry.”  Then his expression abruptly sobered.  “Are you OK?”

Looking into the dark blue globes, Jack felt he’d known Samuel forever.

“Yeah.”  He shrugged.  “Did it help?”

“Look.”  Samuel pulled off his shirt, and showed him a cut on his side, already healing, the two fleshy halves knitting together as they watched, the skin around still stained with blood.  They sat in silence for a few minutes.  Then Samuel leaned over and kissed Jack.

“Don’t!”  Jack rasped out, sharply, jerking back.  But he didn’t move away from the seat next to Samuel on the sofa.

“Why not?”

“I’m married.”  Jack was unable to meet the other man’s scrutiny.

“You want it.”

“Yes.  So what?  I’m not an animal, to follow my lusts.  And I take my marriage vows seriously.  What we’ve just done is . . . ”

Samuel stared at him for a minute or two, then, to Jack’s surprise, nodded a little, and said placidly, “Tea?”

“I thought vampires could only live on blood?”  Jack was trying to joke about what had just occurred, to make the extraordinary everyday.

Samuel smiled, his sharp white teeth feral, frightening.  Erotic.  “Unhealthy stuff, really.  I quite like a nice salad, myself.”

“So what’s with the blood, then?”  Jack was genuinely interested.  Samuel looked well again.  Jack knew that something had made Sam better.  What else could it have been but his blood?

“Don’t know.”  Samuel was silent for a moment.  “But it has to be the blood of a sentient creature.  Maybe it’s a kind of mind-meld, and the blood acts as a sort of focus, allowing one to tap into the infinite.  Perhaps it’s a fusing of energy fields or auras, or something.”  He shrugged.  “Who knows?”

“So dogs or horses are no good?”

Sam shook his head.  “It’s reputed to be best with elves.”

“Do they exist?”

“Would you have said vampires exist, before tonight?”

“So were-wolves are also real?  And ghouls?  And wizards?”

“And bi men who are faithful to their wives?”  He gave Jack a quirky smile, gentle, kindly, accepting.

Jack all at once liked him immensely.  He felt the urge to chuckle.  No one would believe what had happened to him.  He felt released, free – a happy strangeness, a sense of anticipation.  But he also felt he had to stop this bizarre flirtation before it went any further.  “ ‘For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and obey, till death do us part’.”  He regretted the words as soon as he’d spoken them.  They seemed unbearably pompous and stiff.

“Obey?”  Samuel waited.  When Jack didn’t speak, he said, wonderingly.  “You know the words.”

“I’ve often had cause to think of them.  To remember what I promised.”  Jack gave Samuel a crooked grin.  “I’m a man.  I have a man’s needs and weaknesses.  I’m attracted to people – men and women.  But I promised.  And promises must be kept.  It would hurt Patti if I slept with others.  So I won’t.  Simple.”

Samuel got up and went through to the kitchen.  He put on the kettle.

“I must go.” Jack was afraid of what might happen if he stayed.

“You can’t.  I’ve taken a lot.  Even if I don’t have sugary tea, you should.  Basic principles of blood donation.  Anyway, you ran me down.  You can’t just go away, until you see whether I’m all right.”

Jack could hear the smile in Samuel’s voice.  Sam had already recovered.  He was not so sure about himself.

They drank tea from supermarket mugs.  Jack had expected bone china.

“How do you feel?” asked Jack.

“Better.  Fine.  And you?”

“Bit woozy.”  Like after drugs and sex, thought Jack, disturbed.

“Come and see me again.”

Jack considered him for a moment.  “I can’t.”  You’re too beautiful, he thought.  It would be hard to resist you, to stick to my vows.

“Even if I promise to do nothing to you?”

“Even then.  You can’t control my heart.  And when one is tempted by evil, one must get away from the temptation.”

“Evil?”  Hurt and angry.

Without stopping to think, Jack reached out and squeezed the other man’s hand.  Letting go, he said, “Sorry.  I didn’t mean that.  There’s no evil in you.”

“You’d know, of course.”  Samuel himself was much less sure.  There were things he’d done as a predator, things he preferred never to talk about, not to remember.

“Yes.”  Jack’s flat certainty was curiously comforting and absolving.

“Please come.  We can be friends.  I won’t make passes.  It’s lonely being . . . someone like me.  And you’re lonely too.”

“How do you know?”  Jack’s tone was defensive.  He didn’t want another man to see so deeply into him.

“I could see it in the restaurant.”  Sam was matter-of-fact.

“I’ll come again, I promise.  Next week, after Christmas.”  He sighed, because he was afraid of what Samuel would do to him.  All the same, he knew he had to see him again.

When he got home, Patti was back.  “Where’ve you been?” she asked.   He had expected suspicion, but she was simply curious.

“I was at the office party.  Networking.”  He didn’t want to be lectured about his driving, so he was silent about the car accident, and Samuel.  If he had another motive, he tried not to think about it.

“You’re in a good mood.”

“It’s what parties are supposed to do.”

“You’re pissed.”  To his pleasure, she was smiling.

“Just a little woozy.  Come to bed, let’s make love.”  Like we used to, he thought.  And to his surprise, she did, and they did.  As always, the moment he entered her he experienced an epiphany of exquisite sensations, a feather-touch of ideal pleasure, a sense of rightness and perfection.  He tried hard not to think of copper hair and creamy skin, and blood-induced ecstasy.  Afterwards, Patti lay in his arms, snoring gently, in the way that made him feel tender and protective towards her.  Maybe it might still be OK, he thought, hope a traitor in his heart.

After Christmas, he started going to visit Samuel frequently.  These days, Patti was so senior that she often had to go on business trips, to regional offices in Sydney or Perth or New Zealand, and she would be away for the night, sometimes for the week.  Jack found his old guitar, and strummed along to Samuel’s sax.  He hadn’t played for a decade.  They never touched, except when Samuel fed, yet there was a kind of unity and resonance in their playing that comes from a spiritual or emotional tie.  Sometimes Samuel would feed, and though Jack never felt the same bottomless intensity of that first time, it was a rite that bound them.  Despite everything, he found it profoundly erotic.  He knew he was wrong to allow it.  Yet he also knew that Samuel struggled to find willing sources.  Jack liked him too much to allow him into danger, with strangers.  And being with Samuel made him happy.  Samuel was always pleased to see him.  Samuel admired him.  From time to time Jack caught that look on his friend’s face which hinted that inexplicably, he found Jack desirable and attractive.

Jack started to go to the gym again.

When Samuel found out, he teased him.  “Aren’t you handsome enough already?”

“Jeez, Sam, I’m forty-one.  I’m ten kilos overweight.  I’ve got a paunch and love-handles.”

“Some people don’t care about paunches and love-handles.  Some people care about the inner man.  Some people care about integrity and courage and loyalty.  Those people don’t notice the paunch.”

Jack colored.  “Stop it!” he growled.

Sam just grinned, his eyes sparkling with mischief.

Willem noticed that Jack was happy.  To Jack’s surprise, they were still friends, and he had to admit to himself that that was mostly Willem’s doing.  He was glad that they were friends.  Few straight men were easy with his sexuality.

“You’ve found someone, haven’t you?” asked Willem during a quiet moment at Friday drinks.

“Well.  Not really.  I won’t be unfaithful to Patricia.”  Patti wanted to be called Patricia or Pat.  ‘Patti’ was so eighties, so student.  Jack only called her Patti to himself, now.

“Whether you fuck him or not, you’ve still found someone.”

“ ‘Him’?”

“Think I’m blind?  My brother was gay.”

“ ‘Was’ ?”

“He killed himself.”

Jack was appalled.  Without thinking, he hugged Willem tight.  “Oh, Vil, I’m so sorry.”

Willem gently disengaged his arms, then looked him full in the face, holding onto his shoulders with both hands.  “Don’t let it happen to you.  We’d miss you.”

Jack was warmed by the other man’s concern.  It saddened him that he got more affection from people in the office than he got at home.  “Patricia does love me . . . ”  he began.

“Maybe long ago.  Now?  I don’t think so.  You don’t fit the new image.”

“She means well,” said Jack defensively.

“Hmm,” said Willem, unconvinced.

Patti noticed too.  She was suspicious.

“Where do you go so often?”

“I visit my friend Sam.”

“Yeah, right.”  It was clear that she thought he was up to something.

The crunch came when Jack came back from a session at Sam’s.  They’d been playing jazz and swing, for a change, and the music had been perfect, in the way it sometimes can be, when you know what the other player is going to do, without a word being spoken.  Afterwards, they’d looked at each other with a mute joy, a perfect communion.  Then, Samuel had fed, and for the first time since the accident, Jack let Sam hold him, as he recovered his breath.  Jack knew he was in love.  He’d fallen in love with a few guys before, but they’d always been straight.  Once he’d been in love with a woman in the office, a lovely Vietnamese.  But she was so much younger than he that it had been easy to keep control.  He knew he wasn’t even remotely desirable to someone as young and as beautiful as she.  So far, he’d always been able to subsume his feelings into friendship, and he’d never let anyone know what he felt.  This time, though, he knew that the emotions were reciprocated, that he’d only to ask and Samuel was his.  Even if nothing ever came of their friendship, he was happy.  Silly, really.  Unrequited love was supposed to make you miserable.  But he felt joy, exhilaration, contentment, for the first time in years.  Here was someone who loved him, as a friend first, but probably much more, even if they never actually made love.  And they never would, no matter what he felt.  He’d promised.

When he came through the front door, Patti was pacing the floor.

“Where the hell were you?”

“At Sam’s.”  Even her anger couldn’t spoil his mood.

“Don’t lie to me.  You were with a woman.  You smell of . . . sex.”  He didn’t actually.  But he smelt of something.  God knows what pheromones were released by feeding.

“I have never been unfaithful to you.  Never.  And I haven’t been with a woman.  I was with Samuel.”  He closed his mind to the erotic bond created by the feed.  It wasn’t true sex, whatever it felt like.  He knew he was deceiving himself.

“You have the look you get after sex.”

Jack was angry, made angrier by her being right.  “Yes.  It’s called happiness.  Only, I haven’t had sex.”  Jack took his guitar and stalked off to the study.  Patti followed him, the heels of her shoes striking an irritable beat on the flooring.

“Sam makes you happy?”  Her voice was disbelieving, almost contemptuous.

“Yes.  He admires me.  He listens to me.  He doesn’t tell me I’m useless.”

“Well, why don’t you fuck off, and go live with him, then?”

Jack inspected her through narrowed eyes.  “OK.  I will.”  He spoke very softly.  This was it.  The end of twenty years.  The end of all his hopes.  But their marriage had been a corpse for ages.  Now it was time it was buried.  He went through to the bedroom, and started packing a suitcase.

 Patti followed, and stood glaring at him.  “You have got someone, haven’t you?”

Jack refused to answer that question.  Instead, he said, “You don’t love me any more.  You despise me.  You think I’m a failure, a sook.  You want to move on.  You have for ages.”  And someone else does love me.  He brushed past her to get his suits.  He folded them carefully, and put them in the suitcase.  He folded some shirts, a few ties, socks, boxers, briefs, jeans.  “I’ll come and get the rest later,” he said, lifting his suitcase in one hand and his guitar case in the other.  He looked at her.

She looked sad, her anger gone.  “I didn’t want it to end like this,” she said, her voice trembling, on the brink of tears.

He noticed that she didn’t try to persuade him to stay.

He put down the cases and hugged her, remembering what she’d been before she became a top executive, the fun, the humor, the sex, the companionship.

“Me neither,” he said, kissing her gently, wanting to cry.  “I’ll be in touch.”  Straightening his shoulders, he walked out of the house.  It was late, but the night was warm, still high summer, two months after the wettest Christmas ever, and scented with summer smells – jasmine and geranium, garlic, roasting meat, coffee, exhaust fumes, hot bricks, summer lawns.

Samuel opened before he rang.  Jack had gotten used to his supersensitive hearing.  He wasn’t surprised that Sam knew he was there.  Sam looked at Jack, and at the suitcase, then without a word, took it from him.

“Can I sleep on your sofa?” asked Jack, not meeting his eyes, his sorrow still carved into his face.  When he looked up, he saw that Samuel’s face was compassionate, understanding, loving.  There was no gloating, no unseemly joy.  Jack knuckled away the tears.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I couldn’t think of anyone else.”  It was a humiliating admission.

“’Sokay,” said Samuel.  “You’ll always have a place here.”

“Don’t say ‘always’.  Always is a long time.  Especially for you.”

“I meant it.  You don’t need to sleep on the sofa.  There’s a spare room, with a spare bed.  Let me go and make it up for you, then we can open a bottle of red, and talk.”

Jack lay on the sofa and Sam sat in the armchair and they drank a bottle of cabernet sauvignon between them.  When Jack woke in the morning, Sam’s bedroom door was closed, and Jack let him sleep, not sure what vampires needed to do during daylight hours.  At work he told Willem what had happened, and Willem asked if he wanted the day off.  But Jack knew that work would be the best painkiller.  He threw himself into his tasks and when they were done went round to see what else he could do.

That night Patti came round.  Jack took her to his bedroom.  They sat on the bed.

“How did you know I was here?”

“I knew where Sam lived.”  She looked down, shamefaced.  “I followed you here once.”

Jack looked at her with compassion.  “Do you want me to come home?” he asked, knowing the answer, but having to ask anyway.

“You love him, don’t you?”

“Yes.”  Jack admitted it for the first time.

“I hope you’ll be very happy.”  She was crying.  So was he.  He took her hand, and passed her a T-shirt from his suitcase to dry her eyes.  It was all he had.

“I love you Patti, you know that.”

“Yes,” she said, “but it’s not enough any more, is it?”

Jack shook his head.  Sam, listening from the other end of the house, couldn’t see what Jack did, but he could hear the muscles moving in his neck.  He wanted to hug Jack, to hold him, to persuade him that he would be happy with him.  But this had to be Jack’s decision.

Patti sighed.  “It wasn’t working anyway.  I’m sorry I was so . . . ”

“Patti, I have enough love in me for both of you.”

Sam felt tears spill from his eyes as he heard Jack say this.  Yes, greatheart, you have.  And you’d tear yourself apart trying to keep us both happy.

“It wouldn’t work.”  Sensible, practical, intelligent Patti.

“If you can stop despising me, it could.”

“You deserve better.”

Jack was silent.  It was true.

She got up, and kissed him.  “Goodbye Jack.”

“Goodbye Patti, love.”

After she’d left, he wiped his eyes on the T-shirt, and went through to the kitchen.  He put on the kettle, and set out two mugs.  When Sam came up behind him, Jack said, without looking at him,  “It’s lonely in the spare room.  Can I sleep with you?”

He turned to look at his friend.  Sam gave him a tiny smile, the corners of his mouth quirking up, his eyes warm and loving.

“I keep strange hours.”

Jack put his arms round him.  “No matter.”  He kissed Sam, his lips warm and firm, sending shivers down Sam’s neck.  “I think I’ll get used to it.”

****

They quickly settled into a routine.  It was an odd arrangement, as if Sam was a night worker.  Jack would get home at about six p.m., catching the tram up Swanston Street, and as he got in he would make tea for both of them.  He would go through to their bedroom where Sam was in still in bed.  By this time of the year, March, the evenings were drawing in, and Sam was starting to wake up when Jack got home.  Contrary to all the stuff Jack had read and found out about vampires, Sam wasn’t completely comatose during sunlight hours.  But he was very sluggish and sleepy, as if drugged.  When Jack brought him his first cup of tea at quarter past six, he was often staring at the ceiling, his eyes unfocused, apparently awake, yet not quite there.  But Jack’s appearance never failed to bring Sam back from wherever it was he went.  Like a dog welcoming home his master, his entire face would fill with pleasure.  His eyes would sparkle, and his lips would curve up in a joyous smile.

“’Lo, Jack!”

Jack would kiss Sam, but more as a brother or friend than a lover.  They still hadn’t made love.  Although they shared the same bed and spooned against each other and put their arms around each other, somehow neither had had the nerve to initiate sex.  From time to time, Sam would feel Jack’s morning boner straining against his boxers, or peeping through the fly, pressed against his buttocks, but he felt a curious disinclination to initiate intercourse.  He was so pleased not to be alone that he was superstitious about risking anything which would change the pattern of happiness they had.

Jack would often see a look on Sam’s face that showed that he desired Jack; that he was much more than just a dear friend.  Jack was shy, and well aware that the world as a whole didn’t think him attractive.  In some basic way, he felt that he was damaged goods, and that Sam, if he could, would have chosen someone else.  And he was still grieving for his marriage, for all the stuff that he had hoped for, for the marriage vows which he couldn’t help feeling he had broken.  If he hadn’t met Samuel, maybe he and Patti might have made it work out.

One night Jack awoke to find the bed next to him empty.  He spent the night tossing and turning, watching the clock radio’s red digits slowly mark off the minutes and hours till morning.  When Sam came back shortly before dawn, smelling of sex and feeding pheromones, Jack didn’t speak of it.  His chagrin must have showed in his face, because that night, while Jack was sitting on the bed as they drank their tea, Sam said, “You know I have to feed, don’t you?”

“Yes.”  Jack didn’t want to discuss it.  He avoided Sam’s eyes.

Sam took his hand.  “I love you Jack.  You know that, don’t you?”

Jack turned to look at him.  “Yes.”  He thought he himself would die of love for Sam.  He loved Sam whether or not Sam loved him.  The fact that that Sam loved him didn’t reassure him.  He mistrusted his luck, doubted that it would last.  “Yes, I know.”

“If I only fed from you, I would take too much.  I would eventually make you sick.”

Jack nodded numbly.

“Oh, Jack.”  Sam, taking his hand.  “I love you so much.”  He sighed.  He lifted Jack’s hand and kissed it, so softly and tenderly that Jack felt stupid that he had been so concerned.  “But I must feed, my dear, and the best way is during sex.  They don’t know I’ve fed if I do it while we’re making love.”

There was a silence in the room.  Outside they could hear the distant rumble of the trams, the ping of their bells, the muted roar of the traffic, a dog barking, snatches of music.  I wonder if this is how the wives of bisexual men feel.  Jack wasn’t bitter, or even hurt, but he felt the certainties of his world overturned.  He knew in his bones that Samuel loved him, very deeply.  It had been every day revealed in a hundred small actions and words.  All the same, he was shocked.  He knew it wasn’t rational, and that somehow made it worse.

“What about disease?”  He hadn’t meant to ask this.  He felt a fool as soon as he had spoken.

But Sam must have divined the source of his discomfort, and he simply smiled a little, not in a knowing or smug way, his face filled with infinite kindness and care, and he said, “I’m a vampire.  We don’t get diseases.  Only complete dismemberment – or full-on sunlight – can kill us.”

Jack’s horror and fear must have shown in his face, because Sam pulled him into a hug, and Jack’s tea spilt, and the moment passed in a muddle of cloths and paper towels.

But later that night, at eight or nine, after they’d played some music together, and shared a bottle of wine, Sam came up to Jack.

“May I?” he asked, putting his arms round Jack, and resting his forehead against Jack’s.

Jack nodded dumbly, his heart racing.  Yes, oh yes! his mind cried out, his throat too tight to speak.

Sam kissed him.  He bit Jack’s nipples gently through his t-shirt.   His hand cupped Jack’s face.  He leaned in to kiss him again.  His lips were cool.  Jack thought, inconsequentially, he doesn’t feel undead.  But then he hadn’t in bed either.  Jack rubbed his face against the other man’s hand.  His beard stubble scratched Sam’s skin.

“I love you, Jack.”  Sam’s eyes were dark with emotion.

Jack nuzzled the sculpted muscles of Sam’s neck column, rubbing his head against the curve where the shoulders begin.  He pressed his mouth against Sam’s skin.  Nip.  “You too, Sam, mate.” Nibble.  “So much.”  Bite.  “So fucking much.”

Sam gently pulled Jack’s head up.  Keeping his own eyes fixed on Jack’s warm brown ones, he pressed his lips against the other man’s.  His tongue probed Jack’s mouth.  Electric prickles fleeted from mouth to groin.  It hadn’t seemed possible, but Jack’s cock got even harder.  He wanted to push himself into Sam, to delve into his body with his dick, to feel Sam’s buttocks under him, the creamy flesh submitting to his sex.  He wanted to pound Samuel into the mattress, to possess him, to ravish him.  Instead he thrust his tongue into Sam’s mouth, exploring, tasting, relishing his maleness.  It seemed to him now that he had wanted this the first day he’d seen Sam in the restaurant.  Perhaps he had, unconsciously.  Yet it was deeper than that.  It was if he’d been waiting for this precise moment all his life.

“Come,” whispered Sam, and taking Jack’s hand led the way through to the bedroom.  A brawny arm pulled Jack onto the double bed, and drew him close, pressing their bodies together.  Sam knelt over Jack’s body, his eyes lapis lazuli smudged with indigo – intent, purposeful, bent on love.  Sam’s tongue lapped against Jack’s neck then moved to tease the hollow at its base.  He undid the top buttons of Jack’s shirt, nibbled his nipples, and shocks of ecstasy shivered down into Jack’s crotch.  Jack uttered an inarticulate plea of desire, his hands tangled in Sam’s thick copper curls.  Sam moved lower, undoing more buttons, nibbling and pulling at Jack’s thick dark body hair with his teeth and lips, following the treasure trail into the secret richness of Jack’s groin.

He loosened the top button of Jack’s Levi’s, and gently bit the soft skin underneath.  He could smell the heady opulence of Jack’s genitals, the acrid complexity of his balls and butt and cock.  He undid more buttons.  Jack’s cock was poking through the flap of his boxers.  Sam licked the crown, savoring the clear drop of pre-come that collected at the slit.  He grazed the shaft gently with his pointed fangs, delighting in how Jack jerked in pleasure.  Impatiently, he pushed Jack’s jeans and undershorts down his legs, and nibbled at the base of Jack’s shaft.  He cupped the soft crumpled skin of his sac, and gently sucked the delicate eggs held within.  Sam wanted to make Jack come immediately.  Yet at the same time he wanted to delay Jack’s orgasm indefinitely, to stretch it out to limitless pleasure.  Jack gave another incoherent mumbled cry as Sam lifted his legs and his wet tongue slathered the delectable ridged rosette of his ring.  While Jack writhed in ecstasy, Sam pushed his tongue into him.  He breathed in the rich musk of Jack’s butthole, the abounding complex luxury of his inmost odor.  A rush of unbearable love washed through him, a desire to protect and serve this vulnerable human, to preserve him from harm and pain forever.

Jack pulled Sam’s T-shirt off, and bit down on Sam’s nipples.  Sam gave a growl of pain and pleasure.  Jack grabbed Sam’s cock through his track pants, and squeezed it.  He yanked the pants down and they slipped over Sam’s bare feet and pooled onto the floor.  Underneath his pants, Sam was wearing nothing.  Jack took Sam’s cock in his mouth, and swirled his tongue round its crown.  Then he flipped Sam over so he was face down on the sheets.  The other man growled appreciatively, raising his buttocks into the air.  He wanted Jack in him.

Jack knelt behind him.  “Lube?” he asked, gruff with emotion.

“In the drawer.”

Sam felt the cool tickle of oil against his pucker.  Jack’s hands grasped Sam’s hips, pulling him close, and his moist steel and silk rod pressed against Sam’s hole.  Sam opened to him, overcome by sensation, pressing back abruptly against Jack’s hardness so that Jack slid into him in one smooth flow, until his balls were tight against Sam’s sweetly curved buttocks.  Jack pulled back a little, then thrust again.  Each stroke caressed the bump of enchantment and pleasure deep inside Sam.

“Oh, God, oh fuck, so tight and warm, so good, Sam.”  Jack bit Sam’s neck and shoulders, the intense sensations created in his body as he moved in Sam unbearable.

Sam pushed back his butt in rhythm with each thrust to take him as deep as possible, as thoroughly as possible.  Little explosions of delight inside him at every stroke built and built until he cried out in ecstasy, his seed bursting from him in a flood, even as Jack also whimpered and his cock thickened and jism squirted deep into the snug heat of Sam’s body.

They collapsed to one side, spent for now.  Jack’s arms went around Sam.  He drew Sam back so that his lover’s back was against his chest.  His rough breathing flowed over Sam’s ears and neck.  Slowly the pounding of their hearts abated.  Sam turned to face Jack, his eyes dark, filled with love and desire.  His palm smoothed Jack’s nipples, then twisted them.  He put his mouth against Jack’s neck.  Jack drew a sharp breath as he felt Sam’s teeth at his throat.  This was the first time Sam had fed there.  The small sharp pain burned through him, filling his whole body with a delicious fire.

Jack blindly caressed and held the hard muscles of Samuel’s chest.  He wanted to go on experiencing this piercing, intense, flawless ecstasy for ever.

“Again,” he groaned, “oh, God, again, Sam.”

Sam smiled, sweet and direct.  “Again and again, now and always.”

He pulled Jack down for a kiss, more passionate, though they had just come; more intense, though he had just fed.  Jack rose above him, his rigid cock dripping oil and jism and pre-come.  He bent forward to kiss Sam, slower and more thoroughly this time.  He kissed his way down Sam’s torso, more measured this time, more thorough.  He kissed across Sam’s chest and stomach, tracing the ridges and hollows of Sam’s muscled belly with tongue and teeth.  He swallowed the head of Sam’s shaft in his mouth.  He sucked on it, relishing the flavor of Sam’s semen.

For Sam, the warm soft moistness of Jack’s mouth was overwhelming.  “Oh, God, Jack, you’ll make me come.”

Jack grinned back at him, warm and happy, filled with trust and love.  His eyes locked on Sam’s, he raised Sam’s legs, and began to kiss and mouth the copper-furred thighs and calves, all the time flicking his gaze back to his friend, who watched every movement.  Jack lifted Sam’s feet over his shoulder and pressed them back.  He kissed the instep of each foot, and ran his tongue through Sam’s toes.

“Fuck me again, Jack.”  His desire was urgent.

Jack nipped the heel of Sam’s foot.  “Oh yeah, Sam.  Oh yes.”

He drizzled some more oil on Sam’s crack.  Sam curved his butt up, and felt Jack’s adamant rod press against his hole.  He wanted to feel Jack’s hardness inside him again.  He didn’t believe he would ever get enough of him.  Slowly, purposefully, Jack filled him completely.  Languidly at first, then gradually speeding up, he began to move inside Sam.

“Faster.  Fuck me faster.  Harder.  Faster.  Please.”

“I’ll be longer this time!”  Jack grunted.

Yes!

Jack began to ram into him, forcefully.  It hurt, but Sam could feel the delicious build of a new orgasm inside himself.  He was grunting and crying out continuously now, his head thrashing from side to side, his neck arched back, his creamy skin flushed.  It did take longer this time, but their climaxes when they came all the more intense for it.

“Uhhh! Jack!”  Sam’s come spurted across his stomach.

“Sam.”  A tone of possession and satisfaction and fulfillment.  As their heartbeats slowed, Jack added, “It’s been twenty years since I did that.”

Sam pulled him down, and kissed his brown eyebrows, his eyelids, and his nose, and finally gently bit Jack’s chin, which he’d liked from the first day they’d met.

“Was it as good as you remembered?”

“Better.  Definitely better.”

Jack lay down next to him.  Sam sighed and put his arm around Jack’s waist, spooning up behind him.

After a while Jack brought Sam’s hand up to his mouth.  He softly kissed Sam’s palm, sucked each finger in turn.  Sam’s quiescent member awoke.  It grew hard against Jack’s arse.  Jack twined his legs back around Sam’s, pressing harder against him.  He reached for the oil bottle and passed it to Sam. Sam dribbled oil onto his fingers and rubbed it into Jack’s butt.  Jack arched in delight as his finger stroked Jack’s bump.  Samuel applied some lube to his own cock, then pressed the tip against Jack’s opening.  He hesitated.

Jack turned his head questioningly toward him.  “What?” he murmured.

“You haven’t had a man in you for a long while, my love.  I don’t want to hurt you.”

Jack’s brown eyes were warm with trust.  “You could never hurt me, Sam.  Never.”  The desire and the need there touched Sam’s heart.

“I’ll be gentle,” he promised.  Grasping Jack’s hips, as they lay spooned up against each other, Sam pulled the other man onto him, slowly, stopping each time Jack’s ring tightened involuntarily.  He felt Jack yield to him, open to him, until there was just the sensation of warm tightness surrounding his cock.  Jack had felt a few moments of discomfort, but then he remembered how good it could feel – realized how good it felt now – and he reveled in it.  He had forgotten the sheer satisfaction and fulfillment of having a man inside him, this utterly rewarding feeling of fat full firmness spearing the depths of his flesh, this fusion of two bodies in the most intimate of all embraces possible.  He was glad that they had both already come twice, that this was not the first time.  He wanted to make the sensation last.

Sam moved slowly and easily in him at first.  Sam’s hand snugged Jack’s dick, and moved up and down in sync with each of his thrusts.  Jack came before he did – a long moaning incredibly intense orgasm, his prostate and cock stimulated beyond endurance, an internal explosion of erotic joy that spread through his body and left him limp.  Sam responded to Jack’s climax by speeding up his thrusts, and, his prostate exquisitely sensitive, Jack was shaken by repeated aftershocks of pleasure.  Then it was time for Sam to come.  Growling out Jack’s name, he arched his back and pressed himself deep into Jack, the pleasure unbearably close to pain, but utterly, unendurably satisfying.

They lay exhausted in each others’ arms.  Tenderly, Jack took Sam’s hand, still cupping his flaccid organ, wet with the fluids of love, and kissed it.

“That’s another thing I haven’t done for twenty years – coming three times in one night,” he said.

Sam could feel the quiver of his breathing and his speech through his own body.  “And the night is still young,” replied Sam drily.

He could feel the buzz of Jack’s chuckle.

“Hey, I’m an old man.”

“Yeah, right.  Didn’t see much evidence of that tonight.”

“You make me feel young.  You make me feel desirable and sexy and  . . . ”

“You are those things.  My love, my dear love. You are a wonderful, sexy, absolutely erotic man.  Oh, and you won’t have to wait another twenty years for more.”

“Oh good!” Jack’s tone was ironic.  “Just so long as I can sleep now.”

His heart filled with contentment, Sam watched over his man as he slept, savoring every small intimate movement of his body, the soft rise of his ribs as he breathed, the warm tender layer of fat at his waist, the small unconscious movements of his lips as he dreamed, the sweet mounds of his buttocks, the darkly furred muscles of his thighs, the slow pulse of his heart.

He had been so long alone that he had forgotten what it was he was missing from his life.  He knew now for sure.  He was home at last.

****

Nine months later, a week or so before Christmas, Jack saw in the newspaper the announcement that Patti had been appointed CEO of the bank.  He phoned her up to congratulate her.  “Well done!  I always knew you would do it.”

“Thank you.  Actually, I wondered a lot whether it would happen.”  Jack was silent.  It had been a long time since Patti had doubted herself, at least openly.  “Are you happy now, Jack?”  Her voice was wistful.

“Yes,” he said, careful not to gloat.  “Pretty well.”  He’d lost ten kilos, his eyes shone, he looked five years younger, he felt twenty again.  He suspected that the feeding, or perhaps the licking as Sam fixed the incision, slowed or even reversed his aging, though he had no proof.  Maybe being in love had something to do with it, too.  Once he would have thought that the daily – twice daily – sex would have given him bags under his eyes and grey hairs, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.  Which was nice, really.  “And you?”

“Yes,” said Patti firmly.  But Jack could tell that now she’d reached the pinnacle of success, she felt lost, disappointed that the money and prestige hadn’t filled the hollow inside her.  They’d been together for a long time.  There wasn’t much he didn’t know about her.

“I’m glad.”  Even though she was not fulfilled, Jack was glad that she’d reached her goal.

“Oh, Jack.”  She sighed, a little sad.  “Jack, don’t be angry.  I’ve asked the lawyer to make over the flat to you.  I know you didn’t want anything from me . . . ”

“Thank you, Pat.”  He could barely speak for the lump in his throat.  He would be rich, not nearly as rich as she would be, but more than enough for him.  “It’s . . .
you . . . ”

Patti interrupted with “Gotta go.  Got a human resources committee meeting in ten.  See you sometime, Jack.”  She replaced the phone carefully in its cradle.  Would she have done things differently if she had known?  Would any marriage have survived the stresses and separations of a high-flying career?  She stared out of the window of her executive suite on the fifty-fifth floor, and wondered whether it had been worth it.  Too late now.  She buzzed through to her P.A.  “Send them in, Marilyn.”  No one at the subsequent meeting would have guessed that her world was grey and her heart wounded.  She was, after all, the perfect executive.

“Go well, my darling,” Jack said to the dial tone.  For a long time he too sat quite still, staring into space, his own mind mirroring Patti’s musings.

He took Sam to the staff party.  He wanted to flaunt him, to show that a middle-aged man with a paunch could still pull somebody gorgeous.  (As it happened, he didn’t really have a paunch any more.  Sex is wonderful exercise.)  It was shameful, really, made worse by Sam knowing exactly what Jack was doing.  Jack could tell by Sam’s ironic grin when Jack put on his best jeans and the utterly perfect second-hand leather jacket he’d bought for twenty dollars from the op shop in Sydney Road, and insisted Sam wear the same.

It was hard and potentially dangerous for Sam to be out in the bright light of a midsummer evening, and he was wearing dark glasses and sunscreen, jeans and a long-sleeved shirt under his jacket, for protection.  The windows of his car were tinted, and they parked in an underground garage in the building where the party was being held.  He would be safe enough inside; and by nine or ten, when the party ended, it would be almost dark.

There was a pause, and then whispers when the two of them walked in.  Jack noticed several staff members and their partners staring at Sam admiringly, but he didn’t see how many glanced at him, attracted by his surprising good looks – the weight loss, the new muscles from working out, the way his face drew you in with its quiet joy.  When Jack touched Sam briefly on the arm, to ask him something, Sam turned and gave him a dazzling smile, love and lust and the need to feed all combined into a blast of erotic lightning that instantly gave Jack a highly visible erection.

Willem watched the exchange with an ironic glimmer in his eyes.  “Very hot.  Why don’t you just strip off and fuck right here?”

Jack grinned at him, and pretended to punch him.  “I thought you were straight.”

“You mean you noticed?  But that exchange made me wonder what I’m missing!”  Willem had been promoted again.  Their friendship had survived the year when Willem had been Jack’s boss.  Jack had made other friends.  He and Sam had joined up with some other musicians to form a band.  Alice, a lesbian from marketing, had started coming to their gigs.  Mark, one of the admin clerks, had seen Jack and Samuel at a concert, and had started talking to Jack in the office about music and groups, and then moved on to life and his girlfriend and eventually partners and sexuality.

At home, Sam opened a bottle of merlot, and poured them each a glass.  They stretched out on the sofa, Sam nestled into Jack’s shoulder.

“Happy anniversary!” said Sam.

Jack could tell he was happy.  “Today?”

Sam nodded.  Copper strands tickled Jack’s nose.  “Will you marry me, Jack?”

Jack shifted so that Sam was more comfortable. “Yes.  But not because you’re beautiful.  Not because you are the best fuck in town.  I would marry you even if you were hideous, and hopeless in bed.  Because you’ve made me feel worthwhile and real.  Because you make me happy.  Because you care.  Because I love you.”

“What other reasons are there?  My love, I’ll take you, ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and obey, till death do us part’.”  Jack’s eyes filled as Samuel spoke.  Samuel smiled up at him, joy filling his face, his mouth turned up in his characteristic quizzical smile.  His azure eyes sparkled and his creamy skin glowed with happiness.  He pulled Jack’s head down for a kiss, his lips strong and cool and silky.  “Don’t you want to know why I want to marry you?” he asked.

“Because I’m incredibly handsome?” Jack said gruffly, still struggling with tears.

“Because you don’t mind what I am.  That first day, you just accepted me, as if it was the most natural and normal thing in the world.”

“You mean I’m not handsome?”

Sam tightened his grip, threateningly.  “Most people would have been too frightened.”

“I was frightened.”

“I know.  That makes it even better.”  Sam kissed him again.

“So we’ll live happily ever after?”

“I’m something from a fairy tale, and so are you, my handsome prince.  So why shouldn’t we?”

And they did.

© 2014 Nick Thiwerspoon.  All rights reserved.

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