Authors: Anna Martin
Ryan loaded toothpaste onto the toothbrush he kept in Henry’s bathroom now, not his own, and started to brush as Henry washed the shampoo out of his hair.
“We are the village green preservation society,” Henry sang loudly and tunelessly. Ryan snorted and said nothing. “God bless Desperate Dan, and somebody else… la la lalala….”
The glass of the shower cubicle wasn’t frosted. There wasn’t really any point. The bathroom wasn’t big enough for more than one person, so the room didn’t invite two people to use it at the same time.
For this reason, when Henry moved his vigorous soaping activities to his balls, Ryan had a perfect view of what he was doing. He spat foamy paste into the sink, washed his mouth out, and replaced his toothbrush in the cup.
“Need a hand?”
“I’ve had years of practice,” Henry said cheekily, moving to stroke his cock languidly. “And besides, you’re all dressed.”
In hindsight, the speed at which Ryan disrobed was funny, although in the moment, Henry could do little more than speed up the movement of his hand and revel in the feel of his blood rushing to important parts of his body.
Ryan threw open the door to the shower cubicle and let himself in, cranked up the heat, and pushed Henry back against the tiles with a flat palm to his chest, then claimed his lips in a possessive kiss.
“What are you—” Henry managed to gasp before Ryan kissed him into submission again.
As the water pounded down on their skin, Ryan fumbled with a bottle of shower gel and poured a generous amount into the palm of his hand. With his own forehead pressed against Henry’s and them both looking down to where their cocks were rubbing sensuously together, Ryan took both in his hand and gripped tightly.
“Holy shit,” Henry mumbled.
Ryan only gasped. It took a few moments for him to figure out how best to stroke both cocks together, and like this their size difference was even more pronounced. Henry found himself not caring, not at all as Ryan worked his fingers and thumb over his skin, letting the shower gel froth up and deliciously slick the way.
It took an embarrassingly short amount of time for Henry to come, although Ryan grunted and spilled over his own hand only seconds later, telling Henry that he’d probably been holding off for Henry’s benefit. That was some reassurance.
Ryan washed his hand off under the pulsing water and pulled Henry into his arms, kissing the top of his head and laughing breathlessly.
“Happy birthday to me,” Henry mumbled into Ryan’s neck without thinking, returning the wet hug.
“What? It’s your birthday?”
“Oh, leave it, Ryan,” Henry said. “I didn’t mean to say that. It just slipped out.”
“You’re thirty? Today?”
Henry rolled his eyes. “And thank you
for reminding me of that,” he said sarcastically.
Ryan pushed the wet hair out of Henry’s face, the gesture tender and so Ryan it made Henry smile as his stomach flipped over.
“But seriously—don’t get it into your head to throw a big surprise party or anything,” Henry continued, the look on Ryan’s face telling him the other man had been thinking exactly that. “My parents haven’t celebrated my birthday in years, and the New York gay community is rather adorable in helping everyone forget that they’re getting older rather than celebrating the fact. We all pretend that we’re still twenty-five, and it’s practically blasphemy to claim any different.”
Henry wasn’t lying—all his friends in New York were paranoid about getting older. He found it hilariously cliché, the gay man entering his thirties who didn’t quite know what he wanted out of life anymore. Settling down, getting married, and having children were things that gay people were aspiring to now, or maybe they had always aspired to it and it was only now that society was allowing it to happen. Either way, Henry had watched too many of his friends freak out about another birthday that was just a number, really, no different to any other year, and he was determined not to be a big squealy queen about it.
His morning was stacked with deliveries, directing furniture into the right rooms and supervising finishing touches that seemed to be taking longer to do than the actual renovation work.
At three, he left Scott in charge of finishing up the work and locking the house down for the night and headed into the village to meet Shenal. It was supposed to be a short meeting to discuss his different applications for funding and the like, putting Stretton House on various tourist information and venue location websites.
It ended up taking hours, things never being quite as easy as he hoped they’d be, and it was past five thirty when he made it back to the house.
And he should have known that Ryan wasn’t going to let the whole birthday thing go.
The house was quiet, but the smell of cooking drew him through to the kitchen, where Ryan stood at the stove, stirring something that smelled delicious in a big pot.
“Hey,” Ryan said easily.
Henry leaned in for a kiss. “This smells good,” he said.
“Well,” Ryan said and cocked his head to the side. “I know you said not to make a fuss, but I thought making you dinner was the least I could do.”
“You’re adorable. Thank you,” Henry said, genuinely touched. “I’ll go get changed.”
“No one else is coming,” Ryan said. “You don’t have to make an effort or anything.”
It was still nice to change his shirt when someone had gone to the effort of making dinner for him, and Henry found a favorite light-blue button-down to put on over his jeans. He left his feet bare and padded back down to the kitchen.
“What are you making?” Henry asked, picking up the glass of ruby-red wine that Ryan had set on the counter and taking a sip.
“Um, beef bourguignon with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans,” Ryan said. “I remembered you mentioned before about liking French food, so….”
“It looks great. Too great, maybe… did Stella cook it?” he teased.
“No! Well, she helped.”
Henry laughed. “I knew it.”
“She came with me to Waitrose and helped me pick up the ingredients. And she gave me a recipe. But she didn’t actually do any of the cooking. That wine is on top of the fridge. You can help yourself.”
In another slightly clumsy attempt at romance, Ryan had found a couple of candles and stuck them into empty milk bottles. He carefully lit the wicks as they sat down to eat at the kitchen table, feet tucked up on chairs like they did so many evenings.
“This is really good.”
“Yeah,” Henry said, smiling. “I think you were making it up, all those times you said you can’t cook.”
“I really can’t,” Ryan said. “Well, Stella taught me to make a few things. And Sarah….”
“You can mention her,” Henry said. “I don’t mind.”
He shrugged. “Okay. Sarah liked being a housewife, so she did most of the cooking. But I wanted to learn how to do a roast dinner once, when my parents came back to visit, so I’m pretty good at that.”
“Then why do we always go to the pub for lunch on Sundays?”
“Because Stella’s dinners are much, much better than mine,” Ryan said, grinning. “And it’s easier.”
Henry speared a tiny pearl onion on the end of his fork, considered it, then crunched into it.
“Do you miss her?”
“Who? My mum?”
“No. Sarah. But yeah, your mom, too.”
“My parents, yeah,” Ryan said. “I go out to visit them a few times a year, and they come back here, for Christmas and Easter and Jack’s birthday. Tenerife is a pretty big tourist destination, though, so trying to get flights out there in the summer is really expensive.”
“You talk to them quite a lot, though.”
Ryan nodded. “Yeah. We talk and video chat, too. I got my mum set up with a webcam so she can see that I’m not starving.”
Ryan reached for his wine. “Do you really want me to talk about my ex-wife on your birthday?”
“I told you, my family never makes a big deal of birthdays. This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me in years.”
He sighed. “For a long time I used to defend her. I said that she wasn’t a bad person; we just weren’t the right person for each other. I think I’ve got a different perspective now, though. She used me to get what she wanted, and when it became clear to her that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it anymore, she got stroppy and left.”
“Tell me about your ex,” Ryan said, turning it back round.
“Drew?” Henry was shocked. Mostly at himself—he hadn’t thought about Drew in weeks. Maybe longer.
“He was… he was… I don’t know. I thought I loved him, but looking back on it now, he never loved me back. He cheated on me, you know,” Henry said, toying with his wineglass. “With a guy who was barely legal.”
Ryan laughed humorlessly. “Nice.”
“Hmm. I suppose, when you think how quickly I got over it, it tells you something about the state of our relationship in the first place.”
“And so here we are,” Ryan said with a little smile. “Both of us let down by someone in the past.”
It was Henry’s turn to laugh. “If you like, yeah. It’s weird, though. I feel like I know you better than I ever knew Drew. I only met you a few months ago, and I was with him for years.”
Ryan nodded. “Me too. It’s the same for me.”
“I don’t know what that means.” Henry’s voice had dropped to a whisper.
“I don’t know if I want to think about what that means,” Ryan said. “If someone had told me ten years ago that I would have someone like you, I would never have believed them.”
“I know,” Henry sighed. “Trust me. I know how much of an abnormal blot I am on your life.”
“No,” Ryan said, grabbing his arm, determined to make him understand. “No, I would never have believed that I would feel like this about someone. And I would have convinced myself that I don’t deserve you.”
With some foreign emotion fluttering in his chest, Henry offered a small smile. “You don’t.”
Ryan laughed breathlessly. “I know.”
They forced the conversation into lighter territory as they washed the dishes and stacked the clean plates away, sharing light kisses and teasing each other as they completed the chore. Once done, with his shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows, Henry took Ryan’s clean towel to dry his forearms and wiped down the counters.
“Do you like living here?” Ryan asked, somewhat out of the blue.
“Yeah,” Henry said immediately, then considered the question further. “Yeah. It’s very comforting here.”
“Because of me, or because of the house?”
Henry smiled, caught Ryan by the waistband of his jeans, and pulled him in close.
“Because of you,” he said softly and pressed a kiss to Ryan’s lips, wondering just when it had become acceptable to use kisses as currency for thank-yous. “Thank you for dinner.”
“You’re welcome. What do you want to do now? There’s still time to go to the pub if you want.”
“No,” Henry said absently. He retrieved the bottle of wine and emptied what was left into their glasses, then led the way through to the living room, where Hulk was sprawled out in front of the fire.
They ended up sticking a movie on and not watching it, abandoning it in favor of lying close to each other, careless touches, intense kisses, feet that rubbed absently together. The relationship seemed to be settling down around them without either man making a conscious effort to define it, or even acknowledge its existence. Every moment they spent together was another piece of the puzzle clicking into place.
Henry thought he could do this forever. The weight of Ryan’s head on his chest, the feeling of his light whiskers tickling his skin, and the waxy-smooth silkiness of his hair through Henry’s fingers. All of this was turning what Henry thought was true inside out. He was being challenged.
It was wonderful.
When the movie ended, Ryan retrieved the remote for the TV from where it had fallen to the floor and changed the channel so he could watch the sports results from the day. The program was called
Match of the Day
and was apparently something of an institution.
Henry dragged his lover to bed before he fell asleep. There were much more important things than waiting for the Bristol City results to come up.
They had spent a few nights together now, sleeping in each other’s arms and learning all the different ways they could extract pleasure from each other’s body. It didn’t happen every night. Henry worked increasingly late hours and Ryan exceptionally early ones, and someone would inevitably end up with an inadequate amount of sleep.
Tonight, though, Henry wanted to celebrate turning thirty. That thought felt strange in his head, as if he were betraying some part of himself by not only accepting his ageing, but reveling in it. He
older, and he had changed. The Henry Richardson who had lived in New York and played baseball for a crappy, homophobic team and planned parties was starting to slip away. This new, thirty-year-old Henry Richardson lived in a little village in Somerset and played cricket for a crappy, happy team and turned dilapidated manor houses into something new and beautiful.
The new Henry probably had a boyfriend, although neither of them in the relationship was ready to admit to it yet.
He pulled his not-boyfriend close and demanded kisses, the hot, sweet slide of lips and the insistent pulling at various items of clothing until they fell away.
“I changed my mind,” Henry murmured, tilting his head back to allow Ryan’s lips access to the long line of his throat. “I know what I want for my birthday present.”
“Is it too late? I’m not sure if it’s your birthday anymore.”
Strong, sure hands skimmed down Henry’s sides, and he gripped hard at Ryan’s shoulders, wanting more but not willing to ask nicely again. When Ryan took a step forward, pushing Henry one step back, toward the bed, he felt like moaning with relief. They had been building up to this point for a long time, and now it was here, or almost here. As far as he knew, Ryan could just want to exchange blow jobs again, and Henry didn’t think he could handle that.
In an attempt to take control of the situation, Henry shuffled back onto the bed, kicked off his left sock—the last remaining item of clothing on his body—and drew one knee up, opening himself to Ryan’s inquiring gaze.