Larry woke by the irritation of a headache. He was still curled uncomfortably at the base of the wall, legs somewhat stiffened from his sleeping position. The night before he had fallen asleep with a headache and an upset stomach. He’d never felt romantically or sexually inclined towards Ben before. Or maybe he had? In all honesty he wasn’t sure and thinking about it post last night’s events only made him feel more like vomiting.
As he tried to stand, his joints reminded him that he was getting too old for this sort of thing.
It was a dreary morning. Little light shone through the sheer curtain and the room had retained it’s icy temperature. Larry wished it was a bit brighter, perhaps it could have lightened the weight of his chest.
Despondently, Larry shuffled through the notes and files on the table, trying to ignore the twinge of pain that came from seeing Ben’s neatly printed precis alongside his own sprawled handwriting. Picking up his mobile and groaning at the low battery warning, Larry opened his messages.
He’d hoped Ben had said something. In the least an assurance that he’d gotten home okay. But rather there was nothing new which made Larry partly irritated and worried considering the state Ben had been in when he’d left.
‘Morning. I hope you got back safely. Hope to see you soon.’ Frowning, he deleted the message, starting over.
‘Sorry about last night. Hope you got home alright. Mind talking over lunch later?’ That wasn’t quite right either, Larry decided, erasing that text too.
‘Are you alright?’ Finally Larry sent the message. It was too little, that he knew. But it suited the context, he supposed.
Clicking out of Messages, Larry went to clear his notifications, stopping only at a certain reminder. 14/3 - 12:30 - meet up with Mat, Simon, Jim, Martha, & Ben - @ Simon’s.
“ Shit .” Larry muttered, quickly plugging his phone in and running to the bedroom. He had less than an hour.
The bedroom was less of a bedroom and more of a room that happened to contain two beds but Larry didn’t really see the need to complain. As he fingered through the contents he soon realised the clothing wasn’t his. In the rush of a mess that was last night, Ben had forgotten to grab his gym bag. Larry frowned, walking to the other bed and grabbing his own duffle.
As he pulled off his jumper he recalled the feel of Ben’s chilled fingertips as they ran across the warm expanse of his chest. How right; how perfect it felt. Though quickly - and with some dismay - Larry shook away the memories, buttoning up the navy shirt as fast as his fingers could manage.
Dashing back to the other room, Larry slammed the laptop shut and corralled what junk was important into his satchel. Unplugging his phone (and ignoring how little it had charged) Larry noticed that Ben had messaged back.
He haulted all movement, staring frozen at the notification. Per usual, he was overthinking it. With much trepidation he opened the thread, staring blankly at the six words.
‘Shouldn’t I be asking you that’
Despite being a comedy writer who should have some witty comeback, Larry felt there wasn’t a way he could answer, so after a few attempted ‘That’s not an answer’ -s and ‘Don’t worry about it’ -s, Larry just slipped his mobile back into his pocket, dissatisfied.
Larry was late but luckily both Mat and Ben were later.
Switching on some upbeat charm, Larry smiled to Martha, Jim and Simon, who were scattered across the large living area, already somewhere mid-conversation.
“Grab something to drink.” Simon indicated to the other room, “There’s plenty.”
“Ben not with you?” Martha asked, looking towards the entryway as if expecting Ben to walk in.
“No.” Larry responded simply.
“Weren’t you guys working on the special? That's why we had to change the time.” Jim questions with a raised brow, sipping from his bottle.
“Something just came up. Plans changed…” He tried to keep the regret from his tone and quickly changed the subject along with his tone. “However, we have some good stuff if you want to look at it at any point.”
Not long after, Mat arrived.
“Where’s Ben?” Was the first thing he asked after saying ‘hello’ to everyone.
“Larry lost ‘im.” Simon answered.
Mat stared questioning. “Well it’s not like him to be late.” Jim nodded, agreeing, and scooted over, making room beside him on the couch for Mat.
It was another hour before Ben did arrive, beaming brightly and sputtering apologies to everyone as he did so. He was a brilliant actor, Larry had to give him that. Ben took a seat on the arm of Martha’s chair, turning down the alcohol.
The conversation seemed to fizzle out in Larry’s ears, as if it was in the distance. Rather he was focused on the lines of Ben’s face. Larry had always had the ability to read people. It was a talent Ben and a few others had admitted to envying because he was then difficult to fool. Now more than ever, Larry was glad for his talent.
The smiles and laughs were half-baked and under all that Ben looked worn.
As the hours passed, Larry found that he kept watching Ben, wishing he would look back, if only for a moment. But he didn’t.
Although, Ben was aware of the pained stare fixed to him. It took every fibre of his being not to look back.
“-but haven’t we all had a homosexual encounter outside of work?” Larry was certainly caught off guard as he heard Mat’s comment, though he found himself slightly interested in the context.
“ What ?” he laughed incredulously.
“Well, I mean, come on.” Mat emphasised with his eyebrows. “Help me, Jim.”
Jim chuckled, “I know I have. And you too Simon, you talk about it enough.”
“I’ve had a few.” Martha conceded, sipping from her wine nonchalantly. “And Ben’s a ladies-man so I’m sure he’s also a man's-man.”
Ben smirked to himself as Simon began to re-explain his explicit encounter and Martha fought to shut him up. For a second he glanced over to Larry, his smile melting as he did so. The writer wasn’t laughing along. Rather he was watching the brim of his glass quite intently, eyebrows tightly knit. The conflicted expression gracing his friend’s features struck guilt in Ben’s chest.
“That’s borderline pornagraphic!” Jim exclaimed, shifting Ben’s focus and returning his grin.
The night fizzed out like a snuffed candle, as did most meet-ups. Martha left first, then Mat, Jim hanging behind deep in conversation with Simon. Larry had pulled out his laptop and was typing out some ideas when he realised Ben wasn’t in the room anymore. He felt as though he shouldn’t go looking for him, considering that he wasn’t sure what he would say. Still, as Ben’s best mate he felt inclined to make sure he was all-right.
Slipping silently from the room, Larry searched for Ben - finding him in the last place he thought to look. In the garden, out back, under a broad-trunked tree, leaned his friend, eyes closed in thought. It looked like a hand-painted portrait; a beautiful moment in time.
Smiling to himself, Larry paced out to his friend, leaning beside him quietly.
“Are you all-right?” After a few breaths of the fresh air, Larry hesitantly asked.
Ben laughed lightly, fondly, eyes still closed. “I feel like that’s all you’ve said to me for two days.” Larry supposed he had asked the same question a lot.
The silence was sweet. The sentimental feeling that incited just from leaning here like this was addictive. As Larry thought about it he settled on the fact that perchance he had always had a connection, or affection , towards Ben that ran deeper than platonic.
But where do you start?
“I’m sorry.” Ben spoke, breath splitting the calm breeze.
“Why for?” It was a question Larry already knew the answer to, but for some reason he wanted to hear it explained from the lips of Ben.
The older man inhaled slowly, preparing. “You know.” A smile flickered across his features before he tilted his head to look slightly at Larry. “Last night. All of that . Lines were a little more than crossed.”
“You’re telling me snogging against a barely-regulation wall isn’t a normal occurrence between mates?” Larry smiled as Ben laughed, glad going for levity worked.
“I wouldn’t mind if it was.”
Larry blinked, incredulously. “Hm?”
“Sorry, overstepped.” Ben suddenly found great interest in his trainers.
“It’s all-right.” Larry tried to reassure.
“Is it?” Ben swallowed thickly, pressing his left temple against the bark as he turned his head again. “Or do you just say that?”
Larry was at a loss (which frankly he found happened too often considering his profession).
“I hurt you . Are you all-right?” As he stared into the vast expanse of Ben’s pupils he felt like he was drowning. His irises were designed with the most delicate of colours, laced together in the most perfect shade of blue. He was beautiful and Larry felt like he was dissecting the universe’s intricacies.
“Heh,” Larry huffed amused. “Never better.” He could feel the smile split his face.
So he leaned up, pressing a soft, gentle, single lingering kiss to Ben’s lips. It was the first certain thing he’d done all day.