Thursday, February 11, 2010

Early to Bed

Title: Early to Bed
Author: Ranger

There was something about his face that warned me even before I got in the front door. He slung the tea towel over his shoulder, turned up my chin and kissed me.
"Hi. How are you?"
"It's done." I leaned hard against him, letting him do the donkey work like shut the front door and peel my coat off me. Feeling comfortably pathetic I flopped into his arms and he laughed, nipping my neck.
"Well done. Are you tired?"
"Mmmn." I said into his neck. He rocked me, deep voice soothing in my ear.
"How tired?"
"Totally knackered."
"My poor boy." Damien let me go and pushed me gently towards the stairs. "Go on. Straight upstairs, get into the bath, I'll bring you a drink up."
That sounded nothing short of wonderful. I abandoned my briefcase under the stairs and wandered up to the bathroom. This project had turned into a nightmare on Tuesday night. An entire folder of designs. Which the contractor appreciated but then decided he had a better idea for. And unfortunately the sum offered to us had been more than we could refuse. The workshop had been frantic while the carpenters turned out sign after sign and Beth and I had been frantically turning out the new designs and masters. Working from 8am to 9 or 10 pm nightly, I was coming home more or less to sleep and eat sufficiently to get out of bed in the morning and begin again. Damien had actually been- for him- incredibly good. When I worked for the commercial firm he used to be neurotic about me working an hour past five: he'd accepted this without a murmur. He was mellowing in his old age. My sweet boy, ever understanding, ever sympathetic.
He was in his shirtsleeves when he wandered into the bathroom, tie off, collar open, a glass in his hand. I accepted it from him as he perched on the edge of the bath, dropping a hand in to the water to rub my neck.
"Is that helping?"
"Mmmn." I sipped what was admittedly a rather small but very nicely chilled white wine and looked at him with hazy appreciation.
"You know I was forgetting what you look like?"
"Hm. I'm the guy who's been dragging you from sofa to bed all week. And then kicking you out of bed again in the morning."
"And stuffing sandwiches in my briefcase." I pulled him down by the shirt collar to kiss him. "Thanks. You got tuna all over my designs."
"Rubbish." Thankfully water slows up his swatting abilities. He rubbed my leg rather than smacked and got up. "Don't stay in there too long, you'll fall asleep."
No. I lounged, up to my neck in hot water, and sipped luxuriously from my glass, listening to the ever soothing sounds of him moving around. I intended this to be a long, serene evening of doing very little at all, and appreciating every minute of it. I raised my eyebrows at the pyjamas he was laying out on the radiator.
"Don't you think they're a little- uh- unsuitable? For eating in?"
"You can eat in bed." Damien said calmly. I looked at him over the edge of my glass.
"Can I?"
"Yes. I'll bring you something up when you're settled. You can eat and go straight to sleep, you need an early night."
The simplicity with which he said that, took my breath away.
"JUST how old do you think I am?" I inquired when I regained the powers of speech. Damien handed me the soap, kissed my nose in passing and declined to comment. Furious, I sank lower in to the water. He hadn't said get out of the bath. I looked at the clock on the wall and concentrated on finishing my wine. Very slowly.
He gave me about twenty minutes more before he appeared, towel in his hands, indicating clearly that he required my presence out of the bath. I turned the hot tap on with my foot and pretended not to see.
"Pass me the shampoo?"
Damien turned the tap off and held the towel out. I slid further down in the water and looked at him in the way that has occasionally been known to help.
"Ten more minutes?"
He sounded placid, but very convinced.
"Five?" I said hopefully.
Damien leaned over and pulled the plug out. Scowling, I got up and let him wrap me in a towel.
"I've waited all day to have some time to myself and when I do-"
"I'm in the middle of it, being totally unreasonable. You should write to The Times about it." Damien turned me around, scouring my back with the towel. I wriggled, trying to evade some of his efficiency, but without much luck.
"I can just as easily watch tv downstairs as up here and I can lie on the sofa-"
"You're not watching tv my boy." Damien finished drying me, pulled pyjamas off the radiator and pulled the top over my head. "You're going to eat and then the light is going out, and you're going to sleep. Right through until tomorrow. And you'll be out like a light judging by your eyes."
"Didn't your mother ever tell you about going to bed on a full stomach?" I demanded.
"Yes." Damien took the towel away from me and pushed me ahead of him towards the bedroom. "It was on the list of what to do about tired and stroppy brats on Friday nights."
"I thought that was x rated." I said hopefully. Damien grinned and pulled the covers back.
"That's just with stroppy brats. In, Nicholas. Put the lip away before you fall over it."
Grouching, I collapsed into bed and scowled at him. "Happy now?"
"Ecstatically. Stay there." Damien pulled the covers straight over me, drew the curtains on what was still a sunny mid spring afternoon, and headed downstairs. The bedside clock stood at four minutes past six. He was insane. If he seriously thought I was going to sleep right round the clock, he had another think coming. Already bored, I leaned over and peered along the bookcase shelves. There wasn't even anything I wanted to read. At least not there. Damien had been raving to me about some new serial he was wading through. I slipped out of bed and padded onto the landing to the second bookcase. None of the titles on the top shelf were unfamiliar. I lay down on my stomach on the carpet and began to read through the second shelf. There were two titles there which were possibilities. I pulled them both out and flicked through the larger of the two.
The click of a tray being put down made me glance over and become suddenly aware of two black leather shoes standing beside me. I followed them up the rather nice legs of a well cut grey suit, shirt and Damien's face some way in the distance, not looking too interested in what I was reading.
"I was just looking for a book." I explained, finding the co ordination to get to my feet. "That one that you were-"
Damien hoisted me up and swatted me, briskly and with unnecessary firmness. I retreated to the bed and climbed in, watching him bring the tray across, somewhere between annoyed and apprehensive. He'd brought up tea, a boiled egg and a couple of pieces of toast: so much for my pointing out about a full stomach. Frankly between the pyjamas and the toast, already cut into neat strips, I felt about six. Which was doing nothing for my temper, or the fact it was actually rather nice to be irritated, harrassed and thoroughly cared about at this time in the evening.
He sat with me and I ate as slowly as I dared. I'd forgotten how good something so simple could taste. Tea and toast slipped down with the egg, warm and comforting. It was gone way before I was ready. Damien watched me drink the last half mug of tea, making it last as long as I could. Finally he prised the mug out of my hand, put it on the tray and moved the tray out of reach.
"Right. Go and clean your teeth."
The clock stood at half past six.
"This is ridiculous." I pleaded. "There's no WAY I'm going to sleep at this time, I'm not even that tired!"
"You are, you're nearly grey." Damien pulled the covers back and I moved, quickly, before he got any more ideas about swatting. Go here, go there, do this Nick, get IN bed Nick, get OUT of bed Nick…. I muttered the whole time I was cleaning my teeth, and skulked back to him without enthusiasm. He moved both books off my table and drew the curtains more closely. There was not enough light left outside to read by now, that chance was gone. I watched him sulkily as he came back to me, shook my pillows out flat and tucked the quilt around me.
"Settle down. No wandering. And if that light goes on, there'll be trouble."
I pulled a face, kissing him crossly. "I'm not going to sleep at this time."
"Then lay there quietly and rest, it's not far off the same thing."
"You're mean."
"Absolutely." Damien kissed my forehead one last time and picked the tray up. Still more meanly he left the door open and I knew without checking that meant he had the lounge door open too. He would see instantly if I turned the light on.
Fed up and already bored, I lay for ten minutes watching the ceiling and listening to the evening traffic in the street outside. The hiss and crackle of a radio made me frown and strain my ears. Voices. A car door slamming. I got out of bed and went to the window, pushing the curtains aside. A motorcyclist was standing in the street, looking fed up and talking to a policeman, who's colleague was waiting in the panda car beside him. This road was all too easy to speed down, it was the price we paid for living on a highstreet. I watched with interest, listening to the fragments of speech that came from the police radio. Milk bottles clinked on the pavement below. I glanced down and caught Damien's somewhat irate eye as he straightened up from our doorstep. Hastily I withdrew from the windowsill, shut the curtains and returned to bed.
Just who did he think he was anyway? Him and his crazy ideas. I knew perfectly well what I needed. About three hours watching television, preferably curled up to him. That would leave me feeling far more human than lying up here bored to tears. Too hot, I kicked the bed covers off, balling the quilt up at the foot of the bed. It made an interestingly high heap. I rested my ankles on it, considering how comfortable it was, then pushed the quilt to Damien's side of the bed out of my way. He could have the joy of untangling it later when he came to bed. Serve him right.
"Nick, stop fidgeting and go to sleep." Damien said from below, apparently omniscient now as well as opinionated.
"I can't." I shouted back. "I'm not tired."
"Do I need to come up there and convince you?"
I thought about that for a moment. Damien baiting- dangerous though it is- does have it's attractions when he's in the right mood.
"What?" Damien said, unencouragingly.
"Can I have a drink of water?"
I heard him laugh, then his voice, softer and affectionate. "Brat. Go to sleep."
"Can I?"
"You can have as many glasses of water as you like, darling. But every time I bring you one, I'm bringing the paddle with me."
"You can bring it where you like so long as you don't use it." I pointed out. I could hear Damien's smile in his voice.
"Nicholas Hayes, go to sleep."
Bored, I turned over. Anastasia chirruped at me from beside the bed and I held out a hand to her, running it from her nose to her tail. She pushed her little wet nose against my hand and rubbed her bullet head against me, then wrapped both paws around my wrist and bit me firmly. I yelped and pulled away. Anastasia, delighted, galloped after me. Damien's voice from below this time was not amused.
"Nicholas, desist. If I have to come up there, you're not going to be happy."
I rolled my eyes at Anastasia, but flopped back down on the bed. Anastasia climbed on to me, then on to the bedside table, and sat, folding her tail neatly around her paws. It was allright for her. She didn't have some bossy top downstairs, threatening her with hell and high water if she didn't fall asleep on command. Whenever Damien told her off, she just looked at him with a faintly startled expression and carried on doing whatever she wanted. She was staring now with high indignation at the top of the wardrobe. I lay back, following her gaze. I couldn't see anything. Then I heard a rustle and both her ears shot forward like radar signals. I listened again, more intently. Definitely rustling. There was nothing up there but two suitcases, the two large ones which didn't fit in the loft. The only thing that could possibly be interesting Anastasia and rustling, would have to be some kind of wildlife. Anastasia reared upwards and balanced precariously on her hind legs, her eyes nearly circular. What if we had mice up there? Something rushing around and chewing holes in the suitcases?
What if they came down off the wardrobe and rushed around in other places? I did NOT fancy meeting a mouse in bed or anywhere else. Really concerned now, I picked up Anastasia and cautiously approached the wardrobe, lifting her up until she struggled to get from my hands onto the suitcases. Once up there, she vanished. I stood and listened. Nothing. Silence. If she was hunting, she was doing it very quietly. I waited for a moment, then stood on the edge of the bed. Not high enough, I couldn't see. There was a stool in the guest room. I collected it hurriedly, picking up a towel off the landing just in case I met a mouse in need of arresting that Anastasia missed. I put the stool against the wardrobe and very carefully peered over the top of the suitcases. Anastasia blinked at me  from the top of them where she was settling down to sleep. There was no sign of any wildlife. I lifted the top of the suitcase, peering just in case. Then two firm hands grasped my hips and lifted me down to the carpet. Damien looked quite unnecessarily irate.
"I thought she had a mouse up there." I said hastily, "I had to look, it might have got out and-"
Damien took firm hold of my hand, drew me back to the edge of the bed and sat down on it.
"I have had enough of trying to explain this to you tonight."
"I couldn't leave her with a mouse."
"On top of a wardrobe?"
"That's why I looked!"
Damien pulled me in between his knees and yanked the pyjama trousers down, without heart or consideration for mice. I winced, already knowing I was beyond hope but still not able to surrender without an argument as he pulled me down over his lap.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't up, I was just looking to see if-"
"You Are Tired." Damien punctuated that statement with three smacks hard enough to make me yelp, then settled down to a steady and unfairly enthusiastic rhythm. "You've been walking around looking like death warmed over since Wednesday and you DID actually promise me that when things settled down at work you would catch up with your sleep."
I didn't actually remember that conversation, but I was in no position to argue.
"I'll stay in bed, I promise!"
"You are GOING to settle down and you are GOING to stay in bed, is that clear?"
Crystal. Clarion even.
"Yes, I promise!"
"And any mice, mythical or otherwise, are MY problem should they make themselves known to you, is that also clear?"
Damien completed his statement with three last and sharp swats, pulled my pyjamas back up and pulled me to my feet.
I scrambled for the protection of the quilt, hot and bothered. Damien shook it out over me, watched me lay down and then sat on the edge of the bed beside me, tucking me in.
"Roll over and go to sleep."
"I can't, I'm not-"
Damien Looked at me. I rolled over, scowling, but very discreetly and being sure he couldn't see. Damien picked up his book from his side of the bed, turned on the lamp and angled it away from me. I had one more try at getting comfortable and scowled still harder at the swat it earned me. With His Majesty there, it was obviously better to keep still. I glowered at the floor, arms wrapped around my pillow, and listened to the steady sound of his breathing and the occasional scrape of his book as he turned a page. A minute later a heavy hand slid under the quilt and over my back, and began to rub, deeply and slowly. 
I startled awake to find the room pitch black and Damien half out of bed, peering up at the wardrobe.
"You see." I told him sleepily, propping up on one elbow. "It was a mouse."
"It's not a mouse, it's the pipes you can hear, and you've heard them every day for years." Damien sounded irate. There was a sudden scramble on the top of the wardrobe, then Anastasia screeched and dived for cover under the bed.
"Your bloody cat was stuck."
"MY cat?"
"When she's stuck on top of a wardrobe at three am, she's your cat."
"Mmn." I moved over to let Damien back into bed, turned my head and kissed him as he settled down behind me. His hand slid down the back of my pyjamas and explored the damage. I doubted there was much: he'd been firm, but hardly severe. Still, at this hour of the night he was hardly likely to put a light on and check. I shifted convincingly, hissing through my teeth in acute agony. He promptly pinched me, pulling me closer back against him.
"Pull the other one, it's got bells on."
"I can't pull anything, I have to go to sleep."
Damien's smile was in his voice and against the back of my neck, his voice in my ear and vibrating through me as I was already mostly gone.
"You wait until you're properly rested my lad." 

~The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010

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