Saturday, February 13, 2010

Man Management

Title: Man Management
Author: Ranger

Oh Sir Jasper do not touch me
Oh Sir Jasper do not touch me
Oh Sir Jasper do not touch me
When I’m lying in bed with nothing on at all…….
“You can’t possibly be drawing and singing obscene songs.” I pointed out, hanging my coat up in the hall. Damien’s voice floated down from above, more cheerful than I’d heard it in several days.

“I’m not. I’m bleeding radiators and singing obscene songs.”



”What happened to your drawings?”

“I gave up.” There was a clank of radiator and a grunt of effort from upstairs. “I hate drawing. I’m going to pack it in and be a train driver. Or sail round the world.”



”Want a cup of tea?” I asked sympathetically.

“I’d marry you for a cup of tea.”

I smiled, heading into the kitchen.



”Promises promises.”

Anastasia leapt up onto the counter in case I was going to do anything interesting that she ought to know about, and I rubbed her ears, making her cross her eyes and purr. Damien’s drafts, which had been knee deep on the kitchen table when I left, had not only been put away, there was no evidence that he’d ever been working at all. His case was in the hall and the table had been scrubbed. Which was not necessarily a good sign. Jerry had called him out on Thursday to a site that the company had taken over from what Damien referred to as a bunch of cowboys, which had gone horrendously wrong. He’d been trying ever since to find a way to fix the situation without simply undoing all the building work done so far, since the shell of the 18th century mill they were converting was listed, and anything of the original building that had to be taken down or which collapsed, by law then had to stay where it fell. The building contained several major practical headaches, such as supporting beams which were going to run across the middle of upstairs rooms about a foot off floor level according to the plans, fixed objects that were part of the mill that by law could not be removed, and water running freely through places that would put the entire Environmental Health Department on valium. It was usually the sort of challenge he loved, he adores handling old buildings, but this one had been granted planning permission on plans that Damien said appeared to have been drawn up by Mickey Mouse on LSD, and the builders had ground to a halt, seeing the problems arising, and advised the owners to get the opinion of an independent architect.

Damien had talked me through the problem on Thursday night, informed me that the entire concept needed marketing as a board game, and been wrestling with it ever since. At the heart of the issue was a young couple who’d invested virtually all they had and I knew a lot of his main concerns ran around what was going to happen to them if the only solution was to take down everything that had been done so far and start again from scratch. He’d been sitting since then, at the kitchen table when he wasn’t at the office, with a look of grim concentration that really wasn’t nice to watch, and there wasn’t much more I could do other than feed him at regular intervals and leave him alone. In the name of which I’d gone shopping this morning, braving Tescos on a Saturday, all alone. Which I called damn noble of me.
Oh Sir Jasper do NOT…..
I poured tea, made his as strong as I could manage since he comes from the parts of the north where they like it dark orange and capable of stripping paint, and took it upstairs. There always seems to be an awful lot more of him on the rare occasions when I get to see him from above. He was lying on his side under the radiator in the bathroom, a spanner and chisel in hand and an old towel wrapped around the pipe underneath the valve he was working loose. His dark hair was in its weekend tousle and hanging in his eyes, his long jeaned legs were nearly out of the bathroom door and onto the landing. He’d been muttering for a week about the radiators banging and airlocks.

I put the tea in his reach.

“There’s a craft fair on at Castle Ashby, I think we ought to go and have a look.”

“It’ll consist of three buckets and a hat stand.” Damien said without looking up from the radiator. “It’s probably the same three buckets and a hat stand. We see them at every craft fair. They just circulate them round and round the county. One day I’m going to buy the hat stand and that’ll throw a spanner in the works of the whole craft fair industry.”

“It’s a proper craft fair, it’s on all weekend.” I leaned in the bathroom doorway to watch him. “Come on, we’re going to go out and do something. You’ve been staring at pieces of paper since you got home last night.”

“There’ll be morris dancing.” Damien warned me. I grinned and went into our room to collect a sweater and his jacket.

“Not at this time of year. Just cross stitch exhibitions.”

And mooching around tents hand in hand, looking at cross stitching, weird wood work and home made chocolate sounded like a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon to me. And it would get him away from his pencils and paper for a couple of hours, which he badly needed.
Oh Sir JASPER…..
There were several more clanks from the chisel and spanner.

I shouldered into a warmer sweater since it was bright outside by no means warm, folded his jacket over my arm and put my mostly empty mug of tea down on the dressing table. Anastasia leapt up beside it, sat down and inserted one paw into the tea, licking it off daintily. Damien would throw a fit at the abandoned mug and the cat drinking from it, but out of sight, out of mind, under radiators…
Oh Sir-
I went and stood in the bathroom door and hovered. Pointedly. It took a minute, but finally he looked at me, tightened off the radiator and turned over to pick up his mug.

“Was Tescos frantic?”

“No.” I leaned against the door frame to wait. “I thought we might barbecue this evening. I picked up some chicken and sausages and another bag of charcoal.”

”Mmn.” Damien sipped tea. “I think I’m going to have to go back into the office tomorrow morning.”

Arg.

He looked up, clearly expecting me not to be pleased.

”I need a distraction free zone and access to the filing cabinet. This is trouble shooting. Every time I find an answer to one problem, I muck up another one.”

Well what was I going to say? No you can’t?

I might have liked to, and I personally thought he needed his weekend off and some serious relaxation, quite apart from the fact I like his weekends spent with me thank you very much, and not with a pile of drawings; but this work had to be done and it was bothering him. A lot. The thing is too, if I said to him I had a project needing extra time and was spending Sunday at work, his answer would be categorically, no. No way. Nyet. And he’d stick to that no matter how furious I got over it. On the other hand, the projects I'd be flapping over wouldn't actually end in a young couple being ruined. He pulled himself up and put an arm around my waist, kissing me briefly but firmly, warm and tea flavoured from the mug in his hand and genuinely, penitently apologetic.

“Sorry.”




We went to the craft fair. He was physically there too, but while he was cheerful enough I could see his mind was still chewing apart the designs. And I could feel his tension.

“You’re not going back to them,” I said, partly in reproach, partly in plea when we got home and he wandered into the kitchen to pick the file up again. He sighed but dropped them on the table and sat down.

“I’m under the gun on this.”

I knew. I shut up, took a book and Anastasia and removed to the lounge to leave him in peace. It was nearly ten when he came upstairs. I’d had a bath by then, watched tv and was surfing on the net for want of something better to do. Damien glanced at the screen as he came by on the landing and headed into our room, stripping his shirt off.

“Shut that down now, you’ve been on there long enough.”

Well that got RIGHT up my nose.

For a start, I’d love to know how he knew how long I’d been online, since he’d paid absolutely no attention to anything but his drawings since we walked back in the door from the craft fair. And secondly, if he wasn’t going to take any damned notice of me anyway, then I’d do what I wanted to fill the time without his Majesty strolling past and casually ordering me off it as if –

Get a grip Nick.

He was tired, he was cross, he was just not thinking which is human and allowed. And I knew what he thought of spending hours on the computer; I did actually, although admitting to it was entirely out of the question, agree with him. This was no time to flip because he was too tired to be tactful. I knew about spending hours online; I didn’t need engraved invitation cards from him every time about it.

It took effort, but I shut it down, calmed down and went into the bedroom. He was sorting through the wardrobe with a grim set to his face and his shirt off, and he didn’t look round.

“I wish you’d put things away properly in here instead of shoving them in a heap. I’ve got no clue if these are your jeans, my jeans or what’s going on, and pulling at any of one of them is going to start an avalanche-“

On the word a pile collapsed and Damien grabbed, pushing it back onto the shelf.

“I’ll find you a pair and I’ll sort it out tomorrow.” I told him, going to help.

”If you’d do it properly the first time I could just find what I wanted.” Damien said just as grimly, sitting down to unlace his shoes. “It isn't just my problem to keep things straight around here. The drawers are just as bad.”

Ok, this did not come under the heading of justified discipline. This came under the heading of Damien being grumpy. Feeling distinctly short tempered myself with his tone and his criticism, I yanked the whole pile out onto the floor and found him a pair of jeans, which I dropped on the bed.

“Fine, I’ll sort the drawers out in the morning.”

”Thank you.” Damien put the jeans on the chair, added a shirt to go with them and headed towards the bathroom.

Smouldering quietly, I refolded jeans and sweaters I had admittedly bundled into the shelf rather than stacked – Damien does the neat folding, I like things out of the way and done- and he would usually complain about it. But not in that tone or that brusquely. Not keen to incur any more growling this evening, I shut the cupboard door and undressed myself, putting things neatly and out of his sight before he found anything else to criticise. I was in bed when he came back, in sleep wear and still looking fed up. I hate that. I don’t do ignoring. He can. He has the knack of cheerfully carrying on with me as fed up as I want to get and he can let it just roll over him when he wants it to, which is probably just as well. But it doesn’t roll over me, no matter how much I tell myself it’s not my fault and he’s allowed to be fed up if he wants – it still goes straight in like a carving knife. And what could I say? Stop being in a mood, you’re upsetting me?

Grow UP Nicholas.

I snapped the light off on my side and lay down, watching him take off his watch, settle and turn his own light off. He was still tense. I could see it. And I still had to remind myself. He is not upset with you. This has nothing to do with you.

I moved over towards him and put an arm over his chest, and he automatically put an arm around me, but he was still thinking. And still worrying. And I hated that too.

“How is it going?” I asked.

Mistake. I heard the sigh.

“I might manage the beams. And the water. And without mucking around with the inner structure too much but no one thing fits all the regulations. I get one right, I muck up another solved problem.”

“Are you going to be able to do it?” I asked him honestly. He knew I was serious and he didn’t answer for a moment while he thought about it. Then he sighed again more heavily and pulled me against him.

“I don’t know. I hope so. But if I can’t come up with a way to make the basic plan safe and legal by Tuesday morning then I think the owners will quit. Which means either re selling the place as it currently stands with the buyers taking purchase with a view to major re planning and re development- which means they’re going to have to drop the price and they’ll lose over half of what they’ve already put in – or paying for the taking down of what has already been done and re selling as an undeveloped site, which means writing off what they’ve invested so far. Either way I think they stand to lose about thirty thousand.”

Which was awful.

“You can only do what you can do.” I said as gently as I thought he’d listen to. “If you can’t solve it then at least you’ve tried everything you can.”

Except he doesn’t work that way and I knew it. My boy was born in shining armour, he can’t help himself.


He left at some ungodly hour which told me that he hadn’t slept well – Damien never wakes early, particularly on a Sunday morning if he’s fit, well and firing on all cylinders. I heard him dressing and turned over, got a very brief smile, a kiss, an order to sort the drawers out, and he was gone.

Which left me to roll over and reflect that one of us was going to have to do something about this situation before we fell out. And it wasn’t going to be him.

Which left me.

And just what do you do when your top requires being topped? And you most definitely are NOT a top type at all?


Since I am the one with the wobblier temperament, Damien is very good at knowing how to handle this kind of situation with me. If I’m stressed out or fed up I push: and being pushed back helps. I’ll growl about it, but I’ll come fairly quickly out of the other side. Either running up against a brick limit of go-no-further-or-else, or being snapped out of it: the mood backs down, or it goes rapidly from annoyed to ballistic to feeling pretty much ok. The push back is what I go looking for when I feel like that. Damien, on the very rare occasions when his temper starts sliding, since he is by nature very easy going, does exactly what he was doing now. Says very little, does a lot and mostly on his own, and wrestles it down alone until he’s got himself together again. That is how he deals with it. Quietly, on his own, coming back to me when he’s got it straight: that’s what works for him.

Here we had the basic problem. In Damien’s position I’d be needing- and wanting- a firm hand and very clear limits to turn this around. I knew too pretty much what he’d do about it. The work hours would be rigidly limited and God help me if I breached them because I can obsess until I’m exhausted; he’d keep me occupied and too focused on him to have time for worrying, and he’d see to it that I stayed physically rested and recharged enough to deal with the situation while it lasted. It’s the equivalent of a strong grip on the scruff of my neck while I walk the tightrope, that refuses to let me lose my balance.

It would be great if I could do the same for him. But it was no good at all me trying to Damien him. I can make Damien noises and put them in the right order from simple experience, I know what to say and in what tone. But he and I are wired up differently. Damiening works for Nick. I have proof of this. There was no reason it should work for anyone else. It wasn’t a universal cure-all strategy, and no reason at all why it would be helpful for Damien, who after all chose to live with Nick who definitely is not the pushy or assertive type. I suck at bossing the cat, never mind anyone else.

Arguably the best thing I could do would be to stay out of Damien’s way, give him peace and quiet and let him alone to sort himself out. Except that was a seriously unpleasant option.

I couldn’t be Damien. I could however be Nick.

Who as we all know, is a devious beggar.


I put phase one of the plot into action around mid afternoon when I thought Damien might head home. And didn’t. And didn’t. And still didn’t.

About seven pm, I was fighting the urge to get really seriously fed up with him, take a book and go and read, with the intent that he’d be lucky to get a word out of me when he finally did deign to come home. It was hard enough that I’d barely seen him all weekend and that he was tired and grumpy when I did see him, without him hardly bothering to come home into the bargain.

It took serious effort to get past that, it really did.  

In the end I rang Allen for moral support and while I didn’t tell him what was going on, a chat with him helped. When I put the phone down, I was ready for action.
Damien could come home; we could have a blazing row while I told him what I thought of him for making me worry and miss him; he, when he was this tired and fed up, probably wouldn’t handle it as well as he did usually; and we’d both go to bed miserable. Or I could take a grip on this situation and redirect it my way.

It was settling down to be a nice evening weather-wise, and with the windows opened, the house was pleasantly cool by the time I was done with the preparations. I took a glass of wine into the garden, checked the oven and the rest of the set of the stage, and lay in wait.

He came home fed up. I could hear that in the crash of his keys into the dish in the hall as he locked the front door behind him.

”Nick?”

“Out here.” I called back, deliberately settling back and randomly opening the book I’d brought out with me. Walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly….. Damien came into the kitchen and I saw him try and manage something like a smile in my direction.

“Hi. Sorry I’m so late. Seriously I’m sorry. I meant to pack up at about four, but time got away from me.”

He would kill me for that. And from the rather shamefaced look I was getting he knew as much himself. I kept my mouth firmly shut on recriminations or comments, moved over on the bench which left plenty of room and gestured at the fridge.

“There’s a bottle of Chardonnay in there if you want some.”



Noooooooo pressure darling. There was a glass laid out and waiting in easy reach too, I’d seen to that. Damien opened the fridge and poured himself wine mechanically, came out into the garden with it and settled beside me on the bench.

“What have you been doing?”

“Reading mostly.” I laid the book down and smiled at him. A proper smile, I packed all the welcome I could into it which wasn’t difficult as I WAS glad to see him, and I saw his eyes respond. He leaned over for a kiss which was a good deal warmer than he’d clearly been expecting. Well right now harassing him was not going to get him where I wanted him, and it wasn’t what he needed. I ran a hand over his knee and leaned against him instead, tucking my legs under me and felt him shift into his usual position in the corner of the bench to let me use his chest as a back rest. I wrapped a casual arm around the one he draped over me and stroked his knuckles. His hands were cold, he’d clearly been sitting working at his desk over those drawings for hours.

And we weren’t talking about that either.

“We need something different in that bed.” I said, picking a subject at random and nodding him towards the ivies in the opposite flowerbed I’d seen him muttering at more than once. “Something with more colour.”



”It’s a very shaded bed.” Damien sipped wine and looked with me. 

“ Woodland plants then.” I said, thinking about him more than plants. “Foxgloves?”

”That’d be nice.” He admitted. He likes gardening. Likes the planning and organising and loves sitting out amongst it in the summer. We both love our garden. “Viburnums might work – those snowball bushes? Laurel would work.”



”You always say laurel is junk.”


“Well, anemones then. White flowers, large leaves. They’d go well with the foxgloves.”



Mmhm. Don’t look now Damien but we’re having a conversation. And NOT about those bloody plans.

He talked about the garden without too much encouragement until the oven buzzed and I got up to bring out the casserole I’d made that afternoon since I doubted he’d eaten anything decent for lunch. And it’s clear comfort food. He was starving too, which would have upset me if I'd thought too much about it. I fed him and we went in indoors where we washed up together and by that time, fed and visibly relaxed, he curled up with me on the sofa and watched something awful on tv until we went to bed.

Yay Nick. Two and a half whole hours without drawings or visible fretting; we spent the evening cuddling and talking without one cross word, and he did actually come to bed in a fairly good mood. We lay for a while and talked about the boat, where to take her in the summer when we had two weeks holiday, and that was always a nice subject to fall asleep on. He was still asleep in the morning when the alarm went.

Chalk up round one to Nicholas Hayes.


Mondays are one of my Mitchell-enforced half days, which meant I came home at lunchtime, and planned round two. Damien, being the difficult bugger he is, then rang me at four pm sounding tired, cross and apologetic, and threw all the plans straight out.

“Nicky, this isn’t going well and the meeting is tomorrow. I’m going to need to work late on this.”

Two. Three. Four. Deep breath Nick.

“Have you had anything to eat?” I said as gently as I could manage. And despite wanting to snap at him that he was tired, I’d barely seen him, I was worried about him and he might just have to accept he couldn’t solve this. He was clearly having a vile afternoon.

“I’ll get something-“ he said shortly. “I don’t know when I’ll be home. Nicky I’m sorry, I promise when this damned account is closed I’ll make it up to you-“

”Don’t be daft.” I said firmly, or at least as firmly as I could. “Don’t get cold in there. I’ll see you when I see you.”

Make it easy for him Nick. Not harder. Be the easy option.

I did think for a while about taking a meal out to him. But I knew too that would distract him, and he needed time and quiet, not me interrupting. So I re thought dinner, thought still harder, and at eight pm went upstairs with the cat and a tray, put on pyjamas and lay on the bed with a pile of videos since I could see we were going to be here some time.

It was well past nine when I heard his key in the lock, and his voice, slightly surprised at the dark downstairs.

“Nick?”

“Up here.” I said as cheerfully as I could manage. I heard him come upstairs, and he looked around the door of our room, puzzled at seeing me in bed.

“I was tired.” I said casually, turning down the tv which was playing a video I know he likes. “I thought an early night might be nice.”

“Sounds good to me.” Damien pulled his tie off, heading for his side of the bed and the dressing table. “Those damned drawings are – wow. Are you expecting someone? Shall I come back later?”

“I thought you’d be hungry.” I said without moving so I didn’t look too deliberate. “I just had a snack and waited for you. Bring the tray over?”

He always has liked salad and snack type food and I’d made up a tray of odds and ends I knew he’d pick at even if he didn’t want to eat properly. He put the tray down between us, took off his shoes and jacket and ended up sprawled out on the bed with me, eating a pretty good meal while we watched the film. And by the time the film was done, all he needed to do was haul himself up long enough to brush his teeth and strip properly, and he was asleep within ten minutes. It was barely ten thirty .

Round two, Nicholas Hayes.


Tuesday was hard. He was asleep early that night and I knew he was tired, but he didn’t sleep well. I’m the lighter sleeper of the two of us and I woke several times because I was aware that he wasn’t sleeping. Not that Damien fidgets, or wants to wander or muck about on the computer like I do when I can’t sleep - he just lay there. Which wasn’t nice. It was hard to know if talking about it made things worse or better. When the alarm went off he was up, dressed and downstairs making breakfast, and all I got was half a smile and an offer of tea. That was more than I could stand. I went over to him with my arms out and he stooped and hugged me tightly, clearly wanting the contact and the comfort. I rubbed his shoulders and held him, anything at all that might make him feel even a little better, or at the very least remind him clearly that here he was wanted, needed and appreciated.

“What time’s the meeting?” I asked when he gently drew back. He picked up his mug and sat down, watching me pour tea for myself.

”Ten. I’m going to go in early love, I want to try and look at the plans once more before the clients come in.”



”What do you think?” I asked delicately. Damien sighed and put the tea down.

“It’s a dead duck. I can offer one or two plans where we only have to take down part of what’s been done so far, but I can’t make the best of what’s already been done. It’s a case of where they stand financially.”



And he felt he’d let them down. I know him. Damien Mitchell does not do failure. There was nothing I could say that was going to help or stop him worrying. I put my cup down instead, put my arms around his neck from behind and kissed his cheek, leaning there with my head against his.

“What are you doing today?” he said eventually without moving.

“The usual. There’s a client coming in wanting some historical pub signs made up, a small brewery doing local beers. That should be interesting.” 

“Sounds it.” Damien drank the last of his tea, squeezed my arm around his neck and got up. “I’m going to head in. I might as well be doing something useful than sitting here worrying.”



”Call me when you’re done?” I asked, letting him go. He nodded, picked up his jacket and leaned back to kiss me, thoroughly and with the same apology I’d seen all weekend. This wasn’t good. This wasn’t him at all.

“Sorry darling. I’ll see you later.”



”Good luck.” I said firmly and came to the drive with him to stand and lean against the door and wave as he drove out onto the road- which this early in the morning was empty.

There was an overwhelming temptation when he’d gone to try and think of someone – SOMEone – who could pull him out of this. Maybe Allen. Maybe his brother. I got as far as shutting the door and thinking about finding the phone book. But that wasn’t a solution and I knew it. That was me wanting to make this stop, a magic means to take the problem away from him because I couldn’t stand seeing him this upset. Realistically no one else was going to be able to do anything that I couldn’t and do better; he belonged to me for Pete’s sake. He was my problem.

I spent most of the morning drawing and waiting for the phone to ring. Beth saw the client for the pub signs and came back to me with the specifications since I tend to get most of the traditional and researched based stuff, and usually I’d have been delighted- today I was too concentrated on the phone. He didn’t ring until past twelve and when he did he sounded grim.

“They're pulling out. There's nothing else they can do. They'll sell the site for what they can get for it. I said I'd complete what I had as reference for any potential buyers, I can't help any more than that.”

And I could hear how he felt about that.

I stormed over to Allen after work and let rip in his kitchen while he fed me tea and biscuits and let me rant myself out.

“I know.” He said gently when I finally stopped waving biscuits and paused for breath. “Robin’s not happy about him either. I think he and Damien had a minor barney yesterday afternoon because Robin tried to tell him he was getting in a state over this account.”

I snorted, although actually with some sympathy. Robin, barring all his faults, liked Damien. And I understood too what Robin had tried to do since the temptation was in me too – do what Damien would do in this situation. Reason. Be firm. Bluntly tell off if need be. But that worked for Robin and me, we responded to it: Damien just wasn’t that kind of person. And I knew too, I’d seen it happen: if Robin scolded long enough Damien would go wearily into overdrive no matter how un like it he felt and exert himself to calm and comfort Robin. Which might make Robin feel better but not Damien.

Trying to BE Damien was not the answer.

Allen gave me a hug, half a fruit cake since I think he wasn’t sure what else he could practically do, and told me to come back for lunch on Thursday. I went home still thinking. The other thing I’d seen Robin do – and if I was honest, I’d done myself before now – was to up the ante. Be difficult, get stroppy, since that made Damien pull out the authority and attention I was missing.

Exactly. Me. I.

Argh.

I’d done that before now without realising entirely what I was doing and why – and Damien had always handled it patiently. But he’s human, and under this kind of stress I knew quite well from experience that sometimes – occasionally – he IS too tired. He doesn’t feel well. He can’t pull that authoritative rabbit out of the hat on demand EVERY single time. Which no matter how much I understand, still leaves me feeling rather uncertain and miserable. Nicholas Hayes thy name is Wimp. But this wasn’t about me; it wasn’t me who had the problem. For once.

I defrosted sausages and stuck them in the oven, still chewing it over. I wasn’t going to strop and demand his attention – not if I could help it. He was drained, he was tired, I wasn’t going to drain him further because I felt neglected. Robin trying to Damien Damien in the end demanded OF Damien to stop it and reassure Robin –and it pushed Damien still further away from who he was, when I stopped to consider it.

Damien when happy, when he’s himself, is naturally authoritative, is naturally someone who likes being in charge, of leading what goes on. He’s comfortable making the decisions, he is by nature your dominant alpha male. He currently wasn’t himself, and he wasn’t happy, and I finally got it straight. Doing anything that pushed him further away from being that person he naturally was, and was happy being, wasn’t going to help. It was only going to make him still more uncertain. Still less strong. That made sense. Stand it on its head and I’m damned sure, putting me in a situation where I HAVE to have control of a situation, take charge and make decisions and you’ll see me get very uncomfortable very fast.

He was Damien, I was Nick. He LIKED being Damien and I liked being Nick, this worked. This was how we were happy. There was going to have to be more to this than just manoeuvring him through an evening so we didn’t bicker and he ate. The answer probably was helping him to be Damien.


Ok Nick, this is not brain of Britain stuff. What does Damien like? We know this.
I knew this. I knew this better than anyone else.


He came home on time, dead on time, but I could hear from the crash of keys into the dish in the hall what kind of a mood he was in. I wasn't at all surprised. I had been listening to the radio at the kitchen table, which I'd set for dinner some time ago and dinner itself was keeping warm in the oven. Damien's look at me was pure guilt and I got up to go to him, pulled his head down into my shoulder and hugged him, tightly, until he picked me up to get me to his height.

"I'm so sorry it didn't go well." I said into his neck, which was rather muffled but I don't think he minded. "You look tired to death. Get rid of your coat and come and eat."

"I'm sorry I've been so out of it the past few days." Damien pulled his coat off, looking extremely bleak as well as tired. "I finished the plans. It's gone. Done."

Except he still clearly felt like hell about it. I put dinner on the table and sat with him. A properly set out meal, since he likes the formality. He and I are both suckers for structure. Order. Except he knows he likes it: I mostly like it when he does it. It was an effort to eat, and he didn't either notice, or harass as he usually would if he caught me not eating; I tried simply to avoid worrying him, but I was too aware of him and how clearly upset he was to be able to stomach much. He ate because again he was starving, which told me a lot about his day. I very much doubted he'd had lunch, which he would kill me for missing, and he usually does take good care of himself. Tomorrow I was putting sandwiches in his briefcase.

We ate more or less in silence, although I chattered gently about whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. We washed up together, and he trailed me into the lounge where I passed him the remote control, and then made him comfortable which actually means making myself comfortable – I curled up on the sofa against him and automatically he wrapped an arm around me, settling into his usual place which is how we like to cuddle. And the remote control was his problem, in his reach and he did pick it up and flicked through the channels until he found something watchable. And like that we stayed until he just as automatically turned the tv off after the news and we headed without comment upstairs to bed. And once there I wrapped myself around him thoroughly enough to see to it that he didn't lie there and stare at the ceiling on his own, and I know what he likes there too. He was tired and not really in the mood, but I know Damien and he is never totally NOT in the mood either, particularly if I was going to make it easy for him. So I did a little gentle suggestion and he decided he wasn't quite as tired as he thought he was, and we ended up falling asleep together about an hour later with him a hell of lot more relaxed than he'd been earlier.

All of which was all very well. And then I got the letter in the morning mail and it threw me completely. I'd called out an electrician some weeks back – something silly, just the burglar alarm needing checking as it kept going off on hot days- the bill was something like £20. But the guy had sent out an invoice, which I'd kept putting to one side and saying to myself I really MUST get around to paying that tomorrow, and now here was a letter threatening County Court Judgements if it wasn't paid immediately. So stupid. I don't know why it is I have a major mental block about putting a stamp on an envelope and pushing it through a mail box, but getting letters out on time is something I've always been unable to do. When I met Damien and he started making horrible threats and carrying them out if necessary, I did get a lot better at it: a large, undistractable boyfriend cheerfully intent on spanking you if you don't get bills paid is a lot more of an incentive to deal with the problem than letters which freak me out to the point of putting them to one side and trying to pretend I haven't seen them. I hadn't been in trouble over something like this for – months. Maybe well over a year.

And I was in trouble now. Damien always spanks for this. Always. In the usual way the writing would be up on the wall. Nicholas Hayes thy backside is doomed. And I'd have taken a deep breath and given it to him – eventually – and that would be the end of it.

I'd been so absolutely determined I WASN'T going to fall apart and make him have to pull himself together to deal with me.

I put the letter back in its envelope and stood on the door mat, trying to think. I could deal with this on my own, simply not tell him, and try to forget about it.

Yeah right. I didn't do deception well at the best of times.

I could – go and tell him, which would mean I'd collapsed in my usual heap and demanded he pulled me out of it when I knew very well he wasn't coping with his own problems right now, never mind mine.

Arg.

Ok, this wasn't deception. This was necessary, this was the best thing to do, sometimes the rules have to be bent. We're both grownups for Godsakes. I am not going to fall apart or the world end because I paid a bill late without Damien jumping all over me for it: nor was I going to start letting my finances go completely to pot because one time I didn't run into consequences for it. Some things rose above the discipline aspects of our relationship, we were Nick and Damien first.

It was when I hit that thought, on the way into the kitchen, that I felt like I'd been clunked over the head with a brick. It was probably actually Damien's guardian angel clipping me smartly around the ear. Who DID I think I was kidding? Just how many more times was I going to fall into that particular trap?

I didn't make decisions that affected both of us; we did together. And treating Damien as too fragile to handle this, or not wanting to bother him – that was going to bother him an awful lot more in the end. He'd patiently see me through this if I got it wrong now, I knew that – but the whole point was that I didn't want him hassled any more than he already was. This was bad timing, but this was NOT the time to go making a bad situation worse. I took a deep breath, took the letter into the kitchen where Damien was eating cereal, and put it down beside him, taking the seat next to his.

"I'm sorry about this, I didn't mean it to happen. I wanted you to know about it, but if you want to leave it and deal with it over the weekend –"

"Whoa." Damien said mildly, putting a hand out to me which made me realise I was babbling more than slightly. He picked up the letter and I watched him read through it, then put it back in the envelope, with nothing more to me than a mild,

"Twit."

"I just wanted you to know." I said, trying to sound calmly assertive. "We can leave it for a few days until things are a bit easier-"

He whacked me over the head with the letter, which made more noise than impact, balled it up and threw it at the bin.

"I don't mean it like you're not up to it-" I stumbled on, wondering why I always sounded such an almighty twit when I started trying to explain these things, "But  you're tired and I didn't want to make you have to-"

"Come here."

Damien pushed his chair back from the table, took my wrist and pulled. It is one of the few things I really LIKE about being significantly slighter than him: we can cuddle effectively on virtually anything that he can sit on. And have experimented with this, but I'm not giving out details. I twisted around on his lap and wrapped my arms around him, rubbing at his neck until he shook me off.

"Nicky stop it. I'm ok, don't worry like that."

"You're not ok." I sat back to see his face. He did still look tired. And he was tense, he didn't need this. "You're stressed as hell and you're overworked, and yes I hate it. But I don't want to add to it."

"I don't like it much either." Damien admitted. He hadn't gelled his hair back yet as he does when he goes to work. When it hangs in his eyes it makes him look years younger, a heavy dark curtain over his brow like a sixth former with the same wide and lively hazel eyes I've seen in pictures of the teenager his mother keeps on her mantelpiece. I smoothed it back now, pushing it into its usual place.

"But you don't add to it." He told me, not moving my hand. "You don't ever add to it. If I hadn't had you to come home to the last few days-"

I didn't answer that. Just put my arms back around his neck and held him, and felt him hug me tightly enough to make breathing difficult. Which I really didn't mind. It was a while before he bit my neck gently and put me on my feet, getting up.

"Go on upstairs and find a corner."

I'd expected that, it wasn't nice, but it wasn't a disaster either. Damien picked up the phone in the hall and tossed me my cell phone.

"And ring Beth while you're there and tell her you'll work tomorrow instead of today. I'm going to ring Jerry, take the day and we're going sailing. All day. And with luck we'll have the lake to ourselves."

Well he's the top. It's tough but you just have to go with it. I caught the phone and headed upstairs, already dialling.

"Yes Damien."

I could hear him whistling in the corridor below as he waited for Jerry to pick up the phone.
Oh Sir Jasper do not touch me
when I'm lying in bed with nothing on at all-

Sailing and obscene songs. That sounded hopeful to me.

~The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010

3 comments:

Dark said...

loved it

Anonymous said...

Just wonderful, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Your stories are absolutely beautiful. I really enjoy reading them. Nick and Damien's relationship feels so wonderfully warm and loving. Thank you.

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.





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