The door banged shut and the small house shook on its foundations. Donnie, hands full of carrot peelings, jumped. He peered into the living room. “Ben?” he asked, frowning. “You okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” Ben shrugged out of his blue uniform jacket, not looking at Donnie. He chucked the jacket over the back of the sofa, the only furniture in the living room aside from the TV stand holding the old tube television and a cheap bookcase against the wall. He threw himself onto the threadbare sofa and rubbed his face.
Donnie dumped the half-peeled carrot onto the draining board and wiped his hands with the dish towel. Then he went into the living room and squeezed in next to Ben on the sofa. He took his hand away from his face and held it in both of his. “C’mon,” he coaxed. “Tell me what’s up.” If he’d learned one thing since meeting Ben, it was that bottling up your bad feelings never amounted to anything good.
Ben sighed, and let his head drop onto the back of the sofa. “I just spent nearly three hours driving into town and back, for no damn reason whatsoever.”
“What?” Donnie said, confused.
“The furniture people fucked up,” Ben said. “They were supposed to bring the bed and the other bedroom stuff today. I left work at four, to have extra time to sit in traffic on the I-85. I’d just got to the duplex when the driver called to cancel.” He sighed. “So I turned the car around and drove the whole damn way back. They said they could come tomorrow at two, but I’m not getting off work until six.”
“Why’d you not tell me they were coming today?” Donnie asked, upset. “I was home all day!”
“Exactly,” Ben said, scowling. “And that’s where you’re supposed to stay on your days off, so you get some rest. You’re still not back to normal, and you’re way too skinny. That damn Isoniazid did a right number on you.”
Donnie grunted and shifted away from Ben. “I’m fine,” he growled. Why doesn’t he trust me to do things?
“So you ate all your lunch?” Ben asked, his voice terse. “And you didn’t lie down for a nap after that?”
“I ate most of it,” Donnie said defensively. “And I only closed my eyes for ten minutes.”
Ben sighed again and looped his arm around Donnie, drawing him close. Still annoyed, Donnie resisted for a moment, but then he gave in. The by now familiar feeling of contentment whenever Ben was close made it hard to be mad. He leaned his head on Ben’s shoulder, and Ben kissed his hair. “I’m sorry, that was a dickish thing to say. I just worry, is all. You need to take it easy for a bit longer. All I want is for you to be well again.”
“Me too,” Donnie murmured, and let his eyes fall shut. It was so comfortable, lying in Ben’s arms, listening to his heartbeat. Ben ran a hand through Donnie’s hair, tugging gently at the untidy strands. He leaned his cheek against the crown of Donnie’s head, and for a minute or so the just sat in silence. Then Ben straightened up.
“Let’s get going, or I’ll doze off. I’m beat.” He stretched and asked, “What’re you making for dinner?”
Donnie sat up too. “Chicken enchiladas and green papaya salad.”
Ben snorted. “That’s a bit unorthodox.”
Donnie shrugged. “I already had the chicken, tortillas and the cheese in my basket, then I found the green papayas. So I got them as well, some carrots, peanuts and some spicy red chilis.” He grinned. “It’s an adventure.”
“Sure sounds like one,” Ben grunted as he got up and pulled Donnie to his feet. He reached out and cupped his chin, his thumb lightly brushing the soft stubble Donnie hadn’t bothered to shave that morning. Leaning into the caress, Donnie hummed softly.
“As long as it’s just and adventure and you’re not pregnant,” Ben said teasingly. Startled, Donnie drew away, saw Ben’s grin and blushed. He punched Ben on the arm.
“So rude,” he complained.
Ben laughed and shooed Donnie into the kitchen. “Finish off your masterpiece, and I’ll set the table.”
Donnie had been coloring with the preschoolers after lunch for half an hour when a look at the clock made him drop his crayon. Padma, a dark-haired girl of five looked up at him and tutted. “Look,” she said accusingly and pointed at her paper. “You made me go over the line.” True enough, there was a purple squiggle outside the shape of her elephant. Donnie leaned down and whispered, “Sorry, sweetheart. I gotta go. My new bed’s coming today, I need to be there or I’m sleeping on the floor.” And that would be awful.They’d really need the bed tonight.
Padma giggled, then gave him a precocious nod. “You needa bed, Donnie,” she decreed, then returned to the coloring book. Donnie suppressed a grin.
“Very true,” he said. You got no idea how true.He tousled the hair of the children at the table and waved at one of the volunteers. “I’m off, Lisa,” he said. “You sure you’re okay on your own for the afternoon?”
“Of course,” she said with a patient smile.
“Arthur’s upstairs,” he said, still dithering. “He’ll come down and help you close up.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “Go, Donnie. You’re already late. The delivery guys will be pissed.”
“True.” Donnie snatched his jacket from the peg. “Bye, Lisa.”
On the way to his truck, Donnie’s cell buzzed. Ben’s number flashed on the screen. Bit early, but whatever.He accepted the call. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Hey,” Ben’s voice sounded echoey. He was probably in the locker room at the station in Corinth, which would be empty in the middle of the day shift. “I wanted to apologize for last night. I was a grumpy shit, I didn’t even thank you for that delicious dinner.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Donnie said quickly. Ben had been exhausted, and Donnie couldn’t blame him. Driving to Atlanta and back in rush hour was never fun, he knew all about that. Living in the city would definitely improve on his commute. They’d lounged on the sofa, the TV on some game show. Ben had dozed off around nine thirty, so they’d gone to bed where he’d gone right back to sleep.
“I’ll make it up to you tonight,” Ben continued. “I’m bringing takeout. Chinese, or pizza? My treat.”
“Actually,” Donnie said. “I’ve got plans.”
“Oh.” Even that one word betrayed his disappointment.
“You’re also coming,” Donnie added, smiling.
“You still gotta be in Atlanta first thing tomorrow, right?”
“First aid induction at Center Precinct,” Ben sighed. “Damn early start. I’m not sure I’m up to going out tonight, to be honest.”
“We’re not going out,” Donnie said, grinning.
“But you just said—”
“Just go home, pack some PJs and your suit, and be at the condo at half past seven.”
There was a pause. “Are we camping on the living room floor?” Ben asked slowly. “I mean, the carpet’s pretty thick, and I won’t mind fucking you on it again.” There was a grin audible in his voice now.
Donnie blushed, but the grin stayed on his face. Making love on the pristine carpet in their new home had been one of the best times so far. “Just be there at half past seven and you’ll see,” he said, and hung up.
At five to seven, everything was ready. A bottle of alcohol-free cider chilled in the gleaming new fridge, next to two bottles of non-alcoholic Coors. Donnie had dithered over those; ever since he’d given up booze he detested the smell of beer. It reminded him too much of Floyd. But Ben liked the taste. Because of Donnie’s dislike they rarely had it in the house. Tonight, though, Donnie wanted Ben to have anything he fancied.
He surveyed his handiwork spread out on the floor. A large, checkered blanket was spread out in the middle of the room, with cushions to lounge on along two sides. The ceiling lights were dimmed, and pillar candles stood along the windowsill and on the counter that divided the kitchen from the living room. There was no furniture as yet, but with the feast laid out on the blanket, the room looked cozy and inviting. Donnie felt a rare surge of pride.
Now that he earned an actual salary at the daycare, he’d been chipping into their grocery account and would be paying part of the rent as well. Ben had protested about the latter, but Donnie had insisted. He’d never earn as much as Ben would as Lieutenant with Atlanta PD, but he needed theirs to be a real partnership. He’d been forced to accept handouts for too long.
This morning before work, he’d passed the delicatessen on Ormewood Park’s main street and filled up the trunk with everything Ben liked. European-style cold cuts – ham and salami and some other smoked meats - salmon, French baguette, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, hummus with sliced vegetables for dipping, melon, strawberries and grapes. He’d selected a small amount of cheeses, too, of which he’d steer clear because of their high fat content. But Donnie had already taken some enzyme tablets, so as long as he took it easy he was well-fortified for the feast.
There came the sound of a key turning in the lock. Donnie couldn’t help but smile. It was his favorite sound in the world. It meant that the man he loved would be stepping into the room any moment. Ben coming home to him was still a source of wonder and delight.
Donnie crouched and straightened the plates and glasses arranged on the blanket. He straightened up, just as Ben appeared in the doorway.
“Wow,” was the only thing he seemed capable of saying. He toed off his shoes and pushed them back into the hall. His eyes on Donnie, he came around the picnic blanket. With every step that Ben took, Donnie’s heart leapt. “Wow,” he said again, his eyes shining in the soft candlelight. He looped his arm around Donnie’s waist and pulled him close, covering his mouth with hot, hungry lips.
The kiss went on for a long time, though it could never be long enough. When they broke apart, Ben said, “This is the best surprise I’ve had in a long, long time.” Donnie flushed with happiness.
Ben crouched, surveying the tasty things spread on the blanket. “How’d you know I’m a sucker for serrano ham?” he asked with a wide grin. “And you got Italian salami, too, jeez!” His eyes shone. “Thank you, this is amazing!”
Donnie’s heart beat faster with pleasure. “You get started,” he said. “I’m getting the drinks.” Ben didn’t need telling twice. He kneeled on the blanket and started filling a plate with bits of everything. Donnie went into the kitchen.
When he came back, Ben patted the blanket, and Donnie kneeled. “Man, what a treat!” Ben exclaimed as Donnie handed him a Coors.
“It’s our first night in the new place, I wanted it to be special,” Donnie said, and held his cider up for a toast.
“And this exceeds all expectations.” Ben raised his bottle and clinked it against Donnie’s glass. They both took a swig, and when Donnie lowered his glass Ben leaned close for a deep kiss. “Hmm, pear,” he murmured when he sat back on his haunches. He picked up Donnie’s cider and took a sip. “Very sweet, just like you.”
Donnie blushed. “I like them bubbles,” he admitted.
Ben regarded his Coors and frowned. “I’m sorry, I forgot you can’t stand the beer taste. You didn’t have to buy me this.”
Donnie shook his head, and leaned in for another kiss. “I don’t mind it when it’s on you.”
Ben picked up a strawberry. “Here, more sweetness. Washes the taste away.”
Donnie bit into the fruit. The juice ran down his chin, and Ben gave a soft laugh. He reached out and brushed it away with his thumb. Donnie hummed as Ben’s gentle fingers caressed his jaw. With a glint in his eyes, Ben slowly licked the strawberry juice from his fingers. Donnie’s pants started to feel tight.
“Where’re we gonna sleep?” Ben asked. “You set up a tent in the bedroom?”
“I can show you, but…” Donnie motioned at the food. “What about all this?”
“Dinner’s gonna wait,” Ben growled, pushing himself to his feet and pulling Donnie with him. “Dessert first.”
“Wait.” Donnie took one of the candles from the windowsill, then led the way into the bedroom. He lit the candles he had set up around the room. By the time Ben had followed him inside, he was lighting the last of the candles on top of a tall dresser made of light bamboo wood.
Ben had a stunned expression on his face. “When did that get here?” He pointed at the king size bed. Made of the same wood as the dresser and covered in many pillows, it looked very inviting.
“This afternoon,” Donnie said. “Called them on my way to work. They still had the slot they offered you yesterday, so I took off early from the daycare.”
“Wow,” Ben said. He cupped the back of Donnie’s neck, stroking the tousled strands of hair, then pulling him into a long, hard hug. Donnie buried his face in Ben’s shoulder, breathing in the familiar smell of Ben’s aftershave, now faded and mixed with a hint of sweat.
“You didn’t tire yourself out, did you?” Ben asked. There was real concern in Ben’s voice. Donnie pulled back. He appreciated that Ben took such careful interest in his wellbeing, but he didn’t like being mothered.
“Do I look tired to you?” he asked, trying not to sound angry. Ben rubbed his neck.
“Not very,” he said quietly. “Not really, no.”
“The guys from the furniture company did all the heavy lifting,” Donnie said. “All I did was make the bed.”
Ben went to touch the pillows and sheets. “Nice fabric, very soft.” The warm glow was back in Donnie’s heart. He’d bought the blue and cream checkered sheets with his first real salary. Donnie liked a nice home, and it was important to him to start their new life in comfort. Being able to organize this surprise, the nice food and new sheets, meant more to him than he could say.
“Glad you like them,” he said, beaming.
“I’ll like them even better with you in them.” Ben turned to him with a meaningful glance. “And wearing nothing whatsoever.” He reached out and undid Donnie’s belt. Soon, his fingers slid past the waistband and closed around Donnie’s length, making Donnie shudder. Ben smiled, satisfied with the effect his actions were having. “The sheet color brings out your eyes,” he added. He turned Donnie around by the shoulders and maneuvered him onto the bed.
Donnie arced his back as Ben undressed him. Lying in the fresh sheets, with Ben stretched out beside him and stroking his erection, was heaven. It had been a long day, and through the mounting arousal it was starting to catch up with him. Then Ben’s hand tightened, and all tiredness vanished.
“I’m gonna come,” he whispered. “Oh god, Ben…” One last time, he thrust into Ben’s hand with a whimper.
A gentle smile lit up Ben’s face. “Shhhh,” he murmured. “Just let go, I’m right here.” His erection pressed into Donnie’s side. “Come for me, Donnie.” With another whimper, and then a groan from deep inside his throat Donnie did, pulsing hard into Ben’s hand.
As the waves of ecstasy washed over him, Donnie lay there, wrapped in Ben’s arms, safe and comfortable. But he wanted more from their first night in the new home. He pushed closer and whispered, “You’re next.”
They made love, then Ben brought them a plate of food, which they shared contentedly.
“Did I see a can of whipped cream out there?” Ben whispered after a while.
Donnie grinned. “Maybe.”
Ben’s eyes gleamed. “Be right back.” He leapt off the bed and Donnie stretched, smirking.
He didn’t think they’d get a lot of sleep tonight.