This continues the story of 1958 and After-Dinner Drinks. It probably won't make any sense unless you've read these.
by Laura Mason
At that moment, as Laurie's brain reeled, there was a knock on the door and an announcement: "Service à l'étage. Votre cafe, monsieur."
The voice from the hallway set them all in motion. Ralph quickly moved to pull on his dressing-gown while Laurie answered the door and Andrew, his face aflame, went to stare out the window.
By the time the coffee service was set out on the table and Laurie was pressing a tip into the waiter's hand, Ralph was decent in a shirt and trousers, his hair brushed down neatly, so wet it looked darker than Andrew's. He no longer appeared angry, unless you looked beyond the alert glitter in his eyes. Andrew was equally tense, his arms wrapped around himself as he stubbornly avoided looking at either of them.
Laurie wished he could speak to Andrew privately. But Andrew was the one who'd chosen to come here, to the room that was Ralph's as much as it was his, and to do what he'd done, knowing Ralph was there. Besides, Laurie couldn't evict Ralph and subject him to further agonizing about his place in Laurie's life.
As Laurie feverishly tried to gather his thoughts in the loaded silence, he realized that he couldn't expect Ralph to run the show, either. Not today -- it was his responsibility. "Andrew, please sit. Would you like some coffee?" He was fixing Ralph's cup as he spoke, automatically adding the cream just as he liked it and handing it to him. When he turned back, Andrew was finally facing the room, his eyes tortured and still a little wild.
"That's it? Now we have breakfast and chat about your travels?"
"I rather think we'll discuss what just happened," Laurie replied as gently as possible.
Ralph snorted derisively and sat down on the overstuffed chair. "I suppose you would be happier if I challenged you to a duel?"
Andrew turned on him, his anger plain, and it struck Laurie that he was seeing the way Andrew must have looked the day he hit Bunny.
"Do you think this is a joke?"
Ralph's eyes narrowed, but he kept his voice cool and his body in a casual pose. "No. There are elements of farce, don't you think? I mean, it's taken you almost twenty years to wake up. Since you can finally smell the coffee, you may as well enjoy a croissant."
The icy sarcasm inflamed Andrew, as Laurie supposed Ralph had intended.
"You ... Laurie tried to tell me you're somehow different from that man I met who called himself Lanyon. But I don't see any difference - neither one of you knows anything about love." It might have been a weak attack, used against any other man. Laurie could imagine how glibly Bunny would have responded, equating sex to love. But it hit home for Ralph, and his face went white.
Laurie stepped in. "Andrew, please. This isn't getting us anywhere..."
"Laurie, I... You... You love me!"
"Since the day we met, yes." That had the effect of silencing everyone. Laurie might have wished for some quiet time to think, but not for Ralph's frozen stillness and the wild joy dawning in Andrew's eyes. He took a step toward Laurie, who clumsily stepped back, away from him.
Andrew looked hurt and confused. "If you love me, why...?"
"I've always loved you, that's what I was trying to say. Nothing has changed except that I've finally been able to tell you."
"But that changes everything."
"No, it doesn't." Laurie tried to smile at Andrew, but he felt Ralph's gaze like a touch. When he turned, however, Ralph's eyes were down and he appeared to be absorbed in watching the steam rise from his coffee.
"How can you say that?"
"Because I love Ralph. I've made a life with him. What you've learned today doesn't erase the past." Ralph's head shot up. He looked swiftly at Laurie, then went back to contemplating the untouched coffee clenched in his good hand. Laurie tried again. "Andrew, please sit down. Have a cup of coffee."
Andrew finally threw himself into one of the chairs around the table and accepted a cup. Laurie settled on the other chair, between them. Before he could speak, Andrew asked, "Laurie, how could you? All this time, you cared -- and you left me for this?"
He'd gestured at the room, but he might as well have pointed at Ralph, who wasn't cool or sarcastic any longer as he growled, "Should he have stayed with you and waited? Watched you take his love for years and give nothing in return?"
Laurie said, "Ralph, please." Those two quiet words made Ralph lose control.
"Oh, of course! I'm forgetting -- you were willing to do that, to be with him like some damned penitent monk!" Ralph stopped himself with great effort and looked away, biting his lip.
"Andrew. This is difficult to explain. Long ago, I used to wish I could divide my love for you, and only give you that part which you could accept. But of course, that was impossible. Yet now, as friends, I can care for you, love you -- as I do, as a friend."
"But, don't you see? I thought it was me, that only my feelings were wrong, even when that man said you were his lover, even when Dave gave me your book--"
"You didn't know." Laurie didn't phrase it as a question, because he'd seen the truth in Andrew's confusion on Tuesday, and today.
"I didn't know you wanted to love me. Make love to me."
"I thought Dave would tell you, after I came to London," Laurie began, but he stopped, remembering how Dave had seemed to flinch, and to be willing Laurie to hold his tongue. Dave hadn't really wanted to know... "What did he tell you? When he gave you the book, and mentioned I'd been to see you?"
Andrew looked puzzled, but replied, "He said you'd received my letter and wanted me to know you were still my friend." His eyes grew far away and his words slowed as he sank into memory. "He gave me the book, and I know you thought we shouldn't see each other again." His eyes grew far away. "I'd been hoping you'd come... I was disappointed."
"Dave wouldn't have said that I had no feelings for you, because he knew that wasn't true," Laurie said. "But it seems he was very careful about what truths he'd admit to you."
"Dave said," Andrew began, then stopped. "I knew the inappropriate feelings were mine alone... But Dave only said I needed time to overcome temptation."
"I'm ... sure he believed that was true," Laurie said.
"But it wasn't just what Dave said or didn't say. The book -- that seemed to confirm that Lanyon, the other Lanyon, had been lying."
"His name was Bunny," Laurie said softly.
"As I read your book, knowing how much it meant to you -- what it talked about, that kind of love, wasn't possible with that man."
"No, you're right, that wouldn't be, not with Bunny," said Laurie. He carefully avoided looking at Ralph as he spoke, not wanting to hurt him over such ancient history.
"So I told myself that I could love you, purely, if I overcame the ... wrong feelings." Andrew struggled on, hunting for words to describe those old emotions. Laurie's heart went out to him. He wanted to curse Dave, but of course he shared the blame. Everyone who loved Andrew seemed to shelter him. Laurie knew how much he would resent anyone doing such a thing, and was grateful Andrew was far more forgiving.
"I went to France, and worked, and saw things... I changed. And I told myself that I'd grown up, and that I had overcome my feelings for you." He looked straight at Laurie, his head held high and a bleak courage in his stance. "But I was wrong. I still love you."
"But do you want him?" Ralph was sitting forward now, no longer posing as the amused spectator. He was serious, intent -- and oddly gentle.
"I kissed him," Andrew declared rather defiantly, ignoring Ralph's changed tone.
"Yes, you did." Ralph's quiet, patient voice reminded Laurie of the days when he'd been as confused as Andrew was now. "Now tell me what that means."
"I love him." Andrew sounded almost confused, and his voice was that of a teacher repeating a fact to a slow pupil.
"I know you care for Laurie. All of us knew that before you kissed him. Does that one kiss mean you're ready to throw away all your beliefs and indulge what you've called 'wrong feelings'? Are you ready to have sex with a man? To let a man touch you intimately and do things to you -- things you've only ever imagined? Have you even tried to imagine it -- or did all your dreams end with a kiss?"
Andrew's face was scarlet, hearing these things said aloud, but Ralph kept him pinned with an intense look. "You may feel changed by knowing Laurie returns your love, but such change isn't an instantaneous process. You have a lot to think through." Ralph looked away, then. He stood and walked to the other window, farther away from Andrew. "At least you're fortunate enough to have a friend who'll be there, someone who's willing to talk it through with you."
"There's nothing to think about." Andrew was still flushed but wouldn't back down. "You talk about 'having sex with a man,' as if I'm now queer like you and will run out and grab at the first passing body."
"Queer like both of us, Andrew," Laurie said.
"You're not like him!"
"But I am. I didn't leave you because my love was too pure, it was because I wanted you. You seem to have some mistaken idea about Ralph. He didn't 'do' something to me -- he gave me what I wanted, what I asked him to give. The same thing I wanted from you."
Ralph spoke again. "If you were to have sex with Laurie, won't you be thinking that each time you touch him, you're securing your damnation? And his?"
"No. Being with Laurie would be ... it would happen because we care about each other." Andrew looked at him, and Laurie thought how beautiful he still was, inside and out. "I'm not some child. I haven't abandoned my faith -- I try to live my life in a way that shows that. But I have moved away from many of the teachings and strict observances. I don't believe sex with someone I love is a sin, that's why..." He faltered for a moment, then continued, "I share my bed with a dear friend, sometimes. We aren't married, but there's nothing wrong about it."
"No, I don't believe that's a sin, either," said Laurie.
"I know you understand, Laurie." But Andrew still looked confused. "That's why I can't understand -- why?"
Laurie waited, but he didn't elaborate. "I'm sorry, Andrew. Why what?"
"Why ... why him ... and not me? I know you, but it makes no sense. If you loved me, even then, why did you ever choose him?"
"I love you both," Laurie said. "I always did." He paused, one hand up, begging for a moment to collect his thoughts. "Andrew, think about the Phaedrus, and the mismatched team. My love for Ralph isn't something less because it has always included the physical aspects. The two horses --whatever their temperaments, they both have to be there, working together -- however imperfectly -- for the chariot to move."
"But -- you said you wanted to be able to separate your love--"
"But I can't. When we first knew each other, I wanted more than you could have given. You've said it yourself, you thought your feelings were wrong, a temptation -- you didn't want the whole of me, both spirit and flesh." Laurie smiled at him. "At least, that's what I assumed, even then. I know I didn't give you the option to make your own decision. I apologize; Dave and I were wrong to withhold the truth." Laurie looked into Andrew's grey eyes and saw only confusion. "But even now, when you know everything, I'm still not certain you could ever really want what Ralph and I have. Do you know the answer?"
Andrew didn't reply; he walked back to the window and stared out as if this were a fascinating view of his city. Laurie turned back to Ralph and saw he was watching Andrew, his eyes far away. Laurie wondered if Ralph realized how much he empathized with Andrew -- probably more than he wished. They'd all struggled with these questions.
As if he'd heard Laurie's thoughts, Ralph turned and caught his eye. He looked horribly tired, but he tried on a smile. Then he brought his coffee-cup back to the table.
"On Tuesday I left you two alone to talk. I suppose I should do the same now."
"No." Andrew turned to face them. "No, please. Laurie's wanted us to spend time together and become acquainted. I realize ... I haven't behaved well today, but if you'll allow me to stay, I'd like to do that." Andrew looked over at Laurie. "You love him, and I ... even back at the E.M.S. hospital, I was jealous of your friendship with him, and his claim on you. I realize that's made me unfair."
Laurie knew his face must be showing the pride and love he felt for both of them. They might have stood facing each other in silence for a long time, but Laurie began a casual chatter designed to help them recover and move from this intimate discussion into calmer, polite socializing. "Pull up a chair, Ralph. Andrew, please pass the jam."
He kept it up until Ralph, sounding very much like his usual self, started discussing the merits of his tour of the Paris sewers versus more time in "yet another blasted cathedral," and Andrew spiritedly took up the challenge, claiming it was impossible to separate secular and religious history. Then Laurie finally was able to relax, be quiet, and enjoy listening to the two men he loved.
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