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From all to nothing


It's getting dark. I had forgot how long it took for that to happen here in the North, just like I had forgot how swiftly time moves in your company. It's a weird feeling, as if time was passing both quickly and slowly, at the same time. On the other hand, maybe I can blame the wine. I'm not really used to drinking any more, and the first bottle is already emptied, with a second one started. I can't say I feel drunk, but after some bemused consideration I decide it's more likely I'm drunk than that time itself has hiccups.

My train of thought is derailed by you saying something.


"I asked if I can take one of your cigarettes."

"Oh, sure," I say with a nod to the pack lying beside me on the balcony floor. "Help yourself."

You stretch your leg out and reel the pack in with your toes. I notice you have the tip of your tongue in the corner of your mouth, and smile.

"Thanks." You put a cigarette between your lips and light it, tip your head backwards and blow the smoke out and up. "What were you thinking then, so far away?"

"Just wondering whether I was drunk."

"Of course you're drunk, otherwise there's something wrong with the wine. You might as well make the most of it, now that you're allowed to get drunk. When was the last time?"

"Too long. Years. Can you pass me the cigarettes?"

"Why? You couldn't be bothered to pass them to me."

So you're in a bantering mood? Well, that's quite welcome. I think I need to let go of the sombre facade, and bickering with you, especially when you're in that mood, is a rare pleasure. I get a sudden feeling of deja vu, and remember us sitting like this, drinking, smoking and joking, many years ago. A summer night on a balcony, the night we found out we were friends. And even if the friendship has remained strong all these years, it has become something more. To me, at least. I smile.

"Yeah, but that's because it's my cigarettes, and as you're getting them for free you could make a bit of an effort in return."

"Hey, I'm doing you a favour here. You said yourself you needed some exercise."

"Should I need exercise?" I ask. "When did I say something that stupid?"

"A little while ago, when we were talking about sex, you said that you ought to have sex more often since you needed the exercise."

Ah, right. I did say that. Not remarkable; we often talk about sex. But when I made that comment, I didn't think about having sex in general, but with you, specifically. And as always, you ignored that, just like I know you'll ignore this: "What, here on the balcony?" I take a sip of wine and make a sweeping gesture with the glass.

You snort and roll your eyes. "And who would you have sex with here, do you think?"

"Well," I say and look at your breasts, "I guess I'll have to find someone nearby who looks like a woman. I mean, surely the sex ought to be enough exercise? I shouldn't have to run around and find someone to exercise with."

My reply is automatic. Maybe, I think, you're getting tired of it. You know you attract me. I told you, years ago. And after the initial surprise you've always ignored it. I don't know any more if I want to take you to bed. You once said, I remember, that I didn't want to do, but to have done. Head of the nail.

You snort again. "I shouldn't think so," you say as you toss me the cigarettes.

"Aw, come on! You said you wanted to do me a favour and exercise me." I extract a cigarette and light it. I recall a promise you gave me, without thinking, years ago, a promise I sometimes I sometimes bring up and wave about. "Anyway, you promised I'd get to see you naked sometime, and that ought to be enough to speed up my heart quite a lot."

You give me a look over the rim of your glasses and raise your eyebrows, with your mouth in that sceptical pout of yours, and I do my best impression of a schoolboy caught doing mischief. I stand up to fetch the wine bottle. "But a man can dream, can't he?" I say in my whiniest voice as I fill your glass.

You don't answer, just look straight ahead, out over the lake. I drop the butt of my cigarette in the first, empty wine bottle, and sit down again, careful not to disturb your thoughts with talk.

When you finally speak, you sound more thoughtful than teasing. "But would you?" you ask.

"Would I what?"

You turn to look at me. "If you were allowed to do what you wanted with me, what would you do?"

"Um..." I have trouble reading you now, can't see how serious or silly I should be. Chaotic, confused thoughts prevent me from answering for a long time, but you wait patiently.

"From all to nothing, I reckon," I say. "I honestly don't know, but somewhere in that range."

You have a serious, thoughtful expression, so I light another cigarette and try to consider it calmly. "I mean, it's not just about what I'm allowed to do, is it?"

I give you a pleading look, willing you to read my thoughts, understand what I mean. "Like, if you came with a bowl of candy and said I could eat as much as I like, that's okay, 'cause I don't need to worry about what the candy thinks."

I gesture vaguely with my hands, trying to shape my thoughts. "But even if you gave me permission... if, for some reason, you let me do whatever I wanted, I wouldn't want to do more than you wanted me to do. You know what I mean? Even if I was allowed, it'd be rape if you didn't want me to."

You look at me and nod. I can relax again.

"But", you say with a smile, "it isn't just black and white. There might be things I definitely wouldn't want you to do, and things I would prefer you didn't, and things where I wouldn't care much whether you did or didn't..."

You let that sink in for a while before continuing, with an evil grin, "... and perhaps even things I would really like you to do."

This is safer territory, we're back to the banter. I really like serious conversations with you, but that was too ambiguos. I smile. "Yeah, well, sure. I can see what you mean. I just wonder if I should go and get enginge oil and an inflatable sheep, or if you wanted to do the things that didn't matter before moving on to what you want."

"Okay", you say and draw the word out to show how sceptical you are. "That's strike one you missed, there. Want to try again?"

I empty the wine glass and raise it in greeting. "Just guessing here, and keeping within the bounds of what's reasonably mainstream, I'd guess that a hard fuck up the ass would be at the bottom -" I pause and smile, "no pun intended - of the list, with you stripping off and showing me your body somewhere around the things that wouldn't matter either way, because you've said you wouldn't mind me seeing you naked if I hadn't made such a fuss over it, and..."

I shake my head, speaking slowly. "I... I have no idea what you might want me to do to you. More wine and a hug, perhaps?"

In reply, you empty your glass and stand up, arms stretched out towards me. Dutifully, I fill the glasses, put the bottle down and enter your embrace.

We hold each other in silence. I keep wondering whether there was anything behind your question, but don't know how to decide. Finally, you hug me hard and let go slightly, pull back a bit. I follow suit. I look you in the eyes, and for some reason I get the impression that the hug was some kind of test, but I don't know whether I passed or flunked.

We look deep in each other's eyes and it feels like I'm falling, as if I stand aside and watch. It is like a movie, and just like when you watch a movie and know what will happen, I know that you will tilt your head slightly to the side and I'll bend down. Without any of us taking the first step we will kiss. I know it will happen.

I look into your eyes, sink into them, mesmerized. Without being able to do anything I wait for the movie to roll on, to bring on what must happen. You know it too, know how the script goes, it shows in your eyes.

Now. Now your eyes close slightly. Now your head begins to tilt. Now I feel your body press against mine. Now. Now I'm afraid. I'm lost - I want to kiss you, and I'm terrified of what it would mean. I don't want to risk what we have. I don't want to risk losing you. But I'm held by the story. I have to follow the script.

Somewhere in the distance I sense how your body touches mine, how your hands meet on my back, how mine meet on yours. I feel your bra through your t-shirt, the hooks holding it together underneath my fingers. Now I smile inwards and pinch the hooks.

Your eyes open in surprise, and I see you were just as spellbound as I. You release me and take a small step back. After a moment of confusion you smile mischievously.

"Okay, so we're gonna keep working down on the list, you think?"

I don't understand. You pull the left shoulderstrap out from under the sleeve and over your arm. Oh. Now I remember what the next item was. You repeat the procedure with the right strap, and pull the bra out from underneath you t-shirt.

"Here, hold this for a moment," you say and hand me the black garment. Silently I accept it. Through the t-shirt I can see your breasts sagging slightly, without support. I stand there, trying to recover from my confusion, while you sit down, pull your socks of and hand them to me.

"There," you smile, "now I've taken half my clothes off. Do you want me to get rid of the last three garments?"

I sit down and put your clothes in my lap. Light a cigarette, take a mouthful of wine and swallow. Take a puff and hold out my hand with the cigarette beteen my first and second fingers. The smoke whirls with my shakes. You look at it an laugh.

"You're so cute when you're afraid."

"Mm." I take another puff. "Are you serious?"

"As much as you. Last chance. What do you say?"

To get some time to think I toss you the cigarettes. I consider it, a long time. Whatever I say -yes or no - I am quite sure I'll regret it. But in the end it's a simple choice.

"Thank you, please. I've waited for it a long time."

"Okay." You stand up and come to my chair, pick up your clothes and drop the pack of cigarettes in my lap. "You coming?" you say with an ambiguos smile.

You walk inside, to the lounge, and I pick up the wine bottle and hurry after. Wordlessly you point at the couch and I sit down. The coffee table stand as a reminder between us - look, but don't touch. You put your clothes down on it in front of me, take a few steps back and look at me with a questioning expression.

"Right, what do you think? Should I just get my kit off or try some kind of strip act?"

Before I can figure out a witty answer I hear music from the open balcony door. Somebody in a car outside is playin Barry Manilow on the stereo, loudly, and I get a vision of a strip act to the tones of 'Mandy'. You must have heard it too, and had the same idea, as you begin to laugh at the same time as I.

"Okay," you say with a smile, "scratch that."

Quickly, you pull off your soft, loose trousers and throw them on the table. I realize I'm afraid, but can't tell of what. Nervously, I take a mouthful of wine, straight from the bottle, and see to my surprise that you pull off your knickers next. Ah. Right. The t-shirt you're wearing is long, going down well past your hips. I can't see anything I haven't seen before, but look demonstratively, and appreciatively, at your legs.

Suddenly, the reason for my fear dawns on me. This is probably the only chance I'll ever have to look at you, without the feelings of shame that comes with peeping. And I'm drunk. What if I can't remember! I try to force you into my memory. The line of your thighs, your calves, how the t-shirt falls over your breasts and hips... I look up, into your face.

You smile. I realize a second reason for fear. Once again, I feel like I'm swept away by events, that I don't have any control, can't do anything but follow. It's your show. You are in charge, you command what's to be. It shows in your eyes you enjoy it. That's soothing, when I realize it - I trust you more than some unclear fate.

You put your knickers with the other garments. "Ready?"

I swallow, despite being try in the mouth. "If you are," I croak. I notice I'm growing, that I'm getting an erection in anticipation. I try to ignore it.

Slowly, you pull the t-shirt up. Now, I see your pubic hair. Your navel. Your breasts. Now you pull it over your head, toss it on the table and stand naked in front of me.

I stare, try to see everything at once. My eyes flicker between your groin, your breasts, your face.

You are beautiful.

You stand naked in front of me. Neither ashamed nor challenging. Proud. Assured. Hold my eyes with yours. Beautiful.

Slowly, you lift your arms, put your hands behind your neck. Your breasts follow upwards. I stare at the soft roundedness, the dark nipples, and ache of desire to caress, to taste. You stand up on tiptoe and begin turning around, slowly. You keep your eyes on me.

When I see you in profile, I notice your nipples have begun to harden but don't reflect on it. I'm not thinking any more, I'm entirely focused on seeing, memorizing. A throbbing in my trousers tries to remind me that's not all there is, but I only notice in passing, without paying it any attention. I look, stare.

You stop there, in profile, a smile playing on your lips as you look at me. You flex your feet, move up and down. You look like you are thinking about something.

You keep turning until you face away from me. You stay there and sink down on your heels again and stand still. I follow the line of your legs up to the buttocks, get caught with my eyes in the shadow below them before I look up over your buttocks and your back.

You take a deep breath, let the arms fall down and keep turning. You put your hands on your hips and look at me.

"Well?" You take a couple of steps forward, bend over the table and take the wine bottle from my unresisting hand. I had forgot I held it. Your breasts swing naked before me as you straighten up again, put the bottle to your lips and drink.

"Happy?" you say and pick up your underpants.

I blink and shake my head, to wake up from my trance.

"Um..." I think while you dress again. "I'd love to go over you with a microscope, study you for days... But you gave me more than I had ever expected." I look deeply into your eyes. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." You leave your bra and socks on the table and pick up the bottle again. "Can I have another cigarette, then?"

"Oh, sure." Still confused I follow you out on the balcony again.

You pick up the cigarettes, take one out and toss me the pack. "Was it anything to see, do you think?" you say after lighting it.

I've gathered my thoughts now. "Yes, I think so. The bits I hadn't seen before looked as I'd imagined them, I guess, but it's always better to know than to believe." I light a cigarette for myself. "You're beautiful."

"Piffle" you say and pour more wine.

I don't reply to that. I think about what I've seen. No, you don't match the ideals in magazines and on television. We both know that. But you are beautiful. Because of your pride, because of the inner beuty shining through. Because you are generous to an old friend and let him see what he's dreamt of.

Later, much later, I lie awake on the couch waiting for the room to stop spinning around. My thoughts are spinning too, around you, your body, and your soul. They spin around two very different things - what is, and what could have been.

If I listen closely, I can hear your slow breaths from the bedroom, and in the end that's what lulls me into sleep


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