I knock off the snow that clings to my boots before I push open the door to my cabin. It’s empty. Of course it is. I live alone. I have always lived alone.
But I wasn’t alone in Chicago. Even though I have lived alone there as well. Ray was always there, livening up my solitary existence with brazen talk, jittery energy, honest caring and—bubbling laughter. Whenever I remember Ray I always see him laughing at something I said, grinning at another one of our little inside jokes or simply smiling. Ray has a million smiles and more.
I cross the main room of the cabin in near darkness but I know the room like an extension of myself. Navigating through it poses no challenge to me. It’s bitingly cold inside as well as outside. I have been on patrol for two days and the cabin has absorbed the icy temperatures from outside. I stack wood in the fireplace and light a fire. The gentle orange glow bathes everything in a comforting light.
Coming back from patrol is always the hardest part. It is easy to distract yourself when you’re busy and being on patrol provides a task on which to focus. I’m all instinct when I’m out in the wilderness and relying on nothing more than my own abilities and Dief. When I return again a day or sometimes even three or four later, the cabin appears a little emptier every time.
I think Dief misses him, too. At least Diefenbaker didn’t comment when I finally caved and bought a little boom box and a CD last week. The CD is one of Ray’s favorites. While I was still in Chicago I was convinced that I wouldn’t want to hear this particular album again for the rest of my life. Seems I was wrong; for it was the first thing I missed when the silence left by Ray’s absence became too oppressing to bear.
I push play now and a gentle melody weaves its way through the quiet crackling of the fire to join the howling wind outside for a symphony. Every thing of beauty has sadness at its core. It’s the quintessence of life. The music fills my home with a myriad of memories.
Home. This is where I always wanted to return to and now that I’m here I realize that this isn’t a home at all. It’s a house, and not even that, it’s a cabin and it provides the bare necessities you need to build a home. If this were home I wouldn’t feel so damn homesick each and every day since I came back from the airport.
I move around the cabin with practiced ease. I prepare dinner. I eat. I make tea. I settle on the couch with a blanket and Dief curls up next to me. The mug is almost scalding and I close my fingers around it, soaking up the heat. The wool of my thick, gray sweater is soft from long use. Yet I feel cold. I have never felt this cold in my life.
Memory calls me back to a winter day and a window full of candles that didn’t warm me then either, just as the fire in the hearth is refusing to do now. Loneliness and I are well acquainted. Sometimes I wonder if other people feel loneliness as acutely as I do. Do they feel its fangs breaking their skin, ripping their flesh apart and its sting sinking deep inside of them until it draws blood? It’s a gnawing hunger right beneath my skin, clawing to get out. If I keep perfectly still I can almost feel it moving inside. My skin is thick, though. I had a lifetime of loss to practice, after all.
I know that there has been a time when the return to the safe privacy of my cabin was more than welcome. I had yearned for the solitude my remote posting and my secluded style of living provided. Now, I can’t imagine how I hadn’t missed Ray’s feet shuffling over the wooden floor to a soft melody all along. His whole presence is missing, exacerbated by my vivid recollection of him being right here next to me. It hadn’t taken long to wrap up our loose ends after we abandoned the quest for Franklin, but for one week, seven glorious days, Ray had lived with me. He had made this cabin a home.
When I close my eyes I can still see him stirring pasta on the stove for dinner, I can see him playing around with Dief on the rug, and I can see him lying on the couch where he has fallen asleep.
It has been eighteen days since he left me.
I considered calling him multiple times. I even picked up the phone a few times but I never followed through. What would I say? I’m afraid what hearing his voice might do to me. I feel so close to breaking and maybe for the first time I am truly sorry that my father isn’t here anymore to set me straight. As useless as most of his advice has been, he had never lost his perspective. An attitude that has felt insensitive at times but a cool-headed realism I would really appreciate now.
I own only very few things that are tied directly to Ray and I feel pathetic for treasuring the ones I have as much as I do. I possess a meager amount of pictures, mostly snapshots taken at work gatherings. I am very fond of one picture that shows him at his first birthday party at the 27th. You can see Lieutenant Welsh in the background, bobbing for trout, and Ray is still wearing the ridiculous party hat but he looks happy, smiling a little unsure at the camera.
I have another one from the Christmas party the year after but it’s slightly blurred. If memory serves correctly, Constable Turnbull took this particular one, but it’s the only one I have that shows the both of us together. That leaves just one last picture.
I can’t remember under what pretense I managed to take one of him myself, but here it is. It’s a knee shot from rather close so I can’t actually make out the surroundings. I think it might be the consulate but I am not certain. Ray’s lips are curved into a soft smile and he seems to be looking directly at me; his eyes are smiling too. Sometimes, I think I can see something in his gaze when I look at the picture for very long.
I am only projecting my own wishes onto the innocent photograph. But it’s all I have.
The sad, mournful saxophone rises all the way up to F-sharp above high C and I am again struck that Ray finds pleasure in such sorrowful music. In my mind, Ray is always happy.
I suppose that’s not exactly close to the truth since Ray isn’t what you might call cheerful. He is neither carefree nor light-hearted but I wanted him happy bad enough to let him go. Back to his home, to his life, to his friends and his family. I hope he is happy. I’m sure he is. After all, he hasn’t called me either since his return to Chicago.
I fall asleep on the couch again, my fingers still closed around Ray’s picture. It happens to me a lot lately. Moving to the bed would mean acknowledging the end of the day and the beginning of the next one. And I am not willing to face another day with loneliness sitting on my back pressing me down to the ground voluntarily.
Falling asleep on the couch relieves me of all responsibility. I can’t stop time but I don’t have to like its continuity. To me, time could have stopped before Ray had the chance to utter ‘bye Fraser’ at the Yellowknife Airport. It could have died, for all I care, before we ever left the cabin so that Ray could catch a plane that would take him away from me. It could have rolled back to the beginning of our quest when thaw made the decision for us to end our journey.
Psychoanalyst Jung developed the hypothesis that, in a fairy tale, the protagonist’s journey is always a quest for himself. I know that I had found myself in Ray long before we ever left the safety of Sergeant Frobisher’s outpost. I don’t know what Ray found on our journey over the ice. Maybe the courage to go back to his own life, after being Ray Vecchio for so long.
After being with me for so long. I mean, he had to be with me, it wasn’t exactly his own choice.
But I must not go there. Some days are so dark that I forget the honest friendship that has existed between the two of us, it gets lost in the gloom of my own insecurities and I start asking myself if it hasn’t been just another job for Ray: Be Ray Vecchio, befriend the Mountie, solve crimes, that’s all there is to it.
It’s a disgrace to even consider this and Ray would be – rightfully so – terribly affronted. Maybe even more than affronted; hurt even. Angry. This is the other side of the coin, hoping that Ray is miserable without me. It’s unkind and selfish and I am not proud of this part of me.
On some days, however, I have a sudden insight and I turn around to let Ray know my thoughts and—there’s no one there. A longing, so fierce it almost strangles me, shakes me to the core and I want to believe that Ray has moments like this, too. Where he realizes that I am not there next to him anymore and that he misses me.
I think he’s doing well though. He doesn’t call me and I have to agree that this might be for the best. Who knows what foolish words might leave my tongue should I hear his voice over so many miles between us?
Another week passes. I recall watching Casablanca once during a classic movie marathon in Chicago and the powerful words to the song ‘As time goes by’ come back to me. It’s true, the world may strive forward but the fundamental things never change, our lives still revolve around love.
It should be comforting that my situation is as old as time itself and I have to admit that there is a certain nobleness, a certain grace to loneliness. It evokes the poetry of Lord Byron “I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars did wander darkling in the eternal space, rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth swung blind and blackening in the moonless air, Morn came and went–and came, and brought no day, And men forgot their passions in the dread Of this their desolation; and all hearts were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light”.
Yes, I think, loneliness might be even older than love. And much more incessant.
For once, I am lying in my own bed. But there is nothing I wouldn’t give to be back on my cot in the consulate in Chicago with Ray just a few blocks away. I haven’t touched myself since the night that he left, even though my skin feels hungry for contact.
I couldn’t bear the colourful depiction my own fantasy created. I had always been able to conjure up Ray as lively as if he were really there with me, but the night Ray left I couldn’t face what I had lost for good.
All other times it had been a release, consoling myself with what I could only have inside of my mind. With Ray gone, however, every touch, each caress became a requiem, a mourn song. Not for something I could never have but for something I have had. Partnership, companionship, friendship.
I laugh quietly. It’s a sad sound in the silence of the room but I can hear Ray blithering on the brink of hypothermia “there’s red ships and green ships but there’s no ship like partnership” and my dad wisely describing partnership as a marriage.
If so, then my marriage died.
I did everything to save it but it perished anyway— no, that’s not even true—I didn’t do anything in my power to keep him. Maybe I hurt so much exactly because I didn’t.
I saved his friendship though and that’s worth the price.
One hell of a friendship you have there, buddy, what with all the phone calls and letters we exchange, Ray’s voice echoes sarcastically through my head.
I need sleep.
I’m gone for three days, tracking a poacher through the woods. When I return to my cabin, grubby, hungry, and tired I immediately notice the red, blinking light on my answering machine. No one has left me a message since my return from the quest for Franklin.
Hope surges through me with staggering force, I can hardly breathe. I stand befuddled in front of the tiny black box and stare at the red light. It doesn’t stop blinking. Blink. Blink. Blink. My mouth goes dry. The ‘what if’ hangs over my head like the blade of an executioner. What if it isn’t?
My fear of disappointment conquers the soft glimmer of hope in my chest with all the finality of a tidal wave over glowing embers.
I feed Diefenbaker who has been prowling around my feet during my moment of numbness. The light is still blinking. I move sluggishly across the room, the exhaustion of the last few days finally catching up with me as I gather a change of clothing from the bedroom.
Blink. Blink. Blink. I watch the rhythmic flashing as I move along the hallway into the bathroom. I try not to think too much about the message on my answering machine while I wash the dirt of the last few days away. I scrub myself scrupulously clean, a simple technique to buy some time.
I ignore the ominous machine as I step out of the bathroom, dressed in fresh clothes, a midnight blue sweater with a frayed neck that I wear for pure comfort and sweatpants with woolen socks to fight off the cold seeping up from the floorboards.
I prepare a simple dinner, I have some left-over stew that is still edible and that I simply heat up. Blink. Blink. Blink. The red light is mocking me all the way through dinner but I withstand listening to the message and do the washing up before I finally approach the small black box with all the trepidation reserved for facing a wild animal that has finally escaped incarceration.
Dief woofs encouragingly from his spot in front of the fireplace.
“You really think so?” I falter in my movement to press the play button. “What if it’s just Constable Taylor with a last question pertaining to the poacher I brought in?”
The wolf’s answer is a disbelieving snort.
I push play and hold my breath.
There is a short moment where all I can hear is crackling static and then a voice fills my living room—a room that is suddenly too small to hold all of my hopes and fears. It feels almost claustrophobic for a moment and the wind has stopped all of a sudden or I simply can’t hear it anymore because every cell of my body is focused on the sound coming from the answering machine.
My knees go weak. I grip the corner of the small table that holds the answering machine tightly. My breath leaves me in a rush.
“It’s me… uh, I guess you’re out on patrol or something. Thought you might be. Anyway, I was just calling to ask how you’re doing. Do you get enough musk oxen and polar bears up there to keep you entertained? Or are you already missing— the high-speed chases in Chicago?” He stutters almost imperceptibly halfway through his sentence.
You, I think. All I miss is you.
“I guess no one else calls you up there in the middle of nowhere so I might as well use that recording time your answering machine has going. So…” there is a pause and I can see Ray before me, gesturing around in the air, looking for the right words.
“What’s new? Francesca is pregnant—again. I know, I know, how anyone can pop out that many babies is still a mystery to me, so don’t ask. She’s still not talking about who’s the father but Vecchio’s done being apoplectic about it. I tell you—seeing Vecchio lose his shit was funny like you wouldn’t believe.”
I smile against my better judgment. Really, Ray should know better than enjoying Ray Vecchio’s torment quite so much.
“And—“ Ray pauses again and sighs theatrically, “I know I’m not supposed to be gloating and you’re probably shaking your head and saying ‘but Ray, really’ but that doesn’t make it any less funny. Believe me.”
The sound of my own breathless laughter startles me. Ray knows me remarkably well.
“Besides, the way I see it, he’s having the time of his life with my ex-wife in Florida so I get to be petty whenever the hell I feel like it.”
I wonder for the umpteenth time if Ray is really taking Stella’s newest romantic engagement as well as he makes everyone believe or if it is just an act—if so, it is an incredibly convincing one.
“They’re opening a bowling alley. A bowling alley! Can you believe it?! I guess Vecchio has to vanish for a while until the while bookman thing has blown over. Because Stella? Can you see her handing out bowling shoes? ‘cause I sure can’t.”
There is another pause and I’m staring hard at my answering machine, willing it to divulge what Ray was thinking as he recorded this message.
“Yeah, anyway… I hope you’re alright and everything. Everything’s fine here… yeah… every thing’s fine.” Ray repeats as if there has been any doubt about it. “So…” and I can see Ray shrugging awkwardly, slightly embarrassed.
“Take care Frase, okay? Don’t get your head blown off while I’m down here or I’ll hunt you to the ends of the earth. I—“ there is another tense moment where Ray is hovering on the brink of speech before he erupts abruptly, “bye, Fraser” and I feel another pang; hearing Ray speak these words stabs just as deep as it had the first time around.
There is one final, resounding ‘beep’ before a tinny voice says “you have no new messages”.
I stare at the finally black light for a long time. My finger is trembling as I push ‘rewind’. I listen to the message again. My throat constricts with repressed emotions but I am helpless against them.
Fondness, exasperation, yearning and desire surge through me unchecked and unbridled. And most of all, love. A love I cannot resist. I have never been very sensible when it comes to love. This time, though, I won’t let anyone get hurt. No one but me at least, but I have come to accept that. Everyone has his cross to bear; a solitary life is not the worst fate that could await me.
Over the course of the next two days I listen to the message 32 times and pick up the phone 17 times. I cannot call Ray. I could not pretend to be happy; neither could I make cheerful small talk, acting as if I wanted to know about Ray’s new life without me.
And yet I desperately want to know each and every miniscule detail. Does he have a new partner? Is everything just going on as before? How is work at the 27th with so many well-known faces gone? Does he miss me? Does he regret leaving? Is he sorry that he spent so much time looking for a hand that can never be found?
I place the phone back in its cradle without ever punching one digit. I should have gone back with Ray. Why didn’t I? I suppose I thought that staying in Canada was what everyone expected me to do—what he expected me to do. Maybe I was afraid of the questions that would have been asked had I resumed my posting at the Canadian consulate in Chicago: Why? What for? For how long?
I suspect that I had thought I should ask Ray if he wanted me to come back to Chicago, ask his permission to spend more time with him, so to speak, and I know that I was afraid of the answer. I am still afraid. Which is why I am still here.
I give up trying to call him. The farthest I get is the second to last digit and then I hang up. Ray is probably already wondering why I am not returning his call. When the telephone rings the next morning my heart skips a beat with fear that it might be Ray again. The caller ID shows a local number though and I relax immediately. It’s my posting’s number.
“Good morning, this is Corporal Benton Fraser speaking— Ah yes, certainly – no, it’s no trouble at all, the post office is on my route anyway – I will – Thank you, goodbye.”
Dief happily wags his tail; going to the post office always means cookies for him.
“Constable Taylor asked us to collect her mail at the post office; she didn’t say we should satisfy your sweet tooth. I have you know, you have become terribly slothful during our time in Chicago.”
Dief hangs his head and whimpers softly.
“As you well should. Well, I suppose we should get going. Tardiness is the first sign of lacking discipline.”
Standing inside of the post office I let my gaze wander over the other customers. There is an old lady in the front row with a brown package. It’s carefully wrapped with a bright blue bow and there is a little card attached to it, possibly a parcel for her daughter or grandchild living in one of the bigger towns.
The man with the fur-cap in the corner is filling out a lottery ticket, gambling has become vastly popular in remote areas like this one. The young woman in front of me is nervously fondling the letter in her hand that is already creased from being touched so frequently. The addressee is a man with another surname than the one written for sender address.
Studying her tender smile whenever she glances down at the letter in her hands I presume that the letter might be intended for her fiancé. It strikes me suddenly that I could avail myself of the same form of communication.
A structured – and censored – approach might be just what is called for.
I ponder the possibilities during the rest of my journey to the office. There isn’t much in way of paperwork since we are three Mounties for an area that – while being as large as several cities put together – isn’t very high in the ranking of criminal activities.
Areas as remote as this one get mostly disorderly behavior from drunken individuals, often resulting in violent brawls, or illegal poaching.
I don’t stay long. Constable Taylor is more than capable of handling the paperwork on her own and after my three days on patrol I have earned a day off anyway. I return to my cabin and listen to Ray’s message again, catching on to every hesitation, every change of tone, and every hitch in his voice. I have listened to the recording so often I am starting to hear things between Ray’s pauses. When he asked if I am already missing the high-speed chases in Chicago he hesitated for a split second after the ‘missing’ and now I am left wondering if he had intended to say something else.
Wishful thinking seems to be all I am capable of but I can’t get angry at myself for entertaining these foolish notions. I have this much freedom, to imagine what I want. If it comforts me and if I am not hurting anyone with these thoughts I might as well indulge my own secret dreams.
I play Ray’s CD again. Another track this time, less sad but just as eloquent. The piano leads, telling a complicated story of hope and joy, the notes dancing exuberantly higher and higher; followed by doubt, fear, loss, high notes jumping over the subdued grieving of a violin; and then –just as suddenly—serenity, and I can see green meadows, a blinding sun and a sparkling creek in the harmonious coalescence of violin and piano. It moves me deeply every time I hear it and I feel comforted by its sanguine ending.
I get a fresh sheet of paper and uncap my pen. The blue ink looks electrifying on the white paper.Dear Ray, I hope this letter finds you well. I received your call a while ago a few days ago but I was too busy to out on patrol and couldn’t reply until now. I’m surprised to hear that Francesca is pregnant again but I am sure that she will make an excellent mother. A warm hearted person like herself should give her love to someone else and I think the role of a parent is a very rewarding experience. I’m glad that you are taking the news about Stella Kowalski’s choice of lifestyle so remarkably well I am sure that Ray Vecchio and Stella Kowalski had a very good reason for moving to Florida. I can understand, however, that you are surprised by their choice of career. I have to admit to feeling equally bewildered. You might be on to something with your theory – although I do advice you not to spend too much time thinking about it. How are you? Do you have a new partner already? Your telephone call wasn’t very conclusive as to what you are doing at the moment. Are you still enjoying your work at the 27th? Are you working alone now? Are there any new colleagues to make up for everyone that has left including me? I have to disappoint you though. There are neither musk oxen nor polar bears in the area. I am not posted in an area common for either species seeing that the musk ox moves to higher elevations during the winter in order to but I will spare you the details as I am sure you will appreciate. Apart from that, I am reasonably content as happy as I can be expected to be well. So far, no attempts at my life have been made. I miss you our partnership Chicago some of the comforts living in a city provided, I fear I am getting soft. Diefenbaker is insufferable even after all of the time on the quest. I believe he thinks some Donuts are in order for his role as lead dog. I hope you don’t forget about me enjoy having your own life back and that you remember our time together fondly no one threatens your life in wildly bizarre ways. I wish you all the best, Benton Fraser
I survey my handiwork for a moment before I take a new sheet to copy the content without my alterations. It doesn’t ask all the questions I want it to ask and I am quite certain that it won’t tell Ray how much I treasure his call but it’s the best I can do and at least I didn’t spill all of my misery onto the page.
I do not wish to burden Ray with this, as he is altogether innocent. After all, who said anything about falling in love when we formed our inimitable duet?
I get out an envelope and carefully write down Ray’s address. Once I seal the letter and put a stamp on it, a feeling of dread settles over me. Does the letter say too much or too little?
I resolutely shove away from the table. What’s done is done; I am not backing down again. I don’t even wait until the next morning to hand the letter in at the post office on my way to work. Instead I take Dief for an evening run. It’s snowing again and the wind is biting at my skin but the cold feels invigorating. I arrive at the post office panting and I drop the letter into the mailbox before I can think twice.
It’s a quiet four days before I have to drive into town because Ernie Douglass got into a fight with the Shouwane brothers and they destroyed a good deal of property before they could be separated. It’s a common occurrence and those three get into a fight every other day.
Situations like these are mostly easily resolved because everyone knows everyone involved. In this particular case Ernie started it with throwing a bottle at Arrluk Shouwane first, so Ernie will have to pay for the repair of the mirror behind the bar and Arrluk’s brother will see to it that the broken table gets replaced.
When I return home a little after midnight I am surprised to see my answering machine flashing its red light at me again. Dief, who had stayed home during my intervention at Tom’s pub, grins at me.
My hands feel suddenly clammy. I had expected a letter but I am sure this is him. Again, I do all the little things that need to be done first. Not because I am afraid it won’t be Ray this time, but because I want to prolong the anticipation of hearing his voice again.
I change into comfortable clothes and settle on the couch, a cup of tea still almost untouched sitting right next to me. I reach up to press play and try to quench the excitement rising up.
The audiotape has barely time to start before Ray’s indignant voice fills the room.
“Fraser! What the fuck—? A letter?! You write me a fucking letter? I don’t believe it. We live in the Stone Age or what? I get that you don’t have a computer at your shack but—“
“Cabin,” I correct automatically feeling overwhelmed by Ray’s outburst. I hadn’t, in all honesty, planned to aggravate him with my method of communication.
“—you own a damn phone. I know that for a fact, for guess what? I’M TALKING RIGHT TO IT. What the hell is wrong with you? That is so—ARGH—Canadian of you! And I am starting to wonder why you even own a phone when you’re never there to pick up anyway—I—“
There is short abrupt pause before Ray’s voice comes on again.
“Shit! How late is it where you are? Fuck, is it night already? Wait—“ I can hear the shuffling of paper before Ray continues, “this time zone thing is driving me batshit. If I got this right you’re only an hour earlier than me so why aren’t you at home? It should be…uh… half past ten at your place. What—you have a date? ‘cause, uh… that’s cool, too. I should—“
But I never get to hear what Ray should do because a mechanic ‘beep’ disrupts his message. The recording time has come to an end. The beep is followed by two other small little blips before the recorded voice says “you have one new message”.
“I can’t believe that I am talking to a machine here.” Ray’s voice is back again, he must have called a second time and I can’t stop the fond smile from stretching my lips wide. The gesture feels almost strange on my face.
“Okay, okay. First of all, Frannie and warm hearted? You mean that she’s better off smothering her children with affection instead of drooling all over you. Don’t try to fool me buddy, I know a polite evasion when I hear one. Work is fine, I mean, sure, it’s all different. The duck boys are gone now— I even went to their comedy club last week. They aren’t even half bad but I’m betting they’ll crawl back to Welsh and beg him for their jobs back before the year is out. Apart from that, same old, same old. I’m partnering a little with Elaine because, er, well, you’re not that easily replaced and, uh, I’m not the easiest guy around, you know? Damaged goods and all that. So… yeah, I mean, it’s fine.”
There is a long pause and I am already wondering whether Ray hung up—but I would hear the beeping of the disconnected telephone if he had. I hear nothing.
“What about you, huh? How’s work in Freezerland? Anyone there to, uh, watch your back? Met any hot Canadian chick clad in flannel?” Ray laughs. It sounds strained.
“Although I have to say that none caught my eye while I was staying with you but maybe the population increased dramatically since the American flatfoot with the experimental hair left? Making it safe for nice, polite, boring Canadians?” Ray cackled and it sounds like his usual self again.
“I should go before your stupid machine cuts me off again. Sleep well after you come back from your date.” Ray’s voice is teasing and I long to see the smile I know accompanies it.
‘Beep’. “You have no new messages.”
I’m still smiling softly but I can’t keep a few tears from squeezing past my tightly closed eyes. I miss him so much. Hearing him widens the hole he left to an unforeseen extent. I don’t want to keep torturing myself like that but I haven’t felt this happy since the time he left.
I listen to the message again before going to bed.
I’m trying to restrain myself so I manage to hold out for two full days before writing back. I spent the day on patrol but I didn’t come across any nefarious behavior. It has been rather quiet this week. I play Ray’s message again even though I know it by heart.Dear Ray, I am terribly sorry that my letter insulted you as much as it did. I had no idea you were this opposed to receiving mail. I am probably exacerbating the situation by choosing to reply again via letter. I simply feel that it’s easier to express yourself this way the written word offers more freedom to find the right words. I assure you I have not been on a date or anything remotely related to a social outing. I wish I had a little more social life to speak of I had to break up a fight at the local pub. I have to admit that the crime in Chicago offered more variety than what we get here. I‘m glad, the crimes here aren’t of the same caliber, though. I assure you that I meant what I said about Francesca’s qualities as a mother. Francesca’s affection can come off a bit strong indeed and I am glad I have to admit though that being the sole center of her attention was at times a little daunting. I can’t imagine why it might be hard to find another partner for you. You are an exceptionally fine police officer and I admire your I don’t see what you could possibly mean when you refer to yourself as being ‘damaged goods’. That is just nonsense, Ray. I can assure you, I was proud to call you my partner I am proud to call you my partner and I am quite sure that anyone else would feel so as well. Work here is not the same without you not the same as it was in Chicago which doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s worthwhile. I am not sure why you insist that I should meet a woman with a fondness for flannel. I can’t recall ever stating that this is a quality I am looking for in a relationship. Furthermore, I have no interest in meeting a woman I cannot say that this posting has enhanced my social calendar very much since you left. Although I am invited to next week’s weaving convention which will be highly entertaining, I am sure. You are dearly missed here and always welcome by all of my neighbors, Ray. Mr. Tiwatone from the convenience store asked after your whereabouts just yesterday. Most people here think that you helped brighten this little town. Mrs. Young even said that you brought some much needed activity to this place, if I remember correctly. Yours, Take care, Benton Fraser
The weather takes a turn for the worse over the course of the next day and it’s almost over a week before I hear from Ray again. The letter probably got delayed.
I’m standing at the stove, preparing something for dinner, when the phone rings. I turn the heat down to let it simmer and cross the room automatically. Before I pick up the phone, however, I hesitate. One look at the caller ID proves that this is Chicago calling. I stand frozen in front of my telephone, paralyzed with indecision.
The ringing continues and the glare of the display is almost threatening. After the sixth ring my answering machine picks up.
“Hello. You’ve reached Benton Fraser’s residence. I am currently unable to answer your call but you can leave a message after the beep and I will call you back as soon as possible.”
I don’t even dare to breathe when the ‘beep’ resonates clearly through the tinny speakers of my answering machine.
The first thing I hear is a disappointed sigh. I almost answer the call then but my hand stays on the telephone without picking up.
After a second Ray speaks.
“Hey, it’s me again. Guess I have the shoddiest timing on earth when it comes to phone calls. Where are you at? Do you really have that many litterbugs up there? Where do you get all the trash from? I just—I guess I just talk to myself again then…”
I want to talk to him so badly the plastic of the telephone is creaking underneath my grip. I can’t. If I pick up now I’m going to tell him everything. He mustn’t know.
“Your excuse about writing letters instead of picking up the phone’s got to be the lamest I ever heard. Me, I call a spade a spade. I just say exactly what comes into my head. You? You need everything thought out. I get the—whatsitcalled—the Fraser-censored version.”
This is exactly what I have been doing. I didn’t think Ray would notice, though.
“I tell you what I read between your lines, okay? You ready? ‘cause I ain’t taking anything back. You’re bored up there. You miss Chicago or maybe just the real crimes we get here and you haven’t done any socializing since I’m gone.”
I’m still standing in front of the answering machine, disbelief plain on my face. I hadn’t expected Ray to be so blunt, to be the one to set me straight. He is too perceptive for his own good. I might be bored but this is what I chose. It’s proof of maturity to stick to one’s decisions.
“Sounds like you haven’t met a single person just for fun since I left and I don’t get it, Fraser. That week we spent together at your place? –We met loads of people. Someone was doing a crazy exhibition or inviting us to some kind of freaky tea party all the time. It was driving me nuts! We had one week before I had to leave and I had to make small talk for most of it.”
I have nothing to say about my lack of social life. He is right, of course; we did meet a lot of people in our short week together. Now that I think about it, I remember that a couple of people had uttered invitations over the course of the last month but I have declined all of them. I wasn’t what people would call good company. And I think a lot of the invitations during our week together were meant for Ray specifically. People wanted him to feel welcome in our little community and Ray’s openness was infectious.
“If we’re being honest here, I’ll be honest, too. Welsh can’t get me to partner anyone because it doesn’t work, alright?”
My heart beats faster all of a sudden. The guilt over my own happiness is not enough to dampen the relief I feel.
“I’ve been working with you for such a long time I just expect my partner to know what I’m going to do. Thing is, my partner ain’t you and he has no chance in hell of knowing what I’m about to jump on the perp. So either I’m left without cover or he is because I was rushing in headfirst, sure he would follow. Elaine, she gets me. She’s known me a long, long time and she’s brave. Fierce like hell, I tell you. So yeah, it sucks without you. There, happy now?”
Oddly enough, yes. Later I will feel bad about this, but right now I can’t help the sense of delight. Ray misses me—or at least, he misses our partnership. Some sleeping beasts are best left alone and I should be happy with what I’ve got. He misses our partnership and I shouldn’t have hoped for even that much.
“Are you going to tell me anything real now or are you going to keep up with this polite crap that’s not saying squat?”
The message ends abruptly and I am left dumbfounded in front of the little side table, staring at the harmless looking plastic box.
Sorting through my emotions leaves me even more unsettled. Shame elbows its way to the front, humiliating me for not having been honest with Ray. Elation jumps up now and again, expressing its joy whenever my memory whispers that Ray misses our partnership; that he feels I am not this easily replaced. Fear lies underneath it all because baring my soul is a frightening idea.
The smell of something burnt tickles my senses and I rush to the stove on autopilot. I salvage as much as I can of my dinner but I have lost all appetite. I sit in front of my meager meal and half-heartedly push the food around on my plate. What little I eat leaves no taste in my mouth.
Anger clumsily struggles past all other emotions. Ray has no right to call me a liar. I haven’t been dishonest with him. I may have committed a lie of omission now and again but I always told the truth. Every word I have written, I wrote with conviction. It was all me—and maybe I am false for holding back a piece of my heart but I didn’t lie.
And if the only truth is that I love him, Ray might prefer the lie. Be careful what you wish for, isn’t that what people say? Some secrets are best kept close to your chest.
The only card I kept hidden is the knave of hearts. Ray on the other hand holds all the cards. He is the card player that knows all the tricks. And the odds have never been this high before. Ray can smile like a shark until all is said and done but when all the bets are placed and I have to play my last card it means game over. For both of us.
The evening hours sap away my anger. Ray doesn’t know about my feelings for him. He’s just disappointed that I, supposedly his best friend, am trying to tell him that everything is alright when I am so obviously unhappy.
A friend deserves to know. Ray’s hurt is justifiable. But where is the line? How do I know when I’ve gone too far?
Sleep comes grudgingly that night.
I am jolted awake a few hours later when the telephone rings. I snap out of my restless sleep and stumble to the phone.
“Yes? Benton Fraser speaking?” I croak into the receiver. My voice is still rough from sleep. I listen intently and feel my mind slowly coming awake.
“Of course, you can count on me— I need twenty minutes— No, I’ll bring Dief—we’ll find her, don’t worry—we’ll meet at Johnson’s garage—bye.”
Dief is looking questioningly at me.
“Jane Winterson’s daughter hasn’t come back from her journey to her in-laws. She should have been back this noon but no one has seen her since she left yesterday. It’s possible that she miscalculated the thickness of the ice. We’ll be leading the search and rescue mission.”
Every thought of Ray is driven from my mind during the frantic preparations for the impending trip. We need provisions, the first-aid kit, additional gloves, a flashlight, a compass. Every move is well practiced. I know what I’m doing. This is my area of expertise.
Time is of the essence and I am not wasting any more if I can help it. Less than twenty minutes later Dief and I are out of the door and on our way to the meeting point.
We’re gone for five days. It took us two days to find Mrs. Winterson’s daughter. She had been surprised by a snowstorm and the overhang she had sought out for shelter had given way under the force of the wind, burying her under tons of snow.
We found her alive but barely breathing. Sever hypothermia is no joking matter. We worked feverishly and without pause. I accompanied the sled to the nearest hospital. Jane was lucky. Her condition turned stable before the night was through.
The journey back took longer than I had anticipated mostly due to my own less than perfect condition. I took me hours to get warm and I slept for almost 24 hours. I still felt exhausted when I woke up.
It’s almost afternoon now; the evidence of the storm is nowhere to be seen. The sun shines brightly outside and the sky has never looked so wide and open. The snow glitters in the sunlight. It robs me of my breath.
Ray’s face on days like this had been radiant; he had even built a Mountie snowman once. I smile at the memory. I have never asked but it was plain to see that Ray knew where to find beauty in this otherwise desolate landscape.
The urge to describe this scene to Ray overwhelms me. I’m sitting at the window with the sun pouring down on the table. The white paper calls to me. This is it then, one last letter to give Ray something back. Honesty should be repaid in kind. I don’t have to say it all, my grandmother has always said that words that do not benefit anyone are best left unsaid. She was a wise woman.
There will be no censor this time. I won’t take anything back. I feel daring, the flow of ink over the page as dangerous as a dance on the high wire.
I can’t bring myself to care. The last few days have drained me of all anxiety and exhaustion lulls my worries into a false sense of security. I write for what feels like hours but the sun is still warming my face when I sign the letter and put the pen aside. I read over the contents once more before sealing the letter.Dear Ray, I wanted to write earlier but I was called away on a search and rescue mission. I could have used your assistance, I know how well you adapted on our quest and your quick reflexes and sharp instinct would have been an immeasurable help during the last few days. We have one of those bright, sunlit days today where the sky seems to stretch endlessly in all directions. If I recall correctly, you were always terribly fond of days like this. You are welcome to visit anytime, I hope you know that. I have to apologize to you. You deserve more than superficial trivialities from me. Making myself vulnerable does not come easily to me, though, and I hope that you can forgive me if my efforts fall abysmally short of your expectations. You are quite correct, I do miss Chicago. Although it’s not because of the ‘high-speed chases’, I assure you. I am glad that people here live a more peaceful life than the citizens of Chicago even though I believe that my work did more good there than I could possibly hope to achieve here. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I am bored, Ray. The change in pace simply takes some getting used to, I have to admit. I suppose it is the same adaptation phase that caused me to decline most of the invitations from my neighbors. I have to admit that I haven’t been very good company lately.Life in Chicago seems to have spoiled me. I’m also alone working alone since I don’t have a new partner either. It’s difficult, as you said and we are three Mounties posted here which means that one of us inevitably has to go on patrol alone now and again and it might just as well be me. It is soothing to now that I am not alone with these difficulties even though I have to say that it would make me feel better to know that you had someone with you to watch out for you. On a more hopeful note, I am sure that this situation is only a temporary one – a sort of transition period you are going through. I do hope that the rest of your new life in Chicago makes you happy. I know how much you wanted to return there. Home, as it turns out, is worth a very high price. I am quite certain that I will be able to find a home here as well once I have grown accustomed to everything. I hope you’re well. I’m looking forward to your next call. You are the only person to call me, as you might have guessed. Hearing your voice conjures up a flood of happy memories and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that even though I might not be there to answer your call. Yours, Benton Fraser
I don’t think this will satisfy Ray. I also know that I can’t tell him more. Anything more than I have already divulged and it would bring me too close to the edge. I am already looking forward to Ray’s doubtlessly vexed reply.
I wait in vain. One week passes and still no call from Ray. I know for a fact that the weather was calm; it is highly unlikely that the mail got delayed. Tension thrums through me whenever the phone rings, I have to glance at the answering machine every time I enter the cabin and bitter disappointment washes over me as soon as I realize that no blinking light awaits me.
That’s what I had been afraid of: hope. I grow restless, prowling around the cabin for lack of some other distraction. Even Diefenbaker prefers to stay outside when such a mood strikes me.
One week turns into two and work is not nearly as busy as I would like for my taste. My firm conviction that Ray will call, ranting about my style of writing, diminishes with every passing day. I am torn between worry that something has happened to him and fear that my letter might have already said too much.
After the second week it is clear that Ray is not going to call. It’s okay, I tell myself. But it hurts so much I have no idea how I get through my days. I suppose Diefenbaker is a great help and work has consisted mostly of paperwork so at least I am not endangering anyone else.
Ray leaving was the worst I ever had to witness or so I had thought. This comes frighteningly close as well.
I aborted three attempts at another letter in which I apologize for my last one. I can’t apologize for something I’m unwilling to put into words and I can write a letter saying I am sorry for whatever I didn’t call by name in my last one.
When Ray left I let him go willingly and I didn’t expect anything at all. Now, however, I’m constantly waiting. I’m always on the brink of motion, always prepared to take action and I know, no matter how much it scares me, were he to call now I would pick up.
I’m already debating if I should call him when one of the worst storms I have seen this season makes the decision for me and cuts all kind of communication off. That’s not an unusual occurrence and everyone here is used to power outages and loss of telephone connection. This time, however, it leaves me worrying. What if Ray calls now? I wouldn’t even know.
The storm blows over after one more day. In the afternoon the phone rings. I’m right next to it before it even finishes its first ring. The number is a local one.
I try to swallow my disappointment and my rapid hope loss in the time it takes me to put the phone against my ear.
“Corporal Benton Fraser,” I can’t manage anything more. “Oh hello—No, I am fine—that-that’s really not necess—yes, of course if I’m doing you a favo—I really don’t want to trouble you—In that case, thank you kindly—Goodbye.”
I hang up and suppress a sigh. My nearest neighbor, Mrs. Clark, an elderly lady with a passion for cooking suffers from the delusion that I need to take better care of myself. I have tried to dissuade her of bringing samples of her cooking over but she won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Apparently, she accidentally made more of her famous Caribou stew and doesn’t want to see it go to waste.
Dief is already salivating in anticipation. I smile at him.
“No, Maureen said that she probably won’t make it to us before tomorrow because her niece has just arrived today.”
Dief’s grumbling does not sound as if he believes this to be sufficient reason to keep the stew away from him for another day. I shake my head. Diefenbaker is incorrigible.
Constable Taylor has assured me that the number of calls reporting damage after the storm has been surprisingly low, nothing she and Constable Williams couldn’t handle on their own. My task will be to check the road conditions of the surrounding area and to find out what has to be repaired and where trees have to be removed.
This will have to wait until Constable Taylor and Williams are back at the posting though, because when both of my fellow officers are out on patrol someone has to be within reach in case of an emergency. Would I leave now, too, people calling for help would have no one to turn to.
It’s probably going to be a quiet afternoon if Constable Taylor’s assertion is correct.
I peruse my small selection of books and choose a little volume of Byron’s poems and get comfortable on the couch. My beige sweater feels warm and soft – I remember Ray liked to borrow this one – and the heat coming off the fireplace is soothing. It would be relaxing could I stop thinking about Ray’s reaction to my letter. I stare at his photograph again, hoping it might provide me with an answer. But the smile stays the same, gentle and happy, with a shadow of mischief lurking right at the corner of his mouth. It’s not giving anything away.
I must have dozed off for the afternoon sun is already low when I blink to take in my surroundings. There is a knock on the door and I realize that the knocking woke me up in the first place.
“I’m coming,” I call and clear my throat, trying to lose the scratchiness of recent sleep.
I don’t think I am properly dressed to welcome Maureen but she must have seen worse than a man in careless attire, obviously worn for a comfortable day at home, and at least Diefenbaker will be happy that she decided to bring the stew over today after all.
He is already snuffling at the crack under the door and yips excitedly. He dances around me in a flurry of motion and I can’t remember the last time he expressed such exuberance at the prospect of a visitor.
I have to push him aside with my leg to even get in front of the door because in his eagerness he obviously thinks that the laws of physic do not apply to him and that he could simply go through solid wood. A chuckle escapes me at the unusual display and then I manage to fling the door open.
My heart stops in my chest.
My whole body freezes as if I all the blood in my veins had suddenly turned to ice water.
I must look like a fish out of water, gaping with disbelief at my unannounced visitor.
“Ray,” I croak and a grin splits Ray’s face until his eyes crinkle.
“Hey there buddy,” the grin widens another millimeter; he can barely contain his glee at my stupefaction. Judging from the rumpled state of his clothes and the stubble on his chin he took the direct route from Chicago – in which case ‘direct’ means at least two general airlines and one small, light airplane, and a three hours ride over rough terrain.
“Yeah I’m real and I’m really freezing out here Fraser! You gonna let me come in or do I have to camp outside?”
I jerk out of my perplexity and step aside. Diefenbaker is still jumping happily around us. Ray shoulders two enormous bags and pushes past me. He drops his baggage right inside against the first clear bit of wall he can find.
He turns around with a flourish and I reach out without meaning to. I need to know that this is real. Ray smiles at the gesture and steps forward for a hug. I close my arms around him and take in the smell of engine fuel, sweat, fatigue, and faint traces of aftershave. He’s back.
I have to swallow around the lump in my throat and my sense memory tries to remind me that the last time I held Ray like this had been at the airport to say goodbye—more than two months ago.
Ray is hugging me back though and I think we would have remained like that for an indefinite amount of time longer had not Diefenbaker decided that Ray should finally greet him, too.
The wolf pushes at Ray’s legs and Ray releases me and laughs at Dief’s impatience. He reaches down to ruffle his fur and Dief’s ears twitch with happiness. “Yeah, I brought you Donuts. You better believe it. I have no idea what’s left of them after this trip up here, so you better be prepared to eat squished pastry.”
Dief woofs agreeably and I elaborate, “I am sure he appreciates the effort nonetheless.”
‘I am sure he appreciates the effort nonetheless?’ These are supposed to be the first real worlds I speak to Ray after he came 2.850 km to see me? I cringe.
But Ray looks up at me from his crouch in front of Dief and smiles that small pleased smile again. “He does, huh?”
I don’t think that we are still talking about Diefenbaker. I feel grateful that Ray accepts my awkward attempts at conversation for what they are: heartfelt thanks.
“Ray, I—wh—It’s good to see you.” And a real smile softens my features. The ‘why’ doesn’t matter. In fact, I find I don’t want to know. I don’t need to know what he is doing here or for how long he will be staying. I’m afraid of the answer but I won’t let this chance to enjoy his company again slip through my fingers.
“Yeah? I thought you were looking a little poleaxed there.” The grin on Ray’s face wavers the tiniest bit, exposing the wary hum of nervousness underneath for a split second.
“No, I—I was just surprised. I was expecting someone else.”
Ray’s smile sobers. “Oh, uh, I’m sorry. I could—there’s a motel downtown, I didn’t know you were busy—“
He stops abruptly mid-rant to look at me.
“I said you were always welcome here. I want you to stay.” And I have never told a greater truth than this or said anything with greater conviction in my entire life.
“Yeah?” Ray’s pleased smile is almost shy and I am instantly overpowered by a wave of affection that makes it hard to speak.
I have to clear my throat before I can go on.
“Yes.” All of my instincts tell me to run, to hide, to keep my card – the knave of hearts – from being seen by Ray, but I stand my ground.
“So what about your expected visitor then?”
I smile and there is a hint of laughter in it.
“I am sure Maureen’s stew will be enough for two people.”
Ray looks dumbfounded for a second before a bout of laughter breaks free.
I don’t want to let him out of my sight. I want to keep looking at him for the next ten years, afraid that it might still turn out to be a dream should he vanish from my field of vision. I can still smell the oil from the light airplane. He is here.
I don’t want to make him uncomfortable with my stare. I also have no idea what to do now that he stepped back into my life so unexpectedly. We are almost skittish around each other; I can feel Ray’s jittery nerves underneath his casual gestures. So I do what’s safest at the moment. I play host.
“Did you make the whole way in one trip?”
Ray nods emphatically. “Jesus, yeah, can you believe it? Changed planes in Edmonton—or was it Calgary? I swear, all those ruddy little patches of dirt they call airports around here look the same. Anyway, Hank and his trusted plane took me the last miles up here sometime yesterday afternoon but then—“
“The storm,” I interrupt. I know what this means. Ray would have had to stay at the small airstrip for the remainder of the night.
Ray nods and continues.
“I was all set on driving through it but Hank was having none of it,” Ray shrugged with a grin. I should have guessed that Hank and Ray would get along very well before we ever came back from the quest.
Hank is an old veteran, he came back from Vietnam and decided to leave America well behind. He came up here, mostly looking for the lost pieces of his soul I think. The quiet and the down-to-earth attitude of the people here helped, I am sure. He flew planes in the war and – as he told me once – flying planes is the only thing he ever really wanted to do. So he opened up his own airstrip here. His business has been an immeasurable help to the people living in this area.
He’s trustworthy and a very capable pilot. I worked with him on quite a few search and rescue missions before I came to Chicago… well, I guess he worked with me back then. I was still very much a rookie then. But thanks to my upbringing, my skills were better developed than those of most of my fellow officers.
When Hank took us back to my cabin after our quest Ray took an instant liking to this stout and bearish man.
“We spent the night fixing stuff around the airfield, did a few small repairs on Mathilda.” Mathilda was the name of Hank’s German wife. She had died very young and he had never looked for anyone else after her. Now, his airplane, his wife’s namesake, is the only woman in his life.
“In the morning Johnson from the garage came by to deliver some spare parts and he took me into town. So, that’s how I got here.”
“I see,” I say even though it doesn’t explain anything. But I am not going to ask after the ‘why’.
“Would you like the chance to freshen up? You might recall that I do have a bathroom equipped with warm water and indoor plumbing.”
“Hell yeah! Trust me on this, Fraser. If you didn’t have warm water we would have some serious discussing to do.”
I smile foolishly about Ray’s strong feelings towards bathroom amenities.
Ray takes a whiff of his shirt and makes a face. “Jesus, I stink!”
“You do not,” I instantly object and Ray looks at me wryly. “Heh, eau de Ray in its essence, distilled by almost 40 hours on the road. Only a freak like you wouldn’t call that stink.”
“Understood.” I’m afraid my smile will hurt my face sooner or later but it’s impossible to contain.
Ray drags one of his bags to the couch and flops down. He bends down to open the zipper when his eye catches the picture lying on the table. The picture of him.
He stops dead in his tracks and after a second of surprise he picks it up. The photo looks well handled, soft creases line the edges and it is unmistakable that it got a lot of attention since it came into being.
Embarrassment washes over me in a hot burst. I try to find the right words, something to say, to offer some kind of explanation. I open my mouth but before I can even form one word Ray speaks. He’s not looking at me; his gaze is still fixed on the picture.
“Wow. Didn’t know anyone took a picture that day.” His thumb moves softly over the glossy surface, tracing the shape of the party hat on his head. “You know,” he continues thoughtfully, “I bet every damn tourist in Chicago has a whole photo album filled with pictures of you. I own exactly one—and that’s not even sharp because Turnbull took it at the Christmas party and that man cannot stay still as long as you don’t plant him in front of the damn consulate—no offence Fraser.”
“None taken,” I assure him absent-mindedly, processing the fact that Ray just said that he would like to have more pictures of me. I didn’t know that Turnbull gave both of us the same picture.
Ray puts the photo back on the table. “Okay, I’m ready to take that shower now.”
“Go right ahead, Ray. Are you hungry? I was about to prepare something for dinner.” It’s not true exactly but judging from the time I should have been about to do so.
“I could eat a flock of Caribou,” Ray says with feeling.
“Herd,” I correct and Ray grins at me, “Whatever”. He did that on purpose. A childish joy takes up residence in my heart. I haven’t felt this at ease inside my own skin since the day I knew that he would leave.
Ray moves into the bathroom and I look around my kitchen to find something that’s worth cooking. Seeing my pitiful display of supplies I can understand how Maureen might think I am not looking after myself.
Fresh vegetables are hard to come by here in the winter and I used the last of the fresh meat yesterday. I sigh. Pasta it is. Not exactly the dinner one might prepare for a much cherished guest. At least I succeed in scraping together the ingredients for a rather tasty sauce.
I feel the heat at my back a microsecond before I hear Ray’s voice. I almost jump out of my skin with surprise but I manage to control the impulse. Barely.
“That smells great, Fraser.” Ray takes another deep breath over my shoulder, inhaling the aroma of the simmering sauce, before he takes a step back again and moves to the cupboard to get out plates and glasses.
I watch him set the table with all the ease of someone feeling at home. He knows where everything is and he arranges everything just the way he would at home. I look on mesmerized. I have missed him so much for what feels like a lifetime and here he is, casually pulling open drawers to get spoons and forks, and dancing around Diefenbaker who’s trying to find out if Ray has anything edible in his hands.
The surprising bubbling of the sauce and the scalding drops that suddenly hit the back of my hand are the only things that keep me from burning our dinner.
Dinner turns out to be an incredibly homey affair. The glow from the fireplace glimmers on Ray’s blond spikes, catching his eyelashes and turning his skin a deep golden hue. It’s impossible to tell the color of his eyes in this light but I know how they look when the sun falls directly into them, green shooting out of a pool of blue. Now, his eyes look dark and warm. It’s a good look on him. But when isn’t it?
Ray entertains me with stories from home— my own thought startles me. Since Ray returned to Chicago I’ve started to refer to Chicago as home. Apparently, Stella and Ray did indeed open a bowling alley and Ray produces a business card to prove it. I meant to call Ray down in Florida. I must have forgotten about it.
After dinner Ray stretches out on the couch and I settle down on the rug next to him. He reaches down to search through his bag and comes back with a small parcel. He hands it to me.
I look at it with incomprehension.
“What is this?”
Ray rolls his eyes. “It’s a present you dork, what do you think it is? Everyone had something to give to you. I swear people mistook me for a mule or something. Ray the pack animal. Anyway, that’s from Frannie.”
I take the parcel and open it carefully. It’s a beautiful wooden picture frame with a photo inside. The picture shows me and the whole Vecchio family clan. I remember the day it has been taken, it was summer and they had a barbecue. A few weeks later, Ray Vecchio went undercover.
I trace a finger along the wood, lost in thought. Ray clears his throat uncomfortably and silently hands me a letter.
“This one’s from the duck boys,” he states quietly.
I nod and open the envelope. Inside is a membership card for a comedy club on North Well Street. My hands shake slightly when I put the card back into the envelope.
Ray looks at me with worry creasing his forehead but he hands me another little parcel. It’s a flat rectangle and it gives a little under the pressure of my fingers. I unwrap it and find a soft leather sheath with two very nice carving knives inside.
“It’s from Lieutenant Welsh—and a hassle to get through customs, I tell you.” Ray grins at me, obviously trying to lighten the mood, but I can’t speak. If I open my mouth now all that could come out is a sob. I have felt lonely for so long, having so many people think of me so fondly is a bit much.
Ray’s hand is suddenly covering my hand. Just a friendly gesture, a comforting touch. His gaze is knowing when he speaks. “You’re not very happy here, are you, buddy?”
I shake my head in a jerky motion. “No, I guess I’m not,” I gasp. I won’t cry. I close my eyes for a second, keeping the tears at bay.
Ray moves down from the couch and sits down next to me, his shoulder bumps into mine and he smiles softly at me. “It’s okay, Frase. I wasn’t happy either.”
We sit like that for a long time. The side where his shoulder is pressed against mine is warm. No one speaks, we don’t need to.
When I can breathe again I look at him, “Thank you.”
Ray smiles back and pats my knee, “Anytime.” He pauses and seems to decide on something. A moment later he continues in a quiet voice. “I thought long and hard about your letter.”
I freeze next to him. Panic is a feeling quite alien to me— you simply can’t afford it in this climate and in my profession—but it has a stranglehold over me now.
“And at some point we really have to talk about this honesty thing because what you’re doing is not buddies, Fraser,” and he takes a moment to glare at me before he sighs softly.
“Anyway, you used the word ‘happy’ a staggering two times and the only time it referred to you was when you were talking about my calls. You also talked quite a bit about ‘home’—but guess what? You weren’t talking about yourself then either.”
My lips are dry. Fear beats a staccato rhythm in my heart and I am afraid of the moment where Ray will stop talking and I will have to say something in my defense.
“Funny thing is I don’t recall ever saying that I was happy. And I don’t know where you got the idea from that I wanted to return to Chicago all that much because I sure as hell never said that. So whatever Sherlock Holmes thing you had going on I figured it was just your Mountie head talking.”
Ray shakes his head, in equal parts amused and frustrated.
“And then I thought, hey, why waste good money on a long distance call when you’re not going to pick up anyway and all I get is another letter that needs a decoding specialist—I’m real good at Fraserish, trust me, but getting non-verbal clues from the brick you call a uniform is easier than trying to read between your lines. Your sentences are really crafted to leave no opening. So I figured if you don’t want to come to the phone I’ll have to do it in person. Besides,“ he grins at me again, “you did say I could drop by anytime.”
I’m at a loss for words. For all the times Ray claimed to be verbally challenged he is astoundingly eloquent. I guess it’s also partly an answer to the question ‘why’ Ray is here at all.
“Ray, I—“ I don’t know how to continue.
He just shakes his head. “It’s fine, Fraser. We’ll work it out. That’s what partners are there for, right? We do the old give and take.”
He stands up and stretches and for one glorious moment I can see a glimpse of naked skin where his sweater has ridden up. “Do you still own a bed?” He asks and he sounds hopeful, as if he is really expecting I might answer with ‘no’.
“Of course, Ray.”
I follow him into the bedroom and get another blanket and pillow out of the closet. I hand them to Ray and gather my own bedding in my arms.
Ray throws his load onto the bed and glares at me with folded arms. “Fraser, we are not going to start this again.”
I know what he means. When we came back from the quest I offered him the bed and insisted on taking the couch. After two nights Ray had enough. He threw my bedding back onto the bed and refused to go to sleep before I agreed to take the other half of the bed.
He was right, of course. The bed is more than big enough and we had slept right beside each other during our quest. The distance between us on the bed had felt like an enormous canyon in comparison.
“If you insist.” I can’t decide whether to be glad or terrified. It feels safe to have him close, though.
And the deepest corner my heart is already yearning to watch Ray sleep, tomorrow when the sun comes up and Ray is still far from awake, all that energy contained in his light frame, and I can watch him undisturbed. Keeping my hands to myself is a small price to pay for the luxury of having Ray next to me.
“Damn straight I do.”
I go into the bathroom and change into a pair of long johns. When I return, Ray has already crawled under the covers. He is sensible for once and wearing thermal underwear. I climb in on the other side and Ray snuggles deeper into his pillows and sighs languidly.
Ray’s breathing turns even and I try to relax as well. I synchronize my breathing with his and I immediately feel its soothing effect. My body is relaxed and everything in me seems to have gone to sleep except for my mind.
My breathing is calm and steady, my body is ready for sleep and yet it eludes me. I try to let myself fall further into this state of nothingness but how could I suppress all of the new images I have of Ray? I linger on every single one and I don’t really mind missing sleep for that. I know my body, at least, will feel rested tomorrow.
This state is remarkably similar to sleep; I don’t think anyone else could tell the difference just by looking at me.
A touch, feather light and warm, caresses my fingers in nothing more than a whisper of skin on skin. My eyes fly open but it’s too dark to see anything. I lie completely still, intent on keeping my breathing even and stare into the darkness. My hand is still lying on shoulder height next to me, between Ray and myself. And Ray’s fingers cover my own in just a ghost of a touch.
After a while the weight of his hand becomes heavier. Ray has really fallen asleep this time. His hand still lying on top of mine.
I’m confused—I’m hopeful—I’m afraid to breathe or to move. I don’t understand. Did Ray know I couldn’t sleep? Or did he believe I was already asleep? If he thought I was asleep he probably didn’t want me to know about his touch—and—I don’t—I’m unsure. All I know is his hand is warm. I like the way his skin feels against my own. Such a small area of contact, palm to palm. We are not touching anywhere else.
When I wake up with the first rays of sunlight his hands are firmly tucked around his own pillow again. I am left wondering whether I imagined our touch last night. I watch Ray for a long, long time. It feels invasive and I don’t want to disturb his privacy but I am quite unable to look away. Ray is surely exhausted from his long trip. I need to get to work, though.
Reluctantly, I get out of bed and into the bathroom. To my surprise, Ray is already cluttering around in the kitchen when I step out of the bathroom clad in my brown uniform.
Ray has put on a pair of jeans and another sweater and he turns around when he hears me entering the main room.
A blinding smile greets me and it catches me off-guard. I am not used to Ray smiling so early in the morning. “Morning, Frase! You still have that coffee machine!” He crows and hits the ‘on’ button. I smile at his delight. After Ray left I didn’t want to give the coffee machine away and after a few days I caught myself brewing coffee in the morning, a simple recreation of the memory I had of my mornings with Ray.
“So what’s on the agenda for today?” Ray asks over his mug of coffee. He hands me one as well and I take a sip of the scalding beverage.
“I had planned on checking the surrounding area for damage after the storm. Especially important roads, crossings, land marks and the like.”
“Good,” Ray nods and places his empty mug into the sink. “Give me five minutes and I’m good to go.”
He is already past me by the time my brain has caught up with his quicksilver talk caused by the first rush of caffeine to his blood.
“I—certainly, Ray. But don’t you want to relax a little? You don’t have to help me with my work—you’re here on holiday after all.” My eyebrow itches and I rub a knuckle over it.
Ray looks at me oddly for a second. “Uh…” There is another pause before Ray shakes his head. “Nah, I’ll help you. I’m actually looking forward to be the one doing the liaising for a change.” The uncertain look vanishes as if it had never been there.
We cover a remarkably large area in astonishingly short time and I am surprised at how normal this feels. I have my partner back and it feels exactly like old times. Certainly, the terrain isn’t the same and this time it’s me carrying the gun not Ray but everything else feels like our old duet.
We stop at Maureen’s cabin for a quick lunch and to spare her the trip to my cabin and she is more than happy to introduce Ray to her cooking skills. Ray takes it all in stride. They met once before and Ray seems to get along well enough with everyone here.
Ray’s eyes are smiling at me over the rim of his tea cup and I busy myself with putting the spoon in my mouth to keep from grinning like a lunatic. We leave but not before Maureen made us promise to come back later this week to sample her prized moose ragout.
Ray looks apprehensive in the face of such culinary exoticism and I shove him a little from behind. He turns around to grin cheekily at me and hip checks me on our way out. Laughter bubbles up inside of me and I am momentarily surprised at hearing it come from me.
When the afternoon light starts to fade we check in with Constable Williams at my outpost. We compare our reports and while I call Tom Martin of the fire department to acquire his help with the removal of several large trees that are blocking the roads, Constable Williams engages Ray in conversation.
I am embarrassed when I realize that Williams is more than a little awed by Ray’s involvement in the case with the nuclear submarine and the one with the ghost ship. I am even more embarrassed when Williams tells him how highly and how frequently I have spoken of Ray.
Ray catches my eye and winks at me. I end the number I am just dialing with the wrong digit and have to explain to a very confused lady by the name of Wright that I didn’t call her on purpose. Ray laughs at me quietly and pulls Williams a little further away in the direction of the coffee machine.
I breathe a sigh of relief and successfully finish my phone call, with the right person this time.
Ray and I do some grocery shopping on our way back and dinner turns into a very satisfying event. I take care of the dishes and Ray moves out of the kitchen and into the living area of the spacious room.
A minute later I hear a delighted noise and after another second ticks by I hear the graceful lamentation of a violin coming from the little boom box underneath the bookshelf.
Ray dances his way into the kitchen and holds the CD case accusingly into my face.
“I thought you never wanted to hear this particular one again?”
“I—“ I search for the right words, the safe words, I can use as an explanation. “I might have been a little rash with my statement.” I offer and Ray nods amicably.
Ray dances back to the shelf and it is quiet for another two minutes. I have just put the last of the dishes back into the cupboard when Ray’s voice carries through the room.
“Fraser, you’re a freak. You know that, right?”
I wonder what caused this particular deduction this time. “So I have been told, yes.”
Ray comes into view again and his presence fills the whole room. I had forgotten—or more precisely—I couldn’t have imagined Ray’s kinetic nature in all its vividness. The constant motion, the weaving from one spot to the next, the movements graceful like a dancer and fluid like boxer, and his body never standing still, my memory couldn’t have provided me with the reality of having Ray here.
“Who buys a boom box and only one CD to go with it?”
Since the answer seems rather obvious to me I refrain from replying.
“At least I have good taste.” I say instead, fighting hard to keep the smile down and Ray looks momentarily stunned before he chuckles. “Hell, yeah. Can’t find any fault in your choice of music.”
The evening is pleasurable. Dief is sprawled in front of the fireplace and Ray and I trade stories, mostly from our time on the quest, accompanied by the quiet melodies drifting from the speakers.
I would be lying were I to claim that I am not anticipating a repeat of last night’s careful touch when we get ready for bed a few hours later.
I lie on my side and my hand is in the exact same spot where it was yesterday. We say our goodnights and I make a conscious effort to even my breathing and to relax my body. Ray is very still but his breathing sounds deep and steady, too.
I wait a long time and I am about to fall asleep when I feel the careful brush of Ray’s fingers against mine again. I smile in the darkness. I don’t know what kind of dangerous game we’re playing but I don’t want it to stop.
After a few moments in which Ray keeps his hand almost completely still, he strokes softly with the tips of his fingers over my palm. He moves back up and fits his palm against my own. I gather all of my courage and close my fingers gently around Ray’s. I can hear his startled gasp and his fingers twitch as if he’s about to draw away. But I don’t do anything else, I’m not doing anything except loosely holding his hand and Ray’s hand stays where it is.
We lay here in the darkness. Neither of us is uttering a single word. We are only touching palm to palm. And then I feel Ray press back. Gently, just enough to let me know that it’s not just I holding his hand but that he is holding mine, too.
The next morning we both have our hands by ourselves. The day starts very similar to the last one. We don’t talk about what happened last night.
Ray joins me on patrol in the morning and when I return to my posting to fill out the paperwork concerning the repairs we had to organize in the aftermath of the storm, Ray looks a little around the town—well, village really.
When I come home, Ray has already prepared dinner. The realization that I return ‘home’ hits me with such force that it takes me a moment before I can make my presence known to Ray. After a moment I manage to bend down to unlace my boots and open the door.
“Heya Fraser, you’re just in time. I swear, half an hour later and I wouldn’t have been able to fend Dief off any longer. That would have meant two hungry cops and one stuffed wolf.”
Dief whines from his spot right behind Ray. “Do too,” Ray says and I am caught staring at him with a perplexed expression on my face.
Ray turns a light shade of red. “It’s not my fault I’m talking to animals now. But he was the only other conversation partner except for you when we were out on the ice so…” Ray rubs the back of his neck. “Shouldn’t you get ready for dinner or something?”
I smother a smile. “Ah, right you are. I’ll be right back.”
On my way to the bathroom I pass a smallish packing case in the corner. Surprised, I glance inside and I am met with a wild assortment of CD’s, haphazardly packed; a couple of video cassettes, inconsistently labeled; and a few personal objects, randomly chosen.
These things, they belong to Ray. Even with the fastest shipping time, though, Ray must have shipped them up here before he left.
Ray comes out of the kitchen area to investigate why it’s so quiet all of a sudden. When he sees what I am looking at, his body language changes from ‘you hard of hearing’ to ‘uhm…well’.
“I thought we could do with a few more CDs—but we don’t have to keep everything in here,” he hastens to assure me. At my continued silence he starts talking again in a rushed speech that sounds rehearsed to me.
“I can just dump most of this in storage. I mean, it’s not like I need most of this stuff. I just—we could just choose a few more CDs and that’s it.” Ray snaps his mouth shut once he’s finished and he shrugs awkwardly.
“Don’t be ridiculous Ray,” I start to say, feeling dazed. “There is more than enough space here.” Except for maybe 5 or 6 books I have shelved there isn’t much of anything inside the cabin. When I rebuilt it, I didn’t have many personal belongings left and since then I haven’t spent too much time here to accumulate any clutter.
Why would Ray ship his personal belongings up here? The most logical explanation is that he plans to stay. I lick my suddenly dry lips. This leads to the question ‘for how long’ and I can’t help the surge of hope that whispers excitedly ‘a long, long time’ if Ray thinks he will need things with nothing but a pure entertainment value.
I feel lightheaded with the sudden possibility that Ray is staying here for a much longer period than I had imagined—even though I hadn’t allowed myself to ponder the length of Ray’s stay at all until now. I won’t ask after the ‘why’ and I won’t ask after the ‘for how long’ either. If you can’t face the answer don’t ask the question.
Should Ray have to leave in one day, one week, one month I don’t want to know. I’d rather take the heartbreak on the day of his departure when he tells me that he has to leave now than live each day with the knowledge that it brings me closer to the set date when Ray will leave again.
Ray breathes a sigh of relief. “Uh, dinner’s ready. Come on, let’s eat.”
The tension that came with my sudden discovery eases slowly over dinner. Consciously or unconsciously, Ray forgoes the chance to listen to one of his albums after dinner. Instead we play cards and a few rounds of chess.
I’m afraid I reacted badly to seeing Ray’s things in my cabin. For all the wrong reasons, though. Ray doesn’t know what this kind of hope does to me. That it could crush me without any effort at all. I’m never happy for very long. And I haven’t been this happy in over two months. It scares me.
Something changed after my discovery. Tonight, there is no hand reaching out for me, no hesitant fingers brushing against my own. I am not good with hunches and I don’t like to rely on my intuition alone. I think Ray feels I have rejected him. I don’t know in what sense. His presence in my life maybe, but that’s not true.
The old give and take, Ray had said.
Achingly slow, I move my hand over the cool sheets. The gap between us feels endless and my heart is beating rapidly, prolonging every single second. And then I find Ray’s hand. In just the same spot I held mine the last two nights.
I hold my breath, I am so scared he will pull his hand away but his hand stays where it is. My fingers move softly over his palm, tracing the ball of his thumb, until I can slide my whole hand over his. For a second nothing happens; I panic, thinking I should take my hand back or make it seem as if I stretched and just met Ray’s hand by accident, when Ray’s fingers close around my hand.
I release my breath as quietly as I can. I’m relieved—I’m almost high with it. We’re good, as Ray would say.
The next morning Ray sleeps through my morning preparations and I smile at his relaxed face, peeking over the covers. I leave for work alone but everyone I meet wants to know where Ray is. I feel grateful that people here have accepted Ray the way they have. Remote towns like this don’t get a lot of strangers and most people don’t stay long enough to become part of the community.
I don’t know if Ray realizes how much this acceptance says about his adaptation to his harsh lifestyle.
I come back to the cabin for my lunch break, expecting that Ray might want company. When I arrive, however, the cabin is empty. Fear lurches through me—but it is unfounded. Everything is where it had been yesterday. And Ray has emptied the packing case.
My smile reaches from ear to ear. I stand in front of my shelves and find Ray’s stack of CDs right next to the picture of my mother. My smile impossibly widens even further when I realize that Ray has arranged the few pictures of himself right next to the one of my mother.
The video cassettes and two well-worn detective novels joined my meager selection of books. I can’t stop running my fingers over Ray’s CDs, feeling the hard reality of their plastic covers underneath my fingertips.
Work cannot be over quickly enough.
The moment I step outside of the building I find Ray waiting for me. Dief bounds over to him and yips excitedly. Ray scratches his ears and smiles at me.
“Hey there!” I cannot put into words how much I would give to have this for the rest of my life.
“Hello Ray,” I smile back.
“I hope you’re hungry. See, I met Maureen on my way here and she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So we kinda have a dinner arrangement now.” Ray looks a little worried, maybe he’s afraid that he has presumed too much.
I shake my head and smile. “In that case, we shouldn’t keep a nice lady waiting. Right, Diefenbaker?” Dief woofs and a relieved smile appears on Ray’s lips.
Dinner at Maureen’s is a boisterous affair. It seems as if all of her children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren are gathered around the large table and the room is filled with a cacophony of voices, laughter, screams and the clatter of pots and pans.
It’s exhausting even after all the practice I had during family dinners at the Vecchio house. Ray looks equally overwhelmed but he bears it all with good humor. Maureen forces enough food on us to take back home to feed a starving division but after refusing in vain Ray shrugs and thanks her with a blinding smile that has poor old Maureen blushing.
Not to say what it does to me. I’m not going there. In that path lies disaster.
“Did you have a good day?” I ask him on our way home.
“Yeah,” he grins happily. “I went to Hank. Before Johnson took me back into town Hank mentioned that he could use a couple more hands with the odd job now and again. Thought I could go by, see how he’s doing.”
“I imagine he was very pleased to see you.” I am sure Hank holds Ray in an equally high esteem as Ray holds him.
“You betcha. He had another pilot, Luke Darson, with him. The guy just about made it there in one piece. Took the whole afternoon to find out what was wrong with his bird. I might go back tomorrow; Hank said with my help Luke might just be able to take off again with only one more day here.”
Ray is glowing with pride and satisfaction and I would like to press him against the frozen brick wall of the building next to us, crowding him until I am flush against him and kiss his jubilant mood right off his lips, savor some of his good spirits and find out what Ray’s happiness tastes like.
“I think that is a very good idea Ray,” I reply instead and give Ray a smile to let him know how happy I am for him.
Later, I get ready for bed first. I leave the small lamp on so that Ray can find his way back from the bathroom. I close the book I have been reading when I hear him enter. I can’t keep my eyebrows from shooting up, though, when I see that Ray has forgone his thermal underwear in favor of simple cotton boxer briefs.
Ray hops into the room to get away from the cold floorboards as quickly as possible. He dives under the covers and hisses at the cold from sheets.
“Ray,” I say cautiously because I fear that he has overestimated his ability to keep himself warm in this climate but Ray is having none of it.
“No, Fraser. I am inside and we are not in a tent anymore. I don’t want to wear ten layers of clothing just to sleep. I’ll be warm in a second.”
It’s pointless to argue with Ray. In the long time of our partnership I have learned that Ray prefers to make his mistakes alone instead of not making them at all.
I switch off the light and say good night.
Five minutes pass and I can still hear Ray shuffling around, rubbing his hands over his arms to get warm.
“Ray,” I say again but he doesn’t let me finish.
“It’s okay. I’ll be warm in a second. Just go to sleep.” He says quietly. I stopped counting how often I heard this exact sentence after the first week on our quest —I stumble over this thought. I could—no, it would be dangerous. But we did it out on the trail. I can control my impulses.
I answer exactly the same way I have every time during our search for Franklin.
“Ray there is no reason for you to be cold. I produce additional body heat because I have more—“
“Yeah, this underlying fat thing, I know,” he pauses for a second, “you don’t mind?”
“Nonsense, Ray.” I try to calm my heart rate; it wouldn’t do to let Ray discover how nervous I am. “We can put more wood into the oven tomorrow to keep the temperature up,” I suggest and Ray makes an affirmative noise.
I can hear rustling from Ray’s blanket and before I know it I have 72 kilogram of shivering Kowalski pressed against my side. I take a startled breath as my skin makes contact with his cold limbs and Ray has the audacity to laugh quietly.
I make a sound that sound suspiciously like “hrmph” but I pull my arms close around him anyway. Ray moves back a little, until he is pressed flush against me.
“Oh yeah,” Ray burrows further into my pillow with a sigh of delight. I’m trying to count the beats of my heart, keeping it nice and low. I realize too late the vast difference between sharing body heat outside on the ice fields and doing it here, in the relative comfort of my own home.
For one, Ray’s body isn’t in any real danger. The priorities aren’t the same. The sentence “what is my motivation here” commonly known to mock method acting comes to mind and I fear that my motivation here might be an ulterior motive. Secondly, we are both wearing significantly less clothes and the outer temperature is much more comfortable.
This is another instance in my life in which I am ridiculously glad for not being a teenager anymore. Body control is all the control I have here and should I lose that I am sure that Ray would bolt from the room and accuse me of untoward behavior.
Having Ray in my arms like this feels dangerously close to cuddling—in fact, I don’t think there is any difference. Whenever I breathe in I smell his shampoo, clinging to the still slightly damp spikes after his shower. I feel every breath Ray takes, the expansion of his chest in the circle of my arms and the soft stirring of the hairs on my arm whenever he breathes out.
I—I’m not used to his kind of intimacy. Even our legs are pressed close against each other and the urge to tighten my hold on him is fighting my self-control in a battle I am rapidly losing.
Without meaning to, I pull Ray closer to me. Encircling him firmly inside of my arms and I hold my breath, afraid that Ray will turn around and ask me what the hell I think I’m doing. But Ray is fast asleep.
He nuzzles my arm with his face and sighs contently.
I don’t get much sleep that night but I have never been happier. I’m too afraid to touch him in any meaningful way for fear of waking him and I want to enjoy this moment for as long as possible. I bury my nose in his hair and keep my arms tightly around him.
I am almost sad – no, that would be an understatement—I am deeply resentful to be stacking more wood into the fireplace the next night so that Ray won’t be cold. I glare at the flames that will keep Ray safely on the other side of the bed tonight. I sigh and dust myself off. It’s better this way. I’ve lost count of how often I have told myself that.
Ray comes into the bedroom after I am already settled and I can see that he is shivering despite the additional warmth from the fireplace in the next room. I hadn’t expected that but I might have overestimated Ray’s ability of heat preservation. The time on the sled was long enough ago for the body to return to its more comfortable habits.
Ray climbs into bed and I turn off the light. I hear Ray pulling the blanket tighter around himself and I almost laugh because he has tried the same technique with his sleeping bag. It didn’t help then either.
“Are you cold Ray?” I ask quietly. For a heartbeat, Ray remains silent. Then he clears his throat. “Yeah, a little.”
“You could—I mean—I wouldn’t mind“
“Really? –greatness—only if it’s—“
“It’s fine—don’t worry—I know—“
I wince at our verbal dance. After all, this is nothing more than shared body heat to supply the body with one of its most essential needs. There is no reason to sound embarrassed about it.
“Come here,” I offer and hold up my own blanket. Ray slips over and underneath the blanket. I encircle him in my arms again and pull him close. Ray is warm.
I almost open my mouth to ask him if he’s sure that he’s cold. I can stop myself just in time. For whatever reason Ray wants this, it’s not for lack of warmth.
“Thanks,” he murmurs quietly and I am still staring bewildered into the darkness.
“Think nothing of it.”
Over the course of the next week a pattern develops. Ray sleeps in my arms every night. Some nights start with me offering ‘If you’re cold I could…’ and they end with Ray pressed close to me mumbling ‘you’re a furnace all on your own Fraser’. On other nights Ray mutters that I need to put more wood into the fireplace and I pull him against me and promise that I will do so tomorrow. After that first time I’ve never bothered.
The days are unchanged and if a short pat on the knee or a bump of the shoulder lasts longer than usual than I don’t notice. As far as I can tell all intimacies are restrained to the dark hours of the night. And I—I’m confused, to be honest. Every cell of my body is telling me that Ray has an interest in me that exceeds friendship by far. But I am afraid to trust my feeling and I am scared to presume too much.
I could never say no to anything Ray wants. So I give Ray anything he asks for while being careful not to ask for anything back. Just because Ray looks for comfort in the middle of the night doesn’t give me the right to expect that he would want to lie in my embrace on the couch in broad daylight as well.
Ray spends most of his days at Hank’s airfield. Except for the times I went on patrol alone; he always accompanied me then. We meet for lunch today and eat the rest of Maureen’s ragout before it goes to waste. Ray is slightly unnerved by his liking for this local dish. I can’t say it doesn’t amuse me.
Ray chews thoughtfully on a piece of meat. “Hey Frase, could I borrow your car this afternoon?”
“Of course, Ray. The keys are on the key holder by the door.”
Ray rolls his eyes at me. Apparently, key holders insult something in the American genetic code. “Thanks.”
“Is there anything I could help you with?”
“Nah, I got everything covered.” But Ray doesn’t look like someone who is particularly looking forward to his task when he takes our bowls into the sink to rinse them.
Before I can ask further the phone rings.
“Hello, this is Corporal Benton Fraser speaking—Aha – Certainly, yes I understand—Please tell them I’ll be right there—Thank you kindly, Constable Taylor.”
Ray looks at me questioningly.
“We have a group of Scandinavian hikers in our town. According to Constable Taylor they have one of the big circuit routes planned but they would like to speak it through with someone first and Constable Taylor must have recommended my knowledge of the area.”
Ray grins at me. “No reason to play your own skills down. You know the name of every rock in this godforsaken place. You go, I’ll do the washing up and I’ll pick you up tonight. How does that sound?”
“Wonderful.” And that’s not even a big enough word to describe the extent of my gratitude.
The group consists of five hikers, all under the age of 25 but they assure me that they have done similar trips at home. Alva, the only female hiker in the group, shows me the route they had in mind. We discuss the risks and the possible alternatives, and I show them where a detour is worth the additional effort and the location of possible safe houses on the way, should they need to find shelter.
Personally, I fear that they are underestimating the risks of their journey but at least the weather report looks good and as long as that holds true I am confident that they will make it without any serious problems.
When I look out of the window the next morning, though, the sky looks steel gray and oppressive. Ray appears next to me and draws back with surprise. “Whoa! That is one dark sky. Jesus, this looks as if it’s hanging in arms reach. What the fuck—?”
“It’s a snow storm.” I state with a sinking heart.
“You’re kidding, right? The next storm wasn’t expected for another two days.”
I look surprised at Ray. I had forgotten that he has a quick grasp of these things and that working with Hank would have him well-informed of the weather.
“I think we might get off lightly. Judging from the look of the clouds I expect the brunt of the storm to hit the mountains.”
Ray nods for a moment until his expression turns stricken.
“Wait—what about your blonde hikers?”
“That’s exactly my concern, too. We still have a few hours before it breaks loose. I may have to call upon your help, Ray.”
“Partners, Fraser, partners.” Ray says quietly, oozing confidence and I look to my left, directly at him to catch his expression. He turns his face to me and smiles. “We’ll manage. We always do.”
I nod, glad to have this brave man at my side. Ray leaves to inform Hank of the possibly upcoming mission and I start all the preparations should we have to look for the Scandinavian hikers.
I arrange the sled and prepare my pack. After a short telephone call with Constable Williams I know that everyone will be ready should we need help.
Two and a half hours later all hell breaks loose. I have been right at least and the brunt of the force spares the town—which doesn’t bode well for the hikers. It’s still snowing so thickly and with such wind velocities that Ray is unable to return to the cabin. I had expected that. Electricity is lost after only the first half an hour of Mother Nature’s rage.
Getting word from other posts, from rangers or any other official channel about sightings of any hikers will be a challenge. I suppose we will have to rely on the help of the locals and of the few tribes of Inuit of the surrounding area.
Once it’s safe to get outside I’m ready. The sled is the only possible method of transportation. I arrive at Hank’s hangar not long after and Ray is already coming out to meet me. He looks drawn and a frown is fiercely edged onto his forehead. I am sorry that I couldn’t be with him during the storm although I have no doubt that Hank kept him just as safe as I would have been able to.
“I tried all the local posts but the phone lines are dead,” I explain as soon as I reach Ray. “We have to assume that the group needs our help. In the best case, they reached one of the safe houses I’ve pointed out to them.”
Ray nods and we enter the hangar together to discuss our course of action with Hank.
“I need you to fly the usual search pattern,” I tell Hank and point at the area in question.
“Sure, no problem. But have you forgotten that Mike left last winter? I don’t have a co-pilot. What do you expect me to do? Just guess where I’m flying? I need someone with me to give me the coordinates of the area we need to cover. Can’t fly a grid when I don’t know how big you want it.”
I hadn’t forgotten. I look at Ray. My solution seems to dawn on Ray the moment he meets my gaze. His eyes widen slightly.
“Could you excuse us for a second?” Ray asks Hank and grabs my arm. He pulls me a few meters away and releases my arm again.
“You can’t be serious Fraser? It’s been months since I’ve read a map!”
“Ray, trust me. I know you can do this.”
This gives him pause.
“You’re sure of this?”
Ray sighs in defeat before a determined expression comes over his face. “Gotcha! Let’s get this show on the road.”
We return to the table and Hank looks Ray over.
“I know he’s a good guy and he knows what he’s doing with his hands but is he up for this? I mean it Benton, can he do it?”
I can see Ray bristling and it speaks very highly of his respect for Hank that he doesn’t threaten him with a kick in the head.
“Yes. You’ll see. We spent months out on the ice and he proved it time and again.”
Ray looks at me with something in his eyes that I can’t read. It might be gratitude or wonder or something else altogether.
I hand Ray a walkie-talkie and pocket the other one. “Should you find them before I do, give me the coordinates and I’ll be there as soon as I can—and Ray?”
Ray looks up into my face with serious eyes.
“Take care. Both of you,” I nod at Hank. “Should the storm pick up again, abort the mission.”
Ray and Hank get ready for take-off and I return to the sled, we can’t afford to waste any time. I studied the map again after all of the preparations had been made. It’s most likely that the group headed towards Providence Bay to see the seals and if they did, they probably didn’t reach the next safe house in time—that is if they hadn’t lost their orientation before deciding on which direction to take.
I move as fast as I dare to and Dief pushes the other dogs faster and faster. Once, I see Hank’s plane overhead. The first safe house I reach is empty and I can’t find any traces that anyone stayed there recently.
I’m a good tracker but it’s still snowing. I can only hope that they decided to stick to the route we had discussed. I pass another safe house, again with no luck.
The wind makes everything harder. It takes longer than it should but I can’t do anything to change that. In the afternoon, I reach Providence Bay. I stop the sled again and take a look around.
After a bit of digging I discover pieces of equipment. I try to reconstruct the scene and conclude that they were here when the storm hit them. In the hurry to get to safety a few things must have gotten left behind. There is no possible way to tell how bad the storm had been when it had caught up with them.
With a bit of luck they would have taken the direction to the next safe house. I turn the sled around. I hope they reached the safe house in time.
I am half-way there when the walkie talkie crackles to life.
“Fraser? Fraser are you there?”
I stop the sled and fumble for a moment until my hands close around the little plastic device.
“I am here Ray. They were at Providence Bay but they left when the storm hit.”
“No way? How did they end up—it doesn’t matter. Seems like they got turned around. We were just flying past the Akshayuk ridge when a flare went up. We tried to go down but there’s no chance we’ll manage that. I reached Taylor and Williams over the radio and they send help. We could touch down 10 miles further down the slope.”
“That’s good work Ray. If you give me the coordinates we can agree upon a meeting point. I’ll let you know if we need any medical assistance as soon as I’ve reached them.”
With the help of Ray’s coordinates it isn’t difficult to find the spot where the flare went up. But we are gradually losing daylight and we have to hurry. I can already make out two darker spots on the snow in the distance. The closer I get the clearer I can make out two persons.
As soon as I am close enough to shout I see one of them already running toward me.
“Thank God you’ve found us! Hurry, you have to help me—Soren is—and Alva—oh God!”
“Please calm down. Is anyone injured or missing, Erik?”
“Yes—I—“ Erik takes a deep breath and gestures at Soren. “I already wrapped him in our safety blanket but it’s not just his lips anymore, even his fingers are turning blue and he’s not all here. If I leave him alone he starts to stumble around and—“
“It’s alright, don’t worry. Hypothermia is a common occurrence. We found you soon enough. Help is on its way. What about the others?”
“Alva—Alva fell into an ice crevasse. She couldn’t see—the storm was everywhere and—“
“Where, tell me where, Erik.”
Instead of answering Erik pulls me a few meters further. I can see that we are approaching an edge. I crouch down and crawl the rest of the distance. When I look down I can see two figures on a ledge three meters below.
“I’m here to help you.”
Henrik looks up at me and gestures at Alva. “I’m fine; I climbed down to help her. She broke her right leg. I can’t get her up by myself.”
“That was very brave of you. Help is on its way. Please be patient.”
I move back from the edge. “Erik, you were five people. Where is Rune?”
“He went to get help.”
I sigh inwardly. I can only hope that we don’t have to rescue him, too. Leaving the group to get help is very unselfish and brave but more often than not the rescuer needs to be rescued himself while the rest of the group that has been patiently waiting for help can be saved without any problems.
I take a moment to contact Ray to let him know about the condition of the hikers.
I get the needed medical supplies out of pack and turn to Soren. Together with Erik I manage to ease Soren onto the sled. I add another insulating blanket and cover him. Someone at the hospital should take a look at him later.
I use Henrik’s rope and climb down into the crevasse. Alva is bearing her injury remarkably well.
“I have to splint your leg.” I tell her. She winces but nods anyway. Her scream is ear splitting when I fix her leg to the splint and Henrik looks a little green when I’m done.
“We need to make a sling, so that she can sit in the rope.” Henrik nods and assists me with the needed knots. We help her inside our makeshift harness. I throw my own rope over the edge and explain to Erik how he has to fasten the rope. I give it a hearty tug and when it holds I start my climb up again.
Together, Erik and I manage to pull Alva out of the crevasse. We let the harness down again and a few minutes later, Henrik is also safely above the ice again.
I haven’t completely removed our ropes when I hear the sound of snowmobiles approaching.
“That’s the cavalry,” I tell the tired hikers and Erik and Henrik look incredibly relieved.
Constable Taylor and Williams arrive and they encountered the missing hiker on their way. They help me get Alva settled into the sled with Soren. The other two get taken back via snowmobile.
We manage the trip to the appointed meeting place in half an hour. When everyone is settled in the small airplane I ask Ray if they had any problems.
Ray doesn’t manage to get a word out before Hank answers for him.
“Problems? Ha! I don’t believe this fledgling has never flown a plane before, a damn natural. What did you do on your trip over the ice, navigate via stars or what? Because a map isn’t much of a challenge for the guy.”
I try to keep the grin down but pride of Ray fills me with such elation that it’s not easy. Ray himself looks a bit abashed at the praise but Hank thumps him on the back hard enough to leave bruises.
“You gotta keep this one, Benton. I can use a man like that.”
For a second, I’m thrown for a loop. What can I say to that? I don’t want to let Ray go but we haven’t talked about the length of his stay and, in any way, it’s not up to me.
“I’m glad it worked so well. I knew Ray has a talent for maps and machinery,” I hedge.
I smile encouragingly at Ray and I am again met by Ray’s serious gaze and I wonder what he’s thinking.
We return to the cabin in companionable silence. Exhaustion and fatigue make dinner a quick and simple meal. I defer to Ray with the first shower and fight with my last bit of energy to unpack my backpack and put all of my wet clothes up in front of the fireplace for drying.
“It’s all yours,” Ray calls from the vicinity of the bathroom. His voice sounds scratchy and I think Ray is just as tired as I am even though he doesn’t look it.
For the first time I consciously debate whether or not to wear my long johns. With Ray right there it is definitely warm enough. I towel my hair dry and opt for the boxer shorts. I trudge into the bedroom and find Ray already under the covers. His eyes are closed and he looks as if he has fallen asleep the moment he got into bed.
I smile and turn off the light. I climb into bed and reach out for him. I don’t utter any form of pretense. He’s asleep and I am too tired to play games. I close my hand around his shoulder and move closer behind him when Ray fluidly rolls into my embrace and we’re touching chest to chest all of a sudden.
Ray is wide awake. I try to think of something to say, an apology or at least an explanation but Ray throws his arm around me and inhales deeply. I feel the flush reaching all the way down to my chest.
“y’smell good” Ray murmurs sleepily and I am at a loss for words. I should say something but no sound comes out.
Ray sighs, a small, unhappy noise. “Go to sleep Fraser.”
His hand is warm on my back. Sleep comes far too quickly for my liking.
Another week goes by. Ray still hasn’t said a word about how long he will be staying. I haven’t asked.
I return home for my lunch break but Ray isn’t back yet. He really seems to like his work at the airfield; he spends as much time there as if it was his new day job. I shouldn’t begrudge Ray the happiness he finds in his leisure activities. I am at work anyway and this is a holiday for Ray.
I pause whenever I get to this part because I can’t imagine that Lieutenant Welsh was particular open to hand out more extended leave so shortly after Ray’s return to work. I have to ask him about that some time. There are a lot of things I should ask but only a handful of questions that are safe to pose.
I should ask ‘why’ he came here, ‘for how long’ he will be staying, ‘what’ he expects from me – friendship? Comradeship? Solace? – but instead all I ask is “why didn’t you take the car when the weather was so bad?” and “for how long will you be at the hangar today?” and “what do you want for dinner?”.
The blinking light of my answering machine calls me back from my musings. I push play and Ray’s voice fills the room. The sense of déjà vu makes me knees go weak for a second until I realize that Ray isn’t calling from Chicago but from across town.
“Hey Frase, you’re like a clockwork so you’re probably already home. Just wanted to let you know that I won’t make it for lunch. Luke just arrived back here and his plane is giving him trouble again—I swear, he spends more time down at the hangar than up in the air but she’s a great lady, I can understand why he’s so attached to this old plane. Anyway, go have lunch without me. Uh, I might have to borrow your car again this afternoon—I hope that’s alright. See you!”
I stare transfixed at the message. I feel warm all over. Ray called my cabin ‘home’, as if it was really our home together. I am exaggerating, I am well aware of that. Referring to ‘home’ is more often than not simply shorter than saying ‘at your cabin’.
A simple sandwich on my way back will be more than sufficient for lunch. I turn around to head out again and notice a glimmer of white out of the corner of my eye. There is a small stack of letters lying on the couch table. I move closer and realize that those are my letters, the ones I have written to Ray.
I sit down on the couch and reach out for one. The paper lost all starch; it’s soft, the texture closer to fabric than paper. Ray must have handled those letters countless times or they wouldn’t feel like this. Faint creases cover every single one and I am unsure if they are the result of tense hands, wringing the paper unconsciously, a little more with every word, or if they come from careless handling.
The ink looks almost translucent in some spots as if a thumb has smoothed over the word written there again and again, trying to confirm that the word is really there. I wonder why Ray would have felt the need to go through them again. After all, he accused my letters of being evasive to the point of meaningless. What was he looking for then?
I can’t tell what Ray reads between my lines. His line of thinking is instinctive and retracing his connections is almost impossible if you haven’t felt the same gut-reaction.
When I return in the evening the letters are nowhere to be seen. But Ray is as charming and open as he has been during his whole stay. His stay, the words cause a sense of deep foreboding. A tight fist has closed around my heart and it squeezes tighter with each passing day. I feel queasy, a similar feeling to the one you get when you know you’re about to fall but you won’t be able to stop in time.
He’s been here over two weeks. Yesterday, two letters from Chicago arrived for him. The urge to burn them was so strong I didn’t dare take them home with me. I managed to mention to Ray that we should go by the post office some time since I hadn’t checked our mail for a while. As I had hoped, Ray told me not to worry and that he could check after his work with Hank.
Ray didn’t seem particularly disturbed by the content or even the existence of the letters. The whole evening, I was prepared to hear him say “Fraser, could you take me to the airport tomorrow? Hank’s going to fly me outta here” but Ray didn’t say anything.
The next day Constable Taylor hands me another letter for Ray. “I met Morris from the post office this morning. You cannot believe how excited he is about all those letters from the States. Usually, the most exotic stamps are from the Canadian east coast.” She grins slightly and I take the letter from her. I’m afraid that I couldn’t quite show her the expected enthusiasm.
Ray is still gone when I return from work. I look at the watch and have to admit that I am the one being early. Sometimes, three people are a bit much for this small posting. A little cleaning up might be in order. Ray’s presence distracts me from doing my usual chores around the house.
It doesn’t take long. I don’t own much furniture and except for his two bags and the small packing case Ray didn’t bring any baggage with him. I find a few pieces of equipment that belong to the things I have always ready when I need to prepare the sled. I put them in a box and put on my boots.
The shack isn’t far away, a few meters maybe. Dief accompanies me anyway; I think he believes the sled to be his responsibility. I’m stowing the few additional batteries, one of the smaller flashlights, and the glow sticks away when I hear Dief’s whine. I turn around and find him nosing a brown carton to the side, right behind the door.
That hasn’t been there before. It seems to be another packing case. I lift the lid and peer inside. Official documents neatly filed, folders filled with paperwork, and files for health insurance and work related issues greet my curious eyes.
I look at Dief. His tongue lolls out and he yaps once.
“That’s what I thought, too,” I tell him. For a person about to leave Ray surely does not travel light.
I want to ask Ray about his paperwork in my shack. I make the mistake of mentioning his newest letter though and Ray turns intent and serious all of a sudden. And while I take care of doing the dishes Ray settles down in the living room and reads his letter carefully.
I glance over now and again. Ray’s face isn’t giving anything away. I can’t tell if the content is good or bad, all I know is that it’s important. Finally, he nods and makes a short list. He pockets it and puts the letter away.
I want to ask but now I am not sure if I really want to know the answer. I keep silent.
Ray behaves unusually subdued for the rest of the evening. But at night when everything is dark, he moves into my embrace without saying a word. Once my arms come around to hold him he turns around, burying his face in my shoulder. He’s not saying a word and I don’t know if I should. Instead, I move my hand in a slow caress down his back. Ray doesn’t pull away. My hand begins its travel upwards again and I can feel Ray relax against me.
The unspoken things between us fill the whole room. I can hardly breathe. I just—do I really want to bring light into this darkness? Darkness offers a strange comfort and I don’t think that I could give up on what we have at night. Not willingly.
I let him go once, and I did it knowingly; I can’t drive him away now, I can’t. And I don’t want to, why should I have to give up on everything that makes me happy? Why do I have to question my good fortune?
The next morning, Ray wants to borrow the car again. I give him the keys without hesitation but I have a sneaking suspicion why Ray needs the car now and again.
I leave for work and take my lunch break an hour earlier than I normally would. I let myself into the shack next to the cabin and look behind the door. The packing case is gone.
I remember my conversation with Ray about where to store his CDs and how he had assured me he could just put everything in storage. There is only one possibility to store this amount of possessions in a town like this. I have desk duty this afternoon, however, and my investigation will have to wait until tomorrow.
The evening produces another interesting incident. Ray and I have just settled down for another game of cards when the phone rings. Ray waves in the direction of the phone and takes the cards from my hands. He starts shuffling while I answer the phone.
“Corporal Benton Fraser speaking—oh, hello Mrs. Kowalski,” I see Ray’s eyes widen and he starts making frantic cut-off movements against his throat.
“No, we are quite well, thank you— Stanley?” I bite my lip to keep the grin from exploding and Ray is already up and moving. “Stanley has adapted remarkably well, there is no reason for worry—yes, I—he—“ before I can finish my sentence Ray has wrestled the phone out of my grip. He throws me a dirty look.
“Hey Mom,” I hear him sigh before he takes the phone into the kitchen with him. I try not to eavesdrop but I still catch a few snatches of conversation.
“—I told you I know what I’m doing—no—“ another sigh from Ray, “yeah, like that—Fixing planes, can you believe it?” Ray hesitates for a second before he rushes through his next question, “How’s dad?—yeah?—that-that’s good—hey listen, tell Stell I said ‘hi’ when you hear her next time—I will—bye.”
Ray comes back into view his body jumping from ‘my mother called and I’m gonna die of embarrassment’ to ‘what?! You have a problem with that’ and I smile in what I hope is a pacifying manner.
Ray radiates ‘do not ask’ and I know him well enough not to. His ruffled feathers calm down as he settles back onto the couch and picks up the hand of cards I’ve dealt him.
“She’s just worried,” Ray replies, obviously feeling the need to explain the phone call.
“I know,” I smile at him. “I remember a similar conversation before we embarked on our quest for the hand of Franklin.” This piece of information stops Ray dead in his tracks; his hand hovers unmoving over the stack of cards in the middle of the table.
“You never told me that.”
I look up surprised. “I haven’t? Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I assure you the content of the phone call was of no relevant importance. She was merely worried about our safety and I have assured her that I am very well adapted to such a trip and that I have every confidence in your own abilities. I had to promise her that I would bring both of us back in one piece, but since this had been my plan as well it was quite a friendly phone call.”
Ray looks stricken. “Uh, sorry ‘bout that.”
“There is no reason to apologize, Ray.” We play cards and Ray wins three rounds out of four because I’m still wondering about the other half of the conversation. What has Barbara Kowalski asked her son?
Ray is lying quietly on his side that night in bed. I can only presume that his caginess results from residual embarrassment about the phone call from his mother. I don’t understand why Ray should feel embarrassed about that. I think it speaks very much for Ray’s parents that they worry about their son.
We’re still not talking about all the things left unsaid, so I offer him the only comfort and what little reassurance I have at my disposal.
I move closer, until my fingertips brush against his shoulder and leaving the decision to press against me up to him. One heartbeat passes, and another one. Finally, Ray moves closer. His movements hesitant, wary and I puzzle about that while my hand closes around his hip. I push against the small of his back and draw him close.
I hear Ray’s stifled gasp close to my ear the moment his erection brushes against my thigh. I pull my hip back immediately, more out of reflex and—guilt, I can’t even explain why I feel guilty but I—I guess I just wasn’t expecting it and my heart is trying to beat out of my chest. I feel Ray’s startled breathing against my chest, quick bursts of air that moisten my skin. Neither one of us makes even the tiniest sound; we’re both afraid to move.
I keep my arms around him and Ray doesn’t pull back, out of my embrace. Our lower bodies are separated by a good twenty centimeters. I know, a reaction like that is only human. I just—what if it isn’t an involuntary reaction but Ray’s reaction to me and my proximity? Or is that wishful thinking because I know I had exactly the same reaction the moment I felt the evidence of Ray’s arousal? When the ironclad control over my body takes flight on darkness’ wings, what am I supposed to trust?
Does Ray want me touch him? Maybe he doesn’t even want me to acknowledge his body’s needs—he had tried to keep to himself tonight, after all.
Minutes tick by. Nothing happens.
At some point sleep must have claimed us. When I wake up, I am alone. Ray has already left and I feel a wave of worry because he never, not once, managed to get out of bed before me.
I think I have my answer. Ray obviously can’t face me after what happened last night and it would follow that I should also ignore it. So this is another item on the list of things we aren’t talking about. I’m alright. I can manage.
To manage; that’s a euphemism for being lively dead, for living the life of a dead man without expectations or wants or needs. At least I won’t expect much when my time comes.
I return to the cabin for lunch with no small amount of trepidation, hoping and fearing in equal parts that I might find Ray there. I am not disappointed. His sleeping form on the couch greets me the moment I enter the main room.
I remove my tunic and cautiously approach the couch. I kneel down next to it and reach out to touch him—just a soft caress, hardly a touch at all—but the moment my fingers make contact with his skin I can’t stop myself. I trace the shell of his ear, along his hairline, down his neck, and my hand glides reverently over the well-worn cotton of his sweater, light as a feather, but on my journey back up his arm, his eyes fly open. I draw a startled breath and snatch my hand back.
I don’t know if Ray has really been asleep or if he was testing me all along.
I stand up hastily. “Ah, hello Ray. I just—I was just about to wake you,” I splutter, still moving backwards in the direction of the kitchen. I broke the rules. Touching was limited to the darkness of the bedroom, never during the day and I broke the rule. Maybe, if Ray believes me that this wasn’t what I was doing we can—we can go back and—
Ray stands up and his expression changes with the suddenness of a thunderstorm. Anger; anger is the most prominent emotion I can see clouding his beautiful face. His eyes are burning with some unnamed emotion and I think it might be hurt, but Ray looks like a wounded animal about to strike back and I would like the chance to explain, to lie, that I wasn’t the one who attacked first.
Ray advances with all the contained energy of a predator and I gulp quickly, praying that the right words will come to me. Ray’s posture is a battle stance if I ever saw one.
“So this is it, yeah?” Ray flings at me, anger radiates beneath the surface in almost visible waves. “What?! You can write about it but you can’t say it—right? Right?”
“I—“ And I don’t know what the right answer is. I should deny everything but I’m not sure what exactly I should take back. What did he find in my letters?
Ray’s fists are balled at his sides and he shakes slightly with suppressed rage.
“It’s okay as long as it’s dark and no one knows or talks about it—I get it. Boy, do I get it. I-I can’t do this. I thought I could but I can’t. I—“ and suddenly all fight leaves him. “I have to go.” Ray storms past me and grabs his bag.
I’m left standing in the kitchen and I don’t understand how the words “don’t go” can be stuck in my throat when I want them shouted until my last breath leaves my lungs. I kick into action but it’s already too late. Ray is out of the door and I know I could easily follow his tracks but—what would I say?
‘Please come back, I didn’t mean any of it?’ I’m not a very good liar and Ray would say that this is still an understatement. ‘Don’t go, I won’t touch you again?’ I could offer that but it won’t make what has happened undone.
An hour later the phone rings. It’s Constable Taylor asking me if anything happened because I didn’t return from my lunch break. I make some feeble excuse; I don’t know what I’ve told her. Tears are swimming thickly behind my eyelids and not even Dief’s attempts to console me can stop them from spilling over.
It doesn’t matter what I do. It’s always the wrong thing. Shuddering sobs wrack me and I can’t draw enough breath to calm down. It’s too much—the loss is too much to take. Letting Ray go was one thing, having him leave me—disappointed, angry, disgusted—is more than I can bear.
At some point I must have fallen in an exhausted sleep. I wake up in the middle of the night, cold and hungry. I shed my clothes on the way to the bedroom. I don’t bother with food. The first thing I realize on the next morning is the empty space on the other half of the bed. I swallow around the lump in my throat.
I call the posting again and let Constable Williams know that I won’t be in today. He is sympathetic and wishes me a speedy recovery. I clamp my mouth shut before the bitter laugh can escape.
I brew some tea and settle down on the couch. I want to wallow in self-pity. Sadly, staring at the rough wood of the tabletop with my head in my hands does not help a bit. I notice a small white notepad next to my elbow and I remember that Ray used it when he got his important letter. My eyes can make out soft indentations where Ray’s pen put pressure on the paper.
I chew my bottom lip for a second before I reach for a pencil and start hatching over the top page of the notepad. My eyes widen with every passing line I expose.
Words like ‘work permit’ and ‘temporary resident visa’ jump up at me and I am left staring in disbelief at a list of documents and verification needed to apply for resident authorization in Canada. My breathing turns quick and unsteady; I know that I have to keep taking deep breaths to prevent hyperventilation but this skill seems to elude me at the moment.
I’m up and moving and half-way out of the door before I realize the state I am in. Mussed hair and nothing more than a pair of sweatpants and an old shirt covering my body is not a condition I want to impose upon my fellow citizens.
Dief is laughing at me but I suppose I deserve it. I rush back into the bathroom to change into jeans and a sweater and hastily comb my hair.
Wait—a sudden idea strikes me and I almost trip over my own feet trying to get to the phone in my haste. I dial the number of the Chicago police department. After a few moments a woman picks up.
“Hello Elaine—yes, this is Benton Fraser, I—thank you for asking, I am quite well—I wanted to ask—no, Ray has been very well behaved—I’d like to—ah, no not around this time of the year—I wanted to know when you are expecting detective Kowalski back?” There is a long pause on the other end of the line and my hands turn clammy.
Please, please, please, I think. I have never prayed for anything as fervently as I have for this one thing.
Elaine clears her throat a little embarrassed. “Didn’t he tell you?” Her voice sounds small and I am terribly sorry to put her in this position.
“Tell me what?” I ask. My hands are gripping the table so tightly the knuckles have turned white. Please, please, please, I mutter under my breath.
“Fraser, he quit. He left the force—I—I thought you knew.” Elaine seems to be waiting for my reaction but I can hardly speak.
“I—thank you kindly, Elaine.” I move the phone away from my ear and I hear Elaine’s panicked “Fraser—wait—“ but I don’t have the time to explain now. I hang up.
The next stop is the post office which is, thankfully, mostly empty. I find Morris behind the counter and after enduring a ten minutes talk about American stamps and unconventional packing techniques I manage to inquire after recently acquired storage.
Morris looks surprised and scratches his chin. “Well,” he muses, “Mr. Ashby expanded his storage just the week before last. If you ask me it was long overdue—that man has simply too much time on his hands. Who needs all this nonsense? Guess that’s why he puts it all into storage,” Morris guffaws and I am nodding along, my patience running thin.
“Yes, and, hm, ah Maureen’s grandchild wanted her own storage space; you might remember that she married last February. Yes, yes, you know how it is; building a household always creates unwanted things. I take care of all the stuff people don’t want cluttering up the house.” Morris looks at me hopefully, expecting to have been able to help me. The first twinge of disappointment comes over me. Maybe I have been wrong.
“Well, and there’s the space your partner the Yank wanted—but you know that, of course.” My head snaps up and a grin appears on my lips. “More of a closet if you ask me,” Morris continues a little crestfallen. “That man sure don’t need much.”
“Yes, Ray’s storage. Morris, could you show me this, ah, closet of his?”
Morris looks at me curiously. “You have something to put in there?”
“I, ah,” I falter. “I was supposed to bring him something—he forgot some of his paperwork in one of the cartons.” I’ll do something nice for Morris as soon as this is over to make up for lying to him, I promise.
Morris’ face clears up. “Ah, the immigration thing. I thought Constable Williams helped him with that, no?”
I jerk with surprise. Everyone knew. Everyone but me.
“Ah, yes. I’m sure it’s just a copy that’s missing.” I cringe inwardly at all the lying I’m doing this morning. This does not bode well.
“Paperwork is a real pain in the you-know-what, am I right?” Morris grumbles before he closes his counter. He takes a big bundle of keys from the hook next to his jacket and leads me outside to the line of warehouses next to the post office.
“Kowalski, Kowalski,” he mutters going through his keys. He comes up with a small iron one and leads me to the second warehouse down the road. We enter a hall with small doors leading left and right and we stop in front of the second to last one. He turns the key and pushes open the door. The overhead lighting comes to life and I blink into the small cell-like room.
There are a few packing cases, not many and certainly not as many as I had expected. Ray has only four boxes in storage. Morris survey’s the room together with me and shakes his head sadly; I suppose he considers four boxes unworthy of his storage space.
“Here,” he hands me the key to Ray’s storage room. “You can bring it back to me once you’re finished.”
“Thank you kindly, I will.”
Morris leaves me alone and I read the labeling on the cartons. One says ‘Summer Clothes’ and judging from the handwriting Frannie helped Ray pack. Underneath, Ray has scribbled in his unmistakable scrawl ‘hardy-ha-ha, good one’ and a grin breaks out on my face. My hand wanders gently over the smooth cardboard.
I move to the next box. This one says ‘Appliances’ in no-nonsense female lettering. Or rather it did say that until Ray crossed it out with a fat, black marker and wrote ‘Junk’ right next to it. I glance inside and find a hairdryer, a toaster, a coffee machine and a few other things I would have to agree with Ray are entirely useless in this climate.
The third box is the one I already found inside the shack, bearing all of Ray’s life as far as he exists on paper. The last one reads ‘Junk’, this time in Frannie’s flowing script again, and Ray has written ‘Memories’ underneath it. The box contains a lot of items that have me aching for Ray’s presence.
The chili pepper lightss from his kitchen, the baseball cap he wore when he hit that home run, his gun holster, a smaller box with stubs from movies he saw at a cinema and games he went to, and a few pictures of him and his parents inside.
I keep standing inside of the small room for a long time. This is Ray’s life. What’s left of it.
He threw it all away. Ray left his life behind to come up here and he didn’t even tell me that he did. Of course, I didn’t ask. I feel so stupid; what is harder to say ‘I’d like you to stay’ or ‘I gave my whole life up to come here and I don’t even know if you want me to stay’?
I take Ray’s packing case that says ‘Memories’ back with me. I return the key to Morris and I probably cut the poor man off in his tirade about the people who confuse his storage space with a garbage dump, but impatience drives me back home.
I’m not sure why I expected Ray to be waiting for me when I arrive but he isn’t. I might have thought that Ray’s anger has cooled off by now. I’ve been an idiot. Ray has been here for three weeks now and I was so afraid of the answers that I ignored them even when they were staring me right in the eye.
Dief noses interestedly through Ray’s belongings and I smile at Diefenbaker’s obvious approval. I sort through Ray’s things and start making space. An hour later, Ray’s things have a space just as my own have.
His pictures joined mine and I moved them to the mantel to make more space on the shelves for some of Ray’s memorabilia. I string the chili pepper lights over the kitchen window. It looks sadly out of place and I shake my head bemused at my own need to put them there. Maybe decoration like that only works with the right personality to go along with it.
Hopefully, its owner will consider filling this room with his inimitable personality for the unforeseeable future.
I tidy up after my explosive burst of activity and clean myself up right afterwards. I need a shave and a shower in general and some fresh clothes wouldn’t hurt either. I put fresh sheets on the bed and then I can’t find a single thing more to do. Twilight has long gone but that doesn’t mean much here in the winter. I have a quick dinner and after rinsing my plate I take a look around the cabin. This could be home.
I take a deep breath and Dief butts his head against my knee.
“I know; you don’t have to worry. I finally understand it. I let him go and he came back to me, I was just too blind to see it for what it was. Besides,” I smile at my lupine companion, “Mounties always get their man.” I can’t help the smile. I know that it won’t be easy and I will have to lay myself bare for Ray but—he came back to me. We’re a duet.
I take my hat and slip into my coat. Dief shakes his fur and moves toward the door. We get into the car and drive through the silent darkness of the beginning evening cold. I see the hangar looming in the darkness, a pitch black shape against a petroleum blue sky. I kill the engine and the light of the headlight dies out.
I lick my lips and get out of the car. I knock on the metal door and the sound of my fist resonates hollowly in the open air.
After a few minutes a bolt is slid back and the door is opened. I’m looking at Hank’s careworn face and I feel even worse than I have the last two days.
“It’s you,” he says and I can’t tell if he wants to state that he expected me, or if he tries to express his disappointment in me.
“Yes, I’d like to talk to Ray.”
Hank sighs and waves me inside. “’bout time,” he grouses and I feel a sudden kink in my neck; I crack my head to the right and I feel minimally better.
We move silently through the dark building. Hank opens another door and reveals a well-lit corridor with a few doors on the right hand side. He stops at the third and knocks twice.
He grunts at me and vanishes around the corner at the end of the hallway.
The door is flung wide and I am faced with Ray who looks just as startled as I feel as I take in his appearance. He doesn’t look as if he has slept at all since I have last seen him, the golden stubble on his chin gives him a gruff look, and I flinch when I notice his red-rimmed eyes and the purple-veined skin beneath them.
Ray seems torn between throwing the door in my face and punching me. I hasten to find some words before he can do either.
“I’m sorry,” A good start, it’s been on the forefront of my mind since he left the cabin. “I’m so sorry Ray.”
Ray’s grip on the door relaxes slightly; he looks too tired to fight.
“Come back home with me?”
Ray takes a step back and crosses his arms in front of him.
“Please,” I add. “Can we talk? I promise I’ll answer all of your questions, I—I know I have some explaining to do and I, well, I have a few questions myself,”
Ray braces himself against the doorframe as if he needed the additional help to keep standing.
“And I know, I should have asked them the moment you stood on my doorstep, but,” I take another deep breath, “please, come home with me?” I bite my lip when I see that Ray buries his face in his arm.
I count my heartbeat. ThumpThumpThump in quick succession.
My heart misses a beat.
Ray pushes away from the door and gathers his bag from the foot of the bed. I move aside to let him step outside of the room and take a few steps into the hallway.
Ray pulls the door closed behind him and moves next to me. We are in synch as we pick our way first through the hallway and then through the dark hangar. I brush my arm against his and stretch my fingers to touch Ray’s, and before Ray can pull his hand way I close my hand around his in a firm, warm grip.
Ray stares at me for a second. Slowly, his fingers interlink with mine. I smile through the darkness at the green fire exit sign at the end of the hall.
We don’t let go of each other’s hand until we reach the car and we have to get in on different sides.
The moment we get into the car Dief slobbers all over Ray’s ear and Ray jerks away. “Ugh, Dief,” he protests and tries to dry his ear of wolf spit. “I’m glad to see you too, buddy.”
Once we arrive at the cabin Ray squints at the window. The red glow of the chili pepper lights shines faintly through the glass. “Wait—is that—“ He jumps out of the car without waiting for an answer. I enter a short moment later and Ray turns around with desperation clearly visible on his face.
“You figured me all out, huh? So?” He folds his arms again in front of him. He holds his head high and challengingly raises his chin. “You think you know everything, that it?”
I grab Ray’s hand where it shields his body and pull him with me to the couch. I keep his hand in my own.
“Why are you here Ray?”
He groans frustrated. “I thought I was getting the answers here, Fraser?!”
I try to moisten my lips but the parched feeling remains.
“I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want you to go back. I’d like it if you stayed.” The sentence comes out rushed and tense and it wasn’t what I had wanted to say.
A small smile creeps on Ray’s face. “Guess, you’re lucky then since I hadn’t planned on leaving.”
“I know, I mean, I know it now—but how— and why stay now?”
Ray sighs and pulls his hand out of my grip to mess his hair. “I had never planned to leave.”
I open my mouth to point out that he already said that when I suddenly realize that maybe he didn’t.
“After the quest,” I trail off, unable to finish my sentence. Ray sinks back into the couch cushions and rubs the back of his neck.
“I hadn’t planned leaving then either. I just,” he shrugs, “you never asked me to stay and then you started talking about your new posting and, I dunno, when I mentioned going back you didn’t say anything, ” Ray looks at me and now I can see the hurt in his eyes, “so I left.”
He leans back and looks at the ceiling before he continues. Maybe the answers are written there, I wouldn’t know.
“And you never called. Not even to hear how my trip was and, I guess, I just gave up.”
My voice is barely more than a whisper when I interject. “But you called me.”
Ray looks at me again and grins a little crookedly. “Yeah, turns out I couldn’t keep away from you. I needed to know if you had already forgotten about me. And then you had the nerve to write me a letter! A fucking letter!”
I have a moment of silent amusement when I recall Ray’s identical exasperation over this issue when he called me.
“I thought what the hell I’m not even worth talking to or what? And then you wrote a second one and I never managed to get a hold of you at home and I started thinking, you know, maybe it meant something?” He looks at me and shrugs again.
“But you never said anything in your letters, it was all polite ‘oh the Canadian weather is very well behaved’ and ‘I didn’t do anything for weeks but this is exactly the life I wanted’ and it pissed me off.”
Oh yes, I remember Ray’s last phone call.
“And then I got your last letter.” Ray squirms around on the couch again, supporting his weight with his hands on his thighs this time. “I tried really hard to read between the lines and the way I saw it you were just as miserable as I was. You said you wanted a home but that you hadn’t found it and I thought ‘bullshit—he is home, I saw his face when we fell out of the damn plane’, right? And it—it—well, it sounded as if you might have been missing me, too,” Ray trails off, his gaze focused somewhere on the ground, the breath he takes shakes his whole frame.
He releases it again with a shudder and I realize that Ray is trying very hard to keep himself together here. I reach out, wanting to draw him close to me to take some of the pain away, but Ray presses my hand, once before releasing it again. “Don’t—I won’t finish this if you touch me now.” He smiles at me, a fragile little glimpse of something real and I think hope might look like this.
I nod; my throat too dry to speak. I understand how he feels. I need to hear this.
“And since I was damn miserable down there I thought I didn’t have much to lose—couldn’t get much worse than a broken heart. But I wasn’t sure if I had read your letter correctly and you never gave me a sign—you were all polite and Canadian during the day. But,” Ray’s voice breaks a little before he picks up his thread of thought again.
“But when I touched you—you—you touched me back and I found my favorite CD and it’s the only one you got and,” Ray sighs again, “you got my pictures lying around like you spend all of your time mooning over me and I thought—maybe, you know, maybe I was right with your letter? That I wasn’t the only one…”
Ray looks at me again and his blue gaze pierces me. I nod, telling him he was right or maybe just to go on. “I never got any clues from you, and you weren’t exactly joy personified when you found my stuff so I thought ‘Ray, maybe you went too far off the deep end this time’ and I hauled my things into storage instead. But I didn’t wanna go back to Chicago because it’s just not the same without you and then I—“ Ray blushes and he looks at the floor again and I think I know which memory he has stumbled upon.
“That night I had this—I reacted to you, okay? I’ve behaved myself all my time here but the day had been great and I hadn’t managed to—uh, take care of it in the shower and,” Ray groans quietly and I think he is still embarrassed about it. “You moved away and I got the message, damn clear, too. You wanted nothing to do with that and I—“ Ray pulls at his hair again and I can’t keep the words from spilling over my lips.
“That’s not true, Ray.” The words are quiet but Ray’s head snaps up with a ferocity that has me wincing in sympathy with his spine.
“I—I’m,” and how can it be so hard to utter these words after everything Ray has confessed, after everything I know? It’s my turn to stare at the floor now, anywhere but at Ray. “I’m in love with you.” I said it. I can’t take it back now. Ray put it all out there, now it’s my turn.
Ray gasps softly. I don’t think it’s surprise—not after I asked him to come back, after I held his hand, after he found his things decorating the cabin. Maybe Ray didn’t think I would dare to say those words.
“I have been for as long as I can remember,” I wet my lips again and I can feel the heat of Ray’s penetrating gaze all the way to my bones.
“I was too scared to ask you to stay. The week with you, here, was the happiest time of my life,” I dare to look over at Ray and find myself pinned by such an intense look I forgot what I wanted to say.
“Why didn’t you say anything, dammit? Why didn’t you at least protest when I told you about buying a plane ticket?”
“I—I thought that was what you wanted. I couldn’t keep you from your friends and family, Ray. You had a job in Chicago and a life to go back to, I couldn’t—I couldn’t compete with that.”
“Bullshit! I had nothing to go back to. I lived as Vecchio for the last few years and I had no idea who Kowalski was anymore—and I also didn’t wanna go back to that. But I knew who Ray was, I knew all about being your friend and I would have given everything up for that.”
“I didn’t know,” my words come out a choked off whisper. “That’s why I didn’t call. I needed you to be happy so badly but I was afraid to hear how much you enjoyed your new life without me.”
“Fraser,” Ray’s voice is gentle and I when look at him, I find blue eyes full of warmth looking back at me. “No one expected me to come back. Sure, Welsh is a good guy, he made room for me. But as I said, he couldn’t really partner me with anyone. I showed Elaine the ropes but that’s about it. When I told everyone that I was going back no one batted an eye. Welsh handed me the papers he had already signed and ready before I came back to Chicago and Frannie and my mother helped me pack up my stuff and that was it—Sayonara Chicago!”
“You’re not spending your free time at Hank’s airfield, are you, Ray?”
Ray’s face breaks into a sudden grin. “Hey, what do you know, you need a paid job to stay in Canada.”
Pressing air past my windpipe is an effort that brings tears to my eyes, every breath I take is a startled gasp as if my lungs weren’t expecting to get another one, and my breathing hitches every time I breathe out. Only when my shoulders start to shake and I can’t do a thing to stop it do I realize that I am sobbing. I’m—sad—happy—overwhelmed—scared—hell, I don’t know. I don’t get enough air and I’m ashamed of my display and yet helpless to make it stop.
“Hey, hey,” Ray scoots closer to me and puts his arms around me. He presses his lips against my temple and breathes the barest hint of a kiss against my skin there. “It’s alright, okay?”
I try counting the beats of my heart but the rhythm is too erratic to deserve the name and all I can do is wait for my lungs to catch up with the knowledge that there is plenty of air to be had.
Ray murmurs soothingly into my hair, rubbing circles over my back. “Jesus, we’re two world class idiots, you and I,” Ray states quietly, easing me through my sudden breakdown. “But I love you, too, you freak,” Ray whispers gently. “Shhh,” His fingers stroke up and down my neck in a steady caress.
My breathing stutters to a steady give and take after a few minutes and Ray releases me. I look at him and his smile is affectionate.
Warm thumbs move carefully underneath my eyes, wiping a few stray tears away. “There,” he murmurs and nuzzles my neck. “Let’s go to bed, Fraser.”
I nod and my lungs eagerly suck in another shaky breath. Ray moves into the bathroom and I stumble to the kitchen cupboard and get two candles out. I press them into small, flat holders and place them in front of the bedroom window. I light them and turn off the lamp on the bedside table.
Ray comes in and pauses in his tracks when he sees the candles. A pleased smile plays around the corner of his mouth as he climbs into bed. I hurry through my evening preparations and join Ray in the bedroom.
Before Ray can make a move I press up close behind him. He tries to turn around in my embrace but I keep my grip tight. After another second, Ray’s movement ceases.
“Fraser?” He asks softly and I realize that this is the closest we have come to talking about what happens here at night.
“Please, just let me,” I whisper against the soft hairs behind his ear. Ray goes lax in my arms and my hand begins its journey over Ray’s body, all the places I wanted to touch, every spot I wanted to explore and each patch of skin I wanted to feel.
Ray is gasping softly now and again, when my fingers stroke softly over his chest and along his collar bone or when I follow the dip of his hipbone along his lean legs.
My caress dances up the inside of his leg and Ray spreads his legs a little, I can hear is breathing coming in pants and I lick a soft trail along the tendon in his neck.
“Oh…God…” Ray arches further back into me and I can’t get enough of his pliant body underneath my fingertips.
My hand reaches his boxer briefs and I feel the heat radiating from them. “Gnhh,” Ray tries to keep his moan inside as my fingers creep slowly over the soft fabric. I find I love to hear every little sound he makes, amplified by the absolute quiet of the cabin.
I trace his erection through the material of his underwear and Ray’s panting cuts harshly through the silence. I want more. I sink my teeth firmly into the curve of his neck and Ray’s moan makes me shiver. My fingers map out the exact length and width of Ray’s erection, feeling its head and the wet stain spreading at the tip.
“Fraser—Frase,” Ray is gasping, his hips are softly pushing forward and I let my hand reach lower, to fondle his testicles through the cotton. “God…” Ray spreads his legs further, pushing into my hand and I let him seek out the friction he so clearly needs.
Watching Ray move his hips in a graceful arc, the muscles in his legs clenching and releasing in rhythmic intervals; hearing his breathing reduced to gasps and moans and breathless whimpers for more are the most intimate things I have ever witnessed.
I release his balls and Ray groans pitifully. I lick another stripe along his shoulder and glory in another one of his startled gasps.
My warm hand settles firmly over his erection and it twitches underneath my fingers, the pulse beats a steady rhythm of wantwantwant that I can feel against my fingertips. I move my fingertips in a soft circle, feeling the wet texture, where pre-come has soaked the cotton and Ray pants loudly in the quiet room. I scratch firmly with my thumb over the tip and Ray’s hip snaps forward.
“Oh God, yes,” Ray urgently presses the heel of his palm over my hand and pushes his erection firmly into my grasp. His hand rubs over mine and I can feel him shaking with the added friction he has sought so desperately, “Oh, Fraser—“ the sound is choked off, “ah, god—“ The grip on my hand is brutal as warmth spills over my hand, soaking his underwear.
Ray’s body, tense until a second ago, relaxes again as the muscles slowly unclench. I feel the sweat soaked skin of his back pressed closely against my chest. His heartbeat is erratic and his panting for breath is the sexiest thing I ever heard from him.
His hand is lying peacefully on top of mine, there is no sense of the urgency from a moment ago left. I sneak my hand inside his boxer briefs and Ray groans, taking his hand out of the way. My hand strokes gently over his softening cock, smearing the wetness into the skin and Ray’s breathing stutters.
I pull my hand away slowly, lingering a little. I lift the hand to my lips and I feel Ray’s gaze following my come-stained hand. My tongue sneaks out to taste Ray and I hear his aroused moan at the sight. I lick my hand clean. Slowly.
“Ahh!” My hips come of the bed as Ray’s hand finds its way inside of my boxer shorts with startling efficiency. “Ah—Ray,” every thought is forgotten when Ray’s fingers close firmly around my erection.
My hip lifts up on its own accord, pushing into the circle of Ray’s hand.
“Oh yeah,” Ray murmurs quietly. “Let me see you move,” and I feel my face heat but my body obeys without hesitation. Ray’s hand is motionless, closed tightly around my erection and I push up, again and again, unable to contain my whimpers.
“So good—oh God,” I open my eyes and see Ray’s face above me, turned on with impossibly dark eyes and a smile on his lips that he stole from the devil himself.
I groan and close my eyes again. I worry my bottom lip when Ray’s tongue licks a broad stripe along my collar bone. The sudden heat leaves me vulnerable to the startling cold of the air as soon as Ray’s lips abandon my skin and I moan helplessly.
“Ray—oh—hah,” I suck in another lungful of air and Ray chuckles dirtily into my ear. “Yeah? You sure?”
His amused voice is teasing me but I can’t begin to care. Ray’s grip changes, he braces himself on his other arm and all of a sudden Ray is jerking me off, fast and sweet and I’ve been so close to the edge it doesn’t take more than two strokes before every muscle in my body pulls tight.
“Ray—God!” And Ray eases me through the aftershocks, pulling on my erection until I am completely spent. I try to catch my breath but all of a sudden the room does not seem to supply enough air.
Ray lies down next to me and I pull him close.
“Wait,” Ray says quietly and sits up again. He pushes his soaked underwear down his legs and makes a face. His nimble fingers close around the waistband of my own boxer shorts and I lift up so that he can relieve me of them. He mops the most of the mess up with his already soiled underwear before he throws it out of the bed and settles down again.
I turn my head to look at him, lying in the circle of my arms, with a soft smile on his lips. He looks sated and his eyes have lost their drawn look, instead they are dancing with happiness and I smile back. How strange to be lying like this together, with both of us naked, joined from shoulder to toe and the only light coming from two flickering candles on the other side of the room.
Ray’s gaze drops to my mouth and I draw in a quick breath when sudden longing grips me. White-hot heat pools in my groin at the thought of Ray’s lips. My tongue comes out to wet my suddenly dry lips and Ray’s lips stretch into a smirk. His gaze moves up again and there is a short moment where we look at each other before his gaze drops again and he angles his head a little. I move my face closer as well, and swallow nervously; I can feel Ray’s breath puffing against my lips with every exhalation.
He raises his head a little and our lips meet. I move my lips softly against his, reveling in the feeling of the tender skin against my own. I gasp a little and my lips part involuntarily, when I feel Ray’s tongue push against my lips and he slips his tongue inside. I moan quietly in Ray’s mouth and pull his body closer against mine. The languid slide of his tongue against my own only whets my appetite. I want more of his taste and I draw his tongue deeper into my mouth.
I can feel Ray’s body vibrating against my own with a subdued hum of arousal, his legs tangling with my own and his shoulder straining to get closer, while his hands are roving hungrily over my back, my ass, and every other bit of skin they can reach. I moan, lost in the luxury of having Ray here with me, pressing his lithe body as close to me as I can, gathering him in my arms while our tongues are still trading kisses.
Some Notes on the Text:
This story draws really hard upon the Fraser I portrayed in “You Can Sit Beside Me When the World Comes Down“. As I said, this piece can stand alone but I think you need the first part to grasp Fraser’s vulnerability, his hopelessness, and his willingness to let Ray go.
There are two other lovers whose first touch is palm to palm. But I swear that this came to me long after this story was finished. Does anyone else remember those fateful words: “For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss”? They are from Romeo and Juliet. Consider it a nice piece of trivia.
Hank, of whom I am very fond by the way, is a mixture between Welsh and Ray’s Dad. I was watching “Spy vs. Spy” a little while ago and I remembered the conversation between Welsh and Ray when Ray thinks that he killed the Russian guy at the beginning. It sounded to me like a kid trying to say ‘I didn’t do it’ and a father who is more than willing to believe him but makes the kid clean up anyway. I think Ray is drawn to people like that and I can see him taking a liking to and working with a man like Hank.
This story has multiple elements of countless other wonderful Post-Cotw stories and it shares some traits with the sleepingbag!cliché. I hope that putting everything into Fraser’s intimate perspective brings another fresh view to an already well-loved theme 🙂 Feedback is, as always, very much appreciated.