Evan took a deep breath.
“Do you want to go for a moonlit walk in the grounds?” he asked.
Surprised, Daniel smiled. “Yeah, that would be nice.” Evan stood, holding out his hand. Daniel stared at his outstretched hand, hesitating just for a moment, and then took it, rising from his seat. Evan smiled as he led Daniel through the French doors that led into the gardens.
The night was warm and Evan had spoken correctly: the moon was full, bathing the gardens in a bluish hue. They strolled slowly along the paths that ran alongside the flowerbeds, and Daniel detected the heady fragrance of jasmine in the air, inhaling it deeply. Eventually they reached a walled garden, and Evan pointed towards a carved wooden bench set back against the garden wall, surrounded by shrubs, which included jasmine.
“Fancy sitting there for a while?” he asked. Daniel nodded, smiling. The two men sat, stretching out their long legs, enjoying the scents carried on the warm night air. For a while they sat in silence, both content to simply enjoy the garden. Evan took hold of Daniel’s hand, placing it on his thigh, stroking it gently.
“Daniel, I know that we’ve not really had a lot of time together, since we first met,” he said quietly. “But I’d like to know where things stand before we start the next term.” Daniel turned to face him, eyes studying his face carefully. Evan continued. “I know I want to continue this relationship, and I’m happy to take things slowly, if that’s what you want.”
Daniel inhaled slowly. “I-I want to get to know you better,” he said at last. “I want us to be really good friends before we consider doing... anything else.” He paused. “Is that okay?” He appeared to be awaiting Evan’s reply with some degree of anxiety, and Evan hastened to reassure him.
“That’s fine,” said Evan, smiling as he caught Daniel’s quiet sigh of relief. “There is one thing, though: I really like kissing you, and I intend to carry on kissing you, if you don’t mind. Do you have a problem with that?” Daniel shook his head. “Would you be alright with the idea of going out on dates with me?” Evan wasn’t sure if Daniel was completely at home with letting his fellow students know that he was gay: that episode in the Rainbow room had been an eye-opener, as it had been the first occasion that Daniel had kissed him in public.
Daniel smiled shyly. “I’d love to go out on a date with you.” Evan’s heart leapt in his chest. “I’m glad that you’re happy to take things slowly. I don’t have that much experience, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m in no rush to change that situation any time very soon–do you think you’d be happy with a relationship on those terms?” He looked earnestly into Evan’s eyes, and once more Evan caught the briefest glimmer of anxiety in his expression.
“I have no problem at all with those terms,” Evan said quickly, “and to be honest, your inexperience is a refreshing change. Just think of it as a journey that we’re embarking on together: we’re going to learn a lot about each other, and you’re going to discover so much, honey– and I’ll be right there by your side, helping you to enjoy each and every new experience.” He took another deep breath, before raising his hand to stroke Daniel’s cheek softly. “One thing, though: can I kiss you now…properly?”
Daniel’s breath caught in his throat and then he relaxed. “Yes, please,” he whispered.
Evan brought his lips to Daniel’s, brushing them softly, enjoying the warm, silky feel of Daniel’s lips. He inhaled, drawing in Daniel’s sweet breath, and sealed his mouth to Daniel’s, the kiss firm and insistent. Daniel made a guttural sound in his throat as he opened for Evan, parting his lips in invitation, and Evan slowly slid his tongue inside, plundering his mouth, his breath teasing Daniel’s lips as Evan swept his tongue over his.
Daniel moaned softly, his senses overcome by the sweet, heady perfume of jasmine that pressed in around him, Evan’s tongue sliding against his in an erotic dance, and the feel of Evan’s hand softly stroking his thigh, his touch light and sensual. Evan’s hand curled in the long hair at his nape, pulling his head towards him as that agile tongue stroked more deeply into his mouth, As his other hand slowly moved higher on his thigh, however, Daniel’s heart began to beat faster as panic began to set in, and he tensed up, pulling away slightly. He knew his fear was irrational and that Evan wouldn’t push it any further: he was unable to stop his body’s reaction, though, and couldn’t overcome the illogical desire to distance himself from Evan, his heart now thumping wildly behind his ribs.
Evan recognized the signs of distress and pulled back immediately, breaking the kiss, his hands moving to stroke Daniel’s arms with slow, careful movements. Gentle, soothing sounds passed his lips as he moved slightly away from Daniel. He was distraught to see Daniel’s reaction, and for the first time, it occurred to Evan that there was something more here than merely a virgin’s fear: he tried to brush the thought aside, however–surely if there was something else, Daniel would tell him. Still not completely certain of what was happening inside Daniel’s head to cause such a physical reaction, Evan made a decision: he would let Daniel dictate the pace of their developing physical relationship, and would not push him. Evan was distinctly unhappy to have caused Daniel even a moment’s discomfort, and this feeling doubled when he saw Daniel’s eyes become bright with tears that threatened to fall imminently.
“Honey, it’s okay,” he whispered softly. Daniel’s reply, although spoken so quietly that Evan had to strain to catch it, caused Evan’s heart to plummet, and to wonder anew about his boyfriend.
“I’m just so fucked up,” Daniel whispered bitterly. Evan caught his breath: that earlier fear was suddenly like a knot in his throat that he couldn’t swallow. He sought quickly for the right words to reassure Daniel.
“Daniel–whatever is making you feel like this, I don’t know, but... you’re not ‘fucked up’, all right? I’m sorry: I shouldn’t have pushed....” Daniel let out a quiet sob, and Evan groaned as the sound tugged at his heart. “Please, love, don’t cry, please.... ” His words trailed off as Daniel suddenly stood up, angrily wiping away his tears with his hand.
“Evan, it’s... it’s not you, okay? I’m the one with the problem here. I thought I could manage it, but obviously I was wrong.”
Evan was distraught, not knowing what to think of these words. “Do you... are you sure you....” He was completely at a loss for words. Come on, Daniel… talk to me….Give me something to go on, here…
Daniel took several deep, steadying breaths, which apparently calmed him enough to continue. He stood very still, his eyes lowered, hands by his sides, his fists clenching and unclenching.
“Evan, I do want a relationship with you,” he said, firmly. “I-I can’t tell you right now what’s going on, but I promise, one day I will, okay? Just... please, please don’t give up on me, on us, not yet.” His eyes pleaded with Evan as much as his words did, and Evan leapt to his feet, wrapping his arms around Daniel’s slight form, hugging him tightly, desperate to provide Daniel with some comfort. Daniel seemed to accept the hug as it was meant: reassurance from a friend, for a friend.
“Let me walk you up to your room,” Evan said softly. “It’s getting late anyway.” Daniel nodded his agreement, and Evan took hold of his hand, leading him through the gardens back to the bar. They slowly climbed the stairs and arrived at Daniel’s room, which was a few doors down the hall from Evan’s. Daniel paused at the doorway, looking down to where Evan’s hand still held his, his expression conflicted. At last he took a deep breath.
“Come in for a second,” he said, his eyes now meeting Evan’s. Evan nodded, and Daniel opened the door, stepping aside to let Evan enter first.
Evan looked around the room, and then seated himself on the armchair next to the bed. Daniel went to the complimentary tray, searching amongst the sachets of drinks, and suddenly pulled out two fat sachets.
“Hot chocolate?” he asked Evan.
Grateful for the return to normalcy, Evan grinned. “Put the kettle on,” he said, “and then see if they’ve left any biscuits, too.” Daniel held up two packets of biscuits, throwing them to Evan, who caught them deftly. “Perfect!” Daniel prepared the hot drinks and brought them to the bed, handing one to Evan and after putting his own on the bedside table, seated himself on the bed. Evan nursed the mug in his hands, before speaking.
“I don’t know what your plans are,” he began, “but I’m going to go back to Manchester tomorrow. Mary has said we could spend another night here, but I’m not sure. I don’t want to outstay my welcome at Mary’s, and besides, Sean and Michael will be getting ready to go on honeymoon on Monday. I’ll stay in the house in Manchester now for the rest of the holiday. The newlyweds are going to go there once they get back from Paris.”
Daniel looked thoughtful. “Need a lift?” he asked, looking Evan in the eye, his face calm once more. “I mean, I know you came here by train, but I was planning on going to Manchester as well: I’ve got the car, you could travel back with me.” He paused, his expression almost shy. “What do you think?”
Evan smiled, relieved. “I really like that idea, if you’re sure you don’t mind.”
Daniel returned his smile. “Not in the least: besides, it will give us some time on our own to get to know each other a bit better.” He leaned across and took Evan’s mug from him, and after placing it next to his own, he took hold of Evan’s hands, looking down at them. “I meant what I said before. I’m serious about wanting a relationship with you–but please, please be patient with me, for a while at least.” His voice faltered slightly.
Evan let go with one hand, to lift Daniel’s chin with a single slim finger, forcing him to look directly at Evan.
“Honey, we’ve got time–lots of time.”