Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Free Read: A Valentine short - Close Your Eyes

© Sue Brown

Also available on Instafreebie here

Jacob spends his Valentine’s Day with memories of his dead lover, until one rainy day Daniel skids into his life. Daniel offers Jacob the chance to live again, but is Jacob brave enough to close his eyes and risk his heart?  

Jacob hissed as an icy raindrop slid down the back of his neck and inside his collar. Caught out without a coat or umbrella, he’d sheltered under the yew tree for the past five minutes, hoping to avoid the worst of the sudden shower, but from the steady trickle of cold water down his back it was a futile effort. The pretty tissue paper around the pale-yellow rosebuds he’d bought an hour before now looked sodden and bedraggled.
He watched cars going past spraying mud over the pavement, the occupants uncaring and smugly dry. People scurried past, their heads down and shoulders hunched against the inclement weather and Jacob idly wondered where they were going until he was distracted from his thoughts as someone bumped into him and the tree. He received another spray of cold water from above and turned to glare at the intruder.
A man, similar in age and height to Jacob, smiled at him, the apologetic look in his eyes partially obscured by a wet hank of light brown hair. “I’m so sorry. I lost my footing.”
“I— Jacob stopped, distracted by a pair of huge, green eyes.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Jacob forced himself to focus on what the man was saying. “I’m fine. Just wet, although I don’t think I can get any wetter.”
 “Foul weather, isn’t it?” The man shivered and turned up his collar. “I’m Daniel.” He held out his hand. Jacob swapped the bouquet over and took it. Their handshake was cold and clammy but Daniel’s grip was firm, and he took his time to let go of Jacob’s hand.
“Jacob.” Introductions made, Jacob stared at Daniel, wondering what to say next. They’d covered the weather already.
Daniel shivered and pulled his coat tighter. “What are you doing out on a day like this? Are the roses for a sweetheart?”
“I’m going to the cemetery,” Jacob said quietly. “I got caught by the rain and thought I’d wait it out.”
“I’m so sorry.” Daniel looked mortified. “You’re going to a funeral?”
Jacob shook his head. “To visit someone. My partner. It’s Valentine’s Day.” He saw the pity in Daniel’s eyes. “They died five years ago but I always leave flowers so he—they—know I haven’t forgotten them.”
“Your boyfriend?”
“First.” And last, but Daniel didn’t need to know that. After Miles died Jacob had vowed he’d never give his heart to anyone else, unwilling to suffer the pain of loss again. He’d loved once and deeply. Others could seek the happy ever after, he was content with the memories.
Daniel squeezed his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” Jacob sucked in a deep breath. “It was a long time ago. How about you? Wife? Girlfriend?”
Daniel’s laugh was loud in the twilight, startling Jacob. “Free and single. And gay.”
Jacob’s breath caught in his chest at the sheer life in Daniel. It had been a while since he’d interacted with a guy. He hadn’t exactly been a hermit since Miles’s death, but even his last hook-up was so long ago Jacob struggled to put a date on it. “What are you doing out here?”
“Shopping. The cupboard is bare. I went to buy milk and bread.” Daniel held up his bag. “I got half-way home when the rain started.”
Jacob stared up at the heavy grey clouds still full with rain. “I need to go soon or the cemetery will be closed.”
Daniel licked his lips, a gesture Jacob found endearing. “Can I come with you?”
“To the cemetery. I don’t like the thought of you being on your own. I won’t interfere if you want time to talk or think or whatever.” 
Jacob stared at him. “You want to stand in the pouring rain while I lay flowers on my dead boyfriend’s grave?”
“Well, if you put it like that…,” Daniel looked embarrassed. “Yes, does that sound morbid? You don’t have to say yes.”
“No one’s ever offered before.” Jacob had always gone alone to visit Miles’s grave. Even his friends hadn’t offered to accompany him. “You’re going to get wet.”
“I’m already wet and cold.” Daniel shivered and then held out his hand. “Let’s go before we get pneumonia.”
Jacob hesitated, then he looked at the sincere expression in Daniel’s eyes and threw caution to the wind. He took Daniel’s hand. If anyone was bothered by two men holding hands in this weather, they could take a long walk off a very short pier.
They half-ran, half-jogged to the cemetery, and Jacob led the way through the winding centre path to a grassy area with modern graves, all marble and granite. He stopped in front of a simple gravestone.
Miles Bennett
4 March 1982 to 21 September 2011
Beloved son and brother
“There’s no mention of you,” Daniel observed.
Jacob shrugged. “They didn’t approve of me—of us. They let me come to the funeral but only as his ‘friend’. If it hadn’t been for his brother they would have banned me from the service.”
Daniel draped an arm around Jacob’s shoulders and gave him a comforting squeeze. “I’m sorry. That must have hurt.”
 “It did at the time. Now I only come here when I know his parents won’t.” Jacob thought about how long it had been since someone touched him like this.
“Like Valentine’s Day.”
Miles’s death had been like a knife to Jacob’s heart. One day he’d got up for his university lecture, kissed Jacob, promised to make him dinner, and walked out the door. Jacob had received a call later that morning to say Miles hadn’t made it to the campus. He’d been the victim of a hit-and-run, and the driver had never been caught.
A little self-conscious with Daniel watching him, Jacob knelt down and laid the bouquet across the grave. He didn’t bother taking the flowers out to arrange them in the container. Miles’s mum would throw them away on her next visit, leaving the strewn stems for Jacob to find.
“I love you. I’ll always love you. I’ll never forget you.”
Normally Jacob said the words out loud but with Daniel watching he didn’t feel he could. His fingers lingered on the grave stone. To his surprise Daniel knelt down next to him and placed his fingers next to Jacob’s.
“Hi Miles, I’m Daniel. I want to take Jacob out. Is that okay?”
Jacob’s gaze snapped to Daniel’s. “You do?”
Daniel nodded. “If that’s okay with Miles.” He cocked his head and waited a minute as if he was listening for an answer, then he stood, pulling Jacob with him. Whatever he was going to say next was lost as he sneezed, fortunately managing to clap a hand over his mouth in time.
Jacob laughed and took a step back to avoid another sneeze. “Let’s get you home and into a hot shower.” Daniels’s eyes widened and Jacob blushed. “I didn’t mean together, I meant—”
Daniel pressed a finger over Jacob’s cold lips. “Hush. Let’s go home before we freeze.” He picked up his shopping and held out his hand again. Jacob threaded his fingers through Daniel’s and they walked out of the cemetery, the gates locked behind them before they’d even reached the pavement.
If anything, the rain got even heavier and both men were shivering violently by the time they reached Jacob’s gate.
“Come on in,” Jacob offered.
“Are you sure?” Daniel’s teeth chattered so loudly it was difficult to hear him. “I understand if you want to be alone.”
Jacob had spent too many hours being alone, and now this green-eyed man had skidded into his life and Jacob was strangely reluctant for this moment to end. Not wanting to think too hard, Jacob just tugged him into the house, breathing a sigh of relief as soon as he was out of the cold winter rain. He pushed his wet hair back from his face and smiled at Daniel who was shaking violently, a puddle of water at his feet. Jacob turned up the heating and looked at his unexpected guest. “You can use the ensuite bathroom in the spare bedroom. The shower’s small but really good. There are towels in the bathroom. I’ll leave some clothes on the bed and put yours in the dryer.” He showed Daniel the spare room and pointed at the bathroom. “Leave your clothes on the floor. Take your time.”
Jacob backed out of the bedroom and heard the water go on. He found a long-sleeved T-shirt and sweatpants in his chest of drawers, and after a moment’s hesitation added a pair of briefs and warm socks. He left them on the bed and picked up Daniel’s wet clothes.
A few minutes later, the clothes were in the tumble dryer and Jacob was standing under a stream of hot water, the spray almost painful against his chilled skin. He was still bemused by the fact he’d let Daniel go with him to Miles’s grave and now the man was in his spare shower, naked. Jacob’s mind raced furiously at the thought of a naked Daniel, hot water racing over his body.
Dressed in dry clothes and feeling a hundred times better now he was warm, Jacob walked down the stairs, stopping in surprise in the kitchen doorway as he saw Daniel leaning against the counter, his hands wrapped around a mug.
Daniel looked up as he came in. “Hey, I hope you don’t mind I made myself at home.”
“Not at all. Is there one for me?”
“Tea or coffee?” Daniel pressed the switch of the kettle.
“Tea please.” Rather than taking over, Jacob let Daniel make him the drink. Daniel looked good in his kitchen.
“Sugar?” Daniel held up the bag of sugar.
“Two please.”
Daniel chuckled as he heaped two spoons into a mug. “Sweet tooth. Where do you put it all?”
“I’ve always had a sweet tooth,” Jacob admitted. “I go to the gym most nights of the week.”
“A gym bunny, eh?” Daniel deliberately checked him out from head to foot, grinning as Jacob flushed at his attention. “That explains the muscles.”
Jacob felt like his face was burning up. He took a large swallow of tea, forgetting how hot it would be, and starting choking. After he finished coughing, blew his nose and wiped his eyes, and Daniel had mopped up the tea, Jacob just wanted to hide but Daniel handed him another cup of tea with a broad grin on his face.
“Remember it’s hot. Blow!”
“Yes, dad.” Jacob buried his face in the mug, hearing Daniel snort.
“Thanks for the shower and clothes,” Daniel said after a moment. “I thought I was never going to warm up.”
“You look good in my clothes.”
Shit, did I just say that?
Judging from the way Daniel’s eyebrows vanished under his fringe, the words had come out of Jacob’s mouth. He was right though. Jacob’s clothes were a little too big on Daniel but he looked wonderful. He made Jacob’s mouth water.
To distract him from going down that path, Jacob looked out of the window. “It’s still raining out there. I can drive you home if you like. Do you have somewhere to be? Would you like to watch a film?”
His heart sank when Daniel bit his lip but then Daniel said, “I’ve got nothing planned and the rain doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.”
Jacob smiled shyly. “What do you want to watch?”
“No chick flicks or westerns. Apart from that I’m good.”
“Superheroes, spaceships, fast cars or explosions?” Jacob spent most of his spent most of his free time watching films and had movies to suit all tastes.
“Superheroes. Especially if he’s wielding a hammer.”
Thor it is. Good choice.”
 Despite the fact it was only mid-afternoon it was dark and Jacob switched on one of the lamps in the lounge. It cast a soft glow over the room. Jacob was glad it took time to set up the film as he realised he’d virtually dragged a total stranger off the streets to visit the grave of his dead lover and watch a movie with him. That wasn’t quite true. Daniel had insisted on coming with him to the cemetery.
“Is this awkward, Jake? Me being here? I can go if you want?”
“What?” Jacob blinked and glanced over to Daniel.
“Me. Being here. You looked like you were regretting the invite,” Daniel explained.
Jacob was still stuck on Daniel calling him… “You called me Jake.”
Daniel wrinkled his forehead. “I did? Is that a problem? I can call you Jacob if you want.”
“The last person to call me Jake was Miles.”
“Hey, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Jacob gave him a wry smile. “I like it. Ready to watch?”
Daniel nodded and they both settled back to watch the mighty Thor. At some point they started rating all the male actors on a scale of one to Chris Hemsworth, although the arguments got a little heated when Jacob gave Idris Elba a low rating.
“He’s fucking awesome, man.” Daniel waved his arms about indignantly. “You need to get your eyes tested.”
“So you keep saying, but he’s still only a six.”
“He’s nine, if not a ten.”
Jacob shrugged. “He’s all right but he’s not my type.”
“What is your type?”
Jacob paused the film and got to his feet. Daniel looked puzzled until Jacob handed him a photo from the mantelpiece.
“This is Miles?” Daniel asked softly.
 “About six weeks before he died. We were in the Bahamas.” He and Miles were hugging on the beach, tanned and happy, unaware of the tragedy about to befall them. They were so young and naïve.
“He looks like me.”
Jacob nodded as he took the photo from Daniel. He traced the outline of Miles, remembering his boyfriend. “I saw that too. He was shorter than you, but similar hair and green eyes. You have different characters though. He was very quiet.”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “Does this mean I’m your type?”
“I guess so.” Jacob knew he was blushing but there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Daniel grinned at him. “You know what that means?”
Jacob stared at him suspiciously. “What?”
“You think I’m a ten.”
“No, I don’t,” Jacob protested.
Yes, he did.
“Yes, you do.” Daniel got up and did a stupid dance around the room.
“Are you going to calm down?” Jacob asked, a little concerned when Daniel showed no sign of stopping. Daniel’s arms were flailing close to the few fragile objects Jacob possessed.
“The cute boy likes me! He thinks I’m hot.” Daniel paused mid-dance and beamed at him.
Jacob smiled back, Daniel’s smile was infectious. “You think I’m cute?”
“Cute and hot,” Daniel said. “Why do you think I skidded into you?” Daniel leered at him and Jacob would have felt weak at the knees if he’d been standing up.
“You did that deliberately?”
Suddenly Daniel collapsed to the floor and placed his hands on Jacob’s knees. He had broad hands and raggedy nails, Jacob noted absently. “You looked sad and lonely. I saw the flowers but you didn’t look as if you were waiting for a lover. I wanted to take away the sad look.”
“You did?”
“I do.” Daniel’s eyes were dark emerald in the low light. “What do you want, Jake?”
If Jacob closed his eyes he could almost imagine it was Miles kneeling there, waiting to kiss away the pain of losing him. Jacob kept his eyes open, fixed on Daniel’s face. “Kiss me.”
“Are you sure?”
In response Jacob leaned forward and Daniel met him with a brush of his lips. Jacob made a sound, needing more than a brief kiss. Daniel threaded his fingers through Jacob’s hair and tugged him closer. Jacob laid his hands on Daniel’s chest and waited for Daniel to kiss him again.
Daniel’s lips were warm and slightly chapped, with a hint of PG Tips. He kissed Jacob, closed-mouthed, and then he licked Jacob’s lips. Jacob parted them and Daniel made a growling sound deep in his throat.
Now they really kissed, deeper this time, breathing each other’s air. Daniel moved so that he was between Jacob’s legs, flush against his chest. Jacob pulled back to draw in a much needed breath before they kissed again. Raindrops raced down the windowpanes, Thor left swinging his hammer, forgotten on the TV screen, as Jacob and Daniel got lost in each other. Daniel left a trail of kisses along his jaw, Jacob arching his neck. This was okay. Daniel was more than okay.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Jake. Daniel is my present to you. You’ve grieved long enough. It’s time to move on. Just close your eyes.
Jacob heard the whisper of Miles’s voice echoing in his mind. “I will,” he murmured. Daniel looked at him curiously but Jacob just smiled. This time he was the one who took control, cupping the back of Daniel’s neck and holding him close. He kissed Daniel, focusing all his attention on him, and closed his eyes.


Previously published in Valentine Delights

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