Rainbows Always End
(The Epilogue to WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE, by Viv Alexander)
The Chinese have a saying, as you'd expect-- they always have a saying. "The only thing that never changes is that everything always changes." It's probably a good thing for the human race that that's absolutely true, or I don't know how we'd stand to live with ourselves!
I was feeling low and confused, and my leg hurt like hell. The bullet had only nicked my thigh but it must have taken a chunk out of a nerve, I think. They'd put a stitch in it and a dressing on it, and I was wallowing in confusion when the cause of it all appeared at the door of that hospital room. God, how I hate hospitals.
There she was. Jackie Bradley--Jackie Prescott as I'd known her, seventeen years ago.... A whole lifetime ago. The memories were painfully sharp.... Running, fighting, drinking, making love. Christ, and making babies. Well, one at least--Kevin. Poor Kevin. Sixteen years old before I knew he was alive and dead the next day! Kevin...my son.
Come on, Ray, snap out of it, I told myself, it's all over now. But it wasn't as simple as that, and I was down at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. The ache in my leg kept reminding me of the gun battle in that flat in Hammersmith--five Baader Meinhoff people dead.... Revenge for Kevin? God, how things work out! It's never as you expect, and if Bodie hadn't been there I'd have been as dead as Kevin--I wasn't kidding myself. I'm not stupid. If you start believing you're living a charmed life you'll pretty soon find yourself under a bloody great marble slab.
I was feeling more lonely in that hospital room than I'd ever felt in my life before, even when Ann left me. I'm not terribly proud of a lot of the things I did in my young life, but one of the best parts of it was Jackie. We were good together (Kevin's the proof of that. Or, he was), we had a lot of good times before the night I cut up that kid.
Hardesty. Jim Hardesty. Oh, I got away with it then as always, but I was out of Derby so fast my head spun. Away from trouble, away from Jackie, up to my eyeballs in art school. And I never knew about Kevin--hell, I'm not clairvoyant!
Then there was Jackie in Cowley's office that day, and it all came back like a landslide, knocked me right off my feet. I mean, Jackie-- in the Cow's office! If Bodie had suddenly decided to be a Hare Krishna I couldn't have been more stunned. And still she didn't tell me that it was my son who was in that hospital with the head wound that was going to kill him.... It took Bodie to tell me the truth in his own priceless way, and bring Jackie to see me one last time after I'd been shot, and then prop me up when it was all over, when Kevin was dead and I'd gone out on a deliberate killing spree, and Jackie was gone again and I was feeling more alone than I'd have believed possible. Bodie. It was only then that I started to realise how long I'd been depending on Bodie, and something he'd said to me the day before rattled around in my brain until it made me take notice. "Women like to play with us for a while. They can live out a bit of a Dirty Harry fantasy, have a high time. For a while. Then they go back to their nice, safe lives.... Who the hell could live with us, except us? You can't ask your girlfriend to help when the whole world comes unstuck; you ask someone who loves you, someone who'd do all kinds of silly things for you, and since there's never been anyone--and never will be, by the looks of it, for either of us...."
Oh, I'd stopped looking for love, and I certainly never expected to find someone to love me literally on my doorstep. What's the song say, something about roaming around looking for bluebirds, while all the time the bloody things are living in your own back yard? I'm not sure if it's me, or the job, or what, but there doesn't seem to be a woman born who'll stay with me for long. Sleep with me, go dancing with me, sure, but--"do all kinds of silly things" for me, when everything's come unstuck? No. The closest I ever came to that was Ann--or so I thought--last year, and Jackie all those years ago, and all that's history.
Funny thing is, it was always Bodie who was there when everyone else had gone. I suppose it was inevitable, in the end.... It almost happened after Ann left. We got half drunk and he held me for hours, even shared my bed as a friend. Looking back, his patience astounds me, because he didn't put a finger on me that night. Feeling as I do now, if I was asked to do that, share a bed with him and know how he was hurting, and keep my hands off him, I can't imagine how I'd do it. If I'd reached out to him he'd have answered me in kind, but I wasn't ready. Half ready, perhaps; I always remembered sharing my bed with him, holding him, being close to him, liking the closeness, the feel and smell of him--well, maybe I'm slow on the uptake but, much as I liked it all I didn't connect it with love. Or sex.
I'm not one of the world's puritanical souls, but I'd never had a male partner before. As a kid I was pretty as a picture and had to "fight like a tiger for my honour" on no few occasions. It made me wary of other people's intentions, made me a loner and a rake all through my twenties. Then, slowly, it dawned on me that I never was going to find a woman who wanted me for any more than a series of dates and tumbles, and after Ann, I just stopped looking. If you don't let yourself get involved you don't get hurt--
Then Jackie appeared in Cowley's office, right out of the blue, and Cowley was telling me that there was a kid in hospital, her son, who'd been an eye witness to a Baader Meinhoff operation. He was a victim, hanging onto life by a thread. Jesus, my son.... In the best Clint Eastwood tradition, I went out and killed. Revenge? Justice? What's the difference in the long run anyway? Thanks to Bodie I even lived to tell the tale. Then Jackie walked back out of my life and Bodie must have known what his dumb cluck of a partner was feeling, because he was waiting to pick the bits up for the umpteenth time. I lean on him too heavily sometimes, but at least I don't do it too often. Got my pride, and all that. He wouldn't mind, but I would. I like standing on my own two flat feet; except when I can't.
Lonely and low, I waited for him to take me out of the hospital, and he took me back to his place. We didn't speak in the car, but once he put his hand on my shoulder and brushed my cheek with his knuckles. I was famished for a bit of affection, bloody desperate for it, and I must have turned toward him like a plant goes to the light.
He bought takeaway Chinese and brandy--same as he'd bought me after Ann--and he got me slightly drunk and full of good food and chocolate; hot food, sugar buzz, alcohol. The world looks better that way. Then I relaxed, and I couldn't hold it in any longer, had to let it out. I wished I was alone at first-- "pride," and such rubbish. Men don't cry; except when they do. And I did. Oh, Bodie understood, though. It's not every day you find out you have a son, share a bed with his mother again, then have it all snatched away. I was tossed about like a boat in a whirlpool, haunted by the past, dreading the future, aching to be loved and never for a moment expecting anything but disappointment. So, what do I know? Bodie was there.
He's been through the meat grinder, has Bodie. Seen it all, done it all. Nothing even surprises him. He sat on the couch and cuddled me like a kid, just held me for ages, till I was almost asleep, drifting off in comfort, worn to tatters. My eyes were closed and I was warm against him; it took a long time for me to realise that he was stroking my chest, fingers combing through the hair there and just to say brushing my left nipple with each long caress, under my shirt. My skin was prickling beautifully, I felt my groin tingling and my nipples tightened nicely. I wanted the caress to find the sensitive little peak, and as his fingers swept back across my left breast I turned a bit to make it happen.
I shivered when he touched it, too drowsy to be fully aware of what I'd done, or what he was doing. He stroked it with his thumb and I stretched, pressing into his side, arching my shoulders to welcome the touch. He slipped my shirt buttons undone and tickled my ribs, his large warm hand discovering the shape of my body, a lovely, affectionate caress.
By that time I was starting to wake up to myself, and I was aroused. Very aroused. Shivery with desire. When he took his hand away it was like a kick in the teeth. "Bodie?" I murmured groggily.
"Sorry, sunshine. Won't do it again," he said apologetically. "Just forgot for a minute."
I blinked up at him. "Why won't you do it again? Is it that bad to touch me?"
His jaw dropped. "Christ, you want it?"
At that moment I wanted anything that made me feel good, because I was at an ebb so low you couldn't hit it with a drilling rig. Maybe I hadn't realised that we were petting, which is foreplay, I don't know. Don't care. I just looked up at him, head still on his shoulder, and asked him silently to do it again, and he put his hand back inside my shirt, stroking me everywhere he could reach until my nipples were burning and there was a fearful ache in my groin that I could hardly believe. God, how I wanted him! How fast affection had turned into desire. How fast friendship can turn into love, if you just relax and let it happen. If you want it, need it badly enough. And how I needed it. He took his hand away again and I was about to ask why when I felt him tugging my shirt loose, taking it off me.
He wanted my back now, and he held me against him while he stroked it, finding every muscle by touch alone. His fingertips traced the line of my scar, the big laser weld left over from the surgery. It's barely visible now, but he murmured something soft and regretful as he touched it, before I felt his hands slip down the back of my jeans and cup my buttocks. I had my face pressed into his neck, and my teeth sank into him as I felt his fingers begin to knead me where I was softest. I pressed hard against him, my bare chest loving the friction of his sweater, my spine tingling. My jeans were painfully tight and I expected to come at any moment and mess up my underwear. Wouldn't be the first time, I'll admit.
When he took his hands away this time I wasn't thinking clearly; I was panting like a broken- winded horse and so confused and aroused I was dizzy. He was smiling--sweetly, kindly, none of his usual smug sarcasm, and as I lifted my head he bent his and kissed me. How he kissed me. He traced the shape of my lips with the tip of his tongue until I parted them, and then sucked on my lower lip, gently bit it as if I was a ripe peach. His tongue counted my teeth, plotting their form, and then reached deep into my mouth, stroking my own tongue, playing with it and with me in a way that said he knew who I was, what I wanted, how I wanted it.
It didn't occur to me to ask how he knew, he just knew. When his tongue retreated mine followed and he sucked it into his mouth, loving it, so hot and smooth and tasting of brandy. I was swallowing his saliva and my head swam. He nibbled on the bridge of my nose and my ears, then he turned me over his knee and licked the length of my spine from nape to belt, counting the knots while I clung to his hands for dear life and wriggled inside of denim that was much too tight.
I lay there over his knee, helpless, like a kid up for a spanking, but he was stroking my legs through the fabric, tucking his fingers into my crotch at the end of each caress; my legs seemed to part all by themselves and I clutched at his left hand, desperately wanting him to touch me where I was tenderest. I think I whimpered in anticipation. He pulled me up again--I was like a rag doll in his arms, wrung out by grief, half sedated by the alcohol and dizzy with his torturing. I felt like putty, but I was harder than that--much harder, and aching.
Strong hands unbuckled me, zipped me down and freed me. The jeans were suddenly down around my knees--if I'd been sane it might have been a bit embarrassing. I say might have been, because Bodie made it all seem as if everything was a hundred percent correct, even having your pants at half mast. The upholstery of his couch was rough under my buttocks and his fingers were like feathers on my abdomen while he kissed my chest and suckled me. I wriggled my back and rump over the coarse berber, and he just smiled at me.
I couldn't get a word out; I wanted to beg him to touch me, but I had no voice. I arched my hips, lifting myself toward his hands, and at last he took my cock in his fingers. My nerves were alight, my balls throbbing, my whole groin felt swollen and hot, and his fingers--I thought I'd die. When I felt the warm, wet graze of his mouth on me, I knew I'd die. He kissed me and nuzzled me, licking as I felt myself release a trickle of warm liquid. I stroked his face and closed my eyes, lost in the sensations, unable to believe what was happening to me. I wondered if he would kiss me and rub me till I came, and that would be the end, and I wanted more than that but didn't know how to ask him for it.
Then suddenly it was all taken away from me, I was stranded and desperate, and I fought for my senses, only then realising that he had left me to undress. I watched him drunkenly, eyes heavy, heart pounding. He was beautiful--I'd always thought so. I'm an artist, artists see beauty everywhere, even in other men. But he was also desirable, I thought.... And that was something new for me. He was fiercely aroused, too, big and powerful, nearly purple with the pressure of the blood just under the thin skin. God, how he wanted me, I realised-- him, my Bodie, so beautiful with his white velvet skin and black body hair; and he wanted me.
I didn't have time to think let alone panic, because he was on his knees at my feet a moment later, almost an attitude of supplication as he did away with my clothes once and for all. He leaned forward, opening my thighs and kissing my abdomen, and drawing his whiskery chin ever so lightly over my cock until I moaned helplessly. Then he took me in his mouth and sucked me until my head was reeling and I was poised right on the edge, fighting not to let it all end so soon.
He must have lifted me to settle me flat on the couch with a pillow under my head, but I didn't feel that. The next thing I knew was his weight pressing me down and his cock sliding along mine with a slick, hot, hard caress I couldn't believe. My hips bucked under him, wildly, until I found my rhythm, and then we settled down and made it last a hundred years while I held his head and kissed his mouth.
The coming nearly tore me apart--I must have come twice, one explosion right on top of the first. Later, he laughed delightedly, said he'd sworn I would throw him off for his trouble, I bucked so hard, but he came against me just as violently and we nearly scalded each other with an awful lot of ejaculate. Blind and sated and sweaty and sticky, I just lay there while he soothed me and kissed me, licked the stickiness from my chest and massaged it into the skin of my abdomen. I was shaking like a leaf, you'd think I'd never made love before.... Well, it was my first time with a man, but, much more importantly, it was my first time with Bodie. The way he held me until I stopped trembling finished me. If there had ever been a scrap of resistance in me, it was gone now, but I don't think there had ever been any. Just disbelief--Bodie, my Bodie wanted me and would do this for me. The mere notion made me dazed.
And before I fell asleep, all mopped clean and dry and tucked up in a rug with my head in his lap, I said it. "Christ, I love you, Bodie. I'm sorry mate, but I do." I shut my eyes, terrified of what he'd say and afraid to see a scornful or disapproving expression on his face.
"I know you do," he said softly, fingers combing through my hair, "and I'm not sorry. I've loved you for ages. Why d'you think I put up with you instead of booting you in the rear and walking off when you get yourself into one of your moods?" He bent down and lapped at my open mouth like a kitten drinking cream, and I'm afraid to say, I cried again. "Hey, shush, you clot, you're supposed to be happy."
"I am happy," I said against his tongue, breathing into the kiss, "s'why I'm crying." Silly thing to say, but I meant it. Some blokes never get misty eyes--don't know whether to envy them or not; me? Tears were always too close to the surface, especially when I'm worried or tired or moved.
I tried to stay awake--the last thing I wanted to do was fall asleep and lose my grip on the wonderful, tingling, glowing feeling. I was afraid, when I woke up, it would all be over, I suppose. Afraid that he'd shown me a kindness when I needed it, and just said those words to save me feeling like a fool for what I'd said myself. "Love" may be a small word, but it's got terrible implications. Still, I drifted off, muscles like elastic, head full of candy cotton; God, it felt good with my head in his lap, and if I took a deep breath I could smell that special, musky scent that rose from his skin. Nobody else smells like him. Or tastes like him.
He was cooking when I woke and I had a headache. Too much brandy. It was ten at night and he was frying sausages and beating up onion butter. Not my usual fare, but it smelt wonderful, even if I did have a skull-cracker. I levered myself up off the couch, feeling stronger now, wrapping his tartan rug about me and noticing that my clothes were folded neatly on the chair by the couch, within arm's reach, as if he half expected me to be worried. I was, but not about modesty, dignity and virtue. All of a sudden, they had become very minor considerations.
I didn't dress, just padded barefoot into the kitchen, in that moment petrified that I'd imagined the love--I mean, sex is sex and love is love, and while I'd craved the sex and would go to great lengths to get more of the same, it's always love I've wanted. Ached for. Always.
He stood by the cooker with a spatula in his hand, tall and broad in his tan slacks and black sweater, and looked my dishevelled form over from head to foot, with a smile that said it all. There was he, looking like something out of a film, and I must have looked like I don't know what, all tousled hair and heavy eyes and just a rug around me. But he smiled, and the fear just vanished, and even the ache in my head didn't seem nearly so bad.
"I like your tartan toga," he said, joking gently with me. "Shows off your legs and your chest a treat.... You wearing anything under that?"
"No," I admitted, blinking at him and blushing a bit. "You want me to get dressed?" Maybe the clothes left there for me had been a hint, and I'd been too thick to see it.
"Don't trouble yourself on my account," he smiled. "In any case, where's the point in getting dressed when you're going to bed soon?"
I gaped at him, my heart skipping a beat and then running away on its own. "Going--with you?"
Bodie checked in surprise. "What--don't you want to? I thought--"
"Oh, Bodie," I murmured, and went across to hug him. My tartan toga came adrift and he held me against him, naked against his clothes, while he stooped to retrieve it and tucked it about me again.
"I know you're beautiful," he said into my ear, "but we can't have you giving the neighbours a thrill, can we? That block of flats has a great view of these windows. Besides, it's not for them to see, just for me. How you feeling now?"
"Got a headache," I admitted against his neck, leaning on him and loving his hands on my back.
"Aspirin in the bathroom," he said, kissing my ear, and then dislodged me and ruffled my hair. "Then come and get some supper, love, and let me rub your shoulders. Best thing I know for a headache."
"Love"? He called me "love"? I looked at him as if I'd never seen him before, noticing how very blue his eyes are, what a lovely nose he has, and how his mouth goes soft and inviting when he's feeling fond and affectionate. "Bodie?" I murmured. "Why? I mean, you never said--"
"Never had the chance, the excuse, the opportunity," he shrugged. "Better late than never, though, eh? Oh, I wanted you when Ann left you, but you were hurting too much. You shut me out, even when we shared your bed that night. I wanted you something fierce when you were getting over the shooting, but first you were too sick and then Cowley sent me out on all those stupid bloody escapades, and then you were seeing your birds again and you didn't want.... Didn't need.... Anyway, this--this is the first time you haven't shut me out at the crucial moment, which means you're ready for.... For me." He paused, smiled, looking oddly shy. Shy? Bodie, shy? "If you want me," he added. "I want to love you, if you'll let me."
I stood there blinking at him; I was a bit overcome, but he must have thought I was uncertain, and he pressed on, thinking he had to explain, and I heard a lot of pain in his own voice, the kind of hurt I'd never imagined he'd feel.... You can make mistakes about people. He has this hard, brash exterior, but underneath all that he is a big softie. "I'm sick of being alone," he told me. "So are you. There's never anyone for us; we chase the birds, and what do we end up with? Sex, fair weather friends and people we work with. And us. That's the way it's always going to be, Ray. Us. If we're ever going to find love, we'll find it together or not at all."
And he wanted love, I realised. He wanted it as much as I did, and he was right. Who the hell would live with us, except us? I'd already worked all this out, subconsciously. I'd ached for someone of my own for twenty years, found love, lost it, given up on it, stopped looking for it.... And here it was, wearing Bodie's face, offering itself to me. The fact that it was being offered by a man did not make me bat an eyelid. I hadn't made love to a man before, but I found them attractive (I'm an artist. Sexy devils, the whole lot of us, without exception), and I found Bodie very attractive--always had. I used to like to watch him, especially when he didn't know he was being watched, like when he was asleep in the squad room, or reading the paper in the car, or taking a shower after a workout in the gym. I'd read a thing or two about gay sex-- these days, who hasn't?--and done the do-it- yourself routine as much as anyone, so I wasn't worried about the how of it. Besides, Bodie obviously knew what he was doing, he'd teach me.
To hell with the window and the block of flats. I stepped up and kissed him, hard, letting him know that I wanted it all. He crushed me against him, my ribs gave creaks of protest, then we both felt the desperate passion ebb away a bit and the kiss and the embrace grew soft and languid as we started to relax with the whole idea of us. I was still dazed when he let me go, turned me in the direction of the bathroom and gave me a push.
Two aspirins, a hot cup of tea and some supper, and my headache had gone. We sat in the dark in the kitchen, just in the glow of the heater, with the rug wrapped around both of us, my head resting on his. Oh, I still hurt like blazes, my son was still dead and I'd never have another one, not if what I was feeling for Bodie was as real and permanent as we both thought it was, but.... I knew he loved me. I could feel it, he didn't have to say it.
Maybe he thought he had to show me--I'm glad he did, but it wasn't really necessary, because I knew. You don't have to be clairvoyant to feel these things, as women have been trying to tell men for thousands of years. Most of the time, men are lunatics, hung up on their own machismo--and it's a bloody costly hang up. If you once drop the whole act, your rewards are reaped in a kind of heaven. Oh, I know it sounds gushy and romantic, but women, contrary to popular male belief, have brains in their heads, and they've always known what you get as a trade. Stick your machismo in the cupboard for half an hour, and the chances are, you'll have the nicest half hour you'll get all day! Yes, Bodie dumped his machismo, and I'd ditched mine half way home from the hospital; and he showed me what he was feeling.
Oh, how he showed me. He loved me senseless, as I'd never been loved before, and taught me so much. I gave him my body completely, and what's more, he took it. He hurt me a bit, but that didn't matter--neither of us is afraid of a little pain, and I've never been afraid of him. Besides, the pleasure soon swamped the little hurts and for a while he was part of me. He made me so wild that he could hardly hold me down and I screamed silently into his mouth as he came inside of me, sending me over the edge too. It was more than the sex.... I'd made love with Jackie until I was like a limp rag not forty-eight hours before, and that was fantastic even if the past did come back to haunt me and drown me; but though I'd turned myself inside out for her I didn't feel the love. It just wasn't there.
Not like clinging to Bodie while the pain turned into pleasure and the emotional hangover of what I'd been going through turned into delight.... I repaid him in kind when I was strong enough, while dawn came up and the world shook itself awake, learning every inch of his body, needing him to need me and realising that he did as he yielded to me, eager to give himself to me as I'd given myself up.
Good thing it was Saturday morning or we'd have been an hour late for work. We shared the bath (and needed that.... Christ, were we sore!), ate breakfast, argued about Labour Party policy and listened to the neighbours having a donnybrook. In the afternoon we watched the game on TV; Manchester United massacred West Ham, 3-0 at Old Trafford, but I was subdued.... They were burying my son about then.
Bodie knew, and he smothered me with comfort until the hurt of it was bearable. Okay, so I'd lost the son I'd never known I had, and it made the discovery of our own love an odd mixture of the bitter and the sweet, but in this job you learn a sense of the inevitable nature of things. Just the way the world is. My son was dead, and my Bodie loved me, and I was feeling more alive than I'd been in years. Feeling. Looking forward to the future because, for the first time in my life I wasn't alone.
It was something poor Jackie had said to me that haunted me. She'd been chasing rainbows all her life and the end of her rainbow was still as far away as ever, she'd told me.... As I lay in Bodie's arms that night, warm and comfortable, worn to a nub and a bit messy from it all, but too contented to care, I wanted to tell her not to give up hoping and chasing.
Because rainbows always end.
-- THE END --