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The plane touched down just after seven in the evening. Auckland was bathed in the last pink and gold glow of sunset and the air was still balmy from a warm late-spring day. Summer was going to be early this year, the weather forecasters had predicted, and it was going to be longer and warmer than average.
And we’ll be spending it at Toujours and we’ll make it last forever…
Orlando’s eyes scanned the crowds of people waiting for new arrivals. He was still unsure of how he and Craig would greet one another – whether it would be discretion as usual simply out of habit, or if a simple hug would still be over-doing it. He decided he’d leave it up to Craig, after all he was the one who’d always called the shots here – even though the letter and the phone-calls since had cleared it all up, and Craig had promised him that all the rubbish was over and done with.
Marton nudged his arm. “There he is.”
Orlando had thought about this moment – it had dominated his thinking for the last few days – but he’d never come to a conclusion about how he’d probably react. He thought the most likely scenario was that he’d just drop his bag, run ahead and fling himself at Craig, that he’d hug him to death, suffocate him with kisses, and probably do it all through a torrent of tears.
Now that the moment had arrived, he kept walking in a casual measured stride. He knew his grin was widening by the second, and that his heartbeat was starting to thud almost painfully in his chest. He felt slightly giddy and even a little nauseous – the same reaction he’d always get just before a bungee-jump – and he could feel his eyes starting to prickle suspiciously.
He focused on Craig’s hands – Craig obviously hadn’t seen him and Marton yet. In the space of a few seconds, Craig had checked his watch and rubbed his palms together in a slight gesture of nervousness. He’d moved his feet several times on the spot in a kind of restless little dance, and laced his fingers together in the way Orlando often did himself when he knew he was tempted to start biting his nails.
He’s just as scared shitless as I am…
He’d taken only a few more steps when Craig’s gaze locked onto him and the smile appeared on his face spontaneously. Craig took a few steps forward as well – Orlando still watched his hands, watched the fingers separate, watched them lifting and reaching out toward him.
He dropped his bag, and bolted the last few feet. He flung himself at Craig and thanked every known God for the fact that Craig’s arms locked around him without hesitation. They hugged one another to death but the suffocation of kisses would be saved for later, away from an audience of knowing eyes. And the tears too, would wait.
Orlando heard Craig’s voice very close to his ear, the murmured, “Welcome home, love,” telling him everything he wanted to hear, ‘I love you, I‘ve missed you, but you’re back now and forever starts from this moment.’
He drew away, slightly dazed. Everything was kept at a casual level now, no longer in order to maintain appearances but because there was only so much they could do in a crowded airport terminal. He heard Craig asking Marton, “I’ve got the car parked outside. Can we drop you off anywhere?”
He watched Marton’s face as he replied, “Thanks, mate, but I’ve got a lift arranged. He must be somewhere around here. You two go on ahead. Go and be happy, and call me when heaven becomes a boring place.”
Orlando smiled then, knowing the first part had been complete bullshit – Marton would no doubt wait until they had left the terminal and then call a taxi – but that the second part had been genuine, and Marton really did wish them well.
They said their goodbyes and headed off in search of the Jeep. They shared their first real kiss in about ten months in the front seat, cursing the console as usual, and the steering wheel.
“Soon,” Craig assured him as he gently disengaged them when things started getting over-heated, and he pressed Orlando back toward the passenger seat. “The first one’s too special to waste like this.”
Orlando expressed disappointment when Craig headed north toward the city instead of turning south in the direction of Raglan. “Aren’t we going straight home?”
“Tomorrow night, love. It’s Beccs’ birthday today. We usually have a lunch and a bit of a booze-up to celebrate – we’ve done so for years. We held it off ‘til tomorrow so you could be there. You don’t mind, do you? We’ll still be together tonight and Toujours will still be there waiting for us tomorrow night.”
Orlando smiled and shook his head. “No, I don’t mind.”
It was an odd feeling leaving the car in the underground lot and riding the lift up to Craig’s apartment. Ten or so months had passed since he was last here, and now that their time was no longer confined to a few days or a couple of weeks into which they’d have to cram in as much as possible, he felt curiously hesitant about everything.
It was for keeps now – forever had started.
“I think I know how you’re feeling,” Craig said as he closed the door behind them. The silence of the apartment seemed suddenly oppressive and Orlando realized his face must have revealed something that Craig had instinctively understood and wanted to soothe.
“I’m not feeling the way I imagined I’d be feeling,” Orlando began slowly, “I thought I’d be all over you like a rash and trying to drag you off to bed for a raging quickie. Do you know what’s actually on my mind right now?”
Craig prompted gently, “Tell me.”
Orlando gave a slightly self-conscious little laugh. “I’m trying to work out what I can wear tomorrow.”
Craig smiled, taking Orlando’s bag and heading for the main bedroom. “She likes it when people make an effort and a bit of a fuss so I’m wearing a suit. I suppose – going by past experience – the rest of your luggage is on the way?”
“Yeah, so I s’pose I’d better go out and buy a suit in the morning then.”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”
“But I don’t have – “
“I counted a dozen in the wardrobe at least, including a little cream Italian number she pronounced as sensational when she saw a picture of you wearing it.”
Orlando stared at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Craig, love, I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about. That suit and just about every other one I’ve ever owned got lost in transit to fuck-knows-where. It happens every time I move. Stuff just goes missing.”
“Well, I have a bit of a surprise for you,” Craig said, grinning suddenly in anticipation, “A lot of it’s been arriving here in dribs and drabs over the last few months. Boxes, cartons and packages from all over the globe. Books, souvenirs, clothes – junk! The spare room’s chock-full of it. Don’t believe me? Come and look for yourself.”
It was worth it – the little act of deception – just to throw open the door of the spare room and watch Orlando’s expression. No need to mention that he’d taken to heart the achingly sad little comment Orlando had made so long ago:
‘I always have to leave things behind whenever I move on. No time to pack them, or too much hassle to ship them. I end up having to give them or throw them away. Or sometimes I might send things on and they never show up at the other end…’
No need to go into the fact that he’d always planned to go looking for a lot of Orlando’s things, knowing how sentimental Orlando was, and having realized that the only real little treasures he could be sure of keeping were those included in the little collection of trinkets strung on a length of leather thong and worn around his neck.
Craig had ended up phoning Elijah, Orlando’s mother, the Jacksons, various agents and other contacts whose names he’d been given. Even Rebecca had helped out with a few little legal details and then shipping and payment arrangements. Soon enough, stuff had started arriving.
After an initial hesitation – could it be considered prying, he’d wondered – he’d started unpacking and sorting things. Books were re-packed into clean cartons, every one of them examined with the same pleasure Orlando had shown when the situation had been the reverse and it was Craig’s books they were browsing through. Souvenirs, knick-knacks and fragile things such as CDs were inspected for damage and then carefully re-packed. Orlando could decide if he wanted to leave them here or take them down to Toujours. Clothes were also sorted out, either for washing or dry-cleaning. There were some gorgeous, expensive garments from some spectacular labels. He was surprised at how much pleasure he experienced seeing them freshly cleaned and hanging in the wardrobe of the spare room.
He experienced it again, watching Orlando behaving as though it was Christmas and a mountain of gifts were in front of him waiting to be opened. He wasn’t completely surprised at the sudden rush of tears and he held Orlando weeping against his shoulder, knowing it wasn’t just about this unexpected treat.
“It’s just incredibly overwhelming,” Orlando confirmed when the tears had eventually ceased and he’d shown a real need to leave the room and close the door behind them. “Just being home and knowing I don’t have to go away again. And finding all these things here that I never expected to ever see again. You’re not going to think I’m losing it again if I start bawling my eyes out for no apparent reason for the next few days, are you?”
“Course not,” Craig assured him gently, “We’ll take it easy for a while – just get used to being together again. There’s no rush, we’ll soon find some kind of normal. It’ll probably be easier once we’re down at Toujours again.”
Orlando nodded, his eyes suspiciously bright once more. “I can’t wait for that. I missed the beach and everything – the sounds and smells. That’s where it really feels like home. Will Beccs mind if we don’t hang around all afternoon tomorrow? Lunch is nice and everything but I just want to go home and settle in again.”
“She’ll understand.” Craig looked at his watch, “Feeling tired? You look it. It’s only a bit after nine but I’ve been up since six this morning after a late night last night. I’m wilting a bit.”
“Yeah, bed sounds good. I might have a shower first though. I feel a bit mouldy and smelly. I’ll um – see you soon.” He left Craig with a clear indication that he wanted to shower alone.
I’m not going to start getting neurotic about this, Craig thought as he lay in bed and listened to the soft hiss of the shower. He’s tired and it’s been so long… we’ve got time on our side now… thank God… it’s all we need now… time…
Barely ten minutes later, Orlando slid into bed beside him and flicked off the night-light. He didn’t hesitate to go to Craig, settling himself with a sigh of contentment as warm arms folded around him and held him close.
“Sorry I’m being boring about this love,” he murmured eventually, “A lot’s happened and my head’s still spinning a bit.”
“Stop apologizing. It’s not necessary.”
“I know. It’s just that – we’re both different now – it seems so to me anyway. I feel different now than when I first left for England. In a good way though. I feel more hopeful about the future, and about what I can do. Marton helped me with that. And I feel differently about you now – and I mean that in a good way too, so don’t start thinking I don’t love you any more because I do, even more than you can believe.”
Orlando pressed himself closer and kissed Craig gently, just to give him added assurance. “Before I went away, you told me things hadn’t always been easy for you. I’d no idea what you meant because you’ve always seemed completely happy and never let anything bother you much. I didn’t think you’d ever had anything really horrible happen to you in your entire life so – I’ve never told you a few things in case you thought I was somehow being a drama queen over them. People who have never suffered anything worse than a hangnail always seem to think that -- whenever you tell them that some things have been so bad, you’d thought about killing yourself just to stop the pain. I was almost happy to read your letter about Mark and everything. I suddenly felt a lot closer to you.”
“Did it piss you off that I hadn’t told you sooner?”
“A bit – but it’s not exactly something you can say, ‘Oh by the way,’ about. There are some things I need to tell you about that are like that. When we get home, I will – when the time seems right.”
He sighed and Craig could feel the tension in Orlando’s body start to gradually ebb away, could hear his breathing become slower and more even, as sleep began to encroach. He lay awake himself, hours after Orlando finally slept.
It was easier in the morning. Orlando experienced a momentary sense of disorientation when he woke and discovered he was no longer in London. The excitement of finally leaving England, the dull, endless flight, the frustration of a stopover in Sydney before the last leg of the journey home and then the actual arrival in Auckland – they all seemed to have temporarily erased themselves from his memory. It was as if he’d gone to sleep in one bed and awakened in another.
Then his eyes had rested on Craig, still unfairly asleep beside him and the need for his touch had over-ridden all else. He’d pressed his mouth close to Craig’s ear and whispered loudly, “You can sleep later, you slack bastard! We haven’t had a shag in ten months.”
Craig had laughingly dragged himself awake and spread-eagled himself in a gesture of submission. “Alright, help yourself. Wake me when we get to the good bit.”
They had kept it determinedly light, their lovemaking more a playful bout of wrestling than anything, but accompanied by the unspoken understanding that they would take their time and do it properly when they returned to Toujours that night. They’d have a tub and a bottle of wine, and spend hours reclaiming the memories of past pleasure and laying down the foundations of future ones.
Time was no longer an unwelcome intruder in their bed. Gone was the underlying desperation to make every moment count, the aching need to give and grab at every last morsel of pleasure. Time had at last become an ally.
“Have we got Beccs a present?” Orlando asked as they readied themselves for the birthday lunch. “I wish you’d let me know sooner. I could’ve picked up something in London before we left.”
He was in the bathroom messing with his hair. He’d had a few inches taken off the length while in London, and the dark waves and curls now settled around the collar of his shirt.
Craig joined him in front of the mirror. “That was easy. She’s a jewelry junkie so I bought her another tennis bracelet to add to the hundred or so she already owns. And I’ll grab some flowers on the way. Then after the Birthday Bash is over, we can head on down to Toujours and start planning our own little celebration.” Their eyes met in the mirror and he asked softly, almost teasingly, “Still want to do it?”
Orlando looked back at him unflinchingly. “Yeah, totally. Do you?”
“Yes, I think we deserve it.” Craig tucked in his shirt and straightened his jacket. His suit was a midnight blue silk-wool blend, superbly cut and wickedly expensive. “We’ll have to work out who we’re going to officially tell and give them plenty of notice. And we’ll need to decide where we’re going to have the final fling so we can book the place. I quite like the one where we’re having lunch today, so if you like it too, we’ll use that one.”
Orlando nodded. “Sounds good.”
Just before one o’clock, Craig parked the Mercedes in a side street off a main thoroughfare west of the city centre.
“What suburb are we in?” Orlando asked, looking around. “I really need to do some driving in this place and get to know it better. I hate not knowing where I am.”
“Freeman’s Bay. Herne Bay to the right, St Mary’s Bay to the left.”
“Bloody bays everywhere,” he muttered. “Want me to carry these?”
On the way through town, Craig had stopped off at a florist to collect a bouquet of roses that were so dark as to be almost black. They emitted a deep, heady fragrance that filled the car.
“They’re her favorites,” he’d explained when he’d handed them to Orlando. “Hope they don’t wilt before we get there. It’s so warm today.”
“I don’t blame her. They’re gorgeous.” Orlando buried his nose in them and inhaled deeply. “You never bought me roses, you thoughtless bastard!”
Craig grinned. “I’ll buy you a bunch on our day of shame, how’s that?”
Orlando grinned back. “Lovely!”
“We’ll be walking like this one day soon,” Craig said, taking Orlando’s free hand and giving it a squeeze. He didn’t release it. “Hope it’s nice like this – lovely and warm and sunny, not too hot.”
They reached the main business strip within a matter of minutes. Ahead of them, it seemed extraordinarily crowded – though it was a Sunday lunchtime on a warm late-spring day, and perfect for lazy al fresco lunches.
“Look at that!” Orlando said in surprise, “It’s almost as if the whole fucking road’s throwing a party for her!”
The facades of quite a few of the businesses on both sides of the road were decorated in a profusion of banners, ruffles and streamers, and balloons of different colors and sizes, including the metallic heart-shaped ones.
“Looks nice, doesn’t it?” Craig commented guilelessly, “Wonder what the occasion is. I suspect it isn’t for Beccs – which will probably disappoint her a bit, since she does enjoy a bit of attention.”
Orlando groaned suddenly. “Speaking of attention – I think that bunch up there have sprung us. Are we doing autographs?”
Instinctively he tried to unclasp his hand from Craig’s and put some more distance between them. Craig clenched his fingers tightly and refused to release them. “No, don’t pull away.”
“Aren’t you afraid of – ?”
“Not any more,” Craig cut him off, “And especially not today.”
It was a little embarrassing, Orlando thought, having people applaud them as they walked past, but at least no one pounced on them for autographs.
They crossed the road, accompanied by a crescendo of tooting and honking car-horns and applause from both sides of the street. The decorations and crowds both seemed to be increasing the further on they walked.
“Who will we invite?” he asked, now slightly un-nerved by the attention, and curious about why Craig was largely uncaring about it.
“Who would you like to join us? The rest of the Fellowship for starters?”
“God yes, I’d love to – but they’d never make it. Schedules usually fuck things up. But I’d like to take some pictures and send them around. Just so we could have a bit of a wank and say, ‘Hey, look at us guys, aren’t we brilliant?’ They’d like that.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to.”
Something in Craig’s voice caused Orlando to look at him. “Why?”
“Because they’re here already. Look, there’s Lij – and Ian and Nick with him.”
Orlando’s face drained in shock. “What? Where?”
Craig drew him closer and pointed a few doors along where it seemed now that every table and chair setting was occupied, and not a single person wasn’t looking at them.
“And is that Vig and junior? Couple more Hobbits – and I knew bloody Jackson would already have started eating!”
Orlando came to an abrupt halt, suddenly experiencing a wild combination of fear and elation. “Oh God – we’re doing it! Are we doing it? Now? Really?”
“We are.” Craig replied, grinning openly now and far more calmly than he really felt.
Orlando fought the rising panic. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“Because you’d have been so excited thinking about it, you’d have worried yourself into an absolute state – which you’re working yourself into anyway, by the look of it. I thought I’d surprise you. Love,” Craig added gently, “Tell me I didn’t mess this up. Please?”
Orlando shook his head and forced himself to smile. “No, I’m sorry, it’s just come as a complete shock. It’s all lovely – “
“Will you guys hurry the fuck up?!” Elijah shouted from about twenty feet away.
Just seeing Elijah again – the almost cherubic face, the foul mouth and Ian shushing him to be quiet – was enough to prompt Orlando to tug at Craig’s hand and start walking again.
From there on, there were more familiar faces than strangers waiting for them, either sitting at sidewalk tables or standing in groups. The ATC gang, more cast and crew from Rings, people that only Craig knew but who treated Orlando with equal warmth and offered genuine good wishes. They ran a continuous gauntlet now of hugs and kisses, handshakes and requests to ‘Smile for the camera!’
Before long Orlando was actually enjoying it, not so much the attention but the spirit of the occasion.
“Where does it stop?” he called as they completed a second crossing of the road to where an even bigger crowd was waiting.
Craig pointed toward the crowd, “Just over there!”
“God, there are so many people! I had no idea we had all these friends!”
“Neither did I!”
They had barely reached the other side when Craig drew him closer and told him, “This is the absolute point of no return, love.”
Orlando followed his gaze and saw them waiting. “Shit.”
“Smile, my darling,” Craig urged him forward, “The gentlemen of the press are waiting.”
They’d managed to book S.P.Q.R. for the entire afternoon and evening. Those not involved in the main celebratory lunch – nothing to do with Rebecca Law’s birthday which she had celebrated three months previously – gradually spilled over into the Garage Bar next door, or the next closest bar or restaurant from there.
With no great fuss or speech-fest, they added a few brief minutes of ceremony to the day by slipping on the gold Pour Toujours rings and allowing Ian to propose a single toast to their future happiness.
“It’s been an absolutely lovely and wonderful day,” he finished, “And aren’t we all lucky to have been part of it?”
Both of them had been approached personally – both together and separately – by practically everyone there, eager to exchange a few special words.
Elijah had been particularly excited, and arrived accompanied by an explosion of confetti. “Orli, I’m so incredibly happy for you. This just had to happen, man!”
Rebecca had been apologetic over the elaborate deception about her birthday, as well as her previous doubts. “I’m glad I was wrong, Orlando – about it not working. It has and I couldn’t be happier. Love him to bits for me. He deserves it so much.”
Orlando experienced the only real dark moment of the day when Dominic nudged him aside, away from the possibility of anyone overhearing what he had to say.
“I wanted to apologize, Orli. I treated you like total shit for all that time. I think I was a bit jealous of all the attention you were getting and thought I’d stop it going to your head by showing you I didn’t care all that much about you. Keep it really casual – you know. I’m sorry – I did care. You were worth a hell of a lot more than I gave you – and if it makes you feel any better, someone’s just done the same thing to me and it bloody hurts. So anyway – for what it’s worth – I apologize and wish you well. Love and happiness and all the rest – and I’ll even go and tell him I’m sorry too because I wasn’t exactly nice as pie to him either.”
“His name’s Craig,” Orlando responded very quietly, “And if you really mean it about being sorry, I’d rather you didn’t say anything to him other than congratulations, right?”
Dominic shrugged offhandedly. “He would have known about us. He couldn’t have been that fucking blind – “
Orlando cut him off, his voice still low but tinged with undeniable resentment. “Yeah, he knew, but he doesn’t need it thrown in his face today. So – thank you for the apology. It means so much to me, really. But can we just leave it all behind now and stay friends and not bring it up again? It’s been over and done with for years. We don’t need to talk about it any more.”
Dominic studied his face for a long moment before giving a single nod and a brief, conciliatory smile. “Fair enough, mate. It’s all over and done with then.”
He turned and walked away and left the restaurant soon after.
The celebrations continued well into the evening but began to mellow off at around nine as groups settled at tables to continue eating, drinking and chatting.
“You’re both starting to look a bit worse for wear,” Rebecca said. She was sitting opposite Orlando and Craig, now with jackets opened, ties askew and both more than slightly tipsy. “Hope you’re still not planning on heading down to Raglan tonight.”
“They’d never make it,” Marton protested, topping up four wineglasses. “Where’s your car, Craig?”
“Hidden down the Terrace and hopefully still with all its wheels attached.”
Marton held out his hand, palm upturned. “Keys.” It was an order rather than a request.
“Really, Marton,” Craig muttered, fishing around in his pocket, “I’m hardly likely to try driving tonight.”
“Well I’ll remove temptation anyway. I’ll see it gets home safely. You two can pour yourselves into a taxi when you’re ready to leave – which doesn’t look that far away. Still with us, Orlando?”
Orlando peered out from under heavy eyelids and grinned across at him. “Just. Was looking forward to waking up at Toujours tomorrow. We should hire a chauffeur, love,” he added as an aside to Craig.
“It’ll still be there tomorrow,” Rebecca assured him, “And long after that. Are you going to disappear forever or will we see you back in town any time soon?”
“They’re taking a year off,” Marton replied instead, “At Orlando’s insistence, and then we’ll all be getting together for some serious work.”
“We?” she prompted, her eyebrows arching slightly.
“Yes, Rebecca,” There was a slight edge to Marton’s voice. “We have plans for a project or two.”
“I really don’t know why you’re bothering them with anything regarding the future, Marton.” Her voice matched his for sharpness. “They’ve only just managed to finally be together. Leave them alone! If they’d prefer never to come back, they’re entitled to that.”
“They’ll be bored to tears before long. Wouldn’t mind betting they don’t even last out the year.”
“Don’t you dare put pressure on – “
“Hey!” Craig cut in, “We’re not having a brawl here are we? Back to your corners, both of you!”
Rebecca smiled apologetically. “Sorry darling, I just want the two of you to retire to your little bit of paradise and stay there as long as you want to, and with absolutely no thought of work.”
Marton raised his glass and sipped his wine, his eyes meeting Orlando’s across the table. “They’ll be back, sooner rather than later.”
“As long as it’s because they want to and not because someone’s nagging them to.”
Craig carefully rose to his feet. “I think it’s time we all went home to bed and prepared for tomorrow’s hangover.”
He touched Orlando’s shoulder lightly. “You’re starting to nod off, love. Let’s go.”
They began to make a gradual progress toward the door, pausing once or twice for a brief, last minute chat, and calling out goodnights to the remaining guests.
At the table they’d vacated, two people remained in their chairs, conducting a very quiet but very heated exchange.
“You’re going to come between them, Marton, if you don’t tread carefully. I’m not the only one who’s noticed you’ve wormed your way into their lives!“
Now that he was no longer shackled by a need to be polite, Marton allowed his full animosity to show. “No, Rebecca, you’re doing your usual trick of interfering and speculating, and looking for control and potential conflict. You’re seeing something here – a triangle, hmm? – that doesn’t exist except in your own pathetically un-objective imagination. God only knows why, but you assumed the role of Craig’s protector decades ago and you just won’t fucking give it up! And now Orlando’s being dragged under your wing as well. You’ll never have Craig for yourself, and you’ll never have Orlando either, but you’re going to ensure that you have as much say in their lives as is conceivably possible, and you’re going to try to keep everyone else away from them. Why is that?”
“You’re full of shit, Marton!”
“Completely! And put it down to my un-objective imagination if you like, but that triangle exists and it’s going to get ugly!”
Marton smiled maliciously, baring his teeth momentarily in a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Because you’re not part of it? Nose out of joint, my love, because you’re feeling redundant?”
He rose from his chair and would have moved away had Rebecca not caught his arm and restrained him. She lowered her voice still further and deliberately emphasized each word.
“I know how much you’ve always wanted Craig. I also know how much success means to you. Have you decided that Orlando’s going to be the one who'll finally make it happen? Both of them have something you want so tell me, Marton, which one of them is worth more to you? Which one of them are you intent on winning, and which one of them are you going to sacrifice for the victory?”
He pulled his arm free, gave her a long, dismissive look and walked away.