Patrick spent a lot of time thinking about being touched by David.
One of the first things about David that had captured Patrick’s attention was the way his hands moved while he talked, arms and hands churning up the air around him, fingers splaying out like they were shooting sparks. Patrick had thought longingly of what those hands would feel like on his body.
And now he knew. David’s hand cupping his cheek during their first kiss, resting on his shoulders during their kisses since then, unbuttoning his shirt and trailing on his chest. It was like those sparks were being pressed into his skin, into his body, lighting him up with it.
Patrick loved it.
His whole body felt alive in a way it never had been before, constantly humming this this this like a radio suddenly tuned to the right station, playing a melody for the first time instead of nothing but static.
They had been dating one week. They were taking it slow, at Patrick’s request, as far as sex went. David was always scrupulously considerate about letting Patrick set the pace for every step forward. “I want you to be in control,” David said. Which was ironic, because Patrick had never felt less in control, of himself or of what he wanted. It was hard to think through the klaxon of his hormones all screaming at once. There was so much to discover and to learn, and Patrick was greedy for it and nervous about it in equal measure.
Another thing Patrick was discovering was how affectionate David was in general, not just when they were making out. He lavished Patrick with little caressing touches, affectionate kisses on the cheek. If Patrick was close by, more often than not David’s hands would land on Patrick’s shoulders, or his arms, or trail along his hip.
Patrick would almost say he loved it more than the sex touching—no, not more, because that was basically impossible—but equally, in a different way. And unlike with sex, he liked that it was something he didn’t have to worry about, he could just enjoy it.
And he did. He enjoyed it so much.
One day Patrick was absently straightening the lip balms on the counter, David came up behind him and wrapped both arms around his shoulders, tucking his chin against his neck. Patrick leaned back into the touch. He said, “Something I can help you with?”
“Mm, maybe.” David turned his head, and his breath tickled against Patrick’s neck. “Should we be worried no one has come in the store for an hour?”
“Possibly. But, Tuesdays tend to be one of the slowest retail days, so I wouldn’t worry quite yet.”
David trailed his lips up from his neck and kissed Patrick on the cheek, and Patrick felt the banked heat of it, low in his belly. But it was comforting, too, David enveloping him like this, kissing him like this, so sweetly and casually. He closed his eyes.
The bell on the door chimed as Alexis breezed in. “Oh my God, David, give Patrick some air. You’re practically strangling him.”
“I’m fine,” Patrick said, opening his eyes, but David pulled away anyway.
David said frostily, “What do you want?”
Alexis said, “Um, nice customer service, David. No wonder your little store is empty right now.”
David snapped, “My little store is empty because Tuesdays are the slowest days in retail.” Patrick smiled.
David and Alexis kept bickering while Alexis examined the face creams. David recommended one, while Alexis wanted another, and they argued fiercely about tea tree oil and eucalyptus and other things that Patrick was still trying to get straight in his head. Finally Alexis shook David off and came up to the register, face cream held aloft.
Patrick rang it up for her. “And one of those lips balms, too,” Alexis said.
“Full price,” David said. Patrick obediently rang it up, but then tossed an extra one in the bag.
Alexis singsonged, “Thank you, Patrick.” She made a face at David on her way out, and he glared at her.
After Alexis left, Patrick hoped David would pick up where they left off, but he didn’t. Instead, all the rest of that day, he seemed to deliberately keep his distance, walking all the way around Patrick, his hands at his sides, keeping his hands to himself while they talked, tucked firmly under folded arms or one hand clasping the other in front of his chest, like he was keeping them on a leash.
Patrick wondered if Alexis’s comment was the reason, but then he dismissed the idea. It was probably nothing, just his imagination. He was still getting used to how much he loved when David touched him, how much he craved it. It was warping his judgment. If David just needed a little space for an afternoon, he didn’t want to make him feel guilty or self-conscious about it.
But it wasn’t just the afternoon. The next day, Patrick was restocking some candles along the wall when David approached.
“Brenda needs to reschedule her delivery,” David said. He launched into an explanation, adding in some commentary on people who changed plans at the last minute. He seemed a little more restless than usual. His hands sailed through the air, emphasizing his points; he touched the candles briefly, lining them up more precisely; he trailed his finger along the edge of the shelf. He reached in Patrick’s direction, getting close to his upper arm, but then his hand swooped away without touching him. “Anyway, she wants to come by around noon instead, and talk to you about that contract whatever thing.”
“Oh, I love talking about contract whatever things.”
“Mmhm, I know.” David smiled. His hand came close to Patrick again, hovered for a split second over his shoulder, then pulled away again. Patrick wanted to grab after it, put it on his shoulder where it belonged, but his hands were full of candles.
“I can stay and wait for her if you bring me back some lunch.”
David said, “What would you like? What goes good with contract negotiations?”
“Soup,” Patrick said instantly. “Contracts flourish with soup.”
“I was not actually expecting you to have an opinion about that.”
Patrick grinned. “Split pea, if they have it. But please see if you can get Twyla to put it in a bowl this time.”
“That might be asking too much, but I will do my best.” David nodded several times, his hands clasped together in front of him. He seemed to hesitate, then he went away without touching Patrick at all.
Patrick thought about asking David about it. But that evening, in Patrick’s bedroom at Ray’s, David touched him all over, setting him on fire everywhere; and then he did it again the next day at the store, whenever they could grab a moment alone. Patrick decided he was ready—beyond ready—to take the next step, as soon as they could find a way to be alone long enough for it to happen. Then he couldn't think about anything but finding a way to make it happen—honestly, he was lucky he still remembered how to tie his shoes and feed himself.
Finally, finally Stevie lent them her apartment for a night, where David coaxed Patrick into being more relaxed, less worried about doing something wrong; he lavished Patrick’s body with attention, set him on fire with his hands and his lips and his tongue; and David’s body was there for Patrick to touch and taste and explore, which he did: thoroughly, greedily, insatiably. And afterwards, they curled up together, cuddling, and Patrick had never felt so exactly right.
The next day, Patrick decided to take the initiative. While they worked, he reached out for David more and more often, kissing his cheek when he got the store, stroking up his back while they talked, hooking a finger in his belt loop and tugging him closer, taking his hand and tangling their fingers together. And David seemed to like it very much. He leaned into his touch when Patrick put a hand on him anywhere, his arm, his back, his cheek, his hip. He reminded Patrick of a sleek, beautiful cat.
But Patrick still missed the way David used to touch him all the time. He wondered if David just didn’t like doing it anymore, or if something else had made him stop.
He tried inching himself closer whenever he could, hoping David would reach for him. He’d lean close and bump his shoulder against him, which used to make David’s hands come up, seemingly of their own accord, and attach to his shoulders like magnets. But that didn’t happen. David bumped him back and smiled, and that was nice, but it wasn’t what Patrick wanted.
Finally, Patrick decided he would just have to ask him. He thought about how to bring it up. He didn’t want to sound like he was complaining, when David was so amazing and incredible and perfect; he didn’t want to sound whiny or needy, even though that was kind of how he felt. Touch me, please, please touch me.
Patrick thought about it all morning. He’d ask him after lunch, he decided. So when Patrick came out of the back after eating his club sandwich, he looked over to where David was folding alpaca scarves and arranging them by color, turning the tags so they showed the Rose Apothecary logo the way he liked it.
Patrick came up next to him and leaned in close. He put his hand next to David’s on the table. David looked over and smiled, and continued folding.
“Um. I’ve noticed something, or I think I have. Maybe it’s my imagination.”
David gave him a little sidelong smile. “Yes?”
“It feels like you used to touch me, all the time. I don’t mean—I mean, like here at work. Not like—” He made a vague gesture meaning in bed. “And then it felt like that changed? But maybe not. I don’t want you to feel self-conscious. I just wondered.”
David said slowly, “Oh.”
“Probably my imagination. I mean, is it my imagination?”
David looked down at the alpaca scarf he was folding. He smoothed it out. Patrick waited.
Finally David spoke. “I just don’t—I didn’t want to screw this up.”
“Why would you think that would screw this up?”
David bit his lip as though he wasn’t sure what to say. Patrick stepped closer and turned David toward him. He took his hands and lifted them and put them up on his shoulders.
David let his hands rest there for a moment, then he smiled shyly and smoothed his palms over Patrick’s shoulders, back and forth. Patrick put his hands on David’s waist.
“I guess—I’ve never had someone I could do this with. Touch whenever I wanted.” He slid his hands to Patrick’s upper arms, squeezed, and then moved them up again, almost to his neck. “I know that I can sometimes be, like—too much for people? So I’m trying to rein it in.”
“David.” Patrick’s hands tightened on David’s waist, drawing him closer. “Please don’t rein it in. I love it when you touch me. That’s why I asked. It makes me feel—” He stopped, not sure how to put it into words.
“It reminds me that I’m—I’m yours. That we’re together. And that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
David met Patrick’s eyes and then looked off to the side. “Um. The best, really?”
“Well,” Patrick said. “Second best. After the back-to-back World Series wins for the Blue Jays. But that goes without saying.”
“Mmkay.” David gave a little eyeroll. His hands strayed down Patrick’s chest and then finger-walked back up. He was smiling a little smile. Then he gripped Patrick’s shoulders more firmly and leaned down to kiss him.
Patrick kissed him back, parting his lips, touching his tongue to David’s. David pulled him closer to deepen the kiss, and Patrick’s mind went to all those people, those idiots, who made David feel like he was too much. His arms tightened around him protectively.
How could David be too much when Patrick couldn’t get enough?
They closed up the store and walked over the cafe.
Patrick slid into the booth and watched as David sat down across from him.
Patrick nudged him with his foot under the table. “Sit next to me?”
David made a face. “Sitting next to each other in a restaurant is performative coupledom at its most nauseating. It’s like you’re announcing to everyone you can’t stand to be apart, even for a meal.”
“But David, I can’t stand to be apart from you, even for a meal,” Patrick said. He leaned forward, propping his hand on his chin and giving him his best puppy dog eyes.
David scoffed, but his mouth was twisting into his pleased, lopsided smile, and Patrick knew he had him.
“Fine.” David got up with the air of someone making a big concession. He came around and sat next to Patrick. “Happy now?”
“Yes.” Patrick took David’s hand. “So, is this making you feel nauseated?”
The hand that Patrick wasn’t holding went flying up. “I didn’t mean I would feel—I was just being considerate of”—the hand made a large circle, indicating the cafe—“of the public at large.”
Patrick looked around. Other than Twyla, there were three other people in the cafe, and none of them seemed to be paying them a bit of attention.
David looked down. He seemed to be thinking. Then scooted a little closer. “Okay, well.”
“I just remembered I don’t care about the public at large.”
“Lucky me,” Patrick said. He leaned over and kissed David’s cheek, and David laughed.
They held hands until the food came and they had to let go. While they ate, they bumped shoulders and tangled their feet together and Patrick pretended not to notice when David stole fries off his plate.
And Patrick hoped that everyone in the cafe could see they couldn’t stand to be apart.
Patrick was at his computer in the back room at the store. He felt arms slipping around him from the back and a voice in his ear.
“What?” Patrick said, absorbed in his spreadsheets.
“Just kiss me,” the voice purred.
Patrick swiveled around on his chair and drew David down into his lap. David wrapped his arms around Patrick’s shoulders and pressed his mouth to his. Patrick gave himself over to the sweet slide of David’s tongue in his mouth, the softness of his lips against his.
Then, abruptly, David drew back again. He slid out of Patrick’s lap and stood up.
“Did you want something?” Patrick said, catching at his hand.
David squeezed back. “Mm, no. Just wanted to kiss my boyfriend.”
“Yes,” Patrick said. “Anytime. Always.”
David gave him a quick, bright smile, there and gone. “Get back to work,” he said airily, flicking the curtain aside to go back out to the front of the store.
Patrick did, but it took awhile for him to find his concentration again. He was smiling too much.