MAYBE THIS TIME

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Submitted Date 07/07/2019
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Chapter 1: The Ship

I have to thank the attendant at the clothing store. The mirror I'm standing in front of reflects a picture of myself that I'm happy to look at, to admire.

Not used to anything other than a black suit, this three-piece gray pinstripe I've put on does give me a certain jauntiness. Pairing it with a baby blue shirt, to compliment my deep blue eyes, and a maroon tie is ideal. I twist this way and that, enjoying the new me. For this special occasion, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone.

The years I played rugby on the university's team has left me with a tight, muscular body. Entering university later than most I've been careful with my diet, and after graduating two years ago, I've maintained a status quo.

'Hmm,' I'm thinking. Maybe a small pearl earring in my left ear. 'Nah,' my mother would give me holy hell if she saw me wearing an earring. 'Too modern and not classy enough for a doctor,' I can hear her say.

Graduating with honors, I came home to a surprise.
Mom had bought passage for me on a large cruise ship — a two-week holiday. "You need it after the hard work you did at university."

=====================================

Up, up, up straining my neck until the back of my head threatens to meet my spinal cord, I try my damnedest to lay my eyes on the upper decks while standing on the dock, looking at this towering hotel on the water. For the next weeks, this will be my home. I climb up the ramp to be greeted by a welcoming committee of officers.

Watson, you are a neophyte when it comes to traveling, all the while I'm thinking this I step into an elevator. Imagine! A lift on a ship! And, I would never suspect that rolling beneath me will be an ocean.

Walking almost the length of the carpeted corridor, keying the lock to my door, and opening it, I immediately stop short.
A king size bed! Toeing off my shoes and socks, wiggling my toes into the carpet, I flop on it, sinking into the softness, not bothering to remove the duvet.
Spreading my arms out from my sides, I make angel wings. I can learn to love this very quickly! Much better than the twin-size or bunk beds I've been using all my life.

Rising, I glance at the sky blue sofa, feeling it's velvety touch, and gaping next at the full-length window and open glass door in front of me.
I have to do this. To walk out onto my private veranda and say the words out loud, "My private veranda," knowing nobody can hear the sheer excitement.

Shit! Now, this is what I call living!
I love the color scheme. Makes me feel warm, secure. Blues and grays. Good touch. Not like the dull browns and whites in my house and my university dorm.

On my bed is a map. A map of the ship? It's such a behemoth that directions are probably needed to find your way to your bathroom. I chuckle at the joke.

Reminder to yourself, John Watson. In acquiring a flat or your own house, a king-size bed will be a must on your list!

Hell, my mother honestly went bonkers with this holiday idea!

========================================================

I skip the meet and greet affair before dinner. Being a single male, I'll stand out as would a lone tree in the middle of a cleared field. That's not a pleasant feeling for me.
Instead, I unpack and stand on the balcony watching the preparations unwind below, hear the sailors yelling orders, crates being swung aboard, ready for our pleasure.

I arrive fifteen minutes late for dinner, A live band plays music, and the maitre de walks me to my assigned dinner table.
Already in their seats are four couples, older than I am by at least fifteen years. Not that it matters. I'm pushing mid-thirties myself.
The gentlemen stand, introduce with nods, and the shaking of hands, and once that bullshit is complete, we sit.

Inwardly sighing, I can fathom, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this will be a boring trip. But--this is to be my home for weeks to follow. Sigh!

A tuxedoed waiter, white-gloved and a towel over his arm, steps to our table, "My name is Jeffrey, and I'll be at your service this evening."
"Jeffrey, is another person supposed to join this table?"
"Yes, Doctor Watson. He's a gentleman by the name of Sherlock Holmes. But it appears he will not be with us tonight. He ordered food into his room."
A strange name, Sherlock.
Probably near eighty in age, white beard, big belly, his last trip before he is homebound. At least that's what I envision.

The menu is extensive, and I order what's familiar to me, the t-bone steak with garlic potatoes and mixed veggies and house salad.
The waiter, Jeffrey, suggests a red wine, Syrah, and I agree to it.

Jeffrey moves, circling the table, making suggestions, ever the smiling, delightful attendant.
The person seated on my right taps me on the shoulder, "a doctor, heh? What kind?"
His wife, who's already engaged in a conversation with the woman next to her, whispers to him, "He's a general practitioner, Dick. Didn't you look at the register at all?"
A grimace from Dick, hip problems I assume, inching his chair nearer to mine.
"My son is a surgeon in France at this moment. I miss the kid lots. Tell me what brought you into medicine, Doctor Watson."

"The names John, sir," and we begin a lively discourse on doctors, medicine, and of course his son.
He has three other children, but Dick is especially proud to have a doctor in the midst.

After dinner, I walk outside and climb up to the highest deck. The night sky is cloudy, obliterating the stars. Every once in awhile the moon peeps it's crescent out. The evening breeze is enough to make it comfortable without having to get a jacket. It's easy to bob my head, acknowledging people as they pass by, never stopping, never even trying.

The night-lights on the deck make for pleasant places to converse or play the numerous card and board games the ship's recreation section has available.
It might be a neat idea to watch a game, maybe learn the card game bridge, but that would require conversation. I've never known where to begin, what to say to start a discussion, figuring out how to make it light and smooth.

Ah well, to my room and continuing to read!

=================================================

I awake to my morning call, put on khaki trousers, a button-down plaid shirt and follow the directions to the breakfast buffet.

It's in a smaller room than where I dined last night. Walking up and down, hands behind me, I gaze at the buffet table, peeking between people to look with wonder and shock at the profusion of meats, fish, fruits, eggs, and assorted bread.
So many choices! But then again, I've never seen such luxury.

I decide on the easiest of the options-- sausage, eggs, and toast, and pick up enough not to have to return to the lines at the buffet.

I stand off to the side, spying an empty two-person table in the corner and walk towards it quickly.
Not wanting any company I lean the other chair in.
From this angle, I can watch people laughing, chatting together and I shrink down, hoping no individual takes the time to notice me.

Finishing up my food, I pour tea from the many silver pots occupying another sideboard. Each container has a blue signboard in front of it, describing the drink, and it's taste.
Not in an experimental mood, I chose my favorite and holding the cup, step outside on the deck.
Beautiful day!
Sipping slowly, savoring the citrus taste of the Earl Grey, I lean against the railing and watch the sparkle of sun on the water.

I stroll along, the parade of people serves to remind me of the many friends I've never really had, whether those from my childhood or university. They have moved on, either leaving the country or getting married.
Mike Stamford is my only friend who's continued to stay in touch from our first days in school.
We even decided to go to the same university. He'll be working with me later when I finally open my clinic.

I understand that my circumstances have forced me into being an introvert. Not wanting to reveal my inner self to anyone. Its anxiety is one I've carried with me through the years.

My situation at home was never comfortable, either. My father was sick for many years and could not work. It was left to my older sister and me to provide an income while our mother stayed home to minister to the old man. My sister Harriet, six years older, turned to drink and was gone from the house for days on end. It was the event of her drinking heavy that led to the horrid evening when she spewed out that she was a lesbian. Mom, not able to understand or even try, evicted her. Dad died, and the legacy he left was a total surprise. He had a significant insurance policy which was in mom's name, including the fact that the house was paid off.

It was months later that Harold, mothers only brother passed. The will stated that mom was the only living relative left, and she was to inherit it all. It was a sizeable amount considering the sale of his houses in London and France.

It was then, with a grim determination, and with the money available, mother decided I should now attempt to follow my dream. Being a doctor.

I did not begin classes at the university until I was twenty-six. It was no surprise that I had nothing in common with the young ones--No drinking or sex parties. That was not in the cards for me. I did have a go at a few, very brief sexual encounters with two females, but the romance evaporated as quickly as it started.

I had to study for long hours to reach my goal, which was to graduate with honors. Being a doctor meant everything to me, but especially so for mom.

=====================================================

What the hell I'm going to do with these weeks of boredom?

Dropping the empty cup off at a coffee station I'm determined to meander about the deck once again. There is nothing else to do but the idea of sitting in the stateroom is not appealing.

Watching the passengers, nodding to them as they pass, I stop, leaning against the wall to observe a shuffleboard game. I'm invited to join the next round but decline. Too self-conscious.

Standing to my left is a person bent over the metal rail, mumbling. I can barely hear it and move slightly closer, hearing the words "boring, boring."
Balanced between him and the rail is a bowl of-- what I can't tell.
"Boring, Can it be any more boring than it is," his arm flings out, and with each gesture, those words join whatever small items follow the waves of the water.
That certainly resonates deep in my belly! I'm just as pathetic. Just as spiritless as he is.

I blatantly stare at him, at least six feet of almost skinny, wearing an expensive dark blue suit and a silk purple shirt.
I can catch sight of one side of his face, and it's the sharp cheekbone that protrudes out. Thick black curly hair, shoulder-length tumbles across his forehead in a haphazard way. A man shouldn't look that good, that beautiful.
He's observing me out of the corner of his eye and twists just enough to smirk and wink.
Hazel-blueish eyes flash, and instantly, I want to find out more about him. Why this is, I do not understand. A deep-gut feeling.
Something deep in me rolls and pitches my senses. He arouses my curiosity.
Flinging the bowl into the water, he walks in the opposite direction from where I'm standing.
Who is he?
A beautiful-looking man like him has to have a girlfriend, or wife somewhere swimming, playing bridge and ignoring him.
The shame of it!

Lunch is a chicken sandwich that I order into my room and once finished with it I become restless.

The book is under my arm and taking a look at the map, the refreshment bar on deck hones into in my sights.

Balancing a cup and saucer and a cookie, I sit in the nearest lawn chair, covering my legs with a blanket and enclose myself within the book. Every person that walks past fails to stop. Of course, I'm giving them no opening, no reason to plop beside me and chat.

=====================================================

The evening meal is announced, and I step into the dining room with the intention of sitting at the same table. And there he is, the curly-haired man that I admired that afternoon. His jacket draped over the only single seat; I turn to find another.
"Don't leave," and as I turn, he pulls the jacket off and onto the back of his chair.
He picks up the menu he had been studying and gazes at me with hazel-blue eyes, " Try the Gamay wine. We're being offered salmon or sea bass tonight. The bass would be a wise choice. Sherlock Holmes is my name."
No offer of a handshake, just a simple nod of his head and those eyes, those eyes that stare with a concentration that is off-putting.
His voice, though, is what traps me. A bass drum, a vibration deep as the trumpet of elephants. It sets a tremor in my stomach.
"John Watson," waiting for a handshake. He looks at it and scoffs.
" I saw you on the deck yesterday. You are single, aren't you?" Taking a gamble, "the same as myself? Maybe we could--"
" Doctor Watson, astute of you to pick me out of the crowd! I do tend to attract attention," his sharpness of voice, jarring," but I am not going to cater to your loneliness by becoming a companion for you."
" You looked at the roster didn't you?"
"As the only other uncommitted male, you too are conspicuous on this maddening excursion," picking up his water, turning to watch what? I'm, not sure.

There is an aura that surrounds him. He holds himself stiff, making conversation impossible.
But I have an impression of vast knowledge in that brain and magnetism that draws me closer. Brings out a segment of myself I don't wish to explore, to dig deep into.

I watch him nibble at his food, and cuts off any conversation with the others by short staccato sentences.

Tapping me on the shoulder to get my attention Dick and I begin a debate on the various rugby teams.
I try to draw Sherlock in, "no interest," is his short remark and I leave him to his own devices.
Oh, but how aware I am of him! His body reaches over mine to pick up the water, or he absentmindedly leans towards me, I react with a shiver.
It's as if a string has been wound around us and continually tugs us together
Before dessert is served his body thrusts the chair out from him and he leaves abruptly with none of the courtesies expected.

Dick whispers with an eye to the gentleman's stiff gait as he leaves the room," not a very interesting person is he?"
The upper part of his body pointing to indicate Mister Holmes empty place. Silently I disagree with him. He's spellbinding.

After dinner, cocktails with us, Dick and his wife invite me to a stroll the deck. I walk with them but surreptitiously keep my eyes out for Mister Holmes. He's nowhere to be found on our walk.

=======================================================

Not wanting to be on this ship of fools in the first place I had but two choices. Either remain in rehab or endure this dammable cruise. To rethink my life, Mycroft, my brother remarked, following his formidable stare into my eyes, down to the boarding pass he holds.

It's a struggle, an impasse, but in the end, he wins. I take the abominable papers from him.
I'm not convinced this discourse is at an end and I wait. Sighing, my brother reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. "I know, with your determination, you'll beg and borrow these disgusting drags, so with my compliments,"
A slight surprise at his generosity, I take it and step past him.

It's the first day out on this garish vessel, and I'm disgusted with the frivolous, vacuous discussions that amount to shipboard intelligence.

I sit through it during the second night at dinner. The only bright point is Doctor Watson.
Alone also, showing a weariness of life. Has the responsibility of taking care of family and this is a brief respite for him. His blue eyes intensify the few times I find him smiling. Sturdy of built but shows an inner strength of body and mind, even though he doesn't believe it.
Listening to the doctor's voice, gentle but with the underpinnings of a quick temper, he talks of sports with the man next to him.
I want to converse with him but knowing nothing of the intricacies of rugby I cannot pretend. Again, disinterested I rise and leave without acknowledging any of the inhabitants of the table.

My room holds no promise of anything interesting. Walking the deck, I light a cigarette and stop to reflect on the stars. Strolling casually in a tight green dress with a fur jacket, a brash tinted blonde woman stops next to me, leans against the railing. "Beautiful isn't it? Cigarette?"
"Married, looking for sex for the evening. Sorry. Not my type," stepping in the opposite direction.

Chapter 2: OverBoard

The ships event director, clipboard cradled in his arm walks toward me, leans down, and using his pleasant shipboard voice, " Doctor Watson. Would it be an imposition on your part if I pair you with Mr. Holmes, being the only single men on this ship?"

We're to board a bus for a tour of the town of Stavanger Norway. Hell, I'm not looking forward to it, but I'll join in anyway.

"Aren't there any women that are single?"
"Well, yes. But Mister Holmes asked specifically for you," clearing his throat, his carefully polished demeanor not suggesting anything unusual.
Very surprised at this, I pause for one minute, "I appreciate it and would love to join him."

"Do I call you Doctor or John?" as we board the bus, and he shifts into the window seat, his eyes trained on me, laser-like, piercing.
"John would be fine, just fine."
"Now that we rectified that," looks out the window dismissing my presence as if I'm of no importance.

This is not a wonderful idea. I can't spend the whole day with someone who's reluctant to have any dialogue with me.
Might as well dive in and see where this leads, "I'm here as a present from my mom and arriving at home, I'll be taking care of her. Vacation for you?"
His eyes never straying from the scenery outside the window, he taps the glass, "My older brother Mycroft demanded this hiatus. I'm a detective, newly returned from a case in the Middle East. My brother, his usual arrogant self, planned this ridiculous cruise for me without my knowledge."

Off the ship, and herded onto a smaller bus, "Hey, folks, glad to notice you're up and ready for a fabulous afternoon," a young fellow, blonde buzz-cut hair, steps to the front. Shouting for all of us to hear, "I'll be your guide for the day. Names Jack. I'll be holding up a green flag," waving it in the air. "So you are the green bus. If you become confused or lost, look for the green markings on the bus or the flag waving."
I hear a harumph from Sherlock, the window seat his again, and ignoring myself and everyone around.

In the middle of town, the vehicle stops and Jack leads the fifteen of us to the side of the street, "Stay close now."
I'm astonished for the moment as Sherlock corrects his long gait to fall in with my smaller steps. Jack is relating to us the history of Stavanger and the buildings we pass. Sherlock is quick to correct young Jack, in a voice that echoes loud enough for all to hear, pointing out discrepancies, adding in little nuances. I can tell that Jack is trying to ignore Sherlock. But the man continues, much to Jack's annoyance.

I'm captivated. " That's fantastic. Great!" You must have done a ton of research," looking up to his height.
He looks at me, his tone arrogant, "Why doesn't a person, focus, scrutinize? It's all there to grasp if given the intellect. Only how many of these people--," and he stops.

==============================================

Doctor Watson is an anomaly. He finds me engaging. I must have him for myself during this obnoxious journey. He unknowingly draws me towards him as if he was the center of the earth, the force of his attraction confounds myself.
I seek ways to hold him to my side. To be on the alert for subjects that appeal, that engage his mind.

I scurry away from the typical tourist traps, with John following behind me. Calculating my moves as I glance into cross streets, the nearly dark alleyways, the section of town that is not touristy. Sure he will accompany me, he maintains a silence, but the question is like a cloud surrounding him. 'What are we doing? Where are we heading?'

Bringing up the rear he nudges me and leads us into a narrow, dingy passageway.
"Hey, where are you headed? They're off that way," trying to figure out what he's up to.
The shops about us don't have the sparkling clean windows or the benches outside luring customers to sit with their tea or hot cocoa.
These little shops, whose windows and doors are barely able to be seen through, and have paint peeling on the signs are not your typical tourist stop. Stalls are arranged outside beside each door announcing their merchandise, encouraging you to step in.

"This is the true Stavanger, the location as to where we'll see the locals and their establishments," slowing my pace, hands clasped behind my back.

Very few sightseers are walking on these cobblestone streets while motorbikes and bicycles rush by, my gaze is everywhere.

" You drag me to this street, away from the better stores and the other folks for what?"
Turning those eagle eyes on me, blinking and just as quickly scanning the street, " Look. Look deeply. Not just the surface. You can deduce so much by looking deep. At every possible aspect," his gaze suggesting more than what he's stating out loud.
He stops abruptly. Facing a shop with no stand outside, bends in closer to the window, wiping a circle of dirt off, says "aha" and bounces to the door, letting me walk ahead of him into a dark interior.

=================================================

An old woman, a shawl draped partway on her shoulders greets us with a wave, fingers bent. a slight hump on her back, a gray topknot, glasses hanging from a chain.
There's a distinct odor I smell sniffing the air.
"Lanolin, John. Comes from domestic sheep breeds that are raised specifically for their wool."
Sweeping my eyes through the interior, dim as it is I can distinguish all the beauty of the wool garments.
The closeness in the air brings the feel of age, of years of knitting, crocheting and hard work.
Jumpers, shawls, hats, gloves are in abundance, everywhere you look. From the wood hangers to the tables and pegs situated on the wall. Cluttered but beautiful in its way.

"Good evening madam. You've had a difficult spell haven't you?" Sherlock's voice is resonating but soft. Soft as the wool sweater he's picked up. She doesn't acknowledge him, taking a seat behind a desk piled with papers.

His fingers idly play along on the top of the folded jumpers on a counter," Your husband operated the store while you stayed home designing and handcrafting all this apparel. He died last year leaving you no choice but to assume control, reluctantly. No children to assist."
"Your neighbor across the way would love to buy you out. Sell to him and be done. I can help negotiate," he pauses " if you will allow me."

She stands, not easily, and speaks English with a lovely accent," how do you know all this and why are you willing to help?"
Ignoring her question he steps out, poking his head in again, " I require twelve minutes, no, exactly nine minutes."

She stares at him in that same way I detect others do when he deduces the extraordinary.

The door opens, and following Sherlock is a heavy set, balding man. It took him seven minutes to return. And a deal is sealed.

"I can't thank you enough Mister Holmes," she's astonished," take, take something, whatever you want for yourselves and your family."

I don't want to say anything while in the store. But you bet, I'm asking questions of Sherlock once outside this building.

I've found a green multicolor pullover cable knit jumper for Harry and a button-down black knit for my mother.
A little something is needed for Sherlock, though, for being an excellent companion and for his caring of this woman's welfare. He does have a heart.

I turn into an aisle with Sherlock walking into it in the opposite direction. I brush close to him, not so accidentally.
His palm lies on the pillow of merchandise, and my fingers slide along his. Accidentally? No.
Splinters of hairs rise on my arms, my neck. I can't for the life of me understand why I'm becoming engrossed in making some physical contact, getting close enough to smell the man's cologne, his skin.

Scarves of differing colors are suspended from the wall by a long wooden peg.
I reach to separate them to look further when a dark blue falls to the floor. That's perfect for him. Just what I want, and placing it in my bag, I wait for him to finish.

=====================================

Doctor Watson, who has willingly accompanied me deserves a gift. There--on one counter is a light blue jumper. Perfect! His eyes, a light blue, can dance with twinkles in them when he responds to my voice. Why do I care that they land only on me? What is that tingle that runs through me?
When the tips of his fingers sweep across mine; shivers descend my body.

================================

"Sherlock, find something for your brother. He did pay for your holiday; after all."
I snort, and John picks up a black wool vest.
Holding it up, "what do you think?"
"Mycroft wears three-piece suits, but, you are correct. A splendid choice," my fingers now return the compliment, grazing his. He disconnects, stares at those appendages I touched, dumbfounded. Too much contact?

===================================

With much protesting on Mrs. Hockstetter part, I pull money from my pocket and set it on the counter for our purchases.
I stiffen as her arms surround my body for a hug. Not comfortable with signs of sentiment, of touching. I allowed the doctor's fingers to stroke without a protest. Why?

"You knew this would occur with an unwavering certainly, how did you know this information about--?" after stepping out of the shop, trying to keep up with my long stride.
"The woman is alone. She is struggling to make ends meet. Sandwich on the table with cheap meat. She hasn't made new items for at least a year. The store is off the tourist path, and very few customers pass her way. The neighbor across the street watched us from his window as we walked in. Interested in catching a glimpse of the variety and class of clientele we were. So therefore interested in buying her out."

"Sherlock, whatever possessed you? Never mind. What you did was very commendable."
There's a feeling deep in my stomach — my cheeks hot. John Watson complimented me!

======================================================

" What are you planning to do after this holiday is over, and you're in London again?" trying to draw him out as he allows me to sit by the window this time.
"I'll continue as a detective working with the police. There's a two-bedroom flat in the heart of the city ready for me. The landlady owes me a favor."

He focuses on pointing out the various structures relating to the history of the people of Stavanger. I listen intently, gathering information but entranced with his sound, his movements.
His voice finds its way deep into my soul, and even certain parts of my anatomy twitch.
"Fascinating, wonderful," repeating myself like a parrot. "Sherlock, why the surprise on your face? You are amazing in your wealth of knowledge. Don't most people enjoy your conversations?" With an upturning of his lips, " Most people say 'piss off.'"
"Yea, I can understand why, I guess," masking my grin in my palm.

=====================================

Arriving at the dinner table that night he has a willing audience in me, and in a low voice, he delights in analyzing the guests and the crew. Most of the evening I'm giggling, the others at the table ignoring us or giving sharp looks of disapproval.

The next day at breakfast Sherlock leans over, taking the teapot, pouring for the two of us, and declares loudly, " We are to tour another segment of Stavanger. I'm hiring a taxi for Doctor Watson and myself. I'm more than capable of guiding you through this town, John"
I hear the 'well, the nerve,' 'the sheer gall,' from the other people. Even Dick seems put off by Sherlock's rudeness.
But I'm thrilled! Time alone with Sherlock? Yes!

John Watson, you are treading on ice. Leave him alone. Find another amusement. That's logical, and logic has flown out the window.
After all, didn't mom say 'enjoy yourself'?

Our taxi driver's English is limited, though Sherlock manages to make himself understood with small gestures and pidgin English.
"Are you sure this is a good idea? This taxi is old, and the sounds, the grating of gears makes me think it won't make it up another hill?"
"The driver can use the income. He has a child that is sickly."
"Okay, I give up. By what means did you figure this out?"
"Observe closely. His pants and shirt, tattered at the ends. No money for new clothes. The other drivers had their engines running, not him. Means he's saving his petrol. Look up at the rearview mirror. Tacked to the side is a picture of his family. Five children, and a lone child sitting. Sickly."

"That's --amazing!"
Still seemingly surprised at my remark, his eyebrows hitch up, and I have to turn away from him, my urge to touch, to smooth those brows down, to kiss them, so strong.

He waves off the young guide at the war museum, explaining he doesn't need a youngster reciting the history by rote. I keep close to the detective watching him skim the placards and then adding his discourse on the subject matter.
I'm blown apart at his ability to expound and elaborate. That deep-toned voice is again reaching into my stomach and tingling into that area best left alone. No, John, you're not gay and well, who knows anything about him.

On the main street, across the way from us is a beautiful cathedral. I point it out to Sherlock.
Standing inside he whispers to me, "Pay attention, John. What came first? The city, or the cathedral?"
" I imagine the city," confused by his question.
He beckons me to sit in the back pew and with a hushed tone," The first known, official mentioning of Stavanger as a city, found in a letter by the King Håkon Håkonsson confirming a donation by the King Magnus Erlingsson to the episcopal chair sometime between 1226 and 1245. The church was built in Anglo-Norman style, probably by English artisans."
"So the church then?" gazing up at the vaulted ceiling.
"Not so sure," his hushed tone still deep, penetrates.
"Is there an ancient church below the cathedral? In the crypt below the church are four postholes after a building that must have been there before the cathedral was built. Several people believe it to be the remainings of a wooden church built by Erling Skjalgsson close to the time of 1015."
"Very interesting. I wonder if we can--,"
" No, I inquired. We cannot go down into the crypt."
"I suppose you know all this in what way?"
"Read, John. I read the history of this cathedral. It is central to the town. The book is in the ship's library if anyone is interested. Before we left this morning, I asked the tour guide. " Yea, feeling the fool. But how many people take out those books to read.

The light of the day is dimming, and to my chagrin, we have to return to the ship.

Chapter 3: Contact

Our driver takes us out of the town and into the countryside. At first, I think this is a roundabout way to the dock and ship, but suddenly we are bumping on a dirt road. Something is wrong!
Sherlock leans forward poking at the driver, asking why we are here.
The car bounces and jerks, coming to a halt. Our driver grumbles and growls while turning the key, once, twice and nothing moves. Slapping his hands on his knees, he steps out and raises the hood. Whatever fumbling he does underneath does not have the engine turning over.

Both of us are picture writing in the sand and using our most horrid pidgin English to finally make the driver understand to get another car.
He takes off down the rutted road before either of us can follow him. "Looks like we're stuck here for the moment," my head turning around to notice the hills, sheep, and grass — not a house, not a barn nearby.

We wait a while, leaning against the car, while the air grows chill and the sun drops off.
I check the trunk and find a lone blanket. Slipping into the back seat, we drape the wool wrap around us.
"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten us into, Sherlock," wiggling my eyes and fingers.

"What do you mean? I didn't contrive to bring about this mess," his face tightening, upset.

With a slight laugh, "My friend, it comes from two famous American comedians Laurel and Hardy from the nineteen twenties. Hardy, the fat one always used that phrase to Laurel."

"Find the time once home and rent a movie of theirs. They are a fantastic example of early comedy," I add. Still sulking, I nudge him with an elbow, "come on lighten up. I didn't mean it as any harm."

Wrapping his right arm over my shoulder Sherlock scutches closer to me, our sides touching. I resist, but he holds me fast to him," John, our body heat will help warm us."
The sun has gone over the horizon, and without a running engine, there's no heat except for what we give off.
"I am acquainted with the bodies workings, Sherlock. I am a doctor, you realize."
I'm puzzled at my attraction to this detective, and this closeness is not helping. My breathing has accelerated, and I'm sure he takes note of it.
Our thighs touch, his other arm draping across my chest; his hand rubs up and down my arm.
Sherlock looks in my eyes, senses my discomfort, "Why are you protesting? We're cuddling-- for warmth."

Every nerve in me reacts. Tingles, trembles. I can't tell whether it's the man or the darkness or the sense of being away from normality.
Shivering, but not from the cold I reach closer, and out of my comfort zone, out of anything my brain tells me, I kiss Sherlock lightly on the lips. His face displays confusion, but he accepts the kiss. Slow, warm. I'm barely touching his lips. We mutually pull apart to stare into each other's eyes.

He's not sure, his reaction cautious, I can tell.
My eyes stray from his; my thumb strokes his lips, a sharp intake of his breath, his tongue reaching out to lick at my finger.
He pulls at my shirt collar, bringing me close to him. I grab the back of his neck and pull those curls. Kissing me with a passion I would not believe, his tongue opens my mouth and reaches deep inside.

Buttons are undone, zippers open. The intensity is drowning out any reason.

I'm the first to move, a cramp in my legs, I settle myself beside Sherlock, each of us adjusting our clothes.
Our heads are leaning against the car seat, and I angle myself to stare at him, and I laugh, whether out of joy or fear I'm not sure.

"We were just keeping warm, weren't we." Not a question but a statement.

===========================================================

What possessed me to entertain the idea of Johns kiss? Of answering his with mine? Observing what he desires and not willing to disappoint, I had passed my tongue along his lips and pressed to open his mouth.
My tongue swiped into the doctor's mouth urging him on.
He impulsively scrambled onto my lap, straddling my legs, our excitement evident in the hardness in our trousers.
Undoing my belt and unzipping me, he thrusts deep into my pants.
With a sharpness of breath, I followed his lead.

Something is amiss!
It's not only his lust also but the cravings my mortal body shamelessly thirsts, firing off neurons.
My brain is not functioning, my body and emotions running full force.
Emotions were and still are uncontrolled! A weakness! Undisguised passion!

Always solitary, alone with never any emotional involvement, this encounter with John is bewildering.
My orgasm was more magnificent, enhanced, more profound than any I've experienced —with so few sexual confrontations all years before and so unappealing, this is so unexpected.
That's the puzzle with John Watson. Everything is sudden; everything is disproportionate with John.
The doctor's arms are encompassing my waist, his blonde head on my chest, his wheezing snore, the smell of his hair now so well known to me. Tucked away in the corner of my mind marked--John Watson.

The sun wakes me, but I don't move. My back against the door, feet up on the seat and John lying in my lap, curled into a ball.

=================================================

Early morning gives way to the afternoon, and we both search the car for sustenance, finding only stale cookies in the glove compartment.

Our driver is back with another man and his vehicle to return us to the dock where the ship has already sailed.

We've been having coffee and a light lunch at a tiny cafe by the dock.

"We have the option to rent a car and drive along the coast, and rejoin the ship on its last day. Would you consider that?" never quite staring at me. I stop to think of the ramifications, staring out at the water, I don't answer immediately, " My good doctor, is being in my company a hardship for you?" his tone quiet, but I sense disappointment.

Hardship? Nonsense! I'm listening to his full-toned voice, its resonance finding its way deep into my secret self. The part I never openly acknowledge. My gayness.

"No, no not at all. I guess I'm too surprised that you would think of spending another hour with me let alone days. But, yes," stopping his retort, "I am agreeable to that suggestion."

=======================================
Driving along the coastline it is getting dark and we inquire at a tavern for the nearest bed and breakfast. The bartender suggests the small house on the only road to the sea's edge.

It looks as if someone painted the scene just for us. Darkening sky, gray mountain, the sea swirling gently and the cottage in front of it.

Our room has an ocean theme. The canopy over the king-size bed is a soft blue fishnet with tiny clamshells intertwined. The sheets and covers are blue with seashells and mollusks.
The snort that Sherlock gives out has me grinning. I know he thinks it overdone, kitsch would be the word.

Watching as Sherlock unzips his trousers I feel a panic grow inside me. How different from the spontaneous passion in the car!
As always, alert to my moods, "John, you're hesitating. Why?"
"No, yes. I mean-- oh damn. I guess I'm not ready. It's your being--"
"Male? That's not what you're thinking. What is the real issue?" taking the few steps to the bathroom, he turns, "take your time."
Giving me the space needed to handle the tumult happening inside in my head.

The toilet flushes, the sink water stops running and gripping a towel he steps into the bedroom.

Walking closer to me I shrink inside, and it must be evident because the detective backs off, settling on the bed as close to one edge as possible and turns away from me.

" It has everything to do with family. Tell me."
"Stop, just stop trying to anticipate my movements and feelings. Let me do this my way. Let me feel comfortable."
The small window overlooks the ocean, and I rest my forehead on the windowpane. I don't want him to see the shadows crossing my face.

Oh John, you fool! Why now? Your time is limited. Grab onto this moment, these days.

Do I tell him the main reason for my hesitation? Would it end this fantasy right now?
The pull towards him is irresistible. Driving a wedge between reality and the insane.

Perching on the other side of the bed, I remove shoes and socks, my shirt and trousers, slowly, giving myself the ability to think. With my boxer shorts still on, I pull the covers over myself. There's no thinking; it's my body that wants, that can't hold in the excitement, the love.

He shuts the light from the lamp and sits in the rocker, it squeaking the main sound other than the ocean's waves.
"If this is traumatizing for you I will sleep in this recliner for the night."
"You misread me, Sherlock, please come. I apologize."
"None needed," and crawls in beside me after hastily removing his clothes.
I feel his hardness against my rear, and his gentle hands begin a slow rhythm up and down my body, and turning around, taking my detective close I kiss those lovely lips.

==============================

Our days are spent lazily roaming each town, stopping in the shops, eating local food.

Where ever there is a historical site we visit it and Sherlock continues to charm me with his intellect. It has become an unspoken agreement that we do not discuss any future together.

Boarding the ship once again we share the detective's bedroom.

Eating dinner on our last night, both of us maintain a distance from the others at the table. I want as much time as I can get with my curly-headed lover.

After dinner we pack our clothes moving around each other awkwardly, a dance, never too close nor too far.
Sherlock reaches into his closet and casually throws a box on the bed.
"For you," he whispers, holding himself tightly in check.
Opening it, unwrapping the paper, is a blue wool jumper.
" Wear it for me at breakfast in the morning, "not a question, but almost a plea. I would wear it in the shower if he asked.

" I have a little something for you," removing a tissue-wrapped gift from his dresser drawer.
It's the blue scarf I had picked up. He stares so long I'm sure he doesn't like it.
"I'm overwhelmed. Didn't expect."
"What, did you think I'd forget you?"
He's still hasn't moved, but he lights up, of a sudden.
"Strip and onto the bed, now. And don't let those blue eyes look on me until I utter the proper words."
Who am I to argue!
" Your detective awaits you." What I see has my breath taken away.
The blue scarf, tied around his neck, with only his smile.
Opening my arms, he tumbles into them, and my verbal response is a great sigh.

=====================================

John's emotion tonight is heightened.
Tears run down his cheeks.
His engagement with each element of my body surprises me; it's not normal for him.
It's as if he's making a road map, a detailed impression in his mind. I have been engaged in doing since meeting this doctor.
There is something more, an underlying current.
Dare I ask? Would he reveal his troubled mind?
We are leaving each other, and this idyllic interval of space we've shared.
We'll be separated while we organize our lives.
But soon enough we'll be embracing again.

We talk and love well into the morning.

=============================================

Watching the boat dock, standing on the veranda, it's time has come. The horrid moment for the harsh truth.
"This is where the holiday ends, and real life begins," looking at the dots of people rushing to secure our ship.
"For now John. We both have business to--,"

" No, my love. It is goodbye for good," sighing intensely, each word hard.
Moving into the room, I turn to face him. It's much easier this way than having his delicious body so close to me.

"No, no. Don't step any nearer.
"I've thought and thought, going over it every which way. I have to do it...please respect my wishes--no texts, phone calls or anything," not daring to touch him, even his hands that now wind tightly through the desk chair ribbing. Knuckles white.

"You are withholding information from me. I can only gather it's personal and pertinent to your family. Will you not open up and give me a chance to--"
"No, stop," my arms out as if to fend him off," that's all I have to say. It was a good time. It was the best time. And it's over."

Sherlock's body slumps, then, rises to his full height, "whatever you say, Joh. But understand this, I will wait for you--always," and with a goodbye wave, Sherlock steps out of the room.

Hold it, John. Don't run to him. No tears, no buckling. It has to be this way and this way only. A shipboard romance.

=================================================

Straining my neck up, up, up to perceive the vastness of the ship as I stand on the dock, looking at this towering hotel on water, I remind myself that this is where I spent the happiest weeks I've ever had. Turning to face the crowd of people hovering near the ship and my own real life, I heave a sigh and walk to the nearest cab.
My foot on the inside, my body almost in, a black car pulls up next to my vehicle and stops.
For a quick, tempting moment I'm hesitant, and with a sigh, step in further and close the door. Turning my head away from the black Mercedes which I know Sherlock is sitting in I instruct the taxi driver to move on.

================================================

At the dock, the black car waits for me, my brother Mycroft inside. Next to it is the transport in which Doctor John Watson sits. I debate on whether to slide in next to him. The taxi slowly inches forward leaving me stripped, naked. An important man is missing from my life.

Chapter 4: Normal Life?

I sidestep the black car to call a cab, proceeding in and ask to be taken to 221 Baker Street, my new residence.

My phone pings, of course. Unlocking it, looking at the blue screen, a text from big brother.

Avoiding me for what reason, Sherlock

I do not wish company

Do not be childish.
Shutting off my phone I'm not willing to listen to him prattle on.

Greeting the landlady with a kiss on the cheek. Holding off her inquires about my trip with the excuse of tired, I take the steps up to the furnished flat.

I don't bother to unpack but slump down in a chair, turn on the telly and resume to rerun my memories of John Watson.

===========================================

Hugs and kisses from both females as they greet me inside the house.

"What a surprise, "my eyes lighting up with questions upon seeing my sister. She shushes me as we walk into the house.

" I'll explain later."

"Did you meet anyone?" is almost the first words from moms mouth while she and Harriet serve up dinner.
"There were so many couples on board that it was hard to find someone, even though the activities coordinator tried. I didn't pair up with anyone in particular. No person piqued my interest," lying through my teeth.

" At my table, though, the second night I met a person, a gentleman close to my age, and we were thrown together," which arouses interest from Harry.
"No, sis dear, we were just friends for the trip," whispering the words to her, "I don't do--"
"Doesn't matter to me, " she giggles, "as long as you had fun."
Harriet and I wait until mom goes to bed and she plops down on the sofa next to me.

" I'm dying to hear, Harry. Tell me what brought about this miracle, although to be honest she hardly spoke or looked at you."
"As you heard I'm living at a rehab center and have been clean. I'm allowed to visit here every other week. Mom, being the mom she is, decided that as long as I don't bring up the subject of my propensity for women, I'm allowed here," bouncing up to pick a bowl of nuts to sit between us.
"Our mother won't admit it, but she definitely can't do a lot on her own. We've reached an unspoken agreement. And that's how it is."
" Yes, I noticed that. I'll stick to living in the house for now," distressed at the quick decline in my mother's health.

Giving me her 'I'm your sister, and I notice things' look, "are you okay, John? You look miserable."
" I'm tired and want to step into a routine as quickly as possible," begging off anymore chitchat I rise, kiss her. She's leaves for the rehab center, and I go upstairs to bed.

Yea, I routine will help me forget.

Morning comes, and I'm surprised at how easily I fell asleep. Throwing my clothes haphazardly out of the suitcase I carefully take the blue jumper out, lift it to my face, smelling the last remnants of that dream. That voice.
The jumper, folded, pressed again into my face, I place it into my drawer under some old shirts.

The doorbell's ring surprises me as I'm wiping up eggs for breakfast.
It's the postman with a long, narrow box--a florist in London. The package addressed to me has no name and no card.
The scent of a floral note wafts through the hall when I open it, and my breath escapes me.
A small bouquet of heather. The flower of Norway. Sherlock!

=======================================================

Mom and I have been working out the details of the clinic I want to open. I want it to be in the low-income part of London.
I want to rent, but she insists we buy a building together. Insurance, she calls it. We argue whether it's a wise idea, but in the end, I have to agree with her--a much better investment.

I enlist the help of my friend Mike Stamford's father, who is a real estate agent. Remembering our previous conversations over the years, Mike will join me in the clinic with his own practice.

====================================

Each week a bouquet of heather arrives but mom says nothing, and I volunteer nothing.
It sits in a vase on the living room table, and it's no surprise when Harry asks, and before I say anything, mom, giggles, and chimes in," from a florist in London, and get this, no name on it. He's got a secret admirer," both staring at me in surprise.
Sis politely, although wiggling in her chair, waits until a proper moment to find a way to get me alone.
" Hey, haven't told you about my rehab digs. Come upstairs, and I'll tell you about it, "dragging me up to my room, taking a seat on the bed, tucking her leg under her.
Settling her chin in the palm of her hand, " now what's with those blue flowers."

I knew this would come up eventually and had my story set, scripted, just crazy enough that they might buy it, mom included if she pushed the subject.

"Yes, I did meet a woman on the ship. Much older than myself and married. Her husband was home in London dying. For years it had been a loveless marriage." Sitting next to her she strokes my arm, consoling me, she thinks. "What started as evening strolls finally had us winding up in her bed. The day before we docked she insisted as soon as her husband dies, she'd find me we'd live together`. I made it plain that I was not in love with her. Only a holiday romance. She didn't care and insisted she would keep in touch. And so the flowers. Romantic, in its way, I have to admit."
Harry's brows crinkle, her face tilts sideways," let me guess. You fell for it. Yep, sure. Not sure I believe in that explanation, but I'll leave it for now."
"Why else would she send the heather?"
"She's a kook for sure. But, let's see how far she'll carry this," and bounces out of my room.

==========================================

It's Mycroft's steps ascending, making his usual unwelcome appearance at the flat.

" Enjoyed yourself did you? Found a little friend, did you?" disgust dripping.
"Why must you delve into my private life?" off the chair, standing by the window, peering out. I know it vexes him when he has to talk to my back.
" I have to. It's my job. What had you intrigued by Doctor John Watson and why was the relationship severed?"
Drawing the curtain apart, "Why bother! You have whatever information you need," disgusted with his constant prying, distaste of his mentioning my doctor's name.

"You have entangled yourself in another situation for which there is no resolution."
"It's resolved," holding myself stiff, knowing he reads the tension in my body.
"Is there a specific reason for this visit other than the gossip of the day?" now swinging about to face my brother and hear his latest proposal.

"It will be five months, brother, in which to arrange an important assignment that will transport you away from your current circumstance. Do you think you can acquit yourself admirably until such time?"
" I take it there is no other choice?"
" Now, now. Let's not quibble. I have begun by recommending your work as a superior detective to our Detective Inspector. You can continue until I require you."
Without another word he turns, leave the flat.
There is no other alternative!

=====================================================

Here it is, the opening day of my clinic. Harry, Mom, and Mike are outside, across from the transformed building admiring our hard work. It's taken over six months to negotiate, close the deal and renovate inside and out.

We've invited friends and the public to come for a celebratory evening of hors-d'oeuvres and drinks. Non-alcoholic.
My wonderful parent stands close to me, and I hug her, "thanks for this," pointing to the sign overhead announcing 'The Health Clinic' and "Grand Opening.'
She hugs back, "you deserve it. And you also, Harriet. Being alcohol-free for months is a great achievement. Now let's step inside and greet all these lovely people."

Inside the waiting room, the walls are painted in blue and gray, and the curtains and furniture are the same colors. Maintaining the memories of my holiday and him.
I stroll over to the welcome desk in the corner and lean an elbow against the top, surveying it all. The doctors, nurses, and assistants here to celebrate along with the community.
A hallway to my left leads to the examination rooms and offices for myself, Mike and Doctor Greenwald. We've rented the upstairs rooms to a chiropractor and acupuncturist.

Our guests are arriving, with the staff mingling, showing off our latest equipment.

Wait a minute! What do I hear? Can't be! That deep baritone voice! No, I'm hallucinating, daring it to be true! To be here in this moment with me!
My mind twists upon seeing him come towards me. Not an illusion but in the flesh.
Holding my drink with both hands, I shakily place the cup on the counter, as he steps even closer.

Stepping into my view, a woman holding a camera and recorder, says, "Doctor Watson, I'm Caroline Waters from the Daily Press."
Clearing my throat, not daring to stare around her to him," Nice to meet you, "reaching out to touch her arm.
Sherlock steps to the side," I'm Sherlock Holmes, detective. Through you, Doctor Holmes we take comfort that the human race, at least a portion of it, is willing to serve, thanklessly, in caring for the poor."
His hand is out, and I have no choice but to extend mine, feeling his warmth, sending shock waves through me. I withdraw reluctantly.
" Hello," at a loss, the sound out of my throat is dry, raspy.
What do I say?
" Doctor Watson, "the reporter, confused by the detective's obvious intervention," let me interview Doctor Greenwald. I see he's alone. I'll talk to you later," turning, and leaving me with him, with that voice.

"John, "Sherlock whispers closing in on me, "I'm so proud of you," his eyes taking in the small piece of heather pinned to the very suit I wore on the ship.

My voice is as shaky and low as his, "and you Sherlock. Your name is always in the news. You're making a name for yourself as a great detective." His look encloses the whole room, people and all. No one near us, he leans in so close his breath tickles my ear, "l could kiss you right now, right here."
My breath catches, and before I can utter a response, moms voice makes me jump. She's standing next to us.
" Mister Holmes. I recognize you from your pictures. I am this young doctor's mother."
" You should be thrilled and very proud of him, Mrs. Watson," the charm wafting off him.
" Oh I am, I am," placing her arm possessively on his," Come meet my daughter Harriet."
He let's mom lead him into the crowd, turning slightly to wink at me.
Poor Harriet. Mom still thinks that a man, any man, will change Harriet's sexual preference.

Still shivering from our meeting, I'm determined to talk to the other guests, keeping Sherlock in the corner of my eye and his rumbling voice within my hearing.
Both of us stealthily move closer to each other until we're standing face to face again.

" Doctor Watson. Would you care to show me the rest of the clinic? The rooms? Your office? I might need your services at some point in my work."

" God, I love you, Sherlock," in a hushed voice, as we walk down the hallway into my office.

Immediately he presses me against the wall. Our bodies curl around each other, my thigh pushing his legs apart, pressing between his, feeling his bulge, our mouths kissing, sucking, licking.
My hands pull him closer, tighter against me. I want to be skin to skin, to be on him, in him.

A knock on the door and Harriet's voice calls out, " John are you in there? Everyone's looking for you."
Jumping apart, afraid I'll be caught out, "I'll be out in a minute, Harry. Just taking care of a few things. Go and keep our guest's company," hoping my voice doesn't sound too breathless. I hear her steps fade.

Smoothing my hair down, he breathes deep and stares, tapping at the flower, "I will wait for you, John Watson," opening the door and out of my life--again.

Back into the flurry of guests, Harry bounces up to me, mom in tow, "I was wondering why you disappeared."
" I had to look for some paperwork; that's all."
" Wasn't he a good looking man, Harriet? That Sherlock Holmes," mom continues in her quest.
" Yes mom, very nice," Harry rolls her eyes in my direction.
" Why don't you children go out after we close up?"
"I think Mister Holmes has left, and I've got paper work to wrap up, but right now, let's mingle."
I only wish I could hole up in my bedroom, find a bottle and drink myself into oblivion.

Chapter 5: Who Is John?

I have to be content with John's choice although my mind struggles with his conclusion.

Mycroft has been a thorn in my side as of late, a constant digging. He's very insistent I travel abroad to dismantle a large smuggling cartel. I'm the most qualified for this assignment, he states.
I doubt that reasoning.
"It will keep your mind occupied. With other than your various narcotic stimulations. And your primitive connection to one certain doctor, "tapping his fingers on the mantel top.
Gritting my teeth, I grapple with the truth. John has been at the forefront of all I do now. Standing by my side, a shadow, with the timbre of his voice echoing next to me.

I'm prepared to leave behind the wild escapade that was John Watson. He has removed himself from my life. I must do the same.
No choice lies before me. It is essential I leave London, leave England. Leave the specter of one doctor.

I've paid the florist to continue sending the heather for two months more. Sorry, John!

=========================================================

The days roll by, the flowers a constant reminder of him. I cut out all the newspaper clippings of his adventures and save them, hidden in a box.

The flowers suddenly have stopped arriving. At first, I stood in the doorway, waiting eagerly for the post. But, after the third time I knew.
That's it! It's done, over with!
'I'll wait,' he said. I'll wait for you always. Not true.

A black Mercedes sits, it's engine purring. My heart stops. It's him!
Quickly stepping towards the rear of the car, the door opens, and the face of a man tilts out, his arm beckoning me closer.

"Doctor Watson, step in. I have something of importance to impart."
Chuckling softly, "why should I? I have no idea who you are."
His face screws up, "John Watson, proceed into this car at once," his voice stiff, authoritarian, "I'm Mycroft Holmes."
"Oh, I suppose he told you everything about us, the--"
" I don't expect your average mind to--."
"Wait a minute. You don't start by calling me--"
Waving my displeasure away, "Forget the niceties. I'm here to give you news of Sherlock."
" And why would I be interested in the comings and goings of him?"
trying to be calm but failing, my heart rate beating rapidly.
My head dips closer to the inside of the car.
" Let's not mince words. I am acquainted with the relationship between the two of you. Do not make me do something drastic."
My stomach turns upside down, both furious and frightened.
He slides over, and I cautiously slip in next to Mycroft.
I'm ready to face anything. I think.
" Irrelevant to the moment, is the reasoning of your once alliance," brushing off his trousers.
"My brother, yes Sherlock is my younger brother, was sent on a diplomatic mission, where and why is not your concern. Some weeks ago we lost contact and--"
"Who's we?" ignoring all else. The car has rolled to a stop, and Mycroft in his expensive three-piece suit presses his body across mine, pushes down on the door handle and opens it. I can't move, I can't process what I heard.

"Does that mean he might be--dead," choking on that word.
"I suggest you persist in your career and your life without my brother. Goodbye Doctor Watson."
" Wait! Have you got any proof he's still alive?"
" There's no proof either way. Goodbye," his fingers gently push me towards the outside.

Out of the car, my heart tumbles to my toes, and with no destination in mind, I walk the streets.

This is silly, John Watson. You knew him for such a short period. And it was you who signed the death warrant to the affair.

One foot in front of another. Where? Doesn't matter, don't care. Oblivious to people, the shop's lights, the smells of food emanating from restaurants, I walk the streets.

I walk until the sun begins to creep up over the horizon, my legs unable to drive me any further.
Into my house, to my room, I fall on the bed, fully dressed and drift into a deep slumber.

=============================================

I wake to a timid knocking, and moms soft words, "John, John. Do you want something to eat before you leave?"
Wiping my eyes, coming to my senses," no. I'll grab on the way in."
A quick shower and taking care of my body needs I dress, and manage to find myself out of the house without any questions thrown at me.

I'm numb. Numb the whole day. Running through my routine automatically, laughing at the perfect spots, giving a pat on the back as needed, a handshake, asking the proper questions, giving the right answers. Everything I do is by rote.

Can't endure this day any longer. It seems all the grouchy, annoying clients with every stupid ache, real or otherwise, have gotten together to haunt the clinic.
I halt in front of my house. No, can't enter that door, not now.
I am conscious of the fact that I'm resentful of my situation and I'm sure that wonderful woman senses my irritation but won't call me out on it.
With a groan and a feeling of guilt, I stand outside and call her.
"Will you be okay if I go out for a drink with the guys?"
"For heaven's sake, go; go. I'll have the leftover chicken."
I hesitate, turning off the phone, walking to the pub at the corner. I've gone in a few times and knew if I feel disposed to drink heavy I can crawl my way home.

Sitting down at the counter, the chunky bartender grunts a hello.
" A beer and keep it running, please."

At one end of the bar, a substantial-sized looking man leans inwards. Not fat, but large in mass, his chest, his arms all remind me of either a wrestler or body-builder.
His chest is broad; his upper arms are bulging. The hands holding his glass, no, better yet, surrounding it are like a bears paw.
He nods a hello, and I ignore him.
Two drinks later and it's the perfect moment to find my way out. I don't need to be another drunken fool; my sister has done enough of that.
I plunk money on the counter, slide off the stool and walk to the house.

Dumping the grocery bags on the kitchen counter, I've not had a real dinner but munched on a candy bar from the machine at work.

"Mom, I asked you to heat the leftovers for me!" annoyed at her and, annoyed at myself for the constant exasperation I feel.
"Sorry, love. I got caught up in the movie I was watching. I'll do it now," stepping past me to open the fridge.
"Oh never mind. I'll have some tea and biscuits, for now," growling.
She tiptoes out of the kitchen and the guilt trips out of my head.
John, it's not her fault.
While the water boils I put the food away in the cupboards, put the tea in a cup and nibble at biscuits, the only nourishment, I'll have this evening.

"Do you want to watch the telly with me, love? There's a good movie on tonight. An old black and white one, "tentatively sticking her head around the corner of the door.
" Nah, thanks. I'm heading out for a bit. Don't wait up," kissing her on the cheek; I leave.

Chapter 6: The Lawyer

Back at the corner pub, I'm into my third pint and jump at the sound of a hand, no, a bears paw that slaps money in front of me on the wood counter.
"Make it another for this man, Eric. Names Kasey. With a k. Hi."
Pushing the bills towards him," sorry don't need--"
" Now mate. You and I both grasp the fact that you're heading for a mean drunk. Have one more, on me, and call it a night for yourself."

It's the same large hulk I remember from last week. How anyone can forget him is beyond me.
On closer inspection, he's even wider in the shoulders. A football type, tall, army buzz cut, brown hair, well over six feet.
"Are you my keeper?" with as much sarcasm as I can muster.
"Nah. Just doing you a favor. If you need a taxi I could--"
"Get off my back. I can take care of myself."
"Let me say I feel your pain. You're languishing over someone. She's done you dirty, I imagine."
With a slight shake of my head to indicate yes, not able to tell this stranger she is a he.

" Tell you what. Take off for home now and come here tomorrow night. I'll meet you in that booth there," pointing in a general area, "and you can pour out your story. An intruder and a stranger."
I turn to size him up, to look closer. In the darkened pub he looms large, with brown, kindly looking eyes.
I figure him in his mid-twenties. Not what I'd call movie star material but facial features that are easy on the eye.

" Guess what? I'll take you up on it," surprising myself, sliding off the stool and punching his arm," I'll meet you tomorrow, Kasey with a K," swaying out the door.

The next morning, I wonder why I agreed to meet him, a person I have no association with, never met before, to discuss my affair with Sherlock.
No, John, this will not occur.

I am off work today and stay home to help clean house, play a game of cards with mom and have an early dinner. I keep looking at the clock.
You intend to meet him; you fool you.
Curiosity and the need for company drives me out of the house.

==========================================

Eric, the bartender, nods to me, wiping his hands on his apron. "Kasey told me he'd be in near to seven."
"What do you know about him? He seems odd."
" He's odd all right. But a more generous, nicer guy you wouldn't find. He's gay and not afraid of it. But I suppose someone of his stature, being so imposing, wouldn't care a whit what anyone thinks of him."
" Hmm, Give me a beer. No stop. I'll wait until he comes in."

Sure enough at seven the door swings open and the big man takes over my line of sight as he steps up to the bar.
I look him up and down without any liquor to muddle my mind. He's big; he's enormous, he's gargantuan. Six feet five, at least. But not with fat; it's all muscle.
" Welcome, Kasey with a K. Bodybuilder are you?"
" No," he laughs, from deep in his belly.
"Everyone assumes that. Both my parents are tall and strapping. Leaning on the counter, "Eric," he calls out, his voice a baritone, confident, " beer for both and we'll be over there," pointing to a booth near the far corner.
Without glancing at me, he moves to the leather-looking booth and plops himself down.
I follow, very captivated by his boldness.

He reaches out to pat the seat, inferring I should sit close, close enough that our thighs could touch.
I slide in, but further away than he expected.
Eric walks the drinks to us.

" Now, whatever your name is, I don't have to be familiar with the exact details of your broken heart," pausing, "but why not start by living for the moment. This moment," and he raises his glass; his eyes are focusing, narrowing tightly onto my face. I can't say anything but pick up the glass in front of me and clink with his.
By looking at him, no one would ever consider him gay.
He's so damn masculine looking. Damn, John, you just stereotyped!

" Ah, so Eric has spilled my secret. Gay, I am. In love with men I am. And you?"
" I think that's a personal question--"
" Don't give me that crap," his face leaning so close that I move back to give me room to feel comfortable.
" Kasey, with a k, Knowlan, a lawyer, unattached and wants to be friends. Maybe with benefits if that's to your liking."
" You don't pull punches," staring, curious.
" Well, when one wants something one should reach for it. So, what you say, friends?" holding out his bear-sized paw. It envelops me, while a laugh bubbles up.

" John, with a J, Watson, doctor, unattached and wanting a friend," and withdrawing my hand quickly, taking time to feel the warmth radiating from him, "Not with benefits."
"Okay, no benefits. For now," and moves a slight distance away to contemplate me.
"Oh, now I know where I've seen you! You're the doc that opened up the new infirmary. Big ballyhoo in the papers and tv. Excellent work you're doing with the indigent." "Thanks. What kind of lawyer are you?"
"Do you have to ask? Criminal. They don't get away from me," holding out his hands in front of him, laughing, not at me but himself.
There's an urge to place my hand in his, and I do. And just as suddenly pull away.

He asks about the clinic, about myself in general, but avoids any mention of why I'm drinking in the first place.
We both love silly cartoons, reading, and crossword puzzles. The most significant debate is over rugby. We both love the same team, and we grow hot and heavy over other teams and the players. The conversation never stops, but the liquor does.
At the end of the evening, I realize something important. One is that I'm sober and two, I had forgotten my moping-- and Sherlock.

"Why don't we meet up at this very spot after the weekend and we can pour our hearts out over beer and chips," he asks, maintaining a calmness.
"Why are you interested in me? I'm not gay. I'm way older than you. I have problems--"
Cocking his head to the side, while placing a big paw on top of mine, " I'm twenty-four. Genius, those in my scope of friends and colleagues say of me. And who doesn't have problems? You're closer to forty. And I didn't say anything about your sexual preference. You're a right nice guy. And for whatever reason, you've gone into a funk. But, I like what we share, and I ride my instincts."
"Okay, Kasey with a k. I'll meet you on Monday night as you ask, but no guarantees of anything else."
"Fair enough," and we shake hands on it. He stays while I walk to my house.

==============================

I wake up Monday morning with a smile on my face, but it soon disappears.
Him--sitting at the bar with me, laughing over a particular--oh a specific anything. But what good is it? All I have is a quickly fading memory.
There's this man called Kasey. He's not questioning me. And to be honest, I had a wonderful evening.

The clinic is running smoothly, and I almost wish I had somehow taken the lawyers phone number to call him.
Stepping out of my office, walking to the waiting room, there he is, this big creature, at the front desk leaning on the counter.
He casually unfurls his body to stand straight upon seeing me walk down the hallway.
"I was asking your nice receptionist to summon you and, poof, you show up. What say you? Dinner?"
" You're a bloody mind-reader, you are. I was upset because--"
" Never mind the whys. Put yourself together. I'll wait for you at this very desk. I've got this agreeable lady to chat with and find out all your hidden secrets," giving a smile to Bella," but bet she won't tell."She's blushing.

For such a gigantic man he has a soft way with people.

" You need some rest and have been working yourself silly. Not that we all haven't. Relax tonight," Mike says, giving me an inquiring stare. As if to ask a question, which I stop by moving out of his range and down the hall.

=======================================

We're seated in a Chinese restaurant, and before I can ask he pulls out his phone, "my numbers for you. I'll give you both my home and office."

" Why are you a step ahead of me? I once knew--," and stop. No comparing, John, it's not fair. Leave 'him' out of this.
" You have an open face. It's easy to read. I also can tell you are quick to temper. That first night at the bar you were in agony. If anyone had crossed your path, you would have torn them to pieces. It was plain that a romance had gone bad. And you're going to ask how I do it? Simple. You assess your patients don't you, noticing skin color, facial expressions. I do the same in my line of work."
"Yes, I do. But outside of doctoring, I shut it down. Too much trouble."
I pick up my tea, sip it slowly and continue to eat.

No need to comment. I had the sense that he was trying to pry my confession out of me To let me give it up without him pushing.
Well, Mister Knowlan, it's not as easy as you think. That confession remains enclosed in a secret part of me. The memory of that voice, that time.

====================================

Early one morning Mike and I are eating breakfast at the local diner. Our schedules conflict most of the time, and he has a girlfriend. It's a treat when we can meet, just the two of us.

"I hear you've been out a bit. What's keeping you so occupied? Girlfriend? Boyfriend?" he says, taking a bite of his eggs.

"Why do you think boyfriend?" Anyway, it's neither. There's this guy, and no, Mike, we're not romantically attached. I met him at the pub, and he's, well, he's different. I would love for the three of to hang out sometime."
" And do you think this 'different' could become -- a thing?"
"Mike, you have the wrong impression of me. It's women, not men."
He snorts," don't give me that horseshit. Watching guys out of the corner of your eyes is a favorite habit of yours. I've certainly known you long enough. Someday one will come along--."
"Stop it, Mike. Yes, men have beautiful bodies. Most of them, including you. But that doesn't mean I want any sex with them or you. I like the male physique; that's all."
"Oh, ho. Yea, that's all," his fist pushing at my arm.
"Mike quit it. I'm not in the mood for your bantering."
"Every time you think I don't see you that sad face appears. I'm beginning to wonder whether you need a good fuck--."
Slamming my fist on the counter top, "Mike," between gritted teeth, trying to keep my temper and talk low, "for fuck's sake stop."
Raising his hands," Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Changing the subject. What about mom?"
"Mom has given up on me marrying. And you understand the situation with sis. And mom's health is not good. Nothing you can put your finger on, but she forgets so easily. So that's it," pausing to sip my coffee, now grown cool.
" Meantime, and I'll ask for the thirtieth time, what's with you and Molly?"
"I'm getting a ring this week. Now that my practice is up and running I can afford a wife. I'm glad she's waited for me."
Raising my glass, "to love." Yes, to love. But not my own.

Chapter 7: Not So Easy

Standing outside the large building where Kasey lives I hesitate but ring the bell, hear the answering buzz, and step in. The elevator stops on the ninth floor; the door slides open. I'm startled to find him out in the hall, leaning against the wall, as if he couldn't wait for me.
"I've already ordered Chinese food. It will be here within an hour. That gives us a chance to have a drink."

Walking me into his flat, we're high enough that his panoramic window view is dramatic.
The furniture is modern leather sofas and chairs. A spinet piano hugs a corner, and suspended on the walls are photographs, all scenery, and I imagine taken by him.
"Do you play the piano or is it for display?" walking to it and checking out the music on the stand
Chuckling deep in his throat, "I do play. A bit of pop and Celtic music. Irish to you. Part of my heritage. And those pictures you're so interested in are of places I've visited. Sometimes for work, sometimes on holiday."

He's poured drinks and with both glasses in his hands, he nods, "You said you're a fair cook so steal a glance at the kitchen. Maybe we can cook up a meal together."
All the latest appliances looking untouched and I envision us both in there, aprons on.
What am I thinking? I step slowly backward, dizzy with the sense I'm being pursued in a subtle romantic way.

"I could use the bathroom," spinning on my heels.
"The bathroom is down the hall, on the right."

The doors to each of the rooms are open, and my curiosity gets the better of me.
The first one is obvious. His at home office with shelves on two walls holding thick-volume books, probably all law. A clutter of papers strewn on the desk and chairs. His bedroom also has a view of the city. And--a king-size bed! Of course! He would need something that big for him.
I use the bathroom and walk to the living room to hear the street buzzer ring. Must be the food.

The rugby match we watch is exciting, both teams evenly matched and the points flying back and forth.

We're screaming, banging our fists on the coffee table, hitting each other on the shoulders and arms. Just the thing you would do with a drinking buddy.

The dishes are cleaned up, we're sitting comfortably on the sofa, my feet resting on a large ottoman, the table lamps giving off a soft glow.
Sipping my beer, I think of the right way to broach the subject he's aching to ask of me.

" Do you think this is a good time for questions and answers from both of us?" making it a question, clasping my hands in my lap, staring at the carpet and knowing this is going to be tough.

" I'm guessing you're referring to our past loves," he walks to the window, the fog hiding a lot of the lights outside, pulls the curtain partway closed.

"If it will make it easier let me address it first, John," in an about-face, leaning against the window drapes, folding those massive arms together, he stares at them.
"I met my guy, Phillip, when I was sixteen. Yes, young. We met at the university sign in, both of us studying law for our professions."
" Did you have any idea even then? About you, I mean?"
Chuffing at my question," Yes, of course, I knew. I liked boys from an early age; my parents tried to convince me otherwise. Almost sent me off to conversion therapy but were ashamed to admit this tragedy openly in their house," with a deep breathe he continues.
" We attended almost the same courses. My eyes kept wandering to him, to Phillip, and it took no time to realize he was doing the same," pausing. Staring at a faraway place.
"We went for coffee the first time. Phil didn't drink liquor. Wasn't to his liking."
Planting himself on the edge of the armchair across from me, he looks me squarely in the eye, "at that first encounter; there was no doubt for me. I was captivated by him. The opposite of my size. Small, but clever, and compassionate, "studying his hands he takes a few seconds.
I wait.

" I was not sure. His sexuality was questionable. I knew he enjoyed my company. I did not directly approach him."
"And you were, I suppose, that confident about yourself?" was that a tinge of cynicism in my question?
"Oh yes, John. Remember, I knew who I was. From that first moment we met, I wanted him in my bed, in my arms. Does that sound crazy to you?"
"It was that easy? Even though he was male?"
His arms raised in frustration," oh for heaven's sake! I said I knew my orientation early on in my life! What was so difficult about it?"
"Even though your parents didn't condone--?"
"They didn't understand it, John. It was beyond their comprehension. But I could not live a lie. I was gay, and that was it."

That was it, he said. So easy for him. So hard for me.

" It took a few weeks before he made any overtures. Silly little things such as leaving me notes. Let's meet for lunch, just the two of us, a heart under the words."
He steps up, sits in the chair and leans in toward me.
"A kiss, that first kiss, well, that's all I'll expound on that, "pausing, his hands, those paws, rubbing together.

"We were a couple, but a couple hid from view. No open displays. Extremely difficult, as you must be aware of."
I can nod in agreement, knowing how hard it is to keep my particular secret.

"After graduation, we acquired a flat in London. Being employed in the same company would pose problems, so we found it effortless enough to apply to different firms. Our long and conflicting hours kept us apart. I'd walk into the flat, and he'd be walking out.

Clasping those huge hands around a knee, " And then, after six years together, Phil announced that he had met someone else. It was a blow. With hindsight, I can remember those last years and should have seen the signs, the growing apart, no sex or very little. And I've been single since. Oh, the occasional two-three date thing. But that's all."

A huge sigh, digging himself out of the chair, "How about I make tea, and we can continue?"

I follow him into the kitchen, watching him open a cupboard door, sliding the tea box out and heating the water.

" My parents are alive, and together and living in Ireland."
"You have no accent."
" It was my great-grandparents that came down to England. My mother and father had bought land early on in their marriage near Cork. Three years ago mom and dad built a house there and moved up just last year. There are three older brothers. Two are living in America as lawyers. The oldest is married, no children, yet. The youngest is a gadabout. The middle brother lives in Edinburgh and owns a large manufacturing firm. Married with one child."

Setting out the cups and saucers, he hands me a plate with biscuits while he lifts the pot and our dishes and motions to move to the parlor.

==========================================

Moving to sit across from me, both in our same chairs as before, his hands resting on the arms, "your turn."
Start at the start I say to myself.
"We've always lived in and around London. My dad's parents died young. My mom's parents lived up north, but they are gone. She didn't talk to them for as long as I can remember"
"Ever think to ask?"
Snorting, "yes, and got the cold shoulder from her."
A sip of the tea and bite of a chocolate biscuit, "anyhow, Dad had a heart attack at an early age and could not work. I got out of school at sixteen and took all sorts of odd jobs to help out. I have an older sister, Harriet. Harriet had seen the inside of rehab centers for alcoholism many times, and it now seems she is clean."
"That's commendable, but there's more isn't there?"
"She has a --," looking up at him, "girlfriend. Mom's thinking is she will grow out of being a lesbian if she meets the right guy. They have a shaky relationship at best." "Mom had at first refused to see or speak to my sister Harriet. She proclaimed herself a lesbian right to moms face, one night after she was drinking," I grimly laugh. "Imagine that! She was not that upset over Harry's alcoholism but being gay was more than she could handle."

"No easy street for you. Your mother's still living, I assume?"
"Yes, Mom is living and still in the big house. I live with her now, helping to care for everyday things. Her health is not the best," a sip of tea and a second of the chocolate biscuits finds it's way into my mouth.

"Oh John," with an exasperated sigh," Now, because of your sister's predilection, upsetting your mother further is out of the question. Am I right?"
"Yes."
"Let me guess. The universe came forth and into your private sailing vessel fell an angel from the sky, tipping it over to reveal a moral truth. A truth you tried to hide, from the world and yourself. Your world is deeper than that boat."
Looking at him, I wonder the mystery of his brain. How he comes up with his conclusions.

"Rather a fancy way of putting a simple statement, isn't it? And anyway, yes I fell in love."

"Oh come on, John Watson, I'm a criminal lawyer. It's my job to deduce people and read between the lines. It was easy. The first night I saw you at the pub that you were in heartbreak city. I also knew it wasn't the opposite sex after we shook hands."
"And you derived that assumption in what way?"
"If you were straight you would have withdrawn your hand quickly. But you held on. And the second time, you purposely opened my hand and set yours inside, then realized what you were doing and the look of terror on your face was enough for me. An eighty-six percent chance you were gay. And I'm certain. I study these things."
A little smile crosses my face.
"Now, " as he relaxes his body in the chair," tell me your tale of woe."

===========================================

Before I begin, I stand, walk to the bathroom and peer into the mirror. Your turn, John. Time to utter it aloud.
Pouring the tea for myself, I can hear the hum of the traffic outside, the tick of the clock, even the rustle of my trousers as I sit.

The beginning of that adventure is easy to tell. I stumble, mumble a few words about our first time being intimate and stop.
"You needn't give me the details, doctor. I can extrapolate from that," his tone soft-spoken.

"I knew from the minute we were intimate that I couldn't continue it. But, while emotion, no, it was god-damned desire swept me up all rationale flew out the window," my fingers find their way under the cushion, holding on, squeezing.
"If mom ever found out her son loved a person other than a woman it would kill her, " I continue with my gaze on the floor, "What was worse, I knew and yet kept the knowledge from him. I was wrong, but Kasey, I didn't want to spoil it, "choking those words out with a cry. " He knew I was hiding something; he tried to pry it out of me a few times. I held back, only telling him the truth on our last morning together. God, Kasey, he was angry!" "I bet he was!"
"There's more to it. Through the post, he would send me heather, the flower of Norway, every week. It kept me going. No card to indicate it was him. But I knew."
"Oh, let me guess. Your mother thought you had a secret admirer, a woman whom you met on the ship." Nodding my agreement, a curve of a smile.
" The opening day of the clinic Sherlock walked in, uninvited, a surprise. But there he was in person. We barely had any time alone. I wanted to let the world know I loved him. Before leaving, he told me he'd wait for me. But now the flowers have suddenly stopped. And I met his brother, some bigwig in the government and--," continuing my account of the car episode.

"You had a shipboard romance. Normal. But your response--,"
"Don't Kasey. Don't judge me."
"With you being the caring son you felt it was the best decision, the ethical conclusion."
Wringing my hands, and staring at them," The way you read me is somewhat the same as he did. Only he read people to the point of being rude," suffering a chuckle at that remembrance.
"Is that what pulled you toward him?"
" Besides his looks, and don't get me wrong, he was striking, it was his perception and the very depth of information he gathered to himself."

Pausing, the teacup at my lips, Kasey hauls himself up, "where does this love story end now if we assume he's dead? How long do you mourn? And let's be practical, you knew him a short while, and even with the heather flowers he was still only a dream, not a reality."

It's quiet for minutes. He sits next to me rubbing my back with a soft, easy touch," Are you waiting still?"
" If there were a slight chance he was alive his brother would inform me. Well, maybe not so. He didn't seem keen on our being together. But I've pretty much given up on the idea of--."

The silence permeates the very air around us! The big man removes his hands from my back, tensing up.

Standing up, he turns on me, his pitch raised, yelling his words, "Damn it to hell, John Watson, when are you going to live, admit to yourself what you are, what you want? Hell to Jesus, your sister is better off than you?"
Gripping the sofa cushions, I holler," Stop it. Right now! You have no business--,"
Pacing, he rubs his hands through his hair, his eyes blazing with anger," I have every intention of showing you the truth. I live my authentic life. And so does your sister. Your mom didn't die on the spot after Harry told her."
"That's because I was there, helping--,"
I've risen, and we're facing each other, close, too close.
"Help, bullshit. John Watson," and his finger pokes hard at my chest," you are a coward. Get out of my flat, out of my life. Leave before you do the same with me," pushing me.
I turn and run towards the door, shouting, "Fuck you, Kasey," and I'm on the street before I realize what I've done. Doesn't matter! I blew it!

John Watson, you are a fool!
This lawyer, this oversized adult found it pleasant to be with you for one reason. He wants you as his bedmate. Hell, he even said it the first night we met. 'Friends with benefits,' remember? " All he wanted was to fuck you," saying it aloud.
But yet, he's not pushed the matter.
For a fact, all he's been is, and I hate using this saying, ' a perfect gentleman.'

==================================================

I've been walking in a downpour, all the taxis are taken and by the time I'm home I'm soaked through to my briefs. Mom is in the parlor, and I sneak past her. My wet clothes off and laid carefully over my chair, a towel under to catch the drips, I dive into my bed, covering my head.
Impossible to close my eyes. Pictures revolve behind my eyes.
Pictures of Sherlock, my first encounter.
Pictures of Kasey, his huge paws, hell, his vast body!
Sherlock, walking through the cathedral, his voice reverberating through me. That voice!
Kasey, leaning over me, asking questions, probing.
Turning on my side, I cry into my pillow.

Yes, Kasey, you are right, he's a dream, a very unattainable dream. But you're not!

Chapter 8: The Truth

Weeks later, tired and feeling out of sorts I text Kasey.
Must see you. PLEASE

Immediately there's a reply. I can't get my phone out of my pocket fast enough.
My place. A quick dinner. say 6

Texting that six is fine, I finish up the items on my desk and throw on a jacket.

Dinner and wine are already on the table, but can barely touch my food, nibbling, dragging my fork along the plate, and warily watch him. Not knowing where this will lead.

" Fine, don't eat. Leave everything, John; I'll clean later. Come into the parlor," gets up, waiting for me to follow.
And follow I do, not sure where to sit, I lean against the doorway.
"Take the chair," motioning to the armchair I had sat in the last time.
"Do you want something to drink?" his tone neutral.
"Water would be fine," sitting, my hands moving from my lap to the arms of the bulky chair, restless.

I had a speech rehearsed, but I can't think of it. Gone from my mind, jumbled into a thousand pieces.

"Why are you here now, John Watson?" his tone even and somewhat cold, placing the glass on a trivet and sitting on the sofa.

"Kasey, I'm sorry--"
"Sorry for what? You haven't done anything to be sorry about."
I try to swallow, gulping the water, "for the way I acted."
He rises, "And you acted in which way?"
"Why, I yelled at you. In your home! Is that the problem?" wavering, not sure in how to say the right thing.
"John," his body language stiff," I suggest you step out that door. This is going to go no place."
Running my hand through my hair, frustrated that I'm getting it all wrong, "Wait, wait. I'm not doing this correctly."
Looking at his watch, "you have five minutes to justify yourself and five seconds to leave this flat if it's not good enough."
"Shit, what do I say? You're right; you're two hundred percent right. I'm afraid. Afraid of what people will say. Afraid mom will cut me out of her life, or worse still, die."
Finding myself coming unraveled I begin to sob uncontrollably; I yell out, "I'm gay. I'm gay, and I want you, you--you--,"
Before I know it, he's surrounding me with those huge arms, my tears wetting his shirt.
Hiccuping into his chest, I feel his fingers running through my hair, and his shushing is quieting me.
"It's okay now John with a J. It's okay," lifting me off the ground, settling himself on the sofa and with me on his lap, rocking back and forth.
In his large arms, I snuggle into his shoulder.
I look into his face and pull him down to meet my lips. A gentle brushing.

"John, By now you should know I have a certain tenderness toward you. But to be honest, I'm itching to pick your ass up and carry you to my bed. I've never had a doctor before," snickering into my neck."
Light-hearted sounding, bringing this tense moment to a close.
His fingers trail down my face, wiping the last of the wetness off my cheeks.
Holding me in his arms, he lifts my chin and touches my bottom lip with his thumb, caressing it.
He runs his tongue across my lips and with his palm sitting on my cheek, he kisses, lightly.
"Only a tenderness, Kasey? "my heart rate increasing.
"In the words of a famous lawyer, namely me, I'm going to fuck you into the ground," his arms under my knees, lifting me, my lips tracing along his mouth, his bed is our next stop.

I lie snuggled in this mans arms. Living in this moment only.

===========================================

There's the unspoken 'move in with me,' but as long as mom is alive I must stay with her.
I never stay the night at his place. Mom constantly tut-tuts thinking I'm working late hours. I let it be

"Mom, I'm home, "yelling out, while I remove my jacket and place my bag on the floor.
No answer, no yoo-hoo from the kitchen or parlor.
"Mom?" sensing something wrong I rush to the kitchen only to see her lying on the floor, unconscious.
Calling emergency, I check her vitals, and she's barely breathing.

At the hospital, diagnosed with a heart attack, Harry joins me to spend the night sitting in the waiting room. I text Kasey. He would like to be with me, but I tell him it's not a good idea. Not yet.

The next morning mom has another attack and dies.

The funeral is attended by only sis and I.

We've asked all friends to join us at the house and the evening is warm enough to leave the front door open.
A woman steps in, and Harry immediately advances to her. Aha! Her lover I suppose.
Fingers intertwined they approach me," Clara, meet John. John, Clara is my boss and also my love."
Clara is a gray-haired woman at least ten years Harry's senior. Her hair is pulled into a bun and tied with a green bandana. She's wearing a loose-fitting dress, but the style flatters her.
I smile as my man enters the house, looks around, sees me, and steps close. I put my arm around his big waist," this is my surprise. Kasey, meet my sister Harry and her friend Clara."
Harry bursts out laughing, "oh, I get it now."
"I'll explain later, " I say mainly to my sister.

"I know this will be a tough few weeks sorting out all the legal papers," he says, watching everyone in the room. "Yes, mom left a mess of stuff. And we have to go through all of that." "If you need to get away," pulling out a set of keys, "just pop in as you see fit,"

================================

Harry and I have spent the better part of a morning going through all the documents at the lawyer's office. Next is the house where we tackle the miles of paperwork in moms bedroom. We stop to sit and eat the food the neighbors have made for us.

"Okay, news for you. I've been living with Clara for months now. I gave up my flat. I didn't want to tell you because I was afraid you'd slip something to mom. And--we're going to marry," raising her glass of water.
We've eaten and are washing the dishes, and I flick my soapy fingers in her direction, "now why would I have done that?" going at it again, "tell mom anything personal."
Backing away, "stop that you dope! I felt it was easier because you had enough on your mind. Didn't need my shit also."
I finish the last dish, and Harry dries it off," Damn John, live with Kasey. He's perfect for you. As big a brute as he is, he's fucking nice."
Placing the dishes in the cupboard, I give it moments before answering, " Yes, he's a wonderful person and very much in love with me."
"And here comes the but," she says.
"Yes, the but being--I'm not in love with him."
"Love, schmove.You'll grow into it. Or if not you'll, at last, have a warm, caring companion to be with."

===============================

Considering her words carefully, I know she's missing the most crucial piece of information. There's someone I cannot go on about any longer.
Sherlock Holmes has got to become a past love. Fleeting and enjoyable for its time.
But it's the all too real, the now moment, and it's Kasey that waits for me.

For the next week, Harry and I continue to wrap up mom's estate. The house is willed to Harry, and she's eager to sell it. Get it off her hands and mind.

I've had a generous settlement of money. Very generous. Enough to allow me to buy more modern equipment for my practice, and keep a larger staff of nurses and doctors on the roster.

===============================

Harry and I are sitting on the floor of the parlor, papers scattered, a notepad between us, the better part of the morning spent throwing out, sorting clothes, and whatever else is needed.

"Hey, I'm such a dope! I never asked you more about her," she says.
My mind is blank, what 'her' is she referring to.
"Dummy! The woman on the ship. You know, with the flowers? Heather, wasn't it?" The pad and pencil land on the floor, and taking a sip of the tea sitting beside me, "Ok, time for me to confess the truth."

I pour out the details of my adventure. Harry is tut-tutting, a trait of mom's. Holding both my hands between her two," Are you sure he's dead?"
" If he isn't then he's not interested in me anymore."
"Well, you have Kasey now," giggling, hand over her mouth, "and what a cute couple you make."
I lean closer to tickle her, and we roll on the floor, papers scattering, forgetting everything else but the teasing.

Chapter 9: Chaos

Many times now I've been asked to move in, to be a partner. But I always hold back.
I have to decide to do something soon.

At his place a few days later, I hear his ringtone, not for the first time but this once I ask about it. "Its The Parting Glass by The Wallin Jennys. A Celtic group. Because of my Irish heritage, I've grown up with these ditties. I'll play some while we eat. " "Interesting since I know nothing of old England's songs, my heritage." "My parents are proud Irish. All of us, from when we were born, were brought up with the folklore and the music." Eating leftovers he plays the music, explaining the words, the meanings of the songs.
Again he brings up the subject of living together.
"Leave it be, Kasey," removing the plates from the table," This arrangement is fine for us at the moment."
"John, "heaving a sigh, helping to move the dirty dishes to the dishwasher," you have to come to a resolution soon. Harry has the house up for sale. It's a matter of what, days, months."
Pouring wine in both our glasses, "it's seven months since your mother's demise, and you're living here more than your house. You even have clothes in the spare bedroom."
" I can't; I just can't. I might find a small flat somewhere near-- "sitting back at the table, a large plate of biscuits with us.
He bangs his big fist on the table," You are infuriating to me, do you understand that? What are you waiting for--or is it still who?"
Pushing the chair away so suddenly it topples, "that's enough!" I find myself shaking.
His words a shout, his fist banging down again, the wine staining the white cloth as the glasses topple over, "no it's not! You can't keep this up! I need a commitment from you. Is it me or that ghost of yours? Your choice."
Stepping around the fallen chair, I dart to the door, stopping to say," I'll pick up my belongings when you're not home," abandoning his flat.
"Wait, John, wait! " his call echoing down the hallway. I haven't stopped to take the elevator but run down the steps.
Outside, way out of breath, I lean against the building.
What have I done.? Why am I so hesitant to move in? Is it the permanency of the move?
I hail a taxi, my phone buzzing, and I turn it off. I don't want to discuss any of this.

========================================

I collect my toiletries and the few clothes into a bag and set the keys on the kitchen table.

All his texts and calls are ignored. I fling myself into my work, the late hours not a problem, even taking to sleeping on a couch in the office.
Mike tries to get me to talk, but I shut him down. It's no use.

For weeks the sounds continue and suddenly-dead air. It's worse than the noisy pings and rings.
I can't think, can't eat, can't sleep.
Kasey or Sherlock. Sherlock or Kasey. But Sherlock is---

=========================================

A taxi lets me off in front of his building. It's a drizzly, chilly day and I'm both happy and fearful.

Walking into the custodian's office I tell him I've lost my key to the flat.
He grabs a key off the wall and hands it to me, "Take these, I'll make another for you. Will have it ready in the morning."

Entering, tossing the keys and the newspaper on the small entry table, I catch a glimpse of Kasey's face popping up from the sofa.
Surprised, he's on his feet quickly, with no shirt and trousers open.
Another face appears from over the sofa, turning in surprise, he leaps up, with his jeans and boxers at his knees. He's gathering his clothes up around him, trembling.

"You could have knocked," with such composure it makes my blood boil.
"Is the whole world going mad?" my hands in my hair, clenching it in my fists, " Fuck you and fuck your lover," turning to walk out.
Kasey, clenching his trousers with one paw, moves faster than I and pulls me around by my jacket collar, holding tightly onto it.
"You're not going anywhere just yet."
Both arms grasp me and wrap around my waist, lifting me off the ground.
"Freddie, sorry, you have to leave, this minute, please."
Freddie darts out from the couch, his shirt half on, jacket in his hand and scampers out the door.

He throws me on the sofa, and I kick at him, trying to rise, to shove him out of the way, but his body blocks me.
"You're not getting out of this flat without discussing your reason for entering my home. Now, are you going to explain, quietly or do I tie you up."
"Yeah, go ahead. That would be your style, wouldn't it? "
He's shoved a knee in my stomach, his hands holding mine down by my sides.
"Don't try to get me riled. Now, if I get up will you settle down?"
Taking a deep breath, I nod a yes.
"He is, Freddie,--was nothing serious John. A brief interlude. I thought you were gone," taking a breath, "what pacifying do you need now?"
Quietly stepping to the sideboard, he pours himself a whiskey, walks to the window and looks out, watching the night traffic and the lights of the evening.
I don't move,
"Begin, but don't come near me."
"Can I have a drink?"
"No, No drink. Commence," still glancing out the window.
Taking the paper off the entry table, I toss the newspaper on the chair nearest him.
He turns to look at it, picks it up, a question on his face.
The picture and article discuss Englands Prime Minister and his visit with the Prince of Pakistan.
"The man next to the Prime Minister. That's him! That's Sherlock. I'd know him anyplace. Even with his hair cut short and that beard," excited, my hand shaking. Throwing the paper on the floor, he turns to the lights of the night, "and so you think that proves he's alive? Am I supposed to jump up and down with joy?"
"Please don't be sarcastic. I need your help," picking up the tabloid, placing it on the table.
Facing me, he laughs, "oh I get it. The big lawyer is needed to research this picture. To find out if 'your detective' is alive," his air quotes done with one hand still holding the glass.
"I appreciate that I'm asking a lot, but can you?"
"You son of a bitch. According to what book do you think I would consider such a request? Where do you get your nerve storming in and expect me to what?" kicking the table, knocking the paper, coasters and all to the floor.
" John Watson, you barged into my home, and I now strongly suggest you leave. And by the way, do not enter when I'm not here. Trespassing, you understand. Against the law. Good night," waiting for me to get out.
He walks to the hallway, and I hear the bedroom door slam. Standing motionless, he's banging on the wall, and I can tell by the sound that he's sobbing.
Dear lord, what have I done? My legs move me towards the bedroom, then stop and turn around.
I must know the truth. Is Sherlock Holmes alive?

=========================================

I decide to hire a private investigator. Mister Elliot Wiggins. He's been recommended by the Detective Inspector in our district.

"Allow me the freedom to look into this case. It should be an easy one," the investigator says, a man in his forties, big tummy, but all business.
I can only think of Sherlock. Sherlock, is he alive? If alive why hasn't he gotten in touch? If dead, who is this person in Pakistan?

=================================

"A Mister Wiggins is here to see you," Sarah, my nurse, says, peeking in my office.
"Aha, send him in please."

This is it! I now find out who that person in the picture was. Is it my detective?

The private investigator steps into the office. His demeanor as before is calm and easy going. So unlike myself right now.
"Have a seat, "standing and shaking hands.
"Nah, thanks. Got to be at another appointment soon."
"Sooo, what can you tell me," leaning in my chair, feigning indifference, but in reality, my heart is pounding, my palms sweaty, clenched at my sides.
"The man in that picture is a Mister Tailor. Quiet, shy. He and his wife seldom join social parties. She, Raheeba, works for the Prime Minister and is related to the Prince. It's her first cousin, and they are very close."
"And what else?" remembering to smile, as if the world hadn't toppled.
"Mister Sherlock Holmes was reported missing ages ago and is considered possibly dead by now. He was a very resourceful man and if alive would have contacted his brother, Mycroft Holmes. That is the full extent of it, Doctor Watson."
Standing up, opening the drawer of my desk, I pull out an envelope and hand it to him.
"Thank you for your help," and with a shake of hands, he leaves.

================================

Wiggins, you certainly made out well on this case, stepping into a taxi, feeling the envelope with the check in it.
After Doctor Watson had contracted with me, I left for lunch to return to a flustered secretary.
"What's the matter, Joan?"
"There's a man in your office. I tried to stop him, but he was insistent. Told me to hold off your next appointment. Wouldn't give me his name. Very fancy clothes on him."

Opening the door, a slim, and yes, very well dressed man faces me.
"Mister Elliot Wiggins, sir. What can I do for you?" extending my hand which he refuses.
"Mycroft Holmes. I need your assistance."
Imagine! Him in my office! He's known to us detectives. A big wheel in government.

Casually, with a smirk, he removes from his jacket a white packet.
"You will comply with my instructions concerning one Doctor John Watson. Your report will," setting a folded sheet of paper on my desk," be a repeat of this evidence as written word for word. Do you discern my meaning?"
Looking at the white envelope, he motions for me to pick it up.
In it are large denominations of bills. Cash!
"After you return from Doctor Watson's office a similar packet will be on your desk."
"You expect me to lie to a client?"
No answer but he turns and leaves.

I imagine he and his brother are working on some top-secret defense operation.
Wonder what Doctor Watson had to do with it? Or not! Either way, Sherlock Holmes is gone, dead, kaput. At least to the general public, and one doctor.

I step out, and my secretary asks, "are you taking on his case?"
"No, nothing I can handle."
"Obnoxious man, wasn't he?"
Without acknowledging her, I close the door, ready to take part in this charade.

======================================

I'm embarrassed! Mortified! What an absolute jerk! By what means did my stupid mind tell me it was right to continue this farce?
Was this my idiotic idea of love?
Doctor John Watson, you have been a stupid adolescent, an obsessive teen in first love. Obsessive? Hell, you went so far overboard in your fantasy you forgot to look at the real world!

=============================

Harriet has a buyer for the house, and I have two months to move out. I've already sorted through my clothes, and what I don't want finds it's way into the charity box in the clinic.
All except the blue sweater.

I haven't the patience to search for a new place to put my body, so I start by spending nights sleeping at the clinic.
The couch in my office is soft enough, and I have full use of the shower and bathroom facilities. Harry catches on and offers me the use of her sofa and her help in exploring new options to live in.

I want Kasey back in my life. I know I've led him a merry chase. This time it's for real.
It's not enough to call or text. He probably won't respond anyway.

My best strategy is to return to the first place I met him. The pub.

Looking surprised when I take a seat at the bar, Eric at first gives me the once-over, "Hey there. Nice of you to turn up again. What will it be?" his voice neutral
"Give me a beer and by the way, have you seen Kasey lately?"
As a bartender, I'm sure he's seen much and has gotten asked many questions and is used to not batting an eye.
"Yes, he comes in occasionally," wiping his hands on his apron.
"Yes, Eric, we've had a falling out," sighing, as Eric nods.
"If I give you a message can you deliver it the next time he's in?"
"Why not text him?"
"No."
"Okay, give it to me."
I give him an envelope, finish my drink and leave.

Inside the envelope is a white card with my handwritten note:
I've grown up. No more fantasies. You are the only fantasy I want. The real deal. Can you--?
John with a J

====================================

Afraid I might miss a text, my phone is either in my hand or on a chair next to me. I check it every few minutes. But nothing!
Shit John! You've messed this up! He's not going to come back. It's over.

" Hey, Doctor, the phone's been pinging since you've been out of my room. I'm assuming it's yours?" the patient sitting on the gurney points to the object on the stool

Was out of town. Meet me at the pub tonight at nine.
In other words, either show or don't bother him anymore.

Harry is worrying over me. She's going through my clothes, helping me to wear something suitable for tonight.

"Try this green plaid", throwing it at me.
"No, wore that before. Need something--" stopping in my tracks. She's pulled out the sweater. The Sherlock sweater.
I stumble in my response, and Harry pushes it towards me.
"Shows off your eyes."
"No, no. I'd rather that blue there," pointing to a darker blue still in the suitcase.

I can't wear that--. I've never worn it. I should throw it out, but not yet.
"Hey, how about putting a bow in your hair?" giggling at me.
"Cut that out, Harry."
"You're acting like a guy on a first date."
"I feel that way. Harry, what if he won't take me back? What do I do?"
"John. Stop this! He's asked to meet you. If he were through with you, he wouldn't speak to you at all. That guy is madly in love, John. You've pushed and pushed him. He deserves to be angry, and cautious."

The dark blue sweater goes over my head, and I brush it down over my torso.
She closes in on me, pressing her hands on either side of my face. "Give him time. Go with whatever he wants. Don't expect him to make it easy, to be very nice to you. If he yells, don't lose your temper. Remember--you treated him like shit."
You're right. I did. Thanks for your help. Ah well, make or break it now."

=========================================

I arrive half an hour early, and Eric's eyes light up when I ask for two beers.

The big man opens the door, and I know I'm splitting my face with a huge grin. I can't help feeling a moment of happiness, but my stomach rolls with the tension.

Sitting in the booth, drinks, and chips at the table, it's up to me to begin this conversation.

"Kasey, I've been a perfect ass to you."
" You have-- and more."
"But you've been kind, and loving to me."
"I have--and more."
He's being infuriating. His large paws are picking up chips, placing them in his mouth, taking a drink. As if this was not hard enough on me, he is bent on making it even more difficult.
I have to stop myself from provoking him. Remember Harry's words. 'Go with what he wants'
"Would you consider--I mean could you see it in the future to--,"
"You're asking me to sign on again? To commit myself--to you--again?"
"Sherlock is dead. Gone."
"And I'm supposed to jump through your hoop, to yell 'whoppee' and we collapse into bed making--"
" Please, don't do this. I mean it now. I've thought and thought about what I fucking ass I was. Please give me another chance, please," realizing I'm begging.
But it doesn't matter. I'd clean his shoes if he asked me.

A large swallow of his beer, and he snickers while holding the glass, staring at its contents, " And the next picture or a line in a newspaper, or any hint that he's walking this earth?"
"I deserve whatever bitterness and doubt you give me. But there is a reality to this. I had a private detective--"
"Oh, you don't have to explain anything. I knew you would hire someone and you did. And let me guess," head up, eyes looking at the ceiling, middle finger to his lips thinking, sarcastically.

"Found out your lover was dead, did you? Did you find his grave and make big, blubbering sobs over it? Or make a shrine at the clinic with his ashes in a golden urn?"
My hands turn to fists, and I remember that he's entitled to say whatever he cares to throw at me.
Did I expect him to rush into my arms? That's not going to happen.
He's given me enough chances.

Unfolding my fingers, spreading them flat on the table, sitting forward, trying to get him to turn towards me.
Staring at the wall he asks, in a hushed tone," and what would you have done if he was alive? Run to him?" picking up his glass and downing the rest of the drink.
Here is the moment. Find your strength now. Tell the truth. It's all you've got.
" I've addressed that over and over. Why would I run to him? The only time he took the lead was at the opening of the clinic. Never a text, a call. Anything," my fingers curling up again.
"It's always been me and my delusion. He was a shipboard romance, and that was all."
Just wanting to feel a closeness, a positive reaction, I run my hand over his hair. He pushes it away, and when I bring it to rest on his shoulder, he shrugs but leaves it in place.
======================================

At last, he looks towards me, a thumb tracing along the line of tears on my cheeks .
"What am I to you," he reiterates, leaning forward, his fingers still holding his glass.
"It's you I want. You Kasey Knowlan,--you. Breathing, sweet, massive, fucking good fuck I might add."

"I want to live with you. A real, live human, not a specter. Can I--" feeling every bit the child. Begging, ready to kneel.
" Give me the chance to digest this. To think," and with that, he stands, throws some cash on the table, "Come to my place two nights from now at, say, seven, and we'll see," and grabbing his jacket he leaves.

I'm stunned. Stunned and scared. He still hasn't said yes. What now? Can I wait for two days? But--there's no choice.

Chapter 10: A Demand

Summary:

A little light humor.

I don't know where to put myself, after removing my jacket and setting it on a chair.
I stand awkwardly in the room, my hands behind my back. A child waiting for his punishment.
"Sit down. You remind me of a caged animal. Ready to leap away if cornered."
"Sorry, I just feel--," sitting across from him.
" Yes, I gather that," twirling his glass of wine after giving me one, " Let me guess, no not guess. Let me tell you a certainty," pausing, while I wait, "the house has been sold, and you're out on the street. You haven't looked for a place, so you've decided you would love to share this flat."
Crossing his legs, he taps his fingers on the arm of the chair. "Do you understand what this is doing to me? I let one love slip through my fingers because of carelessness. And now--, now I'm doing the opposite. Letting you run me ragged. I find myself trailing after you like a lost puppy."
"But it's not--,"
On his feet, his harshness having me curl up in my seat," don't give me crap! Your ghost, always that shadow looming, high above, in this ideal world no one can touch," his fingers combing his hair.
"Will he always be in attendance, in our bed, in the background of your memory? Will I sense the silent words,' Sherlock did this better'?"
I open my mouth halfway to answer, but he puts his hand out. For one slight moment, I think he's going to strike me, and I shrink further into the seat.

" Don't dare say anything. You've had the floor, called the shots since we've met. And I've allowed it. Not anymore." My heart drops, my head sinks between my legs.
"Cut the dramatics. It's now my decision whether we're going to continue or not. And--after careful deliberation in the matter of living together, the answer is--no."
I spring up, put my half-finished glass of wine on the table and start for the door.
"For shit's sake, sit down, will you. And don't utter a word, " annoyance tinging his tone.
Tempted to do something but not knowing whether it's to be angry or to leave, I lower myself into the chair, wishing it was a cocoon I could wrap myself in. A place to hide.
Pacing the room, he half sets himself into the chair he was in a moment ago, raises up and once again strides around.

"John," stops, sighs, "I want you to court me."
"What?" not exactly the sentence I thought I'd hear.
"In my experience when you encounter a person that, perhaps piques your interest, you invite them out. Dinner dates etcetera."
"You want me to do this even though we've had sex?"
Cocking his head to contemplate me, all seriousness, "we have? I would never entertain that unless you are a male escort. Are you?"
He's insane! I empty my glass and consider going for a refill, but stop. Need to be aware, to hear this ridiculous idea, "Oh come on! You're joking."
"No, I'm not. Do I look like I'm joking to you? Date me. Woo me. Sweep me off my feet. Suck up to me. "
Leaning his hands on the arms of the chair to either side of me, his face a hairs breath from my mouth, "Come on baby, light my fire," singing the words," I dare you."
I'm overwhelmed.
"I- I don't know what to say."
"Nothing to say. It's all about the do, baby. All about doing," raising himself," I suggest you return home. Think on it," walks to the door, opens it, and leans against it, waiting for me.
I take a step into the hall, "Kasey," turning to him, his hand reaches out and lightly shoves, "No, don't make any comments. I spelled it out very succinctly. Good night, Doctor Watson," waving his hand, dismissing me, shutting me out.

Many minutes pass while I continue to gape at that door and a smile crosses my face.
Hot damn! He's a son of a bitch! But woo him I will! There's a snap in my step, a bounce, heading to the elevator.

========================================

The next day I text
would you want to have a pint tonight?"
I don't text strangers.
Shit on rocks! He's going to play this straight out of a book.
Punching in his number," Hello, Kasey, this is John. Would you care to join me for a drink tonight?"
"Sorry I am busy. Last minute social engagements are not viable for me."
With a sigh," what about Tuesday night? Would that do?"
"Oh yes, my calendar is clear."
"Meet me at-"
" Pick me up."
"Shit Kasey," annoyed.
"If it's too much trouble I'll cancel--,"
" No, I'll be outside in a taxi at eight. Is that suitable?"
"Yes, See you Tuesday," and the phone blinks out.

The big man tilts his body down, pushing himself into the taxi," glad to see you,"
I lean in to kiss him, and he shoves me away gently.
"Sir, not appropriate. We've just met. I don't know anything about you."
"Oh damn you! A kiss, that's all." How far is he going to take this farce? "Kasey, you know--." "No. I'm cautious on first dates. A guy has to be prudent about his reputation." From the front seat," hey mate, you won't get another date if you put pressure on the guy. Relax," the driver says.
The big man pats my knee, "you heard the driver, relax."

At the pub, we fall into our old habits. Debating which of our rugby players are best, the stats, and where the season is going. I'm afraid to bring up anything personal.
After two drinks, "I need to leave. I have an early meeting tomorrow," sliding off the stool. He doesn't remove his wallet, but his eyes dart to my pocket. Sighing. It's how he wants to do it, and all I can do is follow him. Whatever he wants.

"I suppose you want me to escort you home?" Standing outside, as a cab pulls up to the curb.
"No, I think I've tortured you enough, thank you though. I'll get myself home. Good night John," hailing the next taxi.

==================================

We're going to an Italian restaurant, and I leave early to catch a cab. It's raining hard I'm worried what his reaction will be if I turn up late. Even though I've texted him, I'm afraid he will be offended.

Sighing a breath of relief, he's standing in the lobby waiting and runs out, no umbrella, to the open door of the cab.

"Would you mind if I kissed you," I ask, once settled in the back seat.
Without warning he turns, his lips on mine, gentle and beautiful. I lean in harder, my tongue probing, my brain going off-line, I slide my hand to touch the slight bulge in his trousers.
Breaking away, he slaps my cheek, my head rebounds, reaching up to cup my stinging cheek.

"Driver stop this car," he says, and as it pulls to a stop, I say, astonished, "It's pouring out there."
"I can handle getting wet," stepping out, slamming the taxi door shut.
I don't understand. I can't put together what just occurred.
" Not that it's my business, but he sure told you off," coming from the cabbie.
"Not your business," I snap at him.
" If you excuse me, sir. I don't think you touching his private parts without invitation is good. You got your comeuppance you did. Unless you are a paid fuck if you get what I mean."
"You're right. I overstepped my boundaries," angry at my stupidity.
"If I were you, I'd send him some flowers, if you fancy him."
" Nice idea. Thank you, " looking a the driver identification tag," William. I will do just that."

My phone rings, and it's him.
" Why would you consider such inappropriate behavior?"
I stare at the phone for a moment, flabbergasted.
"God damn! Give me a chance to get used to all this? I don't know how to continue with you."
For a moment I thought he had hung up, "John," hearing a sigh over the line," can't you remember how it was when you met someone you thought was special? To feel that adrenaline surge? To be willing to do anything, anything at all to get their attention? It's my turn to remain quiet for seconds.
"Yes, you're right. Forgive me for being quite stupid."
"Call me soon, love," and he ends the call.

Of course, I remember it! That beautiful night in the car, when nothing else mattered but the adrenaline, the moment, the second.

I send two dozen lilies to his flat with a note,I overstepped
I receive a text.
forgiven

===============================================

"Clara and I would love to have you to our flat for dinner. Your friend is also invited. Kasey right? Give me a night."
"Tuesday night is fine. Five? Kasey will not be coming."
"Make it seven. We need to get home and cook. Bring dessert>"
I'm afraid of inviting Kasey to a family do. Might be too soon.

Their flat is small. The kitchen opens to the parlor, two steps down a hall to a bedroom and the tiniest of bathrooms with a stand-up shower.
After a brief tour, "It's enough for the two of us. And, easy to keep clean. Also, we can't collect too much junk," laughing at herself.

"How's it going with you and your guy? Kasey isn't it?"
Between bites, I tell them what's happened and how confused I am.
"Okay, sis, stop giggling. It's not funny to me."
"I think it's hilarious," Clara states, "he's teaching you a lesson. You've played with his affections. On again, off again."
"What do you think I had to do with this lovely lady," Harry says, pointing her fork at Clara, "she went through the same situation. Only with me, it was because of the drink. With you, it was another person."
Clara wiggles her fork at me, "You know you'll continue to play his game until he's ready to accept you back."
Turning to look at her lover, Clara says, "Hey maybe--?"
"Yea, I'm reading your mind. What an idea! We did it, and it was tons of fun. Why not these two?" both of them excited and stepping on each other's words I hear the story of their exceptional evening out. "It should knock his socks off, if not something else also," Clara giggles.

At Harry's, soaking wet after running for the train, not able to find an empty taxi, I change to soft pajama bottoms and a t-shirt.

Finally getting the idea that I know how to please Kasey I phone him.
"Hi there. Have a moment? I want to ask you something important."
"You sound cheery. Is it Christmas or your birthday. But neither is in evidence in the foreseeable future so it can't be that."
"I'd be pleased if you were free for an afternoon and evening. Something special and I'm not telling."
"Hang on, let me check my calendar," waiting impatiently, drumming my fingers on the table.

"It will be awhile. I have to be out of town for a month. I can arrange for the twenty-eighth of next month."
"Hell, Kasey, that's a long--," stop, John. Deep breath, deep breath, "Oh well, if I have no choice I guess it will do," does he still want to see me?
"John, I'm not putting you off. It's the truth. I could do dinner tomorrow night."
"I have the late shift, sorry."
"Life, John. Gets in the way."
"Let's leave it for the twenty-eighth then."
"Tell you what. I'll text you as I get the chance. Don't respond. Heaven knows where I'll be. Would that make you happy?"
I almost choke and reply 'don't bother' but stop. Don't be an ass. He's doing his best.
"I would love that."
Both of us sign off with a simple goodbye, but it still leaves me with a sour taste.

I hear Sis's instructions in my head. Have patience. He will come around. He needs space.

===========================

Text one: York is nothing like London. Must go on holiday with you to this city
Text two: Work is tedious and my co-workers also.
Text three: Don't care for the other counselors. Not going out in the evenings
Text four: Wish I was in my own bed. Hotel beautiful but not home

These come tumbling in one after another.

Text five, an hour later: Wish you were--.Who am I kidding? I miss you
Text six: Need to concentrate on work

Regardless of his telling me not to bother him, I text him back.
Is it okay to say I miss you too. It's been hard for me but a lesson well learned. Do you feel I'm too demanding
Maybe I should have left this alone, but I had to ask.
In certain areas yes. That's over and done. Can't wait to see what you have planned. Will it knock my socks off
Laughing so hard I text back: HAHA and hopefully something else. Rolf
Whoops wrote it wrong
Rolf? Rolling on the laughing floor??????. Funny, John. I need my beauty sleep. Goodnight--love.
At least that's a step in the right direction. I know he'll be rendered speechless by my plan. Or-- at least--I hope so.

Chapter 11: Courting

Everything is ready. Reservations made. The weather will be warm without any rain in the forecast. I"m as nervous as a woman giving birth. If this doesn't sway the giant man--.

The day before the big reveal I text Kasey.

as soon as you are free call me

"Hey, nice to hear a friendly voice. Glad to be back in my personal space, my kitchen, my sofa and particularly my bed."
"And how was York? Did you enjoy the city?"
So, so glad to hear he's home, but now I'm even more flustered about tomorrow. I'm walking, no pacing my flat.
After a few minutes of him chattering how his work went and fellow lawyers he chuckles, "I can tell you're parading around as if you're penned up and need a release. What has you so hyper?"
Taking a deep breath, I sit in my armchair, "We are going on a special date. I want you to follow my instructions to the tee. Got it?
I hear him laughing, "Got it general. Fire when ready."
"Wear jeans and an old shirt. Leave a suit out to change for the evening. I'll pick you up at three. And yes, you big lunk, I'm fucking excited."

I eat a light breakfast and a salad for lunch. I'm watching a movie on tv, but if you asked me the plot, I couldn't tell you.

After showering I throw on a plaid button-down shirt and khaki trousers. My hands are cold, and I keep shivering. Nerves!
Come on, John boy, you've thought it down to the very last detail. What can go awry?
He could still decide that he's finished with me.
Stop thinking negative! Positive and all that good stuff!

Three sharp the taxi pulls up at his building, and there he is, already standing outside waiting.
He jumps in, stares at me," what do I do?"
"For one, whatever your heart says," and he leans in to barely touch my lips with his.
"To tell you the truth, Kasey, I'm a basket case, would you believe it?"
"Come on John. I'm not a demon. Whatever you have prepared I'll love," tentatively taking his fingers in mine.

Kasey notices the placard on the back of the seat of the taxi, and his eyes light up.
"William, a coincidence or not?"
" Nah." Will calls back, "Your mate called up my company and asked for me. I'm all yours today, "the taxi slowly moving through the traffic.
"I'm hoping tonight seals the deal, William," I say, pointedly staring at the man sitting next to me.
"Well, good luck to you both."
William was given the addresses of each of our destinations before we had left.

"Don't you even think of it!," leaning over to pull out his wallet to pay William," I have today covered, you hear me!"
"Hey mate, "William chimes in, "listen to him. He's got plenty making up to do."

"First stop, gentlemen," the cab pulls up to the curb> William acts as a proper chauffeur and holds open the door.
The lawyer steps out, squinting against the sun, looks up and down the street, confused.
Directly in front of us is a store called the 'Cupcake Recipe.'

Walking inside the smell, the aroma of baking is warm and intimate. Like being in moms kitchen when she baked cookies for our school events.
Enough to make any person want to gobble down the array of cakes, cookies, and sundry goods sitting in the display racks and glass cases.

A red-headed woman in her thirties steps from the back of the counters, white apron with the embroidered picture of a cupcake, tied around her waist, her hand out for a shake.
"Hi, I'm Janine. I'll be assisting you today."
A perplexed stare, first at me then at Janine. "John, you haven't told him I see. Kasey is it? We are going to bake cupcakes. The store is all yours for the evening."
"Really John, really?" his face lighting up, sending a whoosh of breath out of me.
His hand reaches out to squeeze my shoulder, acknowledging that it's good.
Once we're given aprons and have tied them around our waists, we walk to the back of the store.
"Right, let's get started," Kasey, rubbing his hands together, bouncing on his feet.

God, how good to see him so eager!

The room we enter is packed with all varieties of appliances, and a rectangular white marble counter sits in the center, taking up most of the area.
"This is where the magic begins," Janine strides around assembling ingredients. "I'm going to set out the components and explain what you two will be doing. Step behind the marble counter and wait for me."
As she's gathering the fixings, she's chattering away on the beginnings of her cupcake business and why she loves it.
" Making cupcakes is an art. But, with the right recipe and procedures, we can have you concoct delicious cakes."
The big man asks me," How did you learn that we could do such a thing?"
"Simple. Harriet and Clara told me. Harry found out through a customer and took Clara here."
"Oh, I now know who you mean! They regularly buy from me, and I've been to their store."
"Harry is my sister."
"They are a lovely couple." Everything on the counter, she places her hands on her hips, looks at us," Shall we get started? First I need you to tell me what flavors you want. We'll be doing the cake and the frosting so I'll need to know each flavor. John?"
"I'd like a vanilla cupcake and strawberry frosting."
"Me, I'm a chocolate cake, and chocolate frosting type of guy, "Kasey's eyes are taking it all in. He looks at me, his grin so big it takes over his face, his eyes and even his body.

All the bowls, tins, and fixings are set upon a table next to the marble slab.
Standing beside us, Janine offers her help on how to mix the flour, butter, milk and the rest in the bowl.

In the beginning, Kasey is tongue-tied, absorbing, intent on everything being right.
Soon though, he's his cheerful self, and he's making both Janine and I laugh.
It's not that voice I hear as I once did, but I don't need that accent, that deep-throated vibration anymore.
I have a live, touchable human being beside me.

"Okay, let's put these into the oven. We can start on the frosting but can't put it on the cakes until they cool."
Wiping her hands on her apron," a spot of tea would be a good idea, right?"
Both of us nod agreement.

"Sit out front and pick out a cupcake to eat and I'll brew the tea."

Kasey is ahead of me, and suddenly he turns, grabs me, leaning me over one of the cabinets, kissing me, tongue pulsing inside my mouth.
I push away, with reluctance, " We still have more to do tonight."
"My doctor, you had better check my heart," his hand encloses mine placing it on his shirt.
"Ah yes, my lawyer. Only a case of unresolved sexual tension."
To tease him I glance down at the middle of his trousers.
"You don't know what you're doing to me right now."
"Yes, I do. Warning you. Doctors orders. No undue increase in blood to that area," stepping to the back of the case to pick out my cupcake.

Tea and cupcakes done, Janine stands, "come on. Let's get the frosting started for the toppings."
"Now that the buttercream is mixed we can put them into the piping bags, like so," demonstrating at the marble counter.
It looks harder than I thought it would be and with lots of laughter we wind up with more on our hands than in the bag.

"We'll help you clean up," looking at the messy tabletop with flour, cream, and syrup covering the area.
"No, I'll do that. You two wash up in the sink."
"John?" and the next thing I know I have frosting smeared on my face.
I'm shocked, standing still before him, watching his grin turn into a giggle. Then a laugh.
Deliberately, slowly I wipe my hand into the sweet stuff and swipe it down the length of his face. At his lips, his tongue sucks my fingers, drawing them in.
"I'll leave you to kids to your fun," Janine, stepping out of the room.

He again wipes his fingers onto my face, hugging me close, and licks it off.
"Stop, stop, "breathless with his tenderness, and his desire.

We wash up, and I notice Kasey slipping Janine money. I pretend not to see it. He would be offended if I said anything.

In the cab, we each give William a cupcake from the six we have, and the taxi is moving to our next destination.
"There's more?" looking down at the residue from our last experience all over our clothing.
"First a stop at the flat for a shower and change of what we're wearing."

I can tell he's delighted so far and the anticipation of what's to come must be eating at him. He can't sit still.
His paw reaches out to touch my knee, and as quickly he withdraws. I offer nothing. Would I like to reach out, to caress him? Most assuredly! But, this is in his hands, his paws.

At the flat, he asks? " what next?"
"We shower, separately and make ourselves ready for dinner."
"Separately? You are now teasing me, you know," closing the gap between us.
"No," pushing his large body to one side," shower and dress."
Sighing heavily, but with a chuckle, " I will obey my doctor's orders. Shower and dress it is."

While waiting for him to finish I sit at the kitchen table to reflect on the day's events.
I expected Kasey to be more cautious approaching me. Instead, he's taking the initiative. It's more than sex that I want now.

===============================

William, seated again at the steering wheel chuckles," I had a steak dinner tonight, on you of course. The boys will never let me live this down. Willy, a chauffeur for a day!"
"Wife or girlfriend?" Kasey asks encouraging him to talk.

" Yea, girlfriend. Me and Maisie have been on and off for six years. But, after seeing you two, I think it's time to hitch us up."

Our next stop is up in the hills outside of London, and the night sky is clear. The moon is visible, and the brightest of stars are peeking out of the haze from the city lights.
I lean in through the window of the taxi to thank William.
"Keep me in touch. I want to know what happens," driving off.

"Jesus," his exclamation as he stares at the tree growing in the middle of the room of this winery and hotel.
Everywhere you look, flowers and small ferns enhance the room. On the tables, on the walls.
"It smells like a garden," sniffing the air, the woodsy mixing with the scent of cooking.

Approaching us are two tuxedo-dressed men, and bowing slightly, "Gentlemen, I have been told you wish to forgo the usual winery tour. Instead, we will be tasting various wines brought directly to your table. I am Peter and joining me is Victor."
"We'll start with an assortment of cheeses and accompanying slices of bread."
Peter gestures to Victor who is holding onto a small platter and sets it in the middle of the maroon tablecloth.
With each small tapas dish of meat and fish brought before us, there is a different wine to taste.
Kasey discusses wines and pairings with Peter. His eyes never drift far from my face.
From the kitchen, Victor brings out our dessert on a silver tray. Two ice cream cones with vanilla ice cream and adorned with meringue. Spilling a liquid over the top of the white peaks, we watch the flames dance on the meringue. We are both open-mouthed with surprise.

"Your room is ready sirs. Victor will lead you there."

Once we're inside and alone, the full force of Kasey's body plummets me to the bed. "Stop, stop. Get off me, "rolling out from under him. "No sex, not yet, please."
"What more can there be?" he slips off me.
" Come outside," standing, sliding open the patio door, the delightful smells, the sound of birds and the tinkling of wind chimes and this
English night which has given us perfect weather.

On the patio, a piano plays music quiet, and danceable. Two other couples are whirling on the floor.
"Oh shit," is all he manages, as I grab his massive paw in my hand and whirl him in my arms.
" John Watson, no Doctor John Watson, is there anything else you have planned because if not--"
"Hush now. Do enjoy this. Because after I molest your body on this dance floor, I will give you the most incredible night of lovemaking you have ever had."

Chapter 12: Closure

It's now a reality. I've settled in with Kasey. On that first night, I jumped into the bed, his king-sized bed, and gave a whoop!
"Never again will I be without this size bed."
"But my dear lover. You are sharing it. With me," falling beside me, tossing me on top of him.

My practice grows, and so does Kaseys, but there's always room for us to spend time together.
Kasey never mentions marriage. Oh, I turn it over in my mind occasionally, but somehow it never comes up in conversation. We're happy to be together.

"John, I have something important to discuss. I've spoken at great length to my parents. They would love to see me, and also meet you."
"Oh? Why did this happen all of a sudden?"
" It wasn't easy. Both didn't want to hear anything concerning you or my lifestyle. It took some persuading from my brothers, and they finally accepted. It may be dicey but would you be willing?"
"Are you saying you both of us to travel to Ireland?"

During the plane ride I'm edgy. We're staying in the home of the Knowlan's. I don't know what to expect, but when the front door opens, without a hesitation I'm given hugs and handshakes.

Both Katrina and Henrik are tall, big-boned. I'm the runt of the litter in this household.
Katrina takes us upstairs, opens the bedroom door, "bring your bags up here. I'm sure you'll like this room. It faces out to the garden. Unpack and come down for tea and biscuits when you're ready."
"Looks like we're sleeping together. I didn't expect that."
" John they are rolling out the red carpet for us. But be forewarned. I'm sure Dad will have a conversation with you."

The next afternoon Kasey and his mother are in the garden picking vegetables for dinner.
Henrik and I have retired to the parlor, he reading the local paper and myself with a book. He folds his paper, placing it carefully on the table, and coughs.
"I'd like you to understand our feelings on your bond with Kasey," leaning back in his rocking chair.
" Our son has always been honest with us concerning his sexuality.
Why would one man enjoy another man more than a woman? Something so foreign to us both," raising his hand upon seeing me ready to speak.
"Let me continue. This son of mine was different from the start. Did he tell you that we thought about sending him off to a correction school?"
I nod, not wanting to interrupt his thoughts.

"Do you know of his old boyfriend Phillip?"
"Yes. We've been honest about our past."
"We thought it was a passing whimsy. Something to get this out of his system. Yes, our son was heartbroken when it dissolved. We weren't. We thought that was the end of this nonsense."
Standing and walking to the window to watch his wife and son, he returns, placing a hand on my shoulder, and resumes his seat.
"When Kasey informed us of his bond with you we were disgusted. It was our intention to have no more contact with our youngest. But, my other sons would hear none of that. They joined forces. To make this long story short we decided it served no purpose to bar him from our lives."
"For a long time, sir, I denied my sexuality. I was a miserable and lonely man. I hid it from my mother and suffered. It took Kasey to open my eyes."
Leaning forward, "But there's so much negativity surrounding this, so many people turning their heads, as we did. "
"We are adults and have handled any problems that have been thrown at us."
But--be careful. With your health I mean."
"Thank you for your concern. You know, sir, that I'm a doctor. And yes, we are. Be assured of that."
"We had hoped to see all our boys with children--?" leaving the question mark at the end.
"I know that's not in the future for us."
And nodding, he stands up," Tea, John?"

It's our ninth anniversary, and we chuck the idea of dinner out to enjoy a meal we've both cooked and watch a movie.

"John, it was worth all the distress in the beginning. I remember so vividly having you 'date me.'" We giggle, at the silliness, the stress it caused me.

Something is not right with Kasey. He is tiring quickly and losing weight. I've examined him and can't find any symptoms that would cause his problems.

I've been after him for days to see another doctor.
Instead this evening, he settles me on the sofa, and confesses," John, I've seen a few specialists and with all the tests I've taken," pausing to sit on the carpet at my feet, his paws resting on my knees," it's cancer. It's spread quickly, and I have, at best, months to live."
"Shitting hell, Kasey!"
My body is shaking, threatening to tear me apart.
He gathers me in his arms, with each of us crying, tears spilling on our shirts.

That same night both of us lie in that king-size bed discussing how to set our affairs in order.
With his parents long gone I phone his brothers. They all manage to visit him, and after reviewing the options, leave his care to me.

We consider hospitalization, but both of us know that we'd prefer minimum medication and at-home care.
The nurses at the clinic volunteer to aid with the caretaking.

Kasey takes to bed, too weak to move around. It's only a matter of days.

The day arrives when he's so weak he can hardly talk, his breath whistling unevenly. I've dismissed the nurse, sitting on the edge of the bed, a damp cloth wiping his lips. Speaking soft love sounds.

I lie down next to him, cuddle his frail unrecognizable body.
A weak whisper, so quiet I lean next to his mouth to understand, "John, hold me-- sing the parting glass song."
The Irish song he's always loved. Oh dear god, can I do this!
One hand feebly holds mine, eyes flickering," don't cry. Remember the good times."
My other hand slides slowly up and down that face, I sing.

Oh all the comrades that e'er I've had
Are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I've had
Would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
The tears flow softly, watching his pale face, his eyes dim out.
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night and joy be --
He closes his eyes; his hand loosens.
His breath, his life breath gasps it's last, his head cushioned in my hand. "Kasey, Kasey, KASEY," I scream to the world."

After Kasey's death I rattle around in our apartment, once his, feeling I don't belong there anymore.

One of my nurses is marrying and leaving her single bedroom flat and offers it to me. I have to make sure it's still able to fit a king size bed. And move in.

Chapter 13: Beginning--Again

Summary

A very short chapter but the last and most important

It's a warm evening, the windows are open to allow fresh air to waft through the rooms.

I've finished eating, washed the dishes and sit in my chair, book and tea next to me, relaxed. Ready to snooze, to doze off.

A knock on the door surprises me. Knowing none of my neighbors and knowing no one who would be visiting me I stand, unsure of whether to answer.

Upon opening the door, I shiver with shock, my eyes stuck to the specter that stands there.
I stiffen, my fingers poised on the knob, and slam the door shut
"Shit," mere milliseconds later, open it again, rigid, only able to look at a pair of polished shoes, I step aside.
My teeth clenched to keep them from chattering, partly in anger, "So you're not--,"
"No, not dead," striding into the room, his tall, lean form almost bouncing, curls still down to his shoulders, a sprig of heather on his jacket.
My feet won't let me move, not an inch, while my frame is tearing itself apart from the inside out.
"Get out. Leave now," I growl.
Swiveling around, he states, surprised, "I only entered three seconds ago."
"Get out," teeth clenched, eyes determined not to see the apparition in my flat.
Out of his pocket, he takes a business card, reaches to hand it to me, and seeing no response, places it on the table.
"Call me."
The door swings open, then shut.

"Shit," jumping to open it, looking around, becoming aware he's sitting on the floor, legs hunched up. He knew. Knew I wouldn't let him disappear into the night-- again.

Ashamed at my first response, I quietly say, "please, come in?"

We stand apart, each afraid to invade the others space.
"I want--" he says as I stammer at the same time," What are--"

The dust motes fly in the early morning light, my head on the pillow, smiling.
Around my waist is his arm, while on the floor lies our clothing, the blue sweater among them.
His breath tickles my neck. I think to myself, "Maybe, John. Just maybe this time."

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