My Baby Chased the Blues Away
R.A. Thorn © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Del pointed at the double white line running down the center of the road. “See that?” he said to the motorist he had stopped. “You need to stay on the right side of those lines, Mr…?”
“Hollister. My name is Ernie Hollister. I own a bakery on Thomas Street—that’s where I’m headed now, in fact, and I’m going to be late. All I did was stray slightly—very slightly—to the side of that line.” An indignant flush covered Hollister’s cheeks as he glared at Del through the open window of his car.
Del strove to keep his tone polite, wishing Hollister would keep his voice down at the very least. “You were all the way over in the other lane, sir. And you missed that stop sign back at the last crossroads.”
Hollister spluttered. “I did no such thing, officer. More to the point, this traffic situation has gotten completely out of hand. Two years ago, we didn’t have any lines on the road. A year ago, it was a single line. Now it’s a double one. Where is this all going to end? Doesn’t the government of Los Angeles trust a grown man to drive an automobile?”
“Thousands of people die in accidents every year, sir. We need to make the roads as safe as possible.”
“I was in no danger of causing an accident. It’s four in the morning—no one else is on the road.”
“I was on the road,” Del pointed out. “And you never know when another car might appear, or a pedestrian, or a streetcar.”
“There is such a thing as being overzealous in the pursuit of duty,” Hollister said, growing more heated. “Interfering with law-abiding citizens and tagging them for no good reason—why aren’t you out catching bootleggers or raiding a speakeasy? There’s enough of them in this town to keep the whole passel of you busy.”
Del looked away from Hollister’s outraged expression, focusing on the traffic tag and trying to keep his hand steady as he wrote the information. He couldn’t afford to have citizens making complaints to Captain Gardner about him.
“I’m a traffic patrolman, sir. My job is to enforce the laws.” He handed the tag to Mr. Hollister, who snatched it from him, almost tearing the paper.
“Mark my words, officer, you will hear the full measure of my displeasure. I shall speak to your captain this afternoon.”
So much for being polite. But being rude to Hollister would only make it worse, so he said, “Yes, sir,” and waited for Hollister to drive away in a huff before returning to his motorcycle and heading back to the police station. His shift was almost over, and he still needed to write up his report.
The streets of Lincoln Heights were pretty deserted in the early hours of the morning, but there were always those like Mr. Hollister who thought obeying traffic laws was a choice rather than a requirement, and it was his duty to deal with them. But he did hope Hollister wouldn’t follow through on his threat. His appointment to the motor patrol had come about mainly through luck. Carl Hutton was supposed to get the position, but his mother had fallen ill, and Carl had taken time off to look after her. Captain Gardner promoted Del instead, elevating him from his previous duties of walking a beat and directing traffic at an intersection. Now he got to ride a motorcycle, which he loved, and his pay had been raised too. But Carl’s mother had passed away two weeks ago, and now Carl was back on the force. Any slip up on Del’s part and Carl would be there to take his place.
At the station, Del parked his motorcycle and headed inside to write his report and change out of his uniform. As he came around the corner of the building, he ran right into Tom Kirkpatrick.
“Well, if it isn’t Mr. Minus,” Kirkpatrick said, a smirk twisting his mouth. Kirkpatrick worked on the morals squad and had several years’ seniority over Del, although he was still a harness bull, not a detective.
“I told you not to call me that,” Del mumbled, avoiding Kirkpatrick’s eyes and wishing yet again he had never acquired the stupid nickname.
It had all started when Chief August Vollmer came down from the Berkeley Police Department the year before. A bunch of the reformers in town who thought the police were too cozy with the politicians at City Hall asked Vollmer to reform the department and weed out some of the corruption. Vollmer gave a big speech about how policemen should be drawn from the best of the nation’s manhood and how the department should operate on a professional basis. Officers needed to be appointed based on their qualifications, not because some commissioner owed them a favor, he’d said. Vollmer made all of the cops, Del included, take a whole bunch of intelligence tests. The Army Alpha to start with, followed by psychological tests, and even a test where you had to write an essay. Del had made it through the seventh grade, but he had never been able to write a decent essay to save his life.
Harry Mackenzie sneaked a look at everyone’s scores and told Del he’d gotten a “C-minus” on the Army Alpha. Del wasn’t sure if that was true or not—Mackenzie could be a real shit when he wanted to be—but he knew he hadn’t scored an “A” either. Luckily, Vollmer gave up when it became clear the mayor and his cronies at City Hall didn’t intend to surrender their influence over the police. Vollmer went back to his high-hat college cops that he recruited from the university in Berkeley, and the LAPD settled back into its usual rhythms of bribery and payoffs before anybody could fire Del for not having enough smarts. He thought the whole thing was bunk—he didn’t need to have gone to college to know when someone blew through a stop sign.
But Mackenzie blabbed about the scores to Kirkpatrick, and Kirkpatrick took to calling Del “Mr. Minus.” Del knew he wasn’t smart. Only last week Lieutenant Miller called him into his office to reprimand him for a number of misspellings in Del’s reports and ordered Del to improve his handwriting because he couldn’t read a “damn word of his chicken scratch.” In fact, it would be best if Del typed his reports, Miller had decided. Del had attempted the typewriter yesterday and dreaded his next encounter. It took him a good minute to type most words, as he had to hunt for every letter, plus the paper got stuck and ended up all crumpled when he finally managed to yank it free.
He was trying his best—he’d spent all winter studying traffic laws until he could recite them backward and forward in order to qualify for the motor patrol. When he got the promotion, he figured Kirkpatrick would stop with the nickname, but it appeared it was going to stick with him his whole career. He didn’t get people like Kirkpatrick, always trying to run a fellow down. Del had never done anything to him except be born a few years later. Sure, the veterans gave all the rookies in the department a hard time, and he shouldn’t give a damn what Kirkpatrick called him, but the nickname hit a sore spot.
“Don’t call you that?” Kirkpatrick laughed. “I can call you whatever I want, Randolph.”
William Brooks, another cop on the morals squad, strolled over and slapped Kirkpatrick on the shoulder. “Ah, leave the kid alone, Tommy. Let’s go write our report. The missus said she’d cook sausages this morning. Don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
Kirkpatrick snorted, but he turned to go inside. Del would have liked to avoid their company, but he couldn’t very well hang around on the front steps, so he followed a pace or two behind. Brooks and Kirkpatrick started bickering about a bet they had going over whether Dazzy Vance would pitch a no-hitter in his next game with the Brooklyn Robins, but Sergeant Friedman, stationed at the front desk, motioned for them to be quiet.
“What the hell, Friedman?” Kirkpatrick said. “You think the bums in the drunk tank are gonna complain?”
“You know who walked in here not ten minutes ago?” Friedman replied, his voice hushed. “Dick Lucas. His car’s parked down the block.”
That silenced Kirkpatrick, and Del swallowed, looking uneasily down the hallway.
“The Gray Wolf’s enforcer, huh?” Brooks said. “Damn—does he have business with Captain Gardner?”
“I guess so. Captain’s been here all night—word is there was some trouble with the Italians.”
“Crawford wouldn’t take too kindly to any infringements on his territory, that’s for sure.”
Kirkpatrick nodded. “Yeah, those wops should know better than to try and take over any of the legging from the Gray Wolf.”
Del, still hovering behind them, experienced a sick thrill at the idea of meeting anyone connected with Charlie Crawford. Crawford, known to many as “the Gray Wolf,” controlled the vice trade in the city.
“This might be a good opportunity to introduce ourselves to Lucas,” Brooks mused. “Let him know that if he ever needs the right men for a job, we’re available.”
Del sidled off in the opposite direction from Captain Gardner’s office. Maybe Brooks would consider trying to get the attention of the Gray Wolf of Spring Street, but he sure as heck wasn’t about to risk it. Certainly not with Dick Lucas. That guy walked around the downtown police station in broad daylight with a Thompson submachine gun slung over his shoulder, bold as brass. He’d brush Del away like an irritating fly.
The typewriter went about as well as Del had expected, and the sun was rising by the time he finally left. He squinted against its brilliance as he took the streetcar home. Maybe soon the lieutenant would give him a few more day shifts. Night shifts weren’t as bad in the summer, but he still wouldn’t mind going to sleep when it was dark instead of having to block the light in his bedroom as best he could. Then there were all the daily noises of his apartment building to contend with—kids shouting, people talking and listening to the radio, water pipes clanking, and alligators barking.
He had chosen his apartment based on the attractive price, which had seemed low considering the spacious rooms, private telephone, and full electricity. Only after he’d moved in had he discovered it was near the alligator farm located across from Lincoln Park. The gators’ raspy, throaty bellows sounded day and night. There had to be hundreds of alligators there, and if a couple of them got going, it sure made a racket. At least he was on the second floor. Mrs. Howser down the street had found an alligator in her backyard one morning, and every time the rains got heavy, a couple of the gators escaped the fences around their ponds and relocated to the park to the delight of the kids and terror of their parents.
But moving seemed a lot of effort, and he could endure loud alligators in exchange for the telephone and lower rent. Even with his higher salary, the bills seemed to pile up, and he always had to send money to his father every month. Aunt Sophie might be willing to let her brother live with them, but some extra cash made it easier. His father’s bad leg meant he wasn’t able to work anymore, and he depended on Del to help.
His last lover, Lawrence, sure had hated Del’s apartment, though. Lawrence hadn’t liked a lot of things, including the green and yellow chintz armchair Del now sat in while undoing the laces on his boots and then pulling them off. Personally, Del thought the colors were a cheerful combination, and it had been on sale. But after he’d wrestled the thing up the stairs, Lawrence had made him cover it with a sheet.
“Those are appalling colors, Del,” he’d said. “What were you thinking? It’s going to give me a headache looking at it.”
“I thought you would like it,” Del had mumbled. “You were saying as how I didn’t have any comfortable chairs here, and you wanted somewhere nice to sit and listen to the radio.” At the time, he had only had the four hard-backed chairs around the kitchen table.
“I didn’t mean you should run and buy the reject from the upholsterer’s bargain bin,” Lawrence had replied.
Of course, nothing Del did was ever good enough for Lawrence. He’d ended up leaving Del for a rich stockbroker who had a fancy car and could take him on vacations in Florida.
It was the story of his life, really. No matter how hard he tried, he always came up short.
One bowl of Post Toasties later, he climbed into bed, hoping the alligators were in a good mood today. Either they were or he was too tired to be disturbed because when he woke, it was midafternoon. He wasn’t working that night, so he lay in bed awhile before rousing and scrounging some more substantial food in the kitchen. He was finishing his fried eggs when the phone rang.
“Del Randolph here,” he answered.
“Hey, Del; it’s Glen.”
“Oh, hey, pal. Somethin’ the matter?”
“What, a guy can’t call up a friend now? I want to know how things are with you.”
Del could hear the ringing of more phones in the background and figured Glen must be at the office.
“Everything is Jake.”
“That so? Then what are you planning on doing this evening? I want it on the level too.”
Del twisted the phone cord around his finger. “I don’t know. Hadn’t thought about it yet.”
Glen sighed. “You’re still in a funk, aren’t you? Dammit, you have to get over that lousy kid. It’s been what—three months now?”
“Lawrence wasn’t lousy. Things just didn’t work out.”
“He was lousy. Using you like that—and you letting him do it.”
A frustrated noise from Glen. “Look, we aren’t going to have this argument again. I’m calling to say you should go out tonight. Have some fun. Don’t sit stewing in your apartment.”
“I guess.” He rubbed a hand over his unshaven jaw. “Will you come along?”
“Can’t. It’s crazy here today. Yesterday the sheriff raided that actor Willard Louis’s mansion and found a couple thousand bucks worth of liquor. I’m supposed to go interview one of his former costars and see if I can uncover some more dirt.”
Glen worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner and kept odd hours. It wasn’t often they managed to have the same night off.
“Guess the cold water men must have been making a fuss to send the sheriff after a Hollywood star, huh?” Del hesitated. “I don’t know. If you can’t make it, maybe I’ll stay in.”
“No. Go out. You tried the Elephant’s Ear yet? It’s a dive, but I heard a pretty bouquet of pansies is there almost every night.”
He told Glen he would go, mostly to get Glen off his back, but that evening found him putting on his nicest suit and splashing on some extra Aqua Velva when he finished shaving. Glen was right—he couldn’t mope around over Lawrence forever.
Glen had given him the instructions for finding the speakeasy and the password to get in the door. Located in the rear rooms of a drab and cramped tailor’s shop with a phalanx of mannequins in front of the door, the Elephant’s Ear proved to be a dive indeed.
A motley array of wobbly tables and chairs cluttered the space while cigarette smoke and the scent of fried oysters thickened the air. The proprietor was too cheap for a live pianist, relying on an old player piano instead that was creaking its way through out-of-tune rags that had been popular before the war. Still, when Del ordered his drink it tasted like the real McCoy, not the doctored swill they’d had to put up with since the Great Drought began.
The joint wasn’t too crowded yet. A large party occupied a table in the corner, loud and boisterous, one of the girls already spiffled, her movements sloppy as she hung onto the arm of her beau. Two men were at another table, bent over a game of cards. A third table definitely had some of the pansies Glen had promised, but Del didn’t like the looks of them—too brassy, the carmine on their lips too red, their eyes too bright and sharp.
He’d almost decided to leave because he’d never find someone who could compare to Lawrence in a place like this, when the door opened, and a young man stepped into the room.
Del knew in a second he was a fairy with his plucked eyebrows, manicured nails, and the sway in his hips. He wore slim trousers with a gray vest over a green shirt. A lamé coat, covered in brocade roses and really too heavy for a June night, hung from his shoulders, complemented by a copper-colored turban hat. The clothes treaded the line between legal and illegal, the coat and hat clearly feminine, the rest more masculine—although nothing about this enchanting stranger could really be called masculine.
Unlike the fairies sitting at the table, he had a natural grace, captured in the curve of his neck and tilt of his shoulders. If the others were bright and flashy, he was elegant and sweet. In the dim light, he stood out like—well, like one of the electric windows at Bullock’s department store on Broadway. Del had read a similar description of the romantic interest in a story in the Saturday Evening Post, but had never expected to have such a person wander into his own life.
As Del stared, entranced, the fairy’s expression…softened. When he first walked in, his mouth had been set, his eyes flickering over the room, assessing its occupants, one shoulder half-turned to the door, ready to vanish back into the summer night. But now he sighed, a small frown line appearing between his brows, his eyes almost wistful for a moment as he gathered his coat close about his throat. Weary, he looked, and gentle. Then he pivoted, coat flying open again as he released it, preparing to leave.
Del was on his feet before he was quite aware of it.
“Hey,” he said, gaining this enchanting vision’s side in a few breathless strides, catching him just as his hand landed on the doorknob.
Hazel eyes snapped over to meet his. The softness had disappeared, replaced by a calculating wariness.
Del cleared his throat. “Can I buy you a drink?”
An appraising look in reply, eyes traveling down and back up his body. And then a smile. Not gentle, no, that was gone, but sultry and practiced.
“Since you’re offering, mister, sure. I’ll have a highball.”
“Call me Del,” he said, daring to put his hand on the fairy’s arm to guide him toward the table. “Watch out for the chair—the one leg’s shorter than the rest.”
“Oh, thanks.” He sat down, shrugged off his coat, and fished out a cigarette.
Del fumbled for a light. “What can I call you?” he asked when it became apparent the information was not going to be volunteered.
After allowing Del to light his cigarette, he took a drag and then murmured, “My name’s Ev.”
Del repeated it with a smile and ordered Ev his highball.
“This is my first time here,” Del said after a minute.
“It isn’t much, is it?” Ev wrinkled his nose. “You’d think they could at least wipe off the tables. And open a damn window.”
“I’m glad I came here, though. I mean, now that I’ve met you and all,” he hurried to explain.
“I knew what you meant. You need better lines than that if you want to surprise—or amuse—me.” Ev stubbed out his cigarette and sipped his drink.
Ev’s dismissive reply to the compliment, which Del had meant sincerely, took him aback, so he tried another avenue of conversation. “Been in town long?”
“About five years, I guess.” Ev’s eyes roamed the room, bored.
“I’ve been here for eight. My family moved out during the war so my father could work at one of the shipyards. Where are you from?”
“Oh, yeah, I noticed your accent a little. You like it here?”
Ev crossed his legs, frowning. “What’s with all the questions?”
“Sorry.” Del smoothed his hands over his trousers. “I only wanted to know a little bit more about you. You can ask me anything too, if you want.” Although he hoped Ev wouldn’t inquire about his line of work. It was better to ease up to that, once it was clear he wasn’t trying to trap Ev and haul him in for lewd vagrancy.
Ev finished off his drink and then waved a hand at Del. “I’ve got all the answers I need right here. And my answer is yes, in case you were wondering.”
Ev frowned again. “You do want to come back to my place, right?”
“I—of course,” Del stuttered. A flare of heat went through him at the thought of getting to curl his hands around Ev’s slim hips and kiss the smooth skin on his shoulders.
“There you go then. Get me another drink, will you? I want to get completely zozzled tonight.”
When they left the Elephant’s Ear, Ev said that his apartment was only about a twenty-minute walk away, over by the river. Del offered to get a cab, but Ev declared he wanted to enjoy the night air.
“Besides, if I don’t sober up a little, we won’t get to do much,” he added, slipping a hand under Del’s jacket and tugging on his vest. “That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?”
Del agreed it would be, his voice rough, and Ev laughed. So they walked, and Del grabbed Ev’s arm every time it looked like Ev was going to wander off the curb.
“You’re sweet, aren’t you?” Ev said the third time it happened. “I’ve gotten myself a real live gentleman.”
His steps paused, and Del halted, hand still on Ev’s elbow.
“It’s nice,” Ev said softly, and for a moment, gentle fingers touched Del’s.
Then Ev was walking again, pulling away from Del’s grip. “But don’t be too nice. I like it pretty hard and fast. I can take whatever you want to dish out.”
Del hurried after him, caught between arousal and regret that Ev’s gentleness had been covered again, giving him only the briefest of glimpses.
Ev’s apartment building sat on a little side street that ran perpendicular to the riverbanks. It looked as though the neighborhood had gone to seed in the last few years, the former houses converted into flats and apartments. Ev unlocked the door to his rooms after a little fumbling, jiggling the knob when it jammed.
“Oh good, Camilo isn’t home,” he said when a dark room greeted them. “That means I don’t have to be too quiet. Of course, the neighbors will probably make a fuss. They sure got upset the other night when I had a fellow over.”
An irrational surge of jealousy at the thought of Ev with another man made him grab Ev’s wrist, pulling him against his body. Ev was maybe an inch shorter than him, and he stared up into Del’s face, running his tongue over his bottom lip. Del lifted the wrist he had grabbed and pressed a kiss there, soothing.
“First things first,” Ev whispered and went to a cabinet, rummaging around and pulling out a wine bottle. It looked like pretty cheap foot juice, and it tasted like it too, when Ev had poured each of them a tumbler full, clinking the mismatched glasses together.
“Thought you were trying to sober up,” Del said, and Ev shrugged, pouring himself another glass and spilling some on the table.
“Finish yours too,” he demanded after draining the second glass, and Del swigged his last mouthful, grimacing, and then followed Ev into his bedroom.
Ev turned on the gas lamp—no electricity in this place yet. It cast a weak sphere of light over the immediate surroundings. They consisted of a vanity, cluttered with cosmetics, paste jewelry, and a curling iron; a chair, piled with a mound of colorful scarves; a dresser with a broken leg, propped up on a stack of magazines; and the bed, narrow and covered in a thin blanket. The room spoke as eloquently of Ev’s financial situation as the cheap wine and shabby building.
Del couldn’t have cared less. All his attention was fixed on Ev, who was kicking off his shoes and unbuttoning his shirt. When Ev shoved down his trousers, Del’s heart played a quick game of Double Dutch because silk stockings encased Ev’s legs, and he wore a peach-colored step-in hanging from lacy straps on his shoulders.
Ev sat down on the bed and tugged the stockings carefully back into place. “Pretty, aren’t they?”
“Gorgeous,” Del assured him, a catch in his voice, and Ev glanced up at him, a pleased flush spreading over his cheeks.
“You can touch, you know.”
That was all the permission Del needed. His shoes joined Ev’s in a pile on the floor. Gently, he pushed Ev farther up the bed so he could kneel on the mattress and smooth his hands up Ev’s legs. The silk snagged on his calluses, but when he reached the bare skin at the top of Ev’s thighs, the roughness made Ev visibly shiver and spread his legs a little wider. Ev sucked in a breath and held it as Del finally fit his palm over Ev’s cock through his step-ins. Ev pushed up his hips, and then let them drop again, making a moue of disappointment when Del moved his hand, sliding it over the hollow of Ev’s stomach and then stretching out his fingers across Ev’s chest, grazing one of his nipples that peeked above the lacy top.
“Catch me, if I let you have all the fun,” Ev complained, tugging at Del’s collar. “Take it off.” He started pulling at a button but couldn’t get it undone thanks to the angle and the alcohol in his system.
“Here, I got it.” Del popped the button and followed with the rest, all down the line. The shirt came off, and he pulled his undershirt over his head, tossing it onto the foot of the bed.
“That’s what I wanted,” Ev said, happy now, sitting up to feel the muscles in Del’s arms and shoulders. He slipped his arms around Del then and brought their faces close together. Del kissed him, and Ev’s mouth softened against his. He cupped Ev’s ass in his hands, squeezing, and Ev wriggled, mumbling out some variation of “hell, yes,” against his lips.
“What else have you got for me?” Ev asked when they broke apart. He pulled on the fly of Del’s trousers, humming appreciatively when he got it open far enough to reach in and take out Del’s cock. “You’re already so worked up,” he added, trailing his knuckles along the underside and up to the wet head.
“I want you real bad,” Del agreed, leaning forward so Ev tipped backward onto the mattress again.
Ev giggled, wrapping his legs around Del’s thighs. “I can see that.”
It brought his cock against Ev’s, and it felt like heaven to roll his hips and think about how good it was going to be when he got inside Ev and fucked him.
Ev was making impatient noises and trying to get his garters and stockings off. Del caught his hands.
“Hey, take it easy. You don’t want to ruin your pretty things.”
Ev panted for a second, tense, and then relaxed. He stretched out his legs. “Go on, then.”
So Del carefully rolled each stocking down Ev’s legs and gave his foot a little squeeze at the end. Fingers shaking a little, he reached in between Ev’s thighs to unbutton the step-in and push it aside, showing Ev’s cock curving up toward his stomach.
“There’s some lotion on the table, there,” Ev said. For some reason, he had hidden his eyes under his arm.
Del reached for the bottle and poured a dollop into his hand. “You all right?”
“Yes.” Ev took his arm away, revealing a defiant expression, and dug his toes into Del’s leg. “Getting sick of waiting—ah—ahhh.”
Del stroked Ev’s cock again, pulling more gasps out of Ev. Then he pushed Ev’s thighs wider with one hand and reached down with the other to slide a finger inside him.
By the time he had loosened Ev up, they were both getting sweaty. Ev had his eyes shut, forehead wrinkling every time Del pumped his fingers. He moaned when Del pulled them out entirely and lifted Ev’s legs, settling them against his shoulders.
Del shut his eyes too as he entered Ev, opening them only when he was fully inside to press a kiss on the inside of Ev’s knee and wait for him to relax. Then he kept his thrusts shallow and fast until Ev went boneless and arched into it. Pausing, he gave Ev’s cock some more attention, Ev screwing up his eyes and jabbed a heel into Del’s back.
But when Del pulled out and let his legs fall, Ev’s eyes opened, wide and confused.
“Come up here for me,” Del said, grabbing his arm and tugging.
Ev nodded, catching on. They rearranged themselves, Ev straddling Del, who sat against the bedstead for support. He’d pushed his trousers down, but didn’t want to take the time to untangle them from his legs. He got his cock back inside Ev, and they moved together, the bed springs creaking. Del gripped Ev’s hips, grunting with effort, Ev’s cock sticky against his stomach.
He’d been expecting Ev to be loud, given his earlier comment, but he wasn’t, often completely silent except for his heavy breaths panted against Del’s ear. He did make the sweetest moan when he finally came, though, pulsing into Del’s fist and then sagging against his chest. Del kissed his sweaty temple and lifted him, his cock slipping out of Ev’s body. Ev sat back a little, watching as Del jerked himself to completion.
For a moment, Ev seemed to waver, leaning toward Del again, as though he were going to curl against Del’s chest, all tired and warm. But no—Ev pulled away and climbed off the bed, slipping into a pale green kimono and going to fetch a cloth to clean up the mess.
He hoped Ev wasn’t going to kick him out. He didn’t want to leave—wanted to stay, to spend as much time in Ev’s company as he could. And when Ev didn’t say anything upon his return from the kitchen with a wet cloth, he took the initiative to put his shorts and undershirt back on and slide beneath the covers. Still no comment from Ev, who was standing in front of his dresser, as though undecided about something. Then, his movements stiff, he let the kimono fall to the ground, pooling around his feet, took a cotton nightgown out of a drawer, and pulled it over his head. The off-white fabric hung loosely around his hips, straining a little against his chest, and Del’s breath caught at how the lace looked, running across his shoulder blades.
Still silent, Ev climbed into bed again. The two of them had to cram together to fit. Del shifted onto his side to give them more room, and their knees knocked together. He couldn’t help reaching out to pet Ev’s hip and feel the soft fabric, warmed with his body heat. Ev turned his face into the pillow, and for a moment, Del could see that gentle, soft grace in him again that he had noticed when Ev first came in the door at the Elephant’s Ear.
But then Ev said, “Turn the lamp off, will you?” and after Del had stretched out an arm to reach it, leaving them in darkness, the mood between them changed. Ev turned to his other side, his back to Del. He could have slipped an arm around him, but something in Ev’s posture and his silence suggested that would be unwelcome, and so Del could only lie there, trying to breathe quietly, because Lawrence had always complained he couldn’t sleep with Del’s snoring and snuffling, hoping that maybe Ev would let him kiss him again come the morning.
More than anything, he wanted to try and bring that softness back to Ev. What had happened to Ev in the past to drive it into hiding, appearing only for brief, unguarded moments, he didn’t know. He imagined it would be quite wonderful to have Ev speak gently to him and perhaps smile tenderly, pleased to have him there.