JAN IS sorting through the screens, almost finished up for the day, when there is a knock on the door.
“Daddy! Daddydaddydaddy!” Henry shouts through the letter box on the old wooden door.
Anna is early. Jan checks his watch. Very early. But no matter.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Smiling, Jan opens the door, scooping Henry up in his arms.
“You must have grown a whole foot since this morning!” he says, looking at Henry in shocked wonderment.
Henry loves to think he’s growing, that he will one day be as tall as Jan.
“I brought you a surprise,” Anna says, looking up at Jan from beneath her umbrella. He can’t tell if her expression is sheepish or smug.
In his arms, Henry looks fit to burst.
Reaching out a hand, Anna tugs a soaked figure into the doorway out of the rain.
Jan glows, burning up inside, not even trying to disguise his pleasure at seeing Matthew standing there.
“We saw Matthew get caught in the downpour, so we gave him a lift the rest of the way here.”
Anna steps past Jan to shake out her little umbrella.
“I can’t believe you! He’s gorgeous,” she mouths silently.
“Matthew, come see the colors whirl!” Excitedly, Henry grabs Matthew’s hand and tugs him across the studio to the color-mixing machine.
Throwing Jan a helpless glance, Matthew follows.
“One minute, Henry, then we’re going home for tea,” Anna calls after them, then turns back to Jan. “I thought I’d keep him a bit longer today.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Jan says, rolling his eyes.
Across the room, Henry is opening the lid of each machine and peering inside, beckoning Matthew do the same.
“From the way you’re watching him, I take it you’ve not made a move?”
“What? No, of course not! Not that it’s any of your business.”
“What do you mean ‘of course not’?”
“I don’t even know if he’s gay,” Jan admits quietly.
“Jan, have you not got eyes in that damn thick skull of yours? That boy would’ve walked through a hurricane to get here.”
“He wants to watch The History of Silence. I told him to drop by and I’d give him a copy, that’s all.”
Anna laughs and then sighs. “I don’t actually know how you’ve made it to twenty-nine and ever had sex at all. That young man over there—you know, the one who can barely tear his eyes away from you, and who keeps turning to look at you every five seconds—just wants an excuse to spend time with you. Watch the film with him, get close to him, and show him you like him, you know! He’s probably too shy to ever make a move on you, and you’re not shy, you’re just dumb.” Sticking out her tongue, she darts away as Jan attempts to grab her. “Henry, come on, we’re going now.”
It’s quiet when Henry and Anna have gone. Matthew wanders slowly round the studio, hands in his pockets to try and hide their shaking, looking at all the prints Jan has in progress.
“They’re b-b-beautiful,” he says, peering at the designs.
Jan wants to say Matthew is beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful person he’s ever seen, but it sounds so corny, even if he thinks it’s true.
Holding out his copy of the film, Jan is certain he catches disappointment flickering across Matthew’s features.
“Anna is looking after Henry a bit longer, so it seems I have an evening free.” He pauses, searching for words that don’t sound so fucking formal. “Do you want to come back with me and watch it? We could order some food too, if… well, if you want?”
Matthew nods, smiling before closing his eyes and reaching for his inhaler.
They walk through the rain sharing Jan’s umbrella, moving so close their arms brush against each other. After his conversation with Anna and the fact that Matthew actually turned up, Jan feels more confident that his feelings—his excitement at just being near Matthew—might, possibly, not be exclusively one-sided.
“Did Henry ask you about the rain thing? He said he was going to.”
“Yeah, I told him it was impossible to calculate. Too many variables. So we counted clouds instead.”
Jan laughs. “You’re some kind of maths genius, aren’t you?”
Shaking his head, Matthew snorts softly before biting his lip and saying, “I like maths… a… a bit like Henry does, I think. I don’t even have a GCSE in it though.”
Jan waits to see if Matthew is going to volunteer more information.
Rain thunders down, hitting the road with such force it splashes up and drenches them from all directions.
“Oh, I… I… still have your clothes from the other night,” Matthew stutters suddenly.
“It’s okay.” Jan smiles, perplexed by Matthew’s worried expression, and all at once blown away by the surge of protectiveness he feels as he looks at those large dark eyes, those delicate features, skin smooth and pale as milk.
Blushing under such intense scrutiny, Matthew looks down at the floor, and Jan tears his gaze away, not wanting to make him any more uncomfortable.
“I don’t have any academic qualifications,” Matthew finally ventures, head bowed as they walk past the school and down the road to Jan’s house. “I… I had a… a breakdown when I was fourteen.” He takes a shaky breath.
“You don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want.”
“It’s all right… I think I just wanted you to know… if… if you wanted to know….”
Beyond the distant trees, the sun is sinking, leaving fire-shot ribbons of blue, clouds like the tail ends of meteors.
Jan opens the gate and stops in front of the front door, pulling Matthew with him under the shelter of the overhanging roof.
“I want to know everything about you,” Jan admits, bringing his hand up to gently brush away the raindrops from Matthew’s cheek, while trying desperately to hold his gaze.
There is a fire in his veins, burning through the tips of his fingers, and he wonders if Matthew can feel it. He wonders if that’s why Matthew’s breathing changes, if he needs his inhaler.
Reluctantly breaking the contact, Jan pulls out his keys to open the front door.
It occurs to him that this is the first time he has ever brought home anyone he wants to sleep with this badly. For Henry’s sake, he always told himself he needed to keep this part of his life separate. But now, looking at Matthew half-drowned, shivering, and otherworldly in the most beautiful way, Jan thinks maybe he just hadn’t found the right person to bring home before.