THE TASTE OF HOME
A morning shaft of bright sunlight manages to find its way through a crack in the tightly shut curtains of the bedroom and pierces my closed eyelids. Groaning at the pain that jabs through my skull, I roll to my back and open my eyes carefully. The ceiling looks like it's festooned in cobwebs for a moment but I rub my hand over my eyes and blink a few times and next time I look it's the same old white ceiling it was before I gave into missing Daniel and drank myself stupid. Short trip I can hear Daniel saying inside my head and the sound of his voice makes my eyes water so I roll to my side again and reach out, hooking the pillow on that side up over my ears and try to block out the approach of another Daniel-less day.
It doesn't work. For one thing, Daniel's been gone long enough for the cleaning lady to change the sheets and pillow cases and this pillow doesn't even smell like Daniel anymore. For another, it's Sunday morning and all over the neighborhood, dads are cranking up lawnmowers and weed whackers, kids are racing up and down the street on bikes and skateboards, their mother's voices warning them to be careful floating behind them on the breeze and straight into my open window. They're happy sounds, I know, and when Daniel was here, we'd stay in bed and listen to those life-filled sounds with half an ear while we made love until we got too hungry to stay in bed any longer. Or at least until Daniel couldn't go another minute without coffee.
That thought does make me smile and I roll myself out of bed and head for the shower. Daniel won't be back today or next week and I have to just accept it and get on with it. I'm supposed to be a pretty pragmatic sort of guy, anyway. At least I thought I was. Before Daniel.
The hot water feels good as it cascades over my sweaty skin. I wrinkle my nose as the smell of way too much alcohol seems to leach out of the pores of my skin and then I grab Daniel's shower gel, put a big dollop of it on the sponge and lather up all over. I close my eyes and lean my head forward, resting it on the steam-streaked tiles and breathe the scent in deeply. It smells so good that I have to force myself back upright and let the water wash the foam away. I turn the shower off and step out, drying myself with one of the big, fluffy towels Daniel brought with him the day he moved in. I dress and shave, acknowledging when it's done that I do feel at least partly human again. I pick up my toothbrush from the cup on the sink, noticing how bare the rest of the vanity looks without Daniel's toothbrush next to mine.
I snort at the direction my thoughts have taken and imagine Daniel standing behind me, laughing, his arms wrapped around my waist, his chin resting on my shoulder and saying, "Jesus, Jack, you sound like a Harlequin romance novel. Get over it already."
"The thing is," I answer him in my head, "that I don't think I want to get over it. Get over missing you when you're gone. That would feel as if my life was okay without you and it's not. It never is."
And then I pick up the toothpaste and squirt it on the brush and scrub my teeth so hard to get the stale taste of the booze out of my mouth that I make my gums bleed. I swish the blood away with cold tap water and run my tongue over the smooth enamel of my teeth, trying desperately to remember the taste of Daniel's mouth on mine. But the sense memory of it is lost in the taste of the fluoride and the slight chlorine taste of the water and I give up and head for the kitchen where's there's a huge honkin' bottle of Tylenol with my name on it.
I push open the concertina doors Daniel and I put in last summer and grind to a stomach-dropping halt as my lover looks up from where's he's sitting at the kitchen table and says, "Hi. Thought I heard you up. Coffee?"
He lifts the mug to me in invitation and then puts it down when I don't respond and stands up and walks towards me. "Jack? You okay?"
I grab him while he still a few inches away and pull him forward, my arms wrapping first around his waist then up to grasp his shoulders. I turn my head into his neck and whisper, "What are you doing here? You said you'd be gone for four weeks."
He pushes himself away from me and smiles that sweet slow smile, the one that made me fall in love with him the day I hugged him and called him 'Spacemonkey' for the very first time. "The dig on P3X577 got flooded out. General Hammond was going to call and tell you we were back but I wanted to surprise you."
He lifts a hand and places it gently along the line of my jaw and I turn my head into it and inhale slowly. Sweat and the indefinable odor of some foreign sort of dirt that's probably dug in under his fingernails from the dig tells me he hadn't taken the time to shower before he left the base and that makes me smile more because it means he couldn't wait to get home to me.
"You could use a shower," I say softly, lifting an eyebrow in what I hope is suggestiveness. "I could help you take one."
"You just had a shower," he points out.
"And your point is?"
He laughs then and then he pulls my face to his and opens his mouth and kisses me firmly and sweetly and I can taste it. Pure Daniel. The taste of home.