‘Park here,’ Leo said, ‘We’re early and I’d like to sit in the sunshine for a while.’
Michael parked the car in one of the empty bays and went to purchase a ticket. When he got back to the car Leo was standing by the door grinning broadly. ‘See!’ he said.
‘You’re holding on to the door,’ Michael said, ‘You’re cheating.’
Michael walked round to Leo’s side, gave him his arm, shut the door, and they walked together to a nearby bench. Leo sighed as he sat down, resting himself against the back of the seat, his cool fingertips seeking out the warmth of Michael’s hand. They sat quietly, Leo with his eyes closed, letting the sun shine through the paper-thin skin of his eyelids.
‘What can you see?’ Michael asked him.
‘How do you feel?’
‘Fine,’ Leo said, ‘Really, fine. Just a bit tired, you know.’
Leo said, ‘You don’t think we should be doing this, do you?’ and when Michael leaned over and kissed him on the side of his cheek he said, ‘You don’t think there’s any point.’
He opened his eyes. ‘Do you?’
Michael smiled, shook his head.
‘Just stubbornness, on my part, I think,’ Leo said. ‘Just seeing it through to the end.’
‘Remember that time,’ Michael said, ‘when I asked you, if a runaway truck mounted the pavement and was hurtling toward you, would you get out of the way?’
Leo laughed quietly, ‘And I said, No. I’ve got right of way.’
Michael smiled at the memory, ‘You are stubborn.’
‘We’ve had some arguments.’
‘More than some.’ He checked his watch.
‘How long we got?’
‘I’m not quick on my feet at the moment. Not like I used to be.’
‘I’ll give you a head start.’
Leo sat enjoying the sun for a while longer, then he said, ‘Put your arm round me.’
‘No. Well, a bit, maybe.’
He wrapped his arm around Leo’s thin shoulders, pulled him closer, fixed his woolen hat closer round his head. ‘That better?’
‘Mmm.’ Leo rested his head on Michael’s shoulder. ‘I never thought it’d be like this,’ he said. Then he said, ‘It feels good.’
‘We have souls, you know.’
‘So you keep telling me.’
Then he said, ‘What you going to do, without me?’
‘Don’t keep saying that.’
‘I’ll miss you. And I’m sorry.’
Michael stayed quiet, biting his lip a little, willing away the tears. ‘Don’t. Please don’t apologise.’
‘I haven’t always been kind to you. I’ve been demanding.’
Leo shifted to get comfortable, pushed closer to Michael. ‘You’ll feed Spud? Take him for walks?’
‘Every day. Yes.’
Leo shuddered. A long sigh.
Michael pulled him a little closer, said, ‘Maybe we should get a playmate for Spud. It’s cruel to have a dog by itself in the house. I’ll get Triona to come by twice a day, walk them both. Or maybe I’ll cut down my hours at work. Won’t need the money if you’re not spending it all on stupid toys and clothes and holidays.’ He laughed to himself. ‘Maybe sell up, buy an old VW. Travel.’
Leo relaxed in his arms, his head a soft weight, eyes closed, his face gently creased against his shoulder. Michael straightened the edge of his hat again, tender. His breath caught and sobbed, just once. ‘You’ve gone then?’ he asked, voice soft.
Then he sat for a while, staring ahead.
After a few minutes he moved to let Leo lie down on his side, pulled his legs up onto the bench, knees bent, arranged his body neatly, patted his clothes straight and rested his face on his hands. He stood back, looking down at Leo, and his brow knitted, his mouth formed a rictus of silent grief. ‘You didn’t finish the treatment,’ he said, ‘I thought you saw things through to the end. I thought you were the stubborn one.’
Then he said, ‘I love you, you know,’ to Leo’s quiet form. ‘I love the bones of you.’
And he knelt on the ground beside him, fingertips touching his face, his silent tears falling onto Leo’s cool skin.