"I know why you did it."
Ray stared out of the bedroom window, watching the sun slowly disappear behind the distant hills. A gentle breeze lapped at the curtains and caressed his face soothingly. It was a perfect evening.
"I knew you would come," he replied. He reached for his walking stick and slowly turned to his companion. "I've missed you. Welcome home."
"This isn't my home anymore, Ray. You know that." The voice was soft like the breeze, no hint of malice.
Ray sighed and shook his head. "You always did state the obvious, Phillip. I've missed that too."
He hobbled over to the watching figure, the arthritic pain disappearing at the pleasure of seeing Phillip again.
Phillip extended his arms and the two embraced affectionately.
"Why did you leave me?" Ray whispered, not wanting to release his grip.
"I had to go. You know that."
Ray inhaled deeply and stepped back.
"You look good," he offered. "Younger. You look younger somehow."
"I feel younger," Phillip responded, warming to the compliment. "I'm still 65, but I feel much younger. I've never been happier."
The words stung Ray and tears welled up in his eyes.
"Never?" he asked.
"No." Phillip's response was as tender as his smile. "You know I can't lie to you. I never could."
"Then perhaps it was for the best that you left me."
"Don't be sad." Phillip took Ray's arm and let him to the cane chair in the corner. "It's going to be a beautiful sunset tonight. Sit here and enjoy it. Remember."
"I remember." Suddenly it hurt too much to look at Phillip directly. Ray gazed out the window from his seat. "I remember everything. I remember too much. All the good times – and the bad….but most of all, I remember the morning I woke up alone."
"I wish I could have told you I was going."
"Together, forever. That's what you promised. I thought I was enough for you; enough to make you want to keep that promise, but I wasn't. I wasn't enough."
"Nothing lasts forever, Ray. We had 40 good years together. I was getting old…we both were."
"I still am!" Ray's temper surged unexpectedly. "But you….look at you! You look 10, 20 years younger!"
Phillip chuckled. "You're exaggerating. No one can get younger. Not even if we try!"
"Are you happy?" Ray asked, changing the subject. "Really happy?"
"As happy as I could ever want to be."
"Are you lonely?"
Phillip paused, considering his answer.
"Not like you, my friend. Never like you."
"Tell me what it's like – where you are. Did you go far away? Escape from me to the furthest reaches of the Earth?"
Phillip sat on the floor by Ray's feet, leaning his head on Ray's knee.
"You already know the answer to that. I could never go far and there was nothing to escape from. If you ever really needed me, I would have been here."
They sat in silence for a moment, the first shades of pink beginning to paint the sky, wrapping itself around the fading yellow glow just as Ray and Phillip once had to each other as young lovers.
They had met in high school, bonding instantly and becoming the best of friends. At University they had remained inseparable pals and in their first year in the work force they had become lovers, meeting secretly each evening to talk, make love and just be with each other.
Ray remembered their first time. Back then, homosexuality had been illegal and the butterflies that had ran so rampant through his stomach almost forced him to turn around and run right back home. He smiled at the thought of it, and of Phillip's careful first caress. When they had discovered each other to be gay, Phillip had confessed to his brief liaisons with other men, while Ray was still virginal. He had relied entirely on Phillip to teach him all he now knew.
Forty years. It was a long time to be with the same man, yet it passed in the blink of an eye.
He remembered the sensation of Phillip's skin pressing against his own that first time they made love. Phillip was rakish back then, his sinewy frame devoid of any fat, while Ray was slightly heavier, with enough meat on his bones to keep both of them warm at night.
The memory of Phillip's body pressing down against his own made him breathless once again, his wandering mind transporting him back to relive every exquisite sense. The smell of Phillip's breath as they kissed, the touch of moist flesh as his hands explored the contours of Phillip's body; the taste of semen in the moments before they climaxed…
The recollections grew, becoming more vivid with each passing image. The overwhelming marvel of Phillip's touch; the unbearable euphoria of being so close to one so dear; the blinding explosion of his first induced ejaculation….
He never truly understood what Phillip saw in him, but accepted his love gratefully and returned it in abundance.
"I'll tell you what I saw," Phillip said, raising his head to look deeply into Ray's eyes. Ray started, not realising that he'd been speaking his thoughts aloud.
"I saw a beautiful, loving man who was my equal in compassion, in strength and in his intelligence. I saw everything that I ever wanted in a lover. And I saw in my own reflection, the luckiest man alive."
"I was the lucky one," Ray replied, stroking Phillip's thinning head of hair. "You took me to heights that I never knew existed."
"Do you remember that time," Phillip said, suddenly sitting upright, "that we went camping? We were in our late twenties and we hiked down to the gorge by Waterfall Gully."
"That's right," Ray laughed. "We got caught with our pants down by the Ranger!"
Phillip laughed enthusiastically. "I thought we were going to be arrested!"
"After all these years, I still can't believe how impeccable his timing was! I had my mouth wrapped firmly around your cock, and you were groaning and moaning and carrying on like nobody's business…"
"And just as I came, he stuck his head through the tent flap and copped it right in the eye!"
The two cackled heartily, recalling the moment until their laughter subsided into silence once more.
"The sun is almost down now," Phillip sighed, looking out of the window at the rainbow of colours now blossoming through the clouds.
"You still haven't answered my question," Ray said. "Have you missed me?"
Phillip knelt up to take Ray's hand in his face.
"With every pore of my being," he said. "I've missed you each and every day and throughout every night."
The tears trickled down Ray's cheek and Phillip leaned over gently kissing them away.
"I'm here for you, Ray," he whispered. "You don't ever have to be alone again."
"You'll take me with you?" Ray pleaded.
"How could I not? It'll be just like old times, only better. Open spaces, no more hiding. Just you and me and our love, forever and ever."
"You've said that to me before," Ray countered. "How do I know you won't leave me again?"
"Because this time there's no reason."
Ray thought about Phillip's answer. The last rays of light were almost gone now as the night slowly edged its way through the window. A single candle on the table beside him flickered anxiously, spilling its ever-strengthening glow over their faces.
"It's almost time," Phillip said. "Come. Let me help you to bed."
He lifted Ray from the seat.
"It's one year to the day, you know?" Ray asked him.
"I know," Phillip said. "One year tonight."
"Don't be. Look." He pointed to the bed, where Ray's slumbering figure lay quietly, the empty bottle of sleeping pills still clasped in his hand. "No more pain. No more tears. Just us."
"Did it hurt when you left?" Ray asked.
"No. I didn't feel a thing. Just your skin on my lips as I kissed you goodbye."
"I felt it!" he whispered in awe. "I felt your kiss. I remember it!"
Phillip smiled, knowingly, and lay Ray down on the bed.
"I'll blow out your candle," he said, barely audible. "The light is going out now. It's nightfall. Time to rest. Time to be by my side."
And the curtains fluttered as the candle flickered out.