Pandora's Box

By Cassie Ingaben

 

Holiday or not, Klaus woke up at 0630 hours sharp. He knew there was no point in trying to go back to sleep; yet he suppressed his impulse to get up immediately. Despite what Dorian said, he was trying to relax and ‘let his hair down.’

Talking about which—Klaus turned to his left, and not for the first time observed how Dorian did not practice what he preached. Despite the Portuguese heat already seeping in through the blinds, the thief was bunched up in the less acceptable version of a tight ball, the one which did not include his twining himself round Klaus. Instead, Dorian was clinging to his scrunched-up pillow, facing away and mumbling unintelligibly in a forlorn monotone.

Klaus had puzzled over this for a while. Nightmares, he knew how to deal with. But this quiet withdrawal was different. He supposed that, were he a fop, he could delicately probe Dorian, and they might have a long heart to heart like in those stupid American movies for women. The idea made him shudder. Actually, it would probably make Dorian shudder too. Even if his behaviour was outrageous and his declarations extravagant, they were mostly momentary, interspersed with biting witticisms and making-it-light remarks.

Interrogation techniques were also out of the question. Even Klaus knew that one does not sit down one’s lover and shine a bright light into his face, demanding to know. And anyway, that particular approach had already failed on previous occasions. Mata Hari pillow talks had brought nothing but embarrassment, as those were the moments when Dorian was at his most flowery and demonstrative. Make that embarrassment and wild sex.

Face it, Klaus. You really don’t want to know. You already know enough.

The first time he’d caught the name among the long string of Dorian’s burblings, the surge of hatred and jealousy had almost been unbearable. He’d got up and left before he did something unforgivable—and criminal. He had no memory of getting on the first flight to Bonn, which he’d endured in such grim silence the flight assistant hadn’t even dared bring him any refreshments. He’d spent a week in hell, then he’d looked up the name. What he’d found didn’t add up, exactly—the man was twenty-eight years old, married with two gormless children from a horsey wife as insipid as him. But maybe Dorian liked the contrast. And sure enough Dorian loved to break into other’s people closets and drag them out kicking and screaming.

Still, he had no idea what to do—apart from not answering Dorian’s phone calls and letters. Until one night, back to the Schloss, he’d found Dorian, icy with rage. The fight had been epic. The thief was so angry that he’d actually managed to land a few good blows before Klaus prevailed. The explanation had been brief, but it could still make Klaus squirm.

What do you mean I have a lover? Of course I do—it’s you, you cretin!”

I mean another lover. You say his name in your sleep!”

Dorian did a double take. “What?”

What is this Prendergast—this Lord Price—to you?”

Dorian went stone still, and turned his back. Silence rushed in, and the temperature in the room plunged several degrees down. Klaus could hear his heart shatter. He took out his gun and slowly dragged it along Eroica’s neck, tracing the big vein pulsing in rapid, stark relief.

Make it fast, Klaus, if you really want to do it. But know this: I haven’t had any others since long before I had you. I still have no-one else, unless you tell me otherwise.”

And him?”

It’s not what you think, and it’s none of your business. It’s a long story from a long time ago.”

Klaus put his gun back into his holster. Dorian turned, grabbed Klaus by his lapels and shook him with such strength that the wool fabric tore. “If you ever ask me about him—if you ever doubt me again—I will walk out, and walk out for good. Remember this, because I am not going to repeat it.”

Then he’d thrown Klaus on the bed and made them forget there was anything in the world apart from their bodies. Afterwards, when he believed Klaus had fallen asleep, Dorian had curled up in his usual tight way, and silently cried for a very long time.

After that, their relationship had subtly changed. Dorian had been wary, and at times remote, for weeks. Then he’d stopped protesting when Klaus insisted on secrecy and stealth. One night he’d turned up out of the blue, dressed formally and almost soberly. He’d sat Klaus down and then knelt at his feet. Taken a small blue box and offered it to him.

“It’s my grandmother’s wedding ring. You don’t have to wear it—but I want you to have it and to keep it.”

Klaus had been speechless, but he’d taken the ring. He’d put it in his safe at the Schloss, and taken it out every so often to look at it. Antique red gold; inside, only a worn engraving of the Gloria crest. Tiny, almost undecipherable. Discreet. Not giving anything away.

From then on, Klaus had redoubled his efforts to thaw under Dorian’s pressure, and he’d kept his questions to himself. He’d even managed to forget them for long stretches. Make that all the time; except for the mornings when he watched Dorian mumble in that heartbreaking, high-pitched tone.

Taking a deep breath, Klaus got up and ready for his morning run. Let go, von dem Eberbach.

You know what it is, even if he won’t say it, and there’s no puzzle after all. He’s gone to the same public school as that damned Price; their age difference is not so great. Gormless or not, he must have been his first love, and it ended badly. Dorian is right: it was from a long time ago.

 

20th August 2009

Eroica