Hollow as a Bone
SUMMARY: The first time Lex fell in love.
NOTES: Lex, Lionel, and the unseen Victoria belong to many others, not to me. I'm just borrowing, with thanks, for non-profit amusement. The title comes from a Cowboy Junkies' song of the same name. And not that it much matters, but Hanno's given name is German because his family emigrated from Berlin to Moscow in the time of Peter the Great.
His father introduced Hanno over dinner one night: a thin, bespectacled, almost-shabby college student with a slight accent and a shy manner. Beyond telling Lex that he was looking forward to their sessions, he limited his conversation to polite responses. It seemed that not only Lionel but the surroundings intimidated him a little: he handled the heavy Victorian silver and cut glass as though they were museum pieces likely to bend or shatter in his hands.
Lex hadn't minded the idea of someone's being brought in to polish his chess skills. He liked the game, and he rather liked the prospect of a challenge. Anyway, it was summer; and the long days would still be mostly his own. This Hanno mentioned that he'd be spending a lot of his free time working on his mathmetics. He might become a little tedious - he'd be taking most meals with Lex - but he seemed manageable. His five years' seniority wasn't enough to make him seem in charge.
The very next day, Hanno told him, "Knock out the bullshit, Luthor," in a way that made Lex acknowledge his control of the game table. When he came down for supper that evening, Lex asked him if he rode. He did not. "How about learning?" Lex asked. Hanno gave him his first real smile.
Lex ordered up old Bruno and his own horse for early next morning. From then on, a ride was part of their morning routine. Hanno's almost-frail look was deceiving; he was wiry and strong, and surprisingly confident. After a day or two, he stopped hobbling about and easing into chairs, and graduated to a brisker mount. Mostly they explored the winding trails of the state park that flanked one side of the Luthor estate. Lex had ridden them all before, but it was much more interesting to do it with someone else. Drifting into sleep at night, he'd think happily of the morning.
Later that same week as they sat at the chessboard, Hanno took off his glasses for a moment to rub his eyes. "Too long at study," he said apologetically. Lex stared at him. He knew what Hanno looked like, or thought he did. Better than his first impression, though maybe that was because he acted more at ease. But he wasn't a guy you'd call handsome. Except: he was. Or maybe you'd have to say: beautiful. It was like the cliche in old black-and-white movies when the homely girl takes off her spectacles and shakes her hair loose. Instant movie star! Something let go in Lex's chest and plunged downward. Instant hard-on! He hurt. Thank god for the table.
"What's the matter?" Hanno asked.
"Nothing," Lex said. In his jerking-off fantasies, the faceless strangers always confessed themselves safely to him first; never a chance they were spies for his father. Something like Hanno had never entered his calculations.]]]]
The second week the tutor was there the weather turned hotter, and Lex took him down to the foot of the property where his mother had a pond dug once, a century or so ago. There was always shade there, and the sound of water trickling down artfully-set rocks before it rejoined the underground spring.
Hanno looked about. "Beautiful."
"I like it better than the one at the house, especially when it's this hot," Lex said. "Of course, you can't dive here, you know. You just wade in and when it's deep enough you swim."
They were both wearing tees and shorts. Lex kicked off his sandals, pulled the teeshirt over his head, and then stopped to watch Hanno bending to unlace his joggers. Lex wondered whether he'd take off the shorts, and if he was wearing anything under them. but no. Shorts still in place, he was already walking into the shallows "Wait a minute," Lex said, "You can't swim with your glasses on."
"I can't swim with my glasses off."
"Yes you can. l'll be your seeing-eye dog. Woof! Arooof!" He charged up to Hanno, braked, carefully took hold of the [[glasses]] and lifted them off Hanno's face. He stood very near. The of the smell of Hanno's sweat was painfully pleasant. Hanno's face looked naked, vulnerable, beautiful.
Lex's brain wasn't working very well. Did they stand that way, unmoving, almost touching, for as long as it seemed? He finally looked downward between them: * yes*, it wasn't just him. "What do we do now?" he whispered.
Hanno's voice was calm. "I'll show you," he said.
The next few weeks were theirs. Lionel was on a series of overseas tripsand except when he came home for a day or two and dinners were formal, they either took their meals in the little breakfast room, or had Mrs. Orton fix picnic lunches. Lionel had told Hanno he could drive the rattletrap Peugeot for short trips; they went into town for a couple of movies at the one-screen theater (fondling each other obscenely in the darkness and waiting self-consciously until everyone else exited before they left, jackets sheepishly held to the front). Lex had his first driving lessons that summer. Hanno abandoned mathmatics. They rode, they swam, sometimes they read companionably. Hanno rummaged through the record and CD collection and, up in Lex's room, taught Lex to foxtrot, and how to lead and to follow. Everywhere that was even remotely safe, they made love or had sex; or sometimes those were the same thing. It was all joyous.
Ironically, Lionel didn't intend to spy on him. He'd simply returned from Melbourne a day early and stopped by the study to look in on the chess lesson. What he saw was the abandoned board, some of the pieces on their sides with Hanno's thick-lensed glasses in their midst. And Lex and Hanno, sprawled side-to-side on the couch, unzipped and still panting, Hanno clutching the shirttail with which he'd been ineffectually swabbing at the both of them. The air was thick with the smell of them.
Lionel stared for a moment before he said coldly to Hanno, "Be ready to have a driver pick up you and your things in an hour." He grabbed the eyeglasses and tossed them toward the tutor. Automatically, Lex reached out to make the catch; Hanno couldn't see much without them.
"You," Lionel told Lex, "Go to your room. We'll talk later." He left, shutting the door quietly behind him.
It was rather like the time when his mother caught eleven-year-old Lex in the grape arbor with The Lives of the Caesars and the Drambuie. Instant sobriety. Hanno was shaking as he twisted awkwardly in the effort to find a clean bit of shirt for the glasses, badly smeared from Lex's sticky-fingered grasp. "I'm sorry," he said. "I never should have - I never meant - " He stood up.
"I meant," Lex said. He watched as Hanno, eyes averted, tucked in his shirttails, pulled up his zipper, and had another go at his glasses, this time with the antique paisley shawl that hung over the back of the couch.. Hoping, Lex thought, to turn himself back into the mild, bookish Ukrainian student Lionel hired to develop my chess skills. Skills I'll need, as Lionel tells me rather often, in a real life.
"I'm so sorry," Hanno repeated. "Now I must - " And stopped, his voice crumbling.
"Wait!" Lex said, rising. He took the spectacles from Hanno and set them back on the table; took Hanno's face in his hands. Final inventory: Clear, pale skin. Baltic-gray eyes softened by tawny lashes. Short nose, high cheekbones, rounded brow: a cat's head. Quick mind, goofy, pedantic sense of humour. The delight of navigating each other's thoughts, Hanno with his still-idiosyncratic English and Lex trying to help in pidgin German. Laughing as he'd never laughed before. And then, and most of all,the miracle of Hanno making love, the hands, the wide, thin-lipped mouth, the lean body, the prideful dick:. Hanno, his * homecoming*.
I never even knew I could be that happy, Lex thought. Five weeks. And now it's over. Kaput, Hanno-baby. Done mit.
Hanno shut his eyes. He was still trembling.; Lionel could do that to people. Feeling older than Hanno's nineteen, Lex said, "I won't let him hurt you, I promise." And then he blurted stupidly, "I'll go with you. We'll leave together." As if saying the words would make it possible.
Hanno, his eyes still squeezed shut, knew better, and shook his head. "Well, then," Lex said, and released Hanno's face to pull him close. And closer, wanting as he always did to turn them into one person. Hanno as always understanding: thighs locked between thighs, each trying to pull pelvis, belly, chest, heart though the flesh and bone of the other. Futile hands scrambling up and down each other's backs. Mouths clashing and sucking, dripping tongues trying to twine like snakes, teeth clicking, taste of salt and rust, hearts thudding to [[crash]] out of their cages.
They broke apart as abruptly as they'd come together, in unison this last time, gasping for air, staring at each other as they wiped their mouths. Lex picked up the eyeglasses and handed them over, noting the trickle of blood from a cut on Hanno's lip. That was it, then. He felt almost...light.
Hanno squared his shoulders, turned away, opened the door. Not looking back, he said, "I love you."
"I loved you," Lex called after him. He didn't mean it to come out like that. He hoped Hanno didn't notice.
He didn't try to watch the tutor's departure. No point; he knew the scene without looking. Rupert would have been the driver, opening the door of the Bentley and bobbing his head at Hanno in a mocking mini-bow. Because probably they all knew the score. The servants here were left over from his mother's staff, which apparently made his father trust them. That might be all right for Lionel, who could do as he damn well pleased, but once Lex started having secrets, he knew he couldn't trust any of them. Maybe when he was older he'd invent robots for all the necessary household stuff.
He supposed that later he might want to hide out somewhere to cry, or punch a tree-trunk until his knuckles were bloodied; and eventually he would find a way to get even with his father. Now, there was nothing. He showered, leaving his soiled clothes in a heap on his bathroom floor - let Mrs. Orton think what she would - and padded to his bed . He was still damp, and cold, and he curled into a tight ball under the duvet. The afternoon light darkened to dusk as he lay there, neither sleeping nor awake. Finally there was a knock on his door, the ever-pompous Rupert back from the airport, and come to tell him that his father requested his presence at dinner. In fifteen minutes, Mister Lex. He pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans and went downstairs.
Lionel was expansive that evening, talking about his trip, assessing the pros and cons of a new plant in Australia, speculating on the future of the Metropolis football team, as Mrs. Orton served their meal. He nodded at the wineglass by Lex's place. "Yes, you can have a little tonight; that's why it's there." He himself was drinking rather more than usual. Lex skated along with nods and "oh's," and the occasional brief question. The wine helped. He'd been drinking for years, of course, but never with permission.
When Mrs. Orton finally left them with dessert, Lionel said, "You seem to be handling this pretty well, Lex."
"Yes, sir," Lex agreed.
" Evidently I missed something when I interviewed him. Apparently that sort of thing isn't always easy to spot. Someone like Dominic, or that assistant in Human Resources - with the yellow hair? - they're obvious enough, when you know what to look for. And that's fine, I have no problem with it. But one needs to know what one's dealing with. And with this boy - I think "nerd" is apt - I missed the clues, whatever they were. I can't say I wasn't warned, but he just didn't seem likely to cause a problem."
"Warned?" Lex said blankly. Warned about Hanno? But surely Lionel would never have hired someone with dubious references? Anyhow, Hanno had only been with one other boy, a schoolmate, long ago, in another country, there was no way -
"Your mother. She thought this might happen eventually and she feared I'd take it amiss. She prepared me. Actually, I believe I'm coping quite well. Though this spring I did rather think you and the Hardwick girl..."
It was like being punched. His mother knew this about him before he knew it himself, is that what Lionel was saying? And now she was reaching from beyond the grave to protect him, was she? Crap. She left a long time ago. He took a slow breath, trying to fill the empty space. "Yes, sir," he said. "And we did. Victoria and I."
"Did you, now?"
"Yes, sir. It was all right. But she wasn't very good at, at other stuff. Nothing like Hanno." Deal with that, you bastard. His anger was abstract; he didn't feel it, but he knew it was there and it deserved attention. He spooned up a bit of tasteless flan. "I promised you wouldn't do anything to hurt him."
Lionel's eyebrows lifted. "Don't ever make promises or threats you're unable to keep," he said. "However, I'm not a thug. As a matter of fact, I had Dominic cut him a generous severance check and advise him that his tuition will be paid up through a master's degree. Unless, of course, so much as a whisper of this, ah, this incident, gets out. In that event, he will find himself in an exceptionally nasty position for having debauched a fourteen-year-old boy." He narrowed his eyes. "You do understand that if you don't keep this or any future such entanglement totally private, I'll have no reason to protect that young man or you. You're too young for sex in any case, but as I seem to recall, once one starts, it's difficult to call a halt." A faint reminiscent smile flitted over his face. "At least, I suppose it's the same regardless of one's proclivities. If you want to see a counselor about this thing, you can. I shan't insist. But your indiscretions are simply not to become public knowledge, you understand?"
"Did he accept?" Lex asked dully.
"What? Oh, of course he accepted. He's a penurious student. What else do you think he'd do?"
Then, almost kindly, Lionel added, "Actually, Dom said he initially threw the check back at him. Apparently the poor lad was blubbering. You must be quite the heartbreaker, Lex. Didn't realize that, did you?" He put his napkin on the table. "I'm jet-lagged; think I'll make an early night of it. Ring for Gladys when you're through. Goodnight, son."
"Goodnight, sir." He watched his father depart, strong, trim, vain, always a well-known stranger.
When he'd really begun to understand himself, last year, he'd thought, "Father will kill me if he finds out." It wasn't that Lionel didn't know gay people besides lackeys like Dominic. Luthor dinner-parties tended to include people from the arts and literature, [Indeed, Lex used them to hone his perceptions. The probably-gay men, just like everybody else he met, tried to cover their shock at his appearance. Sometimes that made them extra-cordial, taking time for conversation with a kid. When that happened, Lex would concentrate on being charming as all-get-out. He half-hoped that one of the attractive ones would sometime hand him a slip of paper, whispering, "My number. Call me." He wasn't sure where to take the scenario beyond that point. Of course none of them would really dare come on to him, but maybe when he was older... With Hanno, the dinner guests, strangers on the street, the gardener's helpers: they all ceased to matter.)
But homosexual dinner guests were a far cry from a homosexual son. A wife who died young, a son as good as dead: he was sure that's how Lionel's mind would work. More than once he had imagined telling Lionel, and watching him, incandescent with fury, grab a fireplace tool or the Schopenhauer bust, and - the scene in slow motion - crashing it down on his head. Had imagined his own dying thought:* I won*.
Only, all this time, his father had been watching, waiting for signs. And when it happened, Lionel was ready, He reacted as he had planned to react. No talk of confinement or treatment. No woe-is-me stuff. Chill acceptance, and practical instruction. If you wanted to look at it that way, Lionel won because his own mother had given the game away. Well: he could take some comfort from the fact that it was Lionel who brought Hanno into it.
Picking up his empty wineglass and the second bottle, he headed for his own room. Mrs. Orton would eventually realize she could clear the table. Maybe the alcohol could fill the emptiness. Maybe he could even cry over Hanno the way Hanno apparently cried over him. Or maybe not. Some things you had to accept. When they're gone, they're gone, he thought.
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