If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Written for a music prompts game, 2011. The prompt was “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Otis Redding.
Cyril can hear Atimus singing from down the street, and doesn’t need to look out to see the house slaves guiding him home by torchlight. Another night at the symposium, where no doubt Atimus has eaten and drunk and kissed and groped between the philosophy and debates.

He does peer out onto the street, though, and sees that Atimus has his arm slung about the shoulders of another man, who is singing the bawdy song along with him as they stumble along. The little group — Demetrius and Primus, along with men Cyril doesn’t know who likely belong to the singing stranger — stop before their door, and the singing stops as Atimus plants a kiss on the stranger’s mouth.

Cyril draws back, inhaling. He thinks for a moment that he should bolt the door to Atimus, but instead he moves from the upper floor to the courtyard so that he is waiting when the slaves bring Atimus inside.

“You’re awake,” says Atimus with surprise. “Did you miss me, my dear?”

“You’re dismissed,” Cyril tells the lads, who glance at each other with uncertainty before scurrying off to their quarters. Atimus wavers on his feet, his face flushed and merry, waiting for Cyril to continue, which Cyril stretches out as long as he can. “You had a good time tonight.”

“I did indeed. I am delighted, may I tell you, delighted by the quality of young men who are seeking out my wisdom.” He tugs on his hair, which had once been thick and chestnut. “I am at last respected, now that I am no longer beautiful.”

Cyril sighs despite himself. Atimus may joke about his fading beauty but Cyril does not see it that way. “Who was that man, the one who came home with you?”

“Oh, ah, yes, witty boy, whose name eludes me. No doubt I’ll remember in the morning. Now stop looking at me like a wounded pup and give me a kiss.”

“I’m not happy with you,” says Cyril.

Atimus laughs. “I said you should come tonight. People should hear you speak. They want to hear you speak. They want to lie at your feet and soak up your greatness.”

“I had a play to finish.”

“The gods would forgive you if you finished it tomorrow instead of today.” He approaches Cyril, swaying slightly, and Cyril catches him by his arms. “Do kiss me, my dear. Don’t be churlish.” He moves to kiss Cyril, and Cyril moves away. “Oh, my,” murmurs Atimus, “you are displeased with me tonight.”

“Do you often kiss these boys at the suppers?”

“Yes. Especially when they’re pretty. But I come home to you.” He tilts his head, trying to catch Cyril’s eye, and Cyril avoids his gaze. “I always come home to you, my love, my heart. Do I not?”

“I am no longer so pretty.”

“You never were,” says Atimus, his tone tender, and he hangs his arms over Cyril’s shoulders, still chasing his gaze. “Except to me.”

“I am beginning to believe you prefer those boys who think so much of you,” says Cyril.

“Oh, Cyril, do stop! After all this time do you honestly think there is anyone in the world I prefer over you? No matter how many glasses of wine I may drink there is no one who could tempt me away from you, I who have shared your home and your bed for ten years!”

“I can’t disbelieve what I see with my own eyes! You kissed that boy. In front of our home, you kissed that boy.”

“Yes,” says Atimus, “I kissed that boy, and then I came home. I did nothing more.” He holds Cyril by the back of his head, pressing their foreheads together, as intimate as a kiss.

Cyril closes his eyes and clings to his wrist. “You always come home to me, I know. Still.”

“You are so perceptive,” murmurs Atimus. “You understand so much. The muses sing your name in ecstasy. And yet when you perceive me as someone who’d turn his back on you, after ten years and so much struggle — I must ask if I’ve sharing my life with a stranger.”

“I ask myself that when I see you kissing someone else.”

“Then I will stop, and we will cease to be strangers.” His eyes search Cyril’s. “Don’t you know I would do nothing to hurt you? Don’t you know me well enough by now?”

Cyril clings to Atimus’s wrist and wonders if he does.