“you come to my room at 4am, to cuddle?” Pleeeeeease
The creak of his bedroom door opening woke Robert instantly, always too light a sleeper to be able to ignore noises. Living in a pub, as you’d expect, was absolute hell for him.
Untangling himself from the duvet cocoon he’d built around himself, Robert sat up, flicking on one of his bedside lamps. Aaron was standing in the doorway, shoulders hunched, chewing on the side of his lip nervously.
“You okay?” Robert asked, concerned. He’d developed a bit of a soft spot for the younger Dingle, in the months since he’d moved back to the village, finding Aaron in the room that had always used to be Victoria’s, before she’d decided to move back in with Andy.
Aaron rocked on his heels slightly, tugging the sleeves of his jumper down over his hands. “I couldn’t sleep,” he admitted, voice hoarse from disuse. He’d gone to bed hours before Robert had, shaking off Chas’ concerns with his usual ‘I’m fine, mum.’
Robert’s heart ached, as he looked at the teenager. He was barely nineteen, and already he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, a whole host of horrors buried in his past that Robert couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
Maybe thats why they got on so well.
Aaron didn’t want to talk about it, and Robert didn’t feel the need to ask. Everyone else pushed, asked questions, wanted to know if Aaron was okay, but Robert - well, he was just there, wasn’t he?
He was being who he wished he’d had when his mum had died.
“So you’ve come into my room at four am to what, cuddle?” Robert teased, glancing at the clock on his beside table, 4:00am flashing back at him in blinding red numbers. They both had work in the morning, Robert having started a new job at the bank in Hotten, Aaron at the garage, an early start awaiting them both.
“I can go.”
“You know I’m joking,” Robert flung back his duvet, waggling his eyebrows at the younger man. “Come on, before I let all the heat out.”
Aaron gave him a grateful smile, padding across Robert’s bedroom in his socks, easing himself into the bed next to Robert. He was stiff, for a second, uncomfortable with the closeness.
Just like every other night.
Robert waited, gave him a minute or two to relax, before he tucked the covers in around them, lying back down. He switched the light off, waiting to see if Aaron would react.
He sometimes did.
“Thank you,” Aaron breathed, reaching under the covers, tangling his fingers with Robert’s.
“Letting me do this,” Aaron shrugged, shuffling a little closer to Robert, pointy chin digging into Robert’s shoulder. “Sleep in here with you, I mean. It helps more than you know.”
“Whats a best mate for, eh?” Robert nudged, leaning over to press a kiss to the side of Aaron’s forehead. They’d figured out their boundaries, over the last few weeks, discovered what was okay, what wasn’t.
It was probably the most careful with anyone Robert had been in his life, but he couldn’t help it. From the day he’d arrived back in the village, stalking into Diane’s pub with a gear bag on his shoulder and a rather unattractive black eye, not a penny to his name, Robert had cared.
He’d spotted Aaron sitting at a corner table, drinking alone, looking grumpy as anything, and of course he’d stuck his nose in straight away. He’d been living away from the village for years, and he knew what - and who - he liked these days, and Aaron was sort of his type.
Robert’s type had always just been anyone who intrigued him.
Six months on, and Robert was just happy to be his mate. Happy to be there, happy to help him, happy to be the mate who would sit quietly with a pint and let Aaron wallow, when needs be.
Happy to be the mate who bought him into town in Robert’s crappy little car, the two of them sitting in the McDonalds carpark, just talking. Happy to sit up at the cricket pavilion, drinking cans and shit-talking Katie’s atrocious new hair-do, or making fun of Eric.
Happy to be whatever Aaron needed, really.
“You are, you know,” Aaron mumbled, half asleep already, breathing evening out. “My best mate, I mean. Don’t tell Adam though.”
Robert laughed, half asleep himself now, the warmth of Aaron’s body next to his a familiar comfort. “Your secret is safe with me.”