It was their twenty second meeting that Giovanni finally worked up the nerve to ask Henry if he would like to go out for a cup of coffee. His fingers were shaking from his nervousness so he clasped them together and waited for Henry’s response. He wanted to see something else besides the same golden walls and dark wood bookshelves when he spoke to Henry. He wanted to be able to talk with Henry in a setting where his voice didn’t seem like an intrusion.
Henry had gone completely still.
His voice was hard and defensive as he looked Giovanni straight in the eyes and said, quite clearly so there would be no mistake,
Giovanni felt his heart clench painfully at the instant rejection, in fact it felt like suddenly there was no air to breathe. Icy fingers seemed to grab hold of his lungs as his mind ran through about all the possible reasons that caused Henry to say no.
But he only nodded. He started counting the books on the shelf beside him as he tried to calm down and not panic.
He could be happy with their little meetings in the library.
Henry stayed tense for the entirety of time Giovanni remained and eventually Giovanni said goodbye, leaving the library so Henry could read in peace.
He didn’t want to ruin whatever fragile bond they had over a cup of coffee and his own quiet fantasies of intimacy beyond the library walls.
Giovanni didn’t talk much, if at all, the next few weeks as they met in their same corner of the library. The air was tense between them where before it had been almost intimate, comfortable, and Giovanni just prayed he hadn’t messed things up to badly with his foolishness. The silence of the library seemed to slowly become less tense between them as the days go on.
It was Henry who decided to speak first.
“I don’t feel desire, I don’t crave physical intimacy. At all.”
He spoke slowly and carefully like he always did then flinched, as if expecting Giovanni to rage and lash out.
Giovanni thought over the statement quietly, not sure what to feel. What to think. Had he thought about being intimate with Henry? Yes. Had it given him an elevated heart rate caused by slight panic? Yes. But Henry didn’t want intimacy at all.
“I don’t understand.” Was the best he could come up with.
Henry seemed to relax, only slightly, at the calmly spoken question. His arms that had gripped the arms of the leather chair now rested loosely in his lap as he seemed to think over Giovanni’s question. Giovanni’s calm surprised him. But eventually, he spoke in that slow, thoughtful way of his.
“My body. I don’t want to share it with anyone. It is mine. I don’t feel comfortable sharing something so personal.” His face was thoughtful, with a little crease between his brows that always appeared when he was discussing something he found difficult to put into words. “I don’t want to give my body to anyone. I just don’t.”
Giovanni took it all in, his mind going quickly from one thought to another discarding comment after comment when he judged them too rude or too ignorant sounding. He wanted to ask so many questions, to clear up the confusion he felt when he tried to grapple with what Henry had told him. But he didn’t think it would be appropriate at the time. Eventually he settled on what he hoped was the least offensive statement running through his mind.
“I won’t ask you to share your body. But I would like to be close to you. Is that alright?”
Henry watched him warily. It made Giovanni’s heart ache to imagine what could have made Henry so afraid to share this part of himself. But he waited, letting Henry think over his answer for as long as he liked.
“Yes. It’s alright.”
And they left it at that, both wanting to say more but not knowing how. Questions hanging between them made the silence heavy.
Giovanni remained the same quiet reading partner he had always been.
He took time when he was at home to do research on people like Henry, asexuals, and tried to understand. The small apartment he had to himself seemed to be filled with his fantasies of Henry. Innocent musings, just holding Henry’s hand or a picnic under a tree where they spent the day together.
All he wanted was to be close to Henry.
He would respect whatever boundaries Henry needed no matter how much he might want more. He didn’t need access to his body for that, a realization he came to as he reviewed their conversation, again, at 4 a.m. in the morning as he lay awake. The bed seemed empty and he wondered what it would be like if he could hold Henry in his arms as he slept. Henry would fit into his life like a puzzle piece. He’d fill all the empty spaces in Giovanni’s life, and Giovanni could only hope he could do the same for Henry. Restless his mind refused to let the idea rest. It simply kept repeating in his head over and over until he couldn’t deny the truth of it. Even after his conversation with Henry, there was one thing that was clear.
He didn’t need sex.
He just needed Henry.