Lady Ana gave moo a couple of choices and one involved laughter. I’ve been doing some leaf-raking recently so . . . Lady Ana, I know you prefer heavier breathing but I’m in more of a pre-slash mood and you didn’t specifically say it HAD to be smutty.
Laughter bounced all around the Vecchio kitchen: the squeals of the children as they mushed up their ice-cream, Tony’s low barks of enjoyment as he watched them, Maria’s and Francesca’s high-pitched giggles over some neighbourhood gossip they were sharing, Ma’s gentle chuckling over the sitcom that was blaring from a portable television on kitchen counter. And punctuating the odd pauses was Fraser’s shy, tentative laugh, at nothing in particular but simply in response to the sounds of gaiety around him. Underneath all these different melodies and pitches was the background drone of the studio-audience laughter of the show Ma was watching.
Sounds like a fucking barbershop quartet in here, except nobody’s in tune, Ray thought sourly. It was lunchtime on a splendid, sunny, autumn Sunday and Ray’s mood, already foul since last night, was soured even more by the happy noises that bombarded him over lunch. Last night’s date had been as much of a disaster as every date he had been having for the last several months.
“I date a lot,” he had said only a month ago to Welsh. Well, that was no lie. Ray took woman after woman out – once. They usually liked him, as far as he could tell, but he didn’t call them back. It just never seemed to feel right with any of them.
What’s with all this laughing anyway? Nothing funny is going on. Bunch of fucking hyenas. Mindless noise. Disgusting.
Well, all except Fraser. Odd to hear him laugh. He didn’t laugh much. Even now it was only slight, as though he didn’t know how.
Music from the television signaled the end of Ma’s show and she clicked the set shut. With this false window on a fake world now darkened, she glanced out the kitchen window that looked over the real backyard of the Vecchio house.
“Raymondo, shouldn’t you be thinking of doing the leaves?”
Ray came slightly out of his gloom at being addressed directly but not enough to make an adult comment. He only whined “Aw, Maaaaa.”
“It’s a nice sunny day. A perfect day to rake up the leaves. I got you bags, they’re in the garage. But . . .” Ma sighed, “I wish we could burn them like in the old days. Such a nice smell – burning leaves.”
“Why can’t Tony do it?” Ray groused. “I got a day job, no reason I have to work on Sunday.”
Maria piped up, “Hey, my husband does chores for Ma all day long AND works nights.”
“And I’m not out most nights on stake-outs? When do I get to relax? Cripes!”
Francesca added, “Why shouldn’t you help out around the house, Mister Fancy-pants Detective?”
“Bambini, stop bickering!”
“Mrs. Vecchio, if you’ll permit, I’d like to rake up the leaves.”
The whole clan paused mid-bicker and turned their attention to Fraser. Then came the simultaneous protests:
“You don’t have to do that, Benny. Tony will do it.”
“You don’t have to do that, Fraser. Ray will do it.”
“You don’t have to do that, Constable Fraser, one of my children will do it.”
“No, really,” Fraser insisted, “I’d enjoy spending an afternoon doing something useful outside in the fresh air.”
Ray was trapped. He couldn’t leave Fraser to work alone in the Vecchio yard so there was no graceful way out but to agree that the two friends would rake the leaves together. They each carried their lunch dishes to the counter and Fraser was about to offer to do the dish washing as well, but Ray grabbed the collar of Fraser’s plaid lumberjack shirt and hauled him out the back door.
In some of the corners of the yard the leaves had blown in and gathered shin-deep. Fraser tramped, rake in hand, into the deepest of the pile and started taking long, wide swipes. He threw his whole body into the motion, reaching far and sweeping the leaves into a pile in the center of the yard.
The day was crisp, but also sunny. After about twenty minutes Fraser paused, peeled off his plaid shirt and hung it on the limb of a tree and, clad now in a sleeveless undershirt of pale blue, continued to work.
Ray caught the sound of female laughter coming from the house. The kitchen window was open and the three women: Ma, Francesca and Maria, stood looking out and giggling. The object of their attention was clear enough from both the direction of their gaze and their tittering. They were watching the Mountie flex and stretch his upper body as he worked.
And Ray noted that Benny was totally oblivious to them, or at least pretending to be.
Cackling hens, Ray thought. They sound so stupid.
Then Ray found himself noticing his friend’s body. In the few weeks they had known each other he’d never seen the Mountie wearing this little before. The uniforms, brown or red depending on what duty Fraser had drawn on any given day, did no real justice to Fraser’s frame. In his uniforms he seemed to have very little in the way of shoulders. But in this undershirt, all the proportions of the man’s body seemed perfectly in balance. Ray paused without thinking about it to watch Fraser rake and pause, rake and pause. Then he caught himself. What the hell was doing, just watching Fraser’s body? What’s with that?
“It really would have been nice to burn these,” Ray said, trying to make some kind of idle conversation.
“Yes, although of course the by-laws must be respected.”
“Of course, Benny. But, you know, I was kind of hoping you could identify the kinds of trees by the smell of the different leaves. That would have been fun – like the way you taste and sniff stuff all the time.”
Fraser paused mid-swipe. He twisted, looking around the yard, and then turned back to Ray. “You’ve got two oak, Ray. And a willow and a maple. Didn’t you know what kind of trees were in your own yard?”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I meant just to see if you could do it.”
That’s just silly, Ray.” Fraser went back to raking. “I couldn’t possibly identify them by the smell unless the trees all were of the same genus.”
It wasn’t long before the two men had made a pile of leaves waist high and a few feet wide.
“I’ll go get some plastic bags,” Ray said, turning to go.
“No, Ray, wait.” Fraser stood looking at the leaves for a moment then, with a sheepish duck of head, reached over to take his shirt down from the branch and slipped it on. “There’s something I want to do first.”
“With the leaves?”
The Mountie seemed embarrassed. “Well, Ray. I spent most of my childhood north of the tree line. I seldom saw this many leaves. And when I ever did, we were living in a forest so there never was occasion to actually rake any. I’d always read about children . . . I mean other children . . . and sometimes in movies . . .” He sighed. “Just, bear with me for a moment.”
Fraser trotted to the farthest edge of the yard, right against the fence. Then he ran at the pile of leaves and jumped into them. Leaves sprayed about from under and around him. He sat up in the pile of leaves and tossed them in the air, laughing merrily.
Ray was fascinated. Just as before he was seeing his new friend’s arms and shoulders for the first time, now he was seeing for the first time the playful, childlike side of the serious Mountie. And he was hearing, also for the first time, Fraser laugh heartily and without any caution. What a musical sound it was – so pure and healthy. This was what a laugh should sound like.