Chapter Nine – The Virginia Mountains

It had been two months since David came home from his disastrous trip to Los Angeles. He had resumed his teaching schedule after spring break with resignation but little enthusiasm. His heart simply wasn’t in it. He went through the motions, and because his long years of teaching experience had given him a firm foundation, his students noticed nothing unusual. At home he tended his garden and kept to himself. He had seldom attended the social events that were part of the university’s yearly calendar though he would occasionally make an appearance at some of the more important gatherings. But now even those rare appearances were more than he could handle.

Nate had called and sent messages nearly constantly after he had returned to Virginia, but David had deleted them unread and unheard. Hearing Nate’s voice would have destroyed what little was left of his inner balance. Eventually he put Nate’s number on a ‘restricted’ list simply to avoid the pain of having to see and remove his messages. He knew Nate wanted him to reconsider. He knew he was choosing to turn his back. But he had come to believe that their romance could never survive Nate’s chosen career goals or his own inner demons.

It was possible that Nate might have declined the offer if David had continued to insist. But David refused to stand in the way of Nate’s success. He saw no resolution to their problems other than to accept the painful reality and go their separate ways.

In addition to his heartbreak over their shattered romance, David was also struggling to cope with the lightning bolt of self-awareness that had struck him on that awful day in Los Angeles. He couldn’t forget his devastating reaction to Nate or the emotional breakdown that followed it. The experience haunted him day and night. He see-sawed between nights of crippling insomnia and days when he slept nearly all the time. He tried to pull himself out of his despair, to convince himself that he would be fine. But nothing seemed to help. Even being with his daughters was difficult and he found himself looking for excuses to cancel their weekend visits.

Aware that he was in a downward spiral of depression, he began seeing a psychologist, Doctor Deena Mallory, a friend from the university who agreed to counsel him privately. They had only met a few times, but it was clear even from these early sessions that David had been suppressing almost all of the pain he had suffered as a child.

Darkness had always been a part of David’s psyche. He’d spent years trying, unsuccessfully, to combat his inner shadow without really understanding why it was there. “I’ve felt as though I were living in a black hole,” he told his counselor. “Especially since that day with Nate.”

Slowly Dr. Mallory was helped him peel away layer after layer of defenses which kept him from true awareness of how his relationship with his father had affected him. Long held-in anger and hatred toward his father surfaced, sometimes provoking bitter outbursts. And though he knew it was irrational, he even found himself blaming his long-dead father for his breakup with Nate. Sorting out these conflicting feelings was the main focus of his therapy sessions.

Today was Saturday, so there was no session. But David had set himself an even more difficult task, one which both he and Dr. Mallory had agreed was necessary. He was going to talk to his daughters about his homosexuality and about his relationship with Nate. For days, he had been mulling over the best way to present the situation and had finally concluded that simple honesty was the only correct approach.

He took them out to lunch and for a brief walk in the park, then they returned to David’s home. He prepared lunch for both he and the girls and then he sat them down in the living room for a chat. “I have something I’d like to discuss with both of you,” he told them, sitting in a chair facing the couch where both his daughters were waiting, watching him curiously. He drew in a deep breath. “Do you know what it means to be homosexual?” he queried tentatively.

“Dad!” Deborah, his thirteen-year-old said with some irritation. “It’s being gay! Everyone knows that.”

“Do you understand what that means, Sarah?”

“Sure, Daddy. We have a gay teacher.”

David’s mouth fell open. “I didn’t know that,” he said, in some surprise.

“It’s Mr. Jenkins,” Sarah added in a bright, chipper voice. “He’s nice.”

“Well then, since both of you know so much about this it’ll be easier for me to tell you what I need to tell you.” He swallowed nervously and drew in a deep breath.

“Are you gay, Dad?” Deborah asked curiously.

David was somewhat stunned, but recovered quickly. “What would you think if I were?”

“I don’t care,” Deborah said with a small shrug. “Is that why you don’t have a girlfriend?”

“I am gay, yes,” David said, barely managing to get the words out.

To his surprise, both his daughters looked more bored than shocked. They both stared at him as if waiting to discover the real reason he wanted to talk to them and for a moment he couldn’t think of what to say next.

“Is that why you had that book?” Deborah asked at last. “To learn about being gay?”

“Well, sort of,” David said. “But there’s another reason too. There was someone I liked. A man. I wanted to learn about being gay so I’d know how to treat him in ways that  he’d like.” He hesitated feeling discomfort and embarrassment wash over him in waves. “And I apologize for not telling you this at the time, Deborah. I wasn’t sure if you were old enough to understand and I wanted to protect you. I see now that I was wrong. You’re very mature young lady.”

“So do you have a boyfriend, Daddy?” Sarah asked, seeming to find this topic moderately interesting.

“No,” David said, trying not to let his pain reflect in his face. “Things didn’t work out. But he was a very, very nice man nonetheless.”

“What’s his name? Will we ever meet him?” Deborah asked. “What’s he look like? Is he cute?”

David drew in a deep breath. Jesus, he thought, amazed at the turn this conversation was taking “His name is Nate. And no, I don’t think you’ll ever meet him.” He hesitated then added with a small smile. “And, yes. He’s very handsome.”

“Is that all you wanted to tell us?” Deborah asked, inching toward the PlayStation 4.

“Only this,” he added. “I want you to know that it’s perfectly alright to tell your mother about this conversation and that she should call me if she has any questions. Can you do that?”

They both said that they could, and began to play their favorite game, ignoring him entirely.

David walked into his bedroom and closed the door. He sat on his bed, trembling from the effort of remaining composed throughout the conversation, astounded by how blasé his daughters were to his revelation. He had no doubt that his ex-wife would be less so, but he was fully prepared to deal with her honestly.

“Well,” he muttered to himself, “one hurdle down. Only ten thousand more to go.”

***

Three thousand miles away, Nate was absorbed in completing the requirements for his PhD. Once the prospectus had been accepted, he spend most of his time building toward the 60,000 words necessary to complete his dissertation. It was a huge challenge but once it was finished there was only the approval process to go through and he had his PhD. “Dr. Nate Reese,” he said scornfully. “Means about as much to me as any of my other titles.”

He drew in a deep breath and leaned back from his computer. Two months, he thought. It’s only been two months. There was never a moment in Nate’s day, not even when he was completely buried in his PhD preparations, that the thought of David was far from his mind. He’d given up trying to call or text him. It was clear that David was not going to respond and at this point Nate didn’t know what more he could do.

He had told Lance the day after David left that he would not be taking on the feature film. Lance had been disappointed and a little angry. But like the good guy he was, he didn’t make Nate pay for it by taking away any of his projects or reducing his influence on the Paramount lot. Nate appreciated this, but was also very aware that no one else in Lance’s stable of production staff had either his skills or his complete dedication to whatever work to which he was assigned.

As far as Nate was concerned that dedication had slipped more than a little after his upsetting conflict with David. He just didn’t have that ‘fire in the belly’ anymore. He felt ambitious enough to finish his doctorate, but mainly because it would offer him a way to leave the Hollywood career path behind and open up other opportunities. He had even begun to explore various teaching positions at several Los Angeles universities and colleges.

“David would love that,” he mused, reaching to pick up his half-empty wine glass. David. The thought of David burned like a brand. It had been a long time since the word ‘love’ had been part of Nate’s vocabulary. And the one thing he regretted most about his short-lived affair with David is that he hadn’t said those words directly to him, but had kept them hidden in the recesses of his heart. I should have told him, he reproached himself bitterly. Why didn’t I tell him when I had the chance? Now it’s too late.

He didn’t really think it would have made a difference in the long run. He believed the forces that drove David away came more from his own internal conflict than from anything Nate had done or said. It would be nice if knowing that made it easier, but it didn’t. The pain was as sharp and as bitterly real as it had been the day David ran out his door. Their relationship hadn’t been a game or a passing fancy. It has been that once-in-a-lifetime chance and the pain of its loss was a constant companion.

***

In Virginia, David was fielding the expected phone call from Rachel. He had been unsure as to what her attitude might be when he talked to his daughters. But whatever it was he had to face it. He was sick to death of the lies and long-buried secrets that had created so much pain for him.

“Hi, Rach,” he greeted her, seeing her name on his caller ID.

“Hi yourself,” she replied. “I gather you had a chat with the girls today.”

“Yeah,” David said slowly. “I apologize if it was a shock to you, Rach. There are a lot of things you don’t know.”

“David, if you’re referring to your homosexual tendencies, I’ve always known.”

David made no reply. He felt as though he’d been struck by lightning. “You…you,” he stammered finally. “You…”

“I knew,” she said flatly. “There never was a right time to discuss it, or even a real reason to after a whiles. But I suspected it might be becoming an issue when Deb found the book.”

“I apologized to her for not being truthful about it, Rach, and I apologize to you. And believe me when I tell you that my homosexuality was never a…,” he hesitated. “It was never a problem in our marriage.”

“I know you were always faithful, David,” she said quietly. “I know the difference between a faithful man and one who isn’t. I know it all too well.” Her voice was heavy with sadness.

“Rach, is there a problem with…” he hesitated, momentarily forgetting her boyfriend’s name. “With Tom?” he asked at last.

“The engagement is off,” she said shortly. “I caught him cheating not long ago. I’m surprised the girls didn’t tell you.

“I’m sorry, Rach. Sincerely sorry.”

She sighed. “It’s ok, David. I’m fine. I’m better now than I’ve been for a long time, truth to tell. But what about you? Were the girls right? Is there a man in your life? This…Nate that the girls spoke of?”

“No,” David said quickly. “There might have been but…” He hesitated. “It didn’t work out,” he finished haltingly.

“Boy, we can sure pick ‘um,” she teased.

“No,” he told her. “Nate is a great guy. It was just…it just didn’t work out.”

They said a few more words, then hung up. He was relieved that she understood his revelation and surprised to learn that she had long suspected he might be homosexual. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” he mused to himself, “She’s a pretty sharp lady.” He was glad that he’d talked both with his daughters and with Rachel. It fulfilled two of the promises he’d made to himself when this whole thing began.

With those burdens removed he felt better able to move forward with his life and over the next month he was confident that he was making real progress in his therapy sessions. Through the rigorous self-honesty that Deena demanded he was coming to see that he had picked up where his father had left off. Refusing to believe in his own worthiness, he had engaged in behavior that could only be called self-destructive.

Again and again Deena reminded him that he would never be able to sustain real love until he believed himself to be worth loving. His father had taught him that he wasn’t. But his father had been wrong, and had probably suffered from his own feelings of inadequacy.

After awhile he could even talk about Nate with relative calm, although the pain of missing him remained intense. He felt that he was facing his issues and becoming more self-aware but at the same time a shadow of sadness haunted his every step. The loss of Nate was a wound from which he would never recover. He blamed himself for their breakup and, against his analyst’s advice, refused to contact him and attempt any kind of reconciliation.

“But David, why not reach out to him?” Dr. Mallory asked. “If he’s as good a guy as you say, surely he’ll forgive you and take you back. Why go on punishing yourself when you know that very behavior is at the heart of your problems?”

He knew she was right, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to contact Nate. A part of him believed that if he truly loved this wonderful man he could best show it by releasing him to follow his own path.

Dr. Mallory scoffed in frustration. “You’re isolating yourself,” she said sadly. “Setting yourself up as a human sacrifice isn’t a demonstration of love, David. Besides, Nate deserves to make his own decisions. Do you really have the right to decide for him that he’s better off without you?”

And while David saw the wisdom in her words, he still felt a deep reluctance to reach out to the man he loved. Not yet. He didn’t feel he was emotionally healthy enough yet to be the kind of person Nate deserved. David saw it as a gesture of love. Deena simply called it ‘stubborn’.

Now that the university’s spring term was over he steeled himself to face yet another challenge. His family had long owned land in the Southwest Mountains of Virginia not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. When he was a boy his father had built a comfortable cabin there, and the family had often visited during the summer months. It was a comfortable home built of knotty pine, with two bedrooms and a wonderful porch that spanned the width of the house and faced a stunning view of the forested mountains beyond.

David remembered the location as being the scene of many painful confrontations between himself and his father. For that reason, he had seldom gone there, though he had occasionally taken Rachel and the girls to the cabin for brief vacations during the years of their marriage. He paid a local couple to keep the place clean and in good repair.

As part of his therapy, Dr. Mallory suggested that he go there alone and spend time thinking about his father. “Spend some time with the memories,” she suggested. “Look at those painful encounters from the perspective of a grown man rather than as a frightened child. It could help facilitate your healing.”

David had his doubts. Memories of his father’s cruelty often led to panic attacks that came on with little warning and left him shaken to his core. But he had called the caretakers and asked them to prepare the cabin for his visit. At this point he was resigned to going. They had promised to stock the fridge for him and get everything ready.

The cabin held bad memories for him, but there were also good memories associated with it and he packed his car with an awakening sense of anticipation for the trip ahead. The location was lovely, and there were many winding trails to walk along. It would be a peaceful interlude if he could keep unpleasant recollections under control. Dr. Mallory had taught him many new techniques for coping with his panic attacks over the preceding month.

He remembered her counsel during their last session: “David, you haven’t cried in a very long time, not even when your father died. There’s a dark place inside you, a place you’ve feared for years. There’s a hurt little boy hidden there in that dark place who needs to be freed. He needs to step into the light. But understand that when that happens, you’re going to experience a lot of the feelings that have been hidden there in the dark with him for many years. Let them emerge! Let that little boy cry! Don’t be afraid of him. Embracing him will free him. And it will free you.

David believed and trusted her, and he also knew that the fearful resistance he felt at the thought of reconnecting with those feelings was preventing him from becoming a fully healed human being. He was still frightened by the thought of what he might meet at his father’s cabin but he recognized that this was a critical step in his recovery, and he was determined to see it through.

The drive took only an hour and a half, and David enjoyed every minute. The scenery along the way was lovely and being in this environment gave him a feeling of well-being. As his garden did, the sight of these mountains so filled with growing things left him feeling much more optimistic about his trip.

***

In Los Angeles, Nate was preparing for the approval process which was the last step before receiving his PhD. He would be part of what they called a ‘final defense’ during which he would be questioned in detail about his research, his analysis, and his ultimate conclusions. He was pacing and nervous as he waited in the outer office at UCLA for the committee to call him. He had poured himself into achieving this goal with almost ruthless dedication, depriving himself of sleep and food, obsessively sitting at his computer for long hours on end. He had lost weight and was pale from both fatigue and the stress of his undertaking.

Worried, Lance had finally cornered him a few days prior and demanded to know what was wrong. “You look like crap, kid,” he accused in his booming voice. “What’s going on?”

Nate had brushed it off, saying only that school was a bit intense at this point, and Lance had let it go. But even as he spoke, Nate knew he wasn’t telling the big producer the whole story. The aching sense of loss that crushed his chest every time he thought of David dominated his thoughts anytime he wasn’t focused on school. Compulsively pursuing his PhD was his only defense against the open wound that David’s loss had created in his heart.

He told himself he had to get past it. But even as he did, he knew he was kidding himself. He might eventually get used to it. Might come to see it as a wounded part of himself that he had to live with. It might get a bit easier as time wore on. But getting over it was not in the cards. This wasn’t one you got over. This was the one that stuck with you to your dying day, and Nate knew it. He pulled himself together as the committee chairman invited him into the room and steeled his mind to give his ‘final defense’.

To his overwhelming relief, he passed. He had won his doctorate. And later in his apartment he stared at the preliminary certificate curiously. This was it. He was a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy in Cinema and Media Studies. He felt his chest expand with sadness as his eyes fixed on the paper that awarded him the PhD he had worked so hard to achieve. What could he focus on now that would take his mind off the broken heart he had carried ever since David left? His sole defense against his pain was gone. What would he do now? He had hoped that this moment would be one of triumph, but it wasn’t. It was his deepest moment of despair since that awful day when David ran out of his apartment. He threw the certificate to the floor.

***

High in the Virginian mountains, David awoke feeling a dawning sense of peace. His time at the cabin had been renewing, much more so than he had believed was possible. Every day he awoke early, drank his coffee, and went outside to wander the various paths that wound here and there throughout the entire vicinity, oftentimes not returning until midafternoon.

He wrote in a journal daily, another recommendation from his therapist, and was slowly coming to terms with some of the more abusive incidents that had occurred here when he was a child. He had been afraid at first that these awakening memories might overwhelm him. He was here alone and the thought of facing those reminiscences without his therapist’s support had been daunting. But he found that his surroundings cultivated a sense of well-being that made facing those realities an easier experience. He was glad that he had come.

Again and again he thought about how much he would have loved to have brought Nate to this place. The beauty that surrounded him while wandering the well-worn trails would have been enhanced ten thousand times if he could have seen it all with Nate by his side. At such times sadness overwhelmed him, and he allowed himself to experience the feelings without restraint or self-criticism. He had suffered a terrible loss. He couldn’t heal until he had faced his grief.

He said Nate’s name again and again, something he had strenuously avoided ever since he returned from Los Angeles, and the very sound of that name on his lips was enough break his heart all over again. He remembered the joy they had shared the one time they had made love; the sense of final completion that had been his when he held Nate in his arms. Loneliness was a constant ache. Not because he was alone at the cabin, but because he was without the one person who had completed him. And because he felt sure that this emptiness and pain would always be with him.

***

On the other side of the continent Nate was being hauled into Lance Barret’s office nearly by the scruff of his neck. “Sit the hell down!” the producer barked at him, shoving him roughly toward a chair.

Nate took a seat but glared at Lance in indignation. “What the hell, Lance?”

The producer leaned toward Nate and jabbed a pointing index finger at him to emphasize every word. “I want to know what’s going on with you and I want to know right fucking now. And you can believe me when I tell you that you’re not leaving this office until you tell me unless you quit or I fire you. Now what’s it gonna be?”

Nate sighed and lowered his head. Most people were completely intimidated by Lance, but Nate had always sensed the soft heart that beat under the gruff exterior. He had, in many ways, treated Nate as a favorite son and Nate had many reasons to be grateful to him.

“Lance, it’s hard to talk about,” he said quietly.

“I don’t give a fuck,” Lance said with a congenial smile. “You’re going to tell me anyway.”

Slowly, and with many stops along the way to gain control of himself, Nate told him the full story of his relationship with David. He felt tears sting his eyes when he spoke of that last day, and finally he sat in silence, able to say no more.

Lance drew in a deep breath. “Kid, I’m sorry,” he said in a kindly voice. “And you say that you’re sure his reaction was because of something in himself that your confrontation made him remember or feel?”

“I’m absolutely convinced of it,” Nate said sadly. “I didn’t know him for long. But, Lance, I know him. I know the kind of man he is. He left because something I said or did triggered some kind of terrible memory. Some kind of terrible pain.” He sat silently for a long moment trying to control the trembling of his hands. Finally he spoke again in a soft voice: “I love him. And I believe he loves me.”

“Well then, what the hell are you doing here?” Lance asked suddenly.

“What?

“Why the fuck aren’t you in Virginia shaking the truth out of him?”

“I tried to call him, but he…”

“Call him!” Lance roared in scornful indignation. “Hell, Nate if he’s as fucked up as you say he is, calling him isn’t going to do jackshit! You have to go there and confront him! Don’t you see that?”

“But I have so much to do here…” Nate began.

“Oh, screw that,” Lance said, waving dismissively. “You’ve got your degree. And as far as these documentary projects go, they’ll do just fine without you for a while. And if it came to it, they’d do just fine without you period. There’s always another associate producer sucking around for work.” He smiled at Nate and walked around his desk to stand by his chair. He laid his hand on Nate’s shoulder. “I like you, kid. I always have. I want to see you happy. And I don’t think that’s going to happen for you here. Go find him. Make him see you. Do it now.”

Nate stared up at Lance, his heart in his eyes. “God, Lance,” he choked. “I’m–I’m just…”

“Send me a card or something,” Lance said gently. “Let me know how you are. I’ll miss you, you little shit.” He grabbed Nate’s arm and lifted him to his feet. “Now go. Get to Virginia!” And he pushed Nate gently toward the door.

Nate wheeled and wrapped his arms around the Lance, hugging him tight, feeling Lance hug him equally tight in return. “Thanks, boss,” Nate said in a halting voice. “I’ll be back.” And he turned quickly and left the office.

As he walked to his car he felt a tiny glint of hope touch his spirit. He’d walked in darkness for so long, but what Lance had said to him just now had awakened the tiny part of him that was capable of believing he might just be happy again. Lance was right. He had to go to Virginia. That was the only way things would ever be right again. He had to do for David exactly what David had done for him. He had to go to him. He had to show him that he loved him and was never going to let him go.

I’ve been laying around here feeling sorry for myself, he thought. It’s time to get off my ass and fight for the man I love.

He made flight arrangements the moment he arrived at his apartment, feeling a sense of excitement and renewal begin to fill the space within him that had known only darkness for weeks on end. You better take it easy, he cautioned himself. Don’t get over-confident. He might not want to see you.

“Fuck that,” Nate said suddenly. “He WILL see me! I won’t leave until he does even if I have stand outside his house and yell his name all night long. He’ll see me, if only to shut me up or to bail me out of jail after I’ve been arrested for disturbing the peace. He WILL see me!”


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Chapter Eight – The Fight

They finished cleaning up after breakfast, stopping now and then to exchange a kiss or simply hold each other for a moment. Once done, Nate hopped up onto the counter and drew David close, wrapping his arms and legs tightly around him.

“Mmmmm,” David murmured, holding him tightly and nuzzling his neck. “This is the best morning I can ever remember.”

“I feel the same,” Nate said, then sighed. “And I’m sorry to have to pause it for awhile but, baby, but I have to leave.”

“What?” David said, hugging him more tightly. “Aww, Nate, no!”

“Lance asked me yesterday if I’d stop by for a few minutes this morning. You know I don’t want to go, and I’d skip the damned meeting if he hadn’t said it was important. I won’t be long and I’ll try to clear the rest of the day.” He thought for a moment then gently pushed David back and hopped off the counter. “Listen,” he said as he grabbed his jacket, “while I’m gone why don’t you gather up your stuff at the motel, then check out and bring it back here. I’ll give you a key so you can get back in.”

David turned and leaned back against the kitchen counter, grinning at him. “You sure you want a roommate?” he asked teasingly. “You don’t know–I might be a slob.”

Nate walked to him and twined his arms around David’s neck, savoring the feeling of David’s strong arms as they enveloped him and drew him close. Such strength! Nate thought, as an unfamiliar but wholly welcome sense of security filled him. “I’m sure,” he murmured against David’s shirt, then lifted his head and kissed him. “I’m VERY sure!”

David laughed happily and released him. “Well, I’m glad to hear it though I warn you, you may end up sorry.”

Nate handed him a key. “Here you go. I’ll get back as soon as I possibly can. You ready to go?”

David nodded. “I am. I’ve got some research information to look into for Lance. Once I get back, I’ll set up my laptop and do some work while I wait for you.”

“Oh!” Nate said, “In that case the Wi-Fi password is on a blue Post-it® stuck to my desk. Move anything around that you need to.”

A quarter-hour later David was standing beside his car, Nate’s farewell kiss still tingling on his lips. He shook his head as he drove toward his motel, feeling a nearly blinding sense of disbelief. It’s amazing how much your life can change in a day, he thought.

At the motel he grabbed his possessions, checked out, and drove the few blocks back to Nate’s apartment. Happily, he had no trouble getting in and he settled down at Nate’s desk to do the research Lance had requested. He felt a contentment fill his chest that surpassed anything he had ever experienced. Even the rather boring research work had taken on a golden aura. Everything touching this day was filled with the potential for bliss.

Have I finally done something right? he asked himself, and as this thought filled his mind he drew in a startled breath and reared back, staring past the computer screen, lost in an abruptly awakened flashback.

His father was staring at a paper he had written. Scorn was etched on his face as he flung it down in front of David with a gesture of utter contempt. “You call this an essay?” he asked. “You mean you’re actually going to give this worthless garbage to your teacher?” David stammered out that he’d done his best, that he’d tried. But this only angered his father further. “That’s the worst part of it,” he said, leaning over David. “This IS your best. This!” David had cringed away fighting back tears. “Oh, yes,” his father added. “Go ahead and cry. That’s what you do best isn’t it. Present the most pathetic picture possible and hope everyone will pity you.”

David heard himself gasp as his mind slowly released the memory. He leaned over the computer nearly weeping as he recalled his father’s words, reliving the anguish experienced by his younger self. He stood and began to pace. God, he thought, why couldn’t he ever once just accept me? Why couldn’t he love me just a little! No child deserves that kind of contempt.

He wandered to the bedroom and stood, staring down at the bed where he had known such bliss only the night before. The memory helped calm him and he forced himself to draw in one deep breath after another, struggling to recover from the crushing panic and overwhelming pain that these memories always awakened within him. When his breathing had returned to normal, he returned to Nate’s desk and renewed his research, but the pain of the memory remained. The sense of agonizing self-loathing clung to him like a shadow.

***

Meanwhile, Nate had arrived at Paramount. Finding no secretary in the outer office, he opened Lance’s door and peeked inside. The big man was on the phone and motioned for Nate to take a seat. “Be right with you,” he said in a loud whisper.

When he hung up, he turned at once to Nate. “I’ve got big news for you. There’s an opening for an executive producer on a feature film that’s going into pre-production in a month or so. They wanted me, but I’ve worked with this director before and he’s a pain in the ass, so I recommended you. What do you think? You up for it?”

Flabbergasted, Nate stared at him, a feeling of stunned surprise leaving him momentarily speechless. Finally he drew in a deep breath. “Wow,” he said softly. “Who’s the director? And what’s the film about?”

Lance tossed him a piece of paper upon which was written:

“Synopsis: A burned out copywriter teams up with a gorgeous and brilliant lawyer to prove his innocence of federal fraud charges. As the story unfolds, he and the lawyer fall in love while discovering that the copywriter’s case is connected to the mob. Through absolute blind luck they manage to find evidence clearing the copywriter while gaining the respect of the mob bosses who revoke their death sentence at the hands of the mob’s assassin.”

Nate read the synopsis then glanced up at Lance, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, I know,” Lance said dryly. “But kid, it’s a feature. And if you cast it right it could get you noticed. You know how this town works. You get work by working. Your current job creates your next one.”

Nate read the paper again. “The director?” He asked finally.

Lance sighed. “It’s Lex Arlie.”

Nate rolled his eyes. “Oh Lord God, Lance!” Arlie had a reputation for creating a toxic, adversarial tone on the set, but even worse, he was also technically inept, often knowing less about the making of a movie than his actors. Nate had often wondered how someone so lacking in talent could rise as high as Arlie had risen. Probably boils down to who he knows, Nate thought cynically. It usually does.

“But Colton Brion is writing the screenplay, and he’s good,” Lance offered hopefully.

Nate nodded speculatively. “It’ll be a huge time sink,” he muttered almost to himself.

“If you decide you want to do it I’ll take everything else off your plate,” Lance said generously.

“Man, this is great of you, Lance. Thank you! Can I have a day to think it over?”

“Not more than a day though, Nate. They want to move quickly on this.”

Nate left Lance’s office, his mind spinning. This was the chance of a lifetime and he knew it. Seldom did documentary associate producers get the chance to work on feature films. Making that leap was nearly impossible in this town, and he knew full well the kind of unprecedented opportunity Lance was handing to him on a silver platter.

Then his mind turned to David. Jesus, he thought sadly. If I do this it all but guarantees that he and I won’t make it. He knew the kind of time commitment that a feature film demanded of an executive producer. Even a small feature could take as long as two years to shepherd from pre-production to finished product and then there was distribution and marketing to consider. And with a director like Arlie there would be even more need for him to constantly deal with ongoing conflicts, particularly between Arlie and his actors, who usually brought their own insecurity and petulance to the set.

If I take this job it’ll finish us, he thought. He sighed and got into his car feeling the weight of his decision crushing down on him. “I need to talk to David,” he said aloud. “Maybe he’ll be willing to…” He stopped, recognizing the wishful thinking in his words. “He won’t be willing to set our relationship aside for two years!” Nate said. “And why should he? Hell, I don’t want to do that!”

He returned to his apartment feeling as despondent as he had ever felt in his life. He’d worked for fifteen years to earn the kind of break that just had been offered to him. And now it had, but it had come with a huge price tag: the loss of a relationship that Nate was beginning to believe could offer him a chance for real happiness.

He reentered his apartment and couldn’t help but smile when he spotted David sitting at his desk, laptop open, obviously deep in thought. “Hey, you,” he said in greeting.

David looked up at once and smiled affectionately. “Hey yourself! Man, you’re back sooner than I thought you’d be. How’d it go?”

Nate pulled a chair up to the desk and sat facing David. “It was an interesting meeting,” he said slowly. “And I need to tell you about it.”

David instantly felt a thrill of panic. “What is it?” he asked, slowly closing his laptop.

“I’ve been offered an executive producer job on a feature film,” Nate explained. “It’s a bit of a problem project, but it’s a huge opportunity for me. I may never get another one like it.”

David simply stared at him. Part of him immediately understood what Nate was saying. This project would take an enormous amount of time and energy, far more than his current position demanded and that in itself nearly overwhelmed him.

“Are you going to accept it?” he asked. His voice was level, but his heart leaped wildly in his chest and tasted the bitter flood of adrenaline that signaled panic.

“I haven’t yet,” Nate said slowly. “But…”

“But you’re going to,” David abruptly finished for him. He struggled to rein in his feelings. Swift on the heels of his anxiety came a blinding sense of disappointment and crushing grief. They had finally gotten together. There was finally some concrete hope for their future. And now Nate was taking on a project that would shove their relationship to the back burner, probably for years.

“I didn’t say that,” Nate said mildly. “David, I simply want to…”

“You know what it’ll mean for us,” David interrupted. “You barely have time for us now. A project like this will suck the life out of you.”

Nate hesitated, clenching his teeth as he too felt sudden anger flare in his chest, anger directed as much at himself as at David, who was simply stating out loud what Nate had been thinking himself.

David’s hazel eyes grew dark with pain as they stared across the desk at Nate. He drew in a quick breath and shook his head. “I don’t want you to do it,” he stated flatly. “Turn it down.”

“Now just a minute, David,” Nate said, his voice tense. “You don’t have the right to bark orders at me. Where the hell do you…” Aware he was saying things he didn’t mean, Nate stood suddenly and strode from the office leaving the sentence unfinished.

David felt a crushing sense of loss flood his chest. So that’s it, he thought bitterly. That’s how it ends. We barely make a start and he chooses some Hollywood movie over me. He knew he was being unfair. He knew he shouldn’t have spoken to Nate the way he did. He knew he was handling this situation badly. He felt panic rising in his chest and he tried desperately to control it, to reason with himself. Stop it! his mind cautioned. Don’t do this!

“Nate,” he called, rising and moving to follow him, meaning to apologize. “Wait! I…”

Nate stormed unexpectedly into the room, breathing heavily. “You need to back off,” he blurted. “I mean it, David.” Nate heard the anger in his own voice and turned away abruptly. He hadn’t meant his words to come out that laced with hostility. Frustrated and upset, he longed for even an hour, to think this situation through. He turned back to David and forced his voice into a more conciliatory tone. “Dave, I’m sorry. I haven’t accepted the offer. I just want to think about it.”

David stared at Nate, his eyes growing dark with pain. Nate was so handsome, so good, so much everything that David had ever dreamed of. His mind screamed at him that all this was now lost because of a Hollywood movie and he felt his heart crack in two, spilling a poisonous anger into his veins.

“What’s to think about?” he blurted bitterly. “If you gave a damn about us you would have turned this thing down from the get-go. If you’re so shallow that you care more about your own success than you do about our relationship then it can’t mean all that much to you.” The withering retort astounded him. He couldn’t have spoken to Nate this way. But he had!

He drew in a breath, feeling a wave of dizziness sweep through him. His words sounded foreign to his ears, as though they came from someone else, someone shouting from a great distance. Someone cold and critical. Someone rejecting. Someone…  He felt panic begin to sweep through him.

Nate stared at him in disbelief. David had attacked him at the very moment when he most needed support and understanding. He felt a toxic flood of anger and bitter disappointment, but overriding all he felt the pain of heartbreak. “Fuck you!” he blurted. “I’d rather be shallow than a heartless fucking bully!”

David blanched and staggered backwards. A heartless bully? The words triggered an explosive avalanche of long repressed emotions; hate, rage, the pain of denunciation, the loneliness of a small boy who felt he was nothing because of a father’s condemnation. Feelings that had remained buried from the time he was a child suddenly burst from within him fueled by unendurable anguish, destroying any remnants of self-control.

Nate was saying that this was him, that he was the heartless bully? The realization instantly shattered pieces of David that he hadn’t even known existed. Pain clawed at his chest, taking his breath.

He stumbled mindlessly to the desk, breathing in shallow gasps, his ears ringing. He grabbed his laptop and snatched up the rest of his possessions. Nate followed him to the door, clutching at his arm, trying to talk to him.

“David, wait! I’m sorry. Please, let’s talk about this. Don’t leave!”

But David was being torn apart from the inside. He couldn’t stay in that apartment for one more second. He couldn’t stay in the place where someone he cared about had accused him of being like his father. It was unsupportable and the pain that welled up inside him threatened to completely overwhelm him. He pushed Nate to one side, not roughly, but with tremendous strength and Nate stumbled catching himself on a nearby chair.

“David!” he cried. He struggled to his feet and grabbed David’s sleeve. He could see that David was not really in control of himself. This was not a man running from a quarrel with a lover. This was a man running from a terrifying danger.

David wrenched himself away from Nate’s restraining hand and wheeled to face him. “No!” he rasped hoarsely and bolted from the apartment. He raced to his car and in mere seconds had started the engine and driven away at breakneck speed. Glancing in the rear-view mirror he saw Nate standing in the street staring after him.

A distant part of his mind, the part still untouched by the devastating conversation in Nate’s apartment, begged him to stop, to listen, to go back to Nate and apologize. To make things right if he could. To do it now, before it was too late. He knew he shouldn’t be driving in his distraught state, but couldn’t find the will he needed to change what was happening. Again and again he relived the terrible moment when Nate had called him a bully, the moment that stabbed like a knife in his heart, crushing him with devastating pain.

Still breathing in ragged gasps, he managed to control himself enough to slow his car and gauge where he was and immediately turned onto the freeway. He was desperate to get to the airport. Desperate to fly away from Los Angeles and never see it again. He simply couldn’t bear the thought of being with Nate again. Nate, who believed him to be the worst thing David could possibly imagine–a heartless bully. He had to run away. He had to get home.

He managed to get to the airport. From that point on, he seemed to be moving in slow motion. He violently suppressed the pain that raged within him and forced himself to deal with the necessary realities.  He returned his rental car and rode the shuttle to the terminal to purchase a ticket on the first available flight to Charlottesville. He heard his phone ringing, and many, many text message signals but he ignored them all.

He stumbled to his assigned gate and collapsed into a chair to wait for his flight. He was sweating and his hands still trembled but his mind was under rigid control. He’d never experienced a panic attack as prolonged or as intense as this one and he was terrified by the severity of his reactions. He wondered if he were in shock or having some kind of breakdown, and he forced himself to take deep breaths. He refused to allow any thought of Nate or of what had transpired between them to enter his consciousness. His heart was just beginning to slow, and he felt sure that any thought of Nate would bring the crushing anxiety back in full force.

Within forty-five minutes he was winging his way eastward toward Charlottesville and home. Was it possible that it had been less than three hours since his devastating conversation with Nate? It felt like days. And now the pain returned, an anguish which completely enveloped him. He bent forward and pressed his face against the airplane’s cool window, his arms hugging his elbows close to his chest, rocking gently in an unconscious rhythm, seeking a comfort he knew he would never find.

He had loved Nate, of that there was no question. He’d loved him from the very beginning. But that was all behind him now. Left forever in the wake of their disastrous quarrel. He’s better off, David thought as he stared out the window to the brown land that moved slowly beneath them. He can do his feature movie and be a big success without having to be weighed down by me and all my emotional baggage.

Somewhat calmer now, he recognized that his reaction to Nate’s announcement had been utterly irrational. In the wake of that single heartbreaking encounter, he saw for the first time how he had suppressed the emotions built up in his childhood. How he had built a dam around those years and the feelings that lived and breathed in the small boy he was then. He’d had no idea until now how much inner turmoil from those years still lived within him.

He recalled the memory that had crushed him with sadness earlier that afternoon and the panic attack that had followed. He recalled the many times throughout his life that such memories had crippled his spirit and robbed him of any vestige of happiness. It was as though his father, now long dead, still reached out from the grave to sap the life from his son. Nothing he did was ever good enough. Nothing good that ever came his way would last. He didn’t deserve happiness. He didn’t deserve Nate.

He turned his face back to the window refusing to allow his tears to flow even though he knew his heart was broken. I’ve lost him, he thought. I’ve lost him.

He controlled himself with a terrible effort and forced his mind to numbness for the rest of the flight, allowing only the thought of home and the safety it offered to enter his thoughts. The four-hour trip seemed to take years. Each minute stretching into an eternity, but finally he was back in Charlottesville. He took a cab home and stumbled through the door to his house, relieved to be there but utterly exhausted.

He fell onto his bed and covered his face with his hands, drawing in deep breaths trying to calm himself. He wanted to cry, needed to cry, but as much as he longed to weep for the loss he had suffered the tears refused to come. And in his mind, he could still hear the echo of his father’s voice criticizing him for crying, for not being a ‘man’, and he pounded the mattress with his fist in anger and despair. How long had that voice dominated his life? How long had it held him prisoner? And what had it cost him?

He knew it had cost him the love of a good and decent man. Still trembling he sat up and drew out his cell phone. Without reading them he deleted Nate’s text messages and erased his voice mails. He never wanted to hear Nate’s voice again and he simply couldn’t bear to read his words. That was over now, torn from him by forces he could neither control nor understand.

He walked to his living room and collapsed into a chair staring at nothing. It was late and darkness was all around him. A deep and bitter darkness that he knew came, at least in part, from within himself. He lowered his face into his hands filled with helpless anguish. Nate, he thought. Oh Nate, I’ll miss you so much.

***

Thousands of miles away, Nate mirrored his posture. Slumped in a chair, he stared at the wall in front of him, seeing nothing, feeling nothing beyond the riptide of pain that filled his eyes and tore at his chest.

He had never seen a reaction like David’s that afternoon, and it had terrified him. David had been white-faced and shaken when he fled Nate’s apartment, leaving an equally shaken Nate behind to try to understand what had happened to so completely destroy the first happiness he’d known in a very long time.

Their argument had been bitter, Nate knew, but somehow he also knew that David’s reaction had not come from a wounded ego or even from the very real fear that Nate’s new position might damage their relationship. It had come from the deepest core of his being. It flowed from a wellspring of pain that Nate had not created, but had unwittingly triggered, forcing it violently to the surface.

Nate didn’t know what memories had lain dormant at the source of that pain. He didn’t know David’s past well enough yet to fathom the meaning of this revelation. He knew only that it existed and that it had been enough to shatter their still newly-awakening connection. He wasn’t just angry, Nate thought sadly. He wasn’t just hurt. He was terrified!

He didn’t know what to do to make things right. He had sent text message after text message begging David to come back, to call, to talk to him, to let him explain. None were returned. He called and called; left voice mail after voice mail…all to no avail. David had walled himself off with his pain and would not allow Nate to reach him, to try to heal the breech between them.

Nate wiped a stray tear from his cheek. “David,” he whispered, his voice filled with longing. “It’s almost as though he doesn’t want to be healed,” he whispered hoarsely. But the moment he said it, he knew intuitively that this was not true. David did want healing, both for their relationship and for himself. “No,” Nate whispered, his voice now filled with the wonder of sudden awareness. “He doesn’t believe he deserves healing. Not for us. Not for himself.”

He stretched out on his couch, weary to the core but unable to face the thought of going back into his bedroom where he and David had known such joy, such pleasure, such union. He couldn’t face it yet. He wanted to see nothing that reminded him of the love he had found only to unexpectedly lose. He thought about the opportunity that Lance had offered him today and his heart sank even lower. He didn’t want the job–he knew that. It would suck him into a vortex from which there would be no emerging. Yes, it was exactly as Lance had said, your current job creates your next one, and the next, and the next.

But right now Nate didn’t want career success on the Hollywood merry-go-round. He wanted peace. And he knew with utter certainty that he would never find it in that arena. No one did. They found wealth, and sometimes even fame. But peace was not among the treasures that were at the end of that golden trail. Peace was not even valued among most people who walked that path. They valued other things: the things money bought and the opportunities that power brought to their lives.

Nate knew now that he did not belong on that path. He’d tried for years to fit in and had never yet achieved the feeling of satisfaction that others had as their careers advanced and flourished. Nate only felt more and more frustrated at the way he was forced to behave in order to live in this increasingly chaotic environment.

He was a hatchet man. An enforcer. Forced not just to mediate or negotiate, but also to judge and to punish. He’d had to fire good people for nothing anymore offensive than pissing off some highly influential but extremely abusive director by standing up for their rights. In his heart Nate had always hated the Hollywood hierarchy that valued civility less than it valued fame and power.

And now that system had cost him the love of someone he knew instinctively could have been the one man who filled his heart and his life. He knew that they’d had a future together: growing together, learning together, finding peace together. But that was lost to him now and he felt himself almost wishing that he had never gone to Virginia, never met this man so filled with love and integrity, never known the love that now filled his heart with anguish.

He turned his face into the pillow, wondering if his life from now on would continue to be as empty as he felt it to be at this black moment. He supposed not. He supposed that eventually he would heal and move past the empty shadow of pain that now surrounded him. But that might also mean leaving his memories of David behind, and right now he felt he’d rather live with the pain than lose those memories. They were the one connection still left to him of the man he loved. And while he could, he would cling to them and never let them go.



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Chapter Seven – The Observatory

David awoke the next morning feeling a burst of excitement fill his chest before he’d even opened his eyes. I’m in LA! he thought dizzily. And Nate and I are…well, we’re OK.

He thought back with a warm glow to the kiss they’d shared before they said good night. It had been sensuous, lingering, and just plain wonderful. Any concern he’d been harboring that his attraction to the young producer might have been a onetime thing evaporated like mist in a hot sun from the moment he’d seen him standing outside his apartment. Bringing that image to mind even now caused his pulse to quicken: Nate, leaning on the doorframe, darkly alluring and mind-numbingly handsome. No, this was no passing fancy.

He remembered wondering if this was what love really felt like, and the memory brought a smile to his face. “Maybe it is,” he said aloud. “Maybe this is love.” He laughed. “If it is, God knows I’ve never been in love before because I’ve never felt like this about anyone.”

He glanced at the clock next to his bed and threw back the covers. Eight o’clock! Nate was picking him up at ten for breakfast, then they had meetings at Paramount for most of the morning. But then, Nate had planned an excursion for the two of them to someplace he would only describe as ‘special’.  David smiled at the thought, remembering the warmth of Nate’s expression when he talked about it during dinner.

He called Nate’s face to mind as he stood in the shower. The warm water cascading over his body recalled the heat of arousal he’d felt simply looking at that exquisite countenance. Even recalling the kiss they had shared last night caused David’s cock to warm and harden. He closed his eyes, sinking into the daydream of what he hoped was ahead for them. He felt his own hand clasp his aching arousal and begin to slowly stroke. The pleasure surged through him, urging him to continue, to keep stroking, to bring himself to the release he’d been craving for hours on end.

But he forced himself to stop. Wait! he thought. He pressed both hands to the shower wall and leaned forward. He drew in breaths that were at first fast and trembling with suppressed desire. But eventually they grew deeper and more rhythmic.  I don’t want to do it this way, he thought. I want it to be with him!

Yet, he didn’t regret his decision to stay here last night rather than with Nate at his apartment. He’d been exhausted and jet-lagged last night, and still a bit overwhelmed by the events of the day. But if Nate asked him again tonight his answer would certainly be different.

It wasn’t merely his charismatic good looks that enthralled David so completely. Nate was intelligent and curious – traits David had always admired. He was also a kind and generous man. There wasn’t a mean-spirited bone in his body. David also got the sense that he was a man of deep and enduring passion. The fire that burned when they kissed didn’t burn only in David, it burned in Nate too. He had felt Nate’s breathing quicken last night when their lips had met, and had heard his small exclamations of pleasure as their kiss deepened.

David tried to disregard the urgings of his body as he quickly shaved and dressed. He wasn’t sure what kind of surprise Nate had in store, and frankly he didn’t care. Just the thought that they would be together for the entire day was enough to leave David tingling all over with happiness.

He was also curious about the meetings Nate had set up for that day. He’d mentioned last night that Lance wanted to discuss several items from the documentary. He was focusing part of his story on one of George Washington’s lesser-known officers and he wanted David to research the man’s life to assure historical accuracy. He was also scheduled to meet with the writers creating the narrative accompanying the documentary to offer some guidance as to the manners and morals of the day and to the behaviors of Washington’s army in particular.

David chuckled. He could give them a few good stories about the ragtag and raucous militia men that Washington led, starting with how they damn near lost at New York and only managed to eke out a win by the skin of their teeth. Frankly, the deeper one delved into the personal stories of some of the ‘founding fathers’ the more incredible it was that they were able to form and sustain a government. Still, David thought, it will make for a good film. That kind of behind-the-scenes stuff always does.

He checked the clock, still forty-five minutes to go before Nate would arrive. He grabbed his camera and laid it next to his jacket where he’d be sure to remember it. He wasn’t making the same mistake twice. This time he’d be sure to get some pictures of Nate to take home with him. Then he fell into a nearby chair to wait and stared out his window at the mountains beyond.

Thinking of home brought other issues to mind. It was easier here in Los Angeles to put aside any lingering fears he might have about bringing Nate into his life. The day-to-day routine of his life in Virginia seemed remote, the problems he would face there less intimidating.  Reality was a much different state of affairs. If the relationship he shared with Nate evolved into something committed and long-term, there would be many important conversations ahead for David, some of which might not be all that pleasant.

He knew the dean of his University well. They’d been friends for years, and each had an abiding respect for the other. Whether that respect would remain unchanged should he reveal a homosexual affiliation was a question David could not answer. Then there was the conversation he would have to have with his ex-wife and daughters. That was even more delicate and a much greater cause for anxiety.

David shrugged and put the questions aside. There wasn’t anything he could do about it now, and he wasn’t going to let thoughts of what ‘might’ happen in a more distant future intrude on the happiness he felt today. He grabbed his ever-present notebook and began writing down observations he could share later with Lance and the documentary’s writers.

It was ten minutes before the allotted time when his phone signaled a text message from Nate:

“I’m a bit early. Come on down if you’re ready. xxxooo”

David grabbed his notebook, coat, and camera and bolted for the door. When he arrived in the lobby, he saw Nate’s car parked outside and walked to it. “Morning!” he said as he opened the passenger door and got into the Nissan. “How you doing?”

“Doing great! Sorry to be a bit early. Guess I’m feeling impatient for the day to begin.” He smiled at David and reached over to squeeze his shoulder.

David returned the smile and reached up to briefly touch Nate’s hand. “Me too,” he replied.

“OK,” Nate told him, wheeling the car and pulling out into traffic. “We’re off to Tinseltown. Lance will see us first, then I’ll park you with the writers while I run a few errands. All in all, I figure we’ll be done by noon or maybe earlier. You nervous about any of this?”

David shrugged casually. “Not really. I’ve worked on these things before, though I have to admit I’ve never actually been in a Hollywood studio before. My daughters will be impressed. I’ll be on the same lot where they shot Star Trek. That’ll make me a big shot.” He glanced at Nate. “You told me to dress casually. I hope this producer doesn’t take offense to jeans and a T-shirt.”

Nate laughed briefly. “He’ll be wearing the exact same thing. And yes, the very same place they shot Star Trek, though the offices you’ll see today are not nearly as impressive as a movie or TV set. They look pretty much like any business office and a lot dingier than most. We’re the poor church mice of the filming industry.”

In spite of Nate’s words, David had to admit he actually was impressed when the guard waved Nate past him and they wheeled into the Paramount Pictures facility. They drove down a few side streets before reaching a small office building. “See?” Nate said, gesturing toward the building as they got out of the car. “Looks like an office in any strip mall.”

Lance Barrett was an imposing man who greeted David with a firm handshake. “Hello!” he said in a somewhat booming voice. “Welcome to Paramount. Nate’s told me a lot about you.” He gestured to a chair and invited David to sit down then turned immediately to Nate. “Lot twenty-one,” he said in a growling voice. “And first thing tomorrow I want you to meet me here. Come as early as you can. I’ve got something new we need to discuss.”

“Lot twenty-one?” Nate said in obvious disgust. “Jesus, Lance! Not again!”

“Yes, again,” Lance replied, obviously annoyed. “Go knock some brains into that asshole director and tell him I said if this happens once more, he’s out! Don’t worry about David. After we chat I’ll leave him to work with the writers. He’ll be fine.”

Nate patted David on the back, nodded to Lance, and left, leaving David feeling a bit intimidated.

In the long run, Lance proved to be extremely approachable. He was an intelligent man who understood the historical significance of the time period his documentary was exploring. He asked David numerous questions, referring many times to a page of hand-written notes on his desk, and nodded in satisfaction as David responded to each of them. They discussed the research that Lance needed on Samuel Blachley Webb, one of Washington’s aides. Finally, Lance nodded. “Nate’s right. You’re the real deal to be sure. Thank you, Professor. And now I have a couple things for you to sign and then I’ll take you to the writers.”

The rest of the morning was uneventful but the meetings lasted much longer than David had hoped. He ended up spending more than three hours conferring with the writers. Nate popped in a couple times to check on him, and seeing that they were still working, he went on to other tasks. By mid-afternoon David felt they had a good grasp on the pertinent facts, and he sent a text to Nate asking him to come and pick him up. He arrived only minutes later.

“How’d it go?” Nate asked as they walked to his car.

“It was fine. I like Lance. Man has a brilliant mind, and he seems meticulous as all hell. Reminds me of me,” David quipped, grinning. “How’d your meeting go?”

“Same old fucking crap on a different day,” Nate moaned. “A director with a giant-sized ego wants more attention than he deserves. I set him straight.” He shrugged. “Hopefully for the last time. But now,” he said, smiling as they reached the car. “We’re outta here.”

Glancing into the back seat, David saw several bags that looked to contain food. “We going on a picnic,” he asked.

“We are indeed,” Nate said, smiling. “But the fun part is WHERE we’ll be picnicking.”

For some time Nate maneuvered his way around the LA freeway system with a skill born of long experience, then drove the car up a long and winding road that led to a huge sign reading Griffith Observatory.

“I’ve heard of this!” David exclaimed. “Quite a famous place.”

“Well, what makes today different is that the Observatory is closed,” Nate informed him.

“Then how do we get in?”

“Like this,” Nate said. He pulled the car up to a locked gate, stopped, then tapped out a number on his cell phone. “Hi,” he said into the receiver. “It’s Nate. I’m at the north gate. Thanks, buddy! Appreciate it. Bye.”

After a moment, a uniformed man drove up from to the other side of the gate, unlocked it, and motioned Nate to drive through.

As they drove up the winding road, rising higher and higher into the lovely, forested hills surrounding the Observatory, Nate explained. “I’ve worked with them before setting up location shoots. They’ve made a lot of money from their contracts with us and they owe me.” He laughed. “Letting me picnic at Observatory on the day they’re closed is a cheap payoff.”

He parked in an empty parking lot near the Observatory and they slowly approached the imposing building, each carrying one of the bags from Nate’s back seat. “Let’s go up this way,” Nate said, leading David to the left up a long flight of winding stairs that led to the rear of the building. Once there, they sat their bags to one side and turned.

They were on the Observatory’s rear patio. Moving to the enclosing stone wall, they stood gazing out over the vista that flowed northward from their high observation point. Spread before David were the Hollywood Hills with the iconic Hollywood sign clearly visible to his right. Nate pointed to their left indicating the city skyline. “There’s LA over there, and further west there’s the ocean. Pretty clear today.” His finger pointed further westward, “That’s Catalina Island over there.”

The view was breathtakingly beautiful and for a long time David simply stood, staring in wonder. There was a gentle haze over the entire area, the cityscape in particular, giving it a look of softness that was almost otherworldly. He had not expected to see Los Angeles in this kind of gentle light. All that he’d heard about this city made it seem harsh and difficult to navigate. But the landscape before him was welcoming and radiated a sense of invitation and acceptance.

“My God, Nate, this is amazing,” David said finally. “Thank you for this. I honestly hadn’t expected LA to look like this.” But Nate had left his side and David turned to see him setting up one of the many folding metal tables that were propped, against the Observatory walls. “Grab us a couple chairs,” he told David, motioning to his right where they were stacked.

They set up their picnic lunch and ate, gazing often at the imposing panorama that surrounded them. “I have to admit that I’m impressed,” David told him. “So beautiful here.”

“It’s one of my favorite spots,” Nate said quietly. “You can see all of LA without being in the middle of all the craziness that living here entails.”

“Are you happy in your job, Nate,” David asked slowly.

Nate shrugged and tossed his napkin to the table. “I’m reasonably happy,” he said, then sighed. “I picked a harder than usual course when I went into documentaries. More room at the top when you do features. The work can be satisfying, at least the artistic aspects can. But all too often I’m stuck just dealing with personalities, and that part is no fun.”

David asked about Nate’s family and discovered that he was the middle of three children. His sister, Bernice, lived in Idaho with her family and his brother, Terrance, was a civil engineer in upper New York state. His retired parents lived in northern California.

“May I ask…” David said, then hesitated.

“Ground rule number one,” Nate reminded him, smiling.

“How did they handle it when you told them you were gay?”

Nate smiled and shook his head. “My dad pretty much ignores it. Mom has no problem with it.” He glanced at David. “They’re good people and they love me, but they’re old-fashioned. I don’t flaunt things when I see them. They never knew Ray or even met him. But then he wasn’t much into families, not even his own.” Nate’s voice lapsed into bitterness as he spoke this last.

“That whole thing still troubles you, doesn’t it.”

“Wouldn’t it trouble you?” Nate asked. “Jesus, the guy could have left me with AIDS!” He shook his head in obvious disgust. “I hate that bastard!” he spat. “Could have fucked up my whole life.”

David nodded in agreement. “I don’t blame you,” he said gently, sensing the weight of this memory on Nate’s heart.

Nate shook his head. “Let’s not talk about that,” he said quickly. “This is our day.” He stood and gestured to his right. “There’s a few trails down there. Want to take a hike before we head back?”

David agreed enthusiastically and before long they were winding their way along sandy trails that led down the side of the high Observatory hill. The beauty surrounding them was only enhanced for David by having Nate at his side, and they stopped many times along the way to simply gaze into the distance and marvel.

Occasionally as they walked, Nate would take his arm and each time he did David felt a thrill of anticipation and a deep longing for more. They chatted as they explored the various trails, talking about family and friends, discussing the documentary and enjoying the beauty around them. Two hours later they found their way back to the Observatory, weary but content.

It was approaching twilight as they gathered the leavings from their picnic and deposited them in the trash. David folded the table and returned it to its spot against the Observatory wall, and then turned to see Nate leaning against the stone railing watching him, his extraordinary blue eyes glowing with an intensity that reminded David of flaming sapphires.

David walked toward him slowly and as he reached his side, Nate grabbed his jacket in a firm fist and drew him close. For a breathless moment they stood staring into each other’s eyes, mere inches separating them. Then with a soft moan, Nate pressed his lips to David’s, kissing him with an almost desperate passion, a passion that David instantly returned.

Again and again Nate covered his mouth with soft, slow kisses that David feared would drive him mad and he returned them with a fierce and passionate hunger. “More,” he moaned against Nate’s mouth. “Oh, Nate…more…please,” drinking Nate in with his open mouth, feeling Nate ardently returning his kisses, inhaling his breath, licking his mouth as though he hungered and thirsted for nothing more on earth.

Their kisses were a joining of the most achingly painful and compelling intimacy. They were a question asked and an answer given. David and Nate both felt overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings…of their desire. Nate’s arms wound around him and he pressed his face against David’s neck while David’s own arms tightened, crushing Nate’s slender body against his. For a long moment they stood thus, both of them struggling for control.

David had never felt desire this immediate, this demanding. There was nothing alien in the feeling of Nate’s body against his own and he gasped with joy when he felt the hardness of Nate’s arousal against his thigh. He pressed hungry kisses to Nate’s throat, nibbling and licking his skin, totally lost in the intensity of his need…of the need they shared.

After a long moment Nate drew in a shuddering breath and leaned slightly back. “Still want to stay at your motel tonight?” He asked with a small smile.

“No fucking way,” David growled.

They stumbled to Nate’s car, their arms still wound around each other. After climbing in, David turned to look at Nate, and reached immediately for his hand. He couldn’t take his eyes off this beautiful man and his thoughts swirled at the thought that soon they would be together, really together.

Nate turned to him and smiled. “Scared?” he asked, squeezing David’s hand more tightly.

“Eager,” David replied, his voice quavered but he returned Nate’s smile. “And happy. Very happy.”

Nate nodded but made no response and the rest of the ride back to his apartment was nearly silent. David felt no hesitance, no reluctance. This was why he had come here. This was the moment he’d been dreaming of ever since their first kiss under Jefferson’s cherry trees at Monticello. This moment when he would make this extraordinary man his lover.

Once inside Nate’s apartment, David wheeled and clutched Nate close in his arms again, pressing his back against the closed door, kissing him again and again with a fierce passion. He felt Nate’s fingers moving to unbutton his shirt; he shrugged out of it as quickly as possible, his own fingers fumbling to do the same for Nate, wildly eager to feel Nate’s skin against his own.

Then, with their naked chests pressed tightly together and still kissing passionately they half-walked, half-stumbled to the bedroom, falling onto the bed with Nate sprawled underneath David’s body. Whimpers poured from their throats as their kisses grew even more intense and intimate, their tongues meeting in moist caresses as their bodies rocked and thrust together in a vain attempt to find the friction they so desperately sought.

“Wait,” Nate gasped finally. “David, wait.”

He slid his hand between them and tried to unsnap David’s jeans. Sensing what Nate was doing, David reared back and unzipped his jeans, then struggled to remove them along with his boxers while still kneeling on the bed. “Damn!” he muttered, drawing a soft laugh from Nate.

“You know what, buddy?” Nate said with a smile. “We might be better off to just get rid of these.”

Laughing, they both clambered off the bed and helped each other removed their final articles of clothing. Jeans, boxers, socks were quickly removed and dumped unceremoniously onto the floor. Then they returned to bed, Nate on his back and David leaning over him.

Breathing heavily, David stared at Nate’s body, the lean, muscular chest, the firm abdomen, the curve of his muscular thighs. It filled his eyes, and his body responded with an almost violent surge of desire. He quickly covered him with his body, moaning as he moved slowly lower, kissing his throat, his chest, licking and nibbling his nipples, never for a moment sure of what he was doing but driven to his actions by a hunger unlike anything he had ever felt before.

After a moment Nate’s hand covered his and gently moved it to his cock, pressing David’s fingers against the hardness of his arousal. “Please,” Nate whispered, and in answer David closed his hand over Nate’s phallus. He began a slow, deliberate stroke, bending as he did to kiss and nuzzle Nate’s body. After a moment Nate reached to a table beside the bed and removed a small tube from the drawer.

“Try this,” he whispered, and squeezed a generous dollop of lubricant into David’s hand.

David stroked again, helped now by the lubrication. “Oh, God, yes,” he breathed. “Jesus, Nate, I love this!” This wasn’t the first time he had touched another man’s penis and he felt no reluctance, no hesitation, only bliss. This wasn’t a body part. This was touching someone he cared about deeply, this was a way to give him pleasure. Faster and faster David’s hand moved, his own desire growing more urgent as he heard Nate cry out and watched his hips arch to meet David’s hand until finally he cried out David’s name and came, his body clenching in ecstasy until he lay panting and spent.

“Jesus,” Nate gasped at last. “Jesus, David. You’re fucking amazing.”

David smiled in happiness and wonder, his own nearly painful arousal momentarily forgotten in the joy of seeing Nate’s face aglow with happiness from their lovemaking. “Yeah,” he murmured in teasing response. “For a rank amateur.”

“You’re no amateur,” Nate murmured, lowering his lips slowly to David’s cock. David gasped as he realizes what Nate was doing then he saw Nate raise his head and smile.

“Your turn,” Nate whispered, then lowered his lips once again to David’s hard arousal, capturing the distended flesh in his mouth and enveloped him. He could feel David’s thighs quivering against his hand and hear him gasp and moan Nate’s name, but all this came from a great distance, drowned out by the roaring in his ears and the intensity of his need.

His lips and tongue devoured David’s full throbbing erection sucking him deep, then eagerly tonguing the taut surface as he raised his head. Again and again his head dipped between David’s legs until the sounds pouring from his throat became desperate and demanding, and Nate could feel the body beneath him writhing in anguished desire.

“God!” David half-screamed. His fingers clenched in Nate’s hair. “Ohhh God…yes…” he moaned, eyes closing as Nate’s fist closed around David’s saliva-slickened phallus, adding a rhythmic stroking to the exquisite torture of his mouth.

Nate heard him gasp and felt his body stiffen. He could almost taste how close David was to coming, then he felt David spasm hard and heard him cry out. In the next instant he tasted the musky, half-tart flavor of come and his eyes closed, totally lost in sensuous bliss, swallowing every drop.

They lay in this same posture for many minutes, the only sound that of their heavy breathing. Then finally Nate crept up and lay his head on David’s chest and was instantly enfolded and held close.

“Well?” Nate asked, smiling against his lover’s skin. “What are your thoughts on gay sex now? You still think you need that book?”

“This wasn’t gay sex,” David replied slowly, bending to kiss the top of Nate’s head. “This was a trip to heaven.” He tipped Nate’s face up to his and kissed him tenderly. “And I know I still have a lot to learn.”

“Relax,” Nate told him. “I’m a good teacher.” He giggled softly. “You think you’ll be a good student?”

“With you as my teacher?” David asked with a wink. “I’ll be a straight-A student…. Uh, so to speak.”

Nate finally got up and wandered to the bathroom, returning with a towel which he used to wipe away the traces of their spent passion. Then he crawled back into David’s waiting arms. “Glad you decided to stay,” he murmured sleepily.

“Yeah,” David replied, slowly stroking his back. “Me too.”

When Nate awoke the following morning he was surprised to find that David wasn’t beside him. Rising, he donned a pair of sweat slacks and followed the noises he heard coming from the kitchen. There he saw David, dressed in jeans, happily bustling around making breakfast. “Coffee?” he asked Nate, turning with the pot in his hand.

Nate laughed. “Well, you could have woken me up. You’re supposed to be the guest here, not the chef!”

David picked up a wrapper from a fast food breakfast sandwich and waved it at Nate. “Seems to me like you could use a chef!”

Nate sighed and shook his head agreement. “I eat way too much fast food,” he acknowledged. “I just don’t have time for cooking or to eat healthier meals.” He shrugged. “Fast food for a fast life.”

“Worries me that you’re not taking care of yourself,” David said softly. He poured Nate a cup of coffee, then touched his cheek and leaned down to claim a kiss.

“Well, my, my,” Nate said, shaking his head teasingly. “Whatever happened to that staid university professor who had seven panic attacks just thinking about gay relationships?”

“You gave him an education that he couldn’t get in school,” David replied wryly. “Hey trust me, the chicken-shit university professor is still alive and well. This part’s the honeymoon. We haven’t discussed a lot of the more…shall we say…troublesome aspects of gay relationships. Like…for instance…maybe…,” he leaned toward Nate and whispered conspiratorially, “anal sex?

Nate laughed. “Anal sex? You worried about that?”

David threw him a look as he began to fry eggs and bacon. “I was teasing, Nate,” he assured him. “There’s absolutely nothing that we could do in bed that worries me. I may be a novice but I’m not a virgin.”

Nate laughed again. “Well, one sex act at a time, buddy. We have plenty of time to work our way up to anal sex. But a little word to the wise for future reference… with enough lube anything’s possible.” He winked, drawing another laugh from David.

A few minutes David shoveled large quantities of bacon and eggs onto Nate’s plate and then his own. “Telling my daughters, not to mention my university might be more problematic.”

Nate began to eat, shaking his head. “Relax. Let’s get something to tell them before we worry about making announcements. This relationship’s still only days old.”

David joined him at the table, and began eating his own breakfast. “You’re right, of course,” he said. “No point jumping the gun. Nothing’s been resolved.” He glanced sheepishly at Nate and caught him grinning like a loon.

“Oh, knock it off,” Nate told him with a wry smile. “I may not have proposed yet, but you’re not stupid. You know I’m crazy about you. But we still need to move slowly, don’t you think?”

David nodded and agreed, then devoted himself to his breakfast. He had awakened this morning feeling happier than he could ever remember having been in his life. The night before with Nate had been incredible. He’d never known such desire or such pleasure. It was beyond anything he’d ever experienced. Now, he couldn’t help but look ahead. Was this man part of his future? Was he merely a pause in David’s journey?

He turned his gaze to Nate, marveling at his beauty and his sweetness and felt a burst of renewed happiness when Nate reached across and took his hand. What the hell, David thought happily. If it is a honeymoon, it’s the best one I’ve ever had. I’m going to stop worrying and enjoy every minute.


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Chapter Six – Los Angeles

David stared out the plane’s small window. Below him, whitish-gray clouds stretched to the horizon, looking solid enough to walk on. He sighed and pressed his face against the glass. Like so many things, he thought. They look solid, but take one step and feel the ground go right out from under you. The flight attendant brought him the glass of wine he had requested and David accepted it gratefully. He lifted the wineglass to his lips then noticed that his hand was shaking and set it down and turned his face to the window.

The country he loved flowed below him in shades of green and brown, seeming to carry the plane forward on its shoulders. He was on a journey with no clear destination. He would land in Los Angeles, that much was certain. But what would happen after he arrived wasn’t nearly as well defined.

He and Nate had not had exchanged so much as one congenial message in the four days since his daughter, Deborah, had discovered his copy of The New Joy of Gay Sex. His text messages to Nate were either ignored or given only short, terse responses. His phone calls and emails went unanswered.

He’d known that their relationship was fragile. How could it be anything else when they’d been together for only a day? But he didn’t think that Nate would abandon him so quickly and for such a relatively trivial reason. It made no sense, and David liked things to make sense. The message he sent that started their quarrel had been abrupt. But had it been abrupt enough to cause a break between them?

Nate had been aware of the kinds of changes that their relationship could bring. He’d had tried to warn David more than once. And Nate was the one who had insisted that they not leap into a romantic affair, but allow their bond to mature slowly, and see what might come of it in the future. Nate had been wise beyond his years. He had realized before David did that there might be rough seas ahead if they pursued their attraction.

He had just gotten out of a bad relationship, one in which he’d been abused and lied to. David felt sure he didn’t yet know the full story. Hell, he didn’t even know the man’s name. But he did know that breakup had a profound effect on his friend’s attitude toward romance of any kind. Maybe he’d simply decided he wasn’t yet ready to take on a new romantic partner. Maybe he needed some space before risking his heart again. Maybe David’s terse response had been all it took to frighten him away.

Considering this, David had initially debated whether or not to even go on this trip. Maybe Nate was right. There was a lot to be said at this point for labeling their romantic moment ‘two ships that pass in the night’ and letting it go at that. Beginning a long-term gay relationship was not the kind of issue that this staid university professor had ever thought he’d have to face. Homosexual experiences or even outright attractions had never before caused him to seriously consider making the kind of radical, life-altering decisions that such a relationship would demand.

But he quickly concluded that canceling this trip was simply not an option. It might turn out badly for him. Hell, the way things stood now he’d be lucky if Nate didn’t slam the door in his face. But even if that’s how it ended, David knew he had to have that last encounter. If that was all Nate would give him, he’d try to endure it. But to end it now before it had even really begun was simply unacceptable.

David sighed inwardly and pressed his face against the airplane’s window. I spent a lifetime buying things, doing things, reached for things, he thought. But nothing ever filled that empty place inside me. He’d felt like a failure because nothing he ever did or had was enough. Until he met Nate.

He heard the people next to him chatting casually, and a baby cried at the back of the plane, but his mind had turned inward. He’d always been a man who wore a smiling mask to protect himself against the emotional openness which might crack his heart. But in that one brief moment of rapture they’d shared beside Jefferson’s pool, every protection he’d ever built faded into nothingness. The wall around his heart was cracked. The emptiness that had always tormented him had disappeared and he lacked for nothing. And there was no way on Earth he would surrender that without a fight.

***

In Los Angeles, Nate had just spent a mind-numbing three hours watching video footage in order to log the actors who appeared in each scene. He was nearly finished when Lance stuck his head in the projection room and laughed. “Ah!” he called teasingly. “The glamorous life of a Hollywood producer!”

Nate tossed his pen at him. “Very funny!”

Lance dodged the pen and, still laughing, fell into the chair next to Nate. “Almost done?”

“Yeah,” Nate said, “and my question now is why the hell did I get stuck with this?”

Lance snorted. “Because there’s no one else here who can do it right. Last time some kid assistant director logged the shoot, and I ended up paying two people who weren’t even there!”

Nate nodded, then sighed and squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.

“What’s wrong, kid? You been acting a little down lately.”

Nate shook his head. He hadn’t spoken to Lance about his estrangement from David and didn’t want to open the discussion now. “Ahhh,” he said dismissively. “Nothing, boss. Just a little tired.”

“Take the rest of the day off,” Lance said affably. “Go home and relax.”

“Lance, I shouldn’t. I’ve got…”

“Go home! I mean it. I don’t want to see you anywhere near this lot ‘til tomorrow morning.”

Nate smiled at him and stood, stretching, his arms lifted high. “If you really mean it….”

“I do. Now give me that log and get the hell ‘outta here.”

Nate smiled at the big producer, handed him the log sheet, and turned to leave. He could use the afternoon to work on his dissertation and it would be good to have a bit of extra time away from work. As far as David went, the professor hadn’t tried to reach him in several days, not even to discuss the documentary. I guess he gave up and moved on, Nate thought, his heart aching. It’s probably for the best.

***

On the airplane approaching Los Angeles, David patted his jacket pocket for the twentieth time. The paper with Nate’s address on it was still there which was a good thing because it hadn’t been easy to obtain. Google was no help whatsoever, nor was scouring the social networking sites where he thought Nate might hang out. Eventually he thought of the contract he had signed to consult on Lance’s film.

Treading carefully, he called the number at the top of the contract and managed to charm Nate’s address out of a secretary. He pretended to be an old friend from college and happily he knew just enough personal information to make his phony explanation plausible. He convinced her not to tell Nate, explaining that his visit was going to be a surprise.

I’m getting to be quite an accomplished liar, David thought dryly. But at this point, scruples be damned. He had to see Nate. And if that meant telling a tall tale to a Paramount secretary, so be it. He’d done worse in the past few days.

The falsehood that bothered him most was the one he had told to his daughter, Deborah. She’d been confused and didn’t understand why a book such as The Joy of Gay Sex was in her father’s house, but David managed to put her at her ease. None of what he told her had been the truth, of course, and he couldn’t help feeling twinges of guilt. In this instance, however, he forced himself to put his qualms to one side. Right now, his life was not being lived in black and white. Right now, his life consisted of alternating shades of gray which had no defining value.

He made an internal vow that once his situation with Nate was resolved one way or the other he would sit down with Deborah and tell her the entire truth. He wasn’t sure she was old enough for it. He wasn’t sure how she would take it. She might be confused or even upset to hear that her father was a homosexual. But if that’s how it turned out then that’s how it turned out.

At this point in his life he felt he had no choice but to trust in his own teachings as a father. He believed that his daughters would accept him if his relationship with Nate developed into something more enduring. And if they couldn’t make the adjustment? He sighed. He’d simply have to hope that with maturity and experience they would grow to understand. He wouldn’t turn aside from Nate just because his children didn’t approve.

David laughed softly at his own woolgathering as the plane began its descent into Los Angeles International Airport. Why the hell am I worrying about it? he thought. That’s pretty far-fetched given the fact that he’s not even speaking to me.

He’d reserved a rental car and would stay at a motel not far from where Nate lived. Just knowing he might be seeing the young producer had David rattled enough. He didn’t want to have to deal with anything else, so he made sure his arrangements were all settled before he got on the plane. He doubted that Nate would be home at this hour. He knew enough about Nate’s schedule to know that his days were hectic and filled with tasks that often ran from morning until night. But he also knew that Nate had a class that evening, and he hoped to catch him during the hours between getting home from work and leaving for school.

If I can only get five minutes, he thought. I know I can make things right. He grabbed his luggage from the overhead and prepared to disembark. No matter how it turns out, I have to see him!

Getting his rental car took a minimum amount of effort, but once he was on the LA freeways, finding his way to his motel was a lot harder. He wasn’t used to the kind of traffic that Los Angeles freeways were famous for, and he had the additional chore of trying to be in the correct lane. “Jesus!” he said out loud as he quickly swerved onto the exit ramp. “How the hell does he put up with this every day?” David found his motel and checked in. He tossed his suitcase onto the bed and crossed to the window to gaze out.

His view looked eastward toward the San Gabriel Mountains, and David stood for a long time admiring their softly curving shapes. They were entirely different from the green Virginia peaks he was used to, but he found them appealing nonetheless. Their brown flanks were gentle and inviting and he found himself wondering if Nate ever walked there.

Then he sighed. OK, he thought. Time to go. He grabbed his suit coat, made sure that Nate’s address was in his pocket, and headed for his rendezvous with destiny. His hands were unsteady but he was determined not to back down.

He followed the directions to Nate’s apartment then parked his car and sat surveying the building. It had three stories and it was sleek and modern-looking with many angles and a lot of glass. He checked his watch: 2:13 p.m. Nate probably wouldn’t be home for quite a while if his schedule was still as he had explained it, and David sighed. He was anxious, weary, and suffering from jet lag, but he’d brought a book along and had grabbed a few snacks from the motel’s vending machine. If this turned out to be a siege, he was prepared.

He shook his head to clear it and got out of the car to stretch his legs. He leaned against it, studying the building, hoping no one thought he was a would-be burglar casing the place for future reference. If I were, he thought somewhat dryly. I’m about as subtle as a heart attack. He knew Nate drove a black 2003 Nissan, a 350Z series as he remembered. He’d looked up a picture of it and had fallen in love with its clean, sporty lines and elevated trunk decoration, thinking that it suited Nate perfectly.

The wing on the back of the Nissan’s trunk was a pretty distinctive feature, and David caught his breath when he spotted a car sporting that kind of trunk just down the block. He quickly trotted down the street until he stood beside the black automobile.

“That’s it!” he exclaimed, exultation in his voice as he checked the car’s make and model. “That’s either his car or one exactly like it.” He peered into the car’s back seat and spotted a book entitled: The Philosophy of Motion Pictures by Noël Carroll, which he knew Nate was reading as a supplement to his ‘Classic Film Theory’ class.

“Wow,” David breathed. “That’s his car. He’s home.”

David hadn’t expected this and for a moment he stood beside the Nissan gathering his courage. Then he clenched his jaw and walked across the street to the apartment building and the main entrance. A wall panel arrayed with many buttons was next to the door, and David swiftly read the names etched next to each one. “Jenkins, Adams, Faldsworth, REESE! There it is! Apartment 3B!” He swallowed hard, drew in a deep breath, and pressed the button.

For a long moment he waited in silence. Isn’t he there? David wondered, and pressed the button again. After another long moment a rather annoyed voice emerged from the wall speaker.

“Yeah! What the hell do you want?”

David swallowed hard. “Nate, it’s me. David. I want to see you. Need to see you. Please let me come up.”

“David? Is that…are you…I mean, yeah. Sure. Come on up.”

There was a buzzing sound, and a soft click from the door indicated that it had unlocked. David entered and took the nearby elevator to the third floor, hoping that 3B mean just that, third floor. He had no more than emerged from the elevator when his hope was confirmed by the site of Nate, standing in the hallway, his open apartment door behind him.

He was leaning against his door frame watching David approach. His face bore no expression and his dark hair was ruffled and messy, but to David he was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Nate was dressed in gray sweat pants and a tight, snow-white T-shirt that set off his dark hair and soft beard to perfection. His face was thoughtful, his blue eyes searching David’s as if seeking an answer that David feared he might not have. Just looking at him dried David’s tongue and tightened his chest

He moved slowly to Nate and stood before him without speaking. Finally he wet his lips and drew in a deep breath. “Surprise,” he said softly.

“Yeah,” Nate replied, giving David a small smile. “You can say that again.” He stepped aside and gestured to the interior of the apartment motioning for David to enter.

“I hope you’re not angry with me for coming,” David said. He turned to face Nate once he was inside. “I know it was wrong not to let you know.”

“Not wrong exactly,” Nate said with a slight shrug. “But I certainly would call it out-of-character.”

David laughed and allowed himself a quick look around the apartment. It was modern and quite beautiful. The furnishings were comfortably contemporary, but even during his quick glance, David noticed touches of wood in the bookcases and desk he glimpsed in a side room.

“Nate, I know you’re upset with me. I had to…” He paused. “Out of character?” he asked suddenly. “How so?”

Nate shrugged casually. “Dropping in on someone you barely know just seems out-of-character for you, David. You seem more like the kind of guy who waits to be invited even when you’re dealing with close relatives.”

“Barely know,” David repeated, trying to meet Nate’s level gaze. “Nate, I…” Feeling slightly overwhelmed, he stopped and lowered his head. Meeting Nate’s eyes was nearly impossible and he was suddenly incapable of speech.

“Well, that’s certainly an auspicious beginning,” Nate said easily. “Sit down, David. This doesn’t have to be all that hard.”

David watched in silence as Nate moved to the couch and sat down, crossing an ankle over a knee, one arm stretching out against the couch back. David was captivated by the pose. The muscles of Nate’s arm stood out in sharp relief against the couch. The long, lean body taunted him and, lowering his gaze, David drew in a deep, trembling breath.

“Sit down,” Nate said again, gesturing to the couch.

Feeling his heart hammering against his chest, David perched at the other end of the couch then turned half-sideways to stare at the man seated so close to him. Somehow it was now harder not to look at Nate, and David drank in the sight of him, feeling lost in awakening emotion. “I’m sorry,” he choked out at last, lifting his face.

Nate’s head was tilted and he looked at David thoughtfully through uplifted eyes and long, dark lashes. The force of his gaze touched the very center of David’s being, and he slowly reached out and briefly touched Nate’s hand, feeling almost drunk with the intensity of his feelings.

Is this love? his thoughts asked wildly. Is this what it really feels like?

“You don’t have any reason to be sorry,” Nate told him at last. “I could feel your reluctance even when I was in Virginia, and I wasn’t really surprised when you started to back away.” He shrugged rather sadly. “Actually, I almost expected it. What I don’t understand is why you felt you had to come here to explain things. Is this trip work related somehow?”

“No, it’s not work related,” David said. “And you’re wrong, Nate. I’m not backing away.” He clenched his teeth and took Nate’s hand firmly in his. “Nate, please let me explain. I’d had a horrible day and I didn’t know how to handle it. I know I was abrupt with you and I apologize. But was that enough reason for you to just suddenly ditch me?”

Nate’s eyes grew wide and after a moment he pulled his hand away and sat back. “Maybe you’d better tell me the whole story.” He had been astonished when he heard David’s voice over his intercom, and now as he sat looking at him, he felt the rapid pulse of his heart betraying his desperate desire not to appear too eager, not to give in too quickly, not to trust too soon. He saw David’s hesitance and it touched his heart. He yearned to reach out, to touch David’s softly waving hair in reassurance. To tell him that everything between them was alright. But he forced himself to remain poised and casual.

As Nate listened quietly, David explained in halting detail about the day when Deborah had found the The Joy of Gay Sex. When he’d finished he sat back and looked expectantly at Nate. “So that’s how it was,” David told him, shrugging. “Your text came right in the middle of the whole damn situation and I was just too upset to respond properly.”

“Jesus,” Nate whispered. “David, I’m the one who should be apologizing. I’m so sorry about Deborah. But why wouldn’t you call and talk to me about it?”

“I–I just felt overwhelmed,” David said, his voice faltering. “My ex was threatening legal action, though thankfully that isn’t going to happen, and I was fucking furious with myself for being so irresponsible. I was afraid you’d think I was stupid.”

“Stupid!” Nate exclaimed, reaching to reclaim David’s hand. “Why the fuck would I think that?”

“Maybe because I thought it myself,” David said. “Hell, I don’t know, Nate. You’ve been ‘out’ for a long time. It’s second nature to you now. I thought you’d be offended – if not outright disgusted – by someone who had seven panic attacks in a row at the very thought of his family finding out he’s gay.”

Nate laughed, his blue eyes crinkling, and David smiled at him remembering his delight the first time he’d heard the sound of Nate’s laughter. “I guess I just felt you’d be better off without me and my four thousand tons of excess emotional baggage.” He gave a dry laugh, and was rewarded with another of Nate’s infectious giggles.

“Hey,” Nate said finally, “maybe we could agree right now that it’s probably not a good idea for you to decide what I feel. Might make more sense for both of us to just ask the other one what they’re feeling. Ya think?”

David laughed and Nate nudged him with a comical grimace. “Another ground rule,” he teased. “We appear to need it.”

“More to the point,” David said shaking his head, “I needed to follow the ones we already have, like the one about not holding anything back?” He sighed and moaned: “I’m so fucking bad at all this!”

Nate laughed again. “Well, first off, as far as you being bad at this goes, I’ll be the judge of that and I think you’re doing just fine. And secondly, let’s clear something up right now. It wasn’t simply someone discovering you were gay. It was your daughter. And it happened in a rather awkward and hard-to-explain way.”

“Jesus, you can say that again.”

Nate’s mouth twisted, perplexed. “David,” he said slowly, “do you really have panic attacks at the thought of coming out as a gay man?”

David laughed. “No, I don’t. I will tell you frankly, though, that until I met you I hadn’t given a lot of thought to such a situation. But panic attacks about it? No, absolutely not. That’s simply not how I wanted my daughter to find out.”

Nate nodded. “Listen,” he said, releasing David’s hand and starting to rise. “You want some wine or something? It’s just sinking in that you’re actually here.” He smiled happily.

“Not just yet,” David told him, drawing him back down to the couch. “I’d rather just sit here and get used to the idea that you’re still speaking to me. I mean it’s just sinking in to ME that I’m actually here.”

“You OK?”

David shrugged. He could feel a fine trembling in his hands. Now that he was actually in Nate’s presence, the feeling of being with him combined with his relief that Nate didn’t seem angry or dismissive of their relationship was crumbling what was left of his reserve.

“Christ,” David croaked. “It’s been a long fucking day.”

“Well, relax. It’s almost over now and all’s well.”

“Is it?” David asked. “I mean are we really alright?”

“Dave, now that you’ve told me your story I need to tell you mine,” Nate said with a sigh. “I haven’t exactly been following ground rule number one myself. There are things about my last relationship that I didn’t tell you, and I’m afraid I let that experience color the way I handled…well, handled my response to you that night and ever since then. I’ve probably been letting it color a lot of things in my life.”

“Before you start,” David said suddenly, holding up his hand to prevent Nate from speaking. “First off, don’t you have class tonight? I don’t want us to start an important conversation if you’re going to have to leave in the middle.”

“Nope. No class tonight,” Nate said.

“You’re going to play hooky because I’m here,” David said.

“Isn’t that a good enough reason for me to play hooky?” Nate asked, grinning.

David shook his head in mock defeat. “Fuck it,” he said laughing softly and waving his hand in dismissal. “Play hooky.”

“Gee, thanks, teach,” Nate teased.

“And second,” David continued. “Before you tell me about your last relationship, I will have that wine.”

Nate walked into a side room and returned moments later with filled two glasses. They sat together, sipping the wine, while Nate told David the full story of Ray Evans and the upset he had created in Nate’s life.

“And so,” he said finally, setting his wineglass on the table, “it really soured me on relationships, period. Trusting anyone became a major issue.”

David nodded. “I understand and I don’t blame you.” He reached over and touched Nate’s cheek. “I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. Thank God you’re HIV negative!”

Nate nodded in agreement. “Well, so far,” he added slowly, “I’m still being tested though everything looks good. I don’t know, David. I think meeting you threw me into a kind of panic. I was looking for–almost anticipating–any hint that you might not be what you seemed. And, it caused me to overreact that night.”

“A lot of that going around,” David said dryly.

“So we’re agreed that last week was a misunderstanding?” Nate asked softly.

“We are,” David replied. “Completely agreed.”

“I’m glad I told you the whole story about Ray,” Nate said. “Not that I think it resolves all the issues. But it makes things a little easier to understand.”

“I should have called you the day Deborah found the book,” David mused softly. “If I’d told you why I was upset…”

“Yeah, it might have prevented a lot of problems. But at the same time, I didn’t have to immediately decide that one terse text message meant I should run for cover, especially since you apologized for it the next day.”

“We appear to have a long way to go,” David muttered. “Especially me.”

“Let’s go have dinner,” Nate said, rising. “Since you’re here, we might as well take advantage of it. How ‘bout I call Lance tonight and set up a few meetings for you tomorrow with the production staff? I know the writers have questions for you and so does Lance.”

“Dinner sounds good,” David said, suddenly realizing that they’d talked the afternoon away and it was now moving toward evening. “And I’d love to meet with Lance and the staff. What’s your schedule like tomorrow?”

“I’ll go with you to the meetings,” Nate said with a quick smile. “At least to get them started, and then…” He hesitated as if thinking. “And then I have an idea. You took me someplace really special when I was in Virginia, and I’d like to return the favor and take you to a place that’s special to me.” He leaned over to grab a jacket that lay on a nearby chair. “C’mon. Let’s go eat.”

They ate dinner at a modest restaurant, chatting mostly about the upcoming documentary. David noticed that Nate stopped to field several calls during dinner on top of taking time to call Lance to set up tomorrow’s conferences.

“You don’t get much downtime,” David remarked as Nate hung up from his fourth phone call. “What would happen if you lost that thing?” he asked, indicating Nate’s cell phone.

Nate snorted. “Hollywood would fall completely apart and there would never be another documentary film made until the end of time. At least that’s how it feels. Listen,” he added quickly. “Where are you staying?”

“At a motel not far from your apartment,” David told him.

Nate reached for the check, watching David’s eyes. “You really don’t need to go to a motel. No, no. This one’s mine,” he interjected as David tried to take the bill from him.

David leaned back in his chair, relinquishing the check. He returned Nate’s gaze for a moment. “I know,” he said finally. “I know I could stay with you, Nate. And a big part of me wants to do just that. But I think…I mean, I just feel–”

“Stop,” Nate interrupted. “Don’t say anymore. You’re not ready. I get it.”

“Nate, please remember that I flew all the way across the country to make things right between us. I’m exhausted and still a little overwhelmed. I’m not avoiding you. I’m not resisting you.”

“And I’m not upset with you for wanting to take your time, though I have to admit I am a bit impatient.” Nate smiled at him. “Leave your car at my place. I’ll pick you up in the morning for the meetings, and you can get it later.”

A half-hour later they were sitting in front of David’s motel. “We always seem to be doing this,” Nate said with a soft laugh. “One of us dropping the other off at a motel.”

David turned toward him. Hesitantly, he extended his hand and softly caressed Nate’s cheek. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I’m such a…”

“A novice?” Nate finished for him, his fingers covering David’s.

“A coward,” David said shortly.

Nate grabbed both his arms. “You are not a coward!” he said firmly. “Stop that! You’re a good man in a totally new situation. There’s no right way to do this, David.” He shook David and spoke softly: “Hey, you have every right to take your time.”

David made no reply. He reached up quickly and took Nate’s face into his two hands and pulled him slowly forward until their lips were pressed together. Nate’s gasp opened his mouth under David’s and for a long time the only sounds were quick inhalations of breath and soft moans of pleasure.

David finally leaned back, releasing Nate’s face, his head lowered.

“Maybe that had better be good night,” Nate offered in a tremulous voice.

David nodded silently, afraid to speak. He quickly got out of the car and walked into his motel. Behind him, he heard the sound of Nate’s sports car driving away.

Once in his room he fell onto the bed, exhausted, but filled with a sense of burning exhilaration. Now that he’d heard the full story of Nate’s last relationship, he understood his reluctance to trust in someone he had just met, and David wished that he’d handled the incident with Deborah more calmly.

But in spite of the difficulties they faced he still couldn’t shake off the illogical belief that there was an aura surrounding the two of them. A feeling of destiny and rightness that permeated their every moment together. A sense of being exactly who he was supposed to be. Of being exactly where he needed to be. Of being with the one he was meant to be with.

It’s going to be alright, he thought, feeling hope spring to life within his chest. It’s going to be alright.


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Chapter Five – Being There

David strolled slowly along the sidewalk that stretched in front of Nau Hall, the imposing building which housed the Corcoran Department of History. The lane was banked with row after row of flowers, many beginning to blossom in the springtime Virginia sunshine. It was the end of an exceptional day, one which should have given him a tremendous sense of accomplishment. He’d been given the ‘Professor of the Year’ award, a title determined by student vote which David had won, hands down.

He took tremendous satisfaction from this kind of achievement. His work had, until recently, been everything to him and it continued to be a powerful force in his life. But elements of his personal life had begun to creep into the area that David viewed as ‘essential’. And while these elements detracted a bit from his sense of professional fulfillment, David wouldn’t have traded them for the world.

He hadn’t spoken to anyone about his budding relationship with the young associate producer, not even to his daughters. He wasn’t trying to hide their relationship. He didn’t believe in keeping secrets or lying. But he and Nate had only known each other a few weeks. He didn’t know how to bring the subject up and even if he had, he had no earthly idea how to phrase an explanation.

How could I explain Nate? David wondered. Hell, he could barely explain Nate to himself. They’d shared quite a few Skype sessions, a few phone calls, and a lot of hurried emails. They’d talked about it and they both agreed. This long-distance relationship thing was not what they wanted. It was driving them both crazy. But with their schedules being what they were, neither of them was able to break free long enough for a trip to the opposite coast.

David tried to curb his frustration when he and Nate chatted. He could tell that Nate was as aggravated as he was, but not handling it nearly as well. Their means of communication might be less than satisfactory, but it was good enough for David to see that Nate was under a lot of stress. Between the rigors of work and school, his life provided no down time whatsoever. And the fact that he was very good at what he did only gave his superiors an excuse to pile even more work on his plate.

David didn’t voice his concerns. He didn’t know what to say and he didn’t feel comfortable attempting any kind of interference. He wasn’t sure how Nate would take it. “I’m not following ground rule number one,” he muttered as he reached his car. “I’m not being open and honest with him.”

In the past few days though a solution had begun to form in David’s mind. He wasn’t quite sure yet how to bring it about, and in fact he wasn’t entirely sure he should even attempt it. But the idea, small and trifling at first, had grown until now it frequently drove out every other thought.

Spring break was coming. He’d have a whole two weeks free of professional responsibilities. He had already arranged to spend at least part of this free time with his daughters. But the rest? David smiled a bit grimly. The rest, he thought, I want to spend in California with Nate.

He’d even gone so far as to check out flights to Los Angeles, though he had not yet screwed up enough courage to book one. I need to pull the fucking trigger on this, he thought with no small amount of self-annoyance. I need to quit fooling around and just do it! He knew himself well enough to know that once he’d spent $600 on a ticket, he’d feel obligated to actually take the trip. He had no idea how Nate felt about it and he was seriously thinking of making his visit a complete surprise.

Anyone who knew him would have bet their life savings that Professor David Gardener would never engage in this kind behavior. Such a thing was completely contrary to his nature. He was a methodical planner, especially when it came to trips: booked motels weeks in advance, researched every location, checked out the menus from local restaurants, the works.

But something, something newly-awakened in his nature, was urging him to just go. To simply show up on Nate’s doorstep and trust the rest to luck and to the fervent hope that Nate would be both available to spend time with him and happy to spend time with him. Neither of these conditions was a sure thing, but there was a new, adventurous part of him that was constantly urging him toward this end no matter what the consequences might be.

What could happen? David thought as he drove home. Either he’ll be there or he won’t. Either he’ll be glad to see me or he won’t. And if he’s not…better to know it now than later.

The idea of actually being with Nate never failed to send a thrill of excitement through his veins. But it also raised the specter of other unanswered questions. Once they were actually together it was likely, even probable, that they would become lovers. And this was a matter that had given David quite a few sleepless nights.

Unsure of how to prepare for this eventuality, David had resorted to his favorite method for dealing with the unfamiliar. He did research. Uncertain of where to start, he went to the most obvious source, amazon.com. His copy of The Joy of Gay Sex, Revised & Expanded Third Edition arrived only days later, and he’d spent many hours since then studying its pages.

The book held tons of information. He learned about techniques and positions. He saw images and read descriptions. But it was all cold, hard facts. He learned things, yes. But none of it came close defining what he’d felt when he’d held Nate in his arms and kissed him. Nothing in the book spoke to the passion, the intimacy, the union which had defined that singular experience in his life.

His mind constantly relived that moment by Jefferson’s pond, replaying it in his memory over and over again. There was no question in his mind that the sensations which had overwhelmed him then had been both profound and life-altering. It hadn’t been merely a sexual moment. It had touched him at levels that moved far beyond the sexual. For once he hadn’t been concerned about being embarrassed or blundering. For once he wasn’t concerned with how competent he was or with whether or not he might fail. For the first time in his life he had allowed himself to flow into the moment with unrestrained passion. And after pondering that moment with all the honesty that he possessed, he had laid the book down with a sigh and never picked it up again.

Now he spotted it lying on the table and shook his head with a grimace. “Fuck that,” he muttered. He grabbed the book and tossed it into the table’s lower drawer. “It’s got nothing to tell me,” he said, then slammed the drawer shut.

Reminded of Nate, he stopped and typed a short text message:

“Hi. It’s me. Just a short message to let you know I’m thinking of you.”

He glanced at the drawer and, remembering its contents, smiled and added:

“And it’s bringing a big smile to my face.”

He sent the message and headed toward his kitchen and dinner.

***

On the other side of the country it was several hours earlier and Nate was having a knock-down, drag-out brawl with a sound mixer and his voice actor. “We’re supposed to be telling a story here!” Nate exclaimed. “What you guys are doing sounds more like a Daffy Duck cartoon! Now either get serious about this thing or I’ll tell Lance we need to look elsewhere for our sound production!”

Thoroughly intimidated, both men stammered out assurances that they’d improve the quality of the narrative, and Nate stormed out of the office, still breathing heavily. “Goddamn it!” he swore as he left the building and stalked toward the parking lot.

Once there, he leaned against his car and banged his fist against the roof in frustration. Take it easy, man! he thought. Jesus! You scared the hell out of those two guys. He paused and looked back at the building wondering if he should return and offer the apology they, no doubt, deserved.

This was only their first run-through and the track hadn’t been that bad. Screw it! he thought and climbed into his car. He didn’t have time to hand-hold a sound engineer and a voice actor. He had other stops to make before lunch and none of them promised to be any more productive than this one.

“Let them be intimidated,” he growled to himself. “Isn’t that part of my job? To be Lance’s hatchet man?” He scowled and turned the car toward Paramount Pictures and the Glower Street entrance, next stop: stage 21. This was Paramount’s smallest sound stage and he was scheduled to meet there with the director on one of Lance’s less important productions. His job? To settle a dispute between this director and the craft service manager assigned to his production.

Why the hell is he arguing with the craft service manager? Nate wondered as he parked his car. The food is always bad on these productions. Why whine about it?

He entered the building where he could see the director at the center of a small group of production assistants. “Hey Paul!” he yelled, walking toward the group. As the director moved toward him, Nate could see the craft service manager standing near a row of tables covered with food, glowering in the director’s direction. Nate stifled a sigh as the director reached him.

“What the hell, Paul?” Nate snapped as the man reached his side. “You think I have time for this petty shit? What’s the problem?”

“Where’s Lance?” the director asked, somewhat petulantly.

Ah, I get it now! Nate thought, half-amused, half-annoyed. He wants some attention from the producer so he’s invented this fucking food-fight to get it.

“Lance isn’t coming,” Nate bit off. “You’ve got me and that’s all you’re going to get! This production isn’t worth Lance’s time and furthermore you know it. Now what’s the problem between you and Nadine?” He gestured for the craft service manager to join them and spent the next forty-five minutes wrangling with them in an attempt to settle their totally fictitious dispute.

Eventually they both agreed to his suggested compromise and Nate left the building, shaking his head in disgust. “Jesus,” he muttered, “what a waste of my fucking day.” He leaned once again on his car and pulled out his phone, intending to check his appointments for the next hour or then smiled when David’s text message flashed on his screen.

David’s message was a welcome pause in his day, but quickly over. He sighed and after sending David a quick reply, climbed into his car and headed for the next location on his list. He wished with all his heart that he could devote more time to nourishing their relationship. He especially yearned to find the time to schedule a trip to Virginia. But this was wishful thinking. He was responsible for five projects at the moment, some more important than others, but all requiring his personal attention.

At times he felt more like a babysitter than a film executive. Only about half his work actually involved the creative process. The rest was settling arguments between staff and goading members of his various production teams into completing their assigned tasks on time.

Lance was a fair-minded boss and one of the best Nate had ever worked with. He delegated a lot of scut-work, to be sure. That was one of the perks to having achieved the title: Executive Producer. But he also made sure that Nate got his fair share of artistic work as well and, even more unusual, he saw to it that Nate received credit for his work. This differed him from many executive producers who were completely happy to accept full recognition for the labors of others.

He turned his car south down Sunset Boulevard and headed for his next appointment, a meeting where he hoped to seal a distribution deal for one of Lance’s previous documentaries. He had designed this distribution package himself and felt proud of his approach. This meeting was the last in a series of meetings in which he had negotiated adjustments to his strategy in order to suit the company’s needs. He was happy with the outcome so far but felt a wave of weariness wash over him, realizing that the upcoming conference would undoubtedly last the rest of the afternoon. That would leave him just enough time to drive home and get ready for class.

He hadn’t had a Skype session with David in nearly a week. He’d hoped that he could finish his duties early enough today to squeeze in a brief chat before class, but the feud between the director and his craft service manager had eaten up the only free time on his schedule. He resented losing precious time with David to such a ridiculous and cosmetic negotiation, but that was life in Hollywood. He’d have to text David later on and let him know that they couldn’t meet tonight.

He’ll get sick of it soon, Nate thought sadly. And who wouldn’t? Never knowing when I’ll even have enough free time for an online chat, which isn’t all that satisfying to begin with. He’ll get sick of it soon and want out and I don’t know what to do about it.

He reached his destination then got out of the car and stood beside it for a long time taking slow, deep breaths until he could feel his heartbeat slow, then he went to his meeting.

***

Later that evening, David received a text message from Nate canceling their Skype session.

“David, I’m so sorry. The day got away from me and I’ve got to dash to make it to class so we can’t Skype tonight. Please don’t give up on me.”

David stared at the words, feeling Nate’s unhappiness, wishing he knew how to make things better for this man who already meant so much to him. Give UP on him? David thought. Does he really think I could?

He immediately tapped out a reply:

“Giving up on you is not an option for me. Don’t think like that. Go to class and don’t forget to do your homework. I’m expecting an ‘A’ on that report card. We’ll talk soon. Teach.”

“That’s it!” David muttered aloud as he hit ‘send’. “I’m booking that flight tonight.” At this point David didn’t care if Nate had only an hour available to share with him. He was going to Los Angeles.

His heart ached when he thought of his young friend’s message. The fact that Nate could feel apprehensive enough to suggest that he might give up on their relationship filled him with resolve. I need to show him I’m serious, David thought, walking decisively to his computer. I need to prove to him that I want this relationship for the long haul. I don’t care if we’re only good friends and it never goes beyond that. I still want him in my life.

But even as that thought entered his mind, he knew it wasn’t true. Deep down he wanted a lot more than that. But he was still far from being able to openly discuss those feelings with anyone, even Nate. At times it was hard to admit his secret yearnings to himself. He wasn’t ashamed of them, that he knew. But there were times when he felt as though a wall of iron stood between him and his ability to simply accept himself as he was.

He shook himself, then brought up his favorite airline’s website and began typing the information that would put him on a flight to Los Angeles. Then suddenly he stopped. Wait a minute! his mind cautioned. Are you sure, David? Are you 100 percent sure that you want everything this relationship offers? All of it? With no hesitation?

He sat silently at his computer for many, many minutes poised in indecision, staring not at the screen that might change the course of his life, but at the blank, white ceiling above his head. Did he really want this? He knew that flying to Nate’s side this way made a powerful statement. Once done, this act could not be undone. Once done, he was making a commitment that, if abandoned, could hurt someone who was already important to him. Was he sure within himself that he was ready to make a complete commitment to Nate? Was he positive? Because to move forward without that kind of inner surety could damage this relationship in ways that might be irreversible.

After a moment his gaze returned to the monitor in front of him. No, he wasn’t positive; he knew that. But then Nate couldn’t be positive yet either. They’d barely spent any time together. How could either of them be sure that this relationship was what they wanted? The only thing that could bring them to that conclusion was the chance to be together again. There were other issues to be sure, and David felt certain that the insane pace of Nate’s career was going to be one of them. But for now, the only pressing truth he saw was that they needed to be in the same time zone. Until that happened nothing else could fall into place.

He sucked in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and clicked the button that would finalize his ticket purchase. OK, he thought. That’s it. I’m going. Now I just have to figure out how to let him know.

He still had a couple weeks until his flight. Plenty of time to worry the why’s and wherefores’. He’d bought the ticket. He’d worry tomorrow about how to tell Nate.

His daughters were visiting him this weekend, and he had made what he hoped would be enjoyable plans. They tended to see him as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, forever taking them to historic sites and mind-numbing museums. But this time he felt he had picked a spot that appealed both to his desire to educate and their desire to have a good time.

He’d bought tickets for the ‘Virginia Discovery Museum’. And while it was a museum and sure to make the girls groan when they heard the name, it also gave them a chance to role-play at a restaurant or post office and look into a beehive. To top it off, and David smiled at the fine sense of irony: they could play dress-up in the Paramount area. He went to bed happy, feeling sure he’d emerge from the weekend with high marks in the ‘weekend father’ category.

***

On the West Coast, Nate had just gotten home from his graduate class in ‘Culture, Media and Society’. He enjoyed the course for several reasons, the first of which was that it involved writing, which he enjoyed. Secondly, it helped him understand some of the production staff with whom he had to interact on an almost daily basis. “Nothing like walking a mile in their shoes,” he muttered, tossing his backpack to the couch then falling onto it himself.

He glanced at the clock, wondered briefly if David was up, then dismissed the idea of calling him. It was three hours earlier on the East Coast, and since it was already late here he felt sure that David would be asleep. He scowled, remembering their canceled Skype session and vowed that he would make time to chat with him this week come hell or high water. His prima donna production staff would just have to suck it up and settle their own petty arguments. For one evening this week, he was going to be unavailable.

He turned to lie lengthwise on his sofa, nudging his backpack to the floor. Out of habit he reached for his cigarettes, then remembered, he was wearing a patch to help him quit and this was his third day without nicotine. Man, my timing sucks!  He thought half-angrily. The stress of not smoking added to work and school was almost more than he could handle.

At the moment he had seven pages of homework facing him. Realistically, that assignment when added to his already-overflowing schedule for the rest of the week, was going to make it tough to eke out enough time for a chat with David. He didn’t want to shirk his schooling, but he was determined to find that time no matter what else had to be ignored. Fuck this! I’ve got to talk to Lance, he thought as he stretched out further on his sofa. I can’t keep up this pace. He has to give some of these petty assignments to someone else.

He wasn’t sure how Lance would take it. He was a good guy as far as executive producers went, but he was still the boss, and he counted on Nate for a lot. It cost the studio a huge amount of money for every split second a production went past its allotted deadline. If Nate insisted on being relieved of his responsibilities for any one of his projects, that meant delays. Even if it were only delayed for the week or so it might take Lance to find his replacement, it could prove costly.

Lance was affable about many things but when projects went over budget the money it cost came directly out of his hide and his affability disappeared. He had bosses too and they could easily shut down any project that went too much over schedule. Furthermore, it was not unusual for producers or directors to have to sign a completion agreement that stated that they could be removed if they went over schedule or budget. Nate had no idea if Lance had signed any such agreements or asked his directors to do so. That information was beyond his pay grade. But he knew it was possible.

He scowled and kicked off his shoes. Jesus!, he thought. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. He began to run through a mental list of other Paramount associate producers. If luck was on his side, he might be able to bribe or coerce one of them to take over one of his projects for a week or so and bypass Lance completely. That option might cost him some money or some favors, but at least it wouldn’t put Lance on the spot.

Thinking once again of his schoolwork, he mentally ticked off the number of weeks he had to go before reaching the deadline for submitting his dissertation: The maligned medium: Documentaries in contemporary cinema. He’d been using every spare moment to work on it for weeks. He had submitted his prospectus and gone through the review interviews. Now that the prospectus had been accepted, he was moving closer to his PhD. After all the years of hard work the thought of finally reaching his goal was satisfying.

Satisfying, Nate thought. But a far cry from exciting. He sighed and grabbed his phone, bringing up a picture of David. Nate had never been one to judge a man by his looks, but David was one of those guys whose looks perfectly matched the inner man. His smile was sweetness itself. His broad shoulders and handsome face, even in a poorly focused picture from David’s phone, was enough to make Nate’s heart beat faster. David was just as solid and as real as his image suggested. Nate knew he had issues to deal with, but there was so much more to this man than even he seemed to realize.

He has such depth, Nate thought. David would be a man of profound substance and wisdom if only he would get out of his own way and let his true self shine forth. The intelligence was already there, bright, curious, and once again, deep. Nate suspected that this good man had been through a lot. The sensitivity that Nate sensed within David seemed to flow from heartbreak rather than joy, heartbreak that had driven him into a protective shell. Nate longed to penetrate that shell and free the man he knew was hidden there. When David’s true self shone forth at last, Nate wanted to be at his side.

He closed his phone and feeling more determined than ever he rose and headed for the bedroom. He would make the time to chat with David this week! No relationship can live on air, he thought. Even a newborn relationship needs more than empty promises. Without time together we’re never going to move beyond being acquaintances. And I do want to move beyond acquaintances. Computer chats were fine, but Nate didn’t want an electronic romance. It was nice to talk to David on Skype, and certainly it was emotionally safe. But it simply couldn’t compare with being there.


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Chapter Four – Nate’s Day

Nate hated motels. For him they held no spirit of adventure nor did they reflect the fun of travel and seeing new places. For him they were pit stops on the frustratingly long, horribly tedious, and usually boring trips that his position at Paramount Pictures forced him to endure. He didn’t sightsee. It was rare that he ever saw anything more interesting than a businessman’s office or a crowded airport terminal. He seldom had a decent meal, was never invited to anyone’s home, and rarely ever spent more than twenty-four hours in the same location.

That’s an associate producer for you, he thought dryly, stretching and glancing over at the clock next to his motel bed. “Associate producer,” he scoffed, shaking his head. Even hearing the title made him snort derisively. “They gave me a whole fifty bucks for a two-day trip all the way across the country! Yeah, I’m some big shot alright.”

His job description fell under the general umbrella of ‘film development’. Which meant that he did whatever scut-work the producer chose to dump on him, usually consisting of tasks the producer could have done himself but saw as somehow beneath him.

He sat up in bed and scrubbed his hands through his dark, unruly hair. He wanted a cigarette, but here again motels had managed to fuck him over. No smoking anywhere anymore, and no balcony in his room. If he wanted a smoke, he’d have to get dressed and go outside and he wasn’t quite ready for that. But since he had things to do and a flight to catch, he forced himself to get out of bed.

Thank goodness he could get a free breakfast here. That was one reason he’d picked the Holiday Inn Express–free breakfast. He sighed and stretched again, then stood and wandered toward the bathroom. “Fifty bucks,” he repeated in disgust.

There are occasional compensations though, Nate thought, stripping off his underwear and turning on the water for his shower. Like last night.

The last thing he had imagined, especially here in the South, is that he would meet a man who so immediately interested him. But there was something about this professor, a quality of kindness coupled with an enduring strength, that fascinated Nate almost at once. And what made David Gardener even more fascinating was the fact he was blissfully unaware of the effect he had on others in general and on Nate in particular.

Nate had seen the spark of interest in his eyes the moment they met. But instead of pursuing him, or even flirting with him, David had remained self-contained and a bit distant. If anything, the more interest that glowed in his eyes, the more distant he became. He seemed to Nate to be hovering in a continuous state of evaluation. As if he couldn’t quite figure out what was happening to him and refused to act until his unbelieving mind had sought out an answer for every question.

Clearly he was frightened, and Nate could sympathize with that reaction. He was frightened himself. But any relationship anxiety he felt had quickly became secondary to his interest in the sedate college professor. He saw something glowing behind those hazel eyes. A depth of passion. An unexplored emotional landscape that held the promise of happiness.

He could see that David was floundering, torn between desire and apprehension. The fire that burned in his gaze sent a clear signal, but at the same time David seemed completely incapable of acting on that instinct. Nate wondered how many times this had happened in his past. How many times he had silently walked away from the chance to invite love into his life. And even though Nate sensed strength at the core of this man’s being, he also knew that one premature move on his part would send David flying for cover. This saddened him because he also sensed that this barely-dawning relationship held the promise of happiness for his life, too. And happiness was something he needed badly.

In his own way he was as uncertain about how to proceed as David. He was delighted when David called him after their initial meeting, and tried to subtly convey his interest by telling David that he’d just been thinking of him. But David only seemed surprised by his statement and immediately turned the conversation back to the job offer, which was why Nate was there in the first place.

Still, it gave him hope when David invited him out to dinner. He wasn’t quite sure what David’s intentions were or if he even HAD any intentions. Nate wanted to speak out. It was against his nature to play games. He liked things direct and straight forward. But this professor was a bit of a puzzle. He sent no clear signals while at the same time the undisguised interest in his eyes had non-stop bells and whistles going off inside Nate’s brain.

Nate stepped out of the shower and began to dry himself off, smiling at the memory. That whole evening had been a dance. One step forward and two steps back. When David asked if he’d be the one he’d be working with on the project, Nate told himself: To hell with this! and engaged in a moment of pure, unadulterated coquettishness. His response was blatantly flirtatious; nothing left to the imagination. There was no way David could see it as anything else. No way at all. Hell, Nate thought, smiling. I damn near batted my eyes at him!

And David seemed to ‘get it’. But he also seemed so completely thrown off balance by Nate’s response that Nate immediately passed his comment off as a joke and backed away. God! he remembered thinking. Don’t scare him off before you’ve even had dinner!

He knew now that David’s response had been rooted in fear rather than rejection. He remembered how David’s body had reacted when his hand had touched David’s arm. He’d heard a soft intake of breath and felt the muscles beneath his hand clench slightly, as if his touch had been electric.

They spent the evening in a subtle emotional duel. David would seem to invite Nate’s advances, only to edge ever-so-slightly away when Nate responded in kind. But when he started to get out of David’s car at the end of the evening there was no mistaking the longing in his voice when he cried, “Will I see you again?” And though it was tempered by a stammered reference to finalizing contracts, it was still revealing.

“Maybe his real fear is of intimacy itself,” Nate said aloud as he started to shave. “I wonder if he’s ever been in a serious relationship with a man.” Something inside him doubted it, and it occurred to him as he dressed that he would be taking a huge risk to open his heart to someone so seemingly inexperienced.

Yet when he thought about their trip to Monticello the next day, he was filled with warmth. The invitation had both surprised and delighted him. He’d gone to bed the night before fairly certain that he’d seen the last of the handsome professor except for his signature on a piece of paper. And when David called, Nate knew instinctively the kind of courage it took for David to pick up the phone and reach out to him with this invitation.

And in spite of the sexual tension that sang beneath the surface, the day was relaxed and totally enjoyable. They laughed together about the faults and flaws of the ‘founding fathers’, but even though they teased their country’s founders with honesty and humor, they also stood rapt and silent before the beautiful mementos in Jefferson’s home.

Later, as they walked the grounds discussing Jefferson’s many accomplishments, David spoke of his students and his commitment to teaching. Nate was touched to the heart by David’s simple belief in the rightness of the American system of government. He gazed at David as they stood for a moment on the edge of Jefferson’s gardens, facing eastward to the hills of the Virginia countryside. This is a good man, Nate remembered thinking. A kind, decent man. My God, I didn’t think there were guys like him left in the world.

“I guess I’m kind of naive,” David had said at one point as they walked toward the small pond that stood near the majestic Monticello mansion.

“I like naive,” Nate replied. “Means you have an open heart.”

“An open heart,” David laughed, “or a gullible one.”

Nate had turned to him and touched his arm to halt his forward motion. “I’d much rather be with someone who had a gullible heart than someone who had no heart at all.”

David had blushed at Nate’s touch, and he’d seemed very moved by what Nate said to him. So much so that Nate wondered if this man, who seemed so genuinely decent, could have had dealings with someone whose coldness had hurt him badly.  He knew David was divorced. Perhaps it had been a difficult ending.

And as they sat watching the sun slowly dip lower in the western sky, Nate had been struck by the peace that seemed to permeate this place. Here in this serene setting, bathed in the early evening light, David seemed to him to be as quietly noble as their surroundings. This place suits him, Nate thought, and it hurt his heart when David asked when he was leaving and he was forced to answer, “Tomorrow morning”.

But the sadness of his answer seemed to be the catalyst that David had been waiting for. He stared intently at Nate as they sat beneath the cherry trees and finally said what they both had been thinking: “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

Relief had surged through Nate’s veins in a torrential flood, and in that moment he found speech impossible. He had felt great sadness at the thought that he and David would soon be parted leaving all the feelings between them unspoken. Now there was a chance…a hope at least. He realized instinctively that he could drop the game, drop the pretense, and speak honestly at last.

And when he finally moved into David’s arms and tasted his kiss, it was every bit as wonderful as he had hoped. He lost himself in the strength of David’s arms as they held him close, and the eagerness of his kisses as he claimed Nate’s lips again and again there in the golden light of the Virginia dusk.

He’d been kissed many times but nothing had ever touched him as deeply as David’s kisses. His lips touched Nate’s so hesitatingly at first. They were soft and moist……and Nate was acutely aware of the shape of David’s mouth. He dared the briefest slide of damp tongue against David’s lower lip, and it sent intense jolts of desire flaming through his body. His arms convulsively tightened around the stockier frame pressed so close to him and the kiss deepened, became something beyond experimenting…beyond questioning. It became a ravenous need that ten thousand kisses could never satisfy.

The visit to Monticello had been beyond anything he had envisioned when the day began. And as much as he longed to prolong the evening, even until the sun rose the following morning, he somehow knew that was not the way to begin this journey. He could sense David’s yearning, but he could also sense his confusion. To push things too fast now would risk losing something—someone—who was becoming important in his life. It was difficult to insist that the evening end when David dropped him at the motel entrance but he knew it was the right thing to do.

He finished dressing still lost in remembrance. “Wow,” he breathed finally. “What a great memory. If I don’t ever have anything else, at least I’ll always have that day. I wonder if he’s regretting it now. I hope not.”

He spent a few minutes shoving the meager contents of drawers and closet into his one small suitcase. Then, dressed and packed, he sighed and grabbed the contract that was to be faxed to David. “Better get this to him,” he muttered, grabbing his keycard and heading for the door. “I don’t have much time left.” He frowned darkly. “I kind of hoped he’d call me this morning.”

Once downstairs he located David’s FAX number and inserted the contract into the machine. He hesitated for a moment, and then on impulse grabbed a blank sheet of paper and scrawled a brief note that he also faxed to David as a cover letter. He watched as the two pieces of paper slid into the machine and waited until he received confirmation that they’d arrived, then headed back to his room.

The first thing he saw as he re-entered his room was the blinking red light on the motel’s phone, and he barely listened to all of David’s message before calling him back. Their phone conversation was too short to be really satisfying, and an unspoken pall of sadness lay over both of them at the thought that Nate would soon be gone. But they contented themselves with the promise of the Skype session later on, and then Nate had to leave. The shuttle was waiting.

Chewing his lip, he shoved his suitcase onto a rack and slumped into one of the shuttle seats. He made sure he had David’s number safely saved in his phone, then gave himself over to despondency.

I live in Hollywood, he thought as he leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. Beauty capital of the world. Gorgeous fucking guys everywhere I look. Gorgeous fucking girls too, for that matter. And they could all be dog dung as far as I’m concerned. Ninety-nine per cent of them are too empty-headed and self-involved to even talk with for long, let alone anything more. Wouldn’t waste my time or energy. Might know. I have to fly to the other side of the fucking country to meet a man who interests me, and then I have to leave before we’ve done much more than say ‘hello’.

He made it to the airport and through security with a minimum amount of fuss and collapsed into a chair near the gate. Half-hour until boarding time. He thought about buying a magazine or a book, but decided against it. He squirmed in the chair trying to get comfortable, propped his feet up on his suitcase, and grabbed his phone again. David had mentioned feeling bad that he hadn’t thought to take a picture of Nate. “I’ll do it now,” Nate muttered.

Feeling a bit silly, he held the phone out in front of him, grinned like a loon, and snapped a selfie. He sent the picture and a short message to David and was keenly aware of how eagerly he awaited the response. It wasn’t long in coming and Nate smiled when he read David’s affectionate reply.

And yet…and yet…the fact that he was so impatient to get a response worried him. It’s too soon, he thought. It’s too soon to feel this much. I can’t let myself jump into another bad relationship. I need to take this slow. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the airport ceiling. It’s going to be a long, fucking day, he thought miserably. God, I’d give anything if I could go back twenty-four hours.

He slept through most of the four-hour flight and was stumbling as he walked off the jet way into the airport terminal. Jesus, I need some sleep, he thought. But sleep was a long way off. He was scheduled to head straight to work, and he had a class that night.

He forced himself to stop long enough to send a short text message to David, then rushed toward the airport garage where he had left his car. He was overdue at the studio where he was currently working on several different films, pretty much standard operating procedure for an associate producer. Always more than one project on his plate.

This morning he was supervising post-production for another Lance Barrett documentary, and he still had to get David’s paperwork processed. His life was hectic, but if he ever wanted to graduate from associate producer to co-producer or even, god willing, executive producer, he dare not complain. For every ‘Nate Reese’ banging around Paramount Studios, there were thousands of eager applicants who would happily take over his job and all the hassle that went with it.

But at thirty-five Nate was getting tired. The pace was brutal and since he had fallen into the niche of documentary film development rather than the more visible genre of the big feature film, the upward slant of his career wasn’t nearly as dramatic and he was forced to work that much harder.

The past few days, experiencing the slower, more graceful pace of David’s life at the university had made him keenly aware of how chaotic his own existence had become. He loved the creative aspect of the work he did. But he longed for a more meaningful lifestyle.

Occasionally through the course of his day his thoughts would flash to the Skype session he and David were to have that evening. They’d arranged to meet online at 6:00 p.m., which gave Nate only an hour before he had to leave for his class. It’ll be a good hour though, Nate thought.

And he was right. Their conversation that evening left him filled with happiness. Nate felt that they’d come to know each other a little better. He felt that their relationship had somewhat solidified. But he also felt David’s frustration as keenly as he felt his own. An online chat was a poor substitute for actually being together. Seeing David on his computer screen only deepened his longing to actually be with him. To truly experience David’s comforting strength. To be able to touch him and actually feel David’s solid strength wrapped around him.

The sweetness of his smile was what touched Nate most deeply. There was something in this man that spoke so eloquently of protection and nurturing. He felt that in David’s care he would be the most cherished human being alive. David was only slightly taller than Nate and a bit stockier in build, but the six years difference in their ages was not reflected in his face. It was youthful and when he smiled and his hazel eyes crinkled in delight he projected a warm and loving spirit.

The time they’d shared in Virginia had already become a treasured memory in Nate’s heart. Ever since then his thoughts constantly turned to the moment beside Jefferson’s pond when David had held him close and kissed him, and he yearned not only to recreate that moment but to move beyond it to what he hoped lie ahead. He knew his emotions were moving too fast. He tried to slow down and think about the possible consequences if the relationship didn’t develop the way he wanted it to. David was fairly inexperienced when it came to gay relationships. He could easily decide they weren’t for him and pull away, leaving Nate with a broken heart.

There was no doubt in Nate’s mind that David had been as thrilled and aroused by their kiss as he had been himself. But, Nate thought, being turned on by someone is not exactly the same thing as giving another guy a blow job or fucking his ass. “I’ll need to move slow with this guy.”

And then there was his own reluctance. He’d been publicly gay since college and everyone who knew him or worked with him knew his sexual orientation. But if he’d learned anything from the past it was that trusting too soon or trusting at all could lead to disastrous consequences. He’d spent three years in his relationship with Ray Evans, and look what that got him. Even thinking about it now clenched his teeth in anger. Three years! Nate thought. And what I ended up with was a pack of lies and months of fear.

Ray Evans had been a producer at Paramount with whom Nate had worked with on several fairly successful projects. Their romance had been thrilling in the beginning and had seemingly been moving toward a solid future. But after two years Ray began to change. He became verbally abusive, secretive, and more and more reluctant to talk about what he did when they weren’t together. He seemed to be constantly on his phone sending text messages but always refused to tell Nate who was receiving them. For months Ray’s lies and constant concealment made Nate’s life a living hell. Finally, in the course of a vicious argument, Ray spat out the truth. To his horror Nate, discovered that Ray had been cheating on him for almost a year with multiple partners.

Not just cheating, Nate thought angrily. Having unprotected sex with complete fucking strangers! For Nate this was the most monstrous betrayal of trust possible because it demonstrated a complete disregard not only for their relationship, but for Nate’s very life. The revelation ended the relationship, and Nate had been forced to undergo HIV testing every three to six months since then to be certain that Ray hadn’t exposed him to the dangerous disease.

He wanted to put his trust in David, but his relationship with Ray had left him bitter and suspicious. Everything within him urged him to move cautiously. I need to see him, Nate thought as he dashed out the door and headed for his class. I can’t begin to know whether or not I can trust David until we’ve had the chance to spend real time together. I’ve got to find a way to make that happen!

When his long day finally ended, Nate returned home, collapsed onto his cluttered couch, and sighed deeply. He was due at the studio by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow for a meeting with Lance and other production heads. From that meeting onward, his day would be filled with enough work to keep ten men busy. And, if it went like most other days, he’d barely have a moment to think once it began.

He rose and wandered into his kitchen. Once there he took a beer from the fridge and, too tired to move, he stood drinking from the bottle in long, slow pulls. Spotting a stack of Post-it® notes on the counter, he grabbed one and with a nearby red marker wrote “See David!”. He stuck it in a prominent place on the front of his refrigerator and stood contemplating it, as he finished his beer. Finally he nodded in satisfaction and, feeling weariness beginning to overwhelm him, he turned and staggered off to bed.

 

 

 

Chapter Three – David’s Day

David felt sure he’d never be able to sleep after a day so filled with glorious promise followed by a nearly silent parting. But he surprised himself by sleeping straight through until morning.

Once awake, he moved about in a kind of fog, showering, shaving, and dressing exactly as he always had. Everything in the same order, following the same precise routine that had guided his mornings for years. But a feeling of bewilderment chased his every action. How, he wondered, could everything still be the same when at the same time everything inside him had changed so completely?

He asked himself if it had all been a dream, then shook his head in self-annoyance. Their tickets from the Monticello tour were lying on the coffee table right where he’d tossed them the night before, and the jacket he’d worn lay draped over the living room chair. He felt irrationally grateful to the mementos which proved that the previous day’s events were more than wishful thinking on his part. At least he could prepare his breakfast secure in the knowledge that he hadn’t hallucinated the entire incident.

Yet, as he sat at his kitchen table drinking coffee and munching toast, he found himself focusing more on what hadn’t happened than what had. He hadn’t even gotten Nate’s phone number. He hadn’t asked for his email address. He hadn’t used his phone to take even one picture. He hadn’t asked even one of the million questions that were spinning wildly in his mind. He wondered if Nate were up yet and pondered whether or not he should call him.

Dammit! he thought angrily. I don’t even know what time his flight leaves! I only know it’s late morning. He chewed his lower lip, feeling his desire to call Nate morph into a creeping sense of anxiety. Would he feel pressured if David called him? Would he feel he was being pursued too persistently? Would he change his mind? The thought that he might scare Nate off filled him with apprehension.

This was an old habit for David, drifting into imaginings that were based more on his insecurities than his strengths. In the past, he had allowed these pessimistic flights of fancy to determine his choices in life. But not this time. Not in this situation. He might lose Nate in the long run, who could say? There were no guarantees in any relationship, and this one had scarcely begun. But whether his relationship with Nate turned out to be long or short, he wouldn’t let it be sabotaged by his overactive imagination.

He reined in his nervousness and grabbed his cell phone. Once connected to the motel, he punched in Nate’s room number and waited while it rang. No answer. Discouraged, he left a brief message: “It’s David. Just wanted to chat for a moment before you left. Give me a call before you head for the airport if you’ve got time. Bye.”

He sat the phone down with a sigh. I guess I missed him, he thought sadly. Maybe he’s already left for the airport.

A ringing sound interrupted his thoughts and signaled an incoming FAX. David rose to investigate, suspecting it would be the contract that Nate had promised to send, and discovered that he was correct. The document lay in the inbox, but of more interest was a second document: a cover letter written in a scrawling hand.

“Hi”, it read. “Here’s the contract. FAX your signed copy to the number in the upper right-hand corner.

Nate

P.S. I haven’t stopped thinking about you.”

He smiled when he read the postscript and was halfway back to the kitchen when his phone rang. He dove to answer it.

“Hello.”

“Hi there!” Nate said, breathing heavily. “Got your message and wanted to give you a quick call before I left. Did you get the contract? Sorry I wasn’t here earlier. I was downstairs faxing it to you.”

Nate’s out-of-breath delivery put him completely at his ease. “Yes, I just got it. Thank you. And thanks, especially for the P.S. It meant a lot to me. I have to confess I woke up today wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing.”

Nate laughed. “I figured you would. Everything’s happening pretty fast, and that impression isn’t helped by the fact that I have to leave so quickly. I’m sorry about that, David. I wish it were different.”

“You’re working,” David replied warmly. “This isn’t a sightseeing trip. I know your time’s not your own right now. I was a little disgusted with myself that I didn’t think to get your cell phone number or take at least ONE picture of you.”

“You’ve got my number now,” Nate told him. “I called with my cell so it should be in your phone. And far as a picture goes…” suddenly his voice dropped to a low, husky murmur. “I’ll count on you to remember what I look like until I can send one to you.”

David felt his heart skip a beat. Damn! he thought. Everything he lights a fire inside me! “Now you’re not playing fair,” David told him, lowering his own voice. “You convince me we have to go slow, then use that seductive tone of voice on me? You’d best believe I could get to that motel before the echo dies if you keep it up.”

Nate laughed. “Sorry about that,” he said, still chuckling. “Couldn’t help myself. But don’t come to the motel. The shuttle’s outside waiting for me so I’d be gone by the time you arrived.”

“We’ve left so much unsaid, Nate.”

“I know,” Nate agreed. “I’ll call once I land, and we ARE going to Skype later aren’t we? I’ll send you my info.”

David nodded inaudibly but Nate somehow understood. “I hate for it to be this way, David, and believe me I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t have to. It’ll all be OK. Now, I’d better run.”

“Talk to you soon,” David told him. “Safe flight.”

“Tonight,” Nate promised in that same low, seductive voice, and hung up.

David carried the papers to his living room and sprawled lengthwise on his couch to look them over. It was a standard-issue contract, nothing fancy, nothing surprising. It simply restated the items that he and Nate had agreed upon previously, and David grabbed a pen and signed it without hesitation.

Then he turned his attention to the cover letter, re-reading Nate’s brief note and particularly the postscript. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift back to the moment when he had held Nate in his arms and kissed him. Thinking about it left him transported. Overnight his life had become a wave lifting him into a new awareness, frightening but undeniable, while his conscious mind, somehow left behind, was entirely focused on the memory of Nate’s kiss.

His lips had been soft and yielding, and David had lost himself immediately in their intoxicating allure. He would have happily stood there beside Jefferson’s pool until the sun rose the next morning, feeding on the sweetness of Nate’s kiss. And when his tongue had touched David’s lips in a moist caress, it had taken David’s breath away. That one kiss had been both an awakening and a confirmation, and David knew he would never forget what it did to him.

He remembered Nate’s hand as it rested in his. It was strong and beautiful formed. He remembered the toned muscles of his arms. Holding him had been an experience unlike any other. And yet the strength he felt as he held Nate in his arms was tempered by a sweetness of spirit that left him totally captivated.

He tried to rein in his feelings. He’d known Nate for only a day. How could he hope to know who he really was as a person? He couldn’t. Nor could Nate know him. Nate was younger than him. He wasn’t sure how much younger, but definitely younger. He wondered how much difference that reality would make and again there were no answers.

David had seldom engaged in gay sex but had always found it pleasurable. He called forth visions of putting Nate’s cock in his mouth, of engaging in anal sex with him, in Nate, perhaps, wanting to reciprocate. He sat silently letting these images play across his mind feeling him heart beating faster, his breathing becoming erratic.

He sighed. Kissing Nate had been one of the most thrilling and pleasurable experiences of his life. It had been a return…like coming home, and it had awakened an aching desire for ‘more’. But he felt frightened by his own inexperience. The thought of engaging in the acts which would take their kiss further awakened a crippling feeling of insecurity.

They had walked, together, into unknown territory and David felt he had walked into it without any kind of guide. It troubled him how readily he had succumbed but when he searched his heart, he knew that his attraction to Nate flowed from the honest and nearly irresistible magnetism between them. The fact that Nate felt that attraction as strongly as he did both surprised and thrilled him.

He shrugged in resignation. I’ll deal with my inexperience when the time comes,” he thought. Right now it’s all an unknown.  I have to let things to develop naturally. I refuse to tie myself up in knots about it now. There’s no point. 

“I’d better figure out this Skype stuff now though,” he grumbled, heaving himself off the couch. “He probably knows everything there is to know about it but I know almost nothing.”

Which perfectly reflects this relationship, his mind added dryly.

He sat down at his computer and opened his copy of Skype. He peered at the screen, trying to remember his username and password, then jumped when his phone signaled a text. He grabbed the phone, and seeing that the text was from Nate, he opened it eagerly and stared. In front of his face was a selfie that Nate had clearly just taken at the airport. The image wasn’t all that great, but it was good enough to make David’s heart skip a beat.

“Hi,” the text message read. “Hope this’ll tide you over ’til I can send you a better one.

Remember me. xxoo”

“Like I could forget you,” David said to the image before his eyes. He hurriedly typed:

“Hi, yourself! Thank you for the picture. It doesn’t do you justice but then nothing could. And I shall have no trouble remembering you, believe me. Be safe. xxxooo”

He studied the photo after carefully saving it to his phone. The face that smiled back at him was incredibly beautiful. “Wow,” David whispered, still a bit startled that such a gorgeous creature would be interested in him. Then he checked his watch and rose. Skype lessons would have to wait. He had afternoon classes, and he was already late.

For the rest of the day there was an extra spring in his step and a smile on his face that even his students couldn’t help but notice. He wondered occasionally where Nate was and what he was doing, and he didn’t mind at all when he had to interrupt his fifth hour class–‘The Era of the New Republic 1789-1850’to read a short text message.

“Hi there! Landed in LA safe and sound. Looking forward to our chat later on. Be nice, now. No naked Skyping allowed. 😉 Talk soon. xxxooo”

David’s chuckle drew a surprised look from his students. Their notice brought a blush to his cheeks, and after sending a brief reply to Nate, he quickly apologized and led them back to their ongoing discussion.

When he got home that afternoon he went immediately to his computer and spent the next half-hour figuring out how to use Skype. To his relief it was fairly straightforward, and he felt a burst of confidence as the time approached for their chat. He was still nervous and inclined to think that he would never be a fan of long-distance relationships, but when Nate’s face appeared before him on the screen, smiling and obviously happy to see him, he had to admit that it was better than nothing.

“Hi!!” David said happily. “I wasn’t sure this would work!”

Nate laughed merrily. “Ahh, Skype is old technology, but it works just fine. So how was your day?”

“Well, I faxed the contract as requested, but I’ve heard nothing back as yet.”

“Blame me for that,” Nate said with a grimace. “I’m the one who grabbed it from the fax machine, but I didn’t get enough time with Lance today to pass it along. I’ll do it tomorrow, never fear.”

“No worries,” David told him. “I was more anxious to talk to you than I was to hear from Lance.”

“Yeah,” Nate said softly. “Me too. Was wondering if you were having second thoughts about…well, about anything.”

“None,” David said firmly. “I’m scared, I confess it. But as far as you’re concerned, no second thoughts at all. You?”

Nate smiled. “None at all. I don’t know quite what we’re doing or where we’re going. But I’m…” he hesitated. “Well, I’m glad things went the way they did last night.”

“Nate, we know almost nothing about each other. That’s what scares me. What if you don’t like what you discover?”

“David…,” Nate drawled out. “I can’t imagine that happening.” Then he leaned back and shrugged. “As for myself, not much to know. I was born in California, studied cinematography and broadcast journalism at UCLA. I’m still studying, matter-of-fact. I’m taking a Doctorate course in Cinema and Media Studies.” He shrugged again. “I’ve been at it a long time and it’s slow-going.”

“Nate,” David said slowly, “may I ask, please…how old you are?”

Nate laughed softly and leaned toward the screen, his beautiful face growing larger before David’s eyes. “Been worrying you, hasn’t it,” he said softly.

David nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’m 35.”

David swallowed hard. Six years! he thought, a muted sense of panic tightening his chest.

“Well?” Nate said. “No comment?”

“God, Nate, I’m 41. That’s six years,” David said quietly.

“I can count,” Nate replied.

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“No. It doesn’t. But if it’s a deal-breaker for you, David, now’s the time to tell me. Don’t wait ’til we’re more involved and then back away. I’ve had enough…” he drew in a deep breath and fell silent.

“You’ve had enough…,” David said encouragingly.

“I’ve had enough heartache in my life. I’d just as soon avoid any more if possible. So tell me now if…”

“It’s not a problem,” David interrupted. “Certainly it’s not a deal-breaker. Frankly, if you told me you were an axe murderer wanted in ten states I’m not sure it would be a deal-breaker.”

Nate laughed then eyed David carefully. Even through a computer screen his steady gaze spread heat across David’s cheeks. “Be sure, David,” he said soberly. “Be very sure.”

“I’m sure,” David said firmly. “I don’t give a damn how old you are… or for that matter how young you are.”

“Well, you did ask,” Nate reminded him, gently. “So it had to mean something to you.”

“I wanted to know. I knew you were younger, I just didn’t know how much. When you told me I had a moment of panic, and I suppose it showed. But when you asked me if it was a deal-breaker, I knew it wasn’t. Not even close. So if you still want to be involved with an old duffer like me I’m totally up for it”

“OK,” Nate said quietly. “I’m glad. But let that be the last time you refer to yourself as an ‘old duffer’ please. Jesus!”

David chuckled, feeling himself relax. “You know, I’ve never met anyone I could talk with as easily as I can with you. It’s amazing to me.”

“I told you I’m not very terrifying,” Nate said, grinning. He leaned out of view of the computer screen, then reappeared with a wine glass in his hand. He lifted it toward David. “To you, my friend.”

“You like wine?” David asked, delightedly. He reached for his coffee cup and returned Nate’s toast. “And to you.”

“I LOVE wine!” Nate said, beaming. “I often take weekend trips to Napa Valley to visit some of the wineries there.”

“Well, we’ve something else in common then,” David told him. “Sorry I didn’t get to bring you to my house while you were here. I have a…” he paused and gave a self-deprecating shrug “semi-impressive wine cellar which you might enjoy.”

“Put it on the list,” Nate said, sipping again.

“What list?”

“The list of things we’re going to do together! One,” Nate intoned holding up one finger: Visit Napa Valley. Two,” he continued, “Visit your wine cellar. Though probably not on the same day.”

“Now,” David said quietly, “I’d like to hear a little bit about that heartache you spoke of earlier.”

Nate was silent for a moment.

“Unless you’d rather not talk about it,” David said quickly. “I didn’t mean to push.”

Nate smiled and shook his head. “Let’s set a couple ground rules,” he told David, leaning forward, his face once again filling screen. “First ground rule: Nothing is off-limits. You can ask me anything, and I’m going to assume I can do the same with you.”

“You can,” David said firmly.

“Second ground rule:,” Nate said “We’re always going to be honest with each other, even if we think the other one might not like it. It’s just better that way, don’t you think?” He leaned back in his chair and sipped his wine. “And if it’s something I can’t talk about, I’ll say so straight out, with as much explanation as possible. And you do the same. For my part, I can’t foresee having to invoke that rule, but there it is just in case.”

“I fully agree, and I accept your ground rules,” David said.

“OK,” Nate said. “The heartache was from a fairly long-term relationship I had with a man which ended rather badly about two years ago. He was cheating on me behind my back for months on end. I suspected it, of course, but he denied, denied, denied.” Nate shrugged and when he spoke his voice was bitter: “I fucking hate being lied to!”

“I won’t lie to you, Nate,” David assured him soberly.

Nate stared at him for a long moment as if evaluating his sincerity, then nodded. “OK.” He shook himself gently. “OK,” he said more confidently, and drew in a deep breath and leaned toward the computer screen. “Your turn.”

“Divorced for two years,” David told him. “I have two daughters, Sarah, eight, and Deborah, thirteen. I just found out yesterday that my ex is going to marry her current boyfriend sometime this summer.”

“Ouch!” Nate said sympathetically.

“Nah,” David assured him. “I honestly wish her well.” He shrugged. “Our marriage was never…” he hesitated, as if searching for the right words. “It was never really my passion,” he said finally. “I loved her. But I loved her more as a friend than a wife. I’m not even sure I realized it myself until the last few years of our marriage, but I feel certain she felt it long before then. I feel I shortchanged her in many ways, so I’m glad if she’s found someone who feels the passion for her that I couldn’t feel.”

“I’m sure you were a good husband,” Nate said softly.

“I was…I was OK,” David said reluctantly. “I was never mean or unfaithful or anything. I was a good provider. But, Nate, I wasn’t really THERE either. Not with all of me. Not with the parts of me that really mattered.” He sighed.

“No men in your life?” Nate asked gently.

“None recently,” David told him, laughing easily. “Oh, I’ve had a few short-term relationships. But none of them ever came to anything…mainly because I was scared to death to pursue them.”

“So I’m something relatively new for you.”

“You are indeed,” David said. “Brand new, very exciting, very scary, but also very…,” he hesitated, “…very special.” He could feel a blush creep across his cheeks and wondered if Nate could see it on his computer screen. He looked down at the keyboard.

“You’re really cute when you go all shy like that,” Nate said, and his voice dropped suddenly into that low murmur that invariably drove David crazy.

“And you’re really cute when you use that seductive tone of voice on me,” he replied, grinning at Nate and fanning his face in a comic gesture. “Now stop it. You said no naked Skyping!”

Nate laughed. “I did at that. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be very good at that kind of lovemaking. I prefer to be with the person I’m having sex with.”

Feeling even more embarrassed, David looked beyond Nate at what appeared to be a well-stocked bookcase. “You read a lot?” he asked.

“Oh!” Nate glanced quickly behind him. “Yeah. I do. A lot of it is reference material for college and for some of the work I’ve done.” He suddenly stood and lifted the computer. “Let me give you a tour.”

He wandered around his apartment, pointing the computer’s camera at his small office area, surrounded by books, the living room with a fairly large flat-screen TV, a small kitchen, and finally the bedroom with a suitcase lying open, spilling its contents onto the bed. “As you can see,” he heard Nate’s disembodied voice say with a chuckle, “I haven’t unpacked yet.”

“Looks cozy,” David told him.

“Looks messy,” Nate replied, wandering back to his desk. “I’m not here a lot so the place is in a perpetual state of untidiness.”

“I can give you a tour of my house if you like.”

“Next time,” Nate told him as his face reappeared before David’s eyes. “I can’t talk anymore tonight. I’ve got a class, and if I leave right this minute I may just make it on time. I’m sorry about that, but I can’t skip it.”

“And I don’t want you to,” David said firmly. “I’m a professor! How would it look if tried to talk a college student into playing hooky!”

“I enjoyed this,” Nate told him. “I hope we can do it again soon. My schedule is a bit hectic this week, but I’ll keep in touch through email and what have you. When I have an evening off, I’ll let you know.”

“OK,” David said, his tone showing how downhearted he felt. No question about it. He was going to hate having a long-distance relationship.

“David, I know this is…” Nate sighed. “It’s unsatisfactory. It sucks. I know. But at this point I’m not sure what to do about it.”

“Nothing to do but what we’re doing. Don’t worry about it. We’ve got a whole country between us right now. We simply have to do the best we can.”

“Well, I’m willing if you are,” Nate said with a smile.

“And I am,” David affirmed. “I absolutely am.”

“OK. I’ll be in touch then.” He hesitated as if he wanted to say more, then spoke quickly: “Take care. Bye for now.”

“Bye,” David replied as he saw Nate’s hand reaching toward the computer to shut down the Skype session. Then the screen went blank. David ended the program and sat for a few minutes, thinking about their conversation.

Unsatisfactory didn’t begin to describe it. It was nice to talk to Nate and actually see him while doing so. But the desire David felt for a more intimate conversation consumed him. He’d never felt this kind of loneliness before. It wasn’t sex that he yearned for, though he certainly hoped that lovemaking was in their future. What he wanted was the kind of closeness that could only be achieved when you were actually with the other person. For him that was the kind of intimacy that builds lasting relationships.

David pushed his computer away and glared at it. “I won’t get that kind of intimacy with you,” he told the machine. Then, feeling slightly silly, he stood and walked toward the stairs leading to his bedroom. Stop being a jackass! his thoughts commanded. You’re lucky to have him in your life at all. Show a little gratitude.

The admonishment leveled by his psyche went straight to his heart. If he started feeling resentful now, he and Nate would never last. He vowed to be more positive in the future. For Nate’s sake…and his own.

But he also promised himself that he was going to find a way for he and Nate to be together again. Seeing him on Skype was pleasant enough, but every fiber of David’s being ached for more. He didn’t want to rush him or push him too fast. But he couldn’t help but believe that their relationship couldn’t evolve into anything more lasting until they were physically together again. He saw every moment of their time together in a kind of golden glow. Being in Nate’s presence had brought the kind of zest for living that he thought he’d never feel again. Ever since then everything about his life was bleaker.

“I need to see him again and I’m going to make it happen,” he vowed as he got ready for bed. “I swear I’m going to make it happen.


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Chapter Two – Monticello

David slept in fits and starts that night. Images of startling blue eyes and a beautiful, expressive mouth filled his restless dreams and when he woke a heaviness settled in his chest that he could not shake off.

He’d filled the years since his divorce with work. The satisfaction he took from the success of his teaching strategies had served to distract him from the empty space that ached inside him. But last night’s encounter with the exciting young producer had shone a bright light on that emptiness making it impossible to ignore any longer. He reached for his phone several times that day to call Nate but hesitated each time. He wanted to see him. He yearned to taste the happiness he suspected might lie ahead if he pursued a relationship with this beautiful man.

But for all David knew Nate might be wholly uninterested in a male-male relationship. He cursed his own cowardice, constantly replaying the previous evening, mentally seeking an overlooked moment when he could have discovered the answers he sought.

Confused by his own reactions, he stalled. He’d had short-term relationships with men in the past, but those relationships were intensely private, hidden from both his family and his work life, and now seemed meaningless when compared to last night’s encounter with Nate Reese. Those relationships had always invoked a feeling of inner revulsion and the unwelcome image of his father’s reproachful face.

David’s father, Arron Gardener, was an intelligent, hard-working school teacher, who was eventually awarded the post of Superintendent of Public Schools in Charlottesville. He was a quiet, decent man on the surface. But in the privacy of his home his behavior, especially toward his only son, was that of a cold and disapproving bully. In his own eyes he was a fair but strict parent, stern in the interest of what he deemed best for his children. But his father’s constant barrage of criticism left David with a crippling sense of inferiority and an inability to believe himself worthy of love.

His sister had been spared much of their father’s abuse, but David had suffered through a childhood darkened by their father’s unfeeling nature. He felt sure his father hadn’t meant to do harm. But he also realized early in life that his inability to trust in or express strong emotion stemmed from the cruelty of that beginning.

His logical mind cried out to him to remain silent, to let Nate return to Hollywood leaving the questions in David’s heart unanswered. David would resume his normal routine and the entire incident would be forgotten. This tactic had been repeated again and again throughout David’s life. People and situations which threatened to awaken the emotional storm that slept within him were quickly dismissed. Until now he hadn’t believed that emotional landscape could ever be altered, nor had he wanted it to be.

But the young producer had cracked open the barriers behind which David had hidden for years. His almost desperate desire to pursue a relationship with Nate left him confused and shaken. How could one man have such a profound impact on his life? Nate had become an alluring and seductive song which sang over and over in David’s mind, driving out the sterile voices of logic.

The answering song of his heart and his body now spoke a different language. Possessing a wisdom deeper and truer than any fact which sprang from reason or calm judgment, it had become willing to seek the love it needed in spite of David’s latent fears. The music that now sang in his mind cautioned him that this kind of opportunity seldom presented itself twice in one lifetime. Once denied, such a chance might never come again.

And as David went about the duties of his day, merely going through the motions with only half of his conscious mind focused on his classes and his students, he became more and more aware that he had to choose. He had to decide which part of his nature to trust, and he had to do it before Nate returned to California.

Troubled by the chaos churning in his mind and unable to focus on his classes, he dismissed his students and retired to his office. He sent Melinda home and collapsed into his chair staring at the far wall, focused on nothing.

A vague but persistent memory, one which had haunted the outskirts of his mind since early that morning, suddenly sprang full-blown into his mind. He recalled the one time his father had discussed the subject of homosexuality. “Abomination!” he had spat in disgust, predicatively quoting the biblical condemnations.

But even in the throes of an inner conflict unlike any he had ever experienced, David knew he could not allow his father’s bigotry to guide his life. He may have believed that, David thought. But I sure as hell don’t!

I have to know one way or the other, he thought finally, worrying a fingernail. I have to take that chance.

It seemed unlikely that Nate would be angry or dismissive even if he weren’t interested in a relationship. While they hadn’t delved into sensitive topics, a surprising feeling of intimacy had crept into their conversations. David wasn’t normally a trusting man, especially when it came to familiarity in relationships. But on this occasion, there was no other option. Screwing up his courage he pressed the speed dial for the motel and quickly punched in Nate’s room number.

“Hello?”

David drew in a deep breath. “Hi,” he said quietly. “It’s me.”

“Oh, hi, David! Sorry. I was in the shower.”

The image of a wet, naked Nate flashed in David’s mind and he grit his teeth, against a sudden surge of arousal. “I thought if you didn’t have plans that maybe we could go for a drive or something,” David said.

“No plans at all,” Nate replied. “I’m still waiting for Paramount to fax me the contract so I don’t have any paper for you to sign as yet.”

“Listen,” David said, “it’s only a half-hour’s drive to Monticello. The grounds and mansion are lovely and it’s worth a visit, if you’re up for it.”

“I’d love to!” Nate said excitedly. “There’s a reason why I work in documentary films. I fell in love with history as a child and still love it. Thank you, David. It’s great of you to take the time.”

“My pleasure,” David told him, smiling. “Can you be ready in a half hour? I’ll pick you up out front.”

Nate agreed and David flipped his phone shut with a sigh of relief. The tour of Monticello was an ideal solution. It provided an opportunity to spend time with Nate in an environment where he felt secure. And given the subject matter of their proposed documentary, the visit made perfect sense.

David had visited Monticello many times, taken students there, and had been named a patron for the mansion’s research facility. His status both as a patron and university professor, gave him unlimited access to the mansion and the gardens all without need of a guide.

The day was everything David hoped. He and Nate took the guided tours of both the mansion and gardens, then after the exhibits closed they strolled, alone, across the grounds. The sun was drifting low in the sky by the time they reached the gardens where they stopped and sat, talking for some time about Jefferson’s place in history.

“Do you think the Declaration of Independence was his greatest achievement?” Nate asked.

“I suppose I’d have to say yes,” David replied. “Though he also wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the model for the first amendment of our Constitution. And,” he added, “he was a very vocal advocate for providing public education for all free children.”

“FREE children,” Nate said.

David nodded, smiling. “Yeah, that whole issue is a bit of a sticky wicket.” He gently took Nate’s arm. “Let’s go over here and watch the sunset.” He led Nate to the edge of a small pond where they sat on the grass.  David pointed out a nearby sign: ‘Fish caught in neighboring streams were kept alive in this pond until needed for table use’.

“It’s peaceful here,” Nate said looking around him. “Such a feeling of serenity. No wonder he loved it so much.”

David nodded in agreement. This was his favorite spot when visiting Jefferson’s home. He often remained here after hours to sit alone beneath the trees and watch the sunset. But being here with Nate gave a whole new meaning to Monticello’s place in his life.

He’d never before seen the mansion and grounds as a romantic setting; its significance in his life had always been historical. But now as he looked around him, he marveled at his own blindness. This setting was perfect for a romantic interlude. The stately mansion with its tall pillars of white marble, the gardens in blossom, the swaying pines, and the hills, glowing softly in the distance all formed an image of surpassing loveliness. And now there was Nate, seated here so close to him, as exquisite in his own right as the beauty of their surroundings and every bit as romantic.

David watched him intently. Evening shadows fell over the gardens and trees of Monticello and the beauty around them seemed bathed in the deepening golden glow of late afternoon light. Nate looked exquisite in this setting, as though it all had been fashioned just for him. Now was the moment. Here in this lovely location. He had to speak now. There would never be a better time or place. “Do you know how much longer you’ll be here?” David asked quietly.

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Nate told him. “The contract will arrive early in the morning and once I’ve faxed it to you, that’s it. I’m on a late-morning flight to Hollywood.”

David took a deep breath. “I wish you didn’t have to go,” he said softly.

Nate’s eyes swung to meet his, and for a moment neither of them spoke. “I hope I’m not misunderstanding you,” Nate said finally.

“I guess that depends on what you’re thinking,” David said, feeling his heart quake inside him.

Nate smiled and shook his head. “How long do you want this dance to go on, David? We’ve been at it for a couple days now. I mean, I’m willing to keep dancing if you still need the protection. But I’m not sure there’s much point to it at this juncture.” His voice, warm and full of both laughter and promise, touched David’s heart like a caress.

“Do you mean…,” David stammered. “Do you mean that you’re…”

“I mean that I’m as attracted to you as you obviously are to me.”

David dropped his head into his hands, momentarily overwhelmed by both relief and panic. “I guess I haven’t been as subtle as I’d hoped,” he said dryly, and felt another surge of relief when Nate laughed easily.

“No. Not subtle. But not obvious either. My impression is that you’re a man who both wants something and is utterly terrified by it.”

“That’s me exactly,” David muttered, gazing out over the pool at the hills beyond. “I’m sorry if I’ve been sending mixed messages. There’s so much I want to say, Nate. But you’re right. I’ve been scared to death to say it.”

“I’m really not all that terrifying,” Nate said with a soft laugh.

“You are to me,” David said, his voice quaking. “I’ve seldom had…,” he stammered, then slowly continued “…this kind of relationship. I’m,” he sighed and shook his head, “somewhat of a novice and everything about it terrifies me.”

“I understand. I’ve been waiting for you to give me a clear signal as to what you wanted. I didn’t want to move too quickly and scare you off.”

David laughed. “You just echoed my exact thoughts about you. Jesus, I’m sorry I’m so bad at this.”

Nate reached out and slowly took David’s hand, seeming ready to withdraw if David gave any sign of reluctance. When he didn’t, Nate laced their fingers together. “Relax,” he said in a low voice. “There’s no right way to start a relationship. And honestly, I don’t plan to jump you here under Jefferson’s cherry trees. The founding fathers would spin in their graves.”

David laughed. The lightness of Nate’s tone eased his anxiety and his fingers tightened on Nate’s. “Good damn thing,” he replied with a nervous grin.  “I might lose my membership in the ‘Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society’.”

Nate grinned in return. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

They sat in silence for several minutes, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Finally David stirred. “Shall we head back?” he asked, using his grip on Nate’s hand to leverage them both to their feet.

“And what happens then?” Nate asked.

David drew in a deep breath and bit his lip, still holding Nate’s hand in his. He tried to speak but couldn’t find the words.

Seeming to understand, Nate tightened his hold on David’s hand. “Wait,” he said suddenly. “Don’t say anything, David.”

“Nate, I…”

“No. Don’t. I’m leaving tomorrow. There’s no way I can avoid it. I have to go back. It seems to me that it’s a bad idea to start something now that has to end tomorrow.”

“I–I…,” David choked out. “I understand.”

“No,” Nate told him, “you don’t understand. I’m not saying it’s over. I’m not saying ‘forget it’. I’m saying it’s on hold until we can figure out what we both want, or at least until we can be together again.”

“You mean you…”

“I mean I do want to pursue this relationship, David. But I also don’t want to rush it. You’re relatively new to all this and it’s obvious that you’re scared to death of it. You need some time to process what’s happening between us before we go plunging into…,” he hesitated. “Well, into something which we both might end up regretting.”

David swallowed. Twilight shadows deepened as they stood close together by Jefferson’s pool. Nate’s eyes, deep and brilliantly beautiful in the evening light, gazed up into his. David drew in a deep breath and pushed past his fear.

“Would it be alright with you…,” he stammered, his voice trembling. ”I mean, would you mind if I…”

“Kissed me?” Nate interrupted easily.

“Yeah,” David breathed in relief. “I agree with you about moving slowly. But my God, Nate… this place! This moment!” He shook his head in wonder. “It’s magical and, god, it’ll never come again. I’d like our first kiss to happen here if that’s OK with you.”

Nate moved easily into his arms and David drew him close. Nothing in his life had ever felt quite so right, quite so destined to be. Their lips met tentatively at first, then again with increased passion.

Nate’s lips parted ever so slightly, and David felt the delicate touch of his tongue caressing his lower lip. They stood, absorbed in their kiss, their bodies pressed close together as David felt the hunger to take this kiss further grow and bloom inside him. He lowered his lips to Nate’s throat, covering that long, slender shape with feverish kisses while Nate clung to him with fierce strength. Finally they parted, leaning back slightly in their embrace, breathing heavily.

“Wow,” David said in a choked whisper, his arms still locked around Nate’s body. “Just….wow.”

Nate laughed softly and pressed his face to David’s shoulder. “That about sums it up,” he murmured.

“You have to leave tomorrow?” David asked, leaning back further to gaze into Nate’s eyes.

“I do,” Nate said. “And by this time tomorrow you’ll be glad I did.”

David shook his head.

“Listen,” Nate told him, taking a step backward and re-capturing David’s hand. “I know. This was … well, amazing would be an understatement. But it’s just one kiss and I still think you need time to process all that’s happened. For that matter, so do I.”

David lowered his head.

“David?” Nate said, his fingers reaching to tip David’s face up to his.

“Yeah?”

“This isn’t the end.

David’s eyes met his steadily.

“I promise,” Nate said, his voice almost a whisper.

David smiled and nodded. “Let’s go,” he said, tugging on Nate’s hand, and with hands clasped they walked to the parking lot.

“I’ll fax the contracts over to your office,” Nate told him as they got into the car. “I’ll include a number on them where you can fax the signed papers.”

“I won’t see you tomorrow?” David asked, turning to Nate with his keys still in his hand.

“No,” Nate said.

“Nate, please. Can’t I at least take you to the airport?”

“I’ll take the shuttle,” Nate said, turning away to look out the window.

“I have to dump you at the motel and that’s it?”

“Well, I hope you don’t ‘dump’ me,” Nate said, clearly amused. Then, sensing David’s dismay, he turned toward him and laid his hand on David’s arm. “Listen to me,” he said firmly. “I don’t want to drag this out. Emotions are running high right now. Everything’s new and a bit explosive. I want you to have time to think things through before we take this any further. You’re not the only one who’s frightened. I’m not going to plunge into something that could leave me with a broken heart.”

“You’re afraid I’ll break your heart?” David asked. “You’re kidding!”

“I’m really not,” Nate assured him. “You’re new to all this. By tomorrow morning you may see things differently.”

David snorted. “I doubt it.”

“David, there’s a lot you don’t know. Think about it. We only met yesterday. For all you know I could be a cheat and a liar, someone you’d never let yourself get involved with.”

David studied him, his hazel eyes wide and searching. Then he shook his head. “You could never make me believe that.”

“Well,” and Nate smiled, “truth be told, I’m not nearly that exciting. But neither of us knows the other well enough to be sure of anything yet. I won’t run the risk and you shouldn’t either. Not yet.”

David started the car and they drove to Nate’s motel in relative silence, only speaking now and then about their time at Jefferson’s mansion. David knew Nate was right to insist that this new connection between needed time to grow. He longed to plunge into a heated affair and he hoped Nate wanted that too. But taking their time wouldn’t make the affair less likely, only less reckless and perhaps more likely to succeed over the long term.

And yet when they pulled into the motel driveway, David’s heart trembled in his chest. He’d never felt this drawn to another human being, and he couldn’t shake off his fear that he would never see Nate again. And yet the very desire that drew him to the young producer caused his heart to freeze in his chest. Without even trying, Nate had awakened long submerged and carefully hidden aspects of David’s being, and the hesitancy of a lifetime still held him in its grip.

The two men sat without speaking for a moment, then Nate took his hand. “I’ll call you after I land tomorrow night if that’s OK.”

“It’s more than OK,” David said, his voice wavering.

Nate opened the car door.

“Nate!” David cried, reaching to grasp his hand. “Promise me I’ll see you again!” The words seemed pulled from him by a power beyond his control.

Nate smiled slowly. “If you have a computer with video capabilities you can see me tomorrow.”

David stared at him, incomprehensibly.

“Skype?” Nate queried. “Don’t tell me you don’t have it.”

“Oh! SKYPE!” David stammered. “Yeah, I have it. You mean we can…”

“I have your email address. I’ll email you my Skype information and you can send me yours. Then we can see each other. OK?” He leaned back into the car and kissed David hungrily, once again sliding his damp tongue across David’s lower lip. “And I promise I’ll be thinking of you all the way across the country.”

David nodded, speechless.

“Bye-bye,” Nate whispered. Then he shut the door and quickly walked into the motel.

David watched him until he disappeared out of sight. He tried to settle his breathing as he watched Nate disappear into the motel then he drew in a trembling breath and slowly pulled his car away, heading for home.

Once there he sat quietly in his library, sipping a glass of brandy, thinking about the events of the past day. He felt an unfamiliar sense of awakening, as though a new part of himself had emerged into consciousness. A budding sense of renewal touched him with hope and the very first stirrings of the kind of happiness he’d never felt before. Today had been one of the happiest he’d ever experienced and yet nothing about it could be called secure or permanent.

Was he falling in love with Nate? Even asking the question filled him with uncertainty. Could he be falling in love with someone he’d only met yesterday? Logically that didn’t seem possible. But none of those questions and none of that doubt could overshadow a growing belief that real happiness glimmered barely visible but present on his horizon.

I’ll see him tomorrow, he thought. And he resolved that for tonight anyway, that thought would be enough to sustain him.


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Chapter One – Meeting Mister Reese

David slammed the phone into its cradle and stared at the far wall of his office. “Dammit!” he muttered. The call left him weary and as his hand slipped from the receiver it clenched into a fist. Why the hell did she do that? he wondered. Why call and rub it in?

The news didn’t take him by surprise. His daughters had told him about their mother’s boyfriend and they seemed to like him. The relationship, according to them, was serious which bothered David not at all. The mean-spirited enjoyment his ex-wife took in announcing her plans to wed troubled him more than the news itself. They’d been divorced for almost two years, and though their parting had seemed amiable enough her sarcasm today left him wondering.

He sat staring into space for a moment, then shrugged. If she’d been harboring resentments she’d kept them to herself and there wasn’t much he could do about it now. Determined to shake off his annoyance, he returned to the task he’d been engaged in before her call, grading his student’s essays.

David Gardener, a professor of Revolutionary War history at the University of Virginia, loved his chosen profession. A rarity in the upper echelons of education – a teacher with passionate interest in his subject – his class was always filled to capacity. He’d loved this time period and even as a boy had been fascinated by the ‘founding fathers’, the men who inspired a system of government that David believed embodied the best and highest in all people. The system had its flaws; but to David those flaws flowed from the greed of unscrupulous individuals rather than the system itself.

His classes focused on the best in American ideals and on the men and women who had reflected those ideals during his country’s formative years. But his teaching strategies didn’t place either the people or the principles they represented on a pedestal. The stories of America’s very human founders weren’t always pretty, and David refused to white-wash their tales. He taught with a passion for the truth that never failed to gain an enthusiastic response from his students.

For nearly an hour he tried to lose himself his student’s work and steer his thoughts away from the exchange with his ex-wife. But the call continued to nag at him, until finally he sighed and pushed the papers aside.

“Sir?”

“Yeah, Melinda,” he said, turning to his student-assistant. “Do you need something?”

“There’s a man asking to see you, sir,” she told him. “A Mister…” she hesitated and consulted the notepad in her hand. “…Reese.”

David nodded.

“He’s from Paramount Pictures,” she added in an excited whisper.

David frowned and held up one finger as a signal to wait. He’d had this kind of visitor in the past and they generally turned out to be some low-level Hollywood staffer seeking clarification on an obscure historical fact. He’d given time to such requests fairly often in the service of accuracy in such films, though he’d never been well-paid for his services. He glanced at his watch and sighed.

“Alright, Melinda. See him in.”

He stared down at the ungraded essays and frowned.

“Professor Gardener,” Melinda said, “may I introduce Nathanial Reese.”

David threw his visitor a casual glance then straightened in stunned surprise trying to hide his quick inhale. Reese’s sapphire-blue eyes projected a mesmerizing intensity which blended with the planes and angles of his heart-shaped face to form an image of surpassing beauty. David felt his chest tighten with a startling and unaccustomed surge of attraction.

“Professor Gardener?” Reese said, holding out his hand. “How do you do?”

David took the extended hand. “Hello,” he said. “Sorry. My thoughts were a million miles away.”

“I hope I’m not intruding,” Reese said, holding David’s hand in a firm grasp. “Thank you for seeing me without an appointment.”

“That’s alright,” David stammered. “Did Melinda say your name was ‘Reese’? And please, do sit down.” He gestured to the chair in front of his desk.

“Yes. Nathaniel Reese. Nate.”

“You’re from Paramount Pictures?” David asked. He tried not to stare, but his eyes were drawn again and again to Reese’s face, mesmerized by its startling beauty.

“Well,” Nate laughed, “your secretary may be a bit more impressed by that fact than my position warrants.” He smiled, and once again the beauty of his features struck David like a physical blow.

“She gets over-awed fairly easily.” David agreed, returning Reece’s smile.

“I work as an associate producer for Lance Barrett. He produces documentary films and he’s about to begin development on a project that might be right up your alley.”

“Revolutionary War period?” David asked with a quick grin.

Nate laughed. “Yeah. Not much of a stretch, huh? We wonder if you’d be interested in doing some private consultant work for us.”

For a moment David hesitated. The words ‘private consultant work’ usually translated into ‘work for us for free and we’ll give you credit in the film’, an arrangement which demanded a substantial amount of work for relatively little reward. “Well,” he said, slowly. “I’ve done this kind of work before and it’s usually not all that…um…” he hesitated. “Well, frankly, it’s usually not all that lucrative given the time involved.”

Nate nodded. “I understand. And I’m sorry to say that this one probably won’t be any more lucrative. We will certainly pay you a stipend…” he grimaced and shook his head, “though I confess not much of a stipend. And, of course, you’ll get film credit.” He laughed and shook his head again. “Yeah. I know. That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee.”

“I doubt you’d find a cup of coffee anywhere that costs only a nickel,” David replied, grinning in return. “But I do want to hear you out. If it’s a quality production, I’m willing to overlook the lack of compensation. I know documentaries aren’t always well-funded.”

Nate laughed shortly and leaned forward in his chair. “Try never well-funded unless you’re on the level of a Michael Moore, which Lance certainly isn’t. I will tell you though that he takes the subject seriously and very much wants you to be part of it. He’s researched your work in other films and you impressed the hell out of him.” Reece’s eyes fixed on David’s and held. “Please, consider it, Professor,” he said, the appeal in his voice bringing a quick flush to David’s cheeks.

David dropped his eyes and sucked in a quick breath. “Could you tell me a bit more about the project and the role you see me playing in your production process?” he asked.

The two men spent several minutes discussing the specifics of the film and the level of David’s participation then Reese got to his feet. “I don’t want to take up any more of your time, Professor. I hope you can find your way clear to joining us.”

“I’d like to think it over. Can I phone you later today, Mr. Reese?”

“Please, it’s Nate. And sure! Call anytime you like. I’m staying at the Holiday Inn Express just a few miles from here.” He wrote a number on a business card and offered it to David. “That’s my room number.” He smiled and held out his hand. “It’s been a real pleasure, Professor Gardener,” he said, his incredibly beautiful eyes once again locked on David’s.

David’s heart lurched in his chest. Rising, he took the card and quickly lowered it out of sight to hide the trembling of his hand. “Please call me David,” he said. “And I promise I’ll call soon.”

“Good,” Nate said. He grinned, threw David a farewell wave, and strode out of the office.

David stared after him for a moment then sat down heavily in his chair and leaned back. He’d always been aware of his homosexual leanings, though he’d seldom acted on them. A faithful husband and devoted father during all the years of his marriage, he regretted nothing about that time in his life.

But today he’d met a man whose very presence lifted that aspect of his nature into full consciousness. And as frightened as he felt by his reactions one fact remained clear, the prospect of seeing Nate Reese again was compelling. David knew nothing about the young producer and Reese certainly knew nothing about him. But these facts paled in comparison to the attraction he’d felt from the moment Reese walked into the room.

David hadn’t thought about courtship of any kind for years and had very little experience with same-sex relationships. For all he knew Nate was married or resolutely heterosexual. He had no idea what his next step should be or what might happen at their next meeting. He only knew he wanted that meeting more than he’d wanted anything in a very long time.

His sudden attraction to Nate Reese was a stunning reminder of how many years he’d spent alone and how much he missed the intimacy of a close relationship. He and his ex-wife had once held hands as they walked, shared the details of their day, and held each other close each night. And though he had no desire to renew that relationship, he hadn’t realized until today how much he longed for that simple closeness and how empty his life had become without it.

Brows slanted in a frown, he stared down at his phone. Would a call to Nate be welcomed? Ignored? Or worse yet accepted, only to end in disappointment when Nate rejected any advance he might find the courage to make. He wondered how long he dared wait before calling so as not to appear too eager. It occurred to him that he hadn’t thought about his conversation with his ex-wife since the moment Reese walked into his office. “What the hell’s come over me?” he wondered aloud, and his mind provided an answer: He has.

He moved to his desk, determined to finish grading the remaining essays. This afternoon’s meeting had brought him face-to-face with a deeply hidden aspect of his nature, and his stomach twisted with the urgent need to escape into the familiar and comfortable. He reviewed and graded every paper before leaving for the day.

At home, he forced himself to eat a light dinner. As always, he felt intellectually curious about his own reactions and mulled that afternoon’s meeting over and over in his mind. His longing invite Nate to meet him for a drink confused and frightened him until eventually he sighed and threw down his fork in disgust.

“Jesus!” he said out loud. “What the hell am I doing? I’m like a cave man who’s just seen fire for the first time. I don’t know what to do with all this!” His handsome face twisted in self-disgust and he felt resolve harden within him. “If I think this thing to death I’ll never see him again,” he muttered.

Overcome by a sudden desire to act on his impulse, he reached for the card in his shirt pocket and called the motel. A twinge of anxiety tightening his stomach as it rang.

“Hello?”

“Ummm…hello, Nate? It’s Mr….I mean…it’s David.”

“Oh, hi! You’ve been on my mind!”

“I – I have?” David said in surprise. “In what way? I mean, I suppose you were wondering about my decision.”

“Well, wondered that and other things. What’s up? Have you decided?”

“I–well, I umm…I honestly wasn’t calling about the job. I thought maybe you’d like to –,” he hesitated.

God, he thought. I’m so fucking bad at this!

He sucked in another deep breath. “I know you’re new in town and I wondered if you’d like to have a drink with me. And maybe some dinner?” He grimaced and shook his head in self-annoyance. You just ate dinner!

Nate laughed; a genial, good-natured sound that immediately put David at ease. “I’d love to! You’re nice to ask. I’m sitting here bored out of my mind.”

The warmth of Nate’s laughter dissolved his hesitancy. What the hell, he thought, I’ll eat another dinner.

“I can pick you up in front of your motel in say…ten minutes?”

“Sounds good, David. I’ll see you then.” And without another word he hung up.

David stood for several seconds without moving, staring down at the phone in his hand. Then he smiled, snapped the phone shut, and grabbed his keys.

He spotted Nate the moment he pulled into the Holiday Inn Express, leaning against a pillar smoking a cigarette. Nate’s tight jeans and leather jacket emphasized his darkly handsome good looks and David felt his chest tighten in anticipation. My God, he thought. I’ve got a date with James Dean!  

As he approached Nate he rolled down the window. “Hey there.”

“Oh, hi!” Nate said, turning to greet him. He doused his cigarette in a nearby ashtray and strode to the car. “Sorry about the cigarette smell,” he said, clambering into the passenger seat. “You probably hate it. Most people do anymore. I’m trying to quit but I wanted to grab a quick one before you picked me up.”

“It’s not good for you,” David commented, then cursed himself. Damn! he thought. That’s no way to begin. “Sorry,” he added. “Didn’t mean to sound like your father.”

Nate shrugged. “You’re right, it’s not good for me!” he agreed with a short laugh. “And you didn’t sound like my father. You sounded like a concerned friend.”

“I may not know you well enough to assume that much,” David said, pulling the car back out onto the road. Though I’d sure like to, he thought. “Do you have any place in mind where you’d like to eat?”

“I’ve never been to Charlottesville,” Nate told him. “Why don’t you pick for us. Long as the food’s good I’ll be happy. Haven’t eaten since lunch.”

“Well,” David said, “since I’m a history professor, let’s go to a restaurant that has some historical ambiance. I know a place called ‘The Ivy Inn’. It has a rich history and great food!”

Nate nodded and stretched out his jean-covered legs, relaxing in the seat. “Sounds good.” He glanced at David. “Dare I ask about the job? Not trying to rush you or anything,” he added.

“Of course you can ask,” David replied, shooting a sideways glance at his passenger. “But I have a question of my own first, if you don’t mind.”

“Shoot!”

“Will you be the one I’m dealing with should I accept?” The question was completely legitimate, but David cringed internally. He knew he’d be a lot more likely to consider this project if he knew he’d be working with Nate.

“Would you like me to be?” Nate asked.

Holy crap! David thought in surprise, a jolt of anxiety tightening his stomach.

“Well, I’d, umm…,” he stammered. “Sure, if you’d…I mean if that would be OK with you.”

Nate laughed. “Sorry, man, didn’t mean to fluster you. Just teasing. Forgive my Hollywood sense of humor. Of course that’d be OK with me. I’ve never been to Virginia before and Charlottesville’s beautiful. Might mean I’d get to see a bit more of it. I saw some of the campus today and it’s lovely. Hey, I think you’re about to pass ‘The Ivy Inn’.”

Damn! David thought as he turned into the restaurant’s parking lot. Was he tually flirting with me? He shot a quick glance at Nate as he parked the car. He probably meant it as a joke.

They left the car and walked slowly toward the restaurant. “Wow, you’re right!” Nate said softly gazing at the imposing building. “This place does have ambiance.” He hesitated for a moment. “Looks expensive.”

“Tonight’s on me,” David said, pointing toward the stairs that led to the restaurant’s main door.

“You don’t have to do that, David,” Nate said, laying a hand on David’s arm. “I actually have expense money from Paramount.” He laughed again. “As long as the meal isn’t too expensive.”

They stood for a moment, looking into each other’s eyes, Nate’s hand still on David’s arm.

David felt the contact as an electrifying jolt through his body that left him both confused and eager for more. “No,” he said at last. “It’s not too expensive. But I’m treating you to dinner tonight. I want to. Honestly.”

Nate smiled and shrugged. “Thanks, David. That’s good of you.”

Once seated, David insisted that Nate try the Grilled Tenderloin with Wild Mushrooms, a specialty of the ‘Ivy Inn’, while he selected a salad of ‘Warm Winter Vegetables’.

“David! I can’t eat a steak while you’re grazing on veggies!”

“Sure you can!” David insisted, laughing. “I had a late lunch and I’m fine with salad.”

Nate nodded. “OK, but only if you promise to eat dessert with me,” he said, tilting his head toward the dessert table. “I mean it. You have to promise.”

David laughed again. “OK. I promise. Dessert for two.”

They talked non-stop throughout the meal. David found Nate to be intelligent and articulate. He had a keen interest in the Revolutionary War period as well as a depth of knowledge which surprised him.

“Tell me,” Nate said at one point. “History portrays Benjamin Franklin as a bit of a rake. Are those stories factual?”

David snorted in laughter. “Well, it’s certainly true that he did rather, um, indulge while he visited the French court of Versailles. But,” David added quickly, “it’s also true that he had a hard job, some would say an impossible job, in convincing the French King– who was already broke–to finance the Revolutionary War. But he did it.”

“So he got the job done,” Nate said, munching on his steak.

“So to speak…” David teased with a wink, and Nate laughed out loud.

Nate drew him out, repeatedly asking interesting questions. He possessed a bright and curious mind and, unlike many, was unafraid of admitting it when he didn’t know something. His interest left David feeling that every word he said, every story he told, every bit of obscure information he shared was a nugget of pure gold.

He felt he had Nate’s complete and undivided attention, and basking in that interest made every word he said feel important. Not even with his most fascinated students had David ever felt so… his mind groped for a word to describe it–valued. Nate made him feel valued.

As they ate dessert, a heavy sadness settled in David’s stomach. The evening would soon be over and none of his questions had been answered. He yearned to know if Nate had any interest in forming a deeper relationship but had no idea how ask. Terrified of scaring Nate off, he hesitated to reveal his feelings and he felt equally terrified at the prospect of exposing this newly awakened side of his nature to someone who was  – for all intents and purposes – a total stranger.

Nate’s warmth and openness made David feel he could trust him, but his logical mind fought against this feeling. He could be wrong, and if Nate reacted badly he could spread gossip about David that could damage his reputation at the university. He couldn’t be fired. He had tenure, and no existing statutes prohibited homosexual relationships between consenting adults. Still, David’s fear cautioned him to move carefully.

“Do you–,” he began, then hesitated.

Nate looked up. “Do I…what?” He gazed at David, his dessert spoon half-raised to his mouth.

“Do you–I mean– are you married?”

“Nope,” Nate said, lowering his spoon and staring levelly at David. “I’m not.”

“No umm…girlfriend?” David continued, feeling the knot in his stomach tighten.

“Do you know that you have a slight lisp when you talk?” Nate asked, smiling easily. “And you have the most charming southern accent I’ve ever heard.”

David started. “I — do?”

“You do,” Nate told him, once again wolfing down his dessert.

“Thank you.”

“In fact,” Nate continued, suddenly laying his spoon down and leaning toward David across the small table, “I find damn near everything about you charming. Must be your Southern heritage.”

Speechless, David stared across the table at Nate, stunned by his flirtatious manner. And yet as he saw Nate’s smile, his chest expanded with a tingling surge of anticipation.

“And no, David,” Nate added softly, leaning toward David as he spoke. “I do not have a girlfriend.”

Confused, David swallowed hard and signaled waiter to bring the check. As he pulled out his credit card he pretended to study the check, striving to regain his composure while Nate sat watching him steadily, silent and self-possessed, one ankle crossed over his knee.

After the waiter left Nate once again leaned toward him. “David, is something wrong? You seem…,” he shrugged, “…uncomfortable or something. Please don’t hesitate to tell me if you’d rather not take the job. I promise I’ll understand.”

“No!” David stated. “It’s not that at all. In fact, I’m probably going to accept your offer. It’s…it’s something else entirely.”

“If it’s me,” Nate continued. “If you’d rather not work with me, I can arrange to…”

“No!” David blurted out. “I want to work with you. That’s the main reason I’m taking the job.” The moment the words slipped out of his mouth he felt a surge of blind panic.

But Nate seemed completely at ease. “Well, that’s a relief,” he said calmly. “I appreciate your confidence in me, David.” He smiled easily. “I think we’ll do great work together.”

David gave no reply. Knowing that he and Nate would be working together warmed his heart, but he still didn’t know if he had a chance with the young producer. Well, you could always grow a pair and ask him! he thought, then shot a glance at Nate and felt fear freeze his chest.

In the motel’s driveway, Nate edged half-way out of the car then turned and leaned toward David through the still-open door. “Thanks for everything, David. You gave me a great evening and I enjoyed every minute. Lance will be delighted that you’ve accepted our proposal.”

“Will I see you again before you go?” David blurted.

Nate said nothing for a moment and then smiled. “Would you like to see me again?”

“Don’t we need to finalize things?” David said, desperate to gloss over his impulsive question. “I mean… don’t I need to sign a contract?”

Nate nodded. “I see. If you like I could have the contract faxed here so you could sign it before I return to California.”

“That’d be great!” David said with forced brightness. “Give me a call when it arrives and I’ll make time to sign it”

Nate nodded. “OK. Sounds good. Good night, David.” He closed the car door and walked toward the motel entrance.

David struggled against a nearly overpowering impulse to throw open his car door and call Nate back to him and as he watched the young producer disappear into the building an aching sadness filled his chest.

He couldn’t define his feelings to himself. How could he hope to explain them to Nate? Frustrated, he slammed his fist against the steering wheel then sighed and steered his car out of the motel driveway and toward home.

 

Stay tuned for Chapter Two!


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