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Chapter Fourteen – Going Home

It had been six weeks since David and Nate returned from the cabin in Virginia, a month and a half that had proven to be a sore trial for both of them. First and foremost, the pain of being apart was a constant ache in their hearts. They both longed to return to the serenity and beauty of the Virginian mountains where they had shared such happiness, but the demands of their jobs kept them much too busy to travel, at least for the time being. Added to the unhappiness of being separated were the challenges of bringing their plans of finally living together to fruition. They had hoped for smooth sailing and very few complications. They were, of course, disappointed.

David’s talk with Rachel and the girls had been the one standout moment. Rachel was genuinely happy for him, and his daughters had damn near leapt for joy when he told them that he and Nate were a couple. It was clear that Nate had completely stolen their hearts during his brief encounter with them, and in fact David strongly suspected that he would have been faced with severe criticism had he returned to Charlottesville without Nate at his side.

The dean, his old friend Arthur Billingsley, had also been casually accepting of David’s revelation that he was now part of a gay relationship. “I always rather suspected you’d go that way,” he said with a shrug, leaving David feeling stunned and inclined to wonder how many others in his life had recognized this intimate detail of his psyche.

He knew that Arthur would keep David’s private information to himself, but he was also a realist when it came to how the university operated. News about his new relationship would get around one way or the other as such things always did, particularly since he intended to be a strong advocate for Nate’s associate professor position. He was relatively indifferent to their opinions either for or against his relationship, but he also couldn’t ignore those opinions completely because using his influence to add Nate to the university’s faculty was presenting more daunting roadblocks than he had anticipated.

The opening salvo came from Professor Reuben Fox, head of the Film and Media Studies department, the area to which Nate would be assigned if hired. Though he and David had worked closely together on several exhibits for the ‘Charlottesville Museum of History’, he had taken an oddly arbitrary position when it came to accepting Nate as an associate. David had given Nate a glowing recommendation, which Professor Fox had chosen to ignore. Frustrated, David made further inquiries, and learned that more conservative elements of the university’s faculty were determined to use university politics, an area in which David not only did not excel, but had little experience, to block Nate’s appointment.

He immediately suspected that the battle lines were being drawn between those who accepted homosexual relationships and those who did not, and his suspicions were confirmed almost immediately. Rumors reached his ears through those who supported his cause that a group of the more self-righteous and homophobic members of the faculty were actively campaigning against Nate’s entrance into their company, headed by Professor Fox.

Furious, David stormed into Arthur’s office, and demanded that Nate’s exemplary qualifications be considered above any other consideration. “The position’s open, Arthur,” David said shortly, pointing to the application paper he had retrieved from human resources. “If you allow them to discriminate against Nate because of his sexual orientation, he’ll have grounds to sue! His interview with you went splendidly–you said so yourself. Nate is totally qualified and his scholastic record is top-notch!”

“David, I know!” Arthur said, pointing to a chair next to his desk. “Sit down and let’s talk about it.”

“It’s that fucking Ruben Fox!” David said furiously. “Homophobic jerk.”

Arthur laughed shortly and nodded in agreement. “That he is. But, Dave, in order to help Nate you have to be a diplomat, not an avenging angel. You have to negotiate this thing carefully. Getting angry won’t help him get his appointment.”

David drew in a deep breath. “I know,” he said more calmly, “and I’m sorry I barked at you, Arthur. But Nate will have grounds to sue if they keep this up. And,” he added grimly, “I’ll do everything I can to convince him to do just that, up to and including informing the press!”

“Can we work on this a little bit before we start dragging in lawyers and reporters? You know I’m on your side. We can get around Ruben. Hell, no one likes the sorry son-of-a-bitch, not even his wife.”

“Can you blame her? He’s as mean as a snake! And I’m grateful for your support, Arthur, but as far as working on it a little bit, we’re running out of time!”

Arthur promised to have a talk with Reuben Fox, then leaving him to ponder the consequences of both lawsuits and press coverage of Nate’s case, David walked from the office.

He’d always been a quiet and unassuming professor. He’d climbed the ladder slowly. Through the years he had become a much-loved figure among both his fellow professors and his students. He had also, over the course of his twelve years at the college, done many favors for his fellow faculty members, favors that had never been returned.

Quietly, taking Arthur’s advice to be as diplomatic as possible, he began to call in those favors one by one. His own reputation as a man of integrity proved to be a deciding factor for most of them, and little by little he won them over. He was gratified by these successes, but his happiness was short-lived. Arthur called him into his office in early July and informed him of his opposition’s latest strategy.

“They’re going to take it public, David,” he sighed, clearly troubled by the prospect. “At least they want it debated by the university board.”

“Let them!” David said firmly. “I’ll welcome the chance to speak to the board on Nate’s behalf.

“Well, that’s certainly the last thing they’d expect,” Arthur said with a small smile.

They think I’ll back down, he thought stubbornly. They think I’m too afraid of damaging my reputation at the university to fight them at the board meeting.

He hadn’t told Nate any of this. During their daily conversations he assured Nate that all was proceeding normally and that his position would be granted before the end of summer. He only hoped and prayed that he was right. He had a twinge of guilt now and then about not being more honest with Nate about his battle with the more bigoted members of the university’s faculty, but shook it off with a quick sigh. It was almost two months before term began. He still had time to bring it all together.

***

In Los Angeles, Nate was having issues of his own because while David battled to win Nate’s position at the university, Nate was frantically trying to finish off every project still on his plate before the summer ended. Frazzled and nearly exhausted, he was putting in twelve and eighteen-hour days while still trying set aside time to talk with David.

Lance tried to help, but he had his own assignments to complete. Executive producers answered to studio management who were quick to demand that schedules be maintained and films be completed on time. Any producer who wanted to keep his job and receive choice projects in the future had to meet these requirements and Nate knew it, so he struggled to keep Lance as uninvolved as possible

At the same time, he was packing his belongings and either selling or giving away any possessions he wasn’t taking to Virginia. The time spent with David at the cabin became a dream of happiness that drifted on the far edge of his consciousness. Reality was a lot less peaceful and a lot more exasperating, and Nate was slowly becoming less and less able to cope with the constant demands on his time and energy.

“Christ, David,” he groaned one evening as they Skyped on the computer. “I’m ready to just fucking quit and walk away.”

“Do it!” David encouraged. “Lance won’t care, you know he won’t. You’re making yourself crazy with this stuff.”

Nate shook his head, looking at the face he loved, seeing the concern etched onto his expression. “I can’t, baby. I can’t leave Lance holding the bag that way. It would damage his reputation. It could keep him from getting other jobs.”

David scowled and shook his head. “Dammit!” he muttered in frustration, then sighed and forced a smile. “I’m sorry, Nate. I shouldn’t pressure you. You’re already pressured enough. And I love you for being the loyal, concerned friend you are to Lance.”

“No apology necessary,” Nate assured him. “I’m grateful for your concern, babe. And I won’t let it go on much longer. Hang in there with me.”

David agreed that he would, of course, and when their chat finally ended he arose more determined than ever to insist that the faculty holdouts confirm Nate’s appointment. He knew the associate professor’s position wasn’t the only choice possible. If that didn’t work out, Nate could easily get a job teaching at one of the many community colleges in the area or even in a local high school. Arthur had assured him that he would personally intervene to secure the best position he could for Nate outside of their own institution. But even though David was grateful for his support, he wasn’t yet ready to surrender his goal of having Nate join him as a member of the University of Virginia faculty.

He’d never before engaged in this kind of public debate, particularly one that involved an issue as private as his sexual orientation. Revealing intimate information to people who were virtually strangers to him went against his very nature.

“They’re waiting for you to wave a white flag, “Arthur informed him over dinner one evening. “Reuben as much as told me so day before yesterday.”

“That bastard!” David said angrily, but still forced a laugh. “You know what, Arthur?  A year ago– hell, six months ago–he might have been right. But the past year has changed me.” He thought about the cabin and his father’s journal. He shook his head and spoke thoughtfully: “A lot of things have changed me.”

“Well, that’ll be bad news for Reuben and his cronies,” Arthur said, throwing down his napkin.

“You’d better tell them, Arthur,” David said, leaning toward his old friend, “that I plan to consult a lawyer next week and I’m already in contact with a reporter from the Post and Courier and they will be with me at the board meeting.”

“Now, David, take it easy.”

“There’s no time left to take it easy. The new term will be starting shortly. They don’t have to defeat me, Arthur, all they have to do is delay me. I promised Nate that he’d get this job. His credentials are impeccable. He’ll make a great educator.  I refuse to be forced into a position where I have to face Nate and tell him that I let him down.”

“I don’t want that either,” Arthur assured him. “I know Nate’s qualifications and I want to help you fight for him, but David, I also have to think about this school and its reputation.”

David nodded understandingly. “Arthur, no one loves this university more than I do. I don’t want to see it hurt. But this kind of injustice has to reach beyond personal loyalties. Nate deserves this position and I’m not going to see him denied because of a bunch of redneck bigots. I’m sorry, old friend, but no matter what it costs, I’m not going to let it happen.”

David was no alpha male and he knew it, but he was fighting for Nate and that raised his courage to heights that he wouldn’t have believed possible. He felt sure that the faculty members opposing him were astounded at his willingness to carry this fight into whatever public arena was necessary. And this proved to be the critical factor that finally turned the tide. Convinced that his position was unyielding, and unwilling to see this battle fought in the press or in a courtroom, they began to slowly back down.

As July slowly evolved into the dog days of August, David’s preparation for the new term began to occupy more and more of his time. He spent several hours a day at his university office, touching base with students and preparing his new classes. He checked on his classroom and made sure that the books he had ordered were at the campus shop in sufficient number. But though these many preparations filled much of his day, he still managed to meet frequently with the faculty members critical to the approval of Nate’s position. Without the endorsement of these formidable professors, Nate’s appointment could be in jeopardy. Happily, most of them were completely supportive once David had presented Nate’s qualifications. The barriers were slowly falling.

He had booked his flight to Los Angeles and was leaving in two short weeks. He desperately wanted to be able to tell Nate upon arriving that his position as an associate professor had been secured, but time was drawing short. The board meeting was scheduled for early next week and though David had made tremendous progress he was still worried because no final decision had yet been reached. “I’ve got to push this through,” he moaned aloud, trying unsuccessfully to force his mind to focus on the more immediate task of completing final student schedules. He lifted his head in annoyance when Melinda entered and greeted her tersely: “Yes?”

“Dean Billingsley just called. He wants to see you in his office,” she said somewhat tentatively.

“Sorry, Melinda,” he apologized.  “Buzz his secretary and tell her I’ll be right up.”

He wondered, as he climbed the back stairs that led to the administrative offices, if this meeting was about Nate or about the upcoming term, and as he entered the office Arthur’s secretary waved him past her desk. “He’s expecting you,” she said.

“Hey there, Arthur,” David said in greeting, then stopped. Seated around the dean’s desk were three high-level faculty members, all of whom were fundamentally important to gaining Nate the associate professor position including his chief opponent, Professor Reuben Fox.

David sighed and steeled himself for a fight, feeling anger surge through him like a white-hot river.  Jesus!  he thought in irritation. It’s a fucking associate professor position. I’m not asking you to make him head coach of the fucking football team or anything REALLY important!

“Yes?” he said as he took the seat that Arthur indicated. “You wanted to see me?”

Arthur gave no response, but offered a sheaf of papers to David, who looked at them curiously without reading them. “These are his personnel papers, the ones he has to fill out, sign, and return to us before the beginning of term are marked.”

David leapt to his feet with a cry of elation. “Arthur!” he said, staggered by this sudden and unexpected victory. “Thank you!” He shook the Dean’s hand, then turned to the other men seated around the desk. “I’d like to thank all of you as well,” he added hoping that his tone was sufficiently gracious in spite of the fact that some of these men had bitterly opposed Nate’s appointment. He looked directly at Reuben Fox. “What about the board meeting?”

“We’ve removed the item from the agenda,” Fox replied. “But understand, David,” he added stiffly. “You forced this concession on us, so we’ll accept him. But he’s on probation for six months. He’s still got to prove himself.”

“And you understand THIS, Reuben,” David responded just as stiffly, leaning, defiantly, toward the professor. “If Nate gets a fair evaluation based solely on his work, that’s all I ask. But I will be watching and the evaluation had better pass muster.”

He felt Arthur’s restraining hand on his arm and wheeled to face him. “I mean it, Arthur. A fair evaluation.” He turned again to stare at Professor Fox. “Reuben isn’t the only one who can demand a board hearing.”

“Relax,” Arthur half-whispered. “It’ll be fair, I promise.”

David patted his arm. He nodded in understanding and gratitude and left the office clutching Nate’s papers tight in his hand. It had been a long and fatiguing summer. Never before had he fought against the university’s powerful political machine, and he was frankly astounded by the tenacity and determination with which he had dealt with their unfair resistance.

It wasn’t merely that Nate was worth fighting for, though that was unquestionably a strong part of his motivation. It was also that David was discovering reserves of previously unknown strength at the core of his being that urged him to express feelings and beliefs that he would never have allowed to surface before his trip the cabin and the revelations of his father’s journal.

He felt he understood his dad at long last, and he was determined not to live his life as his father had, with his song yet unsung. Oddly, he felt an emerging desire to make his father proud of him. And he strongly sensed that this battle to gain a fair and unbiased opportunity for Nate would have done just that. He knew instinctively that his father would have approved of his public struggle on behalf of the one he loved. And he also believed with all his heart that he could not have found the strength he needed without the insight he’d gained from his father’s brokenhearted memoirs.

“Thanks, dad,” he whispered, feeling his eyes burn with tears. “Thanks.”

***

On the West Coast, Nate was addressing a stubborn director with grim determination and more than a little anger. “I’ll tell you exactly how it is,” he said through clenched teeth. “I have zero patience left with your bullshit attitudes. We spent a LOT of money hiring this man to be your first AD, and you will either accept his qualifications and show him the respect he deserves or we’ll fire you and give him your fucking job! Now what’s it going to be?”

After securing the director’s reluctant assurances, he left and wound his way to Lance’s offices. He nodded briefly at Lance’s secretary, pushed open the door, and collapsed into a chair. “It’s settled,” he said with a sigh. “I let him hear the branch creak under him a bit.”

Lance looked up from the papers piled on his desk and laughed. “I could have sold tickets to that conversation.”

Nate scoffed skeptically. “He’s probably had the same conversation with thirty other AP’s. You’re going to have to watch that bastard. I don’t trust him not to come in over budget just to spite you.”

Lance nodded then shrugged. “Let him try it. If he comes in one minute over schedule for the duration of this shoot, that young AD of his is going to be wearing a new hat.”

“That’s basically what I told him.”

“Yeah?” Lance said. “Well I’m not just letting him hear the branch creak. I mean it!” He surveyed Nate, leaning back in his chair. “Now let’s talk about you. Where are you in this process?”

Nate sighed. “Not nearly as far along as I want to be, Lance, and I’m sorry.”

Lance smiled. “I have a bit of a surprise for you, kid.” He tossed a paper across to Nate. “Check it out.”

Nate was staring at a signed contract taking on a new associate producer. He looked back up at Lance, his mouth open in astonishment. “Where’d you find the money?”

Lance waved dismissively. “None of your business,” he replied brusquely. “He’s young, but he has some experience.”

Nate read the paper over with interest then shook his head doubtfully. “Lance, he only has college experience and a little bit of stage work! How’s he going to handle the mess I’ll be handing to him?”

“The same way you did: by the seat of his pants until he gets his bearings. You’ve got a week to bring him up to speed.”

Nate stared at the older man, feeling tears scald his eyes. “You took his salary out of your own, didn’t you.”

“So what?” Lance said, shrugging, then leaned toward him with a wry grin. “You seem to forget that as of the end of this month we’ll no longer be paying you! So I may end up being money ahead!”

Nate left the office an hour later having worked out a schedule to transfer his duties to the newly hired AP. “My God,” he breathed. “It’s done.” He looked to the west where the sun was slowly sliding toward the horizon, scarcely able to believe that the last of his many burdens would be gone within a week. He jumped into his car and gunned the engine. Then he steered the car out of the studio lot and headed for the freeway.

Two weeks later he was driving down the thoroughfares of LAX, on his way to pick up David at the arrivals area. Typically, David had insisted that Nate wait in the cell phone lot until he was securely on the ground and outside, and Nate had just received the joyful message:

“I’m here, darlin’. Come fetch me!”

Nate spotted him at once standing with his one piece of luggage, scanning the approaching cars. David waved wildly when he saw Nate’s Nissan and he dashed quickly over to open the door and clamber into the passenger’s seat, leaning over briefly to claim a quick kiss.

“My GOD, I’m glad to see you!” Nate laughed, grabbing his neck for another, longer, kiss. “It seems like years since we were together.”

David’s smile was so big it hurt his face. He was, he felt sure, incapable of finding words that could express the elation bursting in his chest at the sight of this beautiful man who so completely filled his heart.  He tried to curb the nearly overwhelming sense of possessive pride that simply sitting by Nate’s side brought to him, but couldn’t. He’s mine, he thought with quiet joy. There was no sense of ownership in his elation, and instead, a lifetime of hopeful wishes finally fulfilled.

“Right back at you,” he replied, reaching to claim Nate’s hand. “Hey, how’s the new AP coming along?”

“He’s actually pretty good! I’m relieved. I was scared to death that I’d be leaving Lance with a half-trained novice, but the kid’s got spine! Just today I saw him flay the skin off a jackass cinematographer who was trying to wring an extra day out of us. Couldn’t have done it better myself.” He grinned at David.  “How’s your end of things going? You’ve been pretty quiet about it lately. Are there problems?”

“Let’s wait ’til we get to your place,” David said, pretending a seriousness he was far from feeling. “I’ll tell you all about it then.”

Nate shot him a nervous glance, but allowed David to turn the subject to his daughters: how excited they were about school, and how they couldn’t wait for Nate to arrive in Virginia.

They walked into Nate’s apartment, each of them privately remembering the last time they’d been here together, the awful day when David had run out, presumably for good. David sighed and looked around. “Jesus!” he exclaimed in surprise. The apartment was littered with boxes of every size, shape, and description: some open, some sealed, some empty. “You’ve been busy!”

“Sorry for the mess,” Nate said, skirting the boxes to drag David’s suitcase toward the bedroom. “The movers will be here day after tomorrow!” he called from the door. “I have to have this stuff ready to go.”

David smiled, loving the chaos that only served as a remind and an affirmation. Nate would soon be with him in Virginia. He could still scarcely believe his luck. “I am the most grateful man in the world for this mess,” he assured him as Nate returned to the cluttered living room. “Where’s your couch?”

“In Jonathan Emerald’s basement,” Nate informed him with a grin. “We decided I didn’t need to bring it, remember?”

David nodded, and cleared away a space on the dining room table. “Got any wine?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Nate sighed out slowly. “I saved one bottle for us.”

“Get it,” David told him, smiling.

When he returned with two wine-filled glasses, he saw that David had spread a number of papers out on the table. David took a glass from him and lifted it in silent tribute.

“Congratulations, Professor Reese,” he said softly. “You are now an Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Virginia.”

Nate held his glass in a trembling hand, staring first at David, then at the papers. Finally, unable to contain himself, he sat his glass down and leapt into David’s arms, barely giving him the time to set his own wineglass on the table.

“Oh my God, David,” he breathed, relief and joy flooding through him in a rush. “You’d been so quiet about it lately. I thought something was wrong.”

David kissed him passionately, then feeling his pulse quicken, he kissed him again and held him close to his chest. “It’s been an interesting summer,” he muttered against Nate’s shirt. “I’ll tell you all about it on the trip home. But it worked out. We just need to get you back there now so you can start preparing for the new term. And,” he added with a dry chuckle, “I also have to bring you up to speed on your new boss.”

“Tomorrow’s my last day,” Nate told him. “We have dinner with Lance tomorrow night and the next day we’re off to Virginia. The movers have a key and all the instructions necessary.”

“Let’s sort through these,” David said, releasing him reluctantly. “There are a couple forms here that you need to sign tonight and fax tomorrow. The rest can wait.”

They arranged the papers and Nate quickly signed the ones David indicated. “By the way,” David added as he shoved the rest of Nate’s papers back into his briefcase, “have you told your parents about all this?”

“I have. They’re happy for me, even my dad, which rather surprised me. Usually he ignores the fact that I’m gay like it’s a wart on my nose. I had to promise we’d visit them soon though,” he added, looking apologetically at David.

David laughed. “Fathers can surprise you at times.” They exchanged a smile and a knowing look. “And I’d love to visit your parents, in fact I’m dying to meet them.”  He reached out and caressed Nate’s hair. “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll impress the living hell out of them. I promise.”

“I don’t doubt it for a minute,” Nate assured him. He folded the papers to be faxed and slid them neatly into his jacket pocket. When he lifted his head he saw David staring intently at him, his hazel eyes emerald green with desire, and he smiled. “I know that look, Teach. I’ve seen it before.”

“I hope you’ll be seeing it for as long as you live,” David murmured, holding out his hand. Nate took it with eager anticipation and they walked together into the bedroom.

Their lovemaking that night was beyond anything David had ever known, even with Nate. He was reminded of an altar, and for a moment the thought of Nate as a naked offering flashed through his mind. His hands skated over his lover’s body, moving slowly, fingertips barely touching his beautiful, smooth skin. Nate’s cries were an aphrodisiac and David added the touch of his lips and tongue to the gentle movement of his hands ghosting over Nate’s skin.

He kissed Nate’s nipples while his fingertips caressed every other part of Nate’s body that he could reach. He closed his eyes and lost himself to everything except the feeling of Nate’s body. Its porcelain beauty was echoed in its smooth, satiny feel. David leaned over him, his lips moved slowly down Nate’s chest. The skin under his tongue was honeyed cream. Still beautiful. Still silken smooth. He slid lower in their bed, wetting Nate’s nipples, then nibbling them until he felt his lover’s back arch and heard him groan in anguished pleasure.

He could hear his own breathing becoming labored as his tongue slowly moved lower. He wove a zig-zag path across Nate’s taut belly, then stopped to lick the dark skin of his tattoo. He was dimly aware of Nate’s whimpers above him. “Love you,” he whispered against the quivering flesh beneath his lips. “God, I love you.”

He felt Nate’s fingers clawing at his hair. The hardness of his erection pulsed against David’s cheek. He licked across Nate’s navel, feeling desire thunder through him, setting his body on fire. His own cock was rigid. Painfully so. He pressed himself against the bed as he lay between Nate’s legs, praying he would be able to control the longing that ripped through him long enough to satisfy them both. He turned his face to lick slowly up the length of Nate’s cock… wanting with all his soul to give this man that he loved more pleasure than he’d ever experienced before.

Nate gasped and arched in a frenzy of yearning. “Ohgod,” he moaned. “David…. Davy… please….”

David captured Nate’s erection between both hands as he leaned over him. His tongue lapped sensuously. After a moment, both hands moved to gasp Nate’s hips. He felt Nate lift his hips, and as he did David allowed his throbbing hardness to glide into his mouth. Nate’s hips twitched and he cried out, but David’s hands gripped him gently holding him still. He sucked gently, almost lazily, stopping now and then to swirl his tongue around the head, then flicking rapidly, paying special attention to the split on the underside of his penis.

He heard Nate above him. His body moved wantonly. Lifting his hips upward again and again. He was gasping for breath, nearly panting. Each exhale a whimpering moan. David thought he had never heard anything as erotic as Nate’s cries of pleasure. Each one slammed him like a physical touch, taking his breath, heightening his already feverish desire.

He hunched against the bed, rubbing himself against it as his tongue and lips caressed Nate’s hard male heat. He gripped Nate’s cock, pumping it gently as his tongue beat a pattern against the sensitive head. His other hand moved to caress his thighs, grazing his testicles.

“God, Davy!” Nate cried. “I’m going to come! I can’t stop!”

“Oh yes, you can,” David groaned, releasing him gently. “Wait,” he breathed. “Baby, wait.”

He licked and kissed his way up Nate’s belly and chest, extending his hand to the nightstand to grab the small tube he had laid there earlier. Now he pressed his body against the lean, strong frame beneath him and kissed him with passionate hunger. “Want you,” he whispered shakily. “Jesus, Nate… want you so much I could scream.”

“And I want YOU,” Nate replied. “Want you NOW. Enough foreplay. Enough with the teasing.” His fingers dug into David’s broad shoulder. “Fuck me!” he ground out between clenched teeth. “Fuck me now!”

David smeared them both with the slippery lubricant, and eased himself just barely inside Nate’s body. He felt his lover tense, so he stopped, though the aching need within him was nearly unbearable.

“OK?” he gasped. “Nate? OK?”

After a moment Nate nodded. “Now,” he whispered, nodding. “Now, Davy.”

Moving slowly, David joined his body to Nate’s until he had embedding himself deeply within his body. Now his hips began to thrust in a sensuous rhythm. Buried within him, David moaned and rocked, immersing himself. Nate’s body was a hot, tight furnace that clasped him in an iron grip. He thrust deeply again and again as Nate arched to meet him in a frenzy of yearning.

David bent and their lips met in a long, drugging kiss. He reached between them and grasped Nate’s hardness. There was no need for him to move his hand, the frenzied movement of their bodies was all that was needed. He merely gripped hard, whimpering as he felt himself on the raw edge of coming… desperate with need.

Nate’s fingers suddenly gripped his shoulders. He cried out… almost a scream as David pounded their bodies together, and came with ecstatic bursts of pleasure.

David continued moving, thrusting once, twice, then a third time. He pressed himself as deeply into Nate as he could and came with an intensity that shattered him. Nearly sobbing, David felt his head spin. His whole body felt the rapture of his orgasm, as though every pore had burst with it.

“Oh my god,” he gasped. “Oh my god, Nate. Nate.” As he murmured Nate’s name, he felt his lover’s hands moving over his back, stroking him gently. David’s arms encircled him, crushing them together. “Oh baby. Jesus, that was incredible.”

Nate gave a shaky laugh. “I know. God, Davy, I know.”

David kissed his cheek, then his shoulder. “Mmmmm.. god, so sweet.. so good.”

“It’s not always this good between us, David. I mean it’s always good. But this… this was… god, this was… amazing.”

David moaned low in his throat, then slowly slid to his side, feeling a touch of sadness as he slowly withdrew from Nate’s body. “Jesus, baby, I don’t know. And I’m not sure I care. I just know that tonight you took me to heaven.”

“You look eleven years old,” Nate said, his voice warm with love. “Let’s take a shower and get some sleep.”

David smiled and turned to crawl out of bed. Their reunion had been perfection. And no matter what followed for as long as they lived, David knew he would never forget this night.

Two days later they stood beside Nate’s Nissan that was packed to overflowing with luggage, small boxes, and any other item Nate considered essential and had managed to squeeze into the vehicle’s undersized luggage area. David was frankly astonished that it had all fit into the relatively small car and smiled as he remembered the reshuffling and repacking that had finally made it possible.

Their dinner with Lance had been an event filled with both happiness and aching sorrow. David shook the producer’s hand, trying to stammer out how grateful he was for Lance’s support and help, and Nate had cried unashamedly when they finally said farewell.

“Stop it,” Lance told him gruffly, wiping away tears of his own. “I told you. I’m coming out there in October to make sure you two are alright, so stop the bawling.”  He turned to David and jabbed a finger in his direction. “If I ever hear that you’re not taking good care of him…” He left the sentence unfinished.

“You won’t,” David assured him, taking Nate’s hand in his. “I promise, Lance. You won’t.”

Now it was time to leave. They climbed into Nate’s car, its dashboard covered with maps, its glove compartment containing directions to all the motels where they planned to stop along the way.

Nate laughed in pure exaltation, gunned the motor, and they sped away to face their future…together.

 


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Chapter Thirteen – Understanding Dad

The next few days passed in a haze of happiness. David and Nate walked the trails scattered throughout the area, discovering many new and wondrous vistas. Nate was fearless about clambering up onto heights that frightened David half to death, but he screwed up his courage and followed Nate doggedly. They discovered a waterfall that David had never seen before and they shared an unforgettable moment as they stood at the top, hand in hand, staring at the sparkling waters as tumbled to the valley floor below.

At night they lay entwined in David’s bed, the bliss of their lovemaking leaving both of them exhausted and utterly satisfied.  David would often lie beside his lover watching him sleep, stroking his hair or softly tracing the veins of his arm, scarcely able to believe that this creature, so lovely and so good of heart, was his to love and cherish. He felt he had stepped into a waking dream, and one from which he never wanted to awaken.

But their time in the Virginia mountains was drawing to a close. Nate could have stayed longer, but he felt he had to return to Los Angeles. He couldn’t leave Lance to finalize the projects they had begun together, including the one to which David was attached, all by himself. “You want your big, fat paycheck, don’t you?” Nate teased, then laughed when David rolled his eyes.

“I’d rather be here with you than have the fattest check Hollywood could cut me,” he replied. But David understood Nate’s reasoning and admired his loyalty to the friend whose urging had sent him here in the first place. “I’m grateful to Lance,” he told Nate as they sat drinking their morning coffee. “And I hope I get the chance to tell him so.”

David had not yet told him about the contents of the journal which he had discovered just the day before Nate arrived. He wasn’t sure how to bring it up and, in fact, felt a deep reluctance to revisit the memoir, a reluctance he pondered constantly. It’s the first time I’ve ever known dad to speak lovingly of me, he thought, puzzled by his own reaction. Why don’t I want to look further? What am I afraid of?

He resented his preoccupation with the journal, feeling that it sapped strength and energy which he would have preferred to give to his blossoming relationship with Nate. He felt flashes of irritation when the thought of his father’s journal came to mind, irritation which he knew instinctively that Dr. Mallory found revealing and worthy of exploration. But at the moment, David didn’t want to explore anything except the beautiful country around him and Nate’s fair, pristine body. He forced his mind away from thoughts of the book that lay on the desk behind the closed door of his father’s office, but every day that he did so, the thought nagged at him that he needed to shake off this reluctance and discover the truths hidden on its pages.

On their last day at the cabin they sat in the living room, Nate’s head resting comfortably on David’s shoulder, talking quietly about the past few days and what their time together had meant to both of them. David rose at one point to refill their wineglasses and when he returned, Nate was standing before the closed door that led to his father’s office. “What’s in there?” he asked casually, accepting the wineglass from David’s hand.

David sighed audibly, and Nate glanced quickly at his face. “That’s my father’s office,” David answered heavily.

“Don’t you mean your office?” Nate asked, moving closer, watching David’s face with careful scrutiny. “This is your cabin now, not his,” he added gently.

David smiled grimly, but his eyes never left the still-closed door. “It’s always seems like his place. Never occurred to me before that it might be mine.” He turned to Nate and bent to kiss his cheek. “There’s something I need to tell you.” He took Nate’s arm and drew him back to the couch.

They sat close together drinking their wine while David revealed to Nate some of the experiences he had gone through as a child. He spoke of his father’s coldness and criticism. He spoke of the sense of inadequacy he had always felt as a result. Nate listened without comment, only reaching now and then to stroke David’s hair or clasp his hand. Then finally David drew in a deep breath and told Nate about the journal and the singular passage that had shocked him to the core of his soul.

“I know I should read more,” he said, in a trembling voice. “But somehow I just can’t. I don’t know what I’m afraid of, Nate. I can’t get that fucking book out of my mind, but at the same time I also can’t make myself pick it up again and read it!”

Nate grasped David’s arms gently and shook his head. “No, Davy. No. There’s no should connected with this. There’s nothing you should do, now or ever. This is your cabin. That’s your office. And that journal isn’t your father’s anymore. It’s yours. It’s part of your heritage. It’s an explanation. It’s a clarification of many things that have troubled your life. But it’s also a book that you don’t ever have to read if you don’t want to. You can burn it. You can ignore it. You can tear out every page and bury them in the ground. Nothing you do with that book will be wrong!

David enfolded him in his arms, pressing his damp face to Nate’s neck, incapable of speech. He’d never before experienced such complete acceptance. Here in Nate’s arms David felt for the first time in his life that he had nothing to prove. Nothing to live up to. Nothing to compensate for. He was complete. And he was enough.

He knew he still had a long way to go, but at his deepest core he also realized instinctively that he had moved to a place of inner safety and would no longer be dominated by fears whose source lie buried deep in his past. Nate was his guide out of the darkness that had threatened to envelop him. Nate was his light into the future. He lifted his head and stared into his lover’s brilliant blue eyes. “Will you read it with me?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

Nate nodded, and together they entered David’s office and retrieved the leather-bound journal that lay waiting on the desk. They took it back to the living room and sat together on the couch, exploring its many pages as the afternoon shadows lengthened.

They discovered that Josiah Gardener had been a complex man with a deep and intense emotional core. But his own horribly abusive childhood had driven that tender and vulnerable man into a shell of fear and bitterness from which he had never been able to escape. His father, David’s grandfather, had been a violent alcoholic. In his journal, Josiah recounted many, many instances of both physical and emotional abuse heaped upon himself and his mother.

Emotion, tenderness, the expression of loving acceptance; these qualities had been internalized completely and covered over with a hard and protective shell. They discovered that the love he had for his wife and children was deep and abiding, but totally unexpressed.

David’s father wrote:

“Today I was made Superintendent of Schools for Charleston.  I should feel a sense of pride and achievement, but instead I am numb and dead inside. Would my father, cold and brutal man that he was, have finally expressed any pride in his son had he lived to see this accomplishment? I know the answer without asking the question. I’ve always known it. I could have scaled the highest mountain or achieved any level of success imaginable and he would have remained stony and unmoved. And yet who am I to criticize him? I give no more to my own son, who is infinitely more deserving of expressions of love and pride than I am myself. How I hate the man who made me what I have become! And how I hate myself for not being able to crack the mold he created and be free of him.”

David read this last and turned to Nate, his face white and his voice shaking with emotion. “My god, Nate, I could have written that passage myself! It’s exactly how I’ve felt about him for all these years!”

They turned to the last few pages in the book and read the final entry, written shortly before David’s father had passed away.

“I will die with even the smallest bit of tenderness within me still unexpressed, even to those dearest to me. I will die without them ever knowing how much I loved them. How much I longed to enfold them in my arms and beg for their understanding and forgiveness. But how can I ask them to understand what I do not understand myself? I cannot. And so I face the final days of my life alone, knowing with the deepest regret and pain that no one, no one, ever really knew the man that I am inside. The real man. I go to my grave without friend or family who can speak about who I really was. What a lonely and bitter end!”

“Jesus,” Nate whispered, his voice trembling with sadness. “Jesus, David.” He turned to his friend and saw that David was trembling all over, his face buried his hands. With a quiet moan he collapsed into Nate’s arms, crumbling into his lap, sobbing as though his heart would break.

Nate held David close and rocked him while he wept. Nate didn’t speak or try to console him. He knew this purging was necessary. David needed to grieve for the father he had never really known and for all the wasted years when they could have truly been father and son. Years that were gone now, never to be reclaimed.

Finally, David lifted his head. It had been years since he’d allowed himself to cry, to really experience the sadness and pain of that little boy who desperately sought his father’s love and approval. Now, he felt as though he would never stop crying.  His face was pressed to Nate’s damp shoulder and still he shuddered with sobs. But within himself he felt a sense of release and freedom breaking through the darkness. He felt one other thing as well, and his arms tightened around Nate, drawing him even closer, overwhelmed by intense gratitude to this beautiful man whose unconditional love and acceptance had helped lift out of despair at this critical moment in his life. With Nate’s help he had faced that dark place within him and had emerged into healing and light.

Finally David rose and stumbled to the bathroom, Nate close behind him, and splashed cold water over his face. When he turned back to Nate his face was deathly pale. “Listen, babe,” he quavered. “I’m gonna go for a short walk by myself. OK?”

“Dave… Davy,” Nate said, worry creasing his beautiful features. “Are you sure?”

David nodded and clasped his shoulder for a brief moment. “I’ll be OK. I won’t be long. Just need…a little time.”

Nate reluctantly nodded and watched as the man he loved walked out of the cabin and down the sandy path.  He tried to relax, tried to read, tried everything he could think of, but all he could manage to do was pace restlessly until, forty-five minutes later as evening was approaching, he saw David walking slowly toward the cabin. He instantly ran to meet him.

“Are you OK?”

David nodded and slid his arm around Nate’s slender shoulders. “I think so. It’s like…Jesus, Nate, it’s like…”

“A death,” Nate said understandingly.

“Yes! That’s it exactly.”

Nate nodded as they walked up the porch steps. “Because that’s what it was.” He turned to face David, both hands on his shoulders. “God, Davy, I’m so sorry.”

David quickly pulled Nate into his arms and held him close. They stood for a long time savoring each other’s embrace, taking healing from their closeness.

“He loved you so much, David,” Nate whispered at last. “He just didn’t know how to show it.”

“I know,” David whispered hoarsely. “I know.”

“Davy…baby, I’m so glad we read his journal.”

“I could never have done this without you,” David replied, his voice trembling again. “God, Nate. What am I going to do when you leave?”

They looked into each other’s eyes, then turned and walked into the cabin. This was the one subject they had yet to discuss, and they both knew the time had come when they had to face it. Nate was leaving the day after tomorrow. Their tentative plans were to return to David’s house the following morning, drop off Nate’s rental along the way, and then David would take Nate to the airport the following day.

David could scarcely bear to think about it. The past few days had been the happiest of his life, and the thought that Nate would soon be three thousand miles away and that they would once again be left with Skype sessions and emails was almost unsupportable. He tried not to overstate his sadness, but the look in his eyes spoke more eloquently than words about the depth of his sorrow.

After seating himself on the couch Nate turned and touched his cheek. “David, you know I don’t want to go.”

David nodded, chewing his lower lip, but didn’t speak.

“You’ve got the rest of the summer,” Nate said, trying to find a positive note. “You could come to LA for part of it anyway, couldn’t you?”

“Of course I will,” David told him. “You know I will. But Nate, that’s still only a temporary solution.”

“I know that, but what…”

“Listen to me for a second,” David said, interrupting him. “I have an idea.” He glanced at Nate’s face, and then drew in a deep breath. “Take a job at the university,” he said quickly. “You said you want to teach, well, I can help you get a position there. I have influence and I know they need associate professors.”

Nate stared at him open-mouthed. “Do you think…” he began. “I mean, do you honestly think there’s an available position?”

“I know there is,” David stated flatly. “They always want associates.” He grinned suddenly. “And part of the reason they always want them is that they don’t pay much, and you get a crapload of work dumped on you, at least at first. But Nate,” he added excitedly. “You wouldn’t need much money because you can live with me.”

Nate leaned back and looked at him. His face was furrowed with indecision, and he felt sudden doubts flame in his heart. “Look, Davy,” he said slowly. “That’s a big step, inviting someone to live with you.”

David’s eyes dropped. “I thought,” he said haltingly. “I thought maybe you’d want to…” his voice trailed off.

“Of course I want to!” Nate said, reaching to grab his arm. “But have you thought of what this means? Telling Rachel and the girls? Telling your friends? The people you work with? It’s a huge change in your life.”

David looked at him for a moment then burst into laughter, his body shaking all over with mirth as a slow smile also spread across Nate’s face. “What the hell’s so funny?” Nate asked at last.

“Have I thought about it?” David queried, shaking his head, still laughing softly. “Jesus, Nate, for the past three months that’s all I’ve thought about! Hell, since the day I met you that’s the only thing I’ve thought about.” He studied Nate for a moment, then smiled, his face glowing with love. He took Nate’s hand in his. “I want you in my life,” he said, his voice soft, but filled with resolve. “And I’m fully prepared to face any changes that having you in my life might bring. The only change I can’t bear to face is not having you with me.”

Nate tried to speak past the ache that tightened his throat, but couldn’t. He tightened his hold on David’s hand and nodded. “A crapload of work, huh,” he croaked out at last.

David grinned happily and nodded. “A shit ton of it,” he said with mock seriousness.

“Well,” Nate said with a resigned shrug. “Sounds like every associate job I’ve ever had, so I know damn well I can do it.”

David burst once again into laughter, but this time it was the laughter of pure joy. He clasped Nate tight in his arms, covering his face and throat with kisses.

“Nate, Nate… Jesus, Nate,” he murmured over and over again. “I can’t believe it, baby! I can’t believe it.”

“Well, believe it,” Nate informed him. He bit gently on his own lower lip and with frowning concentration began to unbutton David’s shirt.

“How dare you, sir,” David protested, giggling, while at the same time making no attempt to stop Nate’s nimble fingers.

“I DO dare,” Nate said, unbuttoning the second-to-the-last button.

“How double-dog dare you, sir!”

“Pfffffffft!” Nate scoffed, grabbing at the final button.

“How TRIPLE-DOG DARE you, sir!” threatened David at last.

“Too late!” Nate said, tugging the shirt over David’s head.

“You are a very forward young man,” David observed, reaching to grab the hem of Nate’s T-shirt.

Nate raised his arms slightly so David could pull the shirt up and off then drew their chests together with a soft moan. “And just where would I be if I wasn’t?” he murmured, his arms going back around David’s neck.

“Shut up,” David whispered. He kissed Nate again and again, nibbling his lower lip, caressing it with his tongue, while his fingers reached between them to tug first at Nate’s zipper, then at his own. “We have too damn many clothes on,” he muttered against Nate’s mouth, trying without much success to push their jeans down and away from the hardness that throbbed beneath.

“I think we’ve taken this couch thing as far as it’ll go, ” Nate told him, wriggling away so he could stand, nearly tripping over his jeans as they fell to his knees. “C’mon, Teach. Let’s go to bed.”

David stood and dragged Nate into his arms for a long lingering kiss. The sensation of their nearly-naked bodies pressed close wrenched a cry from his throat and he crushed Nate against him.

“Bedroom, David. Right now!”

David’s arm stayed around Nate’s waist as they stumbled to the bedroom, only stopping once or twice to press their lips together in passionate kisses, and remove the last of their clothing before they tumbled onto the bed.

“Oh God, yes,” David moaned as he covered Nate’s slender body with his own. “Jesus, you are so beautiful!”

Nate was already reaching to the bedside table for a small tube of lube and a condom which he quickly shoved into David’s hand. “Less talk,” he demanded, pushing David gently back so that he could roll onto his stomach. “More action.”

After a moment he gasped as David’s lips began a slow, languorous slide down his spine complete with plenty of warm breath flowing over his skin, firing off pleasurable nerve endings he didn’t even know he had. “Mmmm, Dave,” he moaned softly, lost in rapture. “Dave, Davy…  so good!”

“Turn over,” David murmured, nudging at his hip. “I want to see you. I want to see your eyes.”

Nate turned to his back, then gasped again as David’s caresses swept over his body. After days of lovemaking, David knew just what to do to turn Nate into a trembling, pleading mass of sensation. He knew Nate’s body better than he knew his own. It was his treasure and he had mapped every erogenous zone. For David there was no greater ecstasy than taking all the time he wanted to revisit each of them one by one. He took a long time touching and caressing, nearly wallowing in the pleasure, loving the trembling of Nate’s body, loving the sight of him as his desire grew.

Finally, slowly at first, he made Nate ready for their lovemaking. His skillful, lube-slicked fingers entered his lover’s body and moved in and out in a blood-slow rhythm that was matched by the rhythmic rise and fall of Nate’s hips and the labored tempo of his breathing. “Please, Davy,” he whimpered at last, hands white-knuckled from clutching the sheets on either side of him. “Enough teasing!”

David gave a choked cry and leaned over Nate’s body pressing his hardness to the small, puckered opening. “Slow, baby,” he whispered hoarsely. Moving bit by bit he eased himself into Nate’s body, biting his lip against the surge of desire that ripped through him like wildfire. “Christ, Nate!” he moaned, as they slowly became one together, melting into Nate’s body, losing himself completely in the bliss of their joining. And then he began to move.

Nate gasped. “Harder, Dave!” he cried, clutching at David’s shoulders. “Oh, God yes!”

And as much as David feared causing him any discomfort he found it impossible to resist his lover’s voice coupled with the overpowering urge to plunge into him again and again, losing himself in pleasure as Nate arched his hips wildly to accept David’s thrusts.

David grasped Nate’s lube-slick cock in his right hand and stroked it in a short, lightning-fast motion that had Nate crying out again and again. In seconds they were both thrusting, arching, writhing… all control lost as they claimed each other’s bodies…feeling the pleasure building–growing–taking them to the very edge of sanity until finally Nate gave a wild cry and his body clenched as he came into David’s fist. Seconds later David joined him in ecstasy, convulsing against him in jolt after jolt of white-hot pleasure then collapsing on top of him, feeling utterly spent.

For long minutes neither of them moved. They lay listening to their harsh uneven breathing, trembling all over from the force of their climax and the frantic pace of their lovemaking.

Finally David levered himself up onto his arms and slowly fell to his side, moaning as he slipped from Nate’s body.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Nate gasped between frantic breaths, turning to flop onto to his back.

David heard himself laughing softly and he turned to lean over Nate on one elbow. “My God, is it possible I’m getting better at this?”

“Who would’da thought it?” Nate asked, grinning. “Guess that book came in handy after all!”

David chuckled, then bent and kissed Nate’s swollen lips with exquisite tenderness. “Thank you,” he whispered.” Thank you for this and for everything that came before.”

“You mean came before we did?” Nate asked, giggling.

“I mean it,” David said, in a voice thick with tears. “You healed me.”

“No,” Nate whispered, caressing his cheek, thinking as he did that this face had become the most precious, beloved thing in his life. “You healed yourself, baby. I was only there as a witness. It took an amazing amount of courage to open that journal and read. You found that courage within yourself. I didn’t put it there.”

David shook his head doubtfully, convinced within himself that it was the love of this good and gentle man that had helped him find the courage he so desperately needed at this turning point in his life. He would never believe anything else. He bent again and kissed Nate softly. “Shower, babes?” Nate nodded and they both rose.

They spent the rest of that evening preparing to close the cabin and packing for their trip the next morning. For David this task, which had so filled him with dread the day before, had become a joyful experience, filled with trembling expectation.

“I hope we come back here soon,” Nate said, helping David to shutter the windows. “I’m going to miss this place.”

“We’ll be back,” David assured him. “We’ll be coming back here for the rest of our lives.”  Nate turned to look at him. “I know!” David said, laughing. “An incredible thought isn’t it?”

Nate scoffed. “Incredible doesn’t begin to describe it.”

Their plans for the next day hadn’t changed. They would drop off Nate’s rental car and David would take him to the airport the following day. But afterward, Nate would tell Lance that he was leaving and begin the process of packing for his move to Virginia. David would fly out at the end of the summer to join him, and together they would drive back to Charlottesville in Nate’s car.

In the meantime, David would tell his daughters and Rachel of their decision. Gaining Nate a position at the university might also mean having to quietly inform the dean and perhaps other key faculty members. He anticipated no problems, but even if there were, his course was set. Nothing would change his mind now. Nothing.

This chance at happiness had come to him out of the darkest period in his life and he would never take back the future they had planned here in his cabin.


Want sneak peeks at new Janice Jarrell projects? How about deleted scenes, alternate endings, early drafts, book release details, and exclusive giveaways?
Join our VIP group, Jan’s Jazzy Jammers, for a behind the scenes look at all of this and more!

WIN A KINDLE FIRE 7 FILLED WITH
FOURTEEN BOOKS FROM TOP MM AUTHORS!

Important announcement! We’re holding a Rafflecopter for Love’s Trials release with some HUGE prizes, including a Kindle Fire 7 filled with FOURTEEN books from some top MM authors, including an audio copy of Joe Cosentino’s Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back.

EVERY CLICK IS AN ENTRY, ANOTHER CHANCE TO WIN!!

Here’s the list of included authors: Author Janice JarrellT.N. NovaColette DavisonSean KerrEM DenningDara J Nelson,
A.d. EllisAimee Nicole WalkerKatze SnowLily LambAuthor Ga HauserNora Phoenix, and Joe Cosentino!

Every click is an entry… another chance to win!! So click them all!!!


Website and Blog

Social Links: jjarrell@lovestrials.com
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Chapter Twelve – Where You Are

Feeling more frightened than he’d ever felt before, Nate drove slowly down the winding dirt road. At a point where it curved sharply to the right, he stopped the car and got out. He stood for a moment, debating, then wheeled and walked straight ahead. For some reason he couldn’t even explain to himself, it was important to approach David’s cabin quietly on foot. He moved slowly along the sandy path, his eyes constantly searching ahead.

David, meanwhile, was inside preparing his dinner. He’d tried to put thoughts of his father’s journal to one side, choosing to wait until the next day to continue reading it–if he continued to read it at all. But he was drawn back again and again to that singular passage, the one which had, supposedly, been about him.

Jumbled thoughts churned in his mind as he tried to come up with an explanation for his father’s words. Perhaps his dad had been writing a book or a story. Perhaps he had simply been writing about someone else. None of this made any sense, but to David there was also no sense in the idea that his father actually wrote those loving words about him. The passage bore little resemblance to his experience of the man.

Sighing, he lifted his plate and wandered outside, thinking how pleasant it would be to eat his dinner on the porch, watching the beautiful and varied hues that colored the mountains as the sun set in the west. He moved to the porch and set his plate down then wheeled, catching movement out of the corner of his eye.

A figure was approaching the cabin, walking slowly down the path that led from the road. It was a man, lean and dark-haired. David’s heart began to pound before his mind was able to grasp what was happening. Recognition stuck him, staggering him where he stood. “Nate?” he whispered in disbelief. Suddenly he was filled with soaring exultation. He leapt forward, stumbling down the steps, running down the sandy path, running forward to meet him.

“Nate!” he cried as he ran, and saw the man rush toward him. “Nate!” He felt an irrational fear crush his heart. What if this were mere illusion? What if he reached him only to find that he wasn’t really here after all?

They met thirty paces from the cabin and David instantly clutched Nate to his chest, saying his name again and again as if that one precious word were the only thing that could make this moment real. But Nate was solid and warm beneath his hands, his body firm as it pressed against David’s. He was here. It wasn’t a dream. He was here.

Nate’s hands fisted in David’s hair and he dragged David’s lips to his, kissing him with infinite longing…infinite love. They stood that way for many minutes kissing each other in a mindless fog, their hands moving against each other’s bodies, needing the reassurance of solidity–of reality.

“My God,” David whispered haltingly. “My god, I can’t believe it! You’re here!” He buried his face against Nate’s neck unable to bear the thought of releasing him.

“I’m here,” Nate whispered, his arms tight around David’s body, holding him against his own. “Jesus, David,” he said at last, his voice trembling. “Jesus.”

After another long moment held close in each other’s embrace, they loosened their grip just a bit and looked into each other’s eyes, then shared a trembling smile.

“Surprise,” Nate whispered, and David laughed out loud.

“My god, you can say that again,” he murmured, draping his arm around Nate’s shoulders. “C’mon. Come sit down with me before I collapse.”

They moved to the cabin’s porch and sat close together on a cushioned glider. Neither could bear to let the other go and they held each other tightly, renewing and remembering, feeling the bond between them reignite and flame into being.

David’s face broke into a radiant smile as he felt joy spring to life within him, sudden and immediate. Nate’s nearness was overwhelming. David could see nothing else, feel nothing else. The cabin disappeared. Nate’s presence dominated the space around them and David lowered his eyes again, struggling to draw in a breath. Then he shook his head. His hand, as it reached to touch Nate’s arm, was trembling. “I guess the first thing to say is ‘I’m sorry’,” he murmured. “When I ran out that day…”

“No,” Nate interrupted quickly. “There’s no need for ‘I’m sorry’.”

“Yes, there is,” David said firmly, grabbing Nate’s hand. “Not one word that came out of my mouth that day reflected what I really felt. Not one word.”

“We have that in common,” Nate said, lacing his fingers with David’s. “We were both upset and handling it like jerks.”

David shook his head again. “There’s more though, Nate. When you called me a bully? That’s when I lost it. It was–I felt…” He shook his head as if trying to clear it. “It was a kind of emotional breakdown. At least that’s what my therapist thinks. My father…” David said, then stopped, waiting out the unbearable ache in his throat.

Nate reached up to stroke his hair. “Go on,” he murmured encouragingly.

“My father,” he continued finally, his words heavy with sadness, “was a bully. He was a cold and unemotional man who never seemed to think much of me.” He looked up into clear, blue eyes that returned his gaze with love and acceptance. “When you said that word it was like an emotional tsunami. I couldn’t think. Couldn’t cope. I just ran.”

“I understand,” Nate assured him gently, feeling his heart ache at the thought of what this kind, unassuming man had suffered as a little boy. “Davy, I’ve studied psychology, and while I sure don’t claim to be an expert, I could tell that day that something out of the ordinary had happened to you.”

David lowered his head, trying to wait out the feelings that threatened to overwhelm him. He felt Nate’s hand gently stroking his hair and lifted his head to gaze into those extraordinary blue eyes. “Thank you,” he said, his voice halting.

“I’m just sorry I couldn’t do more that day to help…to reach you.”

David shook his head and tightened his fingers around Nate’s. “No one could have reached me that day. But it was the jolt I needed to get me into therapy, and that has helped. It’s helped a lot.”

“Jesus, Davy, I’m so glad.”

“It was losing you,” David said decisively, holding Nate’s hand more tightly. “It was the pain of losing you that forced me to see how much I needed help.”

Nate made a comical face. “Well, I’d rather not have been the one to ram that lesson down your throat.”

“Better you than not having it rammed at all!” David told him his voice catching in a soft laugh.

Nate laughed too and David felt a thrill of happiness cascade through him. “God, I love to hear you laugh,” he murmured, pressing a kiss to Nate’s lips.

“Well, I’ll do it more often if that’s going to be my reward,” Nate told him, grinning. “Hey!” he said suddenly. “You don’t know! I got my doctorate!”

“You got your PhD?,” David repeated in a voice filled with wonder. “God, Nate, I’m so proud of you.” He reached to caress Nate’s cheek, then his eyes widened. “How the hell did you know where to find me?”

“Rachel told me,” Nate said and laughed again at the look of stunned surprise that crossed David’s face.

“And by the way,” Nate continued. “The girls are taking good care of the gardens.”

David leaned back, eyebrows raised, shaking his head in amazement, then he nodded with a soft laugh. “With Rachel as supervisor I assume.”

Nate giggled and leaned in to briefly touch his lips to David’s, and in the next instant David was kissing him back with intense passion, feeling his every nerve ending catch fire as Nate’s soft lips opened eagerly under his. Desire poured through his body in a roaring rush, and he moaned. His arms tightened around Nate as they kissed and Nate’s arms wound around his neck holding him in an iron grip.

They kissed again and again without speaking, hungrily devouring each other’s lips with a passion fueled by long weeks of painful separation, by their broken hearts, and by their longing for this moment when they both might find healing.

“Oh my God,” Nate gasped finally, feeling his body ache and melt with desire. “Dave…Da…” He had barely begun to speak David’s name when his lips were captured again in kiss after hungry, passionate kiss. It seemed to Nate that David could not get enough, that even breathing meant less to him than the taste of Nate’s kisses.

“We’re going to scare the birds,” he whispered against David’s seeking lips.

“Fuck ‘um,” David growled.

They stood and moved together through the cabin and up the stairs to David’s bedroom in a fog of desire. Slowly they undressed each other, taking their time, pausing as each article of clothing was removed in order to caress and kiss newly revealed skin. Finally they moved to the bed and fell onto it, with Nate’s body pinned beneath David’s. “Nate,” he moaned. “Oh God, baby, I’ve missed you so damn much!”

Their bodies molded together as they kissed again and again in all consuming bliss, writhing against each other as their passion grew.

“Dave,” Nate gasped. “Dave…sweetie…wait.”

David felt drugged by the intensity of his desire, but he lifted his head at the sound of Nate’s voice.

Nate laughed softly, his hands moving to cradle David’s face. “Remember that discussion we had about anal sex?” He interspersed each word with soft kisses and his fingers gently stroked David’s unruly hair.

David smiled slowly and bent to return Nate’s kisses. “I do.”

“You think you might be ummm, up to giving it a try?”

David laughed softly against Nate’s neck. “I’m up for just about anything tonight.”

“Well, it will require a short intermission and a walk to my car,” Nate said giggling, “because I left all the necessary…ummm…supplies there.”

David nodded in understanding and leaned back to stand up, holding out his hand to Nate. “Well, let’s go get them,” he said, cheerfully. “How far away is the car?”

“Not far,” Nate said, taking his hand. They walked, stark naked, to the porch and then down the sandy path, laughing like loons at their risqué appearance.

“Does anyone live close enough to spot us?” Nate asked as they walked to the rental car.

“What?” David asked. He’d been completely enthralled by the sight of Nate’s soft, pale body glowing in the evening light and hadn’t heard a word he’d said.

Nate repeated his question and David shook his head. “No one around for miles,” he replied.

They grabbed Nate’s luggage and carried it back to the cabin, then quickly returned to the upstairs bedroom.

David lay down on the bed, watching with eager anticipation as Nate opened his suitcase and removed several objects.

He turned back to David. “We have to use a condom.”

David nodded.

“I’d rather not,” Nate said, but there’s still an outside chance that…” he stopped, his beautiful face suddenly twisted with bitterness.

“Nate, baby, it’s OK. I understand. You’re here. That’s all that matters.”

Nate smiled and walked closer to the bed, carrying the items he’d removed from his suitcase. “You sure that’s all you care about?” he asked coyly, noting the hardness of David’s erection

“Get over here,” David growled, more inflamed than ever by the sight of Nate’s soft-hued, naked body, “before I come and get you.”

Nate moved to lie beside him. “I brought the heated kind,” he teased, reaching to caress David’s chest.

David made no response. His arms caught Nate close while his lips and tongue found that pale, beautiful throat, caressing the smooth skin with tongue, feeling desire flame within himself as the taste of Nate’s skin drove him wild with need. “Nate,” he moaned. “Oh God, Nate,” His fingers moved to caress Nate’s body, overwhelmed with the force of his longing to taste…to touch…to reclaim the man he loved.

Nate groaned, his body thrashing restlessly as his desire grew. Each touch of David’s fingers spread fire through his body, leaving every nerve ending alive and aching with need. They moved as one to grasp the lubricant, but David quickly took it from Nate’s hand and smeared it liberally over each of them. “I’ve been studying,” he whispered.

Nate laughed softly and slowly turned onto his stomach. “Well, I’ll grade your performance later on.”

Stumbling a bit, and a little unsure if he was doing it correctly, David tried to prepare Nate for their lovemaking. Nate gently encouraged him, gasping as David’s fingers slowly entered his body. “That’s it,” he breathed. “God, Davey, yes…that’s exactly right. Ohhh God, so good.” And then finally:  “That’s enough, baby. That’s good. Do it now…please!”

David slipped the condom over his arousal, barely able to control his trembling hands, and shakily applied more oil. Then, trying to move carefully, he pressed his erection against the opening to his lover’s body and slowly entered him. He was immediately overwhelmed by sensation as Nate’s body closed tightly around him. Gasping and whimpering, he fought not to climax too soon as he carefully sheathed himself and began a slow, deep thrust.

“God!” Nate gasped, his fingers gripping the pillow beneath his head. “Oh!” Eyes closed, he was lost in an equal mixture of pain and unbelievable pleasure. He gasped again as David began to thrust harder. “God, baby…easy…easy. Dave…baby…go slow.”

Nate’s words seeped into David’s consciousness through a blood-red haze of desire. He drew in a deep breath and forced himself to slow his movements when he realized that he was causing Nate pain. Trembling with the effort he settled into a slow, steady rhythm, withdrawing then thrusting again, entering and re-entering Nate’s body. He felt the slender frame beneath him begin to relax. “Jesus,” he moaned, feeling his heart pounding madly in his chest. “Jesus, Nate…” He gasped his name again and again, drowning in rapture, lost in a feeling of unity that surpassed anything he had ever known.

Moving slightly faster, he heard Nate cry out again and knew instantly that his cries denoted pleasure, not pain. Nate rose to his knees, pushing back against David’s thrusts as they grew harder, more forceful, driven by an all-consuming yearning. Desperately David reached beneath Nate to grasp the throbbing hardness of his lover’s erection. Their bodies moved in a desperate rhythm, and for a few moments they thrashed together wildly, straining to find release.

David’s climax hit him with a sudden, intense force. Nearly sobbing in ecstasy, he lost himself completely to the huge bursts of pleasure that wracked his body. “Oh God,” he moaned. “Oh Nate, Nate, I love you so much!”

He felt Nate spasm, crying out David’s name in a strangled voice as he spilled himself over David’s fist, collapsing onto the mattress with David on top of him.

For a long time the room was silent except for their soft, whimpering moans of completion and erratic breathing. They lay molded together without moving, hearts pounding, deeply reluctant to separate. Finally David drew in a long breath. “My god, Nate,” he whispered then inhaled in another long, shuddering sigh.

“My God yourself,” Nate panted into the pillow. “You say you’re a novice at this?”

David laughed softly and slowly withdrew, leaning on his hands, feeling a sudden sense of sadness as he slipped from Nate’s body. “That was wonderful,” he breathed as Nate turned to his back, and he quickly gathered him close in his arms.

Nate gave a soft, contented moan of agreement and snuggled close, his head resting on David’s chest. “Am I dreaming?” he asked sleepily, “or did I hear you say ‘I love you’ just now?”

David chuckled and kissed the top of his head. “You know damn well you weren’t dreaming. I do love you. I think I always have.”

Nate lifted his head and gazed into his lover’s hazel eyes. “I love you too, David,” he said quietly. “The biggest regret I had after you left was that I hadn’t told you that when you were with me. I promised myself that I’d never let it happen again. So there it is. I love you.”

David captured the back of Nate’s neck and drew him down into a soft, lingering kiss. Then he became aware of the damp sheets beneath them and grimaced. “Uh, should we, maybe…”

Nate laughed and clambered from the bed. “Yeah. A shower might not be a bad idea.”

David grinned at him. “Thanks, teach. It’s right around there,” he pointed. “While you’re in there I’ll do something with this bed.”

Nate followed David’s pointing finger and found the small bathroom just outside the bedroom door. “I should suggest that you join me,” he called out as he turned the water on.

“Next time!” David called after ridding himself of the used condom. He rummaged in the cupboard for a clean bottom sheet. “I’m gonna need to buy more sheets,” he muttered as he dragged out a piece of clean linen.

“What’s that?” Nate asked over the sound of the shower running.

“Nothing,” David called in response, giggling as he changed the bed.

He stood beside it afterward staring down at it as though he’d never seen it before. He could not ever remember having known passion and pleasure that could compare with what he had experienced this night. He shook his head in wonder. The fact of Nate’s presence alone was enough to leave him dizzy with happiness, but tonight was light-years beyond anything he had even suspected was possible. He had no yardstick with which to compare the intensity of the love they had just made together. If someone had told him such ecstasy was possible, he would have written them off as a hopeless romantic with no notion of what real life was all about.

But this was real life. And, further, this was his life. And Nate was with him. He had no idea what their future would bring. He didn’t know Nate’s plans yet, or his goals. But the reality of his presence here was all the promise David needed that the future was going to be bright and beautiful. Maybe that was wishful thinking. They still hadn’t known each other for very long, and this was just one night.

But something within David was whispering that the future was happening right now and that he was safe to trust it. This was a voice that David had never heard before. This was the soft and authentic voice of love. And he believed it.

He heard a soft noise behind him and turned to see Nate standing with a towel wrapped around his hips, his pale, perfect body glistening with water drops, looking like every dream of love David had ever known. And, smiling, he moved to greet him.

***

They shared breakfast the next morning on the cabin’s porch. Nate wolfed down bacon and eggs, commenting constantly about the beauty of their surroundings. David agreed with him, but thought to himself as he gazed at Nate in wonder that those surroundings, lovely though they might be, were merely a framework for the beauty of the man who sat at his side.

“What are your plans?” David asked as they sipped their morning coffee.

Nate reached across the small table and took David’s hand. “First off, I want to tell you that I turned down the feature.”

“Nate!” David cried in alarm. “No! I didn’t want you to do that!”

Nate laughed and waved dismissively. “Oh, stop it. You damn well did want me to do that, and furthermore I wanted to do it.”

David shot him a dubious look. “Well,” he drawled, his southern accent caressing the word, “I suppose you’re right that I would have preferred that you not take on that kind of burden. And,” he added, smiling. “I am glad you’re not doing it.”

“Actually,” Nate told him, “I’m thinking about looking for a teaching job. Been scouting out some LA colleges and universities. Just getting the lay of the land…seeing what’s available.” His handsome face registered disgust. “I’m so damn sick of the pace in the movie industry. It’s just never-ending. I want a slower life.”

David restrained himself from blurting out the thought that leapt immediately to mind. Get a job out here! Time enough to make that kind of suggestion once Nate had gotten a look at the place. It was enough for now that he was here.

“So tell me what you do all day,” Nate said, dusting toast crumbs from his fingers.

“Well,” David said, then indicated the surrounding landscape with a wave of his hand. “I do a lot of walking. There’s a ton of trails that run all over this side of the mountain. There’s even a small lake just down that trail. Really pretty. I read…” he shrugged, “I think…” He laughed, “Probably do more of that than is good for me.”

“Show me around,” Nate suggested eagerly. “I’d love to walk some of these trails. See the lake maybe?”

“Really?” David said with delight. “I’d love to show you.” He sat silently for a long moment looking at Nate.

“What!” Nate demanded at last, laughing.

“I was just thinking,” David said softly, reaching to take his hand, “that I’ve thought so many times that this place would be a thousand–a million–times more beautiful and healing if you were here by my side. And now you are, and I can hardly believe it.”

“Well, believe it,” Nate said, rising. “I think I’ve got some better walking shoes in the trunk of my rental car.”

“You should pull it up here by the cabin,” David suggested.

Nate moved his car and parked it next to David’s while David prepared some supplies that they could take with them. Then they changed for their walk. They were gone the better part of the afternoon, exploring the nearby trails, and finally wandering down to the small lake that decorated the valley floor. David had prepared a picnic lunch and they sat on rocks near the lake eating it, drinking the wine they’d carried with them, passing the bottle back and forth since they’d forgotten to bring glasses.

It was a hot Virginia afternoon, and the pines above them danced on a gentle breeze, casting their moving reflections onto the glass-smooth waters. When David and Nate were done eating, they stripped off their clothes and dashed into the clear, mountain lake, yelping as its still-icy waters closed around them.

After splashing around for quite some time they returned to shore, drying quickly in the heat of the sun. David reached into his backpack and pulled out a small blanket. Once it was spread he and Nate stretched out upon it, Nate’s head resting on David’s shoulder. They breathed deeply, taking in the clear mountain air and the comforting scent of each other’s bodies.

David leaned up on his elbow, Nate’s head falling to the crook of his arm. He bent toward him, allowing his tongue to softly stroke Nate’s lower lip before gently entering his mouth to touch their tongues together in a damp caress. They kissed tenderly, tongues stroking, seeking, caressing, feeling the ache of desire flood through their bodies, slowly consuming them.

“Making love on a blanket, naked under the sun, huh?” Nate whispered, “Never done that before.”

David smiled down on him. “Hey, there’s a first time for everything.”

They spent the next hour and a half lost in the rapture of their union, feeling the love that bound them together growing deeper, more intense, more unbreakable.
For a very long time afterward they simply lay on the blanket holding each other as eventually their breathing and heartbeats returned to normal. Nate’s head was cradled on David’s chest and as he breathed in David’s scent, his fingers moved aimlessly in the soft mat of his chest hair. “Mmmmm,” he sighed. “You feel so good.” His voice was sleepy and David smiled.

“Unless you tell me otherwise, I’m going to assume that you’ve forgiven me,” he murmured softly, bending to kiss Nate’s hair.

“Well,” Nate drawled, nestled against David’s chest. “I’m usually not a fan of assumptions, but in this one instance…feel free.” He lifted his head toward David and drew him close for a slow, lingering kiss.

“What took us so long?” David mused suddenly. “I mean, it’s pretty clear that we both wanted this. Why were we resisting?”

“I wasn’t resisting,” Nate reminded him, laughing. “Or don’t you remember the seven thousand text messages and voice mails.”

David nodded with a remorseful shake of his head. “I remember, babe.” He paused, pondering what his motives were during that dark time in his life, then he shrugged. “It felt to me as though I showed more love for you by staying away. At least that’s how it felt back then.”

“I hope you know that’s bullshit, David,” Nate told him, softening the words with a gentle caress of his cheek. “And if you didn’t know it then, know it now. No movie could ever mean more to me than you do. I know we’d only been together for a little while but I honestly didn’t think my intentions were that unclear.” He laughed and gently ruffled David’s hair.

David grimaced comically. “They weren’t,” he said ruefully then looked at Nate. “Was Lance mad when you turned down the feature?”

“Lance is the one who sent me here,” Nate told him emphatically. “He nearly skinned me alive when he found out that I was wimping around with my broken heart feeling totally sorry for my pathetic self because we’d split up. He damn near threw me onto a plane to Virginia.”

“Then I owe him, big-time.”

Nate shrugged. “He was a little pissed when I turned the feature down,” he said in answer to David’s previous question. “But not all that much.” He looked into David’s eyes and smiled. “We both owe him.”

“I know it was a big opportunity for you.” His mouth screwed itself into grimace of remorse.

Nate laughed. He eased himself up and sat cross-legged on the blanket, then poked David’s ribs. “Stop that!” He teased comically. “Yeah, it was and I’m glad I turned the damn thing down, David. I really am.”

“You sure about that?”

“Absolutely sure. If I’d taken it, I’d have spent the next two years in a kind of frozen hell. It takes that long to even get through pre-production! And then you have to shoot the damn thing! Plus, the director on the project was a well-known pain in the ass. That’s half the reason Lance didn’t want it. No. I’m glad I said ‘no’.”

David nodded.

“So,” Nate continued, “if you’re harboring feelings of guilt, you can lay them to rest. If what happened between us DID urge me to refuse it, it was actually doing me a favor.”

“Weird,” David commented, “how people on the outside see that kind of job as so glamorous and desirable.”

Nate scoffed gently. “Well, they’re wrong. Frankly, I’m sick to death of that whole damned circus.”

David snickered and nudged him. “Tired of hanging out with all those big Hollywood stars?”

Nate snorted. “Right,” he said sarcastically. “Let me tell you about actors. For the most part they’re the most self-involved humans alive. They have to be! Can you imagine being part of a profession where you’re constantly–and I do mean constantly–being judged and rejected and criticized? Where every little fault or flaw you possess is examined under a magnifying glass and thrown in your face damn near every day? ‘You’re too short,” Nate said in a comic high-pitched whine, shaking a derogatory finger at an imaginary actor. “You’re too tall! Too fat! Too old! Too young! Can’t use you! Wrong type! Your overbite makes you look like a monkey!” He rolled his eyes while David shook with laughter.

“I’ve met some nice ones,” Nate continued. “Met Tom Hanks once and he’s an wonderful man. But guys like him are the exception.”

“Met Hanks, huh,” David teased, leaning forward to kiss him. “Lucky you.”

Nate gave him a gentle, comic shove. “It’s not like I spent a lot of time rubbing elbows with ‘A’ list actors and believe me, none of the directors I worked with bore any resemblance to John Ford,” he hesitated, “though Lance is pretty damned good.”

David laughed again, then nudged Nate’s arm. “By the way,” he said. “I want to read your dissertation.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Like hell I am!”

“You actually want to read: The maligned medium: Documentaries in contemporary cinema?

“I absolutely do.”

“Man!” Nate said in open-mouthed, and completely faked amazement. “You really do love me! Well, fine. Long as you promise not to grade it.”

“Done!” David promised, laughing again. He glanced around and noticed that the afternoon shadows were lengthening around them. It had been a glorious afternoon and he hated for it to end. “We should probably head back now, baby,” he said with a sigh of regret.

“I never want to leave this spot,” Nate said contentedly. “It’s been a fantastic day. But I suppose we should head home. It’s getting late.”

They dressed slowly and returned to the cabin arriving just as the late afternoon shadows were beginning to lengthen into evening. David fixed dinner while Nate explored the cabin and the surrounding area, returning after a few minutes with a handful of raspberries he’d found growing nearby which he happily shared with David.

They ate dinner on the porch, then sat close together in the glider, rocking gently, breathing in the sweetly-scented mountain air, David’s arm tight around Nate’s shoulder. “My God,” Nate breathed softly. “This is heaven.

“It’s where you are,” David told him with a gentle kiss. “And for me, heaven will always be where you are.”


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Chapter Eleven – My Father’s Journal

David sipped his morning coffee as he sat on the porch that ran across the front of the cabin. The view before his eyes was breathtaking. As he watched, the sun rose slowly over the seemingly endless array of gently curving hills, their color transforming as the sun moved higher in the sky. Shades of soft green were briefly touched with gold then evolved into ever-deepening hues from the palest sage to a nearly black forest green.

He sat surrounded by a complete and utter stillness which was broken only by the sound of soft breezes as they stirring the leaves above his head, the many pines and spruces competing for space amid several strong maples. He could hear birds singing and smiled as their voices added to the music of the morning. The feeling was one of cleansing, of being freed from the toxins that had filled him when he first arrived here. Of being healed.

Reluctantly he rose from his chair and wandered into the cabin. He liked to write in his journal in the morning. The day was fresh then and his outlook was the best it was going to be but he also wrote when his mood was somber, and anyone who read it would find the name ‘Nate’ mentioned many, many times. He entered the bedroom where he’d left the journal the night before, then remembered: he’d written on the last page.

“Damn!” he muttered. That going to town to buy another blank memoir book. And since the closest place that sold such books was almost a hundred miles away, it was a lengthy trip. He screwed up his mouth in thought. Was there paper anywhere else in the cabin that he could use in the meanwhile? His eyes swung to the door of his father’s office, a room that David had rarely entered. It remained exactly as it had been when his dad was still alive; nothing altered, nothing touched.

He eyed the door, a squeamish reluctance knotting his stomach. This room had been forbidden to him as a child, and he remembered well the day his sister had given in to her curiosity and snuck in to see what was there. That was the only time in David’s memory that his father had yelled at her. He inhaled deeply, still staring at the door.

What could happen? his mind asked him reasonably. There’s no one here to punish you or yell at you. You’re not that little boy anymore. You can go into that room or any other room here. You’re allowed.

And while he agreed with everything his subconscious was telling him, a stubborn unwillingness to enter still gripped him. Chewing his lip, he turned and went back outside. “I’ll take a walk,” he said aloud. “Maybe that’ll help me shake it off.” Feeling his mood expanding as he inhaled a lungful of the fresh, invigorating air, he smiled and strode toward the well-known paths.

***

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, it was the day before Nate was due to take his flight to Charlottesville. He and Lance had worked together to spread his assigned projects among several other associate producers, and Nate was forced to smile when he saw how many people it took to handle the workload that he alone had managed for so many years.

“I seem to be an invaluable asset,” he teased as he and Lance discussed various strategies for completing the documentaries on time.

“An invaluable pain in the ass is more like it,” Lance grumbled. But he shot Nate a quick wink.

“Lance, I am going to come back,” Nate assured him. “No matter how things go with David, I won’t leave you in the lurch.”

“Do whatever you have to do to set you and him straight,” the older man advised. “Don’t worry about me and for god’s sake don’t worry about these projects.” He shrugged. “One thing to be said for documentaries, especially historical ones: they’re damn near timeless. If it’s good now, it’ll be just as good in a year.”

Nate agreed, but still felt twinges of guilt. Lance’s incredibly generous gesture meant that he’d have to cover a lot more of the trivial daily responsibilities himself, a situation that Nate knew he disliked immensely.

He had no real idea what he was going to do when he got to Virginia. He had rented a car, but that was it. He hadn’t even reserved a motel room. It occurred to him that he was hoping against hope that David would invite him to say with HIM. Maybe not reserving a room was a gesture of that hope. Well, THAT was stupid! he thought in self-annoyance, then shrugged. There were plenty of motels in Charlottesville. One of them would have a vacancy if he needed it…he hoped.

He did have David’s address. He’d even looked his house up on Google Maps. It felt just a tiny bit like spying, but Nate shoved his guilt to one side and studied the large white house with avid interest. He could see gardens in the front, but he couldn’t see anything in back. David had told him how much he loved working in his gardens and the sight of them made Nate smile.

He also knew that David had lived in this house as a child, and Nate tried to picture him running in and out as a little boy. He knew very little about David’s childhood. He had been somewhat reluctant to discuss it, and Nate had correctly assumed that this reluctance was connected to the issues that troubled him so deeply. “Guess it pays to have studied psychology,” Nate observed wryly. “At least I can understand where he’s coming from…if I ever get the chance.”

He had resolved that if his trip to Virginia led nowhere, if David refused to see him, or even if he agreed to see him but remained adamant that they had to part, Nate was going to put their time together behind him. He was resolved that come what may he would do whatever it took to move on. He’d never forget David, he knew that. And a part of him would always love the sedate Virginia professor who had so completely stolen his heart. But their short-lived relationship couldn’t continue to haunt his life. He would honor the love they shared in every way he could. Perhaps his new desire to build a career as a teacher would be a fitting monument to their short-lived affair. But he was determined that he would no longer live in darkness and depression.

He packed his bags that night feeling his heart trembling in his chest. He had no idea what kind of future lay ahead for him. He knew the events of the past few months had changed him in fundamental ways, yet he had no idea what kind of man he was becoming. He hoped that however things turned out, he would be the kind of man that David would be proud to call his friend.

***

In Virginia, David has returned from his walk. The sun was lower in the sky, and early afternoon shadows from the swaying pines above the cabin danced across its wooden surface. He made himself a sandwich and returned to the porch to eat, recognizing the avoidance patterns in his behaviors with a bit of exasperation. Jesus, it’s just a room! he thought, disgustedly. Go in and look for some paper. Stop being a wimp!

He instantly laid down his sandwich and drew in a quick breath, recognizing the voice of his father in the self-condemning words. “Fuck you!” he said to his reproachful inner self. “I’ll go in when I’m damn good and ready!” then immediately laughed out loud. “Nothing like having a conversation with a man who’s been dead for fifteen years.” At least he was talking back. That in itself was an improvement.

He rose and went into the cabin, determined to face whatever inner demons still held him. He walked to the closed door of father’s office, opened it, then entered slowly and looked around. He had been in this room only once before, just after his father had died. On that occasion he had immediately wheeled and left, slamming the door behind him. He never allowed his wife or daughters to go in during their infrequent visits. This room was off-limits. It wasn’t a shrine. It wasn’t a memorial. It was a vault containing every unbearable memory he had ever had of the father who had raised him.

His father’s desk stood in the center of the room surrounded by the wooden bookcases he has built himself. Oddly enough, the room conveyed an aura of serenity and contemplation. Several items sat quietly amid the many books and David was surprised to find more than a few mementos of his childhood among them. A baseball that he had caught to win the game for his softball team when he was but thirteen. A certificate awarded to his sister for winning a spelling bee.

David walked around the room, touching the various items. Pictures of himself, his sister, and his mother were scattered throughout. A photograph of David with Rachel and the girls occupied a prominent spot on his father’s desk. “Jesus,” he whispered in wonder. “This is the last thing I expected to see.” He would never have believed it possible that his dad would value such mementos. It was impossible to see him as a man with enough feeling to save these reminders of his family and their accomplishments. “He never gave a damn about that kind of thing.”

He approached the desk and began to go through the drawers, searching for paper. In the bottom drawer he found a stack of blank paper, but another object was peeking out from under it: the cover of a large, leather-bound book. He drew it out and cautiously opened the cover. Written on the title page were the words “The journal of Josiah Gardener”.

David flung the book to the desk as though it burned his fingers. Breathing heavily, he sank into his father’s chair and stared at the journal for a long time before reaching out to tentatively fan the pages. Every single one was filled with his father’s strong, decisive cursive.

David stood and left the office. He stalked to the porch and stood, bent over, hands on his knees, inhaling deeply, sucking the crisp, clean air into lungs that felt suddenly constricted. You can’t read that book! a voice within him ordered sternly. It’s not yours! It’s a violation! Hide it! Burn it!

But David had come too far to listen. Slowly he regained control of his breathing and stood erect again. He recognized that voice and what it intended for him, and he knew he would find no truth there. It was the voice of fear, and David would no longer listen. He quickly retrieved the journal and carried it to the porch where he sat and began to thumb slowly through the pages. What he found astounded him.

His father wrote of this cabin and the surrounding mountains with eloquence and love. He had, himself, walked often on the very paths that David tread and had experienced the same sense of serenity and healing that so filled his son during such moments. “Jesus!” David whispered. “I had no idea!” Further passages spoke of the wildlife and many flowers indigenous to that region with both reverence and love.

David read on, filled with a growing sense of amazement and with the kind of shocked gladness a treasure hunter must feel when coming upon unexpected but long-sought riches. Suddenly he came upon a passage that nearly stopped his heart. It began with the words: My precious son.

For a moment David hesitated, then he read:

“My precious son. How I wish I could tell him how much he means to me! But there is a barrier within me that blocks these words, refusing to allow them passage. I’ve tried, but it chokes me to even think about the terms that would make my feelings clear. Love, pride, and the intense delight it gives me simply to look at him. He has an inherent tenderness that I could never, ever hope to achieve. How I envy him, this little boy whose heart is so much larger and more able to offer love than my own will ever be. How I hate the part of me that can’t reach out to my son and tell him of my infinite love.”

David recoiled from the book and with a cry threw it violently to the floor. He felt a rising wave of panic clutch at his heart as he thought of the words he had just read. He could not connect them with the steely cold and critical man who had raised him. Unable to bear anymore, he retrieved the journal and carried it back to his father’s office where he laid it gently on the desk.

***

A few hundred miles away, Nate was disembarking at the Charlottesville International Airport. He smiled, remembering the last time he had arrived here, hoping that he would have as much success during this trip. He quickly grabbed his rental car and consulted his phone’s GPS for directions to David’s house.

An ever-growing sense of apprehension filled him, causing his hands to tremble. He tried to bring positive thoughts into his mind but couldn’t. His mind was a jumble, thoughts piling one on top of the other in anxiety-ridden confusion. He couldn’t even think of what he’d say to David when he arrived. “God, if ever I needed a script I need one now,” he moaned as he steered the car further away from the downtown area, headed for the more rural district where David lived.

On the street just a block from David’s residence, he parked the car and got out. Walking slowly, striving for calm he approached the white house that he knew so well from seeing it on his computer screen. It was much lovelier than those images had suggested and Nate stared in admiration. God, it’s huge! he thought. He could just glimpse the back yard and it seemed to stretch on for acres.

Slowly, cautiously, he approached the front door and rang the bell. There was no answer, but he suddenly heard the sound of voices coming from the backyard. Youthful laughter rang out and above it the lilting sound of a woman’s voice. “Deborah, not there. Your father doesn’t want those weeded. Just the bluebells and the peonies.”

Nate crept to the edge of the backyard and peered around the corner of the house. He saw a rather attractive woman reclining in a lounge chair, and further away at one side of the spacious backyard garden area he saw two young girls, obviously weeding the flowers.

Immediately he turned to leave. This had to be David’s ex-wife and his daughters. Terrified that they’d see him, he began to walk away only to awkwardly trip over a watering can that had been left on the sidewalk and stumbled against the side of the house.

The woman turned at once. “Hello?” she said, with some surprise. “Can I help you?”

Damn! Nate thought. He slowly approached the her. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said shakily. “I was looking for David. I apologize for intruding. Please excuse me.”

He had turned to leave when the woman’s voice called him back. “Wait!” she said, rising from the chair. Nate stopped, glancing at the two girls who were looking at him curiously.

“Hang on a second,” the woman said as she reached his side. “You wanted David? May I ask your name?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, of course,” Nate said. “I’m Nate Resse. And you’re…” he hesitated. Had David ever told him his ex-wife’s name?

“I’m Rachel,” she said, extending her hand. “David’s ex-wife.”

Nate shook her hand. “Good to meet you,” he told her, then, again, turned to leave. “Again, I apologize for intruding.” Then he hesitated. “Do you, perhaps, know where…”

“He’s at his father’s cabin up in the mountains,” she explained. “He asked the girls to weed his garden while he’s away.” She gestured to another lounge chair that leaned against the garage. “No need to leave. Grab a chair. There’s beer in the fridge in the garage. Help yourself.”

Nate hesitated, but the woman laughed. “I’m not going to bite you, Nate. I know all about you and David. So do the girls.”

Stunned by this unexpected revelation, he turned to see David’s daughters approaching them, their eyes bright with interest. He swallowed hard unsure how to proceed.

“C’mon,” Rachel prodded him. “Sit down. You didn’t come all the way from Los Angeles to see us, but maybe a beer would help break the ice.”

Nate went to the garage and grabbed a beer, then dragged a chair back to where Rachel was sitting, with both her daughters now perched on the lower half of the lounge.

“Girls,” she said as he opened the chair and took a seat. “This is your father’s friend, Nate. Nate, this is Deborah and Sarah.”

“Are you my daddy’s boyfriend?” asked the younger girl.

Rachel quickly stifled a laugh. “Sarah, that’s a personal question and very rude!” She turned to Nate with a half-grin. “Sorry. David raised them to be inquisitive.”

“So I see,” Nate chuckled, then he turned to Sarah. “I’m not your daddy’s boyfriend,” he told her. He hesitated for a moment and added, “…yet.”

Deborah giggled. “Then you’re the gay guy he went to see in California! He told us that didn’t work out. It made him really sad.”

Nate lowered his head, feeling his face flame red with sudden embarrassment but also feeling his eyes sting with tears. He controlled himself quickly and lifted his head. Then he drew in a deep breath. “I was very sad too, Deborah,” he said simply. “And I still am.”

“Ok, girls,” their mother ordered, waving them back to the side garden where they’d been working previously. “Back to work. You can drive Nate crazy with your obnoxious questions later on.”

“They aren’t obnoxious,” Nate told her with a smile. “They’re lovely. They’re like him.”

Rachel laughed. “Well that’s a fact. For better or for worse they’re like him. Though they’re a bit more open than David tends to be.” She turned toward Nate, observing him with inquiring eyes. “Why are you here?” she asked finally.

“I want to see him,” Nate told her. “It ended badly between us, and I feel as though there were things that contributed to that ending that had nothing to do with our relationship. Things beneath the surface had been troubling him for a long time. He won’t communicate with me. So I’m the mountain that’s come to Mohammad.”

Rachel gave a short laugh. “A lot of what goes on with David has nothing to do with what’s happening on the surface.” She stopped for a moment then added, “Did you know he was seeing a psychologist?”

“No,” Nate said, “but I’m glad to hear it. It’s like I said, he’s refused to talk to me ever since he left LA. I’ve called and left messages……” he shook his head helplessly. “…God, I don’t know how many times. But nothing.”

“Typical,” Rachel commented somewhat sarcastically. “Run away from the very thing you need most. That’s David to a ‘T’.”

“It’s really good of you to talk with me, Rachel. It’s nothing I ever would’ve expected. Scared the crap out of me when I saw who was here.”

Rachel shrugged, her eyes fixed on her daughters. “He and I were never meant to be together,” she said. “But that doesn’t keep me from recognizing that he’s a good man.” She turned back to face Nate. “His ending with you hurt him, Nate. He hasn’t been the same since. He’s always been quiet. He’s always kept things to himself. But he’s never before been so desperately unhappy that even the girls noticed it.”

Nate lowered his eyes, overwhelmed by sadness. “God, Rachel,” he said quietly. “I’m so sorry.”

“I think,” Rachel continued, “that he went to the cabin to try to find some peace and healing.” She stopped and scanned Nate, as if weighing her words. “But I also think,” she said more slowly, “that he won’t find the healing he needs up there.”

Nate drew in a deep breath and lifted his head, staring directly into her eyes.

Rachel gave him a small smile. “Not unless you’re up there with him.”

“Do you think he’ll see me?”

“Don’t give him a choice.” She shrugged and smiled. “I was married to the man for five years. Believe me, that’s always going to be your best approach.”

“Rachel,” Nate began, then stopped, unable to speak past the ache in his throat. “Thank you,” he whispered at last. “I’m more grateful than I can tell you.”

She tilted her head toward the two girls. “They need their father back.”

“Do you…” Nate stammered, “I mean can you tell me how to get there?”

Rachel nodded. “It’s not hard. If you’ve got a Virginia map…” she glanced around. “Do you have a car here?”

“It’s parked down the block.”

“Go get it and park it here and if you have a Virginia map, bring it back with you.”

Nate parked his car in David’s driveway, then he and Rachel conferred over the map for quite a while. She had gone into the house and brought back a yellow highlighter which she used to mark the exact directions.

“Now you have to be careful here,” she said, drawing large ‘X’ on the map. This is the spot where you have to turn right onto the dirt road. There’s a Budweiser Beer billboard there, or there used to be. About two miles down that road is a turnoff to the left. That’ll take you right to the cabin. It’s actually the driveway and there’s a mailbox right there. David’s name is on it so that’s your cue.”

The girls had returned to where their mother and Nate were bending over the map.

“Are you going to see our dad?” Deborah asked him.

“Yes,” Nate said softly. “I am.” He hesitated. “Is that OK with you Deborah?”

“Yeah, it is,” she said emphatically. “I know he wants to see you. Maybe you can get him to smile again.”

Nate swallowed hard. “I’ll do my best,” he said softly. Then rose to leave. “Rachel,” he said, shaking her hand, “There are no words.”

She waved him away. “Debbie’s right. Just put a smile back on his face.” She looked up at him soberly for a moment then spoke softly: “Good luck, Nate.”

He nodded, not really trusting his voice, then returned to his car with the map clutched in his hand. A half-hour later he was weaving his way down the narrow roads that led up into the Virginia mountains. The countryside around him was magnificent. Every bend in the road offered another astounding vista. No wonder he loves it here, he thought. It’s gorgeous! He could understand why David sought healing in this environment. The surroundings reminded him of their time at Monticello. The soft greens and hazy golds of the mountains invoked feelings of serenity and hope. And right now hope was something that Nate desperately needed.

After nearly two hours of driving he began to notice the signposts that Rachel had told him to look for and soon he came to the billboard that signaled he was at the turnoff. He saw it immediately and wheeled the car to the right to follow. Shortly thereafter he came upon another dirt path leading off to the left. He spotted the mailbox at once with ‘David Gardener’ printed on the side.

He stopped the car and clutched the steering wheel in both hands, drawing in deep breaths. He didn’t want to go down this road. He was fearful of what he’d find at the end. But this was the entire reason for his journey. This road would either lead to happiness or to another different kind of future. Drawing on what courage he could muster, he turned the car down the narrow lane and drove on.


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Chapter Ten – 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 Nine – 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 Eight – 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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Website and Blog

Social Links: jjarrell@lovestrials.com
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Love’s Magic Available now on Amazon!

Love’s Trials Pre-Order now on Amazon!

Chapter Seven – 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 Six – The Book

David’s outing with his daughters to the ‘Virginia Discovery Museum’ had been a huge success. He had joined in with some of the role-playing fun and, though he couldn’t get involved in the Paramount dress-up portion of their day, he had immensely enjoyed watching Deborah and Sarah as they’d dressed up and joined the other children in putting on a brief play.
His favorite part, of course, had been the honeybee exhibit. His daughters had laughed at him, teasingly calling him ‘teacher’, as he tried to point out the reason bees were important, and dragged him off to the nearby Farmer’s Market to obtain several jars of honey.
It had been a wonderful day, and David was in high spirits when he and the girls returned home. They immediately ran to the living room to use the PlayStation 4, which David had bought for them, while he meandered to his garden to check on some of his recent plantings. He leaned over to pull out a few unwelcome weeds, then satisfied, he walked to the house and entered through the side door.
As he walked into the living room dusting off his hands he heard Deborah’s voice: “Daddy, what’s this?” He glanced to his right to see what she was referring to and froze in shocked panic as he saw that she held the copy of The Joy of Gay Sex which he had tossed into a drawer only a few nights earlier.
He leapt to her side and took the book from her hands. “It’s nothing, honey!” he said. “It’s research for work. I shouldn’t have left it there where you could find it.”
She nodded slowly, but David could see that there were questions in her eyes as she rejoined her sister at the PlayStation. Furious with himself for not thinking ahead to his daughter’s visit he carried the book to his bedroom and stowed it on a high shelf in his closet. His heart was pounding and he could hear his own trembling breath. He took a step back, slammed the closet door, and stood staring at it. Perfect! he thought. Store it in the closet where I’m living myself!
The incident opened up a flood of anxiety in his heart. He had never before really considered how any relationship he developed with Nate would affect his daughters. And like the concentric circles from a pebble tossed into a still pond, how the consequences of a serious relationship with Nate would inevitably travel outward to touch everything else in his life.
It couldn’t be kept secret. That simply wasn’t possible. Furthermore, there was a present and ever-growing part of him that didn’t want it to be kept secret.
Yet, the idea of trying to explain a gay relationship to his two young daughters filled him with dread. Fear threatened to overwhelm him. Fears related to his career, to his family, to his friends, not to mention the greatest fear of all, that he would be spectacularly bad at being gay!
He returned to the living room and sat on the couch watching his daughters play their game. Deborah seemed to be enjoying herself, but to David’s gaze she also seemed a bit subdued compared to how she had been acting earlier in the day. He prayed that her mood change had nothing to do with finding the book. She was thirteen, he reasoned, and mood changes were common at that age.
The remainder of their visit passed without incident, and David took them both back to their mother’s house later in the afternoon feeling a budding sense of relief. Evidently Deborah hadn’t really understood what the book was about and hadn’t been upset by it. She’d seemed fine when he dropped her off.
He tried to put his anxiety behind him. He was scheduled to have a Skype session with Nate that evening and thinking of it now caused his spirits to rise. They hadn’t talked in over a week other than short text messages, and David was looking forward to seeing that beautiful face before his eyes again.
God, it’ll be good to see him, he thought as he tossed a salad for his dinner. It’s been way too long. He felt a moment of happy anticipation touch his heart, but his pleasant daydream was interrupted by the phone. He moved to answer it, licking salad dressing off his fingers.
“Hello.”
“David, it’s Rachel,” the hard voice of his ex-wife assaulted his ears.
“Oh, hello!”
“We need to talk,” she said firmly. “Deborah told me about the book she found in your living room. She’s very upset by it and frankly so am I! How could you expose our daughters to that kind of sexually explicit material?”
David stood in stunned silence for a long moment, a million negative scenarios running through his mind. His ex-wife was a lawyer. She was also very good at what she did. Could she leverage this incident into a reason to deny him visitation? Would she do that?
He forced his voice into calmness. “Rachel, I told her it was simply something I had here for work purposes. Research. I was wrong to have it where the girls might see it and I apologize for that. But that’s it. There’s no reason for anyone to be upset.”
“David, I don’t think there is any way you could convince me that a history professor who focuses on the Revolutionary War would need to research gay sex!”
David felt a sense of dismay wash over him, and his mind leapt to the worst possible conclusion, that this could be the opening salvo of an ongoing and very destructive war. A war involving his two daughters to a degree that he had never anticipated. He forced himself to react with calmness, though his heart was racing.
“Rachel, I’m not going into a long-winded explanation of this incident. I told you it was nothing and it was nothing. That’s it.”
“I’m very sorry, David, but that’s not it! I have to go get the girls ready for bed but we are going to talk further about this. And until we get it cleared up I don’t think you should see them.”
“You can’t stop me from seeing my daughters!” David blurted. “Not over something this trivial!”
“You forget whom you’re talking to,” she replied coldly. “I’m a lawyer and a damned good one. If I were you, I wouldn’t be quite so sure of what I can and can’t do.”
David heard the phone slam into the receiver, and he stood in silent shock holding his phone in his hand. Oh God! he thought in blind panic. Can she really do that? Can she keep me from the girls?
He raced to his computer and began to frantically research legal grounds for denying visitation in his state. He felt somewhat reassured by what he found, though he was still upset. Rachel might be a good lawyer, but she couldn’t change Virginia law, and according to Virginia law simply finding a book about gay sex was not adequate grounds to deny visitation.
And yet, finding the book might be enough, especially for someone with Rachel’s skill and good connections, to require some kind of hearing. He would win any legal battle, of this he was sure. But the very idea of a public hearing about this issue tormented him. He was already devastated by the fact that his daughter was upset by the incident. Jesus! he browbeat himself. How could I have been so stupid!
He dropped his head into his hands and leaned over his computer keyboard fighting off a wave of despair but was jolted from his mood by an incoming text message.
“Hi”, the message read. “Aren’t we meeting up tonight? It’s past our time and I’m a little worried because you didn’t show up. xxxooo”
“Oh God,” David moaned. He couldn’t face Nate. What could he say to him? How could he explain his distress? Nate would undoubtedly advise him to simply tell his daughters about their relationship. He’d been ‘out’ for years and wouldn’t understand why David was so troubled.
He quickly replied to Nate’s text message:
“Hi. I can’t meet you tonight. An issue with my daughters has come up. Maybe another time.”
He realized that his message has been abrupt and a bit cold, and he was suddenly reminded of his father. That’s how he treated me, David remembered suddenly. Always cold and rejecting. The inner revelation only added to his confusion and swift on the heels of this awareness came another text message.
“David, are you OK? You don’t sound like yourself. Please call me. We can talk about this. Maybe I can help.”
David considered calling, then quickly dismissed the idea. He couldn’t. Not tonight. He was convinced that Nate would be angry and scornful that David was this upset by a situation which was, by now, second nature to him. Nate had no children. He’d been openly gay since college. He couldn’t be expected to understand what this revelation might mean to David as a father.
David realized that he was assigning attitudes and motives to Nate whose source was his own fear and insecurity. But he wasn’t thinking rationally. Floundering in a surge of panic, he needed time to think. To calm himself. To talk again to Rachel and try to defuse this situation. To talk to Deborah and try to reassure her.
“Jesus!” David said aloud, his mind whirling. He quickly sent a reply to Nate:
“Can’t talk tonight. Honestly. Maybe another time.”
He hit ‘send’ and quickly turned his phone off. I can’t deal with anymore tonight, he thought. I’ll contact him tomorrow.
***
On the other side of the country Nate stared in dismay at David’s last message. Maybe?, he thought in both alarm and annoyance. He’d never known David to be this cold and he couldn’t imagine what had happened to change him. He quickly sent another message asking David to please call him but there was no response, another unusual occurrence. David always replied to his texts, even if he happened to be in his classroom teaching. Never before had he simply ignored any message Nate had sent.
For a long moment Nate sat staring at his Skype screen then shut the program down and slammed the top of his laptop shut with tremendous force. He was suddenly filled with doubt. Was David deceiving him? Had he been playing him for a fool all along? Had he been experimenting with the gay guy as a little midlife adventure?
It was hard for Nate to see David in this light, and through his sorrow he felt a welling surge of disappointment. He had believed in this relationship, new and untried though it was. After the dishonesty of his relationship with Ray he’d hoped that he had found someone he could trust and count on. He felt a rush of anger so intense that it took his breath away.
“Goddamn it!” he said hoarsely. “Why was I so stupid? Why did I let myself get suckered into this? I should have known it was too good to be true!”
He thrust himself away from his computer, stood, and grabbed his coat. I’m going out! he thought, heatedly. I’m tired of looking for love. It’s pointless. It doesn’t exist. From now on I’m only looking for fun!
He left his apartment, slamming the door behind him, and stalked to the parking lot. His rage sustained him all the way to his car then evaporated, leaving him filled with regret and bitter disillusionment. He was angrier at himself at this point than he was with David. He’d been burned in the past by trusting a man who proved himself unworthy of that trust, and at this point he believed he only had himself to blame. He’d only known David for a few days. It was his foolish mistake to think such a brief encounter could turn into anything substantial.
He leaned against his car for a moment, breathing heavily. Then sighed and turned back toward his apartment. “I’m not going to do it,” he affirmed out loud. “I’m not going to let this one experience drive me into doing stupid, self-defeating things. I’m not even done yet with the mandatory HIV testing that Ray forced on me. I’m not going to risk having to go through that again. No one is worth it. No one.”
But even as he re-entered his apartment and forced himself to sit down at his computer to try to finish his homework, there was a part of his mind that rebelled against that thought. He had honestly believed that David was worth it. He’d believed that in this soft-spoken man from Virginia he had finally found someone to whom he could entrust his heart. And as much as tonight’s disappointment tempted him to think otherwise, a small, hopeful part of him still believed that David was worth it. But rather than comforting him, that hope only filled him with angry self-reproach.
“I got taken in by a southern accent and one romantic moment,” he said bitterly, staring at his blank word processing screen. “I need to protect myself. Next time I’ll know better.”
***
David arose on Sunday morning after a nearly sleepless night. He planned to call a lawyer first thing Monday morning, but he still had to get through today. He was determined to speak with Rachel and attempt to negotiate some kind of agreement with her. After a night’s sleep perhaps she would be more willing to accept his explanation and allow them to avoid the unpleasant prospect of legal action.
She was a strong woman of rigidly held beliefs, but during the years of their marriage she had also been reasonable and open to compromise. He didn’t know what had caused her recent change of humor and he wondered if there was some problem in her ongoing relationship that was the source of her current unhappiness.
All he knew was that he had to make her listen to reason. She knew him well enough to know that he was a fiercely protective father. She had, in fact, occasionally accused him of being overprotective of both the girls and herself, chiding him that he had to let them experience life without the umbrella that his constant shielding provided. He couldn’t believe that she could now see him as someone who would or could purposefully expose his daughters to anything inappropriate.
He forced himself to eat a light breakfast, then carried his coffee cup into his office. He sat at his desk for several minutes, sipping his coffee, striving to compose himself before picking up the phone. Talking to Rachel while he was still upset would accomplish nothing. He knew how stubborn she could become when facing an adversarial attitude, and he was determined not to unwittingly provoke her into an argument.
Finally he drew in a deep breath and lifted the phone. She answered on the first ring.
“Rachel? It’s David. Can we please talk for a moment about what happened yesterday?”
For a moment there was silence. “Yes,” she said at last. “We can talk about it. Though I have to tell you, David, that I’m still upset.”
David immediately could sense that her attitude had changed. She sounded more like the old Rachel, firm yet still reasonable. “I understand,” he said quietly. “And I agree with you. I’m upset myself at my own stupidity at leaving that book where Deb could find it. You have to know it was a mistake. I would never expose our daughters to anything harmful, Rach. You know me well enough to know that.”
“Well,” she commented in a low voice. “That’s what I’ve always believed, David. But yesterday…”
“Yesterday I made a mistake,” he interrupted. “Truthfully, Rachel, the book was so unimportant that I simply forgot where I had shoved it. I was trying to answer a student’s question, and the book was merely research. It’s not an area where I have much expertise,” he added dryly thinking: Well, THAT’S certainly true enough!
Yet, at the same time he was intensely aware that he was lying to his ex-wife and the realization filled him with regret. This was not how he wanted to live. This was not the kind of man he was.
“David, I believe you,” she replied. “I was upset yesterday about other things. I may have overreacted.”
“Rachel,” he said, hiding his surge of relief. “Is something troubling you? You seem…I don’t know…changed lately.”
“Nothing you can help with, David,” she replied stiffly. “I’ll have a talk with Deborah and reassure her about the book.”
“I’d like to talk to her as well,” David interrupted smoothly. “I think it’s important, Rach.”
“Alright,” she agreed. “I’ll have her call you later today.”
They said good-bye and David hung up. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, drawing in a deep liberating breath. “Thank God!” he said aloud, thinking that his last conversation with Rachel had been more reflective of the woman he’d always known. He wondered again what might be troubling her, then sighed and tried to dismiss it.
I’ve got all I can do to handle my own issues right now, he thought, rising and moving toward the living room. I can’t take on hers as well.
And yet the realization that he had lied to Rachel about the book ate at him. He was not a dishonest man. He’d prided himself on being a man who always told the truth, and to the best of his knowledge he had never before deliberately lied to his ex-wife.
He went outside carrying his second cup of coffee and walked quickly to the side of his house where he had left his small gardening cart. Then, holding his coffee in one hand, he pushed it to where he had recently planted and knelt on the ground. He tried to focus on the new seedlings, adding nutrients to their soil and removing any stray weeds that had grown, but his mind wandered.
He pondered how much his life had changed since meeting the young associate producer only weeks before…how much he had changed. He knew that his attraction to Nate was absolutely sincere, and he sensed that any relationship happiness he hoped to have in his life would lie in this direction.
His years of marriage to Rachel had been good ones, and he was grateful for them, and particularly for his children. But he also realized that his feelings toward the sexual side of their marriage had always been lukewarm at best. He had performed adequately, he assumed. At least Rachel had never complained. But their union had never given him the sense of completion that had so powerfully filled him when he shared that one unforgettable moment with Nate.
Thinking of his friend drew his mind back to the night before, and the hardhearted text messages he had sent to Nate. Frowning, he stood and walked back into the house, leaving most of his seedlings untended.
He grabbed his phone and quickly sent Nate a short message:
“I’m sorry about last night. Hope you’re not upset with me.”
After a moment the response came:
“It’s fine.”
And that was it. David stared at the screen then sighed and snapped the cell phone shut. He’s backing away, he thought unhappily. He’s tired of my constant uncertainty and who could blame him? His mind turned to the airline tickets that lay in his desk… tickets that would put him on a round-trip flight to Los Angeles in five short days. He wondered if he should cancel the trip, then dismissed the idea.
I’m going, he thought determinedly. I won’t force him. I won’t push him. If he doesn’t want to be with me, I’ll try to accept it. But I’m not giving up yet.
Yes, this relationship promised to bring unparalleled changes to his life. But in spite of his doubt, in spite of his inability to even begin to think how he would incorporate Nate into his day-to day-life, he knew that he could not turn his back now on this singular chance for happiness.
He went back outside and returned to his seedlings. As always, working in his garden gave him a since of serenity that nothing else could provide. He lost himself in the scent of the soil beneath his fingers and the thought of the flowers that would come into bud through his efforts. He saw himself, at this critical point in his life, as being very much akin to his small seedlings. Something was starting to blossom within himself. He had no idea what kind of flower might emerge from this process. He hoped it was a beautiful one. But no matter what kind of bud was growing at the center of his being, David was determined to nourish it.
***
While David nursed his seedlings and pondered his future, in Los Angeles Nate was cursing the traffic as he tried to weave his way toward the Paramount lot and his latest crisis. He’d received a frantic phone call from Lance earlier that morning telling him that the director of the documentary in which David was involved had just gotten into a fistfight with his cinematographer. Lance had no idea what the fight was about, and furthermore he didn’t really care. He’d just gotten out of bed himself and was in no mood to settle a back-lot brawl among petulant members of his production staff. “Fix it!” he had growled at Nate, and slammed the phone down.
“Just fucking great!” Nate blurted between clenched teeth as he rapidly changed lanes. Between the constant catfights among people who were supposed to be creative professionals and his concern over what he saw as his deteriorating relationship with David, he was in a foul humor. He only hoped he didn’t get into a fistfight himself trying to negotiating a peace. He was not in a conciliatory mood, and today was not the day to mess with him.
He’d read David’s text message shortly after receiving Lance’s phone call. He knew his response had bordered on surly and he regretted it. But he also wondered if this wasn’t the best course of action where David was concerned. Did he really want to nursemaid a reluctant and newly-minted homosexual through the trials and tribulations of fully entering the gay life?
He wondered if such a thing was even possible. I’m tired of negotiating with people who don’t want to be reasonable. He didn’t want to have to ‘convince’ David that being gay was OK. He didn’t want to have to convince anyone that he was worth loving.
His affair with Ray had soured him on ever again becoming involved with someone who wasn’t completely and totally committed to him on every possible level. He sensed David’s need for him. He sensed his desire. But he also sensed that there were roiling emotional waters within this man that could erupt with volcanic force.
He wanted David. He even felt sure that he loved him, at least as sure as he could be after knowing him for such a short time. But his bottom line remained the same. If David couldn’t see for himself that their relationship was worth fighting for, if he didn’t think Nate was worth taking that final, vital step, then Nate couldn’t see that they had much of a future.


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