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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