Chapter Five – Being There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

He immediately tapped out a reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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