Nate hated motels. For him they held no spirit of adventure nor did they reflect the fun of travel and seeing new places. For him they were pit stops on the frustratingly long, horribly tedious, and usually boring trips that his position at Paramount Pictures forced him to endure. He didn’t sightsee. It was rare that he ever saw anything more interesting than a businessman’s office or a crowded airport terminal. He seldom had a decent meal, was never invited to anyone’s home, and rarely ever spent more than twenty-four hours in the same location.
That’s an associate producer for you, he thought dryly, stretching and glancing over at the clock next to his motel bed. “Associate producer,” he scoffed, shaking his head. Even hearing the title made him snort derisively. “They gave me a whole fifty bucks for a two-day trip all the way across the country! Yeah, I’m some big shot alright.”
His job description fell under the general umbrella of ‘film development’. Which meant that he did whatever scut-work the producer chose to dump on him, usually consisting of tasks the producer could have done himself but saw as somehow beneath him.
He sat up in bed and scrubbed his hands through his dark, unruly hair. He wanted a cigarette, but here again motels had managed to fuck him over. No smoking anywhere anymore, and no balcony in his room. If he wanted a smoke, he’d have to get dressed and go outside and he wasn’t quite ready for that. But since he had things to do and a flight to catch, he forced himself to get out of bed.
Thank goodness he could get a free breakfast here. That was one reason he’d picked the Holiday Inn Express–free breakfast. He sighed and stretched again, then stood and wandered toward the bathroom. “Fifty bucks,” he repeated in disgust.
There are occasional compensations though, Nate thought, stripping off his underwear and turning on the water for his shower. Like last night.
The last thing he had imagined, especially here in the South, is that he would meet a man who so immediately interested him. But there was something about this professor, a quality of kindness coupled with an enduring strength, that fascinated Nate almost at once. And what made David Gardener even more fascinating was the fact he was blissfully unaware of the effect he had on others in general and on Nate in particular.
Nate had seen the spark of interest in his eyes the moment they met. But instead of pursuing him, or even flirting with him, David had remained self-contained and a bit distant. If anything, the more interest that glowed in his eyes, the more distant he became. He seemed to Nate to be hovering in a continuous state of evaluation. As if he couldn’t quite figure out what was happening to him and refused to act until his unbelieving mind had sought out an answer for every question.
Clearly he was frightened, and Nate could sympathize with that reaction. He was frightened himself. But any relationship anxiety he felt had quickly became secondary to his interest in the sedate college professor. He saw something glowing behind those hazel eyes. A depth of passion. An unexplored emotional landscape that held the promise of happiness.
He could see that David was floundering, torn between desire and apprehension. The fire that burned in his gaze sent a clear signal, but at the same time David seemed completely incapable of acting on that instinct. Nate wondered how many times this had happened in his past. How many times he had silently walked away from the chance to invite love into his life. And even though Nate sensed strength at the core of this man’s being, he also knew that one premature move on his part would send David flying for cover. This saddened him because he also sensed that this barely-dawning relationship held the promise of happiness for his life, too. And happiness was something he needed badly.
In his own way he was as uncertain about how to proceed as David. He was delighted when David called him after their initial meeting, and tried to subtly convey his interest by telling David that he’d just been thinking of him. But David only seemed surprised by his statement and immediately turned the conversation back to the job offer, which was why Nate was there in the first place.
Still, it gave him hope when David invited him out to dinner. He wasn’t quite sure what David’s intentions were or if he even HAD any intentions. Nate wanted to speak out. It was against his nature to play games. He liked things direct and straight forward. But this professor was a bit of a puzzle. He sent no clear signals while at the same time the undisguised interest in his eyes had non-stop bells and whistles going off inside Nate’s brain.
Nate stepped out of the shower and began to dry himself off, smiling at the memory. That whole evening had been a dance. One step forward and two steps back. When David asked if he’d be the one he’d be working with on the project, Nate told himself: To hell with this! and engaged in a moment of pure, unadulterated coquettishness. His response was blatantly flirtatious; nothing left to the imagination. There was no way David could see it as anything else. No way at all. Hell, Nate thought, smiling. I damn near batted my eyes at him!
And David seemed to ‘get it’. But he also seemed so completely thrown off balance by Nate’s response that Nate immediately passed his comment off as a joke and backed away. God! he remembered thinking. Don’t scare him off before you’ve even had dinner!
He knew now that David’s response had been rooted in fear rather than rejection. He remembered how David’s body had reacted when his hand had touched David’s arm. He’d heard a soft intake of breath and felt the muscles beneath his hand clench slightly, as if his touch had been electric.
They spent the evening in a subtle emotional duel. David would seem to invite Nate’s advances, only to edge ever-so-slightly away when Nate responded in kind. But when he started to get out of David’s car at the end of the evening there was no mistaking the longing in his voice when he cried, “Will I see you again?” And though it was tempered by a stammered reference to finalizing contracts, it was still revealing.
“Maybe his real fear is of intimacy itself,” Nate said aloud as he started to shave. “I wonder if he’s ever been in a serious relationship with a man.” Something inside him doubted it, and it occurred to him as he dressed that he would be taking a huge risk to open his heart to someone so seemingly inexperienced.
Yet when he thought about their trip to Monticello the next day, he was filled with warmth. The invitation had both surprised and delighted him. He’d gone to bed the night before fairly certain that he’d seen the last of the handsome professor except for his signature on a piece of paper. And when David called, Nate knew instinctively the kind of courage it took for David to pick up the phone and reach out to him with this invitation.
And in spite of the sexual tension that sang beneath the surface, the day was relaxed and totally enjoyable. They laughed together about the faults and flaws of the ‘founding fathers’, but even though they teased their country’s founders with honesty and humor, they also stood rapt and silent before the beautiful mementos in Jefferson’s home.
Later, as they walked the grounds discussing Jefferson’s many accomplishments, David spoke of his students and his commitment to teaching. Nate was touched to the heart by David’s simple belief in the rightness of the American system of government. He gazed at David as they stood for a moment on the edge of Jefferson’s gardens, facing eastward to the hills of the Virginia countryside. This is a good man, Nate remembered thinking. A kind, decent man. My God, I didn’t think there were guys like him left in the world.
“I guess I’m kind of naive,” David had said at one point as they walked toward the small pond that stood near the majestic Monticello mansion.
“I like naive,” Nate replied. “Means you have an open heart.”
“An open heart,” David laughed, “or a gullible one.”
Nate had turned to him and touched his arm to halt his forward motion. “I’d much rather be with someone who had a gullible heart than someone who had no heart at all.”
David had blushed at Nate’s touch, and he’d seemed very moved by what Nate said to him. So much so that Nate wondered if this man, who seemed so genuinely decent, could have had dealings with someone whose coldness had hurt him badly. He knew David was divorced. Perhaps it had been a difficult ending.
And as they sat watching the sun slowly dip lower in the western sky, Nate had been struck by the peace that seemed to permeate this place. Here in this serene setting, bathed in the early evening light, David seemed to him to be as quietly noble as their surroundings. This place suits him, Nate thought, and it hurt his heart when David asked when he was leaving and he was forced to answer, “Tomorrow morning”.
But the sadness of his answer seemed to be the catalyst that David had been waiting for. He stared intently at Nate as they sat beneath the cherry trees and finally said what they both had been thinking: “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
Relief had surged through Nate’s veins in a torrential flood, and in that moment he found speech impossible. He had felt great sadness at the thought that he and David would soon be parted leaving all the feelings between them unspoken. Now there was a chance…a hope at least. He realized instinctively that he could drop the game, drop the pretense, and speak honestly at last.
And when he finally moved into David’s arms and tasted his kiss, it was every bit as wonderful as he had hoped. He lost himself in the strength of David’s arms as they held him close, and the eagerness of his kisses as he claimed Nate’s lips again and again there in the golden light of the Virginia dusk.
He’d been kissed many times but nothing had ever touched him as deeply as David’s kisses. His lips touched Nate’s so hesitatingly at first. They were soft and moist……and Nate was acutely aware of the shape of David’s mouth. He dared the briefest slide of damp tongue against David’s lower lip, and it sent intense jolts of desire flaming through his body. His arms convulsively tightened around the stockier frame pressed so close to him and the kiss deepened, became something beyond experimenting…beyond questioning. It became a ravenous need that ten thousand kisses could never satisfy.
The visit to Monticello had been beyond anything he had envisioned when the day began. And as much as he longed to prolong the evening, even until the sun rose the following morning, he somehow knew that was not the way to begin this journey. He could sense David’s yearning, but he could also sense his confusion. To push things too fast now would risk losing something—someone—who was becoming important in his life. It was difficult to insist that the evening end when David dropped him at the motel entrance but he knew it was the right thing to do.
He finished dressing still lost in remembrance. “Wow,” he breathed finally. “What a great memory. If I don’t ever have anything else, at least I’ll always have that day. I wonder if he’s regretting it now. I hope not.”
He spent a few minutes shoving the meager contents of drawers and closet into his one small suitcase. Then, dressed and packed, he sighed and grabbed the contract that was to be faxed to David. “Better get this to him,” he muttered, grabbing his keycard and heading for the door. “I don’t have much time left.” He frowned darkly. “I kind of hoped he’d call me this morning.”
Once downstairs he located David’s FAX number and inserted the contract into the machine. He hesitated for a moment, and then on impulse grabbed a blank sheet of paper and scrawled a brief note that he also faxed to David as a cover letter. He watched as the two pieces of paper slid into the machine and waited until he received confirmation that they’d arrived, then headed back to his room.
The first thing he saw as he re-entered his room was the blinking red light on the motel’s phone, and he barely listened to all of David’s message before calling him back. Their phone conversation was too short to be really satisfying, and an unspoken pall of sadness lay over both of them at the thought that Nate would soon be gone. But they contented themselves with the promise of the Skype session later on, and then Nate had to leave. The shuttle was waiting.
Chewing his lip, he shoved his suitcase onto a rack and slumped into one of the shuttle seats. He made sure he had David’s number safely saved in his phone, then gave himself over to despondency.
I live in Hollywood, he thought as he leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. Beauty capital of the world. Gorgeous fucking guys everywhere I look. Gorgeous fucking girls too, for that matter. And they could all be dog dung as far as I’m concerned. Ninety-nine per cent of them are too empty-headed and self-involved to even talk with for long, let alone anything more. Wouldn’t waste my time or energy. Might know. I have to fly to the other side of the fucking country to meet a man who interests me, and then I have to leave before we’ve done much more than say ‘hello’.
He made it to the airport and through security with a minimum amount of fuss and collapsed into a chair near the gate. Half-hour until boarding time. He thought about buying a magazine or a book, but decided against it. He squirmed in the chair trying to get comfortable, propped his feet up on his suitcase, and grabbed his phone again. David had mentioned feeling bad that he hadn’t thought to take a picture of Nate. “I’ll do it now,” Nate muttered.
Feeling a bit silly, he held the phone out in front of him, grinned like a loon, and snapped a selfie. He sent the picture and a short message to David and was keenly aware of how eagerly he awaited the response. It wasn’t long in coming and Nate smiled when he read David’s affectionate reply.
And yet…and yet…the fact that he was so impatient to get a response worried him. It’s too soon, he thought. It’s too soon to feel this much. I can’t let myself jump into another bad relationship. I need to take this slow. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the airport ceiling. It’s going to be a long, fucking day, he thought miserably. God, I’d give anything if I could go back twenty-four hours.
He slept through most of the four-hour flight and was stumbling as he walked off the jet way into the airport terminal. Jesus, I need some sleep, he thought. But sleep was a long way off. He was scheduled to head straight to work, and he had a class that night.
He forced himself to stop long enough to send a short text message to David, then rushed toward the airport garage where he had left his car. He was overdue at the studio where he was currently working on several different films, pretty much standard operating procedure for an associate producer. Always more than one project on his plate.
This morning he was supervising post-production for another Lance Barrett documentary, and he still had to get David’s paperwork processed. His life was hectic, but if he ever wanted to graduate from associate producer to co-producer or even, god willing, executive producer, he dare not complain. For every ‘Nate Reese’ banging around Paramount Studios, there were thousands of eager applicants who would happily take over his job and all the hassle that went with it.
But at thirty-five Nate was getting tired. The pace was brutal and since he had fallen into the niche of documentary film development rather than the more visible genre of the big feature film, the upward slant of his career wasn’t nearly as dramatic and he was forced to work that much harder.
The past few days, experiencing the slower, more graceful pace of David’s life at the university had made him keenly aware of how chaotic his own existence had become. He loved the creative aspect of the work he did. But he longed for a more meaningful lifestyle.
Occasionally through the course of his day his thoughts would flash to the Skype session he and David were to have that evening. They’d arranged to meet online at 6:00 p.m., which gave Nate only an hour before he had to leave for his class. It’ll be a good hour though, Nate thought.
And he was right. Their conversation that evening left him filled with happiness. Nate felt that they’d come to know each other a little better. He felt that their relationship had somewhat solidified. But he also felt David’s frustration as keenly as he felt his own. An online chat was a poor substitute for actually being together. Seeing David on his computer screen only deepened his longing to actually be with him. To truly experience David’s comforting strength. To be able to touch him and actually feel David’s solid strength wrapped around him.
The sweetness of his smile was what touched Nate most deeply. There was something in this man that spoke so eloquently of protection and nurturing. He felt that in David’s care he would be the most cherished human being alive. David was only slightly taller than Nate and a bit stockier in build, but the six years difference in their ages was not reflected in his face. It was youthful and when he smiled and his hazel eyes crinkled in delight he projected a warm and loving spirit.
The time they’d shared in Virginia had already become a treasured memory in Nate’s heart. Ever since then his thoughts constantly turned to the moment beside Jefferson’s pond when David had held him close and kissed him, and he yearned not only to recreate that moment but to move beyond it to what he hoped lie ahead. He knew his emotions were moving too fast. He tried to slow down and think about the possible consequences if the relationship didn’t develop the way he wanted it to. David was fairly inexperienced when it came to gay relationships. He could easily decide they weren’t for him and pull away, leaving Nate with a broken heart.
There was no doubt in Nate’s mind that David had been as thrilled and aroused by their kiss as he had been himself. But, Nate thought, being turned on by someone is not exactly the same thing as giving another guy a blow job or fucking his ass. “I’ll need to move slow with this guy.”
And then there was his own reluctance. He’d been publicly gay since college and everyone who knew him or worked with him knew his sexual orientation. But if he’d learned anything from the past it was that trusting too soon or trusting at all could lead to disastrous consequences. He’d spent three years in his relationship with Ray Evans, and look what that got him. Even thinking about it now clenched his teeth in anger. Three years! Nate thought. And what I ended up with was a pack of lies and months of fear.
Ray Evans had been a producer at Paramount with whom Nate had worked with on several fairly successful projects. Their romance had been thrilling in the beginning and had seemingly been moving toward a solid future. But after two years Ray began to change. He became verbally abusive, secretive, and more and more reluctant to talk about what he did when they weren’t together. He seemed to be constantly on his phone sending text messages but always refused to tell Nate who was receiving them. For months Ray’s lies and constant concealment made Nate’s life a living hell. Finally, in the course of a vicious argument, Ray spat out the truth. To his horror Nate, discovered that Ray had been cheating on him for almost a year with multiple partners.
Not just cheating, Nate thought angrily. Having unprotected sex with complete fucking strangers! For Nate this was the most monstrous betrayal of trust possible because it demonstrated a complete disregard not only for their relationship, but for Nate’s very life. The revelation ended the relationship, and Nate had been forced to undergo HIV testing every three to six months since then to be certain that Ray hadn’t exposed him to the dangerous disease.
He wanted to put his trust in David, but his relationship with Ray had left him bitter and suspicious. Everything within him urged him to move cautiously. I need to see him, Nate thought as he dashed out the door and headed for his class. I can’t begin to know whether or not I can trust David until we’ve had the chance to spend real time together. I’ve got to find a way to make that happen!
When his long day finally ended, Nate returned home, collapsed onto his cluttered couch, and sighed deeply. He was due at the studio by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow for a meeting with Lance and other production heads. From that meeting onward, his day would be filled with enough work to keep ten men busy. And, if it went like most other days, he’d barely have a moment to think once it began.
He rose and wandered into his kitchen. Once there he took a beer from the fridge and, too tired to move, he stood drinking from the bottle in long, slow pulls. Spotting a stack of Post-it® notes on the counter, he grabbed one and with a nearby red marker wrote “See David!”. He stuck it in a prominent place on the front of his refrigerator and stood contemplating it, as he finished his beer. Finally he nodded in satisfaction and, feeling weariness beginning to overwhelm him, he turned and staggered off to bed.