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.”
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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