Chapter Two – Monticello

David slept in fits and starts that night. Images of startling blue eyes and a beautiful, expressive mouth filled his restless dreams and when he woke a heaviness settled in his chest that he could not shake off.

He’d filled the years since his divorce with work. The satisfaction he took from the success of his teaching strategies had served to distract him from the empty space that ached inside him. But last night’s encounter with the exciting young producer had shone a bright light on that emptiness making it impossible to ignore any longer. He reached for his phone several times that day to call Nate but hesitated each time. He wanted to see him. He yearned to taste the happiness he suspected might lie ahead if he pursued a relationship with this beautiful man.

But for all David knew Nate might be wholly uninterested in a male-male relationship. He cursed his own cowardice, constantly replaying the previous evening, mentally seeking an overlooked moment when he could have discovered the answers he sought.

Confused by his own reactions, he stalled. He’d had short-term relationships with men in the past, but those relationships were intensely private, hidden from both his family and his work life, and now seemed meaningless when compared to last night’s encounter with Nate Reese. Those relationships had always invoked a feeling of inner revulsion and the unwelcome image of his father’s reproachful face.

David’s father, Arron Gardener, was an intelligent, hard-working school teacher, who was eventually awarded the post of Superintendent of Public Schools in Charlottesville. He was a quiet, decent man on the surface. But in the privacy of his home his behavior, especially toward his only son, was that of a cold and disapproving bully. In his own eyes he was a fair but strict parent, stern in the interest of what he deemed best for his children. But his father’s constant barrage of criticism left David with a crippling sense of inferiority and an inability to believe himself worthy of love.

His sister had been spared much of their father’s abuse, but David had suffered through a childhood darkened by their father’s unfeeling nature. He felt sure his father hadn’t meant to do harm. But he also realized early in life that his inability to trust in or express strong emotion stemmed from the cruelty of that beginning.

His logical mind cried out to him to remain silent, to let Nate return to Hollywood leaving the questions in David’s heart unanswered. David would resume his normal routine and the entire incident would be forgotten. This tactic had been repeated again and again throughout David’s life. People and situations which threatened to awaken the emotional storm that slept within him were quickly dismissed. Until now he hadn’t believed that emotional landscape could ever be altered, nor had he wanted it to be.

But the young producer had cracked open the barriers behind which David had hidden for years. His almost desperate desire to pursue a relationship with Nate left him confused and shaken. How could one man have such a profound impact on his life? Nate had become an alluring and seductive song which sang over and over in David’s mind, driving out the sterile voices of logic.

The answering song of his heart and his body now spoke a different language. Possessing a wisdom deeper and truer than any fact which sprang from reason or calm judgment, it had become willing to seek the love it needed in spite of David’s latent fears. The music that now sang in his mind cautioned him that this kind of opportunity seldom presented itself twice in one lifetime. Once denied, such a chance might never come again.

And as David went about the duties of his day, merely going through the motions with only half of his conscious mind focused on his classes and his students, he became more and more aware that he had to choose. He had to decide which part of his nature to trust, and he had to do it before Nate returned to California.

Troubled by the chaos churning in his mind and unable to focus on his classes, he dismissed his students and retired to his office. He sent Melinda home and collapsed into his chair staring at the far wall, focused on nothing.

A vague but persistent memory, one which had haunted the outskirts of his mind since early that morning, suddenly sprang full-blown into his mind. He recalled the one time his father had discussed the subject of homosexuality. “Abomination!” he had spat in disgust, predicatively quoting the biblical condemnations.

But even in the throes of an inner conflict unlike any he had ever experienced, David knew he could not allow his father’s bigotry to guide his life. He may have believed that, David thought. But I sure as hell don’t!

I have to know one way or the other, he thought finally, worrying a fingernail. I have to take that chance.

It seemed unlikely that Nate would be angry or dismissive even if he weren’t interested in a relationship. While they hadn’t delved into sensitive topics, a surprising feeling of intimacy had crept into their conversations. David wasn’t normally a trusting man, especially when it came to familiarity in relationships. But on this occasion, there was no other option. Screwing up his courage he pressed the speed dial for the motel and quickly punched in Nate’s room number.

“Hello?”

David drew in a deep breath. “Hi,” he said quietly. “It’s me.”

“Oh, hi, David! Sorry. I was in the shower.”

The image of a wet, naked Nate flashed in David’s mind and he grit his teeth, against a sudden surge of arousal. “I thought if you didn’t have plans that maybe we could go for a drive or something,” David said.

“No plans at all,” Nate replied. “I’m still waiting for Paramount to fax me the contract so I don’t have any paper for you to sign as yet.”

“Listen,” David said, “it’s only a half-hour’s drive to Monticello. The grounds and mansion are lovely and it’s worth a visit, if you’re up for it.”

“I’d love to!” Nate said excitedly. “There’s a reason why I work in documentary films. I fell in love with history as a child and still love it. Thank you, David. It’s great of you to take the time.”

“My pleasure,” David told him, smiling. “Can you be ready in a half hour? I’ll pick you up out front.”

Nate agreed and David flipped his phone shut with a sigh of relief. The tour of Monticello was an ideal solution. It provided an opportunity to spend time with Nate in an environment where he felt secure. And given the subject matter of their proposed documentary, the visit made perfect sense.

David had visited Monticello many times, taken students there, and had been named a patron for the mansion’s research facility. His status both as a patron and university professor, gave him unlimited access to the mansion and the gardens all without need of a guide.

The day was everything David hoped. He and Nate took the guided tours of both the mansion and gardens, then after the exhibits closed they strolled, alone, across the grounds. The sun was drifting low in the sky by the time they reached the gardens where they stopped and sat, talking for some time about Jefferson’s place in history.

“Do you think the Declaration of Independence was his greatest achievement?” Nate asked.

“I suppose I’d have to say yes,” David replied. “Though he also wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the model for the first amendment of our Constitution. And,” he added, “he was a very vocal advocate for providing public education for all free children.”

“FREE children,” Nate said.

David nodded, smiling. “Yeah, that whole issue is a bit of a sticky wicket.” He gently took Nate’s arm. “Let’s go over here and watch the sunset.” He led Nate to the edge of a small pond where they sat on the grass.  David pointed out a nearby sign: ‘Fish caught in neighboring streams were kept alive in this pond until needed for table use’.

“It’s peaceful here,” Nate said looking around him. “Such a feeling of serenity. No wonder he loved it so much.”

David nodded in agreement. This was his favorite spot when visiting Jefferson’s home. He often remained here after hours to sit alone beneath the trees and watch the sunset. But being here with Nate gave a whole new meaning to Monticello’s place in his life.

He’d never before seen the mansion and grounds as a romantic setting; its significance in his life had always been historical. But now as he looked around him, he marveled at his own blindness. This setting was perfect for a romantic interlude. The stately mansion with its tall pillars of white marble, the gardens in blossom, the swaying pines, and the hills, glowing softly in the distance all formed an image of surpassing loveliness. And now there was Nate, seated here so close to him, as exquisite in his own right as the beauty of their surroundings and every bit as romantic.

David watched him intently. Evening shadows fell over the gardens and trees of Monticello and the beauty around them seemed bathed in the deepening golden glow of late afternoon light. Nate looked exquisite in this setting, as though it all had been fashioned just for him. Now was the moment. Here in this lovely location. He had to speak now. There would never be a better time or place. “Do you know how much longer you’ll be here?” David asked quietly.

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Nate told him. “The contract will arrive early in the morning and once I’ve faxed it to you, that’s it. I’m on a late-morning flight to Hollywood.”

David took a deep breath. “I wish you didn’t have to go,” he said softly.

Nate’s eyes swung to meet his, and for a moment neither of them spoke. “I hope I’m not misunderstanding you,” Nate said finally.

“I guess that depends on what you’re thinking,” David said, feeling his heart quake inside him.

Nate smiled and shook his head. “How long do you want this dance to go on, David? We’ve been at it for a couple days now. I mean, I’m willing to keep dancing if you still need the protection. But I’m not sure there’s much point to it at this juncture.” His voice, warm and full of both laughter and promise, touched David’s heart like a caress.

“Do you mean…,” David stammered. “Do you mean that you’re…”

“I mean that I’m as attracted to you as you obviously are to me.”

David dropped his head into his hands, momentarily overwhelmed by both relief and panic. “I guess I haven’t been as subtle as I’d hoped,” he said dryly, and felt another surge of relief when Nate laughed easily.

“No. Not subtle. But not obvious either. My impression is that you’re a man who both wants something and is utterly terrified by it.”

“That’s me exactly,” David muttered, gazing out over the pool at the hills beyond. “I’m sorry if I’ve been sending mixed messages. There’s so much I want to say, Nate. But you’re right. I’ve been scared to death to say it.”

“I’m really not all that terrifying,” Nate said with a soft laugh.

“You are to me,” David said, his voice quaking. “I’ve seldom had…,” he stammered, then slowly continued “…this kind of relationship. I’m,” he sighed and shook his head, “somewhat of a novice and everything about it terrifies me.”

“I understand. I’ve been waiting for you to give me a clear signal as to what you wanted. I didn’t want to move too quickly and scare you off.”

David laughed. “You just echoed my exact thoughts about you. Jesus, I’m sorry I’m so bad at this.”

Nate reached out and slowly took David’s hand, seeming ready to withdraw if David gave any sign of reluctance. When he didn’t, Nate laced their fingers together. “Relax,” he said in a low voice. “There’s no right way to start a relationship. And honestly, I don’t plan to jump you here under Jefferson’s cherry trees. The founding fathers would spin in their graves.”

David laughed. The lightness of Nate’s tone eased his anxiety and his fingers tightened on Nate’s. “Good damn thing,” he replied with a nervous grin.  “I might lose my membership in the ‘Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society’.”

Nate grinned in return. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

They sat in silence for several minutes, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Finally David stirred. “Shall we head back?” he asked, using his grip on Nate’s hand to leverage them both to their feet.

“And what happens then?” Nate asked.

David drew in a deep breath and bit his lip, still holding Nate’s hand in his. He tried to speak but couldn’t find the words.

Seeming to understand, Nate tightened his hold on David’s hand. “Wait,” he said suddenly. “Don’t say anything, David.”

“Nate, I…”

“No. Don’t. I’m leaving tomorrow. There’s no way I can avoid it. I have to go back. It seems to me that it’s a bad idea to start something now that has to end tomorrow.”

“I–I…,” David choked out. “I understand.”

“No,” Nate told him, “you don’t understand. I’m not saying it’s over. I’m not saying ‘forget it’. I’m saying it’s on hold until we can figure out what we both want, or at least until we can be together again.”

“You mean you…”

“I mean I do want to pursue this relationship, David. But I also don’t want to rush it. You’re relatively new to all this and it’s obvious that you’re scared to death of it. You need some time to process what’s happening between us before we go plunging into…,” he hesitated. “Well, into something which we both might end up regretting.”

David swallowed. Twilight shadows deepened as they stood close together by Jefferson’s pool. Nate’s eyes, deep and brilliantly beautiful in the evening light, gazed up into his. David drew in a deep breath and pushed past his fear.

“Would it be alright with you…,” he stammered, his voice trembling. ”I mean, would you mind if I…”

“Kissed me?” Nate interrupted easily.

“Yeah,” David breathed in relief. “I agree with you about moving slowly. But my God, Nate… this place! This moment!” He shook his head in wonder. “It’s magical and, god, it’ll never come again. I’d like our first kiss to happen here if that’s OK with you.”

Nate moved easily into his arms and David drew him close. Nothing in his life had ever felt quite so right, quite so destined to be. Their lips met tentatively at first, then again with increased passion.

Nate’s lips parted ever so slightly, and David felt the delicate touch of his tongue caressing his lower lip. They stood, absorbed in their kiss, their bodies pressed close together as David felt the hunger to take this kiss further grow and bloom inside him. He lowered his lips to Nate’s throat, covering that long, slender shape with feverish kisses while Nate clung to him with fierce strength. Finally they parted, leaning back slightly in their embrace, breathing heavily.

“Wow,” David said in a choked whisper, his arms still locked around Nate’s body. “Just….wow.”

Nate laughed softly and pressed his face to David’s shoulder. “That about sums it up,” he murmured.

“You have to leave tomorrow?” David asked, leaning back further to gaze into Nate’s eyes.

“I do,” Nate said. “And by this time tomorrow you’ll be glad I did.”

David shook his head.

“Listen,” Nate told him, taking a step backward and re-capturing David’s hand. “I know. This was … well, amazing would be an understatement. But it’s just one kiss and I still think you need time to process all that’s happened. For that matter, so do I.”

David lowered his head.

“David?” Nate said, his fingers reaching to tip David’s face up to his.

“Yeah?”

“This isn’t the end.

David’s eyes met his steadily.

“I promise,” Nate said, his voice almost a whisper.

David smiled and nodded. “Let’s go,” he said, tugging on Nate’s hand, and with hands clasped they walked to the parking lot.

“I’ll fax the contracts over to your office,” Nate told him as they got into the car. “I’ll include a number on them where you can fax the signed papers.”

“I won’t see you tomorrow?” David asked, turning to Nate with his keys still in his hand.

“No,” Nate said.

“Nate, please. Can’t I at least take you to the airport?”

“I’ll take the shuttle,” Nate said, turning away to look out the window.

“I have to dump you at the motel and that’s it?”

“Well, I hope you don’t ‘dump’ me,” Nate said, clearly amused. Then, sensing David’s dismay, he turned toward him and laid his hand on David’s arm. “Listen to me,” he said firmly. “I don’t want to drag this out. Emotions are running high right now. Everything’s new and a bit explosive. I want you to have time to think things through before we take this any further. You’re not the only one who’s frightened. I’m not going to plunge into something that could leave me with a broken heart.”

“You’re afraid I’ll break your heart?” David asked. “You’re kidding!”

“I’m really not,” Nate assured him. “You’re new to all this. By tomorrow morning you may see things differently.”

David snorted. “I doubt it.”

“David, there’s a lot you don’t know. Think about it. We only met yesterday. For all you know I could be a cheat and a liar, someone you’d never let yourself get involved with.”

David studied him, his hazel eyes wide and searching. Then he shook his head. “You could never make me believe that.”

“Well,” and Nate smiled, “truth be told, I’m not nearly that exciting. But neither of us knows the other well enough to be sure of anything yet. I won’t run the risk and you shouldn’t either. Not yet.”

David started the car and they drove to Nate’s motel in relative silence, only speaking now and then about their time at Jefferson’s mansion. David knew Nate was right to insist that this new connection between needed time to grow. He longed to plunge into a heated affair and he hoped Nate wanted that too. But taking their time wouldn’t make the affair less likely, only less reckless and perhaps more likely to succeed over the long term.

And yet when they pulled into the motel driveway, David’s heart trembled in his chest. He’d never felt this drawn to another human being, and he couldn’t shake off his fear that he would never see Nate again. And yet the very desire that drew him to the young producer caused his heart to freeze in his chest. Without even trying, Nate had awakened long submerged and carefully hidden aspects of David’s being, and the hesitancy of a lifetime still held him in its grip.

The two men sat without speaking for a moment, then Nate took his hand. “I’ll call you after I land tomorrow night if that’s OK.”

“It’s more than OK,” David said, his voice wavering.

Nate opened the car door.

“Nate!” David cried, reaching to grasp his hand. “Promise me I’ll see you again!” The words seemed pulled from him by a power beyond his control.

Nate smiled slowly. “If you have a computer with video capabilities you can see me tomorrow.”

David stared at him, incomprehensibly.

“Skype?” Nate queried. “Don’t tell me you don’t have it.”

“Oh! SKYPE!” David stammered. “Yeah, I have it. You mean we can…”

“I have your email address. I’ll email you my Skype information and you can send me yours. Then we can see each other. OK?” He leaned back into the car and kissed David hungrily, once again sliding his damp tongue across David’s lower lip. “And I promise I’ll be thinking of you all the way across the country.”

David nodded, speechless.

“Bye-bye,” Nate whispered. Then he shut the door and quickly walked into the motel.

David watched him until he disappeared out of sight. He tried to settle his breathing as he watched Nate disappear into the motel then he drew in a trembling breath and slowly pulled his car away, heading for home.

Once there he sat quietly in his library, sipping a glass of brandy, thinking about the events of the past day. He felt an unfamiliar sense of awakening, as though a new part of himself had emerged into consciousness. A budding sense of renewal touched him with hope and the very first stirrings of the kind of happiness he’d never felt before. Today had been one of the happiest he’d ever experienced and yet nothing about it could be called secure or permanent.

Was he falling in love with Nate? Even asking the question filled him with uncertainty. Could he be falling in love with someone he’d only met yesterday? Logically that didn’t seem possible. But none of those questions and none of that doubt could overshadow a growing belief that real happiness glimmered barely visible but present on his horizon.

I’ll see him tomorrow, he thought. And he resolved that for tonight anyway, that thought would be enough to sustain him.


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