David slammed the phone into its cradle and stared at the far wall of his office. “Dammit!” he muttered. The call left him weary and as his hand slipped from the receiver it clenched into a fist. Why the hell did she do that? he wondered. Why call and rub it in?
The news didn’t take him by surprise. His daughters had told him about their mother’s boyfriend and they seemed to like him. The relationship, according to them, was serious which bothered David not at all. The mean-spirited enjoyment his ex-wife took in announcing her plans to wed troubled him more than the news itself. They’d been divorced for almost two years, and though their parting had seemed amiable enough her sarcasm today left him wondering.
He sat staring into space for a moment, then shrugged. If she’d been harboring resentments she’d kept them to herself and there wasn’t much he could do about it now. Determined to shake off his annoyance, he returned to the task he’d been engaged in before her call, grading his student’s essays.
David Gardener, a professor of Revolutionary War history at the University of Virginia, loved his chosen profession. A rarity in the upper echelons of education – a teacher with passionate interest in his subject – his class was always filled to capacity. He’d loved this time period and even as a boy had been fascinated by the ‘founding fathers’, the men who inspired a system of government that David believed embodied the best and highest in all people. The system had its flaws; but to David those flaws flowed from the greed of unscrupulous individuals rather than the system itself.
His classes focused on the best in American ideals and on the men and women who had reflected those ideals during his country’s formative years. But his teaching strategies didn’t place either the people or the principles they represented on a pedestal. The stories of America’s very human founders weren’t always pretty, and David refused to white-wash their tales. He taught with a passion for the truth that never failed to gain an enthusiastic response from his students.
For nearly an hour he tried to lose himself his student’s work and steer his thoughts away from the exchange with his ex-wife. But the call continued to nag at him, until finally he sighed and pushed the papers aside.
“Yeah, Melinda,” he said, turning to his student-assistant. “Do you need something?”
“There’s a man asking to see you, sir,” she told him. “A Mister…” she hesitated and consulted the notepad in her hand. “…Reese.”
“He’s from Paramount Pictures,” she added in an excited whisper.
David frowned and held up one finger as a signal to wait. He’d had this kind of visitor in the past and they generally turned out to be some low-level Hollywood staffer seeking clarification on an obscure historical fact. He’d given time to such requests fairly often in the service of accuracy in such films, though he’d never been well-paid for his services. He glanced at his watch and sighed.
“Alright, Melinda. See him in.”
He stared down at the ungraded essays and frowned.
“Professor Gardener,” Melinda said, “may I introduce Nathanial Reese.”
David threw his visitor a casual glance then straightened in stunned surprise trying to hide his quick inhale. Reese’s sapphire-blue eyes projected a mesmerizing intensity which blended with the planes and angles of his heart-shaped face to form an image of surpassing beauty. David felt his chest tighten with a startling and unaccustomed surge of attraction.
“Professor Gardener?” Reese said, holding out his hand. “How do you do?”
David took the extended hand. “Hello,” he said. “Sorry. My thoughts were a million miles away.”
“I hope I’m not intruding,” Reese said, holding David’s hand in a firm grasp. “Thank you for seeing me without an appointment.”
“That’s alright,” David stammered. “Did Melinda say your name was ‘Reese’? And please, do sit down.” He gestured to the chair in front of his desk.
“Yes. Nathaniel Reese. Nate.”
“You’re from Paramount Pictures?” David asked. He tried not to stare, but his eyes were drawn again and again to Reese’s face, mesmerized by its startling beauty.
“Well,” Nate laughed, “your secretary may be a bit more impressed by that fact than my position warrants.” He smiled, and once again the beauty of his features struck David like a physical blow.
“She gets over-awed fairly easily.” David agreed, returning Reece’s smile.
“I work as an associate producer for Lance Barrett. He produces documentary films and he’s about to begin development on a project that might be right up your alley.”
“Revolutionary War period?” David asked with a quick grin.
Nate laughed. “Yeah. Not much of a stretch, huh? We wonder if you’d be interested in doing some private consultant work for us.”
For a moment David hesitated. The words ‘private consultant work’ usually translated into ‘work for us for free and we’ll give you credit in the film’, an arrangement which demanded a substantial amount of work for relatively little reward. “Well,” he said, slowly. “I’ve done this kind of work before and it’s usually not all that…um…” he hesitated. “Well, frankly, it’s usually not all that lucrative given the time involved.”
Nate nodded. “I understand. And I’m sorry to say that this one probably won’t be any more lucrative. We will certainly pay you a stipend…” he grimaced and shook his head, “though I confess not much of a stipend. And, of course, you’ll get film credit.” He laughed and shook his head again. “Yeah. I know. That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee.”
“I doubt you’d find a cup of coffee anywhere that costs only a nickel,” David replied, grinning in return. “But I do want to hear you out. If it’s a quality production, I’m willing to overlook the lack of compensation. I know documentaries aren’t always well-funded.”
Nate laughed shortly and leaned forward in his chair. “Try never well-funded unless you’re on the level of a Michael Moore, which Lance certainly isn’t. I will tell you though that he takes the subject seriously and very much wants you to be part of it. He’s researched your work in other films and you impressed the hell out of him.” Reece’s eyes fixed on David’s and held. “Please, consider it, Professor,” he said, the appeal in his voice bringing a quick flush to David’s cheeks.
David dropped his eyes and sucked in a quick breath. “Could you tell me a bit more about the project and the role you see me playing in your production process?” he asked.
The two men spent several minutes discussing the specifics of the film and the level of David’s participation then Reese got to his feet. “I don’t want to take up any more of your time, Professor. I hope you can find your way clear to joining us.”
“I’d like to think it over. Can I phone you later today, Mr. Reese?”
“Please, it’s Nate. And sure! Call anytime you like. I’m staying at the Holiday Inn Express just a few miles from here.” He wrote a number on a business card and offered it to David. “That’s my room number.” He smiled and held out his hand. “It’s been a real pleasure, Professor Gardener,” he said, his incredibly beautiful eyes once again locked on David’s.
David’s heart lurched in his chest. Rising, he took the card and quickly lowered it out of sight to hide the trembling of his hand. “Please call me David,” he said. “And I promise I’ll call soon.”
“Good,” Nate said. He grinned, threw David a farewell wave, and strode out of the office.
David stared after him for a moment then sat down heavily in his chair and leaned back. He’d always been aware of his homosexual leanings, though he’d seldom acted on them. A faithful husband and devoted father during all the years of his marriage, he regretted nothing about that time in his life.
But today he’d met a man whose very presence lifted that aspect of his nature into full consciousness. And as frightened as he felt by his reactions one fact remained clear, the prospect of seeing Nate Reese again was compelling. David knew nothing about the young producer and Reese certainly knew nothing about him. But these facts paled in comparison to the attraction he’d felt from the moment Reese walked into the room.
David hadn’t thought about courtship of any kind for years and had very little experience with same-sex relationships. For all he knew Nate was married or resolutely heterosexual. He had no idea what his next step should be or what might happen at their next meeting. He only knew he wanted that meeting more than he’d wanted anything in a very long time.
His sudden attraction to Nate Reese was a stunning reminder of how many years he’d spent alone and how much he missed the intimacy of a close relationship. He and his ex-wife had once held hands as they walked, shared the details of their day, and held each other close each night. And though he had no desire to renew that relationship, he hadn’t realized until today how much he longed for that simple closeness and how empty his life had become without it.
Brows slanted in a frown, he stared down at his phone. Would a call to Nate be welcomed? Ignored? Or worse yet accepted, only to end in disappointment when Nate rejected any advance he might find the courage to make. He wondered how long he dared wait before calling so as not to appear too eager. It occurred to him that he hadn’t thought about his conversation with his ex-wife since the moment Reese walked into his office. “What the hell’s come over me?” he wondered aloud, and his mind provided an answer: He has.
He moved to his desk, determined to finish grading the remaining essays. This afternoon’s meeting had brought him face-to-face with a deeply hidden aspect of his nature, and his stomach twisted with the urgent need to escape into the familiar and comfortable. He reviewed and graded every paper before leaving for the day.
At home, he forced himself to eat a light dinner. As always, he felt intellectually curious about his own reactions and mulled that afternoon’s meeting over and over in his mind. His longing invite Nate to meet him for a drink confused and frightened him until eventually he sighed and threw down his fork in disgust.
“Jesus!” he said out loud. “What the hell am I doing? I’m like a cave man who’s just seen fire for the first time. I don’t know what to do with all this!” His handsome face twisted in self-disgust and he felt resolve harden within him. “If I think this thing to death I’ll never see him again,” he muttered.
Overcome by a sudden desire to act on his impulse, he reached for the card in his shirt pocket and called the motel. A twinge of anxiety tightening his stomach as it rang.
“Ummm…hello, Nate? It’s Mr….I mean…it’s David.”
“Oh, hi! You’ve been on my mind!”
“I – I have?” David said in surprise. “In what way? I mean, I suppose you were wondering about my decision.”
“Well, wondered that and other things. What’s up? Have you decided?”
“I–well, I umm…I honestly wasn’t calling about the job. I thought maybe you’d like to –,” he hesitated.
God, he thought. I’m so fucking bad at this!
He sucked in another deep breath. “I know you’re new in town and I wondered if you’d like to have a drink with me. And maybe some dinner?” He grimaced and shook his head in self-annoyance. You just ate dinner!
Nate laughed; a genial, good-natured sound that immediately put David at ease. “I’d love to! You’re nice to ask. I’m sitting here bored out of my mind.”
The warmth of Nate’s laughter dissolved his hesitancy. What the hell, he thought, I’ll eat another dinner.
“I can pick you up in front of your motel in say…ten minutes?”
“Sounds good, David. I’ll see you then.” And without another word he hung up.
David stood for several seconds without moving, staring down at the phone in his hand. Then he smiled, snapped the phone shut, and grabbed his keys.
He spotted Nate the moment he pulled into the Holiday Inn Express, leaning against a pillar smoking a cigarette. Nate’s tight jeans and leather jacket emphasized his darkly handsome good looks and David felt his chest tighten in anticipation. My God, he thought. I’ve got a date with James Dean!
As he approached Nate he rolled down the window. “Hey there.”
“Oh, hi!” Nate said, turning to greet him. He doused his cigarette in a nearby ashtray and strode to the car. “Sorry about the cigarette smell,” he said, clambering into the passenger seat. “You probably hate it. Most people do anymore. I’m trying to quit but I wanted to grab a quick one before you picked me up.”
“It’s not good for you,” David commented, then cursed himself. Damn! he thought. That’s no way to begin. “Sorry,” he added. “Didn’t mean to sound like your father.”
Nate shrugged. “You’re right, it’s not good for me!” he agreed with a short laugh. “And you didn’t sound like my father. You sounded like a concerned friend.”
“I may not know you well enough to assume that much,” David said, pulling the car back out onto the road. Though I’d sure like to, he thought. “Do you have any place in mind where you’d like to eat?”
“I’ve never been to Charlottesville,” Nate told him. “Why don’t you pick for us. Long as the food’s good I’ll be happy. Haven’t eaten since lunch.”
“Well,” David said, “since I’m a history professor, let’s go to a restaurant that has some historical ambiance. I know a place called ‘The Ivy Inn’. It has a rich history and great food!”
Nate nodded and stretched out his jean-covered legs, relaxing in the seat. “Sounds good.” He glanced at David. “Dare I ask about the job? Not trying to rush you or anything,” he added.
“Of course you can ask,” David replied, shooting a sideways glance at his passenger. “But I have a question of my own first, if you don’t mind.”
“Will you be the one I’m dealing with should I accept?” The question was completely legitimate, but David cringed internally. He knew he’d be a lot more likely to consider this project if he knew he’d be working with Nate.
“Would you like me to be?” Nate asked.
Holy crap! David thought in surprise, a jolt of anxiety tightening his stomach.
“Well, I’d, umm…,” he stammered. “Sure, if you’d…I mean if that would be OK with you.”
Nate laughed. “Sorry, man, didn’t mean to fluster you. Just teasing. Forgive my Hollywood sense of humor. Of course that’d be OK with me. I’ve never been to Virginia before and Charlottesville’s beautiful. Might mean I’d get to see a bit more of it. I saw some of the campus today and it’s lovely. Hey, I think you’re about to pass ‘The Ivy Inn’.”
Damn! David thought as he turned into the restaurant’s parking lot. Was he tually flirting with me? He shot a quick glance at Nate as he parked the car. He probably meant it as a joke.
They left the car and walked slowly toward the restaurant. “Wow, you’re right!” Nate said softly gazing at the imposing building. “This place does have ambiance.” He hesitated for a moment. “Looks expensive.”
“Tonight’s on me,” David said, pointing toward the stairs that led to the restaurant’s main door.
“You don’t have to do that, David,” Nate said, laying a hand on David’s arm. “I actually have expense money from Paramount.” He laughed again. “As long as the meal isn’t too expensive.”
They stood for a moment, looking into each other’s eyes, Nate’s hand still on David’s arm.
David felt the contact as an electrifying jolt through his body that left him both confused and eager for more. “No,” he said at last. “It’s not too expensive. But I’m treating you to dinner tonight. I want to. Honestly.”
Nate smiled and shrugged. “Thanks, David. That’s good of you.”
Once seated, David insisted that Nate try the Grilled Tenderloin with Wild Mushrooms, a specialty of the ‘Ivy Inn’, while he selected a salad of ‘Warm Winter Vegetables’.
“David! I can’t eat a steak while you’re grazing on veggies!”
“Sure you can!” David insisted, laughing. “I had a late lunch and I’m fine with salad.”
Nate nodded. “OK, but only if you promise to eat dessert with me,” he said, tilting his head toward the dessert table. “I mean it. You have to promise.”
David laughed again. “OK. I promise. Dessert for two.”
They talked non-stop throughout the meal. David found Nate to be intelligent and articulate. He had a keen interest in the Revolutionary War period as well as a depth of knowledge which surprised him.
“Tell me,” Nate said at one point. “History portrays Benjamin Franklin as a bit of a rake. Are those stories factual?”
David snorted in laughter. “Well, it’s certainly true that he did rather, um, indulge while he visited the French court of Versailles. But,” David added quickly, “it’s also true that he had a hard job, some would say an impossible job, in convincing the French King– who was already broke–to finance the Revolutionary War. But he did it.”
“So he got the job done,” Nate said, munching on his steak.
“So to speak…” David teased with a wink, and Nate laughed out loud.
Nate drew him out, repeatedly asking interesting questions. He possessed a bright and curious mind and, unlike many, was unafraid of admitting it when he didn’t know something. His interest left David feeling that every word he said, every story he told, every bit of obscure information he shared was a nugget of pure gold.
He felt he had Nate’s complete and undivided attention, and basking in that interest made every word he said feel important. Not even with his most fascinated students had David ever felt so… his mind groped for a word to describe it–valued. Nate made him feel valued.
As they ate dessert, a heavy sadness settled in David’s stomach. The evening would soon be over and none of his questions had been answered. He yearned to know if Nate had any interest in forming a deeper relationship but had no idea how ask. Terrified of scaring Nate off, he hesitated to reveal his feelings and he felt equally terrified at the prospect of exposing this newly awakened side of his nature to someone who was – for all intents and purposes – a total stranger.
Nate’s warmth and openness made David feel he could trust him, but his logical mind fought against this feeling. He could be wrong, and if Nate reacted badly he could spread gossip about David that could damage his reputation at the university. He couldn’t be fired. He had tenure, and no existing statutes prohibited homosexual relationships between consenting adults. Still, David’s fear cautioned him to move carefully.
“Do you–,” he began, then hesitated.
Nate looked up. “Do I…what?” He gazed at David, his dessert spoon half-raised to his mouth.
“Do you–I mean– are you married?”
“Nope,” Nate said, lowering his spoon and staring levelly at David. “I’m not.”
“No umm…girlfriend?” David continued, feeling the knot in his stomach tighten.
“Do you know that you have a slight lisp when you talk?” Nate asked, smiling easily. “And you have the most charming southern accent I’ve ever heard.”
David started. “I — do?”
“You do,” Nate told him, once again wolfing down his dessert.
“In fact,” Nate continued, suddenly laying his spoon down and leaning toward David across the small table, “I find damn near everything about you charming. Must be your Southern heritage.”
Speechless, David stared across the table at Nate, stunned by his flirtatious manner. And yet as he saw Nate’s smile, his chest expanded with a tingling surge of anticipation.
“And no, David,” Nate added softly, leaning toward David as he spoke. “I do not have a girlfriend.”
Confused, David swallowed hard and signaled waiter to bring the check. As he pulled out his credit card he pretended to study the check, striving to regain his composure while Nate sat watching him steadily, silent and self-possessed, one ankle crossed over his knee.
After the waiter left Nate once again leaned toward him. “David, is something wrong? You seem…,” he shrugged, “…uncomfortable or something. Please don’t hesitate to tell me if you’d rather not take the job. I promise I’ll understand.”
“No!” David stated. “It’s not that at all. In fact, I’m probably going to accept your offer. It’s…it’s something else entirely.”
“If it’s me,” Nate continued. “If you’d rather not work with me, I can arrange to…”
“No!” David blurted out. “I want to work with you. That’s the main reason I’m taking the job.” The moment the words slipped out of his mouth he felt a surge of blind panic.
But Nate seemed completely at ease. “Well, that’s a relief,” he said calmly. “I appreciate your confidence in me, David.” He smiled easily. “I think we’ll do great work together.”
David gave no reply. Knowing that he and Nate would be working together warmed his heart, but he still didn’t know if he had a chance with the young producer. Well, you could always grow a pair and ask him! he thought, then shot a glance at Nate and felt fear freeze his chest.
In the motel’s driveway, Nate edged half-way out of the car then turned and leaned toward David through the still-open door. “Thanks for everything, David. You gave me a great evening and I enjoyed every minute. Lance will be delighted that you’ve accepted our proposal.”
“Will I see you again before you go?” David blurted.
Nate said nothing for a moment and then smiled. “Would you like to see me again?”
“Don’t we need to finalize things?” David said, desperate to gloss over his impulsive question. “I mean… don’t I need to sign a contract?”
Nate nodded. “I see. If you like I could have the contract faxed here so you could sign it before I return to California.”
“That’d be great!” David said with forced brightness. “Give me a call when it arrives and I’ll make time to sign it”
Nate nodded. “OK. Sounds good. Good night, David.” He closed the car door and walked toward the motel entrance.
David struggled against a nearly overpowering impulse to throw open his car door and call Nate back to him and as he watched the young producer disappear into the building an aching sadness filled his chest.
He couldn’t define his feelings to himself. How could he hope to explain them to Nate? Frustrated, he slammed his fist against the steering wheel then sighed and steered his car out of the motel driveway and toward home.
Stay tuned for Chapter Two!
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