Chapter Five – Being There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

He immediately tapped out a reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Chapter Four – Nate’s Day

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.

 

 

 

Chapter Three – David’s Day

David felt sure he’d never be able to sleep after a day so filled with glorious promise followed by a nearly silent parting. But he surprised himself by sleeping straight through until morning.

Once awake, he moved about in a kind of fog, showering, shaving, and dressing exactly as he always had. Everything in the same order, following the same precise routine that had guided his mornings for years. But a feeling of bewilderment chased his every action. How, he wondered, could everything still be the same when at the same time everything inside him had changed so completely?

He asked himself if it had all been a dream, then shook his head in self-annoyance. Their tickets from the Monticello tour were lying on the coffee table right where he’d tossed them the night before, and the jacket he’d worn lay draped over the living room chair. He felt irrationally grateful to the mementos which proved that the previous day’s events were more than wishful thinking on his part. At least he could prepare his breakfast secure in the knowledge that he hadn’t hallucinated the entire incident.

Yet, as he sat at his kitchen table drinking coffee and munching toast, he found himself focusing more on what hadn’t happened than what had. He hadn’t even gotten Nate’s phone number. He hadn’t asked for his email address. He hadn’t used his phone to take even one picture. He hadn’t asked even one of the million questions that were spinning wildly in his mind. He wondered if Nate were up yet and pondered whether or not he should call him.

Dammit! he thought angrily. I don’t even know what time his flight leaves! I only know it’s late morning. He chewed his lower lip, feeling his desire to call Nate morph into a creeping sense of anxiety. Would he feel pressured if David called him? Would he feel he was being pursued too persistently? Would he change his mind? The thought that he might scare Nate off filled him with apprehension.

This was an old habit for David, drifting into imaginings that were based more on his insecurities than his strengths. In the past, he had allowed these pessimistic flights of fancy to determine his choices in life. But not this time. Not in this situation. He might lose Nate in the long run, who could say? There were no guarantees in any relationship, and this one had scarcely begun. But whether his relationship with Nate turned out to be long or short, he wouldn’t let it be sabotaged by his overactive imagination.

He reined in his nervousness and grabbed his cell phone. Once connected to the motel, he punched in Nate’s room number and waited while it rang. No answer. Discouraged, he left a brief message: “It’s David. Just wanted to chat for a moment before you left. Give me a call before you head for the airport if you’ve got time. Bye.”

He sat the phone down with a sigh. I guess I missed him, he thought sadly. Maybe he’s already left for the airport.

A ringing sound interrupted his thoughts and signaled an incoming FAX. David rose to investigate, suspecting it would be the contract that Nate had promised to send, and discovered that he was correct. The document lay in the inbox, but of more interest was a second document: a cover letter written in a scrawling hand.

“Hi”, it read. “Here’s the contract. FAX your signed copy to the number in the upper right-hand corner.

Nate

P.S. I haven’t stopped thinking about you.”

He smiled when he read the postscript and was halfway back to the kitchen when his phone rang. He dove to answer it.

“Hello.”

“Hi there!” Nate said, breathing heavily. “Got your message and wanted to give you a quick call before I left. Did you get the contract? Sorry I wasn’t here earlier. I was downstairs faxing it to you.”

Nate’s out-of-breath delivery put him completely at his ease. “Yes, I just got it. Thank you. And thanks, especially for the P.S. It meant a lot to me. I have to confess I woke up today wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing.”

Nate laughed. “I figured you would. Everything’s happening pretty fast, and that impression isn’t helped by the fact that I have to leave so quickly. I’m sorry about that, David. I wish it were different.”

“You’re working,” David replied warmly. “This isn’t a sightseeing trip. I know your time’s not your own right now. I was a little disgusted with myself that I didn’t think to get your cell phone number or take at least ONE picture of you.”

“You’ve got my number now,” Nate told him. “I called with my cell so it should be in your phone. And far as a picture goes…” suddenly his voice dropped to a low, husky murmur. “I’ll count on you to remember what I look like until I can send one to you.”

David felt his heart skip a beat. Damn! he thought. Everything he lights a fire inside me! “Now you’re not playing fair,” David told him, lowering his own voice. “You convince me we have to go slow, then use that seductive tone of voice on me? You’d best believe I could get to that motel before the echo dies if you keep it up.”

Nate laughed. “Sorry about that,” he said, still chuckling. “Couldn’t help myself. But don’t come to the motel. The shuttle’s outside waiting for me so I’d be gone by the time you arrived.”

“We’ve left so much unsaid, Nate.”

“I know,” Nate agreed. “I’ll call once I land, and we ARE going to Skype later aren’t we? I’ll send you my info.”

David nodded inaudibly but Nate somehow understood. “I hate for it to be this way, David, and believe me I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t have to. It’ll all be OK. Now, I’d better run.”

“Talk to you soon,” David told him. “Safe flight.”

“Tonight,” Nate promised in that same low, seductive voice, and hung up.

David carried the papers to his living room and sprawled lengthwise on his couch to look them over. It was a standard-issue contract, nothing fancy, nothing surprising. It simply restated the items that he and Nate had agreed upon previously, and David grabbed a pen and signed it without hesitation.

Then he turned his attention to the cover letter, re-reading Nate’s brief note and particularly the postscript. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift back to the moment when he had held Nate in his arms and kissed him. Thinking about it left him transported. Overnight his life had become a wave lifting him into a new awareness, frightening but undeniable, while his conscious mind, somehow left behind, was entirely focused on the memory of Nate’s kiss.

His lips had been soft and yielding, and David had lost himself immediately in their intoxicating allure. He would have happily stood there beside Jefferson’s pool until the sun rose the next morning, feeding on the sweetness of Nate’s kiss. And when his tongue had touched David’s lips in a moist caress, it had taken David’s breath away. That one kiss had been both an awakening and a confirmation, and David knew he would never forget what it did to him.

He remembered Nate’s hand as it rested in his. It was strong and beautiful formed. He remembered the toned muscles of his arms. Holding him had been an experience unlike any other. And yet the strength he felt as he held Nate in his arms was tempered by a sweetness of spirit that left him totally captivated.

He tried to rein in his feelings. He’d known Nate for only a day. How could he hope to know who he really was as a person? He couldn’t. Nor could Nate know him. Nate was younger than him. He wasn’t sure how much younger, but definitely younger. He wondered how much difference that reality would make and again there were no answers.

David had seldom engaged in gay sex but had always found it pleasurable. He called forth visions of putting Nate’s cock in his mouth, of engaging in anal sex with him, in Nate, perhaps, wanting to reciprocate. He sat silently letting these images play across his mind feeling him heart beating faster, his breathing becoming erratic.

He sighed. Kissing Nate had been one of the most thrilling and pleasurable experiences of his life. It had been a return…like coming home, and it had awakened an aching desire for ‘more’. But he felt frightened by his own inexperience. The thought of engaging in the acts which would take their kiss further awakened a crippling feeling of insecurity.

They had walked, together, into unknown territory and David felt he had walked into it without any kind of guide. It troubled him how readily he had succumbed but when he searched his heart, he knew that his attraction to Nate flowed from the honest and nearly irresistible magnetism between them. The fact that Nate felt that attraction as strongly as he did both surprised and thrilled him.

He shrugged in resignation. I’ll deal with my inexperience when the time comes,” he thought. Right now it’s all an unknown.  I have to let things to develop naturally. I refuse to tie myself up in knots about it now. There’s no point. 

“I’d better figure out this Skype stuff now though,” he grumbled, heaving himself off the couch. “He probably knows everything there is to know about it but I know almost nothing.”

Which perfectly reflects this relationship, his mind added dryly.

He sat down at his computer and opened his copy of Skype. He peered at the screen, trying to remember his username and password, then jumped when his phone signaled a text. He grabbed the phone, and seeing that the text was from Nate, he opened it eagerly and stared. In front of his face was a selfie that Nate had clearly just taken at the airport. The image wasn’t all that great, but it was good enough to make David’s heart skip a beat.

“Hi,” the text message read. “Hope this’ll tide you over ’til I can send you a better one.

Remember me. xxoo”

“Like I could forget you,” David said to the image before his eyes. He hurriedly typed:

“Hi, yourself! Thank you for the picture. It doesn’t do you justice but then nothing could. And I shall have no trouble remembering you, believe me. Be safe. xxxooo”

He studied the photo after carefully saving it to his phone. The face that smiled back at him was incredibly beautiful. “Wow,” David whispered, still a bit startled that such a gorgeous creature would be interested in him. Then he checked his watch and rose. Skype lessons would have to wait. He had afternoon classes, and he was already late.

For the rest of the day there was an extra spring in his step and a smile on his face that even his students couldn’t help but notice. He wondered occasionally where Nate was and what he was doing, and he didn’t mind at all when he had to interrupt his fifth hour class–‘The Era of the New Republic 1789-1850’to read a short text message.

“Hi there! Landed in LA safe and sound. Looking forward to our chat later on. Be nice, now. No naked Skyping allowed. 😉 Talk soon. xxxooo”

David’s chuckle drew a surprised look from his students. Their notice brought a blush to his cheeks, and after sending a brief reply to Nate, he quickly apologized and led them back to their ongoing discussion.

When he got home that afternoon he went immediately to his computer and spent the next half-hour figuring out how to use Skype. To his relief it was fairly straightforward, and he felt a burst of confidence as the time approached for their chat. He was still nervous and inclined to think that he would never be a fan of long-distance relationships, but when Nate’s face appeared before him on the screen, smiling and obviously happy to see him, he had to admit that it was better than nothing.

“Hi!!” David said happily. “I wasn’t sure this would work!”

Nate laughed merrily. “Ahh, Skype is old technology, but it works just fine. So how was your day?”

“Well, I faxed the contract as requested, but I’ve heard nothing back as yet.”

“Blame me for that,” Nate said with a grimace. “I’m the one who grabbed it from the fax machine, but I didn’t get enough time with Lance today to pass it along. I’ll do it tomorrow, never fear.”

“No worries,” David told him. “I was more anxious to talk to you than I was to hear from Lance.”

“Yeah,” Nate said softly. “Me too. Was wondering if you were having second thoughts about…well, about anything.”

“None,” David said firmly. “I’m scared, I confess it. But as far as you’re concerned, no second thoughts at all. You?”

Nate smiled. “None at all. I don’t know quite what we’re doing or where we’re going. But I’m…” he hesitated. “Well, I’m glad things went the way they did last night.”

“Nate, we know almost nothing about each other. That’s what scares me. What if you don’t like what you discover?”

“David…,” Nate drawled out. “I can’t imagine that happening.” Then he leaned back and shrugged. “As for myself, not much to know. I was born in California, studied cinematography and broadcast journalism at UCLA. I’m still studying, matter-of-fact. I’m taking a Doctorate course in Cinema and Media Studies.” He shrugged again. “I’ve been at it a long time and it’s slow-going.”

“Nate,” David said slowly, “may I ask, please…how old you are?”

Nate laughed softly and leaned toward the screen, his beautiful face growing larger before David’s eyes. “Been worrying you, hasn’t it,” he said softly.

David nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’m 35.”

David swallowed hard. Six years! he thought, a muted sense of panic tightening his chest.

“Well?” Nate said. “No comment?”

“God, Nate, I’m 41. That’s six years,” David said quietly.

“I can count,” Nate replied.

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“No. It doesn’t. But if it’s a deal-breaker for you, David, now’s the time to tell me. Don’t wait ’til we’re more involved and then back away. I’ve had enough…” he drew in a deep breath and fell silent.

“You’ve had enough…,” David said encouragingly.

“I’ve had enough heartache in my life. I’d just as soon avoid any more if possible. So tell me now if…”

“It’s not a problem,” David interrupted. “Certainly it’s not a deal-breaker. Frankly, if you told me you were an axe murderer wanted in ten states I’m not sure it would be a deal-breaker.”

Nate laughed then eyed David carefully. Even through a computer screen his steady gaze spread heat across David’s cheeks. “Be sure, David,” he said soberly. “Be very sure.”

“I’m sure,” David said firmly. “I don’t give a damn how old you are… or for that matter how young you are.”

“Well, you did ask,” Nate reminded him, gently. “So it had to mean something to you.”

“I wanted to know. I knew you were younger, I just didn’t know how much. When you told me I had a moment of panic, and I suppose it showed. But when you asked me if it was a deal-breaker, I knew it wasn’t. Not even close. So if you still want to be involved with an old duffer like me I’m totally up for it”

“OK,” Nate said quietly. “I’m glad. But let that be the last time you refer to yourself as an ‘old duffer’ please. Jesus!”

David chuckled, feeling himself relax. “You know, I’ve never met anyone I could talk with as easily as I can with you. It’s amazing to me.”

“I told you I’m not very terrifying,” Nate said, grinning. He leaned out of view of the computer screen, then reappeared with a wine glass in his hand. He lifted it toward David. “To you, my friend.”

“You like wine?” David asked, delightedly. He reached for his coffee cup and returned Nate’s toast. “And to you.”

“I LOVE wine!” Nate said, beaming. “I often take weekend trips to Napa Valley to visit some of the wineries there.”

“Well, we’ve something else in common then,” David told him. “Sorry I didn’t get to bring you to my house while you were here. I have a…” he paused and gave a self-deprecating shrug “semi-impressive wine cellar which you might enjoy.”

“Put it on the list,” Nate said, sipping again.

“What list?”

“The list of things we’re going to do together! One,” Nate intoned holding up one finger: Visit Napa Valley. Two,” he continued, “Visit your wine cellar. Though probably not on the same day.”

“Now,” David said quietly, “I’d like to hear a little bit about that heartache you spoke of earlier.”

Nate was silent for a moment.

“Unless you’d rather not talk about it,” David said quickly. “I didn’t mean to push.”

Nate smiled and shook his head. “Let’s set a couple ground rules,” he told David, leaning forward, his face once again filling screen. “First ground rule: Nothing is off-limits. You can ask me anything, and I’m going to assume I can do the same with you.”

“You can,” David said firmly.

“Second ground rule:,” Nate said “We’re always going to be honest with each other, even if we think the other one might not like it. It’s just better that way, don’t you think?” He leaned back in his chair and sipped his wine. “And if it’s something I can’t talk about, I’ll say so straight out, with as much explanation as possible. And you do the same. For my part, I can’t foresee having to invoke that rule, but there it is just in case.”

“I fully agree, and I accept your ground rules,” David said.

“OK,” Nate said. “The heartache was from a fairly long-term relationship I had with a man which ended rather badly about two years ago. He was cheating on me behind my back for months on end. I suspected it, of course, but he denied, denied, denied.” Nate shrugged and when he spoke his voice was bitter: “I fucking hate being lied to!”

“I won’t lie to you, Nate,” David assured him soberly.

Nate stared at him for a long moment as if evaluating his sincerity, then nodded. “OK.” He shook himself gently. “OK,” he said more confidently, and drew in a deep breath and leaned toward the computer screen. “Your turn.”

“Divorced for two years,” David told him. “I have two daughters, Sarah, eight, and Deborah, thirteen. I just found out yesterday that my ex is going to marry her current boyfriend sometime this summer.”

“Ouch!” Nate said sympathetically.

“Nah,” David assured him. “I honestly wish her well.” He shrugged. “Our marriage was never…” he hesitated, as if searching for the right words. “It was never really my passion,” he said finally. “I loved her. But I loved her more as a friend than a wife. I’m not even sure I realized it myself until the last few years of our marriage, but I feel certain she felt it long before then. I feel I shortchanged her in many ways, so I’m glad if she’s found someone who feels the passion for her that I couldn’t feel.”

“I’m sure you were a good husband,” Nate said softly.

“I was…I was OK,” David said reluctantly. “I was never mean or unfaithful or anything. I was a good provider. But, Nate, I wasn’t really THERE either. Not with all of me. Not with the parts of me that really mattered.” He sighed.

“No men in your life?” Nate asked gently.

“None recently,” David told him, laughing easily. “Oh, I’ve had a few short-term relationships. But none of them ever came to anything…mainly because I was scared to death to pursue them.”

“So I’m something relatively new for you.”

“You are indeed,” David said. “Brand new, very exciting, very scary, but also very…,” he hesitated, “…very special.” He could feel a blush creep across his cheeks and wondered if Nate could see it on his computer screen. He looked down at the keyboard.

“You’re really cute when you go all shy like that,” Nate said, and his voice dropped suddenly into that low murmur that invariably drove David crazy.

“And you’re really cute when you use that seductive tone of voice on me,” he replied, grinning at Nate and fanning his face in a comic gesture. “Now stop it. You said no naked Skyping!”

Nate laughed. “I did at that. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be very good at that kind of lovemaking. I prefer to be with the person I’m having sex with.”

Feeling even more embarrassed, David looked beyond Nate at what appeared to be a well-stocked bookcase. “You read a lot?” he asked.

“Oh!” Nate glanced quickly behind him. “Yeah. I do. A lot of it is reference material for college and for some of the work I’ve done.” He suddenly stood and lifted the computer. “Let me give you a tour.”

He wandered around his apartment, pointing the computer’s camera at his small office area, surrounded by books, the living room with a fairly large flat-screen TV, a small kitchen, and finally the bedroom with a suitcase lying open, spilling its contents onto the bed. “As you can see,” he heard Nate’s disembodied voice say with a chuckle, “I haven’t unpacked yet.”

“Looks cozy,” David told him.

“Looks messy,” Nate replied, wandering back to his desk. “I’m not here a lot so the place is in a perpetual state of untidiness.”

“I can give you a tour of my house if you like.”

“Next time,” Nate told him as his face reappeared before David’s eyes. “I can’t talk anymore tonight. I’ve got a class, and if I leave right this minute I may just make it on time. I’m sorry about that, but I can’t skip it.”

“And I don’t want you to,” David said firmly. “I’m a professor! How would it look if tried to talk a college student into playing hooky!”

“I enjoyed this,” Nate told him. “I hope we can do it again soon. My schedule is a bit hectic this week, but I’ll keep in touch through email and what have you. When I have an evening off, I’ll let you know.”

“OK,” David said, his tone showing how downhearted he felt. No question about it. He was going to hate having a long-distance relationship.

“David, I know this is…” Nate sighed. “It’s unsatisfactory. It sucks. I know. But at this point I’m not sure what to do about it.”

“Nothing to do but what we’re doing. Don’t worry about it. We’ve got a whole country between us right now. We simply have to do the best we can.”

“Well, I’m willing if you are,” Nate said with a smile.

“And I am,” David affirmed. “I absolutely am.”

“OK. I’ll be in touch then.” He hesitated as if he wanted to say more, then spoke quickly: “Take care. Bye for now.”

“Bye,” David replied as he saw Nate’s hand reaching toward the computer to shut down the Skype session. Then the screen went blank. David ended the program and sat for a few minutes, thinking about their conversation.

Unsatisfactory didn’t begin to describe it. It was nice to talk to Nate and actually see him while doing so. But the desire David felt for a more intimate conversation consumed him. He’d never felt this kind of loneliness before. It wasn’t sex that he yearned for, though he certainly hoped that lovemaking was in their future. What he wanted was the kind of closeness that could only be achieved when you were actually with the other person. For him that was the kind of intimacy that builds lasting relationships.

David pushed his computer away and glared at it. “I won’t get that kind of intimacy with you,” he told the machine. Then, feeling slightly silly, he stood and walked toward the stairs leading to his bedroom. Stop being a jackass! his thoughts commanded. You’re lucky to have him in your life at all. Show a little gratitude.

The admonishment leveled by his psyche went straight to his heart. If he started feeling resentful now, he and Nate would never last. He vowed to be more positive in the future. For Nate’s sake…and his own.

But he also promised himself that he was going to find a way for he and Nate to be together again. Seeing him on Skype was pleasant enough, but every fiber of David’s being ached for more. He didn’t want to rush him or push him too fast. But he couldn’t help but believe that their relationship couldn’t evolve into anything more lasting until they were physically together again. He saw every moment of their time together in a kind of golden glow. Being in Nate’s presence had brought the kind of zest for living that he thought he’d never feel again. Ever since then everything about his life was bleaker.

“I need to see him again and I’m going to make it happen,” he vowed as he got ready for bed. “I swear I’m going to make it happen.


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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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Chapter One – Meeting Mister Reese

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.

“Sir?”

“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.”

David nodded.

“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.

“Hello?”

“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.”

“Shoot!”

“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.

“Thank you.”

“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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