"Weddings always make me cry," Paul said from the bedroom where he was packing for our trip upstate.
"I know, as soon as the binders clap onto the legs, the groom usually gets this haunted look in his eyes," I replied from the living room.
"Charlotte is hardly a ball and chain, you know!" Paul replied, sounding slightly ruffled.
"I know, I know," I said wearily.
"She's a sweet girl," Paul began, and I mouthed the words as he said them, " and she makes him happy."
Suddenly I was getting smacked on the head with a pair of underwear, "Don't mock me!"
"I wasn't, I swear," I said with a smirk and retreating to the kitchen.
"I'll never understand why you and she didn't hit it off," he muttered as he headed back to the bedroom.
"Well, I don't dwell on it, why should you?" I replied cheerily.
"You grow ever more cantankerous as this wedding approaches, you'd better behave!" he admonished me.
I merely groaned and headed for the coffee pot, intent on making some. It was just about all I knew how to do in the kitchen. Now, Paul, in addition to being a barman also knew his way about the kitchen. I was restricted to the silverware tray and the portion of counter containing the coffee pot.
The wedding he referred to, naturally, was Jonathan and Charlotte, and no I wasn't particularly looking forward to it. I still felt like an ass, and still felt as if I hadn't apologized well enough, I still felt as though there were things unsaid that maybe should have been said. But does anyone ask what I think? Not usually. Charlotte and Paul had been on the phone constantly, talking colors and schemes, cummerbunds and god knows what else. Makes my head hurt, it does. Jonathan had been a prince, of course, never making me feel guilty for my little outburst, but I did anyway.
Sometimes things are difficult to let go of, sometimes things are still unsettled.
Sometimes I was a fucking idiot.
"You should pick some clothes out, you know," he called out to me.
"I thought you did that already?" I replied.
"Only for the wedding itself," he said, breezing into the room, "I'll let you dress yourself otherwise." Cheeky bastard!
"Why? You don't approve of my dressing habits," I grunted as he gave me a small peck on the cheek.
"Well, a football jersey isn't very chic, sweetheart, even if it is comfortable," he giggled.
"Do you have to do this so early in the day?" I grumped.
"It's ten o'clock!"
"We have to leave by one if we are to make dinner," he said, narrowing his eyes. "Why do I get the feeling you don't want this to happen? You have been in a lousy mood ever since they announced the date," he grew quiet and looked out the window to a lovely view of the roof of the neighboring building, "or are you having second thoughts about who you wanted?"
"No, not that, it's just…you wouldn't understand," I replied, sitting at the kitchen table.
"Try me," he said as he poured coffee and sat opposite me.
I sighed deeply, trying to gather my thoughts, but whenever we talked Jonathan it was mine-filled territory.
"I never thought he and I would ever be friends. I never thought something I did would bring us as close as we are, or were," I sighed again. " I still feel like such a big asshole for the whole incident." I shook my head, knowing the words just weren't coming out right.
"Look, I know he has a special place in your heart, I know that it isn't even a sexual place per se, but he's happy," Paul soothed, unkempt blond hair spiking this way and that.
"She doesn't like me, and she doesn't trust me," I blurted.
"Of course she does, Charlotte thinks the world of you," Paul admonished, "Shame on you, she's," I joined him, in mockery, "a sweet girl."
"Well, she is. Dave, they are in love, why do you not like that?"
"I don't want to lose my friend, ok? Maybe I value him more than a normal friendship, maybe it's more than mere friendship, maybe he's just one of those special few people and she's a wedge," I finished lamely.
"Dave, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were fantasizing about him again," Paul said in a teasing tone, grinning like an idiot.
"I'm not," I protested, "I just…I don't know, I can't find the right words and everything I say will just damn me more!" I fairly yelled in frustration as I dropped my coffee cup in the sink, breaking off the handle and I didn't really care. I stalked into the bathroom, taking a book with me, and sat on the throne.
"I'm not upset with you, just so you know, I just want to understand," Paul said from the other side of the door, "I know how special he is to you, and I think you underestimate how special you are to him as well.. I mean, he had to make his brother best man, didn't he? Otherwise I am sure he'd have chosen you," he said as his voice faded down the hallway.
My head hurt.
The car was loaded with all of our worldly belongings, or so it seemed. Paul always packed as though we were off to a safari, god forbid we should leave the country at this point, I don't think we could afford the shipping bill. I glanced at him as he buckled in, always a constant for me these days, always there to keep me on an even keel. He tried like hell anyways.
"What? Do I have a long nose hair or something?" he asked playfully.
"Huge," I replied before leaning over to kiss him, "I love you, and I am sorry."
"It's ok, really, there's nothing to apologize for," he said, taking my hand, "I know that there will always be a place for him inside you, a room in your heart only he holds the key to. It's ok with me, I know where you will sleep tonight, I know that you love me," he looked at me levelly, " I know you love me," he sighed and lolled his head back before looking at me again, "Maybe I should apologize for being so jealous of my territory."
We gazed at one another for a moment before he smiled, sunny and enough to light the darkest night, I am sure.
"I am so looking forward to this," he said as he nestled into the leather seat, tanned legs reminding me of passionate nights and loving days. I think if he had worn shorts in the bar, I would have gone home with him the first night. It was funny, he had short blond hair and these blue eyes, not dark like the sea, and not icy blue either, more like a blue-gray, something that stood out like shiny coins where his eyes should have been.
"You want to know why I really don't mind that he has a part of you I can't touch?" he asked, looking at me from the corner of his eye. I nodded.
"It's looks like that, I know I have a spot too. His is different, you do love him, just differently," he looked at me in a way that made me glad to be sitting, lest I should fall out from my knees buckling under me. I nodded at him, maybe Jonathan was right, and maybe Paul did know me better than I know myself.
"Do you think they'll like our gift?" Paul asked as we left the store, considerably lighter in the wallet.
"I think it's pretentious," I replied.
"It's gorgeous," he remarked.
"It's pretentious, and an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure," I smirk.
"Thank you, my poet laureate," he smiled back while jabbing me in the ribs.
"She'll like it, but I don't know if he will," I replied.
"Of course he will, he knows it's from you too," he replied.
"I think he will know a Faberge egg copy would only come from you," I replied dryly.
"Well, how about we give them a fishing retreat too then? So they both get something they like rather than compromising and getting one mediocre gift?" Paul asked while setting the package in the trunk.
"Yeah, good idea, let's do that," I enthused.
"One condition," Paul said as he buckled in again.
"We are not going."
We finally got on the road after booking the trip with an open ended date at our favorite travel agent, who made a great deal from us, Paul with his feet on the dash and those fabulous legs stretched out which was definitely distracting my driving.
"Today is gorgeous! Too bad we couldn't drive the convertible, having the top down would be ideal today," Paul murmured.
"Well, if someone didn't pack like we were a gypsy caravan we could have," I teased.
"We needed everything!" he laughed.
We rode in silence, the Audi eating up the miles as we neared our destination. I admit, I was not looking forward to this. True, he seemed happy and I guess that's what really counts, right? This feeling kept nagging at me though, this certainty that something needed to be said. Or understood. Or something.
I am an idiot.
Funny how the city quickly falls away to the outlying communities, once we left the Clearview Expressway and hopped onto the Sprain Parkway we only had a few miles before we were roaring along the Taconic Parkway. The road was two-lane blacktop, twisting and turning like a closed track, stonewalls occasionally so close you might be able to reach out the window and do so, if you were jackass enough to try. Trees whipped by and every once in a while we'd spot a deer or two just off the shoulder, deciding if they really wanted to cross the road perhaps.
The trip to Salem was about five hours, and many country roads crossed to get there, I might add. Jonathan and Charlotte had bought an old farmhouse, renovated it to their standards and moved in. She decorated one room in pink. She claimed there were different shades of pink in the room, which I plainly didn't see, although Paul agreed the painter did a great job of making the individual colors stand out. I though the room looked like they hosed it down with Pepto-Bismol.
Sadly, Paul usually sided with Charlotte, and Jonathan sagely kept his mouth shut, while I, in a most un-sage like fashion, opened my own. I guess there was a reason Charlotte might not like me. Then again, maybe she needed to lighten up, I reasoned.
They had been nagging me since they moved in to buy a place nearer them. I always retorted that they could have bought a place closer to us as well. Trouble is, Paul seems to like the idea. In fact they had gone so far last time as to 'casually' stop by a house for sale, and, what luck, the realtor just happened to be there!
Night was setting in when we pulled into town, not much of one but it was quaint and somewhat charming. I always think of witch trials and inbreeding, but I guess some people aren't as twisted as I am.
I turned right at the one stoplight in town and proceeded at a rather sedate pace until we spotted the blazing lights of the house. Built in the Revolutionary War period, in a rambling style that was so common then, the outside really did look wonderful. A circular room sat in the right hand side with a conical roof to it, slate tiles in a decorative pattern made up the roof. The house itself was done in an antique white with baby blue trim on the windows and doorways. Wooden bows had been built in under each window with wooden ribbon linking then, also painted in subtle shades of blue to show light and dark.
We pulled up the drive slowly, mindful of any animals or visiting children there might be in the area, and brought the car to a stop near the back of the house.
"Eeeeee! There you are!" Charlotte squealed as she barreled out the back door in a sundress and sandals, a grin plastered to her petite features, which were framed by her honey blond hair streaming out behind her.
"I was beginning to think you'd make me cancel by not showing up," she teased as she gave me a small peck, and went to envelop Paul who had hopped out his side of the car. Paul, you see, could hop, being as he was almost a pixie in height. I, on the other hand, tended to roll a bit more out of the car. The price of your mate being younger than yourself, I guess.
"We had to delay in town, this one," Paul pointed his chin at me, "was dragging his heels this morning."
"Dave? Not want to get up in the morning?" Charlotte gasped, "You must be joking!"
"You will never convince me," I said, sucking in my stomach and rising to my full height, "that the sun comes out as early as you say it does." They just laughed at me.
"Jonathan's gone round to the store for milk, I ran out and I found this great new recipe for peach cobbler," she chatted with Paul as she led him away. I sighed as I headed for the trunk and all that needed to be unpacked, feeling more and more like there was some impending storm cloud on the horizon.
I hefted Paul's suitcase, and then my own, being careful to leave the egg in the trunk, to be carried in on its own. I headed for the door, which gave me trouble trying to get in, as each time I set the suitcase down, opened the door, and picked up the suitcase again, the door closed. A hand propped the door open and I looked up, grunting a thank you, to a fellow about my height with dark brown hair and some of Jonathan's fine features.
"I had the same problem when I got here, especially since Charlotte grabbed Sasha the moment we pulled in and I was stuck with the suitcases," he grinned while relieving me of one case.
"Oh, thanks, Paul packs everything when we travel!" I groaned.
"I do not!" echoed from the bowels of the house.
"I'm Joel, by the way," the fellow said as he stuck his hand out to me.
"Ah, Dave Baxter, pleased to meet you," I replied, shaking his offered hand.
"Loved the book, working on a sequel yet?" he asked while moving down the hallway and towards the front of the house.
"Well, I tried, but it just didn't happen. I have a few other ideas, but it seems as though I am blocked," I replied, which was my stock answer these days. The truth was I hadn't written a word in more than four months and I was clueless as to why, each time I sat in front of the computer I did anything but open Word.
"Yeah, a lot of great stories never finish," he replied as we entered the foyer and began the climb upstairs.
"What do you mean, not finished?" I asked.
"Well, you never know what happens to Cory for sure, do you? I mean, the story is left kind of ambiguous, like do he and Jack work things out? Does Patty stay true to her word and not meddle? After all, she wasn't really able to control herself the whole story, oh, and there is the question of her kid, isn't there?" Joel rattled off.
"Ok," I said as I stopped on the landing, "which one of them put you up to this?"
He stopped and looked at me uncertainly before a small smile broke on his face, "Jon. How'd you know?"
"Because, they have been playing this game for a while now. You are the latest in a long line of houseguests they have foisted their plan on," I replied with a tired smile. "Thanks for the help," I said as he left me in our room. We actually had a designated room in their house; Paul and Charlotte spent a week together going over colors and whatnot. It really was very nice, very relaxing, especially the balcony that lay just beyond the French doors, one of two the house possessed.
In the 1800's the house was the main farming house, and as the farm grew less profitable the owners sold off tracts of land that gradually became the town around us. There was a warren of tunnels going from basements to small rooms underground and to other basements in some cases, ways to flee the redcoats during the war. This house sat over a tunnel itself, from an unassuming entrance in the basement that didn't really look like a door.
The neighboring houses couldn't really be seen through the trees and it was easy to move one's self back in time to feel as if this were the only structure for miles about, that the English soldiers could be just over that next hill, or that Prussian Mercenaries were encamped somewhere just beyond the trees.
"Why is it I always meet you on balconies?" Jonathan's voice sounded playfully from behind me.
"It's because you secretly desire a private space to rut like an animal with me," I laughed.
"Oh yeah, how could I have forgotten that," he said sarcastically as I turned to face him. I admit my lust blossomed into a love for him; one couldn't know him and not feel that way. He was, in many respects, the finest of people. He laughed and stepped up to envelop me in a hug, which I gratefully returned.
"It's so good to have you back," he said while breaking the embrace.
"I've missed you too," I replied with a sad smile.
"So, Paul says you still aren't too happy about the wedding?" he said while leaning against the rail.
"Paul has a big mouth," I replied sourly.
"Mom gets here tomorrow, that'll be a first for you," he smiled as he changed the subject. I'd be grateful if it weren't for the fact that I know it's a stall tactic, as he will return to that issue.
"Why do I worry when you grin like that?" I asked.
"Well," he said with his trademark devilish grin, "All I'll say is that the Gestapo had nothing on Mom once she wants to get answers," he laughed.
"What could she possibly want answers about from me?" I asked in puzzlement.
"Probably whether or not we were knocking boots on the set, like the tabloids say," he grinned, then burst out laughing.
"Well, I'll just tell her it's a good thing her little boy can't get pregnant," I replied as I looked out across the lawn, just seeing his jaw drop from the corner of my eye.
"So, what is it? You don't like Charlotte?" he asked.
"What? No! I like her just fine," I replied.
"Do you not like us together?"
"You look great together," I mumbled. It was true, they did, and each was a complement to the other.
"Well, what then? Come on, out with it," He moved a bit closer and placed his .hand on my shoulder while I looked away from him, "I won't be mad, I promise."
"Do we have to do this now?" I asked while looking across the lawn.
"Well, it is sort of important, considering how close the wedding is," he replied.
"I realize that."
"I guess I am just trying to understand why you feel the way you do?" Jon offered.
"We tried to talk about that this morning," I sighed, "and I really don't have the words to say what it is, but I promise I won't be an ass and ruin things," I said somewhat mournfully.
"Well, that's reassuring!" he laughed, and I couldn't help but laugh with him.
"Seriously, what's wrong?"
"I really don't know. I told Paul this morning, it sounds stupid," I said, trailing off.
"Come on," he urged, his closeness something of a distraction.
"I feel like this makes us farther apart somehow," he tried to turn me but I faced away from him, "No, I can't look at you and say this. I love you, more than a friend and not like a lover. You are this dream come true, who'd have thought I could feel so close to you? I used to fantasize, sure, about a great many things, but I always said," I stumbled a bit before finding the breath to speak again, "I always said I'd be happiest being your friend, because it's the friends you keep, not the ex-lovers.
"So you see, I find myself in this peculiar position of being where I wanted to be, but also feeling as though things are about to be changed in some basic way that I can't understand."
"You know, that first night on the balcony," he took a deep breath, "you made me a better person. For the first time I could see what someone else could see in me, and that improved my relationship with Charlotte," he sighed and stepped away from me to lean on the railing, as I half turned to bring him into my peripheral vision.
"See, we were having trouble, partly because I couldn't understand what people saw in me besides dating someone famous. She tried to show it had nothing to do with that, but after we talked that night I felt like, ok, someone can see what I think of gays in an article and have respect for me for something besides my looks on screen, or my money or something.
"You made us work, and she knows it. It hurts her feelings that you guys aren't close because we wouldn't be here now if you hadn't shown me that simple truth. Dave, we love you, you're family to us. You and Paul."
"This is fabulous, how did you make this?" Paul asked. I tuned right out of that conversation, no sense absorbing information about cooking, I wouldn't use it anyway. Paul often said I'd starve were it not for him, and I always replied I knew the number to Pizza Hut, which always got me a sour look.
Dinner had been great, I had to admit, but Charlotte had majored in culinary arts and simply chose not to pursue it outside of her own kitchen once she and Jonathan made their commitment to each other. We all helped to clear the table, but were shooed from the kitchen almost immediately. I walked to the fridge and liberated a beer before walking onto the back porch and sitting on the hammock.
"So, you going to try and write this weekend?" Joel asked as he took a spot on the railing.
"No, I left the little electronic beastie at home," I replied.
"I have one with me, never too far away, but I can set it up in your room if you want," he said with a smile.
"Thank you, that won't be necessary. Honestly, I really am blocked, I haven't been able to write in months."
"I'll bet we could inspire you!" he laughed. "Wait till Mom gets here, she practically had a coronary when she heard Jon was tapped for that part. She was apoplectic when she found out he was your only choice for the part!" he laughed.
"Why? Did she not like him playing gay parts?" I asked worriedly. Maybe that's why Jon made that comment earlier?
"No, she loved the book so much, she was excited. It was like a dream come true, a great part and Jon was doing it."
"Oh," was all I could say.
"Makes you want to work on that sequel, huh?" he asked.
"Well, I prefer my machine…"
"Too bad, you never know when inspiration will hit, eh?" he asked and I grunted in reply.
"You," Jonathan said as he appeared on the porch, and poked me in the chest with a finger, "need to hurry up so I can have another role like that!"
"It wasn't the role, Jonathan, it was your logical progression as an actor," I began for the hundredth time, "you played it so well because it was time for that role in your life."
"So you're saying I wouldn't play it as well now?" he asked, a bit petulantly.
"Paul could play it better at this stage," I grinned and he slugged me.
Later that evening I was still on the porch, Jon had passed out and was snoring softly on the loveseat and Joel sat on the railing across from me, while I still lay in the hammock. The moon was bright in the clear night overhead, stars shone steadily in a cloudless sky. I glanced at Jon, face peaceful and hair askew, one leg on the bench of the loveseat, one draped over the back so that his legs were spread. I swallowed.
"Can I ask you something personal?" Joel asked softly, "I mean, we hardly know each other, but…was there ever anything, well, between you and my brother?"
"Why does everyone seem to think there was?" I asked irritably. "He just turned out to be a great guy, a wonderful friend and no, not that it's any business of yours, but there was never anything sexual between us."
"I wasn't trying to be an asshole," he began.
"Well, it came out that way," I snorted.
"Look, I apologize," he said taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
"I'm sorry too," I said with a sigh, "look, I think the world of him. If he was gay, and I was single, and the planets lined up just right so that he was actually interested in me, I'd date him in a New York minute. But he's not, and I'm not and who the hell knows about the planets?" I ran my fingers through my hair. "I have Paul, and Jon is my friend, maybe more than a friend. He means more to me than just a friend, he's family.
"Thing is, far too many people assume because I am gay that Jon must be having some sort of affair, and it's demeaning to us both. I hate it," I stated while standing, "not to mention how it must make Charlotte feel."
"I didn't mean that. Well, maybe I thought it, but it's just that when he talks about you, I dunno, it's like…," Joel never go to finish.
"Damn, I must have fallen asleep out here!" Jon slurred as he began to struggle into a sitting position. My eyes narrowed at him, not to be seen in the dark, I am sure, but wondered how long this little actor might have been awake.
The screen door opened and squeaked shut before I could ask that question, Paul coming through with Charlotte and Sasha in tow. They all laid claim to their men, making noises about going to bed and getting up early. Jon glanced at me with a look that was hard to pin down.
What was he up to?