Truman was starting to feel good. Secure. Two and a half years of dating Hugh Reynolds, and Truman thought he had it pretty locked down. Lulled into the placid predictability of morning coffee, a brief commute, a day of client sessions, and a shared evening, often—though not always—peppered with incredible sex (unless Will was visiting, in which case it was always), Truman had somewhat allowed it to slip his mind that nothing could stay so calm forever.
He’d also forgotten that there remained places he could not go. In his lover, his partner. Places he wasn’t welcome. He’d nearly moved into the house, even though he hadn’t given up his apartment, but the house was merely symbolic. The real issue, as he only distantly recalled, was that Hugh sometimes detached. It was so easy to forget that, when no ripples rocked the boat.
It had seemed like such a good time to invite Jason for a visit, to finally show off the Bay Area after a decade living there, which is about how long it had taken Jason to thaw out regarding Truman’s decision to leave Boston. He and Hugh had spent a few nights at Jason’s place when they’d taken a trip last summer, so it wouldn’t be an awkward meeting, and he knew they could co-exist in the same space for a few days. (Jason could be impossible to bear for extended periods of time—goofy, loud, brash, like a Laborador puppy—but Hugh had seemed more amused than annoyed.)
And Truman was increasingly aware that he was serious about Hugh. Serious enough to invite his best friend out for a week, ostensibly to sight-see, but really to say: Yes, this is him, this is the one I want to settle down with, for good. He didn’t need anyone’s approval, but it would be nice if at the end of the trip Jase didn’t tell him he was wasting his time.
Then Hugh shut down. In the space of an afternoon. They’d kissed goodbye at Truman’s office and he’d waved as Hugh drove off. By that evening Hugh was practically non-verbal.
He’d finally put his dinner aside and said, “I need to take some time. I’ll be in the library.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
“Afraid not. But thank you.”
Then it was just Truman, sitting in Hugh’s dining room, at Hugh’s grandmother’s dining room table, eating food produced in Hugh’s kitchen. Impossible to feel at home here, at the moment.
He cleaned, put everything away, and changed into the soft gray flannel pajama pants Hugh had given him for their first Christmas, with a shy, “It’s cold in the mornings, and I expect you’ll be here a lot.” He didn’t make tea—he wasn’t sure how Hugh did it, and didn’t want to fumble the gesture—but grabbed his book instead and went downstairs. He sat down to read without speaking.
Hugh had a book open on his lap. One hand lay across the pages, the other tensed into a claw on the upholstery of the chair.
Time passed. Truman found himself unable to focus on his book. This wasn’t about him. He’d feel that. At least, he thought he would. But whatever this was, it was dark. He definitely felt that.
He finally set the book aside. Hugh still hadn’t turned a page.
“What is it?”
“An email came from Pam Alexander, with whom I used to work at the high school. One of our students died yesterday.”
“Oh, Hugh. I’m so sorry.”
“He killed himself. Actually, he was the second young man at his college to do so.” The hand on the book clenched, a knot of fist and bone. “Both of them were gay.”
Ah. That was so much worse.
They’d talked about it some, the conflict between honesty and discretion. Queer children needed queer role models, no question. How to communicate a sense of community without opening doors to conversations that really should remain closed was a more complex issue. (One did not want to come out to a closeted sixteen year old and end up the recipient of questions or confessions far beyond those appropriate to such a relationship. Hugh had felt very strongly about it, Truman remembered, citing the potential for unrequited crushes. Was this one such example? Now certainly was not the time to ask.)
“I’m not responsible. I know that. And yet—could I have done more for him? I don’t know. I’ll never know.”
“Were you close to him?”
“Close to him? Not particularly. I certainly understood that he was experiencing his sexuality in a way that set him apart from the majority of his peers.”
As close as Hugh would come to calling a high school kid “gay.” Careful and precise with words, as always.
“I’m so sorry.”
“As am I.” He smoothed his palm across the page and resumed pretending to read.
Truman decided that while he wouldn’t insist that Hugh process—he would undoubtedly say he already had, or that this farce of reading in the library was processing—he also didn’t plan to uphold a pretense that he was not disturbed by the story, or that he thought Hugh wasn’t.
He didn’t go back to reading.
* * *
Two days later, he called Will.
“Everything okay?” The naked fear in his voice chilled Truman’s blood.
“No, no, Will—I mean yes, he’s fine. Hugh’s entirely all right.”
“Sorry, just—you’ve never called me before.”
“A young man he counseled at the high school committed suicide.”
“Shit. That’s fucked up.”
“It is. And the young man was gay, which adds something to Hugh’s—” Hugh’s what? Hugh’s presumed turmoil, beneath his unsmiling, cool, but certainly unassailable attitude?
“Yeah, yeah, is he cold? He does cold really well. That thing where he looks at you like you’re not even really there? Or maybe he doesn’t, with you, cause you’re like a real boyfriend, but man, sometimes I’d want to snap my fingers in front of his face or scream or something just to see him react.” After a pause, Will added, “Like, he’d do that, or he’d psychoanalyze me. Which is at least better than not engaging at all.”
The things they don’t tell you about threesomes.
“That’s exactly it,” Truman said, relieved. “Thank you. I wasn’t sure how to explain it.”
“Huh, yeah, no, I know him in that mood. I don’t know, Truman. You just gonna wait him out? Sucks.”
“That’s the question. Have you spoken to him in the last few days?”
“Nope. You want me to call him? I can probably come up. I mean, if you want, not—I don’t want to like intrude—just I have nothing going this weekend and we got birthday money. Not that it’d help, but sometimes he’d fuck me up, and then he’d feel better.”
Fuck me up, code for a scene they considered more about discipline than psychology. Though in this case, clearly, there would be a little of both.
Calling Will to fix Hugh? Really?
“Or set Lucy on him. Lucy could probably get him going.”
Truman hadn’t even decided he liked Lucy. Oh, she was Hugh’s family, and he didn’t actively dislike her, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to call her for help.
“No, no, Will, I’m sure he’ll be fine. I don’t want to trouble you.”
Silence, for a beat. Will cleared his throat. “So I’m gonna just say this, and then you can do whatever, Truman, okay? Provoking Hugh out of his moods isn’t trouble. Or it is, but I’d do it any day of the week, any time. But also, I’m not gonna insist, because you guys have your own thing going and it’s totally not on me to like get involved where you don’t want me. Okay? So you say the word, and I’m there. Otherwise, I’m here.” As if an afterthought, he added, “You can call me, anyway. I know he can be a dick. And I love him, maybe not all that objectively, but god, when he wants to be a sonofabitch, I wouldn’t even put Ads up against him, and that’s saying something.”
“Noted,” Truman said. “And thank you, Will. My friend Jason’s coming out next week, so maybe that will offer a bit of distraction.”
“Uh. Yeah. Well. Shitty time to visit, though. I mean, shitty time to see butthead, your boyfriend.”
Privately, Truman thought so, too. “I’ll let you go. But thanks for—not making me call Hugh a butthead.”
“Hey, yeah, anytime. And Truman? I’m really sorry about that kid.”
“Me, too, Will.”
They hung up.
* * *
He picked Jase up at Oakland Airport on Friday morning, and took him back to the office.
“Oh man. Do I get to hang out? Hey, can I listen in on your fuckin’ therapy? Maybe I could offer advice. We could do good cop bad cop!”
“Sit in the corner and read a book,” Truman told him, pointing. “Try not to frighten my clients.”
“Sure, yeah, I’ll just make myself really short. Like you, maybe.” Jason, at six-four, was taller than most people. Not all, but he’d told Truman once that if you popped up past six feet before high school you had a complex about being tall for the rest of your life.
“There’s a coffee place across the street, and another one at the end of the block. And food, pretty much everywhere.”
“Tru, hey, stop for a sec.”
Truman stopped, conscious that he’d already unlocked the front door and anyone could step in, including but not limited to the client whose session began in twenty minutes.
“Your boy’s pretty fucked, huh?”
“What makes you say that?”
Jason’s arms waved around in front of him, emphasizing his size, the space he took up in a room. “Oh, jeez, I don’t know. You texting me a warning that he wasn’t quite himself. The way you aren’t looking me in the eye. The crazy nervous energy rolling off your skin.”
Jason gave him a look.
“You’re right, it’s not fine. But I can’t fix it and I have to work.”
“Yeah, all right. Never mind. I’m gonna go get some pastry or something. You need anything?” His smile sharpened. “Want your old stand-by?”
“I don’t drink those anymore,” Truman said, but weakly, because yeah, a hazelnut latte would be amazing right now. “Make it nonfat.”
“Hey, have an eating disorder on your own dime, pal. It’s the real deal or nothing. Have you even read about nonfat dairy products?” Jason shuddered. Shuddering in a man as tall as he was took on a dramatic edge Truman could only, at the moment, find amusing.
“Get out of here.”
“You should go do yoga or something,” Jase said. “Downward facing dingo, or whatever.”
“I’ve never bought into your dumb act before, and I’m not gonna start—”
The bells at the door jingled, and despite not having said or done anything suggestive, Truman flushed. Jason laughed as he greeted Michelle. (Emotionally withholding, and charming, and terribly clever about the lousy relationship she had with her parents, which she knew she had to reclaim, but couldn’t—and who did that sound just a little like? No wonder she was one of his favorites.)
“Go get your pastries, Jason,” he said, pointing to the door. “It’ll just be another five minutes, if you don’t mind,” he added to Michelle.
“Sure, I’m early.”
“I’m bringing coffee back. You need anything, sugar?”
Truman winced. “Jase.”
Jason communicated—via eyebrows and smirk—He’s so uptight right? and waved to Michelle before going out the door.
“Sorry about that.”
“I had you pegged for someone a lot more subtle,” Michelle replied. “Not that it’s any of my business.”
Truman blinked at her. “Really? No, Jason is an old friend. College roommate, actually.”
“Yeah, that makes more sense. That’s why you let him get to you. Anyway, I’ll get caught up in my Sunset Magazine.”
He stood there, with his hand on the door jamb, for a long moment, long enough for Michelle to get settled with a magazine—Popular Science, not Sunset—long enough for him to realize it was probably awkward and he should really turn away.
“Subtle, huh?” he asked.
“You’ve got an eye for subtlety, Truman. I can tell. That’s why I keep showing up.”
“Very funny. Come on in, you’ve earned a full hour.”
She grinned at him as she passed, cheeky and familiar. Overly familiar? But no. Just the familiarity you attain after sitting across from someone once a week for four years, spilling your secrets.
A sense of familiarity he wouldn’t mind receiving from Hugh right about now, actually.
He put it out of his mind and closed the door to the waiting room. Time to focus. Think about your boyfriend later.
Easier thought than done.
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