I stood for a moment looking at him through the diamond-shaped window before I walked through the door and into my professional act. Being a therapist is an act, a juggling act, a tragicomic cameo part in the plays of other people's lives. I thrust my hand out and delivered my opening line, "Daniel? I'm Lou Peterson."
He shook my hand firmly but didn't look me in the eye while he did it. Long strands of his hair drifted across his eyes and he stared at the toes of his purple high-top sneakers. I kept looking at him, though, I couldn't stop examining his features, as if I knew him from somewhere, and I might find the answer in his face. Something about the cheekbones, maybe...? Our paths might have crossed before, the Boston community being somewhat everyone-knows-everyone. But I couldn't place him.
As we moved toward my office, I matched the information in his file with the person in front of me. He looked too boyish to be twenty five; he had the demeanor of a juvenile delinquent, shoulders slightly hunched and his eyes peering uncertainly out of his hair. He didn't look like most of my other clients -- neatly groomed upwardly-mobile post-collegiate men with well-formed gay identities. Their struggles tended to be with career pressures, self-determination, personality conflicts, relationships and commitments... I didn't see many "closet" cases. But my guess was Daniel was among these.
I ushered him into my office. One of Mark's friends had redecorated for me last month, all light stone grey with mint green accents -- bright. I liked it bright. The smell of fresh paint still lingered. The shaggy carpet and one old bookcase kept it from being antiseptic. I sat behind my desk, and indicated he should sit on the side. I swiveled my chair to face him.
He seemed to shrink into the chair as he crossed his feet.
"Thanks for coming," I went on with my ritual greetings. It didn't seem to put him at ease. "You found my name in the Lambda Pages?"
He looked up then, like he hadn't been listening to me. "Yeah. I did."
I opened his chart. "This is your first time ever talking to someone?" A therapist, I implied.
"Fine." I closed the chart. Time for Scene Two. I again used a familiar line. "What would you like to start talking about, today?"
He cracked an unhappy smile. "I'm supposed to tell you about myself, right?"
"Where would you like to start," I prompted. He had a nervous habit of gnawing on the tips of his fingers, and letting his hair fall over his face. I let him have some time to think. So unlike Robert, who had been in that chair before him, who was so full of himself it was hard to get him to stop talking once he got started. But Robert just had some mild neuroses and his insurance covered every expensive hour. Daniel was paying in cash.
When he didn't speak, I continued to the next line in the sequence. "Why don't you start by telling me why you're here."
He drew his knees up to his chin and sat like that a moment before answering: "Because my life sucks," and he laughed to himself about it. "But it shouldn't. It should be just about perfect now."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I've made it. My band's made it. We're hitting the charts, there's money in the bank..." he trailed off with a shrug.
"What's the name of your band?"
I didn't recognize the name, but I wondered if I'd recognized his face from television or something. I took a stab at leading him on. "And success isn't making you happy?"
"No, success makes me ecstatic. It's the rest of things that are screwed up." He was chewing on the tips of his fingers again, on the tough skin there. Callouses, I realized, remembering long ago days when I'd tried to start a band in high school with my best friend. My fingers had hurt so much I lost interest and my younger brother commandeered my guitar.
He wasn't saying anything more. Time for the next prompt. "What things, family? friends? relationships?"
"All of the above." His shoulders jerked a little as if he were having to force each word out. "Someone in the band."
"Do you want to tell me about him or her?"
"Him. He..." A parade of emotions went over his face, anger, guilt, hurt, too fast for me to read all of them. He clutched his stomach. "I don't feel so good."
"It's alright." Aversion response, I thought, high stress, high repression. I stifled the urge to reach out and steady his shoulder as he swayed forward slightly. "You can tell me."
"We aren't getting along," he said then, sitting back. His face was pale.
That came out too easily, I thought. "In what way?"
"Well, sometimes we get along fine. It's when we don't, or well, it bothers me when we do and it bothers me when we don't."
"Are you and he lovers?"
His squeezed his eyes shut like he'd dropped a hammer on his foot and was waiting for the throbbing to subside. When he opened them again he looked at the bookshelf instead of at me. He didn't answer.
I used my soothing but confidential voice. "There's nothing you can't tell me."
He put a hand over his mouth like a widow in grief, or like someone sick to their stomach. Then the hand dropped to his lap. "Look, this is tough for me, that's obvious, right?" He moved his head and his hair brushed past his cheek and rippled over his shoulder. "It's hard to tell these things to a total stranger."
I'd heard that before. "Don't think of me as a stranger, think of me as an objective listener."
"Yeah, well, you're still a stranger..."
"Lou, call me Lou."
"You're still a stranger, Lou." He crossed his knees then, and tilted his face toward me. "I don't know the slightest thing about you, other than you run an ad in the paper and I'm guessing you're not going to have me committed because of anything I'll be telling you." His hand touched his chin like it was missing something, cigarette perhaps.
He wanted to bargain. It wasn't always advisable to let a client control the session, but if it would get him talking I decided it would be worth it. "I'll tell you something about myself if you'll tell me something about yourself."
I appreciated the 'where to begin' feeling my clients have, even if I don't suffer from the repressions they do. I decided to start with the basics, keep it simple. "I'm thirty nine years old. I live with my partner, Mark, we've been together seven years. I enjoy jogging, tennis, skiing. I try to keep in shape," I smiled, with a glance at my stomach.
He smiled too, and gave that little laugh again. "I feel like I'm on The Dating Game."
Good, he was smiling. "Well, now it's your turn."
"Okay." He cocked his head and put his legs down, gripping the arms of the chair like rollercoaster handles. "I'm a famous rock musician who's been having a secret affair with his lead singer for two years. And I want to stop. There," he said, pale and shaking, "do I sound like I'm in AA yet?"
When I opened the door I could smell rosemary and garlic and hear Mark in the kitchen. I took deep breaths to try and hide the fact that the three flights of stairs up to our loft apartment were getting to me. "Honey, I'm home!" I bellowed in my best Dick Van Dyke voice.
He came out of the kitchen and gave me a peck on the cheek, playing along with my little nightly ritual. "And how was work, dear?"
"Fine, dear." I hung up my coat in the closet, the traditional end of our kitschy exchange. "Actually, I had a very interesting client come in, today."
He raised an eyebrow. Work was usually the last thing I wanted to talk about. I followed him into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of seltzer water. "Strange case," I said, "He's a celebrity of some kind, rock musician, but I've never heard of him."
Mark busied himself with a saute, mushrooms, shallots, vermouth. The smell made my mouth water. "Maybe he's got delusions of grandeur. Can't you fix that nowadays?"
I shrugged. "It was pretty hard to get a clear story out of him."
"Pathological liar, too, I bet." Mark loved to throw around psychotherapy jargon to try and annoy me. It never worked. He held out a wooden spoon. "Taste."
I burned myself on it. "Great, but hot." I doused my tongue in seltzer.
"I said it was great."
He rolled his eyes. "I mean, aren't you going to tell me who this hot hunky hell-raising rock star is?"
I laughed, thinking about the small, pale, scared person I'd seen today. "What, and violate patient confidentiality?" But I was joking. Mark followed pop music a lot more closely than I did and I wanted to know if he recognized the name. "It might be kind of obscure. He's from some band called Balancing Act."
Mark's jaw dropped. "Well, if you want to know his life story it's in Rolling Stone, for gods sake." He wiped his hands on a towel and pulled me by the arm into the living room.
The coffee table was covered with books and other clutter, as usual. Mark pushed aside a stack of flyers for a rally some friends of his were putting on and pulled out a dog-eared magazine. He flipped to an interior page, to a full color photograph. That was our man alright, posing with two other men. Daniel was off to the side, half-hidden behind one in outlandish makeup sticking his tongue out at the camera. "No wonder I didn't remember him," I said.
"What's his problem?"
"In forty five minutes I could not get him to say the word 'gay' once.I got him to admit he'd never slept with a woman, that he'd had male lovers since he was sixteen, but he would not say the word. It was like playing charades or twenty questions or something." In fact, the only times he gave up something were when he felt he "got" something from me. I'd have to explore where he learned that tit for tat mentality next time.
"Well, are you going to read it?" Mark peered over my shoulder as I paged through the magazine.
"Do you think I should?"
"Everyone and their brother already has. He probably thinks you have." His moustache brushed my neck as he went back toward the kitchen. "Dinner in fifteen minutes."
I sat down on our Italian leather sofa and started to read.
Two weeks later and there he was in the waiting room, looking no different than before, almost as if he'd been there since last time. Once again he danced around issues without really telling me what was wrong. Maybe, I thought, if I could pepper my talk with musician lingo I could get him going more easily. Open Scene Two.
"So are you in the studio, now?" I asked. The magazine article said they'd just finished some kind of tour and were working an an album.
"No." His head hung. "We started to, but, I couldn't. I mean, I couldn't get anything done with, I couldn't with him around."
Sentence fragments, near stuttering. I made a mental note. "Is 'he' Cameron?"
He gave a half-laugh. "No. Christian." The outlandish one in the photograph.
"So you need to work things out with Christian."
"No, I need to work things out in myself." He hugged his knees and nodded his head like he was hearing some tune I wasn't.
"What kind of things?" He sat there, mute, for a while. "Are you afraid I won't understand?" I offered.
He shrugged. "I don't know what to say."
I remembered my notes. "Why don't I tell you something about my relationship, and then you tell me something about yours." We were back to bargaining again, but I doubted there was much harm in my presenting him with a positive role-model of a male homosexual relationship. Besides, talking about yourself is all the rage in feminist therapy, maybe there's something to it. I picked out a little problem to start with. "Mark's six years younger than me. It doesn't seem like much, but sometimes, you know, he has interests more toward the wild and adventurous. I tend to be more of a stay-at-home in comparison. Sometimes it leads to conflict, but we love each other and we always talk things out together. We both work to maintain our relationship."
He was laughing his little laugh, amused by whatever pictures were forming in his head, I assumed. When he spoke, he was still half-chuckling to himself. "Okay, here's how it is. Christian and I don't have a 'relationship.' When we tour we're forced to be together for long stretches of time, and sometimes he," his voice cracked, "he fucks me instead of finding someone, and sometimes," he almost stopped but I watched him grit his teeth as he said "sometimes I want him to."
"Okay, all the time. But sometimes it..." He stopped. "I want you to tell me how I can quit."
"Pardon?" I leaned forward, as if I might hear him better. "Quit what? The band?"
"No, quit needing him, quit needing men." He pushed his hair back selfconsciously. "It screws up my life."
This was going to be a tougher than I thought. I prepared my statement with care before delivering it. "Daniel, I think you need to take a look at what you just said. You're trying to deny a part of yourself that you need to recognize and accept."
"Shit." He made a nervous fist and exhaled. "I was afraid you were going to say something like that."
I made a little smile like his. "There's no cure."
He was bobbing his head again. "So this is what people pay therapists for. To tell them what they already know."
"That about sums it up." I said, feeling a little prickle on the back of my neck as I admitted it, ad libbing.
He looked around, then looked back at me when I guess he didn't find what he was looking for elsewhere in the room. "I guess I should see you again in two weeks."
I looked at my watch. He was right, our hour was up. I was sorry to see him go.
Mark and I were jogging in the park a few days later when he asked "So, how's your pet rock star doing?"
"Poorly," I said, huffing. Mark was making me really work to keep up. "Still trying to deny it."
"Macho guy like him, no wonder."
"Not macho," I said, "Just, denial."
"Too bad," Mark said. He waved at two men going the opposite way from us.
"You remember, Dan and Josh, from the tennis club."
I didn't remember. We started on the path around the lake. I didn't say anything about it.
Mark went on. "But like I was saying. Someone like him, in the public eye, he could do a lot for our cause." Mark didn't seem at all winded.
"Sure he could. Just like all those Hollywood actors who live in the closet. I'm surprised he came to you, Mister Gay Community, and not some regular headshrinker."
"Guess it's," I heaved, "a good sign." I slowed to a stop in front of a park bench. "I gotta rest."
"Are you alright?" Mark kept jogging in place, even as he leaned toward me.
"Fine, fine. You take another," Breath, "Lap around the lake." He shrugged and waved as he took off. This is what I get, I thought, for marrying such a hunk. And for only jogging once a week.The ducks eyed me with disinterest as they milled near the bench, waiting to see if I had any food. Mark was right, I thought. Maybe I could bring Daniel around that way. Maybe there was more at stake here than just one man's health. I was looking forward to our next appointment.
In fact, I found myself almost nervous as I waited for him. The whole afternoon prior to his appointment I found myself watching the clock, waiting for Robert to tell his latest exploit, hurrying through my notes as if it would speed up time. And then, there he was again, almost unchanged -- black jeans this time. I watched the way he carried himself through the waiting room. Do all musicians have that certain saunter? I wondered. He was terribly sexy, I realized, and the more self-conscious he became, the sexier he got. There was something enticing in his vulnerability. No wonder this Christian couldn't keep his hands off him.
I was determined to find out more about the dynamic of their relationship. After I'd got him warmed up, we'd chatted about nothing for a few minutes, I went for the big lead in. "Now, about Christian. Tell me more about him."
"I don't understand him. We met kind of by accident, when me and Cameron were looking for a singer, and things just sort of clicked between us."
"What do you mean?"
"We liked his style, his singing, his lyric writing. And once we started performing together, it was like fireworks."
"And it would be hard to lose him."
"Hell, yeah...." He stopped then, as if he'd just admitted something beyond what he said. "I'd have to start a whole new band," he said, as if that might cover his tracks.
"Tell me what he does that you don't like."
He clenched his hands together, not looking at me. "Does your lover ever lie to you about where he goes? Does he ever do... dangerous things?" His face was red and strained. "Does he ever hurt you? Does he ever do stupidly ridiculous dangerous things that can get you both killed?"
I was puzzled, curious about this rock and roll lifestyle, but I didn't want to stop him. Drunk driving? Drugs?
For once I didn't have to push Daniel to keep going. "Sometimes, he'll disappear, or he'll say he's going one place, but really he's not, he's going somewhere else..."
"Cheating on you?"
He snorted to regain his composure and almost did. "Yeah right -- how can you cheat on someone if you don't really have a relationship?" He choked on that suddenly. He rushed on, trying to cover up. "No, he goes out on The Block."
Where the male prostitutes hung out. "So, he pays for what he ... "
"No." His voice was like a stone, but his face looked like he might burst, red and puffy around the eyes. "He sells."
"How do you know this?"
"Because I...," he took a deep breath and I saw him change his mind. He decided not to tell me the whole truth. "Because I drove by there once when he was doing it." We both knew perfectly well why Daniel would have been driving by there. I didn't make him say it. At that moment, all I wanted to do was hold him. He looked like he was holding back a scream, the tears now dripping from his chin.
"And you want him to stop."
A little noise came out of him like the question was preposterous. I suppose it was, in a way. "Hell, yeah. But there's nothing I can do about it. What would you do? If it were your... boyfriend?" His lips twisted like he'd never said the word before.
I gave a little snort. "Mark? Well, I'd sit down and say 'we need to talk about us.'" I'd only said this two, maybe, three times to Mark, but I could picture the times very clearly. When we'd first gotten together, and his ex-lover was still hanging around. When we'd first moved in together, and he'd gotten gun shy. Maybe I said it that one time I knew he'd been getting hot for that guy at the tennis club, what was his name? It didn't matter now.
Daniel was laughing at me again. "I can't do that."
"Why not?" I hoped my annoyance didn't show.
"Because there is no 'us.' Christian isn't my boyfriend, we just... He just, you know..."
He deflated with that, his voice coming out small. "There's no comparison."
Maybe there wasn't. He stuttered on a little bit more, about how he feared that now that Christian's face was getting famous, that there would be a publicity scandal, that his own sexuality would be exposed, but I think we both knew now that the real knife in his gut was the fact that Christian slept with him but wasn't attached to him. Did Christian love him? We stopped short of that statement a few times, and sat in silence.
Then he spoke again. "Tell me more about you and Mark."
Crying out for role-models. I told him a few more things, how our parents took our getting together, how we decided to live together. "Coming out may seem like a scary process, Daniel -- especially in the public eye -- but it may give you an advantage. Christian uses the fact that it's a secret to blackmail you emotionally. He does these things to you because he doesn't think you'll ever complain, you won't dare tattle. If you come out into the open, you gain the power to negotiate with your lover, a power that you don't have now."
"Negotiate," he repeated the word like a bad punch line. "Tell me how you decide when you're going to have sex." He drew his knees up in the chair, his eyes hidden under hair. "Which one of you decides, you or Mark?"
I hesitated, trying to think, was it wise to reveal these things? Probably not. But he seemed so desperate to know, hungering for positive feedback. I plunged ahead. "We both do. We negotiate. Sometimes one of us isn't in the mood." Usually Mark, too tired from working out, or whatever. "So sometimes we just compromise."
"What do you mean, compromise. What do you do?"
I usually stay up in a huff, jerk off, and then we make up in the morning. But I wasn't about to tell him that. "I tell myself I can get along for one night without him. That it's better for both of us in the long run."
He was shaking his head slowly, his eyes flicking across the carpet as if he were reading something there. "You get hot for him, and he says no, and you just get rational." He looked at me, his voice almost too low to hear. "I don't think so."
After all the time he'd spent avoiding my eyes, his gaze now impaled me in my chair.
He went on in his husky voice, "You're telling me you just shut off the hormones, pull back and chill out. You can forget about it."
"Yes that's exactly what I'm saying." I didn't tell him his voice reminded me of one of the phone sex lines I called sometimes, while I masturbated off the excess steam in the bathroom. I never told Mark, either.
He was still shaking his head. "Were you like that when you were my age?"
I still couldn't move under his gaze. "I've always tried to keep a cool head."
"Yeah." He licked the corner of his mouth. "I bet you do." He was hugging his knees, and rocking slightly as his head nodded, like some demon elemental perched on my chair. Come to tempt me. He showed me a little of his throat as he tilted his chin to point at me. "Perfect," he said, though I didn't understand why. But my brain was switching off one section at a time as my hormones were waking up.
He uncurled then, slowly, like a cat, and my palms began to sweat as he revealed himself. "Two weeks?"
"Yeah. Two weeks."
I laid my head on the desk after he was gone. Next time, I thought, I'll tell him I'm referring him to another therapist who specializes in his kind of problem. I could even set up an appointment for him with someone else, for the next time, and call him and tell him. That would be safest. My hands shook. Next time.
"Hi, honey, I'm home."
"How was work, dear?" Mark looked up from the television. "Hey, you sound kind of tired." He held out his arm and I slid onto the couch next to him.
"No, just ... " I let my head fall on his shoulder. "Okay, maybe I am tired. What's for dinner?"
"Casserole. It's done."
"Sorry, making notes took longer than usual tonight." I yawned. "What are we watching?"
"Cartoons," he said. "But let's eat." He flicked the remote control in his other hand and the I heard the VCR whir to a stop. I smiled as he pecked me on the cheek.
I watched Mark eat, my eyes tracking each motion of his bare forearm, muscles flexing as it dipped his fork down to his plate, then up to his mouth, his lips closing around the utensil, the fork coming out clean. I had fallen in love with him on a dinner date, watching him eat. I folded my napkin and went over to his side of the table. He leaned his head back against my torso and stretched his arms back in an inverted hug.
The moustache made him look older, but as I pulled him up out of the chair and into my arms he felt as young as that first time. I held him against me, my mouth trailing his neck and up to his ear, one hand on his ass, pressing him against the erection in my pants. I said "What's the plan for after dinner? More cartoons?"
He knew I wasn't talking about television. "Well, honey..." he pulled back a little. "After you wash the dishes, I think we should go out."
"Out?" I wanted to stay in, to spend all evening in bed, or in the kitchen, or anywhere else I could cover his body with mine.
"There's a benefit show down at one of the clubs. I bet you'll even like it." He washed down the last of his casserole and wiped his lips. "It's the least I could do to show up."
"Because I was supposed to put up all those flyers and I never did. Marty'll kill me if I don't show for at least a little while."
"Well..." I didn't say any more as he went into the bedroom. I cleared the table, keeping my disappointment at bay.
I was surprised when Mark directed me away from Southside where the gay bars are and toward the warehouse district. He told me we were going to a rock club, but not to worry, there would be plenty of our friends there. We arrived at the club around ten o'clock -- so much for an early bed time. I followed Mark off the street into a cavern of colored lights, cigarette smoke, and noise. We paid our "suggested donation" and then some. The show was a benefit for someone well-known in the local music scene -- I'd never heard of him but I gathered from the posters on the walls and the garbled patter made between songs that it was some AIDS-related complication. So what else was new. The band on stage were all dressed in patchwork colors, one of them was playing a bicycle wheel. Mark caught up with Marty and they started talking into each others ears over the music. I started to get bored.
The band on stage finished. Mark clapped and hooted for a few seconds, even though he hadn't been watching or listening. I wished I could hear what he and Marty were going on about, but as soon as the live music stopped, recorded music came on. I leaned against a post and watched young men in t-shirts and backward baseball caps clear the stage.
A sleight, long-haired figure crossed the stage. I nudged Mark in the elbow. He looked up, annoyed, and kept listening to Marty on the other side of him. "Is that Daniel?" I said, anyway.
He didn't answer. The person passed under a bright light and I was sure it was him, looking pretty much the same as he did when he came to see me. I watched as he stripped off his denim jacket and tossed it to someone offstage, then slung a guitar over his shoulder. His two partners joined him, plugging in instruments. No drummer, I realized.
Mark swiveled his head back to me. "What?"
I pointed my chin at the stage and crossed my arms. There was a murmur of surprise rising from the audience as other people recognized them, too. A voice came through the speakers, a DJ or someone: "Ladies and gentlemen, we're very excited to have a surprise visit by hometown heroes, Balancing Act." Cheers.
Christian, the singer, stepped up to the microphone, brushing back blond and blue strands of hair from his face. "Hi folks, Aerosmith couldn't make it so they got us instead... so like, give money to the cause." He stepped on something on the floor and the music began. The drums must have been on tape or coming out of a machine or something. I wondered if human drummers had become obsolete in recent years and I hadn't noticed. I could have asked Mark, but I just listened, and watched.
Daniel played with his eyes closed, his body moving and swaying as he played, his head tossing like a wild stallion's in the wind. Sometimes he mouthed the words in unison with the singer, his pelvis moving against the guitar -- I'd never thought about why rock guitarists slung their instruments so low, until now.
This Daniel couldn't be the same one who sat like a schoolboy in my waiting room, swinging his feet. This Daniel was an untamed animal, his head thrown back in the throes of ecstasy, in his element. Then I thought about the image I'd had, of him perched like a gargoyle in my office, the tempter, and knew they were the same. It wasn't just the hormone fantasy of a man feeling middle-aged. He had wanted me to want him.
Christian fell down at his feet, and clawed Daniel's leg. Daniel stepped over him, straddling him as he played through a solo, Christian singing into a hand held microphone, rolling over to look at the crowd. Daniel dropped onto his knees, and sat on Christian's back for a moment, before he sprang up and away. I realized as the song finished that, even though people around me had been singing along, I hadn't absorbed a single word of the lyrics. And I'd gotten hard.
I circled around behind Mark, hugging him and looking over his shoulder at the continuing spectacle on the stage. "Pretty good, huh?" I said into his ear.
He nodded. I rubbed my pelvis up against his. He squirmed a little, then broke free. He said something that might have been "We're in public!" or might not have been. He frowned at me.
I went back to leaning on the post, then, watched Daniel and company go through three more songs. And then they were done, and another band was coming on in their place. I thought about trying to catch Daniel as he came off the stage, say hello... A little alarm went off in my head.
"We should go." I tugged on Mark's elbow.
"I've seen enough, Marty's satisfied, don't you think?"
I was leading him out. He stopped me by the door. "I'm not ready to go, yet."
I pressed him up against the wall with my body. Some people coming into the club were staring. "I need you, Mark. Let's go home." Let it be like it was, safe, and good, let me know how much you love me, that it'll last, that we're sane.
He turned his face away, his lips sour. "I'm not in the mood."
I let one of my hands stray toward his nipple. "Couldn't you be convinced...?"
He brushed me away and took a step to the side. "You go on home if you don't want to stay. I'm staying."
I pushed my way out the door, not caring if it slammed on anyone. And then I stood there on the sidewalk while the bouncer tried not to look like he was keeping an eye on me. My breath was coming in foggy blasts. I pushed my hands down into my jacket pockets and started to walk toward the car. Let Mark take the bus or get a ride from Marty if he wanted to stay out so much.
I rounded the building and almost walked into another door that swung toward my face. I caught it with one hand, and looked up into the painted eyes of Christian, live and in person. "'scuse me," he said as he pushed past me into the alley and lit a cigarette. He leaned against the wall, smoking and looking like an album cover photo in the light of a streetlamp. I looked back at the open door in my hand. It led directly to the backstage area of the club. There was no door guard or security.
I walked in just because I could.
People were milling about everywhere, a general chaos of eyeliner and amplifiers and smoke. Another band was on the stage, now. Whoever the sick guy was, he had a lot of friends and they were all in bands. I wondered if I looked as out of place in my Chinos and loafers as I felt. As I was about to go back out the door into the alley, I saw Daniel coming toward me.
He made a bee line for me and shook my hand and said something in greeting that I couldn't hear over the grind of the band on the stage a few feet away, separated from us only by a ragged gauzy curtain. He cocked his head toward the door and we went out into the alley.
"...expect to see you here," he was saying as I followed him out of the din.
"Oh, I do try to get out once in a while," I said. I didn't see Christian anymore. We were alone in the alley. "I liked your...set."
He shrugged. "It was a last minute thing. We only heard about the benefit two days ago and decided to do it... " He was talking fast, still adrenalated from being on stage. "We haven't rehearsed since the tour ended. But now we're a pretty big name, and they convinced us we'd be a big draw. We did a radio station thing this afternoon to promote it. And, it was fun."
"Ah." I shrugged to show him it didn't make a difference to me. Then I noticed he was blushing. "What's the matter?"
He gave that little laugh of his. "The stuff we do onstage..." I thought about the way Christian pressed himself against Daniel, about the general physical interaction of two sweating male bodies on the stage. "I don't really think about it. It just seems normal. But you're the first person who has seen the show who... who knows." His embarassment glowed on his face, but he put on a brave look. He turned toward me now, tilting his chin in the light. "What did you think?"
"I liked it..."
"No, I mean, did you think it was obvious?"
"Was what obvious?"
"You know." He still couldn't bring himself to say the word gay. "You know the words 'rock and roll' are a euphemism for sex?" He stepped closer. "You know that everything that happens on stage is like sex? And yet most rock bands, they're all men. So no one thinks anything of them touching each other, sharing a microphone, grinding their hips together. No one bats an eye. But you..." he trailed off then, his eyes traveling past me to where the alley met the street.
I heard the click of bootheels on the pavement and turned to see Christian coming toward me. He meowed like a cat and sidled up to Daniel with one hand on his shoulder. "Nice weather we're having," he said. His black-rimmed eyes looked into mine and every word he spoke seemed to drip with innuendo.
"Yes, it is." I said, not sure what he was seeing or saying.
"Are you going to introduce me to your new friend?" he said to Daniel.
Daniel shifted his weight and put his hands into his pockets. "Um, what was your name again?" he said to me, his eyes pleading with me to play along.
"Lou," I said and held out a hand to shake. Christian did, with a dainty touch of the fingers.
"Charmed," he said. "Are you a fan?"
I shrugged. "Just here for the benefit."
"Ah." Christian let his hands slide down Daniel's back and then he took a step back to the backstage door and knocked on it. There was no knob or handle on our side. "Well," he said, with a sideways look at Daniel, "enjoy yourself."
The door opened and he disappeared.
Daniel was shaking. "I have to go, now."
"Why? Are you playing another set?"
"No. He wants me. I should... go."
"Daniel," I said, and I put a hand on his shoulder, "If you're upset about the way he uses you, you have to learn to say no."
"But why should I say no when I want him?"
I reminded myself this was not a therapy session. "Because it's just not fair, that's why. How can you be sure he wants you, anyway? What if he's just manipulating you?"
"I know," he said, looking down at his feet, his curtain of hair falling between us.
"All that innuendo?"
"No, he always talks like that. I mean, I know because... when he meows, that's his secret signal to me that he wants me." Even through his hair I could see he was blushing furiously. "I have to go." He turned back toward the door.
Things were even more twisted between them than I thought. I held him by the arm. "Don't." This is for his own good, I thought. "If it's sex you want, you don't have to go to that manipulative bastard for it."
He seemed to shrink in my grip. "You don't understand."
"I do. I know what it's like to be hot and high on hormones." Think about what I'm saying to you, Daniel, I thought to myself. I pulled him toward me. "You don't have to go to him." Come with me. Don't say no. Come with me...
All at once his resistance melted away and his shoulder touched mine. He was still sweaty from the stage, his hair plastered to his neck in places, but the sweat made him smell clean to me, as if he were fresh from a shower or a swim. I wanted to kiss him then, but I put him into the car and drove to my office.
I keyed the lock on the main entrance and used my card key to enter my suite. I turned on the light in the reception booth and eased him down onto the couch in the waiting room. He was pliable, open, as I stripped his t-shirt from him and pried open his button-fly. His cock rose up to meet my fingers and he moaned as I cupped it in my hands. His hands gripped the couch as if he were afraid to touch me, afraid to move. Maybe he was, in a way. If he didn't take an active part, he could fool himself into thinking he wasn't responsible, wasn't really gay.
"You're going to have to take your own shoes off," I said, breathing into his ear. "Or I can't get your jeans off." I backed away and his hands flew to his sneakers to undo the knots. I let him take his shoes off, and then, when he looked up at me for his next cue, I nodded at his jeans. He stood up, his arms shaking as he pushed the jeans down and stepped out of them. He straightened up, then, at first vulnerable and trapped under the bright lights, but then his eyes met mine and he lifted his chin and I could read it in his eyes: come and get me.
I took my time kissing him now, one hand behind his head, one around his waist, bending him back. I felt his breath flutter in his chest. Christian probably never kissed him like this, probably just threw him down and fucked him... which was, I admitted, what I had an urge to do at that moment. Maybe that was the way Daniel liked it. I decided to find out. I bent him back until we both tipped onto the waiting room couch and I turned him to face away from me while I opened my own clothes.
I played with him then, luxuriating in the feeling of his smooth skin, the fine straight hairs on his stomach, the soft roundness of his ass while I held him against me, my slacks around my knees and my button-down shirt flapping over my ass. I slid my fingers down his underfed spine, all the way to the bottom, and he shuddered.
When he felt the head of my cock between his cheeks he made a small noise and said in a shaky voice "I'm, you know I'm not safe..."
"But I am," I whispered. I held up the condom package in one hand. "Open it."
I stayed pressed against his tail bone while he tore open the package with trembling fingers. I took the rubber from him then, slipped it on, and then the wait was over. I held him by the hips and pushed into him.
It didn't last very long, but it was sweet while it did. When it was over, he curled back up into a ball on the couch and I cuddled him, and he let me. I felt sleepy but wanted to hold him. And he began to talk. He told me about his childhood, about his first sexual experiences as a teenager, about leaving home when he was seventeen. And he told me about how he and Christian had started sleeping together, a complicated, twisted affair, that made it sound like he'd been in love with Christian all along -- once Christian guessed it a game of seduction and counter-seduction ensued. I hadn't really followed who had done what to whom when he went on to tell me that in many ways he was afraid to have a real relationship with Christian because, after all, didn't real relationships become staid and boring? And didn't they need to maintain their passion, their edge, to be successful? To keep their creative juices flowing? Maybe there was a good reason to put up with Christian's psychosexual games and pain, he mused.
"Or am I deluding myself?" he finished.
I roused myself a little to look at him. "I don't know."
He turned in my arms to face me. "What do you mean, you don't know? I need help to figure this out."
"Come on, Lou, now you know more about me than anyone. You're my therapist."
The waiting room seemed to come into focus then. "Oh no, I'm not," I said. I felt a dip in my stomach. What we'd done was beginning to sink in. "I can't counsel you after I've slept with you."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, professionally speaking, I can't sleep with a client." I would set up a referral for him with Dr. Guzman, maybe.
He frowned. "You were the one complaining that I wouldn't open up for you. Well, I just opened up for you, didn't I?"
It made a twisted kind of sense if I tried to see it from his point of view. Then something occurred to me. "Daniel, did you... plan this?"
He exhaled. "I didn't expect to run into you tonight, if that's what you mean."
I did not get angry. I kept calm and stroked his arm. "Were you trying to seduce me, the other day when you saw me?"
Now he blushed. "I... not in so many words. But I guess I did."
I pulled a line out of the therapist's script, even though at the moment I was feeling like something else. "Do you have any idea why you did that?"
He shrugged. "I... you seemed..."
"Think about it, Daniel. Why did you do that?"
"I just wanted you to want me."
"I don't know. It seemed like... the only way to relate to you."
"Tonight what? Whose idea was it to come back to your office and screw, huh, Lou?"
I was on top of him now, my hands gripping him by the upper arms. "If you want answers, let me ask the questions. You want therapy? Okay, answer me this. When you saw me tonight, did you think about seducing me?"
He looked away as he said "No, of course not..." which was too facile, too quick.
"Come on, Daniel. I'm cheating on my husband to be with you. The least you can give me is a little honesty."
He was blushing again now. "Okay. I... I pushed things a little. I didn't think they'd go this far."
"Then what did you think?"
"I don't know. I... I felt like you wanted me."
"Yes, but only because your seduction the other day worked." My face must have looked grim because he looked scared.
"You told me you'd never help me if I didn't open up to you," he said quickly. "Well, there's only one way I know to do that. So I did it. I don't know any other way to deal with people!"
"Then there's your answer, my boy. You came to the therapist for it, and you got it." I climbed off him and he sat up, clutching at the clothes around his feet. "Get dressed, man."
He picked his socks out of his jeans and put them on first. I wondered if he would go back to Christian now, and if things would be any different between them. Maybe Daniel would be a little better about saying no. I wondered if it was Christian who had taught him to be such a manipulator. At some point I looked up from my thoughts and realized he was gone.
Time to think about Mark, then. Put on your therapist act, Lou, I told myself. There were two ways to play this, as the cheating lover, or as the therapist. The cheating lover would never tell what happened, except to use it as a weapon. The therapist, on the other hand, would confess, and use the incident as an opportunity to bring us closer together. I'd say I was seduced. After all, hadn't that been what Mark had told me about his "little indiscretion" at the tennis club? It was the other guy's idea?
He'd believe it, as long as I could convince myself.