J and I had a long, slow meal at the Oyster House, and it didn’t even occur to me that oysters are supposedly an aphrodisiac. I was too busy talking about the upcoming tour, which J wanted to know all about, and dissecting the show we’d just seen.
“It still strikes me as an odd place for a show. I mean, that’s a dance crowd, isn’t it? It’s not like people really went wild, either,” I said.
Jonathan shrugged. “Maybe the only people they really had to impress were the people like me. I wasn’t the only one who was ‘tipped off’ about it. And maybe they just needed to get their feet wet in front of a live audience with low pressure?”
“Maybe it’s just I’m in this in-between state myself,” I said, “but I couldn’t get my mind off trying to figure out the why they were doing it and just listen or enjoy it.”
J laughed. “Welcome to my world. I rarely get to ‘just listen’ to a band.” He picked an oyster off the platter of crushed ice on the table and slurped it. “It’s one test for if a show’s really good, though, if I get so into it that I forget I’m half-writing the article in my head already.”
I wanted to ask him if that happened when he saw us live, but I got shy all of a sudden. So I changed the subject. “Hey, so, Colin wants to teach me how to compose on computer.”
J changed the subject right back. “Colin, from earlier? Sorry about that. I don’t know what came over me. Right on the street like that.”
The light was dim in the restaurant, but I’m pretty sure he was blushing. I fished for his hand under the table and found it. I’d eaten enough by then anyway. “Don’t apologize. It’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay, but it turned out okay.”
He closed his eyes for a moment. “I just don’t want you to think I’m not aware of the stakes here. I mean, aside from just… you know, fear of getting bashed. There’s the fact that you’re you, and the last thing we need is some tabloid making you a poster boy. And then on top of that the fact that it’s completely unprofessional for me to carry on a relationship with someone I’m supposed to be covering as a journalist…”
I didn’t hear a word he said after “relationship.” My mind put the brakes on right there. I think I even said “Whoa,” or something like it.
And he knew he’d slipped the moment I did. “Or, you know, ‘carrying on,’ or whatever it is. Or could be. Oh, fuck, I’m just digging the hole deeper now, aren’t I…”
He buried his face in the crook of one arm but I squeezed his hand in mine. “Yeah, well, no taking it back, just gotta move forward. Say what you’re going to say, J.”
“Fuck, fuck fuck fuck,” he said, into his sleeve so that only I could hear the muffled words. Then he sat up straight. “Okay, that was not supposed to happen, I know. There are certain words one doesn’t say too early or people get scared off, right? But now if I take it back, it sounds like I’m shallow, or like I just want sex.” He reflexively whispered the word “sex.”
“Okay, first of all, it’s okay to want sex.”
He looked up, surprised.
“I’m serious. It’s either okay, or we should jump off a bridge right now, okay? That much I’ve figured out. No more fucking guilt over it. Right?” Actually, until that moment I hadn’t known that was what I’d figured out, but maybe all the sleeping around I did on the last tour had a purpose. Of course, maybe I was sounding a little like those guys who want to legalize weed, but whatever. “As for what comes along with it, I… you’re right. There’s no rush. I know we’re friends and that’s good. If we’ve got a thing going also, well, okay.”
He sniggered. “A thing like a relationship?”
“Yes, exactly like a relationship except it’s not a relationship like other people have, which is why it’s a thing.”
“And it’s not like other people’s because…?”
“Because we’re nothing like other people.” I squeezed his hand, feeling a wave of near-vertigo pass through me, as if the truth I spoke were so powerful, an invisible lightning bolt had just struck me. “It’s true! The whole point of… of… everything is that we’re not. We’re not average Americans. We’re not even above-average Americans. We’re outside the rules. We’re making our own damn rules.”
He was silent a moment, staring at me. “Okay. And what are the rules? For us, I mean. If you want there to be any.”
I shook my head. “Nothing big. Stay clean. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Those words could apply to STDs or to the media, you know.”
I’d meant it in the “safe sex” sense, but so be it. “And it should be both. I don’t want to jeopardize your career and I know you don’t want to jeopardize mine. So let’s not. Just be safe. Those are my rules. What are yours?”
He rubbed my palm with his thumb while he thought about it. “You really mean that? You don’t want… exclusivity?”
“I’ve had enough of people being control freaks about sex around me and using it like a carrot one minute, a baseball bat the next. I don’t care who you fuck and I sure as hell hope you’re not deluded enough to think I’m going to be some kind of saint when you’re not around.”
He laughed. “But other than that, are sure you want to know what my rules are?”
“Um, well, yeah. If it’s too much to demand, I… But seriously, J. Have you ever known a touring musician who could keep a vow of chastity or monogamy?”
“No, but plenty of women think they’ll be the one to change that.”
“And you’re not a woman,” I pointed out.
“True. And you’re right, I never would have thought it, or expected it of you.” He took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you what I do want, though, what my demand is.”
He squeezed my hand. “I’m content to take whatever time you’ll give me. A weekend a year? A few weeks here or there? I’ll let it come when it comes. But when you’re with me, Daron, be with me. If there’s anyone else, don’t be thinking about them when you’re with me.”
“Of course,” I said automatically. My brain had already filled in Ziggy’s picture under the caption “anyone else.” I had a strong feeling Jonathan had been thinking about him when he said it.
“I’m serious, Daron. We could also just have this weekend fling and then go our separate ways with a ‘maybe we’ll do it again sometime’ goodbye. I won’t think less of you. I’ll have good memories.”
I shook my head. “Neither of us will be happy with that. It’s okay, J. We’ll make some time for each other. Here and there. When I’m with you, I’ll be with you.” I signaled for the check. “And given that the clock is ticking down until Zig comes back from New York and I have to start rehearsing again…”
“Let’s blow this popsicle stand,” he said. This time I heard it clearly.
Later, in bed, at a particular moment I was reminded of blowing and popsicles, so I asked where he got the expression. He told me Mork said it on an episode of “Mork and Mindy.” Then he told me not to talk with my mouth full.