Bart came to visit. Michelle came for some convention or something and he went with her, then she flew back East and he stayed to hang out with me.
We went out to hear live music every night for four nights in a row, just him and me, then we took a night off to let our ears rest. Jonathan curled up in bed with me that night wanting to know all about the show the night before.
“I’m so envious,” he said, his voice low. Bart was asleep on the couch out in the front room. “Working like I am now, it’s the one thing I miss.”
“The sleeping late?”
“Going to see a lot of shows. I feel like I’m falling behind like crazy here, there must be so much going on that I’m missing.” He had his head on my shoulder.
“You always love bands most when they’re still unknowns.”
He looked up at me and said in a meaningful voice, “You never know when you’re going to see one that’s really special.”
I took it as a cue to kiss him. He kissed back. I did a really small thing then: I slid my hand down his rib cage. At least, it seemed like a small thing to me. I wasn’t even thinking about it.
He caught my hand in a deathgrip, though, stopping me. And that felt like a sudden stab through my ribs, before he even said anything. I was too stricken by the moment to say anything at first.
“Not with your best friend out there,” he said.
“You know Bart wouldn’t care in the slightest.”
“Yes, but I care.”
I think he was trying to be glib when he said, “Hey. This is our house, not a tour bus.”
Glib or no, that one really stung. I don’t think he meant it to. But I remembered the “sex dispenser” comment from back when he was really upset and it felt like a slap in the face. I sat up. I tried to get off the bed, but I guess that made it obvious to him I was offended.
He caught me by the arm. “I’m sorry. That didn’t come out right.”
“It sure didn’t.” I got up anyway, suddenly restless, and J. let go. I wasn’t the least bit concerned about waking Bart up with the sound of sex, but I sure as hell didn’t want to wake him up with the sound of arguing. In my mind my plan was to go into the kitchen. Because if we weren’t in the same room we couldn’t fight. I know that doesn’t make any sense now, but at the time it did.
And you can’t argue when you don’t know what to say, anyway. I got as far as the dresser.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, but I wasn’t sure if he was sorry about what he said or if he was saying he was sorry he couldn’t have sex with me right now. “Don’t go.”
I sat back down on the corner of the bed, which creaked. I think he thought I was planning to go a lot farther than the kitchen. Something about his tone of voice. “Where would I go?”
He threw up his hands. “Wherever horny men go? I’m being stupid. I’m sorry. I’m… that didn’t come out right either.”
Did he really think I’d go out cruising because he’d said no? Did he think sex was that important to me? Maybe “important” wasn’t the right word. Did he think I needed it that much?
Did I need it that much?
This wasn’t the time to try to figure that out. I tried to take a step back. I didn’t know if I was taking the step in the right direction, but I had to give it a try. It was better than freaking out, anyway. “Are you feeling stressed out about work right now?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, remember the last time we had a fight where you had a big flip-out and stopped making sense? It was because you were having issues with work. I’m trying to figure out if this is more of the same.” Or if the work issues last time were an excuse for the real problem…? I didn’t say that last part, I only thought it. “It’s been a while since you’ve said anything.”
“Not that you’ve been around to talk about it with very much this week,” he said, then added quickly, “Not that I resent you spending time with Bart… I’m just pointing it out.”
“I didn’t really mean this week only, anyway.” I edged back to my spot in the bed and slid under the sheet. “You’ve been kind of clammed up about it for a couple of weeks. I figured that meant there wasn’t much to talk about… Was I wrong?”
We got close again, sitting up against the pillows, but arm in arm. “You know, not everything is about my writing.”
I didn’t argue.
“I mean, maybe with you everything in your life revolves around music, but that isn’t true with me.” He sighed.
“If you say so. But you sound a lot like a person trying to convince themselves of what they’re saying.”
“Yeah. And what’s wrong with everything in your life revolving around your writing? I mean, of course everything in my life revolves around music. It’s not just a job, J. It’s what I was put on Earth to do. Without that, there isn’t anything else.”
“Writing is different,” he said, but in the dim light through the curtainless windows I could see he was giving himself a skeptical frown. “Writing shouldn’t be the only thing that defines me.”
He seemed at a loss for an answer.
“Just because the world doesn’t value art doesn’t mean that art doesn’t have value,” I said.
“That isn’t it.”
“Isn’t it? It’s like you’re saying writing isn’t good enough to be the thing that defines you.”
“Well, it’s true, the world doesn’t value writers or writing, everyone always wants you to do something else with your time. My parents used to think it was a phase I was going through.”
I held in a laugh.
“I know, isn’t it funny? They had no problems with me being gay. They were ‘very concerned about my life choices,’ though, when I said I wanted to be a writer. My dad wanted me to be an engineer. But then in college I fell in with the music industry crowd and… well, you know the rest.”
“You’ve been making it work. Are you afraid it’s going to stop working? That one of these days you’ll have to leave it behind and become an engineer after all? Because I don’t think I could.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t find something else to do if you couldn’t play?”
“I’d find some other way to play. I’d compose. I’d use the computer. I don’t know. If I lost an arm in a shark attack, I’d come up with a way. Are you saying if you couldn’t write you’d find something else?”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to, but…” He paused to think. One of J’s best qualities is that he would stop and think, no matter how emotional the issue. Come to think of it, that’s how I learned to stop and think, from his example. “Anyway I try to imagine it, I imagine getting a day job and still figuring out a way to write a novel at night. I imagine dictating to someone if I couldn’t type.”
“See? Writing isn’t something you do, J. It’s part of who you are.”
He nodded. “But that doesn’t mean that every problem I have is because of something in my writing.”
“Okay, then, so how is the novel going, anyway?”
I took his total silence to be the worst possible answer.
“I see.” I pulled him close and petted his hair. “That bad, huh?”
He nodded. I held him close.
I had always thought that expression “just be there” for someone was kind of dumb, just a bunch of words that didn’t really mean anything. But right then I thought I understood what they meant, because that was what I was doing. Literally. All I was doing was lying there, “being there” for him. And it didn’t feel dumb at all. It felt like the right thing to do. It felt like maybe part of the point of having a relationship was so that there was someone there for this. Because, yeah, either of us could have gone out and found someone for sex. Not for this.