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Another week went by. I was very, very good all week. You know what I mean. I didn’t stay out too late. I got up in the morning to have some breakfast with J. before he left. Well, okay, I got up to watch J have breakfast since I usually didn’t feel like eating until I’d been awake for an hour, by which time he was gone. I made dinner twice.
The second time I did the thing with the table outside and a candle and a bottle of wine. In fact, I got two bottles, thinking that maybe if we had a good enough time we’d drink more and when our defenses were down I’d get the guts to tell him what I really thought.
And then I sat there at the table staring at the two bottles and thinking: this is the worst idea ever. You’re going to wait until his defenses are down to tell him? Stupid.
Which started a downward spiral in my mind. You wouldn’t even be in this position if you were a better person to begin with. If you weren’t so messed up you’d probably be with Ziggy right now. Maybe if you’d gotten along better with him in the first place the album would have come out better and BNC would be happier.
Wait, that’s bullshit. Stop that right now.
It wasn’t lost on me, though, that I was setting up a romantic, candlelight dinner so that I could break up with him. That was definitely messed up.
I was considering whether to take the table back inside when one of our upstairs neighbors cleared his throat at the gate from the driveway. The same one who gave me the basil last time.
“Oh, hey,” I said, and went and opened it. “You need something?”
“Just my curiosity satisfied,” he said with a slight smile. “Jonathan’s a nice boy, isn’t he?”
I didn’t know what to say to that. “Um, I think so?”
“New Jersey was it? Are both his parents alive?”
“Yeah. We’re both from New Jersey, originally anyway. His parents just moved to Princeton. His father’s some kind of engineer? Inventor? He’s a Bell Labs guy.”
“Oh? So interesting.” His look sobered. “And they’re the approving sort?”
It took me a second to figure out what he meant. “Oh, about Jonathan? Yeah. They’re very approving. Of his writing. His, you know, lifestyle, everything.”
“That’s wonderful. That’s so wonderful to hear. Smart people, I guess. Have you met them?”
“Not yet. Maybe at Christmas. We’re so far from them here.”
“That’s nice. That’s very nice. You know. So many of us here on the Left Coast, we came here to get away from judgmental parents and things. Well, and for jobs in the biz.” He raised his eyebrows at me.
“Um, yeah. That would be me, I guess.” I hedged. That wasn’t quite true and it showed. “I mean, really, the only reason I’m here is because he’s here. He’s really the one here for a gig. I’m just kind of in between.”
He nodded like he agreed with that. He gestured at the table. “So what’s on the menu for tonight?”
“Steak. With mashed potatoes and gravy.”
“And for a vegetable?”
“Peas.” Jonathan liked to pick up his peas using the mashed potatoes on his fork. I thought it was weird but cute.
“I thought maybe it was your anniversary or something last time,” he said, giving me an inquisitive look.
“No, just… I wanted to do something nice. Thanks for the basil, again, by the way. That was really good.”
“And now you want to do something nice again?”
“Shouldn’t I? I mean, we’re living in paradise here, shouldn’t we act like it?” Okay, maybe my dislike of L.A. came through a little strong there in the form of unsuppressed sarcasm. But I actually meant it. “Back home they’ve already had frost.”
He smiled. It was a kind of condescending but fond smile, like it was cute I was trying so hard. “Well,” he said. “It’s good to appreciate what you have when you have it.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
He waved goodbye to me then and went upstairs and I sat back down and thought for a bit. He was right. No breaking up tonight. We should just enjoy what we had for now. When the time was right, I’d know. Besides, Thanksgiving was imminent and if I suddenly showed up without Jonathan, I’d have to spend the entire holiday explaining that we’d broken up. That would be even more excruciating than explaining that we were together.
Dinner that night went very nicely, I thought. I decided that the fact that I still found it cute rather than weird that he ate his peas that way was a sign I wasn’t totally done with him.
The once difference between this romantic dinner and the previous one was this one I didn’t warn him to come home on time. So he was really pleasantly surprised when he saw it.
Surprised enough that it gave him a kind of rush, I guess, and so did the wine, and so he was the one who initiated sex that night, which surprised me.
And so there was a moment after we were done, lying side by side with the night air coming in through the cracked-open windows, when I thought, maybe that’s what it takes. You both pour a lot into the relationship. I poured in a lot of effort this week and I got bonus sex. Is that right, though? I mean, I see a way in which overall it should work, and yet there’s a kind of cynical “transaction” mindset under it. Let me be clear. I did not make dinner so that J would put out. That was not on my mind at all.
But what if he thought it was? Then did he think he was giving in to my unspoken demands tonight? Or was it that he was jut swept off his feet?
I decided that in the afterglow I would believe in that last one. Romance. Sometimes it works.
And sometimes it doesn’t. I wasn’t the only one lying there thinking too much. J said, “Was that okay?”
“What do you mean? That was fantastic.”
“Why? Do I seem less than satisfied?”
“No.” He turned and kissed me on the cheek. “I think I just went down a whole gender roles rabbit hole in my head, which is especially dumb considering we’re both men.”
“Because I cooked dinner and then you were on top?”
“For what it’s worth, J, I didn’t cook because I was trying to coerce you into putting out.”
“I know. I have trouble imagining you coercing anyone, D. There’s some stupid stuff that’s really ingrained though. I wouldn’t want it to go unexamined, I mean, do we inherit certain patterns from our parents and then unconsciously recreate them? If we do, would becoming conscious of them be enough to stop us from recreating damaging inequities or behaviors?”
“Your parents are pretty happy, though, aren’t they?”
“So why wouldn’t you want to emulate them? I mean, where it applies.”
“I suppose. But your parents…”
“Yeah, not so much.”
“Do you think that’s why I’m so much more comfortable with us being domestic, Daron? Because I grew up in a happy domestic situation and you didn’t?”
Well, that hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt like they fell out of the sky and crushed me into the bed right there. “I never thought of that.” It came out half a whisper because my throat had tightened up. “I’m trying, J. I’m trying.”
“You do better than try, Daron. You succeed.”
I closed my eyes. Somehow that wasn’t what I wanted to hear right then. Was that the real reason I wanted out of this relationship? Was it just that I, deep down, didn’t believe that domestic relationships could ever work? And was I turning that into a self-fulfilling prophecy?
“Hey, it’s okay…” He put his arm over me.
“Let’s not talk about my parents.”
“I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“Not your fault. I’ve got to get over it. I know. Shitty childhood, so what? It’s over.” I buried my face in his shoulder, the familiar scent of his sweat comforting me. I shivered as a realization came over me. J was the first person who loved me who didn’t want to hurt me.
Then I thought, that’s ridiculous. What about Remo and Courtney? And Carynne? But there was something different about my parents and Ziggy and Jonathan, like they belonged in a different category.
He didn’t want to hurt me. And I didn’t want to hurt him. That seemed like it should be a better starting place for a relationship than some I’d had, anyway. But was that still as true at the end as it was at the beginning?