Say what you will about Jonathan, one thing he was always good about was letting me preserve my stupid shreds of masculine dignity.
When he came in, my head was so far up my ass it took me a moment to even remember where I was and why. Oh fuck. I stood up quickly and wiped my face and said, all pretend-ignorant, “Oh hey.”
“Hey,” he said calmly, letting me get myself together while he took off his jacket and acted like everything was normal.
I’m terrible at acting normal. But it was important to me for some reason to try to regain some kind of footing. So I tried too hard. “How was your day?” Cringe.
He played along. “All right. I had a walk. Picked up the newspaper. Worked up a thirst. You want some juice?”
“Um, sure.” I followed him to the kitchen where he poured us each a half glass of orange juice because that was all we had left. Yeah, insert relationship metaphor right here. “Read anything interesting in the paper?” I was still trying too hard.
“The hard line Communist regime in Czechoslovakia fell yesterday,” he said earnestly, and then drank his juice in one gulp.
I sipped mine but discovered I couldn’t actually stomach it. “Ah. Wow.”
He looked like he was going to say something, then stopped himself and put his glass in the sink. He swirled some water in it and then put it down with a quiet click of the glass against the thin metal.
“I’m ready to talk,” I blurted out, before I could chicken out. “I mean, I know I don’t seem like I’m ready, but, I guess what I’m trying to say is we better get it over with since really there’s no such thing as a good time for it, you know?”
“I know. Should we sit down?”
“Good idea. Living room?”
I abandoned the juice on the kitchen counter. We went and sat somewhat stiffly side by side on the couch. I wasn’t sure where to start. That’s just as well because Jonathan, on the other hand, had been rehearsing what he was going to say.
“This is all my fault,” he said. Like many pre-rehearsed speeches, a bunch came out in a rush. “I’m sorry I’ve been so emotionally unavailable. I think if I weren’t trying so hard all the time to convince myself that the writing for television thing is working out well then maybe I’d have enough emotional energy to actual participate in this relationship. I’ve been living the ultimate ‘fake it till you make it’ scenario and that’s only supposed to be for careers and not for relationships and I’m sorry.”
I stared for a second. None of that was what I was expecting him to say so it took some extra time to process. “Uh. And here I thought I was the one who wasn’t putting my heart into it.”
He sighed. “Daron. I’ve known you’ve been just playing house to humor me for a while.”
Those were my words: “playing house.” But I’d never said them to Jonathan for fear of hurting his feelings. And now that he was saying them to me, they hurt MY feelings. “You make it sound like I didn’t even try to make it work.”
He winced. “Did you?”
I closed my eyes for a second. “Is trying to figure out what you want all the time ‘humoring you’? Because if it is, then yeah, that’s all I’ve been doing.”
“Wait, what?” For once it was Jonathan who seemed to feel the conversation had taken a sudden left turn. “What do you mean trying to figure out what I want all the time?”
“I mean… trying to figure out what you want all the time. You want me home for dinner or you don’t eat. Then you want me to figure out what we should eat for dinner. If I don’t pick the right thing, you’re unhappy. You want me to figure out when it’s okay to ask for sex and when it isn’t. We never ever have sex unless I ask, so it’s up to me to figure out when you want me to ask, because if I even ask at the wrong time we have a fight.” I cleared my throat. “Just to name the two biggest examples.”
His mouth hung open a little. “You make me sound like the world’s biggest prima donna.”
“No. No, that’s not it at all. Jonathan, I’ve been in relationships with two prima donnas and you’re not even close. What I’m saying is… in the spirit of genuinely trying to improve myself… is that humoring you? Is that me being a therapy case? Or is that what people who love each other are supposed to do?”
His breath caught, because I caught him by surprise again. “You’ve never said you love me.”
Fuck. Somehow I had become the adult in this conversation and Jonathan had become the trembly-lipped five-year-old with no filters. “I know. I… I know. I… never felt the time was right for it.”
“Then you never felt it strongly enough to mean it,” he said, not at all like an accusation, just like a fact. A sad fact.
“I’m sorry.” My voice was rough. “I’m… Listen. We were talking about not putting enough emotional energy into the relationship. Most of my emotional energy was used up on the road and what I had left? Left the country a couple of months ago.”
“I know,” he whispered, looking defeated.
I wasn’t sure if it was okay to hug him at that point. I mean, I’d just admitted I didn’t love him and he’d admitted he knew it, in which case was I even allowed to try to comfort him or was that just plain wrong?
I pressed on. “So, is that what went wrong? Was I doing the right thing but it came out as humoring or pandering because I didn’t love you enough?”
He shook his head. “I…” He shook his head again, trying to get his words together. “I had no idea you were shouldering so much.”
“What do you mean, you had no idea?”
“I didn’t even realize you were doing it.”
“I was doing everything I could to make it all work smoothly and be as good to you as I could.”
He put a hand over his eyes. “Including monogamy.”
“You pretty much accused me of wanting to go out and get my dick sucked when you said no,” I pointed out.
“I know. And that wasn’t at all how I meant it. I was… Never mind how I was. I was out of my mind. If I had even half a brain, or any energy to deal with this, I would have realized what was going on much earlier. I wouldn’t have been such a nutcase about sex, either.” He gently pounded his fist against his thigh. “How did I end up the one holding out on sex? That doesn’t even make sense. I’m usually the one who wants more.”
“Maybe you really don’t know how to handle someone with a higher libido than yours.”
“Okay, say it’s a learning experience.” He gave a small nod, like he was determined to figure something, anything, out. “How often do you think the ideal is?”
“We had sex every day in Mexico,” I pointed out.
“But that was a vacation. I mean, long term.”
“With work and stuff…?” I considered it seriously. “I’d still say once a day, mostly quickies or just handjobs until the weekends maybe, but… yeah. ”
Jonathan bit his lip. “We’ve really gotten into a Saturday afternoon rut, haven’t we.”
“Yeah.” I felt like the gears had shifted, like we forgot we were having a breakup conversation and slipped into talking about the relationship in the present tense again. “I didn’t really want to make waves by asking for more, and I wasn’t sure I was entitled to. Part of me says if we’re only going to fuck on Saturdays, then I could just come over once a week without living with you. If the other six days of the week we’re just housemates, fine but… my other housemates don’t insist I do their laundry with them. And yeah, it’s nice to eat together, but none of them nearly pass out from low blood sugar because they’re waiting for me.”
“Well, of course not. They’re living separate lives. A relationship is exactly the opposite. It’s that giving up of autonomy to be part of a pair.”
“And that’s what I did, J. That’s exactly what I did.”
“Yeah, you did.” He looked a little terrified, then. “Can I tell you? How won–wond–” He paused to swallow hard. “I could not have made it through these last few months without you being here for me. Part of me… hoped you liked it better than you let on. Or that you would come to like it better. And even though I knew you were just going through the motions a lot of the time, it helped me. I love you being here with me. I love that you tried.” His voice got stronger. “No, you weren’t ‘humoring’ me. You’re right. You were doing your best. You were doing great. It’s like I said. It’s my fault for being so drained.”
“Okay, back up. So… you were only putting in a fraction of the necessary emotional energy, and I was only putting in a fraction…”
“It’s a miracle we lasted this long?” Jonathan hazarded.
“Basically.” I took a calming breath. “But if we’ve each only invested a little… then shouldn’t it be easy to break up?”
“You’d think.” He pressed his hands together. “I know you’ve been fantasizing about leaving. The fact that you haven’t gives me hope that we can still work it out.”
“Work what out?”
“The relationship. That maybe now that all our cards are out on the table we can still deal a winning hand.”
“Are all our cards on the table?”
“Let me see if I’m missing anything. You’re in love with Ziggy, your career’s stalled, you need sex every day, and you love me enough to work really fucking hard to please me even if that’s not enough to make you say it. Right so far?”
“And on my side of the table we’ve got this. I never in a million years dreamed you’d actually take me up on moving in with me, Daron. I didn’t think I’d see you more than a quickie here or there in New York during the tour, and instead you ensconced me in your bed every night. I didn’t expect to go to Mexico with you. At every turn you gave me more and more. Can you blame me for thinking we had more than we did? You not only moved in, you turned yourself into my artistic sounding board, my muse, my confidant. Whenever I doubted myself you got me back on track. And whenever I did need something–food, sex, a boost to my self-esteem–you were there. My self-esteem is completely shot to hell. That’s made me into a person I don’t know. But you seem to know me pretty well.”
“We both need to get out of L.A.,” I said.
“No buts. Turn in your resignation, move to a student apartment in Providence, finish your fucking novel, and tell them where to send the fucking royalty checks.”
“Tell them you had to check into isolation rehab if you have to. Happens all the time. Get the hell out, Jonathan.”
“My agent would kill me.”
“Your agent will fix it. You want to know why you can’t write the end of your fucking book? It’s not because the TV people keep moving the goal posts. It’s because you’re in love with writing the book. You’re addicted to writing the book. You’re in love with the idea of writing the book, of being a novelist. But until you do it, you haven’t done it, you see what I mean?”
I must have touched a nerve. His eyes were round and he was sitting up straight like he’d been shocked with an electrical cord. Then his defenses kicked in. “Why does every fight about our relationship end up about me and my writing?”
I may have shouted. “You just said it yourself! Your self-esteem is shot because of this fucking TV series, you’re not yourself, and I’m trying to have a relationship with the real Jonathan, not this zombified shell. You started this by saying you were sorry you’re not all here!”
“Ah. Right. Yeah.” He put his hands over his face and scrubbed, then let them drop. “So you think I should quit.”
“Will you run off to Mexico, or to Providence, with me, if I do?”
That was where I lost it and started to cry. He hugged me and I let him even though the reason I was crying was the sudden feeling of helplessness that I was never going to break free.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean it in a pressure-y way.”
“Just like you didn’t pressure me into moving in with you.”
“I didn’t!” He let go of me, angry now.
“I know you didn’t.” That was the truth. He really did NOT pressure me into moving in with him. I could have said no, right? All he’d done is clearly and honestly expressed his desires. Maybe clarity and honesty had seemed like the best thing ever at the time. Clarity and honesty were easy to crave.
Right now being clear and honest about what I wanted was the most painful thing. But the right thing. So I said, “I want to go home. I want to go back to Boston and lick my wounds and figure out what to do with my life.”
“I can’t figure it out if I’m with you,” I said. “Maybe I’m explaining it badly. But it’s like when I’m in the same room with you I can’t even think clearly. Like I’m out of focus and not really there. The ‘us’ takes over my brain. Even when you’re not in the room. It’s like… I’m not me anymore. I’m half of Daron and Jonathan.” I realized that was what Matthew was saying, too, that the couplehood takes over the individuals. I’d told him the idea terrified me. What wasn’t clear until this moment, though, was that it had already happened to me. “And I think it’s happened to you, too. We’re both wrapped up in being a twosome here. You said it. Lack of autonomy. But neither of us can reach our artistic goals while we’re wrapped up in that.”
He appeared to be giving serious thought to my idea. “But there are plenty of accomplished artistic couples…”
“I’m not saying it’s impossible for some people. But it’s impossible for us.”
“You sound really sure about this.”
“I am really sure about it.”
“Which means if you’re wrong, well, we still have to treat it like you’re right, since anything you think about the relationship is the reality of the relationship.”
“Wow, I understood what you said there.” I cracked a smile. I couldn’t help it. “But seriously, do you see what I mean?”
“I do, but I still have to do the Ivy League argument thing.”
“Play devil’s advocate. I mean, I have to ask: is art more important than love? Than people?”
I know he didn’t mean to offend me. But on some very deep level I was completely offended by the question. I edged away from him and my voice came out very grave. “What were you put on Earth to do, Jonathan.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll ask it another way. Were you put on Earth to write? Or to love me?”
“Real life doesn’t happen in absolutes, Daron.”
“It does. This is the world of the mind. Of art. Of ideas. So I get to define what’s absolute and what isn’t.” I don’t know why I was angry. I guess I didn’t like my unshakable convictions being questioned. This was an absolute for me. “I was put on Earth to make music. I believe that. I believe that above and beyond and underneath everything else I believe. If I stop believing that, I stop believing I have a reason to live.”
“You really don’t seem like the type to play the suicide card, Daron.”
“You better believe I’m not. Because I have a reason to exist. I’m not here to father children or heal the sick. My purpose in life is make music. And I don’t mean to sound ruthless about it, because that’s not my intent, but if a relationship is stopping me from doing it…”
“But is our relationship stopping you? Do you have to be single to be a creator? Most creative people aren’t.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s me, and I can’t have someone else in my brain. Or maybe it’s this relationship in particular that ties me up. I don’t know. But you have to hear me when I say I need to get away to clear my head.”
He heard the criticism in “hear me.” He knew I was calling him out about not listening to me the other night. Jonathan was a good guy, really. He really was. So he did his best to listen. “Okay. I… You’re saying you need to get away.”
“I’m saying I think we both need to get away from each other. Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan. You were right about being good for me in a lot of ways. I still like you. I still have a lot of affection for you.” And I was still attracted to him, though I didn’t bring it up. If anything, all the honesty and intimacy of this conversation was making him even more attractive than usual. This wasn’t a good time to express my desire, though. “I want the best for you, and I think you want the best for me, too. But speaking as your artistic confidant, this Hollywood gig is killing you. Get yourself into a fancy writers colony if you need to, but go do it, don’t just talk about wanting to. And let me go back to Boston and figure out my shit.”
“You don’t even know if Ziggy’s alive or dead,” he said, not in a cruel way, but yeah, I know.
“Moondog Three is probably done for good,” I said softly, like I didn’t want to admit it too loud or it would become true for sure. “I talked to Feinbaum this morning. We’re on the verge of escalating to lawsuits all around or letting it all drop and walking away.”
His face fell. “Oh, Daron, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. We … did a lot better than six out of ten bands.” I felt guilty that I sounded more heartbroken about the band than I did about him, but when you think about it, which relationship was more important to me? I’d been with the band a lot longer and had been through a lot more with them. Maybe it was appropriate I sounded more broken up about it.
“Okay. But think about this. I’m not trying to talk you into anything. Just consider. If Moondog Three is really kaput, wouldn’t it make more sense to be in Los Angeles? You’ve worked with dozens of bands here. You have a ton of contacts. Whatever you do next, strategy-wise…”
“Looking at it from an industry standpoint, seriously, Daron, even if you move out of here, go back to Remo’s, whatever… What I’m saying is don’t be biased against Los Angeles just because of you and me.”
“It’s a little hard to separate, but I’ll try.”
“Chernwick, Keith, the guys at Sound City, the list goes on. You have the contacts here. If you go back to Boston, do you fall off the map? Do you fall off the radar and disappear? That’s what I’d be worried about.”
“Yeah.” He did have a point. “But you’re not trying to talk me into staying?”
He looked down at his hands. His eyelashes always looked long and blond when he did that. “I… I wish I could talk you into staying until January first. The lease is up then, you know? I think you’re right. I do need to get out. And the thing is… my part of the development should wrap by then. Hell, it should have wrapped already. I… I’ll give notice. I’ll tell them they have me until then, and then I’m going back to journalism.”
“You mean you’ll go back to journalism or that’s what you’ll tell them?”
“That’s what I’ll tell them. Who knows if I can get back in the door at SPIN or if I have to start over.” He sighed. “That’s my wish, though. Stay with me, only a few more weeks, keep me sane, keep me going. I… I’m sorry it’s been so hard. Maybe, though, maybe knowing what we know now, we could at least have a good last month together?”
God, he sounded so hopeful, so fragile, so optimistic, so vulnerable. That’s how you sound when you lay your heart out there for someone else to see. A wish is like a soap bubble, beautiful, perfect, full of colorful swirls that could be anything–and ripe to be popped.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say outright no. So I said this: “All right. But there’s no way I’m going to meet your parents for Christmas.”
My acquiescence took his breath away. His mouth was open but he couldn’t breathe in or out, and tears glittered in the corners of his eyes. He was paralyzed with shock. The argument was over and he was stunned that he had won.
I took one of his nerveless hands in mine. My anger and angst had drained away and left me with the lust that had been burning since we’d started slinging the truth at each other. “So.”
“So,” he managed to echo.
“Is it okay for me to…” Oh shit. Panic welled up suddenly. I thought I’d figured this shit out.
“Is it okay for you to what?” He asked, gentle and concerned.
“To ask…” That was as much as I could get out. I could not say the words “for make up sex.”
“To ask… for what you want?” He prompted.
I nodded, but I couldn’t do what he did and make a wish. I couldn’t put myself out there to potentially be shot down so plainly. Not again.
His voice was an urgent whisper. “Daron. Please. Ask for what you want. Please.”
I fell back to one of my coping mechanisms. Ask for something close, not everything you hope for, just a little piece. That way you don’t jinx it. Ask for something that might lead to what you hope for. I did that with Colin, I remembered, and it worked out okay. Perfectly, in fact.
“Can I kiss you?” I finally said.
That was it. I broke his heart with those words.
The look on his face said the knife went deep. He said “Yes, of course,” and he meant it, truly meant it, but I think in that moment he saw how it all might have been different, and how now it was too late to heal the wound that had left me afraid to even speak the words to ask for love from my lover.
They call it make-up sex, but it wasn’t enough to make up for everything.
(BONUS SCENE #6: This one was cathartic to write. As has become traditional here at DGC, anyone who makes a monetary contribution will receive an email with this special bonus scene. Click the Paypal button here to contribute, or Paypal any amount directly to “firstname.lastname@example.org” ! Or join the Patreon by pledging $1 a week and get instant access to all of the bonus content! That’s over a dozen bonus scenes and a few short stories!
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