Drin sits in front of the open balcony door. The wind riffles the sheers, and they catch sunset light in the folds. Idle speculations about the inflated cost of the ungainly hotel furniture occupy the front of his mind. He’s not pleased about allowing himself such a negative, irritable mood, either. He is sitting in what amounts to a kingly-proportioned recliner, in a safe clean place, gazing out over a beautiful skyline in a famous tourist city. He’s still wishing furiously that he was in a chilly small old room with homemade shelves, on a brass bed that creaks alarmingly whenever he turns over. He wishes Dance was wrapped around him as tight as a python, so he has to wait patiently while the smaller man goes wiggling from one position to another every few minutes, dry and warm and happy against Drin’s body, until sleep finally ambushes them both.It used to be he could be out of town for a week or so before the bad dreams started for him. It started about the same time for Dance, he knew. Next trick, the vague longings kept pummeling their way into daydreams that blotted out all ability to focus on work. He always tries to shift that obsessive thinking into long phone calls and planning out ways to have Dance meet him. There’s been a number of trips where Drin pulled it off, so he could show Dance some fabulous places en route. Sometimes Dance can’t escape his commitments but Emma can, instead, and that’s good for them all in an entirely different way. It stops the bad dreams for him, it calms Emma, and Dance says he’s okay as long as he knows they’re together.
On the last phone call from Emma, she informed Drin that his tether is shorter than it used to be, Dance is starting to have bad dreams already, and she’s not having much fun herself. She keeps making mistakes at work because she’s so tired. She bullies Drin into admitting he’s not sleeping too well either; he keeps waking up, startling at strange noises, and snatching at the pillows for the gun he no longer needs.
Other old habits resurface, such as afternoon naps instead of a full night’s sleep. He’s unable to relax unless it’s daylight and he has a clear line of sight out several angles of the room, watching the streets below, as if he’s got to be able to fort up and keep guard in some kind of unimaginable urban warfare.
Ridiculous: It isn’t flashbacks at all, it doesn’t begin to fit the kind of mountainside combat he saw in Afghanistan. Neither do his recurring dreams of crab-clawed monsters emerging like animated cartoons, climbing out of rows and rows of dark green bathtubs with clear lids, dragging along greenish jello and streams of water as they walk. Or shamble, since about half of them seem to be staggering. Parts fall off here and there. Plainly malformed crab-bugs, defective in many cases. It could be a zombie movie mistakenly filmed with green gels, except the bone-white claw arms look absurdly fake, totally out of proportion. Oh and the stink— that complicated, vividly remembered stink, making the air choking, thick and warm in the hatchery sheds. Are people supposed to be able to dream about odors?
When he woke up from that one, during this trip, he called. He tried to describe the details to Emma, give her the odd remembered names of things, the shapes, the functions, while he remembers them clearly–as if it matters, as if they might need desperately to know all of these details to decide on things later on, as if the knowledge might save lives. Well, it’s a good excuse for another call, anyway.
She asked him only a few careful questions. Careful, quiet questions of fact, keeping it all as cool and remote as possible. Keep everything on ice, no lids opened on the hideous nightmare screaming. She sounded like somebody who’s already seen those same places in their own dreams. From the nightmares he’s told them, Dance certainly has. Dance can describe the equipment itself, the leaks in the plumbing, the jointing on the crab arms and where the limits are on their reach when they are grabbing for him and he’s running.
Drin has no explanation for any of it.
But he knows that place is as real as this softly lit hotel room, some damn where, some hellishly stinking place where those in power really don’t care if ordinary people get kidnapped in entire mobs to be made into involuntary troops. Kidnapped and slowly, agonizingly, murdered.
He’s never been so angry in his life as when he wakes from those dreams, knowing somebody was responsible for allowing it. Somebody was making money off it. Somewhere.
He squints his eyes shut, wanting to bury his face in Emma’s hair, wanting to hug Dance as hard as he can clench his arms, wanting fierce pressure against him, reminding him they’re alive, and real, and breathing.
Finally he opens his eyes and looks down at the sun across afternoon streets again.
The honeyed light moves on his pants legs; eventually he’ll have to move out of the late afternoon heat. He could try out various cuisines in nearby bistro-heavy streets, so he could bring back new recipe ideas for Dance from dishes he liked; and yet he’s not even hungry.
He’d really like to be sleeping round the clock, if he could actually sleep at all. But that can’t happen for some hours to come. There are evening soirees to attend–whoopie for the threatening collision of hard liquor and bottom lines and electronic secrets and aviation-heavy diplomacy.
He reminds himself sternly that he always dreads these things in advance. Come the time, he always manages well enough, things go fine at the event. A surprising amount of the time, once it’s over, he has to admit he’s enjoyed the conversations. That’s often because he made an extra effort to find or invent something fun about the whole thing. People have told him that they’re only coming when they know he is, because he takes things off in a “wild new direction.”
Well, Bud Innes won’t be happy if he’s as wild as he’d really like to be. And better to assume Bud has noticed how quietly impatient Drin has been with the proceedings so far, with the lack of progress, with the irritating slowness of the people.
He jerks his eyes open again. Mustn’t nod off just yet. If sleep is off the list of planned activities, then he’d still rather spend it with Dance, just listening to him humming something. Anything. “Umm, gimme the Passacaglia from–”
And he will. It’s fabulous. Sometimes Dance will wave those fluid, fast-moving hands, and explain that he has to whistle to get the high notes, but that sounds wonderful too.
Just… breathe into Dance’s hair, while the music vibrates through his whole body, humming down into Drin’s ribs.
That morning, on the phone, Dance sang him some rather twirly bits of Handel, echoing in the kitchen while he cooked, transporting Drin’s mind back home. He took that with him into the shower, humming, and gave himself some of that one-handed tension relief he never had patience for on road trips. It had been a break he rather badly needed. Drin can hear the sigh heave its way up from the very bottom bilge-depths of his ribs.
Bud Innes even said it, earlier: “Damn, I’m missing Robert something fierce. Oh, sure I call, but it’s not the same. At least calling him calms him down, which is good. Does Dance go into outright panic attacks when you’re out of town too long?”
It struck Drin as an odd thing to ask. He had to stop himself tapping a pencil on his knee, from irritation at a poorly prepared speaker before them. That was probably why Bud asked it in the first place, distracting him. “No, but I’ve only been gone for a couple days, most trips. Yeah, I miss him a lot. It’s the first thing he tells me on the phone, too. Must be those married guy pheromones, right?”
“It’s sure as hell something. Never kept me up late before. Quitting the cigarettes and cigars was easier than that miserable week when Robert and I broke up, tell you that. He whined and cried to come back for three days before I had my head sorted out to let him try again. I never bothered on anybody else. When I’m done, I’m done. But he latched on hard to what I said, when he came back. Took it all to heart, started practicing for real. Calls me up now with progress reports. Big change there, I gotta say that. I don’t think he’s ever got attached to anybody properly before.”
Drin had blinked at him. “Attached?”
“Bonded? Excessively fond of?”
“You make it sound like glue. Flypaper, or something.”
“Don’t tell me you and Dance and Emma aren’t super-glued together at the hip.”
“But–” Drin falls silent as the speaker gets loud again, up front. He doesn’t try to resume the strange conversation afterward. After all, what would he tell his boss? Just try to explain the complexity of Emma’s intertwined life with Dance. His lover is just as firmly welded to her as they both have become necessary to Drin’s inner life. He’s never worried about the quality of Dance’s attachment to him or to Emma.
What he usually worries about are his own failings, deciding what he should be doing to be a good patron, a good boyfriend, a good lover, a good roomate. Bud gets that part. They’ve talked about how to provide the support, the stimulus, the kind of encouragement that Dance needs for each stage of his development as a musician. They discuss similar things about Robert, with his different needs.
Maybe Bud was just talking from wishful thinking–hoping that Robert can learn to establish one relationship in his life as constant as Dance’s devotion to Emma over the last two years. A few months is not serious proof about Dance’s attachment to Drin, but Drin has already laid down his own bets on that. Fold ‘em or show ‘em, there’s my cards, Dance is my man.
Naaah, Drin decides. It’s not about Robert’s bonding, or failures to. It’s not wishful thinking. His boss is about the least-delusional executive Drin has ever worked with. Bud knows things about Emma and Dance because it popped up on Bud’s radar as a problem. But what problem? He’s a great tease, Bud is. He’ll make Drin work for it if he wants to know exactly what he regards as a problem.
Of course ordinary executives might regard such tight attachment to a lover as a sad limitation, a chain holding him or Bud back from freely taking risks. They’re the type who don’t hire any married guys, either, if the sentiment is genuine and not hypocritical blather about queers. In contrast, other CEOs would regard long-term relationships as a reassuring tie to the local community, a sign that they can maintain commitments like “normal” people. But it’s also a chain that permits gentle blackmailing whenever some adventuresome executive is getting too inclined to court media attention, too likely to speak up, to get too ambitious.
If Bud was checking, there’s plenty of evidence what Drin’s risk tolerances look like. It must be obvious what risks Drin will take, or not, from time periods before he met Dance or Emma–and there’s files full of plenty of comparable decisions since he got involved with Dance or Emma. So it’s got to be something about Dance or Emma.
Some problem of interest to Bud Innes, but what?
Why does Bud see any “attachment” parallels between Robert and Dance?
Drin squints irritably at the glare of the sunset amongst the hotel sheers. His rebellious brain persists in presenting him with remembered images of the two musicians talking, finding only the ways they are completely opposite, highlighting the trivial differences in height, coloring, style, personal habits, and the more important differences in their personalities, their taste in friends, how and what music they prefer to play.
The contrast extends to the calendar portraits taken by Bud’s favorite photographer. In either case, the viewer has no doubt whatever about the kind of music they are capable of playing.
Robert sprawls sleepily across an antique bed in a floppy poet’s shirt, lit by a dusty shaft of light. Muted colors show the red tints in tumbled disorderly curls; blue veins bulge in that pale athletic bowing hand, fingers relaxed indolently over the edge. Robert’s gaze is sultry, aimed sidelong at the camera, totally aware of his powers–just before his mouth starts to widen into his usual maddening smirk of triumph. Captured at full bloom, just before he loses the lazy charm.
The photographer exercised the other end of his range with Dance.
In exaggerated high chroma, Dance is poised against blue tiles, gripping a chrome rail. Water droplets streak down his abs toward a scrap of black lycra. All his hair is pulled back, every bone in his face is sculpted by the harsh light; his corded, ribby body is caught just before he’s going to throw a somersault over the photographer. Clever man. Dance’s pale gold eyes glare into the camera like a leopard, unblinking ferocity, forever.
Drin has the framed sequence of shots where the photographer captured the somersault, too.
Drin has a little copy of the last one in his wallet, which he takes out and stares at a little too often for his own mental comfort. That tight bronze figure, feet pointed, trailing streaks of water, is the same one who sings along with the radio while he’s cooking bacon in the morning. That is my lover, Drin thinks, staring at it. That’s the guy who leaves his socks all over the bathroom and forgets to take the trash out. That’s the one who looks so incredibly aloof in that dark silk concert suit Drin got tailored for him. That’s the guy who still hangs onto his grubby old gardening sweat pants until they are falling off him.
Drin blinks at the sunset, pulls out his cell phone, and presses the speed dial. “Hi sweetheart, just wanted to say I’ve been thinking of you again.”