tagGay MaleEmbracing the Tension Ch. 05

Embracing the Tension Ch. 05

byhudsbart©

Hi guys!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to leave a comment. They're so encouraging and I'm glad you're enjoying the story!!

In this chapter, we see Erik moving steadily forward, and Ryan plagued with some doubts. And finally, some sex again! lol

Yours,

Hudson

Copyright © 2018 by Hudson Bartholomew. All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

*****

Embracing the Tension - Chapter 5

Erik tossed his phone onto the coffee table and flopped down on his couch. Today was not his day. In fact, this week had not been his week. Every phone call he'd made had been intercepted by voicemail or some shifty assistant, and he hadn't been able to get through to any of the potential financial backers he'd been hoping to set up meetings with. And from the other side, the director and writers from his latest project wouldn't stop calling him, asking him to fix this problem or that problem and generally play the police officer when they didn't get along.

And then the weather had decided that it would be the perfect day for a downpour, though just a brief one, but long enough to get Erik soaked to the bone and then to stop when he got to a Walgreens to buy an umbrella. And then the subway wanted to join in on the fun, so it decided to break down halfway between stations for more than an hour, leaving Erik standing, soaking wet, in a packed subway car with a broken heater spouting air so hot that the windows started fogging up.

God, he hated New York sometimes.

Actually, it was starting to feel like he was hating New York all the time these days. He couldn't remember the last good day—really good day—he'd had in the city. The last really good day he remembered...was Thanksgiving in Toronto.

Erik reached for his phone, and it started vibrating with an incoming call the minute he picked it up. Ryan Cote. How did he know to call right when Erik needed him?

"Hey." Erik tried to sound upbeat but wasn't sure he succeeded.

"Hey." Ryan's rumbling voice immediately set at ease the tight, straining feeling in Erik's chest. "Is this a good time?"

"Yeah, this is a perfect time."

"Sounds like you had a rough day." Ryan chuckled.

"You have no idea."

"Tell me."

Erik proceeded to regale Ryan with every little thing that had gone wrong that day, including how the Starbucks barista spelled his name with a "c" rather than a "k," as if they were expected to know.

"I'm sorry to hear that." Ryan sounded sympathetic.

"Yeah, well. Another day, another shit show." Erik heard the bitterness in his own voice but chose to ignore it. "How about your day?"

"Oh, you know. Work, home, dinner." The signature grin and shrug were almost visible over the phone line. "Rachel and Tom have their date night tonight, so I'm going down to babysit Chloe for the evening."

"That sounds like fun." Erik really meant that. He could just imagine a quiet evening spent with Ryan and Chloe—playing games, watching movies, putting her to bed. It sounded like fun, but more importantly, it sounded easy with that same sense of ease he'd come to associate with Ryan. "Wish I could join you guys."

"Me, too." They slipped into their comfortable silence for a moment before Ryan continued. "What are you up to tonight?"

"A friend's going-away party," Erik answered. "Feels like I've got one every week now. There's another one tomorrow night, too."

"Lots of people moving away?"

"Yeah, everyone's dropping like flies around here."

"At least the party should be fun."

"I guess..." Erik couldn't have sounded less enthusiastic if he'd tried. He got a chuckle from Ryan in response.

"Where's this party?"

"Oh, I've no idea," Erik said. "Somewhere in Meatpacking? I should probably look that up before I go. Or maybe I'll just skip the whole thing altogether. It's not like I know the guy very well."

"What would you do instead?"

Now it Erik's turn to shrug. "I don't know. Stay home. Netflix and chill."

"I think you should go. Might be fun."

"Might be." But Erik knew that Ryan was right. He should go, get out of his apartment, talk to people, have a few drinks. New York was nothing if not social, and it would get his mind off how work was stalling so spectacularly. "Fine, I'll go."

Ryan chuckled again. "No one's forcing you. But I think you'll have a good time."

"Yeah, I know." Erik tried really hard to believe it.

###

Erik usually loved being around people. He thrived on the energy of the crowd, and he loved the sound of different voices talking over each other—which was why he didn't understand why the party felt like a chore and why he kept checking his watch to see when it'd be acceptable to start saying goodbye.

It didn't make any sense. His friend—more an acquaintance, really—had reserved the back half of a bar that was getting good reviews online and in all the local papers. Erik had actually heard about the place a while before and had wanted to check it out. The atmosphere was good, beers on tap were good, and while he didn't really know anyone else at the party, that had never been a problem for him before. His usual tactic was to make the rounds, chat with random people, which usually worked to get his interest piqued, but it just wasn't happening today.

"Erik?"

He turned at the sound of his name and was surprised to see Amanda, Ryan's old co-worker from the bar. Her hair was shorter, which Erik thought suited her, but otherwise she looked the same as she had the last time he'd seen her three years earlier.

"Amanda, hi!" He bent down to give her a hug. "What are you doing here?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing! Do you know Mitch?" She pointed to the guy who was moving away.

"Yeah, friend of a friend of a friend, or something like that." Erik explained. "I'm not entirely sure exactly. It was a while ago. You?"

Amanda blushed, which from what Erik could remember, wasn't a usual reaction. "Yeah," she said, almost shyly. "I'm his fiancee."

"Oh, my god! You're that Amanda!"

"Yeah." She giggled and stole a glance across the room to where Mitch stood. Erik caught the look; it tugged at something in his chest and reminded him immediately of Ryan.

"Congratulations!" He gave her another hug for good measure.

"Thank you." It was clear Amanda couldn't keep the smile off her face, and Erik had to admit it was pretty contagious.

"So, tell me, do you have your wedding figured out? Are you moving with Mitch to San Francisco?"

"Yeah, we're moving together. That was kind of the push we needed to get engaged, actually. It just felt right, you know? If we were going to move across the country together, then why not? And it'll be nice to be closer to family, too. I'm originally from the Bay Area, and Mitch's family are in Seattle. So, it all kind of made sense."

"Yeah, totally. I get that. So, is the wedding out there?"

"Yeah, it's in January. Everything's pretty much set."

"January, huh? Isn't that cold?"

"I know! Everyone's like, 'you're crazy,' but it's so much cheaper." Amanda rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively. "Whatever. It's still warmer than in New York. Oh, my god, you should come!"

Erik laughed at Amanda's exuberance; he'd forgotten how easy she was to get along with.

"Ryan's going to be there!" Amanda stopped herself. "Have you been in touch with Ryan at all?"

Now it was Erik's turn to smile shyly. "Yeah, actually, I have. We're, uh... kind of seeing each other."

"Oh. My. God. That's amazing!" Amanda exclaimed and gave Erik another hug. "How did that happen? Tell me all about it!"

Erik happily obliged, drawing the line only when Amanda started prodding for tidbits from their bedroom activities.

"Wow," Amanda said when Erik finally finished. "I had no idea! I'm going to have to call Ryan to get his side of the story."

"Good luck with that." Erik laughed.

"Ugh, I know, right? Never mind, I'm sure I got the more interesting version from you. But seriously, you should come to the wedding! I'm going to tell Ryan to put you down as his plus one."

Erik smiled. He liked the idea of going to a wedding with Ryan. But that wasn't something he wanted to push onto Ryan, especially at this point when they were still so new into their relationship. January was months away. Who knew what would happen between now and then?

Ryan had been right, Erik decided as he left the bar. He did enjoy the party more than he thought he would. He tried not to dwell on the fact that the most enjoyable part had been getting to talk about Ryan for the better part of an hour.

But as he walked along the New York sidewalk, weaving his way around people who walked too slowly, Erik felt the tiredness from earlier seep back into his bones. He liked Amanda and was glad to have reconnected. He couldn't remember why they hadn't kept in touch after Ryan moved away. Not that it mattered anymore, now that Amanda was moving away.

A quick mental inventory of his remaining friends in New York returned a pitiful number. And of those who were still in town, most were more acquaintances than friends. But then... Erik never liked admitting this to himself, but he'd always been better at collecting acquaintances than friends.

A rumble of an approaching train reverberated through the ground, and Erik ran down the steps of the subway station to catch the train right before the door shut. It was empty enough that he helped himself to a seat without feeling guilty for taking up space.

The New York subway had been running a subway poetry campaign for the past couple of years, and the one posted in Erik's car was called "Here", by Gary Snyder. The last line caught Erik's attention. It asked why we were here. Why, indeed? Erik didn't know the answer anymore.

###

Ryan held up two shirts, trying to decide which one he should pack. He liked the black one, but Erik was always saying he wore too much black. Maybe he should just bring both.

"How long are you going for?" Rachel sat cross legged on Ryan's bed with Caesar curled in her lap, eyeing the nearly filled duffle bag.

"Just the weekend. Why?"

"You pack more than I do."

He paused and frowned at her. "No, I don't."

The skeptical look Rachel threw back at him was familiar; it was the same one they'd both inherited from their mother.

"And why do you care how much I pack?" He stuffed a second pair of jeans into his bag.

She shrugged, another trait they'd learned from each other. "I don't."

"So why are you sitting there watching me pack?"

"What? Can't a big sister worry about her baby brother?"

Ryan shot her his version of the skeptical look. "What is there to worry about?"

"This thing with Erik..." Her voice trailed off as if she had more to say but didn't know how to say it.

"Yeah?"

Rachel occupied herself with petting Caesar, eliciting satisfied purrs from the furry feline. "I'm just... I'm just not sure about this."

"Not sure about what?"

"It just seems like things are moving really fast. Like you're jumping in head first." She couldn't meet his eyes, which meant she wasn't sure she'd get a good reaction from him.

Ryan bit his tongue against the mini-tirade bursting to slip out. He tended to be a reserved guy and felt no need to express his opinions too forcefully to anyone—anyone except his family. His mom and Rachel—they were the only two people that could get a rise out of him with no more than a look.

"How is this too fast? We've been talking for two months, practically every day." Ryan tried to keep his voice calm, medium volume, steady pace. But inside, his heart was pounding at Rachel's audacity to question his judgment. "And it's not like we just met. We've technically known each other for years."

"Yeah, about that."

Ryan could practically hear the eyeroll in Rachel's voice. "What about that?" The words came out short and harsh despite his trying to rein them in.

There was that skeptical look again. God, she was so good at it.

"What? Is it that we met while doing porn? That we did porn together? Is that it?" He could hear his volume rising and clenched his jaw in a physical effort to stay calm.

"Yeah, that is it." Rachel's voice was too loud for Caesar's liking, and he skittered off to find a more peaceful place to nap. "My god, Ryan. I still can't believe you did that! As if you have no respect for your body at all! And now you're hooking up again with someone who did... that! What? Are you trying to relive your glory days or something?"

"You have no idea what you're talking about!" If Rachel wasn't going to keep her voice down, then neither was Ryan. "Reliving my glory days? You've got to be kidding me, right? Do you think I miss doing porn? That I enjoyed it in the first place?"

"Well, didn't you? Why would you keep doing it if you didn't enjoy it?"

"Because it paid the bills!" Ryan threw his hands in the air, packing forgotten. "And I was good at it! And yeah, maybe for a time I did enjoy it. But I didn't love it, and I certainly don't miss it now."

Chocolate-brown eyes, so similar to his own, stared back at Ryan, weighing his words. "Then I don't get it." Rachel was calmer now. "If you don't miss it, then why are you with Erik?"

Ryan gaped at her. The question was so absurd he didn't even know where to begin. What did missing porn have to do with being with Erik? "Why am I with Erik? Because I like him. Isn't that enough? Why does there have to be more?"

"But..." Rachel dropped her eyes again, and said in a whisper, "but you guys did porn together."

"Yeah? So?"

"It's porn!" She exclaimed as if that was explanation enough.

"Yeah, I get that part."

"How can you be with someone who did porn?" And finally, the real question that had been bugging her.

"I don't see how that makes a difference." Ryan sat down next to his sister on the bed. "It's not like he's doing it now."

"How can you be sure?" She frowned at him.

Ryan gaped at her again. "Are you equating porn to cheating? How can you be sure that Tom isn't doing porn?"

She rolled her eyes. "It's not the same thing."

"It is! I know he's not doing porn because he told me he's not. And he hasn't given me any reason to doubt that." Ryan paused for a moment before continuing. "Just like I've told you before, and I'm telling you now: I'm not doing porn anymore. Do you think I'm lying to you?"

"No!"

"So what's the difference?"

Rachel examined the white duvet as if it held some intricate pattern. "It's just... would you be okay if he started again?"

The question took Ryan by surprise. He had never thought to ask it of himself. Would he be okay with it? Knowing what he knew about porn, Ryan understood that having sex on camera was just that: having sex on camera. There was an element of intimacy to it, sure, but it was purely physical. And isn't that what they had discussed all those years ago? The tension between the forced intimacy of porn versus the need to guard against overexposure?

No, Ryan decided. He wouldn't be okay if Erik was doing porn again. But not for the same reasons Rachel had. Ryan didn't want Erik to be in that position again, forced to navigate between the push and pull. Even if they didn't work out, Ryan wished for Erik's freedom from that tension, because that was a tension no one should have to live with.

"He's not going to start again." Ryan said.

"How do you know?"

"I know. Because I wouldn't start again."

Rachel threw him her skeptical look again, but at least she didn't dispute him.

"And besides, I thought you liked him. You guys seemed to get along well at Thanksgiving."

"I do like him. He's nice and really good with Chloe." Rachel paused. "Plus, I've seen the way he looks at you—and the way you look at him. I just don't want you to get hurt if it doesn't work out."

Ryan knew she meant well, that she was just a big sister worried about her little brother. He should be grateful that he had someone looking out for him, and he was—except he didn't need her protection when it came to Erik. He knew Erik. "These things don't always work out, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try."

"What about the long-distance thing? Have you talked about it?"

"No." Ryan admitted with a frown.

"Are you going to talk about it?"

Ryan shrugged. "Yeah, eventually, I'm sure."

"Right." The skeptical look returned.

"We will!"

"Sure."

"Forget it. I have to finish packing. I don't have time to argue with you. Don't you have to make dinner for your family or something?" Ryan jumped off the bed and continued stuffing clothes into his duffle bag.

"Right." Rachel followed him off the bed, but paused before she walked out the door. "Just... be careful, okay, little brother?"

"Yeah," Ryan said with a sigh. "I will."

###

Erik was dressed only in a baggy pair of sweatpants when he opened the door to his apartment. Ryan let his gaze linger over all that exposed skin, decorated with the winding wisps of the smoky tattoo. He dropped his bag on the floor and stepped into Erik's waiting arms, feeling the heat of the skin under his palms, the warm of Erik's lips on his cold, wind-chapped ones.

Coming together after weeks apart was always a strange kind of reunion. They spoke on the phone every day, but that was just a voice in his ear accompanied by an image he remembered in his mind. With each day spent apart, that image morphed a little bit more until he wasn't sure whether his memory of Erik was the same as the actual man.

Erik shut the door and they stumbled arm-in-arm toward the couch. Ryan shrugged out of his coat before pulling Erik against his chest, and buried his nose into Erik's hair. He let himself remember the feeling of having Erik in his arms, the smell of Erik in his nose. Slowly, the image in his mind corrected itself.

Unbidden, Rachel's words echoed in Ryan's ears. He couldn't stop thinking about them the entire way down to New York. He knew Erik had left porn. He had to believe that it was for good—wasn't that the whole point of Erik's film, anyway? So he could come to terms with it and leave it behind? The chances that Erik would go back to it were about the same as Ryan going back to it: less than zero.

So why the hell did Rachel's worries bother him so much?

A short snore and Erik jumped in his arm—he had fallen asleep where Ryan held him close.

"Sorry." Erik rubbed his eyes. "I hope I didn't drool on you."

Ryan glanced down quickly to check and was rewarded with a slap on his shoulder. He smiled. "You've had a long day and it's late. Go to bed."

Erik sought out his hand. "Not without you. Come on."

Ryan let him lead them into the bedroom where Erik simply pushed the sweats down his long legs and slipped under the covers. He moved with a swift grace that mesmerized Ryan, a remnant from Erik's days as a dancer.

Ryan undressed more slowly, aware of Erik's gaze on his every movement. He didn't attempt to do anything sexy, he had never been good at that kind of seduction. He only exceled at acting that took place after all the clothes had been removed.

He climbed into bed and they took a minute to figure out all their parts fit best together. Erik's head ended up on his shoulder as he traced the smoky tattoo that ran down Erik's arm. It was moments until Erik fell asleep, his breath warm against Ryan's chest.

Ryan blinked up at the ceiling, tired but wide awake. He had left porn, left New York, settled into something that resembled a normal life. Wasn't that what Erik was trying to do, too? Except Erik was still in the city, chasing after that big New York dream that was really more of a lie: New York is the only worthwhile place to live, if you can't make it in New York, then you're a failure at life.

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