No Remedy for Love Ch. 07bypodga©
The thing is, I cheated on Thomas first.
I guess I could successfully defend the position that as long as there was no sex, no exchange of bodily fluids or tongue action, not even the slightest contact of lips, then it wasn't really cheating.
I also guess I could claim that my actions weren't fully thought out, that I didn't work out the whys and wherefores until later, when two broken knuckles and a cast kept me from my daily swim and I ended up clocking endless miles on a stationary bike instead. That I didn't fully comprehend that Thomas would feel more threatened by my theoretically platonic friendship with Luke than he would have if I'd just fucked him a couple of times and maybe got him out of my system. That, when Thomas and I finally confronted each other, I didn't think I was being dishonest with my holier-than-thou attitude, my claims of simply mentoring a young man, of having no interest in him despite his admittedly good looks, of Thomas being paranoid and accusing me of things that I wouldn't do, because he actually had.
But I'd acted consciously. The frequent casual references to things Luke had said or done at work (talking about clients or projects, true, but there was his name popping up all over the place), the last minute calls that I wouldn't be catching the 6:39 from Penn Station, but hoped to make the 7:33 (even though there was another train in between) because Luke and I needed to beat a deadline, even my joining the corporate baseball team, when I hadn't been interested for the past twenty years (I never said that Luke had invited me to join, but I had mentioned, probably more than once, that Luke had played in the minor leagues until he blew out his shoulder, so it wouldn't have been that difficult for a smart guy like Thomas to figure out). And I'd known full well that my actions were indefensible, otherwise I wouldn't have felt so resentful at the mere thought that I might have to explain myself to Thomas, even though it ended up being more a case of me forcing explanations on him that he hadn't actually asked for.
The truth was, I wanted Luke. I wanted him like crazy and for a long time. Great body, dirty-blond thick hair, brown eyes, a smile his parents must have paid a fortune for, and a genuinely nice guy to boot, who wouldn't want him? And the only reason I didn't start something with him despite his evident reciprocal interest and the constant mild flirtation when we were alone together, was that he was out of bounds because of his junior status to me in the firm. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it wasn't the fear that I'd be flushing my relationship with Thomas down the toilet or that Thomas might conceivably be hurt; no, it was that I'd be risking a potential partnership and the money that would accompany it. Because twenty years ago, I had lucked into perhaps the one Wall Street firm, which stood by its published code of ethics, and inter-office relationships were a strict no-no, punishable by separation.
Of course, I had plenty of excuses for myself. That things at home had been strained for quite a while. That Thomas and I weren't getting along, that we could no longer ignore the differences between us that hadn't seemed so important or significant, when we were younger. That neither of us was happy anymore. And yes, things weren't great.
At least in the past we'd had sex and our mutual hunger for each other to help patch over the rough spots, but in our mid-forties the urgency and heat weren't as effective a panacea to our problems as before. Sometimes, when things were particularly tense between us, it was all we could do to share the same house, let alone the same bed.
Spinning and spinning on that fucking bike until I thought my legs would drop off, it occurred to me that we'd got trapped in a vicious, though not uncommon, circle: Thomas was depressed and anxious about his company losing necessary funding and sponsors as the economic crisis deepened. I might have been more sympathetic, but that same crisis was creating opportunities for my firm; I was working all hours of the day and was exhausted. When we were together at home, completely out of sync emotionally, we'd snap at each other over the stupidest things; who left the coffee maker on that morning, why I hadn't remembered he needed shampoo when I stopped by the supermarket, why he took my suit to the dry cleaners when I wanted to wear it the next day. If there were no real excuses to fight, we'd invent them. Then Thomas would grow silent and withdrawn, when the one thing I needed was for him was to finally – finally – tell me in so many words that I was important to him, because the acts of love I'd relied on until that point were becoming conspicuous in their absence. In reaction, I'd grow hectoring and condescending, too raw and vulnerable to ask him what the hell was going on, finally denying him even the simple "love you" I used to say every morning when we'd go our separate ways from Penn Station.
So things were already a mess. And then, naturally, me being me, I had to compound the problems. I started thinking about how I was closer to fifty than forty, and wondering if I'd ever feel that bright spark of passion and enthusiasm for anything ever again, or if the most I could hope for going forward was a slow dogged pace (as if I'd ever moved at any other speed). My times in the pool had been growing steadily worse and my recovery times longer; my body was starting to let me down, and I fruitlessly sucked my stomach in, looking for my long-gone six-pack.
For the first time, I was faced with the specter of my own mortality. But there Luke was, looking at me as if I was greatest thing since sliced bread, and it made me feel fucking great, and it didn't take too long to become what I'd always mocked in the past, a middle-aged man hankering after a pretty young thing in an effort to bolster his ego.
For a solid year, I had my head stuck so far up my ass that I never really looked at Thomas. Whether he was there or not felt almost irrelevant. Sometimes we'd drop into the old routines, cuddling together on the couch to watch TV after sharing a pizza, and I'd feel at peace, wonder what the hell I was doing, and determine to pull myself together and fix things between us. But those moments of grace were brief. Mostly I just felt trapped, and Thomas was the convenient scapegoat for my building dissatisfaction.
And through it all, I kept on shoving Luke in Thomas' face, and if you'd asked me why, I couldn't tell you.
I never asked, but Thomas must have been going through some of the same mid-life crisis shit that I was, plus he bore the added burden of waiting for the other shoe to drop, probably since I'd first asked him to move in with me in our old apartment in Hell's Kitchen. In his experience, love rarely lasted and he believed that the vast majority of people remained together because of outside pressures, convenience and/or because they were too cowardly to strike out on their own. "Better the devil you know than the wide blue sea," he'd blithely mix his idioms, leaving no doubt regarding his outlook on life. And in our case there was nothing physical to hold us together. No joint assets, unless we counted our photo albums, DVD, CD and book collections (and with the advent of all things digital, those were now building up in our individual laptops rather than on our shared shelves), no joint tax declarations, no piece of paper that we'd have to go to court to overturn. Even our bank accounts were separate, at first at my insistence, because I was uncomfortable at the disparity between us and didn't want him supporting me, and later because it never occurred to us to rethink that initial decision. He must have always been wondering if I was going to take off at some point, and that last year, given our situation and my behavior, he probably figured he had his answer.
Would we have split if things had just bumped along as they had been, if Thomas hadn't also given me an excuse? That was a question I still couldn't answer.
I discovered he was having an affair when his iPhone beeped with an incoming message one morning. I cast an automatic glance at it, not really interested, but the words "meet" and "babe" jumped out at me before the screen went dark. I knew his PIN code (my birthday) and I had no compunction about accessing his files. As far as I could tell, he hadn't erased a single message between himself and a guy called Ivor (Ivor, for God's sake, he sounded like an IKEA couch). It later struck me that while every one of Ivor's notes was liberally sprinkled with misspellings, nauseating terms of endearment and kissy-face emoticons (which, as far as I was concerned was adding insult to injury, Thomas cheating on me with an obvious airhead), Thomas' notes were stark and business-like, simply issuing invitations or confirming meeting details. Then again, Thomas had never been one to wear his emotions on his sleeve.
Thomas wandered into the kitchen after his morning shower and found me sitting there, his iPhone in my hands, reading. He sat heavily across from me, folded his hands on the table, and met my eyes. He knew me. He knew I knew his PIN, he knew I occasionally answered his phone, when I saw it was a mutual friend calling, just as he answered mine. It would have taken half a second to erase the string of daily messages starting almost two months ago. Barring that, he could have been more careful with his phone.
He'd wanted to get caught.
"You're having an affair," I stated the obvious after reading the last message, and at that moment I was perfectly willing to believe him if he denied it, all evidence to the contrary. In fact I prayed he'd do so.
"So are you," he responded instead, his voice calm enough, but his eyes burning.
It would have been nice if things finally coming to a head had brought along an epiphany for either of us. Instead, we hunkered down into our positions (mine that I wasn't having an affair and that I could and would not accept his cheating on me, his that casual sex on the side was meaningless and the least of our problems) and our insecurities, we reached back for all the perceived injustices and sins and sore points of years past, and we just made things worse and worse.
The day after I moved out, I arrived at work three hours late and with red eyes. Luke was waiting for me, so that we could go over some research together. And suddenly, he was simply an ordinary young man, one I liked well enough but who really wasn't that special. My one epiphany, even though it was too little and way too late.
Now, standing in a hotel room in Detroit, a closed door between us, I couldn't even remember half the things we'd said to each other over the following few weeks before I finally moved out, or how we let ourselves get to that point. Even if I could forgive and trust him, would he ever forgive and trust me, after everything I'd done?
And yet, his vehement reaction to his father wanting to split us up, the way he'd forgotten we were no longer together, if only for a second and under severe emotional strain, gave me hope. And that hope kept my hand glued to the door knob, even if it didn't give me quite enough courage to turn it.
We moved into our house in Garden City on Thomas' thirtieth birthday. The preceding weeks had been a series of arguments about what to pack and what to throw away, resolved either by coin or sex (though Thomas shamelessly cheated and stealthily got rid of a number of things that I'd won or earned fair and square, later claiming unfortunate accidents and/or loss of memory).
We thought of hiring a professional moving company, but the down payment and all the fees on the house had wiped us both out. Unfortunately there was no way in hell we could do it all on our own and getting our friends to help meant coming out, because chances were low to non-existent that anyone would believe that one of us had a double bed (we'd long progressed from the mattress on the floor) and the other slept on an air mattress.
"We might as well gird our loins and admit it," Thomas declared. "I'm sure most of them are speculating about what's between us anyway."
How many Rubicons did I need to cross in my life? Kissing a man, blowing him, taking it up the ass from him, living with him. Maybe I'd made more of a big deal of everything than it merited, but coming out really was the mother of big deals as far as I was concerned, because for the first time it involved more people than just Thomas and me. How did I tell Kevin, a guy who'd paraded naked in front of me thousands of times (and was I supposed to lie if he asked me if I'd ever sneaked a less-than-innocent look at his package or ass)? Forget Kevin, what if my parents found out? And how could they possibly not, now that I'd be living in a nice house with plenty of room and had run out of excuses to avoid inviting them to New York? And the guys at work? One thing about playing straight, I'd heard with my own ears all the stuff they'd be saying behind my back from now on.
"Oh, God," I whispered, flopping down onto the couch before my knees gave way.
Thomas came over to me, straddled my lap, and kissed me. "Buck up, little soldier, and chortle," he said.
I didn't even have it in me to make the chortle sound or respond to his kiss.
"I'll tell my parents if you tell yours," he promised, and that was big, because I knew I got along with my parents a hell of a lot better than he did with his. Then again, that meant I had more to lose.
"Oh, God," I groaned, more emphatically this time.
"We can tell Kevin first, see how it goes."
"Pour some margaritas into him first, loosen him up. Worse comes to worst, he'll be too drunk to chase after us and beat us up."
After some more deliberation and strategizing, getting Kevin drunk prior to The Announcement remained the best plan we came up with, and we set it in motion a couple of days before the move. It almost ended ignominiously, when I pulled ahead with a strong lead in the margarita-downing front, but Thomas noticed and took my glass from me.
"Tell him now," he hissed. I tried to ignore him and recover my drink, but Kevin had heard and was curious.
"Tell me what?"
"Nothing," I said at the same time that Thomas said, "We're moving in together."
Kevin looked at us confused. "Well, I know that," he finally decided to address Thomas. "Remember, dumbass? I'm part of the slave labor."
"No. We're moving in. Together." Despite the fact that he'd actually scripted The Announcement for me to deliver, Thomas wasn't doing a very credible job. I made grabby-hands at my glass again, and this time Thomas let me have it. I took a deep gulp, and watched Kevin's face as he continued to look from one to the other, a puzzled half-smile on his face, obviously waiting for the punch line to a joke he didn't quite get yet.
"We're together," I croaked finally, to help move things along. "Thomas and me."
My best friend's mouth dropped open and he gaped at us.
"You mean... together?" he asked hesitantly, obviously worried that he might offend us by having inferred from our cryptic statements that we may be gay. "Together together?"
"Jesus," he muttered and buried his face in his drink. After a couple of fortifying gulps, he looked up suspiciously, as if expecting us to yell "psych!" and his features sagged again when he realized we were very serious about being together together.
He didn't run away screaming or denounce us. He did drink most of another pitcher of margaritas (or maybe that was me), manfully struggled to maintain a casual conversation to which he kept on losing the thread (or maybe that was me), then awkwardly said goodnight and staggered off.
"I think that went pretty well," Thomas commented placidly once it was the two of us, and I raised a shaking finger to the waitress for another margarita.
I didn't expect Kevin to show up on Saturday (after Thursday's debacle, I set my foot down and said that the other guys could think or speculate what they wanted, as long as I didn't have to make The Announcement), but he did, his wife in tow.
"I told Lisa," he whispered to me as we carried a heavy dresser down the stairs. I was on the lower end, moving backward, and, therefore, the very definition of a captive audience. "She told me that she assumed I already knew."
"Huh," I grunted, too out of breath to say anything more.
"When I said I had no idea, she said she couldn't believe I could be so blind. Then I said that I couldn't believe you hadn't told me long before this," Kevin huffed.
We set the dresser down on the landing to take a breather.
"It's not the easiest thing in the world to say," I managed, trying to meet his eyes.
He chewed on that for a while. "No, I guess not," he finally agreed.
"You and me, we're still good?"
Kevin. Mostly he was crass and goofy and the thickest-skinned son of a bitch on God's green earth, but he always came through when it counted. "Yeah, man. You're my kid's godfather," he said, as if that settled everything, and picked up his end of the dresser again.
By the close of that sunny and crisp fall day, our friends all knew for sure. Thomas had been right, speculation had been rife, and those uncomfortable with the possibilities had already retreated to a safe distance without our even noticing, and weren't among the small group helping us and later sharing a meal and Thomas' birthday cake with us.
"So now we're officially gay and together together," Thomas grinned as he walked naked out of the bathroom and crawled into bed to lie on his side next to me. We didn't have blinds or curtains yet, so we hadn't turned on any lights in our new bedroom to avoid giving neighbors a free show, but the full moon was bright enough that I could clearly see him. "It's sort of a relief, you know?"
"We haven't told our parents yet," I reminded him.
He propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at me.
"Even if they don't approve, what does it matter? We're adults. We don't need them."
"We don't need them, but it matters, Thomas. You know it does."
He bent his head and kissed me.
"Well, we're not going to be telling anybody else tonight, so relax and let's move onto more important things. What did you get me for my birthday?"
"Uhmm, let's see now. A house?"
I slid my arm under him and pulled him down to lie on top of me. He settled comfortably, his arms crossed on my chest and his chin resting on them, smiling at me.
"Uh huh. With a 30-year mortgage that you're 50% responsible for. It's the gift that keeps on giving."
I stroked his back from his shoulders down to his back and tickled at the soft fine hairs at the base of his spine, causing him to squirm his groin against mine.
"That's mighty generous of you."
"It is, isn't it? I have no idea how you're going to match it when my thirtieth comes along." I raised my head and kissed the bridge of his nose.
"I've already picked out a Parker pen and pencil set for you and put it on lay-away."
He reached up to run his fingers through my hair and kissed my neck and the hollow between my collar bones.
"I had plans for our first night in our new house, but I think I'm too tired," I warned him.
"You're just angling for a blow job, aren't you?"
I wrapped my arms high around his waist and squeezed him against me.
"No, really. This is nice, right?"
He hummed in agreement and relaxed against me, tucking his head under my chin.
"You will be around for the next 30 years to pay your share of the mortgage, right?"
"Or until you move into your Fifth Avenue penthouse overlooking Central Park, whichever come last," he said firmly.
Even though we'd just bought a house together, that night was the first and only time we actually mentioned out loud the prospect of a long-term future together, and it felt enough for both of us.