The job was a glam-photo shoot for an uptight classical string trio—some peoples’ definition of sexy, but not mine. That is, until he walked in and made the group a quartet.
“Sorrysorrysorry,” he panted. “It’s raining, and the train was late.”
“Hal, we have rehearsal in two hours,” the silver-haired leader griped. “You don’t plan very well, do you?”
“No, Dad, sorry, give me five, and I’ll be ready.” Hal glanced around with big espresso-dark eyes and set the double bass case down. His blond hair was damp and the curls touched the edges of his open collar. My curiosity narrowed on the big hickey on his neck, bright red and fresh.
“Changing room is back there.” I pointed at the curtained area, and he nodded thanks with a brief smile. Well, it was hardly a smile, just an upward jump of one side of his luscious mouth. He glanced back at me once. When he disappeared, I felt as if the rain was pouring down on me.
“Earth to Saul,” Judy, my boss said. “Move your—” She glanced at our clients. “—self. The lighting needs to be adjusted.”
Is Hal naked yet? Wow, is it weird to think that with his father in the room?
I put down my coffee cup. “I’m on it.”
A movement at the curtain; Hal caught my eye and jerked his head at me.
“Be right there,” I told him.
“Oh, God, Hal, hurry, please.” His dad rolled his eyes to the ceiling as I pushed through the curtains.
Hal stood in the small room wearing only tuxedo pants and socks. His snowy white silk shirt hung on a hanger. He hurriedly combed his hair while stepping into black leather shoes. A scarlet cummerbund lay around his neck.
He whipped off the cummerbund and pointed to the hickey. “Is this going to show?” he whisper-hissed.
“You need a little cover up. Hang on a minute.”
Relief made him smile, and his smile made me giddy. I managed to find the right skin tone for him. When he held out his hand for the tube, I shook my head.
“I’m the pro, let me do it. Then you won’t end up with the stuff all over your collar.”
I wanted to get close and touch him. I would have liked to have my camera on a timer with the two of us standing close together, a study in contrasts. Tall, blond, and tuxedoed against my Mediterranean, gauged, tattooed, and tie-dyed self.
I dabbed the stuff on the angry-looking welt on his neck while he vibrated with the need to get out there and please his father.
“All the good ones are taken,” I murmured.
“I said: all the good ones are taken.” I stepped back. “Or gay. Or both.”
“I’m not—” His eyes grew thoughtful. He smiled again. “Taken.”
“I thought you were kidding,” Hal said.
“Oh, no, you did not,” I chided him. “They’re not exactly etchings, but they got you up here, at least.”
We stood in front of the photo wall of my studio apartment in Southie. I rented studio space and lived there, though we weren’t supposed to, but one or the other was all I could afford. Cameras and equipment were my biggest expense, and my job as Judy’s assistant never covered all my needs.
Hal gave me the hot intense look that always turned me into a stuttering, stammering idiot. It hit me as hard as one of Cupid’s arrows, though the little shit must have been using automatic weapons on me by now.
“Saul,” Hal took a deep breath. “Saulie, I came up here to be with you. What the hell’s the matter?”
I loved it when he cursed; it was rare, so it came from the heart.
Hal said, “We’ve had coffee, lunch, brunch, and dinner out, and long cold walks in the park. I like you, you know that, right?”
“Hal, I—” I had to clear my throat. Like wasn’t the word I would have used. “I don’t want to be another hickey on your neck. You get that, right?”
His expression changed, softened, and his brown eyes seemed to glow from within. Soul light. I saw it when he played and lost himself in the music. Or rather, found himself in the music. “Yeah, baby, I get that.”
A Yankee Clipper howled outside the window. Hal radiated heat. I burrowed against him, and he made a welcoming sound.
“The storm keeping you awake?” I asked.
“No, well, yes, but I need to tell you. I left the group. I have to get a job.”
“What!” I sat up into frigid air, grabbed the afghan, and threw it around me.
“I want to explore music. I’m done with classical.” He sighed. “There’s an avant-garde group in New York City looking for a bassist. I would love that.”
I swallowed hard, glad it was pitch dark in the studio.
“Or the swing fusion band in Connecticut…”
“No work for an errant bassist in Boston?” I tried to laugh it off.
Hal sat up and put his arms around me. “I’ll keep looking. I need a job first, to get the money to travel to auditions. Dad’s pretty pissed at me right now, so I can’t ask him for anything.”
I had nothing but holes in my pockets, and he knew it.
For the first time in two years, I had a Valentine to celebrate the day with. I found the most brilliant gift. Friends went out-of-town for their own celebration and lent us their place for the weekend. I had a real kitchen to cook in and made Hal’s favorite, eggplant parmesan, while we drank cheap Chianti. When dinner was done and the dishes washed, we looked each other in the eye and stars exploded inside me from sheer happiness.
“Presents?” He arched a golden eyebrow at me, and I kissed him, couldn’t help it.
We both grinned like loons as we retrieved our gifts and laid them on kitchen table. It was a cozy spot, so we sat there with the candles lit.
“You first,” I said, anxious.
He unwrapped the box and lifted out the gift.
“Oh, my god, Saul.” His eyes filled with tears, a hand now over his mouth.
“Open plane ticket to New York City, round trip,” I burbled happily. “A gift certificate for a hotel you can use anytime, anyplace. I contacted some friends, who not only know one of the guys in that avant-garde group, but they talked to them, and they said they’d hold an audition space for you.”
“Saulie.” His voice was husky with emotion. “Open yours.”
I ripped at the gift paper, at a loss. He radiated both happiness and unhappiness, as if he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I opened my gift. “Oh.” My heart sank. “The giant-ass HD lens I wanted.” Desperately, I had told him. “But, Hal, I—I—”
“Pawned your camera?” Hal nodded, tears spilling over, smiling like crazy again. “I pawned the bass.”
I always wanted to write an O. Henry type story. Thanks for reading.
Love, Heloise West