From the personal planner of Peter Fontaine:
Scout photo location
Call caterer (gluten-free vegan option?)
CALL YOUR MOTHER!!!
* * * *
Peter frowned down at the all-caps order. He’d been frazzled lately, but he felt sure that these last three words had not been included in the note he’d initially written to himself regarding his plans for the day.
He would not, for example, have used three exclamation points in any text not intended for his best friend, Evangeline. Also, he did not normally print in capital letters or use a mechanical pencil. But the clincher certainly had to be the fact that these fourteen letters (or nineteen characters, counting the exclamation points and spaces) instructed him to do exactly opposite of his own personal intention and sense of self-preservation.
Still frowning down at the planner, he ambled through the stone, wood, and metal decor of his kitchen. The pedal clips on his cycling shoes scraped the tiles as he progressed, but went silent as he stepped into the plushly carpeted living room and down the hall. There he paused in the doorway of his boyfriend, Nick’s, home studio.
Nick stood on the third rung of a paint-spattered wooden ladder facing a canvas that stretched floor-to-ceiling.
He wore his usual uniform, consisting of old jeans and a ratty, stained, cream-colored cable-knit sweater that Peter felt might be at least three decades old. Certainly the fact that the sweater’s left arm had fallen off in the laundry the previous week testified to its elderly infirmity. Hoping to preserve his lover’s image as a handsome and stylish painter, Peter had thrown both the arm and the remaining sweater parts into the laundry room garbage.
In an apparent exercise in sentimentality, Nick had retrieved and repaired the sweater with a length of cotton kitchen twine.
Now instead of looking like a big blond Viking-descended forty-something whose rugged good looks just improved with time and stubble, Nick looked like a bum. Granted, he looked like a sexy bum who had just been to the charity center laundry room for fresh underpants, a shower, and a hot meal. But both his shaggy hair and ragged clothes told the story of a man who had not considered his personal appearance for at least three months.
Which by a staggering coincidence was exactly the length of time he’d been working on his new canvas.
Next time he got control of the sweater, Peter thought, he should throw it over the edge of the cliff.
Or maybe buy a little rowboat and give the heroic garment a tiny Viking funeral on the emerald-green waters of Puget Sound.
As he considered his toy boat purchasing options, Peter noticed a small, furry shape slinking along the floor near the bottom of the canvas. Ink-black against the gesso white, the cat paused, blinked, and lashed its tail violently.
Then, propelled by some inner feline impulse, the shape rushed up the ladder and launched herself onto Nick’s leg.
Nick froze, bracing against the impact.
Gigi—for the cat-shape had a name—began her ascent. Like a nimble college undergraduate with too much time on her hands, she free-climbed the sheer verticals and overhangs of Nick’s garments to reach the summit of his shoulder.
There she sat, shoved her muzzle directly into his ear, and meowed. Loudly.
“Wow, Gigi, I had no idea you were here,” Nick remarked. Then, catching sight of Peter, he gave a faint smile that barely creased his cheek, before directing his attention back to his canvas. He lifted his brush—an implement with short square bristles that Peter had recently learned was called a bright—and smoothed a long stroke of eggshell-colored paint onto the canvas.
Watching Nick, Peter began to imagine a scene. Soon he was writing a story in his head:
Dear ManHump Magazine,
I would have never believed it would happen to me.
It was just like any other day on my bike courier route. Nothing special. Just pedaling hard and getting sweaty so guys in suits don’t have to. But today there was something new in my pouch. An envelope for reclusive artist Rick Molsen. So I cycled up to his big house on Wildcat Cove. It sat on the edge of a cliff, just like a house in a movie.
I expected the guy to be shriveled and old, but when he opened the door I saw this six-foot blond Viking. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, just skintight jeans. All I could think was how much I wanted to go down on my knees right there and start sucking his meaty cock in front of God and everybody, but I didn’t.
Unfortunately, bike shorts are really revealing, and I was sure that with one glance he’d be able to see my dick getting hard just thinking about him. I held my courier pouch in front of my crotch while he signed for his package. I was almost in the clear, waiting to pedal away into the woods and jack off in the trees, ’cause no way could I ride with a chub that big, when he asked me if I’d ever modeled. I said no, and he said that my body was perfect for a painting he was doing.
He said he’d pay me a hundred bucks for just an hour. How could I refuse?
When we got to the studio, he told me to take off my clothes. No way to hide my boner then, but he didn’t seem to mind. He was staring at it, turning his head back and forth, looking at it like it was just some bowl of fruit or something. I was getting pretty embarrassed now, but somehow that made my dick even harder.
In the middle of the room, there was a raised platform covered up with a sheet. He told me to lie down on it, and I went to lie on my back, but he flipped me over onto my stomach and pulled my ass right up in the air. Then I felt his tongue on the back of my balls, licking all the way up to my asshole. I couldn’t believe how amazing it felt. I’d never felt that before. Not from another guy, or anybody—
“Are you telling yourself some kind of story right now?” Nick’s words interrupted Peter’s train of thought.
“Maybe. How could you tell?”
Without turning back toward Peter, Nick said, “You get this faraway look when you’re doing it. Does this fantasy of yours contain toast or coffee?”
“Not yet, but I have both of them in the kitchen, if you want,” Peter replied. “If you think you can tear yourself away from this thing long enough to have breakfast with me.”
“I think I have to move this ladder anyway.” Nick pulled his hand back from the canvas. “What time is it?”
“Just after eight,” Peter said.
“No wonder I’m so hungry.”
“When did you get up?”
“About four thirty.” Nick daubed more paint on his canvas. “The light coming through the window was exactly what I’m trying to capture in this piece.”
“What light is that?” Peter inquired. After having lived with an artist for years, he’d become accustomed to having conversations about things like line weight and various kinds of light. Also he had, by osmosis, absorbed the names of a dizzying array of brushes, paints, mediums, canvases, and obscure modern artists.
Not that all artists weren’t, in a way, obscure. Nick’s work had been featured in a dozen major exhibitions during the last few years, and he was still in no danger of being recognized as a rising artist by any casual bystander.
“Cool morning light before the sun has risen over the mountains. There’s a grayness that’s close to predawn, but brighter.” Nick scooped Gigi off his shoulder and started down. “I think I’m close to getting it right. Especially in this area.”
Nick gestured over the expanse of his canvas.
Peter gave a brief nod in response. He studied the massive strokes of sand and eggshell-colored paint.
Nope. He could not figure out what this painting was supposed to be.
Nick was an abstract painter who normally specialized in landscapes. For example, one recent piece had been a depiction of the wave shapes that they saw from their kitchen window. Peter had deciphered that one pretty easily, going by the very specific color of the sea in the Puget Sound area.
But this one… What the hell was it?
At first he thought it represented a shoreline cliff face as if seen from a boat floating on the water. Certainly the lower third of the canvas appeared to be taken up with a triangle-shaped blue-gray surface with brushstrokes that could have represented water. And the middle third was a series of shapes that resembled weather-worn boulders.
But the top third did not in any way resemble a sky—not even in an abstract way. Rather than having depth—as a sky of any sort would in one of Nick’s paintings—this looked flat, almost like a wooden slab.
Nick sidled up beside him, holding Gigi over his shoulder as if she were a baby, which she never allowed Peter to do without violent retribution.
“You look—what’s that word you like to use to describe the cat?”
“Vexed,” Peter supplied. “I am
“Is it because of my note about your mother?”
“No, it’s about this painting. I’m starting to get a little jealous that you spend more time with it than you do with me.” Peter recognized his statement as being childish and deliberately misleading. But he absolutely did not want to admit that he couldn’t figure out what the damn image was supposed to be, so he took the out Nick offered.
And that was why he was so chagrined when Nick leaned close to him, nuzzled against his neck, and whispered, “You don’t know what this is a painting of, do you?”
Peter felt his cheeks flush. “It’s not that.”
“I can tell that it’s driving you crazy,” Nick went on. “You found seven different ways to ask me what the title is last week. You’re hoping that will tell you what you’re looking at.” Nick pressed a kiss against his throat, sending a tingle of sensation across Peter’s skin. “And it would, if I were to tell you what the title is.”
“I just want to know what to call this painting when I brag about you to Evangeline,” Peter said, somewhat primly, then added, “What is the title, anyway?”
“I’m not going to tell you,” Nick whispered, lips brushing against Peter’s ear. “You’re going to have to figure it out.”
Peter pushed him away. “You are being such a dick about this. Do you know how many early-morning blowjobs I’ve missed because you had a date with this thing?”
“A lot?” Irritatingly, this question seemed to elevate Nick’s amusement to the point that there was an actual twinkle in his eye.
“At least a dozen, by my count. You owe me a dozen blowjobs for putting up with this painting,” Peter said, trying to enter into full tirade, but finding himself unable to.
“Do you want one right now?”
“I don’t—” Peter began to refuse, then reconsidered. He glanced at his watch. He had forty minutes till he had to be at work. It took him thirty minutes to cycle into town from their house. “Can you give me and my bike a ride into town?”
“Sure thing,” Nick said.
“You have to take off the sweater,” Peter said peevishly. Nick complied without comment. He tossed the garment over the ladder, and then with great gentleness, he lifted the cat, dropped her in the hallway, and closed the door.
Arousal zinged through Peter as he realized that they were going to have sex in Nick’s studio.
During the three years that they had lived together, they had never once had sex in either Nick’s home studio or in the one he kept at the Vitamilk Building downtown. In a way, Peter could see why. Artist studios were generally dusty spaces filled with paint-spattered drop cloths and randomly placed sharp objects. They were workspaces—meditative places, even.
But from the moment that Peter started dating Nick, he had entertained two secret fantasies. First that Nick would make a painting of him that would become so famous that it would be immortalized throughout all time and studied by art students in perpetuity as a classic of adoration and love. And, second, that he would get to have sex in an artist studio.
Since Nick was a landscape painter, Peter could count on the first fantasy never being realized.
But the second? It seemed to be happening right this minute. Giddy delight flashed through him in anticipation. Already Nick knelt before him, pulling down the waistband of the cycling pants he wore. Peter leaned back against the ladder, laying his head back against the horrible sweater.