Paz had a thing for hands. More specifically, musicians’ hands. He loved watching how a bass player would slide his fingers up and down the neck of an upright bass, stroking and plucking the strings. Or a pianist, the way their fingers danced along the keys. Paz couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like to have those same fingers dance along his skin.
His senior year of college, the school had invited pianist Gerry Benson and vocalist Javier Serrao to play with the jazz band. For the rest of the band, this was just another guest artist concert: learn the music, rehearse with the guests once or twice, and do the concert. But for Paz, it was much, much more important. Not only were they superb musicians playing the kind of music Paz had grown up around, but they were also openly gay in a musical genre that had typically denigrated anything other than straight, manly men. Only recently had a few jazz musicians like vibraphonist Gary Burton and pianist Fred Hersch admitted to being gay. Gerry and Javier were the next step -- never hiding their sexuality from the beginning and still managing to make a career in jazz.
Paz had known he was gay since his sophomore year in high school, but hadn’t told his bandmates. It just didn’t seem right, somehow. After all the jokes on the bus going from one concert to another, Paz didn’t have the energy to prove that a gay man could play jazz just as well, and that he wouldn’t be any different once he told them he had a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend. He was
the best sax player there, hands down, and had been getting gigs all over town. Still, he felt like he wasn’t playing as well as he should because he was hiding an important part of his life.
But for now, the band sat out in the auditorium to watch a mini concert by Gerry, Javier, and the conguero they’d brought along. Paz watched Gerry sit down at the piano, hungry for the reassurance that a gay man could play the pants off any number of straight ones. A fuchsia designer shirt was rolled up past his elbows, the top three buttons left open to expose a few wispy tufts of chest hair. His fingers flew across the keyboard and pounded out an intense montuno. The congas sounded in the background. The Latin rhythm made Paz go hard almost immediately.
, he thought as the music struck him. Yes, yes, yes
. It was
almost sexual the way the music reached him, an intensity of shared experience that could only be better if Paz was up there alone with Gerry and playing his saxophone.
Paz crossed his legs, grateful that the darkened theater hid the bulge in his pants. If it weren’t enough to see those long, handsome fingers, they had to be playing the kind of music that hit him deep in his soul. What he wouldn’t give to be up there in Javier’s place, with Gerry playing for him
But he was obviously already in love. The moment Gerry looked up at Javier and smiled, Paz could see it. Jealously stabbed his heart. Paz had a boyfriend, a kind, fun, secret one, but Nate was an art major, not a musician. They’d never be able to have the bond that Gerry and Javier had through music.
He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, and let the music wash over him. If only he were alone. His mind went from Gerry’s hands playing jazz to playing him in the bedroom. Gerry composed such wonderful music and was so responsive to everything Javier did vocally that Paz knew Gerry had to show the same delicacy in bed. Paz smiled in the darkness, imagining Gerry’s hands sliding beneath his shirt to tease his nipples, the sensitive fingers knowing exactly where and how to touch him…
Bad idea. The ache in his groin grew worse. This was not going to be a fun rehearsal. A trip to the restroom would be an easy fix, but he wasn’t willing to miss a single note.
After the mini concert, while Javier chatted with some of the other band members as they set up for rehearsal, Paz went to speak to Gerry. The pianist stood with one hand on the piano and the other wiping his perspiring face with a handkerchief. Paz leaned with one arm along the length of the piano, his fingers just an inch from Gerry’s. His tenor, dangling from its neck strap, hung low enough to hide his still-strong erection.
“Hot up here in the lights, isn’t it?” Gerry said with a smile. He tucked the handkerchief back in his side pants pocket. Stunning blue eyes watched Paz from under a mop of red-brown hair.
Hot. Oh, yes, you’re hot
. “Thank you for coming, and for…” His voice choked. On impulse, he clasped Gerry’s hand, hoping that the other man could sense what he couldn’t say.
A brief moment of confusion, and Gerry smiled and squeezed Paz’s hand. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Having to hide. The jazz world doesn’t make it easy for people like us.”
People like us
. The words made Paz feel another level of kinship with Gerry. “You and Javier made it.”
“Not without effort, but it’s been worth it.”
Gerry’s hand still gripped his. Paz stared at the lovely, long fingers. “It makes a difference, you know. It means a lot. To me.”
“I’m glad.” Gerry’s warm smile melted the last of Paz’s fears. “Always be yourself, and your music will be the stronger for it. ‘I play the truth of what I am,’” he said, quoting bassist Charles Mingus.
Paz grinned, and paraphrased Miles Davis. “If you don’t live it, it don’t come out of your horn.”
“Exactly,” Gerry said, just before the director told the band to get in place.
Paz floated through the rest of the rehearsal, hardly able to focus on the music because of the feelings flooding through him, both the relief that Gerry understood and encouraged him, and the ache in his groin that intensified every time Gerry had a solo.
For the concert itself, Paz coaxed his boyfriend Nate to come. The little discussion with Gerry had made all the difference. As lead tenor, Paz had half a dozen solos, and he poured his heart into every one, earning cheers and whistles from the audience as well as his bandmates. Even the director looked surprised. Afterward, while the band was packing up, Paz pulled his boyfriend onstage and kissed him, ignoring the stunned looks from his fellow musicians. He glanced over at Gerry long enough to see a faint smile of approval. Javier hooted, obviously amused.
Paz’s relationship with Nate didn’t last much longer, not because of Paz’s method of coming out, but because of other differences. It was that moment of stolen intimacy with Gerry that stayed with Paz and colored the rest of his gigs. He kept looking at the hands of every pianist, bassist, and horn player he played with, but none were like Gerry’s.