The next morning I wasn't speaking to Aaron. But he hummed to himself while he got dressed, then he sat and ate a bagel and read the 'New York Times,' completely oblivious to the fact that I was avidly ignoring him.
"Oh, Shea," he said before he left to go to class. "I forgot to tell you last night. I'll be going out to Indiana on Thursday. I'm meeting with the Dean on Friday for lunch and they're having a little party for me on Saturday night to introduce me to the faculty and some of the graduate students. I'd take you with me, but I know you're finishing up your classes. I also thought I'd find out about houses to rent. Maybe Tom can hook me up with a real estate agent. I think renting is the way to go, but I don't want another apartment. We need a lot more space. Two offices. Definitely two offices. And a guest bedroom. Wouldn't you like a yard, Baby? A nice big yard. Maybe we can get a dog. I've always wanted a dog..."
Aaron went on with his stream-of-consciousness monologue, never even noticing that I wasn't taking part. What was there for me to say? Aaron was doing fine on his own. Asking questions and then answering them himself. Just the way it's always been.
How long have I been putting up with this shit?
Since the beginning.
Now I was posing the questions and providing the answers. But only to myself.
It doesn't matter how much I protest or complain or try to get Aaron to listen to me for even two minutes, because if he can shut me up in bed, then he assumes everything is back to normal. Status quo. Even when it's not. And a new day makes everything else new, too. All disagreements erased.
"Shea? Did you hear me? I'm going to Indiana on Thursday."
"I heard you." I poured myself another cup of coffee and stirred in the sugar.
"Oh," he said. "You looked like you weren't listening to me."
"Would it matter if I wasn't?"
Aaron got that look on his face, half-frustrated, half-tolerant. "Let's not argue about this, Baby. I have a lot of work to do before I leave for Indiana. We need to be on the same page with what's going on."
"And what page is that?"
Aaron sighed as if he were dealing with a child. "About my new job! And the end of the semester! Christ! What have we been talking about? I need to finish up with my students and get them out of the way before I leave town. That means some of them will be calling here if they're late or having a problem with their final projects. You need to direct them to Lowell if it's a production problem, or to Frieda if it's anything else. You got that?"
Lowell and Frieda were Aaron's teaching assistants, graduate students who were doing their Master's Degrees under Aaron's direction.
"I think I can manage that." I tried without success to keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
Aaron shook his head. "It's a good thing the semester is ending. We need to get out of this city. It's beginning to make both of us a little testy."
Aaron took off and I cleared the breakfast dishes. Then I looked around the apartment. There was junk everywhere, mainly books and magazines, but also piles of videos and DVD's. And folders full of research material, both mine and Aaron's. We'd be packing the place up soon. Making another move. And taking all this stuff with us.
I gathered up some newspapers and dumped them in a paper bag to recycle. Cleaning up. I started to move some of Aaron's books off the coffee table, but then I stopped.
"Fuck it," I said. "What difference does it make?"
I went upstairs to get dressed and then headed off to class.
For the next two days Aaron and I inhabited the same space, but that's about it. He rushed around, completing what he needed to do with his students and getting ready for his trip, while I did what I always did -- I focused on my own work and made life easier for him.
And hated myself for doing it.
What I should have done was to make an special appointment to see Dr. DiGiglio and talk about everything that was bothering me, but I was too stubborn to do it. I was also too stubborn to call Rich and talk to him about it. I was sick of powerful people in my life saying, "I told you so" -- even if that's what I needed to hear. But I already knew my relationship with Aaron was dysfunctional; it wasn't necessary that my psychiatrist or my best friend confirm it.
Aaron left for Indiana on Thursday morning. I spent the day on campus and then came home to an empty apartment.
It shocked me what a relief it was to be alone.
I ate what I felt like eating, mainly a lot of pretzels, ice cream, and Coca Cola. Turned on the TV and watched some mindless sitcoms and bad reality shows on cable. Sat around in my underwear. Read some trashy magazines I bought at the supermarket. Turned Duran Duran and the Pet Shop Boys up on the CD player. In other words, I did things I didn't usually do when Aaron was around. I felt like Tom Cruise in 'Risky Business,' but without the hooker. No, wait -- I was the hooker.
And I worked on my book. I hadn't done that in months. There was always something else more important that needed to be done instead of writing. Grading. Cooking. Going somewhere with Aaron. Anything. But now I had no real excuse. So I looked over what I had already done. It wasn't great, but it was something. And I started adding more.
On Friday I taught my last class of the semester -- and my last class at Boston State -- and was surprised at how sad I was feeling. I told my students I'd miss them and I meant it. I reminded them that their final papers were due next Monday and then I dismissed them. They walked out the door talking and laughing.
It was a beautiful day. There's something about May that's beautiful, but also sad. April is the cruelest month and August is a wicked month, but May catches you by surprise. It's that lover you thought you trusted -- and then POW! He hits you right in the gut.
Barbara was in our little office, typing at the computer.
She looked up s I came in and dropped my bag on my desk. "Jesus! What I wouldn't give for a goddamn cigarette!"
"Smoke-free building, remember?"
"Don't remind me!" she groaned. "I'd like to murder the busybodies who made that stupid rule! They're my lungs! If I want to take my chances, then I should have the right to kill myself!"
"But what about the rest of us? We have to be in here with you, breathing in the fumes."
She glared at me. "Spoken like a true non-smoker. Tell me, Shea, do you have any vices? I mean, besides the obvious ones the Christian Right would condemn you to Hell for, but which are okay by me. Do you drink the blood of virgin boys? Or leave the toilet seat up? Or anything else that isn't totally perfect?"
"I used to be a smoker," I admit. "When I was a teenager. But I quit. I quit a lot of things, actually."
"Why'd you quit?" Barbara asked. "For your health? Or did your parents get on your case?"
"Both... sort of." I'd never told Barbara anything about my past and I wasn't sure I wanted to start now. "I was in a foster home. They didn't like smoking, so I stopped. I got sick of sneaking out to the backyard in the middle of winter for a Camel."
Barbara looked at me in surprise. "You were in a foster home? How come I didn't know that?"
I shrugged. "Probably because I never told you about it. It was no big deal." Right. No big deal at all!
I could tell that her curiosity was struggling to overcome her professional boundaries. We knew a bit about each other, as people who share a small space do. I knew all about her bastard of an ex-husband, about her kids, her relationship with her mother, her problems with money, and she knew about Aaron. That was pretty much it.
"My parents and I didn't get along," I added.
"Because you were gay?" she guessed.
"That was part of it, although it also had a lot to do with my father being a raging alcoholic. When I was little, I mainly stayed out of his way, but when I got to be a teenager, the confrontations escalated. I was doing things I probably shouldn't have been doing, and a lot of my acting out was to get back at him. The usual stuff."
"But most kids don't go into foster care because of it," she probed. "I mean, I had a lot of issues with my mother, but it never went that far."
I leaned back in the broken-down chair at my desk, but not too far back. I didn't want to fall over backwards. So what to tell? That's the problem. I never know how much to tell. And how much to shut up about.
"My old man and I got into it right before Thanksgiving. I was 16 and feeling pretty cocky. I thought I had it all figured out and also thought I knew how far I could push him. But I was wrong. The reality was that he was still twice my size and he was also drunk. That trumped all the bravado I could muster. Long story short: he beat the piss out of me. I didn't realize it at the time, but he cracked a couple of my ribs. I cut out of there the same night, even though I was in pain so bad I thought I'd pass out. I stayed with a guy I knew for a while. Took some drugs -- too many drugs. Bummed around, getting into trouble. I eventually ended up in the hospital. And because my parents and I weren't on the best of terms, I went to a foster home. They were good people." I hesitated. "They were Aaron's parents."
"Oh my God!" Barbara exclaimed. "Is that how you two met? That's some story, Shea!"
"Yeah. Some story."
"No wonder you two have issues!" she said, raising her eyebrows. "What were you two? Like brothers or something?"
"No! Never like brothers. He was much older. In graduate school. He didn't live at home, he had an apartment in the city. I'd see him when he came to visit on weekends. This was on Long Island. I finished high school and then went to NYU. I moved in with Aaron... and we were a couple. What can I say?"
"You must have been so young!"
"Too young, probably." I closed my eyes, thinking. Picturing myself in Aaron's old bedroom in the house in Parkville, which was now my bedroom. Aaron coming upstairs and closing the door. The two of us stealing ten minutes, twenty minutes, to be together. Kissing. Touching each other. I couldn't keep my hands off him and he couldn't stay away from me.
But we didn't dare do too much. Lily Blumenthal took her job as my guardian very seriously, which meant looking out for my welfare in every way. She knew I was gay: that was established from the beginning. She and the rest of the family knew why I'd been on the streets and that I'd been taking drugs. Lily's main fear was that I'd start using again. But the sex part -- that was harder for her to understand, let alone deal with. So Aaron and I had to be extremely careful.
Of course, we got past Lily's watchful eyes in various ways. I'd skip school, or tell her I was going to the mall, or to meet some friends. Then I'd take the train into the city. To Aaron's apartment. We'd spend a couple of hours fucking like monkeys until I had to go back. I thought it was so romantic. But Aaron was terrified his parents would find out we were screwing and bounce me straight back to Cleveland and the loving arms of my parents (add sarcasm here!). And then send him either to a psychiatrist or a rabbi. Or call the cops.
The truth is, I'm convinced Lily knew what was going on the whole time. She's a smart woman and she could see there was something between me and Aaron. Why else would he want his parents to take in this strange kid off the streets? This ex-whore, ex-drug addict? Why would Aaron care so much about one boy out of the dozens he had filmed?
Because he loved me, that's why.
That's what I believed. And what Lily Blumenthal believed it, too. She could see it when she looked at the two of us together. So she knew long before Aaron came out to her near the end of my freshman year at NYU. Aaron had joined a gay filmmakers group and was getting his queer consciousness raised. Part of that meant coming out to everyone you knew. Being open about who you were, especially to your family. And to Aaron, that meant his mother. She was the one who mattered. She was also the one most likely to accept us. I had just turned 19 and Aaron was 27. Come to think of it, it was at the beginning of May. Right around this time.
As for the rest of the Blumenthals, they had their socks shocked off by Aaron's revelation, especially Aaron's father, Sam. But they eventually got used to it. Got used to us as a couple, Aaron and Shea. And later on, so did my real family, the Desmonds. Yes, even they came around.
"I still want a cigarette." Barbara looked out the window. A flowering plum tree was in full bloom, its pale pink petals fluttering in the breeze. "Goddamn May. Why do you have to be so beautiful?"
"I don't know," I said.
And I didn't. Some things just are.