After therapy I usually go straight home. It's after 5:00 and time to start dinner. Plus, I'm usually feeling more than a little raw emotionally. Getting validation from Aaron, as well as getting myself settled and centered, gives me a chance to process what -- if anything -- happened with Dr. DiGiglio that day.
But the last place I wanted to go was back to the apartment. The last person I wanted to see was my cheating dog of a partner.
I had a bag full of final essays my students had turned in that day, so I walked to a nearby coffee shop and found a corner table. I spread out the papers, took out my trusty red pen, and began to go through the pile.
Grading papers is very focusing. On one hand you're using your brain, but on the other you don't have to think too deeply. You're looking for very specific things -- a clear thesis, some kind of logical organization, development of the main argument, how well they use their sources, decent technical control, a sense of style, and, finally, a conclusion to wrap everything up -- and you can submerge yourself in looking for them. Occasionally one of the students will actually say something unexpected or even original, but that's the expectation. Most student essays are numbingly similar. But that's what the university demands, or at least what BSU demands. A standard. A sameness. Getting everyone on the same page. It's not very creative, but then I'm not teaching Creative Writing, I'm teaching Freshman English.
I drank a lot of coffee, ate a white chocolate chunk cookie and a banana walnut muffin for dinner, and before I knew it, it was 10:00. I had powered through most of the essays. All I needed to do was read the remainder tomorrow, go through the entire pile one more time to make certain I hadn't missed anything truly brilliant (faint hope!), assign final grades, and turn them in to Helen in the office. I'd be finished for the semester. Finished with my semi-career at Boston State University.
I had no fucking idea what I'd do then.
I walked home.
Even though the May days are warm and sunny, it's still chilly in the evening in Boston, especially if the wind is blowing in off the harbor. I was wearing my vintage suede jacket, which looks great on me, but isn't really meant to keep out the cold. By the time I got back to the apartment I was freezing my ass off.
Aaron was standing at the door when I opened it.
"Where the hell have you been?" His face was pale. "I was about to start calling the hospitals!"
I took off my coat and hung it up in the little closet. "I was grading." I held up my Land's End bag.
Aaron grabbed it and tossed it on the floor. "Christ, Shea! Your hands are like ice! Why didn't you call me? When you weren't home by 6:00 I started imagining all sorts of things that could have happened to you!"
"Like what?" I hated to sound like I didn't give a shit, but...
"Like that you'd been mugged! Or injured somehow!" Aaron replied. "Or that you'd done something... stupid."
"Stupid?" I went into the kitchen and got a can of Coke. If I was going to have to listen to Aaron, I needed a caffeine jolt. "Like I'd try to harm myself because I was so distraught over you? Don't flatter yourself."
Aaron stared at me. "I was worried about you! Really worried!"
"Not afraid that I was out tricking with some guy I picked up?"
He blinked. I could see that the idea hadn't even crossed his mind. But it was there now. "You wouldn't."
"No, I wouldn't!" I threw back at him. "Because I actually thought we had a partnership! An agreement that we were going to be monogamous! If that's not what you wanted, Aaron, or if something had changed, you should have taken it up with me, instead of bonking your flabby grad student. I mean, Lowell? You can do better than that! He's just too easy. I would have expected you to have a little more discernment."
"Shea," said Aaron. "Listen to me! I'm not doing anything with Lowell! He's a disgruntled student! You think I'd risk my relationship with you for a casual fuck with Lowell? That's crazy! Be fair! You're upset and I can understand why you're upset, but you're not giving me a chance! You believe some guy you don't even know more than you believe me, your partner! That hurts, Baby. It really hurts!"
I wavered. He was right about one thing -- I didn't know Lowell or his motivations. But I did know Aaron. And all of his protestations just didn't ring true.
"I wish I could just forget everything, but I can't," I admitted. "Things haven't been good between us and I've been feeling it for a long time. You don't treat me like a partner, Aaron, you treat me like an appendage. Sometimes I feel like I'm the easy fuck. A convenience. You keep me around because I serve a purpose. But that's it."
Aaron turned away. He walked into the living room and sat down on the couch -- the one I'd slept on the night before. He put his head in his hands. "I had no idea you felt that way. If that's what I've been doing, I'm sorry! I'm so fucking sorry, Shea!"
And then Aaron did something I hadn't seen him do in ages, even years. He started to cry.
With anyone else I'd have thought it was an act, carefully calculated to get me right where he knew I'd be the most vulnerable -- in the heart.
But Aaron didn't work that way. He didn't need to work that way with me. He's a self-centered, often thoughtless, driven, textbook Type A personality, but he's not an actor. He's not a manipulator. He couldn't turn on tears if you put a gun to his head.
I sat down next to him on the couch. I put my arms around him. "That's what it feels like. I'm just telling you the truth."
He held me. I can't lie -- it felt good. I felt relieved. But that didn't make everything right. Not by a longshot.
We ended up in bed anyway.
"When you didn't come home I panicked! All I could think about was back in New York. The time I came back to the apartment and you were gone. Then I thought you were dead. And, to tell you the truth, Baby, I wanted to die, too."
"But you didn't die," I reminded him. "You went back to work. You finished your film. That's what you do, Aaron. That's how you cope. How you survive."
"But I don't want to do it without you! I mean that!" Aaron insisted. "You're what keeps me connected. Without you I'd be... I don't know. I wouldn't be myself. You're the one who brought me out. The one who made me face the fact that I was gay and accept it. I know you're upset about the 'Red Shirt' DVD, but it's not just about you, Shea. Not just about 'Jack.' It's about me and my coming out. It's about understanding who you are by understanding who you love." Aaron looked at me, his blue eyes sincere. And beautiful. Always beautiful. "It's no mystery that the original 'Red Shirt' is the best film I've ever made. It's a love letter. To you. You know that. So what more can I say or do to prove what I feel?"
He was right about 'Red Shirt.' But that was a long time ago. And I still needed to know he loved me. Only me.
When we made love that night Aaron was especially passionate. And especially tender. Like he was trying to make something up to me. And I didn't care what it was. I just wanted him. Wanted everything to be the way it used to be.
"I love you so much, Baby!" he said. "So fucking much!"
"And I love you." I meant it. And I believed he meant it, too.
The next day I went to the Gay Men's Health Center and got tested. They called me with the results a week later. I was negative.