a love story in sad refrain





“when the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
when you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on
don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes..”
                - everybody hurts by r.e.m.

at forty-two, roy felt like sixteen again, a virgin. not in the physical sense, but in the way he panicked, sweated and almost hyperventilated when dan called asking to meet up with him at their favorite basement bar.  he had no idea how dan looked like twenty years after. all he saw were his pictures on his facebook account. much has changed and yet stayed the same.

he was surprised to hear from dan that the basement bar (or bb) was still around. it was a memorable place. they used to hang out there, a dreamy-eyed fresh-out-of-university couple, an odd one, channeling each other’s fears, dreams and paranoia. ranting about everything: their parents, their work, the society, music, fashion, movies.

bb, as they called it, was where celebrities and kids of wealthy families spent friday and saturday nights getting drunk, stoned and laid. owned by one of dan’s band mates, it played mostly eighty’s music. like everyone from his generation, roy loved the music from that era: prince, u2, r.e.m., michael jackson, wham, culture club, dire straits, metallica, madonna.

and how could he forget the slick, ghastly rick astley?

he lost his virginity to rick astley’s never gonna give you up at seventeen.  it happened the night he was partying with his college friends right after the finals exams at a disco inside a hotel (ah remember the disco?), where a huge sparkling ball hung at the center of the dance floor, like a tiny moon. orbiting tirelessly, swaying to the endless beat. a silent witness to the unruly pubescent kids, stoned, drunk, horny,  eager for a first kiss or first sex. 

they were dancing to madonna’s like a virgin when roy bumped into another guy – sweaty, military hair cut (must be taking his rotc), tall, lean and wearing a blue lacoste shirt tucked neatly under torn levi’s jeans. no belt. roy apologized by bowing his head. the guy smiled and nodded his head. they kept on dancing with their friends. they kept on looking at each other.

madonna was all the rage that year (and years after that). every woman (even littler girls) wanted to look like her – slutty, curly hair, bloody red lipsticks, colorful, plastic earrings, denim skirts, loose shirts. even the boys. they bought cassette tapes of her albums, her posters, magazines that featured her on the cover and on their posters inside the pages.

when papa don’t preach played, sweaty cropped hair guy suddenly nudged him, still dancing, and then he embraced him tightly. right there on the dance floor. in front of everyone. he was surprised, but his friends just nodded their heads, smiling, encouraging him. he was drunk, so he was not embarrassed.
then the guy whispered something in his ear (the one with an ear ring): “i am going to the comfort room, want to come with me?”

roy looked into his eyes, trying to ascertain if he was serious. the guy held his hand and led him out of the dance floor. mesmerized, he followed.

rick astley was playing.  he wanted to stay, dance some more. he liked the song – never gonna give you up. but the guy was holding him tight – never letting go.

“we've known each other for so long
your heart's been aching but
you're too shy to say it
inside we both know what's been going on
we know the game and we're gonna play it
and if you ask me how i'm feeling
don't tell me you're too blind to see..”

the toilet was empty. everybody was in the dance floor. rich astley could still be heard. they went inside a vacant stall. not talking, just holding hands, like an old couple. inside, the guy kissed him on the lips. roy was trembling and didn’t know what to do. he closed his eyes. the guy was persistent, his lips hungry, his tongue eager, his hands restless – caressing, tickling, licking, kissing, searching. he went down on roy expertly, smoothly.

then it was his turn. he was still trembling, unsure of what to do. it was fast. when it was all over, the guy left hurriedly before roy could even zip his pants.  no goodbye, see you later, that was fun. roy didn't even know his name.

he lingered inside the still empty toilet that reeked of urine, marijuana, beer and cigarettes. he washed his hands with soap several times, gargled, washed his face, then looked at himself in the mirror. he could barely recognize the sad person that was staring back at him. he didn’t know why he felt sad. he had always imagined his first time to be different: romantic, candles, soft bed, curtains, his favorite song in the background (probably tina turner’s what’s love got to do with it?). of course, it would be with the one he loved, or at least fantasized about. at that time it was tom cruise. rather, his character in top gun.

he did not see the guy again after that night. his first time. painful first. there were times when he thought it never happened. that it was all a figment of his unimaginative imagination. he never had sex again until after college. this time, he made sure he was in love with him -- dan.

********
bb. around midnight. at this part of town where the sun shines brightly at night. bursting with energy. dancing to the rhythm of the vivacious, insomniac, sexually-active young.

“you’re going home? but we just got here?” dan said in his drunken voice. he was leaning against the bar and was talking very closely to him so they could hear each other well amid the noise. they were almost kissing. they did, actually, several times. as if they were young again. in love for the first time.

it was a saturday night and the bar was crowded, noisy, smoky, hazy.  it was retro night. music from the 80’s and 90’s was blaring like in a hallucinogenic dream: r.e.m., u2, the police, guns n’ roses, alanis. teasing, seducing, the anthem of their wasted youth. it's like they travelled back in time.

“ i’m tired. it's nearly twelve."

roy stood up from the bar stool and headed towards the door, ignoring dan. it wasn’t easy. trying to get out of that crowded room. he had to squeeze against sweaty bodies who were swaying to the music. mostly kids in their teens and twentys. all gorgeous that only the young could be -- in tight fitting skinny jeans, black shirts, denim shorts, dark blousons that showed too much cleavage. smoking cigarettes and god knows what else. carrying ice-cold bottles of heineken and stella artois – the affluent generation’s preferred poison. what happened to the cheap, old, reliable san miguel?

everything has changed. roy felt like an intruder. a stranger in their world.  he also felt so old in his long-sleeve blue shirt that was two sizes bigger than his usual fit, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. dark skinny jeans that made him conscious of his slightly protruding beer belly. 

but dan -- always young, always au courant, always audacious -- was dressed just like when they were kids: black tight-fitting v-neck shirt, distressed jeans and unwashed rubber shoes. denim jacket.
the only difference was his hair. he had cut it short, though it was still far longer and thicker than roy’s. roy had shaved his thinning, greying hair. his barber called it semi-cal, a style that suit middle-aged men like him. think of anderson cooper.

dan followed him. "you are really going home.” he shouted at him.

“that’s what i said.” roy shouted back and opened the door, but stopped to make way for a group of teen-agers noisily entering the bar. 

outside it was drizzling. a bit chilly.  the crowd had spilled over to the streets; as well as the loud music.  culture club was now playing. karma chameleon. the well-dressed kids didn’t mind the tiny drops of rain. they were huddled in groups of threes or fives or sevens, talking, smoking, laughing, flirting, seducing. exchanging numbers through their sleek iphones. hiding their awkwardness by laughing loudly or inhaling cigarettes or gulping beer.

ah, to be young. he had forgotten how it felt like. he suddenly felt sad. nostalgic. he looked at the crowded streets. at the row of bars. of people outside of them. having fun.

darn, no taxi.

he sat on an empty chair and dialed the number of a taxi company through his mobile phone.

“what happened to you? what did the universe do to you while i was gone?” it was dan. he followed him outside.

roy continued dialing, too tired to answer back and start an argument. dan was standing right in front of him, hands on his waist.  unlike roy,  dan had a flat stomach at forty-two. being so darn gorgeous is really in his genes.

“i thought we are going to have fun tonight. just like before.”

the number was busy. he dialed again. then gave up.

“that was before when we were young. look at us, look at them. i feel as though i am their father. i feel ancient.”

“why are you so hang up on age?”

roy dialed again. still busy. he put down the phone, an old sony ericson model he purchased four years ago, on the table. he didn’t like iphones and other such gadgets invented by steve jobs. in fact, he didn’t like the man at all, hailed by everyone as a genius. for him, he was just one of those greedy capitalists slash inventors,  always after your money.

dan continued his monologue, sounding more like oprah than his old friend. “come on, you still look young. you don’t look forty-two. more like twenty-eight. or even twenty-five.” then he gave roy his most seductive smile, dimples and all, the one that he could not resist decades ago. roy blushed a little.

he still made roy tremble. quiver. deep inside.

“that’s not the point. i should have not come here. i should have not let you drag me here.”

“i just want to be with you. i missed my old friend.”

“then let’s have coffee. or lunch. or dinner. or hang out at a jazz bar. or at any other place suited for middle-aged men like us. not here. it’s too…”

“what?”

“weird.”

“sometimes everything is wrong. now it's time to sing along
when your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)..”

*******

roy met dan when he was fresh out of the university and was working as a reporter for a newspaper covering whatever events that the more senior reporters were not interested. being a newbie, he had no beat. but the blessed dan, who joined the paper months after him, was assigned to the lifestyle section and covered entertainment, music and wrote about famous bands, new songs, new places to hang out. he was also a drummer for one of the not so famous bands at that time.

dan was a fascinating character and roy was intrigued. everyone in the newspaper was intrigued. he came from a prominent and wealthy family of lawyers, politicians, writers, socialites and celebrities. he had a shoulder length hair that he tied at the back most of the time and a goatie. he was skinny, tall and very good looking. he always wore faded, tattered jeans, black shirts printed with the names of his favorite bands (nirvana, beatles, r.e.m., pearl jam) and dirty white converse. his uniform. he looked like a rock star, especially when he was outside of the office and he would put on his dark aviators.

they were like coffee and cream. dan has milky white complexion that would turn red under the sun. he has hairs on his chest and legs. his eyes were brown that could turn glassy when they were stoned. roy, on the other hand, has skin the color of cocoa, smooth with nary a hair like that of a woman and black, questioning eyes. he was also lanky, though he had started going to the gym to gain some muscles.

the first time they met, roy was seated next to an editor, who was giving him  tips on how to write a headline and a lead that will capture the reader’s attention right away. 

prefer the active voice. use short, crisp, familiar words, otherwise you will lose your reader on the first sentence. you are writing a news article, not fiction or literature. if you want to win a nobel for literature, then this is not the place for you. blah blah blah. 

roy would just nod his head. he liked this editor. he respected him a lot.

when the editor said reader, he meant himself, not the regulators, decision makers, ceos and company presidents who were supposed to be the target market of the newspaper – touted as the country’s biggest business daily, its layout and font even resembled that of the  well regarded wall street journal.

always remember the word kiss when writing news: keep it simple and short.  

that’s kisas, he thought.

roy was listening intently, like a good student, to his editor’s lecture when somebody entered the office and everybody stared at him. it was dan (though at that time, he didn’t know his name yet),  an apparition: dressed in a tight black shirt, black pants. his loose, shoulder length hair was wet. he was wearing rayban even though it was raining and dark outside. he approached the editorial assistant and talked in english with a new yorker accent, as if he just stepped out of the plane from new york.

“i am looking for mr. andres,” dan, in a booming voice, told carina, the editorial assistant. carina, who was on the phone, hesitated, then pointed dan to the desk where roy and his editor were sitting. dan was looking for roy’s editor.

he walked casually, unaware that everybody was staring at him, following his every move. or if he was, he didn’t care. he had the confident gait common to people who knew that they were beautiful.

roy was impressed. when he first stepped inside the editorial office for an interview with the publisher, he was so intimidated, so conscious that he could hardly walk and talk, as if everybody was staring at him (they were, he found out later) and listening to his every word (they were not).

“mr. andres?” dan asked, smiling.

“yes,” the editor said in a monotone, without looking at dan. he continued editing roy’s news story. “sit down and i will be with you in a moment.”

dan sat at the empty chair beside roy. he was gorgeous up close, like a movie star. well, roy thought, if i were as good looking as him, i would also feel confident. as if reading his mind, dan looked at him and nodded his head.

“i am dan.” he extended his hand.

“roy.” he shook his hand. smooth, sweaty, soft. a prince, he thought.

dan smiled and roy was charmed.

the editor, mr. andres, continued his lecture. if he was aware of the attraction between the two young reporters, he did not show it.

“this is a very weak sentence structure. look at how i will rewrite it. also, don’t use quotes that don’t add value to the story. this quote is what we call an echo. it merely repeats what you have written in the previous paragraph. always try to come up with colorful quotes. something that will enrich your story.”

roy nodded his head. embarrassed, he looked at dan, but he seemed oblivious. he was reading the day’s issue of the paper. if he heard everything, it didn't show. (later, much later, he learned that dan was listening to their conversation and was secretly annoyed at mr. andres for being too preachy. dan hated older, preachy men. they reminded them of his father.)

“when i have time, i will give you pointers on how to do a proper interview, how to phrase questions so that you can come up with better quotes,” mr. andres said, his eyes not leaving the computer screen. “every story, no matter how small, needs a golden quote that will stay with your readers long after they have finished reading your story. always aim for that one.”

a golden quote, roy repeated, like it was a mantra.

roy liked the fifty-something mr. andres, a veteran business reporter. he was gentle, soft spoken and always approachable even if he rarely smiled. he loved sitting beside him when he was editing his story and listening to his lectures. he felt like a student, absorbing everything from his professor. he even loved his editor’s scent, a mixture of perfume, coffee and cigarette smoke. like most reporters and editors, mr. andres was a chain smoker and a coffee addict.

mr. andres and his bald, shiny head. his khaki levi's pants with pleats. white, well pressed short sleeve shirt.  always the same color, same style, rain or shine. only the shoes would differ -- black or brown leather, loafer, trainers. he was a derivative of his generation. a creature of habit.

(later, much later, dan would tease roy that he had a crush on mr. andres. roy would just give him his monalisa smile.)

sadly, mr. andres, sweet old man even when he was just in his teens, died five years after that afternoon. of lung cancer.

*******

after dan’s interview with mr. andres, he asked if roy was free to have a beer with him afterwards. like roy, dan felt instantly connected to him. maybe it was the fact that they were both young and new in the newspaper.

they ended up in a quiet bar in malate. it was only six in the evening on a monday. so there were few people inside. the music was hard rock. pure noise ecstasy. roy used to hate this kind of music, but with dan it seemed as though he was listening to an orchestra.

dan was ecstatic and told roy that he got the job and he will be starting the following week as a lifestyle writer. he said he was on a break (indefinite leave was how he put it) from fordham university in new york and was just bumming around in manila when the newspaper’s publisher, a good friend of his father, asked him to write about music and other stuff that will interest its younger readers – the twenty- to thirty- something stock market and currency traders, analysts, brokers. the idea excited him.

dan was on his last year at the university, writing his thesis, but decided to take a one-year break.

“i was burnout,” he told roy, while wiping the beer bottle with tissue. then he poured the content into a frosty glass. when it was half-full, he stopped and started drinking it. licking the foams first that flowed on the side of the glass.

roy did the same.

“new york is getting on my nerves. i was backpacking in europe when my father asked me to go home because his wife was sick.”

of course, roy knew dan’s parents. his father was a congressman notorious for sleeping with young and beautiful models and starlets, while his mother, a former ms. philippines and a runner-up in the ms. universe pageant, was always on the society pages of newspapers attending fashion shows, charity balls and other social events. roy wished they were his parents. rather, he wished she was his mother.

his wife, roy thought. what a strange way to call your glamorous mother. a gorgeous woman who was always wearing designer gowns matched with expensive bags. but roy could relate to dan. or the way he treated his father. roy also referred to his cold and distant father, a military officer, as the “old man”. they had some issues since he was in high school that remained unresolved.

roy told dan that he finished business management in college and that he too had no prior experience as a journalist.

i have always wanted to be a journalist, but my parents insisted, rather forced me to take up management so i could help in the family’s small business – exporting rattan furniture to china, he told dan, who seemed interested on his life story.

“take comfort in your friends
everybody hurts. don't throw your hand.
oh, no. don't throw your hand
if you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone..”

*****

they became inseparable after that. they would hang out in bars after submitting their stories. at that time, new reporters were required to work at the office and wait for the editors to finish going over their stories. this was before the advent of mobile phones, internet, laptops. that's where dan and roy would often meet and talk about their day, every afternoon. deadline time.

dan drove his own car, an old black mercedes that his grandfather had given to him when he graduated from high school. so they would often travel from their office in the port area of manila to malate or makati or greenhills and even as far away as quezon city just to get drunk and watch their favorite bands perform.

they listened to a lot of u2, the police, prince, blondie, nirvana, pearl jam. they both loved r.e.m’s everybody hurts. it was like their theme song, though they didn’t say it.

they watched a lot of concerts. they queued quite early for the pearl jam concert at the cultural center of the philippines. they smoked marijuana inside the concert hall along with hundreds of others, mostly
guys who had taken off their shirts because it was so hot inside.  singing along to all pearl jam songs. dancing, jumping, shouting. the venue smelled of sweat, cigarette, marijuana and alcohol. that was their version of woodstock, although tame in every sense of the word.

a few months later, dan asked roy to move with him to his apartment – which was actually a huge room with its own entrance next to his family’s palatial house. roy, who was then renting a small room
somewhere in ermita, near the newspaper’s office, declined. he wanted to live alone, be independent and feel grown-up, that’s why he left their family home in makati. actually, they were neighbors in
makati. though they had never met before, maybe because dan lived and studied abroad.

one late afternoon, they were smoking marijuana and drinking beer in dan’s room when suddenly he asked: “what are we?”

dan was seated on the sofa, toying with his guitar. roy was on the floor, scanning magazines. his back was resting on dan’s legs.

the question surprised roy. even the tone of dan’s voice. he sounded so serious, like a school boy inside the confessional box talking to a priest.

“what do you mean?” roy did not look at him, he kept scanning the magazine. he knew what he meant.
dan passed the joint, his hand rested on roy's shoulder.

“you know what i mean.”

roy was a bit high.

“you mean are we lovers?”

“are we?”

roy laughed. uncomfortable. embarrassed. dan kicked him on the butt.

“i’m serious.”

“but you have a girlfriend and you said you are straight.”

“i have a girlfriend and i am straight. but i enjoy your company.”

“but it doesn’t mean you want to have sex with me.”

silence.

you are just lonely, roy thought. you are drunk and high. you don’t know what you are saying. tomorrow, you won’t even remember this conversation. it hurts, but that’s the truth.

“if you're on your own in this life,
the days and nights are long,
when you think you've had too much of this life to hang on..”

******

“so what happened to the old you?” dan asked. it stopped raining. roy was still waiting for the taxi.

“he grew up.”

“deep.”

“and you should too.” roy was annoyed.

it's been two weeks since they started going out again. roy just arrived from singapore after he resigned from his job in one of the magazines in the city state. he went home a few months ago to attend his father’s funeral. after he was buried, his mother became sickly. being the only child, roy decided to come home for good and be with her. unlike dan, roy loved his mother.

“instead of wasting your time wandering from europe to the middle east to africa, you should start thinking about the future. get a job. work in your family’s business. if not, use your time to help others.” 

roy wanted to stop but he couldn’t. he didn’t know why he was being mean to dan that night. maybe it was the unresolved issues between them. a long time ago. but he didn’t mean to hurt him.

“as for us, that’s too long ago. i don’t even remember it anymore.”

dan was hurt. he went back inside the bar and slammed the door. as if on cue, a cab arrived. roy hailed it and went home. confused. it was still raining.

 “'cause everybody hurts.”

*****

the next day, at around five in the afternoon, dan called.

“still mad at me?” dan was always like that. he would never greet you with a hello, or how are you, or a good morning on the phone. despite his friendliness and easy going attitude, dan was socially awkward. he didn’t know how to behave in public or talk to people. he could hardly relate to others.

“i wasn’t mad at  you. i don’t know why i said those awful things to you. i’m sorry,” roy was feeling better now after a good night’s sleep and a hot shower. “i was really tired last night. then i saw those kids. i felt bad. suddenly it dawned on me that i am forty-two, jobless and living with my mother. what am i doing with my life?”

“don’t tell me you are angry at yourself and not at me.”

“that’s more like it.”

“apology accepted.”

silence.

dan spoke: “actually you are right. after my brief stint at the newspaper, i never had a permanent job. i’ve been drifting around the globe, relying on my parents’ allowance. doing odd jobs from time to time. writing crap.”

roy didn’t say anything.

dan went on.

“but you, roy. you are different. i know that even if you try to be the happy-go-lucky type just like me, partying all night and forgetting about work the next day, deep inside you are different from me. you have an ambition. you want to make something out of your life.”

you know me so well, roy wanted to interrupt him.

“i admire you for that. i tried to be like you in my own little way, but i can’t. i could never hold a job. i can’t finish something that i have started. i get bored right away. i can’t settle in one place. i need to keep moving…”

“like a bird.” roy finally spoke. but dan ignored it.

“that’s why i was happy when our friends told me that you are doing well in tokyo and later on in singapore. i would be so happy every time i read your story in the herald tribune and new york times, or when i see you on tv being interviewed. i feel so proud.”

at least one of us was happy, roy thought but chose to remain quiet.

dan went on. “can we have dinner tonight. i feel like i am talking to myself here. i want to see your face, hear what you have to say to all of these.”

“ok.”

dan hung up without saying goodbye. like he always does. no hellos. no goodbyes. no complication.

*****

the firs time that they had sex, roy cried. he didn’t know why. he was not drunk or high or stoned. dan comforted him by hugging him so tight, as though roy was fleeing and dan didn’t want him to go. dan kissed him on the cheek, on the neck. his hand stroking his back gently.

he remembered everything. dan's room. all white -- curtains, bed sheets, the soft, luxurious bed, the pillows, lamps, side tables, the vase, walls, ceiling. there were white calla lilies because dan knew they were roy's favorite flowers. scented candles that smelled of chocolate, lavender and apples.

he remembered the way dan kissed him --  awkward, unsure, gentle. the way he responded to roy's touch, to roy's hungry lips and tongue.

in the end, it was roy who cried. dan was just holding him, rocking him gently like a baby in his arms. they were both naked. roy never thought that he would be so comfortable being naked with someone else. he had always been conscious about his skinny body.

 “shhhhhhhh….”

“i’m sorry. it’s just..”

“i understand.”

“- -“

“just like you, i want to cry too," dan said thoughtfully, stroking roy's hair. "not because i didn’t like what happened. or that i hated you or myself after having sex with you.”

“then why?”

“because i am happy. i have never been this happy before.”

“me too.”

silence. dan continued.

“honestly. i am happy. i never thought that i would find someone like you. that i could be with someone who understands me completely. it’s like finding your other half. you are my soul mate, i guess. if there is such a thing.”

“stop it.” roy was smiling now. "you're making me  nervous."

“it’s true.”

dan kissed roy. on the mouth. gentle. roy kissed him back. hungry. eager.

they were like children who discovered the joys of ice cream and chocolates. they couldn’t get enough of each other. they explored each other’s bodies like wanderers in a desert – they circled, turned around, moved on, stopped, only to come back. again. insatiable. unquenchable.

a year later, dan left for new york without saying a word. he didn’t even resign from the newspaper.
roy didn’t know that dan had left. he only learned about it when the editor, mr. andres, started looking
for him and asked roy where dan was.

it broke him. he cried for weeks. missed him even months after. longed for him even years after. he found it hard to believe that dan would leave just like that. as if he was just on the phone with him, no goodbyes before he hang up. roy felt as though dan had abandoned him in the middle of a desert on a stormy night, without water, food.

he kept on watching before sunrise (they watched it together in dan’s room and made love after) and he cried even more.

“well, everybody hurts sometimes,
everybody cries.
and everybody hurts sometimes
and everybody hurts sometimes.
so, hold on, hold on
hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
everybody hurts.
you are not alone….”

*****

it took him years before he forgot all about dan. but has he forgiven him? how long does it take to forgive someone who broke your heart for the first time. who left a wound so deep, it nearly drove him mad.

he had several lovers after him. nothing serious. these were mostly short-lived affairs. he was scared to get hurt again. he might not survive another heartache. another break-up. the most difficult really was not the loving part, it was always short, but the forgetting. moving on. it always took so long. in the meantime, you were hurting, felt heavy as if you were carrying a ton of rice inside your heart. to avoid being hurt again, roy left them, his lovers, whether part time or had the potential to be permanent, before they could leave him. he broke the tie before they did.

life is a gamble. but you have to hedge your bets. you have to break the rules to survive. love is a game. cruel. play or be played.

he never thought that there were people who lived like this. like butterflies hopping from one flower to the next (a poor metaphor, he thought). empty. aimless. soulless. he thought these people lived only on teevee shows about sophisticated teen-agers in manhattan’s upper east side or in a book about them. but he became one of them. bitter, sad, lonely, always craving to be out in the night, be in a crowd, hoping that the tears would stop when he was with other sad, wandering creatures of the night.

then he came home and there was dan again.

like before.

as if he never left. as if dan never left him.

as though seventeen years never happened.

“if you feel like letting go, (hold on)
when you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on
'cause everybody hurts.”

*****


“so what do you want to talk about?”

it was a rainy night. their favourite evening. romantic. they were seated right next to a french window, with the curtains drawn so they could see the people outside. some were holding umbrellas, some were running to take shelter. others simply walked, unmindful of the rain. there was no moon.

chopin was playing in the background. soft, soothing, chopin.  roy felt good. he had a good feeling about the whole thing – dan asking him to have dinner in a place that played chopin and god knows what else later on. maybe the new york philharmonic orchestra was around somewhere.

they were having coffee after a hearty meal and a bottle of red wine in a french restaurant. dan’s favorite dining place. he said it reminded him of paris, his favorite city in the world. romantic. easy-going. unshackled. alive.

“i don’t know where to start. to be honest," dan said, stirring his coffee.

“that’s a good start. go on.”

“i never really apologized for what happened before. twenty years ago. why i suddenly left. without saying goodbye. it was cruel. i hurt you.”

“don’t worry about it. forgotten and forgiven.” then roy added, “it was seventeen years ago, to be exact.”

“i still want to apologize. i was young. sorry, it’s not an excuse.”

roy put more milk on his coffee. he added sugar too. then stirred. the suspense was killing him.

“i left because i was scared. i was getting more and more attached to you. i was not ready for that kind of life. the gay life," he paused. "and i hate being owned.”

roy sipped his coffee.

dan’s was untouched. his sad eyes were looking at roy, as if memorizing his features.

“but a few months after i left, i started missing you. i was miserable. so i came back. but you were already out of the country. i asked where you were, but nobody would tell me. not even your mother. i wanted to write to you, to see you, to be with you. i thought together we could explore the world. we could grow up together. the way you always wanted it to be."

roy still didn’t know what to say, so he remained quiet. listening.

“i had a several girlfriends after you. nothing serious. i even tried having a boyfriend. but..”

roy raised his eyebrow. ready for his close-up. for the punchline.

“there’s only you. it has always been you.” dan whispered. roy wanted to kiss him right there and then, wipe away the tears on dan's eyes and cheeks. but he did not move. he dreamed of this moment a long time ago. why did it happen only now?

silence. dan wiped his tears with a tissue on the table. apologized. then he drank his coffee. 

they stared at each other. then at other people in the restaurant. at the old couple at the other end of the room, holding hands. they must be in their seventy’s. maybe they were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.

chopin went on. calming. relaxing.

roy still did nothing. finally, he said: “that’s all?” no hint of sarcasm.

“that’s the gist of it. what do you think? do i have a second chance?”

dan looked different tonight, roy noticed for the first time since they arrived more than an hour ago. he had a cropped haircut, almost like a military officer. just like roy's. clean shaven. he was wearing a brown dinner jacket over a light blue shirt. beige pants and dark brown shoes. leather. very respectable. very apt to their age. i bet he was also wearing socks, roy thought, amused. still handsome after all these years. fit and trim, as though he did not spend the last twenty years squandering his youth -- drinking, smoking, wandering, flirting with both sexes, getting laid, with little sleep in between.

time’s unfair. the universe is unfair. dan is unfair.

“you should write a travel book.” roy said. finally.

“what?”

“from your travels and travails in europe, united states, canada, middle east. greece. that will be interesting. you know, travel is hot these days and people are always interested on how a prince like you experienced how the hoi polloi lived: waited at tables, cleaned cars, slept on a hungry stomach, went out with older women and gay men for money.”

dan reached for a cigarette inside his pocket, then remembered that it was a no smoking restaurant.

“i don’t think i can do that.” dan said.

"what? smoke here? yes, you can't!" roy said.

"that's not what i mean," dan said, smiling.

"i know."

"writing a book."

“why? have you forgotten how to write? it’s like riding a bicycle. once you are sitting on it, the rest will follow. automatically. from memory.”

“it’s not that, i..” he stopped at mid-sentence. looked at roy in the eye. “i want to put up a restaurant. i love to cook and i love entertaining people even more. it makes sense, right?”

roy nodded his head. he could actually picture dan wearing an apron, regaling guests with his exploits abroad, while sharing wine with them. ah he will be a hit, a toast of the town that his family owned.

after a while, roy said: “it’s getting late. i have to go.” it was ten past midnight.

dan looked at his watch. “it’s still early. you are becoming cinderalla.”

“i am cinderella.”

"sleeping beauty is more like it."

"i like that."

dan asked for the bill and paid with his credit card.

roy stood up. dan followed. they shook hands.

quietly, they walked to the parking lot and separated there. the rain had stopped. but the streets remained wet, slippery. quiet now. a bit cold.

roy brought his car and so did dan. so they went their  separate ways. driving their own cars as though they were strangers. but each of them were hoping that tonight, when they reached home, they would talk on the phone for hours until they fell asleep. just like before. then who knows? they might even decide to live together, adopt children, run a business, write a book. who knows?

down the road, when the traffic light changed to red, roy stopped. he turned to his left and saw dan. but dan did not see roy. his eyes were on the road, his hands on the wheel. his head was shaking, dancing to the music of r.e.m. or u2 or what ever it was that was playing in his car stereo. from a distance, he looked like the dan he used to know – young, carefree, wild, undaunted. the dan that he worshipped,
dreamed of and loved for so long.

then dan turned to his right and saw roy. roy smiled and waved. dan did too.

the light turned green.

“take comfort in your friends
everybody hurts.
don't throw your hand.
oh, no. don't throw your hand
if you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone..”

suddenly from out of nowhere, a truck hit dan's car.

fade to black.


&&&&&&&&&&&&



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