My music surrounds me, separates me, lives only in me and is, in just this moment, my most trusted and constant companion. Well, that and the book I’m reading. I have some little time before Marcus, with Jayden, brings the car around for me and, in this out-of-the-way corner of the high-rise’s lobby, I am content. Assuming my standard position, sitting cross-legged on a stone bench, my earbuds in place, cradling my book in my lap, flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows that not only allow in the warmth, but that also allow me to see out, out into the reassuring world of Park Avenue, while I may not be exactly like a cat dozing, warmed by the afternoon sun, I’m damned close.
My meeting went well; my others will be pleased when I tell them of our progress. That soon, even sooner than we’d originally hoped, the decaying little building sitting idle and forlorn in the West Village will be ours, destined to become the perfect satellite gallery to what will one day be known as our’ original location’ in lower Manhattan. So, all things combined -- my job well-done, my music, my words, my aloneness -- my intention is to pass the next 10 to15 minutes contentedly waiting for Marcus and Jayden.
And yet, with hardly any time having passed at all, when instead he kneels in front of me, ducking his head to get my attention and in so doing bothering me, I am no longer alone, I am no longer content and my best of intentions are all-gone-for-shit. Still, politeness dictates a civilized response so, I glance up to him, acknowledging him, saying, “Ryan.” And I nod ever so slightly.
He mirrors me, also nodding ever so slightly, asking, “Caillen, why are you here all by yourself?” A touch, just a modicum of concern? Sweet.
“Meeting that’s just ended. Now I wait for Marcus with our car and my Jayden. All will be here soon so, thanks for the inquiry but--”
“Where’s Isa?” he says, revealing that my welfare actually has little to do with his blunt interruption. “Why hasn’t he come back to me and Stefan?”
He’s anxious and when I take full measure of him, when I see that his eyes confirm his voiced fears, I know he isn’t going to go away without his explanation, but I feel I must try. Scat, scat annoying cat. So, with obvious annoyance, I remove one earbud, lean forward, and quietly reply, “I don’t intrude on you when I see you, Ryan, whether you’re with your others or alone, whether at some theatre production or political fundraiser or three-star restaurant or fashionable…wherever, I have only ever bothered you once and with cause. Otherwise, I’ve never encroached on your personal space. Never. That’s the understanding between us; our unwritten yet meticulously adhered to code of conduct, isn’t it?”
“Caillen, I --!”
“No, Ryan. No. We share an understanding, an unwritten law of non-encroachment into each other’s personal space. This understanding, this…rule…this code, if you will, has worked ever so well for us all this time. Why are you messing with that now? Isa will come back to you when he‘s ready.” Won’t work but…whatthehell. I take a moment to scan those with him. There are several and all are known to me, if some only by sight, as they are always with Ryan and Stefan at those many theatre productions and political fundraisers and three-star restaurants that we all frequent. I only just acknowledge them. They’re all obviously put-off by my curtness toward Ryan. Like I care.
Ryan still kneels in front of me, his concern vibrating from him and he has every reason to be, even if he doesn’t know why and that’s what he wants from me. The why. “It’s been what? two, two and a half months?"
“Closer to two and a half, maybe even three. Still---”
“You’ve never kept him from us this--”
“We don’t ‘keep’ Isa, Ryan. he comes and goes as he pleases. If he--”
“Alright, alright, fine. He doesn’t ever stay away this long.”
“Maybe, but how does that give you any rea--”
“Something…something must be wrong.” And looking directly into my eyes, he asks, “What?” And I am doomed. Why? Because all I really want is for him to just go the fuck away and he won’t, not without his reason, not without his why. And it hurts, he hurts, just seeing him, hearing him, having him near to me hurts and I just want him to go away. But, I know he won’t.
So, with an exaggerated sigh, I set aside my book, I tap off my iPod, throwing the earbuds into my lap and I look at him as if to say, ’You satisfied?’ A gentle smile flits across his lips as if to say ‘Yeah, I am’. But I stall because, honestly, I don’t want to have to tell him what he so very much wants to know. What, in fact, has some right to know. Isa may belong to us, but he’s loved by both of them, by both Ryan and Stefan and so, given what might be construed by some as his legitimate concern and what might also be construed by some as a fortuitous meeting, I realize that I have no choice. Never really did most likely and so, with that exaggerated sigh, I surrender.
I hold his eyes, saying, “He only just told us your story about your adventure, yours and Stefan’s, when you were in Virginia, three months and one week ago and when he was done, well, then he just sort of slid down the wall he had been leaning against and he sat, shaking and crying for far too long. It took almost the whole of two days before we could get him to stop and not even then. Not really. So, I guess you could say he’s had what can only be described as a…as like a…well, as like a nervous breakdown. Jamey’s with him still, well, many of us are, in San Francisco. I needed to come here for this meeting; Jayd and Marcus came with, otherwise--”
“Excuse me…what?” He’s no longer kneeling; he’s now sitting, as if collapsed hard onto the inlaid marble floor with his legs under him and, if possible, his complexion is even paler than is customary.
“He’s had a nervous breakdown, Ryan.” And I take note of the scattered murmurs and quiet little gasps that come from most of Ryan’s others. It’s strange to realize that Isa has this life with not only Ryan and Stefan, but with their others that we actually know very little about despite everything he’s tried to tell us.
And Ryan’s shaken, can’t blame him really. Watching as he tries to absorb my rather callously told information, watching as his translucent blue eyes dart every which way and I try to follow them, but I can’t. I start to get rather dizzy with the effort so, I‘m actually relieved when he asks, “Why?”
A completely legitimate question so, “How much time you got?”
He shrugs, his hands nervous in his lap, he says, “All the time you need.” Without much hesitation.
“And them?” I ask, indicating his entourage.
“They can go or stay, whatever they want.” He looks at me with expectation, saying, “It can’t just be about Virginia, Caillen so, please tell me Isa‘s whole story. I need to hear it.”
Stefan really has been showing him our ways. Sweet, but maybe not really when I think on it. Kind of rips at the heart knowing he’s giving us, our traditions, our history to Ryan, but that’s not, or at least it shouldn’t be, my main concern right now. My main concern is telling Isa’s story with nothing planned. A story normally requires some forethought and preparation and I’ve done none of that having no prior notion of even the possibility of this meeting. “From where I believe to be the beginning?”
“Yes, yes please.”
“Will take some little time since I‘m unprepared so, I may well ramble more than I am want to do. May I ask why you’re here?”
“Lunch, we have a 3:00pm reservation, in an hour. So, see, we have time.”
“Why here so early?”
“Observation deck,” he says, his hands dancing between us, him and me, as if sweeping over the downtown vistas.
“Ahhh, well then, another time for the vistas, yeah?” And he nods. “Think maybe we should move over there?” I indicate the opposite corner of the lobby where leather sofas and velveteen chairs have been conveniently gathered. Personally, I have little trouble imaging them all circled in front of me, sitting crossed-legged on the inlaid marble surrounding my stone bench, school kids at story time, but even if I can imagine the scene clearly, I doubt they can. “Will be more comfortable for those who choose to remain.” Since he agrees, we do, settling into well-made, entirely comfortable furniture thoughtfully provided by the building’s management decades ago for our express enjoyment today. How very considerate.
And I’m vaguely startled that 10 minutes has gone by already, from first encounter to now because just then, Marcus and Jayden arrive, who are also vaguely startled that I’m with Ryan so, as Jayden approaches, Marcus choosing instead to take up residence on my old stone bench, I tell him not to overreact. “Ryan found me, waiting for you so--”
“Sorry we’re late,” he says, only somewhat abashedly.
“Only time will tell if I am,” I smile.
“Traffic was a total bitch,” he kindly explains, He stands before me now, hands thrust in his pockets, looking down over me, his long ebony hair hanging forward allowing only me to see the confusion in his eyes.
“Interesting. And you know what else is interesting, Jayd? Ryan has asked after Isa, has asked me to tell him why Isa’s been delayed in coming back to him and Stefan. I tried giving him my standard brush-off, but he, as usual, could not be so easily deterred. Meaning he wanted more. I then gave him the gist of Isa’s problem, a bit of the gist, but he, as usual, not only wanted more but all, which, frankly, I have yet to give to him.
“You’ll wait with me?” My asking is cursory; Jayden would never even think to leave without me. Still, he nods his agreement, returning briefly to Marcus to explain before sitting next to me, leaning into me, a look of sudden sadness passing over him. For Isa’s pain? For our loss of Stefan? Or maybe his sadness is for Ryan and what the telling of Isa’s story will bring to him, for all that he's about to learn.
Once everyone settles, all of Ryan’s others having loyally decided to stay, I prepare to tell my version of Isa‘s story as best I can. “If Jayden or Marcus or anyone else was doing the telling, since we’ve all lived Isa’s story with him, our versions would differ only in color, highlight and shade, and in texture. The substance…the heart would remain just the same. The only one who might tell his story very differently would be Isa himself. But since we rarely tell our own stories, what he’d have to say, we’ll probably never know. And, in full disclosure, I tell not so much what I definitively know as what I sincerely believe.”
“That having been said, Isa’s problems almost certainly began back when he first understood that Stefan would leave us for you, because, even though we all saw Stefan’s writing scrawled all over our living room walls, to us it was just so much garish colors and unknown symbols. Little could be read of it and even less understood, but not so for Isa. He not only saw that unsettling writing for what it was, he actually took the time to read and understand what was being written and scribbled, and spray-painted everywhere, but even when he tried to make things clear to us, pointed out this, pointed out that, we refused to see. So, in his frustration, I believe that was when Isa started formulating his plan, very soon after Stefan met you, but months before he actually left us. With his realization of the impending nightmare that lay --”
“That’s not a particularly fair descriptive for what happened,” Thomas, Ryan‘s friend, says.
“One person’s dream-come-true is just as easily another person’s nightmare-in-the-making,” Jayden reminds. “Difference is only in the view of each, yes?” Thomas shrugs his maybe. “And sometimes both can be one in the same…a dream as much a nightmare…a nightmare as much a dream.”
A dream for Ryan? I wonder. A nightmare for us and one in the same for Stefan? Possibly, but there really is no time for the labyrinth of reflection so, I continue. “Or perhaps his problems began some months later when Stefan actually did leave us and Isa had to convince Tari to allow him to implement his plan.”
“And this plan was…what?” Matthew, another of Ryan’s friends, asks, one neither Jayden nor I are much fond of. And not unreasonably given what he did to Jamey.
Still, I answer as Tari would wish me to, politely. “As you’ve seen it. Isa wanted to make sure Stefan wasn’t totally lost to us, that a line of communication remained open and to make it clear that even though Stefan had left us, we’d never leave him. Isa set himself up as that line of communication, that symbol of always. He decided that he would work himself into Ryan and Stefan’s life, which, as you‘ve seen, he’s been very successful at doing, but does that explain enough for now?” And Matthew, along with a couple of others, nods.
“Except,” Matthew asks Ryan, “did you realize what Isa was doing?” Ryan nods.
“So, back to where I was. Tari refused, very emphatically, to allow Isa to implement his plan and without even a second thought for Isa’s possible objections. Tari said no and then just carried on with his life. We all understood why he refused, but Isa didn’t care. He brooded and was basically all kinds of pathetic and with Tari barely showing that he even noticed. He did notice, of course. There’s nothing that goes on with any of us Tari doesn’t notice, he just wasn’t about to play into Isa’s sulkiness. Truth? Tari would love to see Stefan completely gone from us so--”
“Shit,” Matthew acknowledges who, among them and undoubtedly because of his brief association with Jamey, the only one other than Ryan who truly understands the implication.
“Yeah,” Jayden chuckles,” but even Tari realizes that that’s just not possible, that something invisible attaches Stefan to us no matter how much he, or you, Ryan, may not want that. Still, it exists.”
Noting Ryan’s scowl, I hurry on. “But anyway, back to Isa. Fortunately, those of us in San Francisco, where and only where Tari lives, unlike many of us who seem to hobo around the country continually, well, we not only took notice but we also bought into Isa’s generally depressive state and so, we formulated and implemented our own plan to help him with his. We defied Tari, we--”
“You what?” Ryan asks, his shock revealing that he does at least understand what this means, how difficult it would be for us to even think of doing such a thing let alone actually going through with it. Something we’d never done before and something I hope we’ll never do again. “Stefan doesn’t know about this.”
I glance to Jayden, but he sits with his head down, his fingers nervously twisting one with the other. Remembering. “We defied him, Ryan, so Isa could have his way with you. We left San Francisco -- 15 of us -- taking up residence here in New York, laying very very low, and sent Isa to you and Stefan. Only 15 because, otherwise, we felt Tari might consider our defiance as an act of mutiny, which it was not. If he had thought so, he probably would’ve just told us all to fuck off. What he did do was nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was horrible; it was as if he was just… just gone from us, lost to us and we felt the emptiness of that in every second of every day.”
“And we were already reeling from Stefan’s betrayal…don’t give me those eyes, Ryan, his was an act of complete betrayal and so, it was all too much really, but at least Isa was able to start setting-up his now normal routine of a few days in Brooklyn with you and then back to Manhattan or San Francisco or wherever for a month or so with us, our very own and mutual line of communication. Seriously though, this thing with Tari went on for two freakin’ months and without a single word from--”
“He sounds like a tyrant,” Thomas says. “Sort of dictatorial, don’t you think?”
“Him master. Us slaves,” Jayden agrees, with only the vaguest edge of irony. “As it has always been. As it will always be. Since we were 13 years old. No other way for us to live.” And he looks to Thomas for disagreement.
Thomas obviously considers providing him with some, but judiciously decides against it. And as for me, there’s just no compelling reason now for going any further down that road so, I don’t. How can they, outsiders, ever be expected to understand what Tari means to us? I continue as if never interrupted.
“We, of course, received little bits and pieces of information about Tari, about home, from our others who remained in San Francisco, but otherwise just nothing. And then on one very splendid, especially beautiful and particularly glorious day an engraved invitation arrives asking us home for dinner for the following Saturday. We wasted no time RSVP’ing and flew there immediately, realizing once there, that Tari had called a ‘clann le cheile’, like a uhmm--”
“Like a family meeting which everyone must come to,” Ryan says.
“I’ve always wondered how many of you there are,” Thomas says. “Sorry to keep interrupting.”
“Is okay. We’re 72 with 34 in San Francisco and the rest spread out between L.A., Chicago, Seattle and New York. So, anyhoo, it was as if nothing had ever happened, our rebellion wasn’t even mentioned and everything with Tari was perfection. Yet all of that only added, as you can imagine, to what I believe to have been Isa’s preexisting guilts. It pained him greatly that we’d had to go through what we did so he could do what he wanted. But what Isa sometimes forgets is that he‘s really only doing all of this for us. While with us, Stefan meant a great deal to Isa, but nothing like what Stephan meant to us. And so, although blameless, he nonetheless blamed himself for the dark times of Tari and the Rebellion. And then some time ago, I’m not sure when, something strange began to happen. We began to actually confuse the messenger with the message, can you imagine?”
“Five months ago or so it was,” Jayden clarifies and I realize he’s right.
“After his time in Brooklyn, Isa would come home to us smelling of Stefan, of his sweat, of his cologne. He would display some of Stefan’s mannerisms, his way of moving, his way of speaking. And some that were alien to either Isa or Stefan, which we decided must be coming from you, Ryan. Reality? He was still living his life with Stefan and we weren’t and that hurt so fucking much.”
“Stefan’s words weren’t just words told to Isa, they were his words actually heard by Isa, the sound of Stefan’s voice. When Isa would described things to us, things in your home, your yard, your neighborhood, things we thought we wanted to know about, they weren’t just descriptions told to him, those things were real, tangible. He saw them, touched them, breathed them in, the purr and warmth of each of your cats, the blended colors of your antique roses that grow along the trellis that skirts your backyard fence, the shade and rustle of the beech trees that line your neighborhood street, yeah? And we started getting very tired of it. Didn’t seem fair, all just words to us but not to him. A reality lost to us that he was still living and --”
“And then there was the eternal bliss that is so obviously yours and Stefan’s life together,” Jayden continues. “No offense, Ryan, but sometimes seems as if there’s never a disparaging word between the two of you, yes? Never a smirk or a snaky remark or even so much a roll of the eyes, a sidelong glance. The biggest drama seems to be when one of your cats gacks-up a particularly large hairball. Seriously got tiring to the point where Courtlan asked Isa to make up some drama, just some little tiff or something to break up the monotony, but Isa said he wouldn‘t, said he couldn’t lie. Oh hell no.” Jayden leans heavy into me finally, trying to calm himself, after having squirmed with agitation during his entire little rant. He signals the end of his outburst with a soft growl. I see only a flash of the normally deep brown of his eyes, now gone nearly black, before he further tries to quiet himself by closing them.
“Soooo…” I say, turning away from Jayden and back to Ryan, “we gradually stopped wanting to hear as much about Brooklyn, which sort of minimizes the importance of Isa’s whole effort on our behalf, right?”
“Not on our side,” Ryan admits, his confusion showing in his voice. “Stefan hangs on to every word about what you’re up to, especially all the arguments and--”
“Of course, naturally,” Jayden sighs.” Why wouldn’t he want to hear all about all the--”
“Any…way, we’d send him straight to the shower as soon as he got home and sometimes no one would even join him there, we‘d make Isa wash the smell of Stefan and you off of himself all by himself. So mean of us and so much undeserved, but I think then he started doubting the point of his venture beyond his own love for all of us. You can see where he might, I know we certainly were.”
I glance back to Marcus who smiles to me, letting me know that he’s good. “So, in summation, three things were needed to make the fire, his breakdown, that now burns within him, combustibles and oxygen and the spark of a match.
First the combustibles and that entire beginning bit of my story was just that--the paper…the twigs…the kindling, y’know? Him seeing where things were going for us with Stefan and how he would leave us, and Isa knowing he wouldn’t be able to do a single solitary thing to stop the apparent inevitability of it plus then, Stefan actually leaving us and Isa wanting only to facilitate a hopefully temporary fix with that fix becoming, for all intents and purposes, permanent.”
“The second necessity was the oxygen and that was the middle bit of my story, the whole thing with Tari and us rebels plus Isa becoming you, your taste, your touch, your smell, your words, and with us only resenting him for it.”
“So, now all we have left is the third thing, the last bit to spark the fire within. We need the match and for that match to strike. I should continue?” Ryan nods, I sigh and Jayden slumps away from me and towards the back of the sofa, all rather dramatically and when in frustration as he drags his fingers through that long ebony hair of his, when he makes it shimmer with the light of the lobby’s crystal chandelier, for a moment, I’m pleasantly distracted. He’s the only one who moves, everyone else sits just so quietly.
“Caillen…?” Ryan brings me back to where we, sadly, still are.
“Yes? Ahhh, and so, the match is that fateful day some three months, when Isa called Jameson here in New York and asked him for a favor. He was with you and Stefan, with apparently all of you even though we didn’t know that then, in Virginia. Stefan was feeling all headachy and yuck, or so Isa informed Jameson, and since the two of you were supposedly having this oh-so-lovely holiday at Stefan’s parent’s vacation house--”
“On the beeeeach,” Jayden sing-songs.
“Yes, apparently on the beach and also apparently, since headachy just wasn’t good enough, Isa asked that Courtlan and I might be allowed to go to Virginia Beach, implying that with me close by, Stefan might feel better. Jamey said something along the lines of ‘no fucking way, Isa. You know we DO NOT follow Stefan to Virginia, or actually anywhere else just so you know, Ryan. So, after realizing his options were limited, Isa, uncharacteristically, begged. Now, for reference, Isa just does not beg, okay? At least not outside the confines of the bedroom so, Jamey, quite characteristically, caved. I mean, could you’ve resisted Isa’s begging? I know I--”
“Well,” Jayden admits, “I certainly have never been able to.” And he leers at me such a sweet sweet leer. Wafting from across the lobby, we hear Marcus’s chuckle.
“No, you certainly never have been able to. A story for another time. And, Jamey never asked him why Courtlan and I unexpectedly found ourselves winging our way to Virginia beyond that Stefan was feeling not good, which we knew was only a part of it, and Isa never offered up any further clarification. Some things are best left unasked and so, consequently, left unanswered. Works for a time, anyway, right? But is ultimately unsustainable as we all now know.
So, Courtey and I ended up spending however long in Virginia Beach, lovely town by the way, and when Stefan and you flew home to Brooklyn, we followed in your wake to Manhattan.
The only information we received from Isa was that my being near Stefan was helpful so, all was not a total loss. Except that now we had the fateful match, and even if we didn’t know it at the time, Isa almost certainly did, that soon enough that destructive match would strike.”
“Why’s Stefan affected,” Carol, Matthew’s apparently new girlfriend asks, “by where you are relative to --?”
“Interesting question. Genetics, maybe. We don’t know, he just feels me, not just me, but most strongly me, but apparently if he feels me close to him, he feels more well, if he doesn’t feel me close to him, he feels less well. He wasn’t like this before he met us, wasn’t like this when he was with us, he cavorted and gallivanted wherever he wanted. It’s just how things are now and none of--”
“It’s complicated, Carol,” Ryan cuts me off. “Since we only have 20 minutes left before our reservation time, I’ll try and explain at lunch what Stefan’s told to me, okay?” Carol nods.
“Riiiiight. And once you’ve explained it to them, maybe explain it to us because really, we’re not so much getting it ourselves, but since you’ve so very very sweetly reminded me of the time, I’ll try and speed things along for you, yeah? So, from that point on Isa shuts up of his own volition about either of you, about any of you. You, in your entirety, drop off the edge of the earth. Like it was better to say nothing at all than to maybe inadvertently say too much.”
“We noticed, but not enough. We asked questions to encourage him, but not enough. Periodically we made an effort to ask if he knew what you guys were up to, but he said he didn’t know so, eventually we stopped. We even tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to go to you, but no. We were wrong to ignore what was happening to him. That’s not how we should take care of each other, but we were just so tired and so very sad and feeling all kinds of pissy ourselves so, we ignored the situation even if that meant ignoring Isa’s internal conflicts, his mounting guilts. It just seemed so much easier that way. He didn’t want to talk, we didn’t want to hear so win / win, right? One would think, but…no.”
“So, now all that’s still needed to precipitate him bursting into flames is for that fateful match to strike and that happened a week ago when we had another Tari requested clann le cheile and Isa had no choice but to tell us your story.”
“Why didn’t he have a choice?” Ryan says.
“We were all there, he’d only have to do the telling once, not ever again and that’s what he’d been waiting for ever since Virginia, all those many weeks ago. And all that time, his knowing that he would have to tell us one day just sat simmering and stewing inside him eventually becoming like a poison to him and he needed to get that out. Since the following day was Sunday and some of us would be leaving to go back to Seattle or Chicago or wherever, Isa had just the one chance to be done with it and, with great reluctance; he took hold of that.”
“And you know how it is, Ryan, when a singer sings a note so clean and pure and strong that they can shatter a glass? Well, you may know since you are a singer that all that may not be such a big deal in the singer-verse, I don’t know, maybe it‘s like a trick or something, but I’ll bet even there it‘d be considered a big deal when a singer sings a note so clean and pure and strong that he not only shatters the 71 little glasses listening to his song, but even more so, he shatters himself. Understand, Ryan, Isa…he just came all undone. The match was struck and we are all still living with him through that all-consuming fire burning from within. His breakdown.”
“He’ll be alright?”
“He’s fragile. But Toby’s taking him with Courtlan and Devon to Paris for two weeks starting this next Monday. Toby has business there they can help with, but mostly they can just tourist-y around. It’ll be good for Isa to get away and the three know how to take care of him.” I glance to Jayden who nods so, looking back to Ryan, I say, “They fly in this Friday. We can bring Isa to you and Stefan directly from the airport if you’d like him with you for this weekend and then, we can pick him up when we take them to the airport Monday morning. It’s up to you.”
“If you think it’ll be okay, if you think Isa will want to see us then, yes, of course.” Ryan looks happy for the first time since this chance meeting began.
“Yeah yeah, sure sure, he’ll be fine just as long as you go easy on him, which I’m sure you will so, really not a--“
“Can I ask, would you have told us he was going to be here, would he be coming to stay with us, if I hadn’t found you?”
“We would’ve kept him for ourselves,” Jayden says. “But now, he’ll be with you. Our response to fluctuating circumstance.”
Even though a look of hurt flashes over him, Ryan says, “Thanks and one last thing, please. Tell me Isa’s story about Stefan and me in Virginia, Caillen. Please, sing me the song he sang for you, his story of us.”
“I don’t remem--”
“Of course you remember, you remember every word, I know you do.” He leans over his knees, into the space that separates us and focusing on me with those imploring blue eyes, he smiles.
I fidget, but only for a second because he’s right. I do remember every word, I just don‘t want to have to relive every word and especially not in the glare of the high-rise’s lobby, in front of all his others. But we‘ve come this far, it‘d be a shame for my ramshackle story not to reach its natural conclusion.
“Isa’d been standing for awhile, since dinner, quietly, really even more quietly than his new usual, gazing out of the picture window that’s the focal point of the very large main room of our main house, a room designed only for such occasions as when we’re all in San Francisco. It was dark through that window, a nighttime picture postcard of the Golden Gate Bridge looking towards Marin and when he turned away from the view and toward us, when he said, ’I have something to tell you’, everyone went quiet as if expecting this. And I could see in his eyes that he understood that we were ready to hear whatever he had to say.”
I pause; feeling myself breaking a little, coming apart maybe just a little like Isa had that night. I don’t want to have to say his few and simple words anymore than he did, but just like him, I know I will. Somehow ending my Isa story to Ryan with Isa’s Ryan and Stefan story to us seems the proper symmetry. I lower my eyes feeling not only Jayden’s hand suddenly and comfortingly in mine, but Marcus next to me as well.
I take a deep breath and I begin Isa’s short so sweet story, his most harmonious song…
…about Ryan and Stefan’s Commitment Ceremony in Virginia.
‘The wind blew like warm silk from in off the Atlantic
It wasn’t too hot for a late summer afternoon
Not too humid for southern Virginia
And everyone was there
Their mothers and fathers
Their grandmothers and grandfathers
Their sisters and brothers
Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and their friends
Everyone who mattered to them was there
And they looked beautiful
Dressed in matching suits, cut from the same cloth
With only slight differences in styling to set them apart
And they exchanged matching rings,
Bands of silver or white-gold, inset with onyx or jet
When Ryan read what was etched inside his, he laughed
When Stefan read what was etched inside his, he looked at Ryan in wonder
I don’t know what the rings said inside
They showed them to their others but not to me
And they exchanged vows
Words each had written for the other
Words about challenging and defending
About inspiring and protecting
I know they wanted me there because of me
Because they care about me
But I also know that the main reason they wanted me there
Was so that one day I could sing this little song for you’.
I’d been looking down throughout the telling, not the best way to do a story no matter how brief, but I was feeling too exposed to do it any other way. Now I look up and see that Ryan has been looking down just the same, still leaning over his knees but now I can’t see his eyes. Jayden glances at me, then out towards the safety of Park Avenue lying just beyond the high-rise’s windows, brushing angrily at his eyes with his jacket sleeve balled up in his fist. Marcus sighs while Ryan’s others look everywhere but at us. They‘d all been there, of course, with Ryan and Stefan and Isa in Virginia. They were the ‘friends’ part of the family and friends equation.
But they had only been able to understand the wonder and beauty of such a ceremony, which is as it should be. That anyone could perceive it so differently, could have experienced it so unlike they had, couldn’t have occurred to them, especially not someone like Isa who was not only among them, one of them in a way, but who was someone they cared for.
But I want them to understand so, “He cried during the telling of it, silent tears. You understand now why?” And Ryan nods, as do some of his others. “But once done, he fell apart and, as I said earlier, just sat on the floor and curled into himself. Everyone came to him, knelt before him, lifted his face to theirs, told him everything would be alright, that they loved him and, as much as they could, they kissed away his tears. But those tears, they just wouldn’t stop. Knowing what his words meant to us, his tears just wouldn’t stop.”
“Tari came to Isa last. Initially, he made Isa afraid, with good cause. If Tari had told him he was never to see you again, Isa would never see you again and you know that to be true, but instead Tari reassured him that he understood that taking him away from you would only hurt him more, told Isa that he wasn’t prepared to do that just yet. Isa was relieved to hear him say it, but even those words only slowed up his tears a little, only eased up his shaking a little. Tari did tell him that things would have to change and so they will, but it’s nearly 3:00pm and time for you --”
“Caillen,” Ryan sounds worried. “What changes?’
“Nothing so dramatic we won’t all adjust,” Jayden says. “You’ll be fine.”
“He can’t keep living his life this way, Ryan, being bumped up and down, back and forth like some kind of yo-yo,” Jayden explains. “His plan…it wasn’t supposed to go on for this long, yes? None of this was supposed to go on this long. And now Stephan’s…Shit!!! And now Stephan’s married you, hasn’t he so, this is forever, isn’t it? From now on, alright? From now on Isa’ll stay longer with us, six weeks, two months, instead of how it’s been in the past and we’d ask you to keep him with you no longer than three, four days at the--”
“He can stay longer if--”
‘No,” Jayden says. “He can’t stay with you any longer. It’s part of the reason he hasn’t been back in so long.”
“But…why? If you want stability then--”
Jayden looks to me so, I say, “Because Isa’s fine up until the 4th night, but during that night, as you know, as you have in the past, you’ll wake up to find him, not in the guest bedroom where he should be especially now, but all tucked down between you and Stefan where he shouldn’t be. Especially not anymore. And, it being the middle of night, as you know, he’ll be such sweet, warm breath and tempting, coaxing words and possessive, searching hands and he’ll have a need so demanding that you won’t be able to say no to him. You won’t and neither will Stefan.”
“And when you wake up the next morning, you’ll think it only a dream, but when you taste him on Stefan’s mouth, when you smell him on your own skin, you’ll know it wasn’t a dream and so, you’ll feel guilt, you’ll worry. It’ll just be better if you send him home to us so we can take care of him as we should. He really won’t be able to help himself during that 4th night and neither will you and since you’re all now sworn to monogamy, to…whats it?”
“Fidelity?” Marcus asks.
“Yeah, fidelity, have taken vows, have made promises, wouldn’t be good.”
“The only way he can stay longer is if--”
“Is if you continued, as in the past, to take him to your bed so, just send him home to ours,” Jayden says. “His is a four day maximum without sex, that’s as long as pleasuring himself will take him. Being in the same house with you will be too much of a temptation. So, return him to us on the 4th day because our bed is his no matter what and now, you must go and so must we. We’ll have Isa to you on Friday around 5:00pm. Please have him ready for us by 7:00am on Monday, right?” And Ryan nods.
As he’s leaving, walking away from Jayden and Marcus and me and toward the building’s bank of elevators, Ryan says, without turning, “It can’t go on like this forever, can it? Even with these changes, it can’t go on like this forever. Can it?” He stops then, just before the elevator doors, and he turns back to us.
We all shake our heads. The elevator comes; the doors open and after entering, after turning back toward us one last time, just as the doors close, Ryan bows his head and we can only wonder at what he’s thinking. Maybe, like us, he just trying to understand that if this can’t go on forever, than what could possibly come next? Taking first my hand, then Marcus’, Jayden leads us, at last, out to Park Avenue with our wide world waiting for us just beyond.