Authors: Nicole Kimberling
Tags: #LGBT Suspense
“I guess it depends on what you mean by the word ‘everyone.’ Everyone didn’t include Walter’s family or anyone outside of his inner circle in Manhattan.”
“But you lived with him. Didn’t his wife know?”
“His wife lived in the Hamptons because she felt the city was unsafe. His sons are both older than me, so they were living their own lives elsewhere. Walter stayed at his studio in the city to work. I’m sure Walter’s wife knew he had a lover, but not that it was me,” Nick said. “I’m fairly certain she thought it was his agent, Felicity.”
“And his wife didn’t wonder why he was building a huge, expensive house out on the west coast?”
Nick smiled ruefully. “I think it’s fair to assume that she didn’t know he was building the Castle.”
“How is that even possible? Didn’t she look at the bank account and think to herself, ‘Now, that’s odd…’”
“Well, first, not everyone in the world is as nosy as you are.”
“I prefer to think of myself as inveterately curious,” Peter interrupted primly. “Especially about what other people are doing and why.”
Nick cracked a wide smile at that, but the smile soon became tinged with a sort of sadness that Peter didn’t comprehend. More than that, it hurt him to see Nick smile that way. He focused on Gigi, who had decided to lie down in order to stare at the carpet spot in a more relaxed, long-term manner. When he looked back to Nick, his lover seemed far away. Probably lost in some melancholy, sepia-tinged memory of the good times. And seeing Nick look like that, Peter found that his curiosity suddenly left him. He didn’t want to hear about those good times when he hadn’t needed to think about money or the damage incurred by somebody else’s highly destructive cat.
Peter’s internal monologue became morbid.
Years after the death of Walter De Kamp, Nick Olson was forced once more to confront the deep and everlasting internal pain of being cruelly separated from his one true love. Shacking up with broke reporter Peter Fontaine was not enough to ease him. No amount of consistent sex and reliable light dinner conversation could match the true communication one artist could have with another.
Blinking, Peter forced himself to stop this morose internal typing. Maybe he should just find a reason to get out, get some space. Maybe go to Evangeline’s house and drink a bottle of pinot grigio. He was about to propose this very action when Nick said, “I was going to leave him, you know.”
Peter blinked again, as if by doing so he could replay what he thought Nick had just said to make sure he’d heard correctly. Because that’s not how conversations work, he was forced to ask, “Come again?”
“I was going to leave Walter. I’d gone to an artist’s retreat to work and just to try and get some perspective on my life. While I was there I made up my mind to break it off. I realized that even though he loved me, he was never going to see me as his equal, and I needed that.”
“Everyone needs that.”
Nick cracked a crooked smile. “Not really. But I did, and so I had made my decision. Then when I came back, he told me that he had been diagnosed and had about a year to live.” Nick stared at the blank wall in front of him. “He was afraid. I think he knew that I wasn’t happy and that if I left, he’d die alone. He told me he’d changed his will to leave me his artistic estate. Essentially, he bought me.”
“I don’t want to seem insensitive here, but again I’d like to point out that he could have gone home to his wife. You know, the one who signed on for
till death us do part
.” Peter tried not to sound callous, but journalistic training took over, as it often did when he was confronted by blatant illogic. “And what about the sons? Didn’t they want to spend time with him?”
“No, they didn’t want to see him. Especially not after the family lawyer leaked the information about the change in the will.” Nick kept his eyes fixed on the wall, as if he were revealing his darkest secret. And Peter supposed that for a person like Nick, admitting that he had been bought qualified as his darkest secret. Or if not actually darkest, certainly the one he was most ashamed of.
“So the wife and kids didn’t get anything?”
“Not from Walter. After he died there was a lawsuit. We eventually came to the agreement that I would remain the executor but all monies coming from the sale of Walter’s art had to be split evenly between me, Bradley, and Troy. Those are Walter’s sons.”
Understanding dawned across Peter’s foggy and shifting thoughts. “So the Bradley who almost ran over me was Walter’s son?”
“He must be fifty, at least.” Peter knew he sounded slightly stupid stating the obvious as he was doing, but couldn’t help himself.
“Walter was in his seventies when he died.” Nick finally looked at him, as if perplexed by Peter’s inability to draw the conclusion that a septuagenarian could have children half a century old. “But yeah, you can see how Bradley and Troy would have reacted to meeting me. He called me a gold-digging little faggot on more than one occasion. Today he wanted to make sure he and Troy get their share of the insurance money from
“Asshole,” Peter murmured.
Nick shrugged. “It’s not like he was wrong. I did fit all the criteria to be considered a gold digger…and a faggot.”
Fury welled up in Peter. “You know, Nick, I think he was wrong. I don’t think you stayed for the money.”
“Don’t you?” Nick asked drily. “Were you there?”
“No, but I’ve lived with you for three fucking years now, and you’ve never done anything even slightly underhanded, let alone outright dishonorable. I think you would have stayed with him that last year even if he didn’t give you a dime, because that’s just the kind of man you are.” Peter paused for a breath and made another next logical leap. “Although I can see how if the whole thing ended with assisted suicide, that would have looked suspicious to everybody.”
Nick smiled grimly. “Can you also see how this business with the statue is dredging up a lot of things I don’t really want to think or talk about?”
“I can, but…I’m probably going to keep asking.” Peter held up his hands helplessly. “It’s just how I am.”
“Could you not ask me anything more about it today at least?”
“Sure.” Peter laid his hand on Nick’s knee. “I can give you at least a twenty-four-hour reprieve from my relentless curiosity.” He slid his hand farther up Nick’s thigh. “I could even put my mouth to a more therapeutic use.”
Nick firmly moved his hand back down. “I’m not feeling all that sexy right now, baby.”
Peter withdrew, rejected, only to be pulled back. Nick rested one heavy, hairy arm across his bony shoulders. Peter moved to rest against him, perplexed. “I thought you said you didn’t feel sexy.”
“I don’t.” Nick gave him a quick squeeze. “Can we just be together for a while? Would that be all right?”
“It’s all right.” Peter leaned against his chest, listening to the steady thump of his heart for a few seconds, then said, “Is she finally asleep?”
“Yeah.” Peter had momentarily forgotten that she’d acquired a name since he’d been gone. “The cat.”
“I think the motionless face-plant into the carpet tells us that she is.”
After another moment Peter said, “I really think she’s cute.”
Nick sighed, ruffled Peter’s hair, and replied, “I know.”
They sat together for a space, not speaking. Peter would have thought that Nick had fallen asleep except for the tension in his muscles and the occasional distracted squeeze of Nick’s hand on his shoulder. Evangeline had told him that oftentimes people would bring cats and dogs into hospitals and nursing homes because the patients found it soothing to pet them. Therapy animals, they were called. He thought he might be acting as a therapy animal right now.
A casual change of subject was definitely in order.
“What’s your Halloween costume going to be this year?”
“I haven’t thought about it.” Again, Nick rubbed his hand along Peter’s shoulder. “I’ll probably just get some unryu paper and acrylic polymer medium. Make a mask, like usual.”
Peter nodded against his shoulder. Nick did make really beautiful, surreal masks. For his part, Peter had been waiting for the excuse of Halloween to break out the cowboy boots he’d bought last time he’d visited his parents in Austin. But feeling Nick’s tension and sadness, he changed his mind about mentioning it.
“I was thinking of being a slutty nurse,” Peter said.
After a lengthy pause, Nick said, “A slutty
“Exactly. I don’t see why women get to have the corner on the slutty nurse costume.” Peter sighed and snuggled closer to Nick. “Yeah, I think I’ll find myself some tight white pants and one of those hats with a red cross on it. I think Evangeline might have a pair of white vinyl boots I could borrow.”
“That sounds like something she would have, but would they fit?” Nick’s voice sounded more normal now. His body had relaxed slightly.
“Actually she and I wear the same shoe size.”
“I guess me dressing up as a doctor would be the next logical step,” Nick said. “That or a hapless, innocent patient.”
“Whichever you decide. I can take orders or I can give them.” Peter slid his hand under Nick’s shirt and gently scratched the fur on his chest.
“You’ve never taken an order in your life.”
“That’s just because they weren’t sexy enough. I could definitely take a sexy order.”
Nick’s chest shook with a silent chuckle. “All right, then. Doctor it is.”
During the following week of recovery, Gigi slept, ran, clawed, and blinked her way directly into Peter’s heart. Once her stitches had been removed, he’d thought Nick would demand that she be deposited at the Humane Society. Strangely, he did not, claiming that they refused to adopt out black cats around Halloween anyway, so she might as well stay with them for a little while longer.
In the meantime, toys appeared. First, a furry mouse. Then some sort of jingle bell and feather contraption mounted on a cheap toy bamboo fishing pole. Nick never acknowledged himself as the procurer of said items. They would simply be present when Peter arrived home, as if they’d sprung up from the carpet like mushrooms bursting from a fallen log.
Gigi began sleeping on their bed. First on the pillow on Nick’s side, as common cat perversity drew her toward the man who showed the least interest in her, then atop the duvet in the gully between their bodies.
One week after her arrival, Peter opened his eyes to see her struggling from beneath the covers on Nick’s side while Nick snored lightly into his pillow. When Peter rose, she followed him to the bathroom, clambered up on the side of the tub, and watched as Peter showered and shaved. Within him a sense of triumph began to grow, like a hazy image of land must seem to a sailor crossing a vast and hostile ocean. Nick was not made of stone. He would never let a kitten sleep under the covers with him and then kick her out to face the windy, wet autumn on her own. Or even with the help of whatever well-meaning cat lady would adopt her.
Gigi would be theirs.
Heart brimming with love, he turned to pet her. She attacked his hand with vicious, unrestrained joy before running back to the bedroom.
Peter left her there, gently swatting a sandy brown curl that lay across Nick’s unconscious forehead, and headed to the office.
When he arrived there he found the delivery truck parked out front, and the sight gave him a shudder of premonition. As he climbed the stairs to the second floor, the feeling deepened into a sense of dreadful foreknowledge. He opened the door and was greeted by the sight of Doug shaking a set of keys at him.
“Shawn dropped these in the mail slot,” Doug told him.
Peter glanced furtively around the office. No one. Not a single soul inhabited the normally busy space. All conveniently late.
Doug jingled the keys again.
Peter sighed and held out his hand to receive them.
* * *
Any tourist finding themselves lost on the twisting roads in western Whatcom county might wonder if the entire economy of Whatcom County is derived from U-pick blueberry farms. This is understandable, but untrue. At least half of these U-pick farms sell raspberries. And at Halloween there’s always a pumpkin patch.
U-pick, of course.
Before Peter had been a reporter, he’d had Shawn’s job—driving the truck, that is, not procuring delicious kind bud for Doug. As he made his way along the route through Lynden and Everson, Peter found himself almost transported back to his student days. Before he had any such thing as a steady boyfriend. Certainly before he had a Tom Renner award. Before he even had a reliable bike light.
Those days, when he needed companionship, he went to Vancouver and found some stranger. Now his life was so simple but also infinitely more complex. Instead of finding physical release with unknown men in bars, he made love with Nick. But Nick came with all kinds of history that he was only just now beginning to know.
And with the inclusion of a pet in their small family, Peter felt a strange sense of domesticity that he would have thought would frighten him. Instead, he felt…pleased.
Pleased that he had a boyfriend and a cat. Pleased that he had a job in a town where people knew his name. Pleased when he stopped at the U-pick pumpkin patch to procure a dozen gourds for his annual Halloween Party.
Even pleased by the knowledge that he and Nick and Evangeline would, for the first time, pay for the entire gathering themselves rather than hitting up their friends for BYOB. He felt grown up. Established.
He felt like an adult, and that itself felt good.
Filled with paternalistic largesse, Peter forked over one hundred and fifty dollars for an orange and white monstrosity the size of a beanbag chair.
He drove through Maple Falls, navigating carefully to avoid jostling the pumpkin in the back. And there he caught sight of the black truck he’d seen the previous week. It was parked in front of the Cedarwood Casino. He didn’t need to wonder if it was the same one, since it was not only still festooned with flames, but the same girl lounged against it, smoking a cigarette and staring out at the highway. The truck bed was, as far as Peter could tell, goat free.