Holding On - part 2
//Paul is alive//
The words hit Blair with the force of a well-delivered blow to the solarplexus. The groceries dropped to the floor as his hands went numb. He was aware of everything and of nothing. He knew Jim was staring at him, shocked enough that even he ignored the fallen bags. He could see his mother was taking something from her purse, some paper and unfolding it, but he was completely unaware of himself. Suddenly, he couldn't hear his breathing, or his heartbeat, couldn't feel his existence.
"I saw this in the newspaper, Blair." She held out the item she'd been unfolding and waved it at her son. On automatic pilot, he stepped forward and took it from her hand as it waved over the back of the couch. He held it, eyes staring at nothing, as Jim said, "Chief, what's going on? Who's Paul?"
Naomi answered for Blair, "Paul was Blair's first - love. His only love. They were inseparable and forever. Paul died in an auto accident during Spring Break."
"Mother, stop it." Blair's voice was strong and angry, but he finally glanced down at the article copy.
The article was about some demonstration in Wyioki, a suburb of Cascade.
Evidently a park was in danger of being flattened for a parking garage. Several teachers from the Lionel S. Wyioki Elementary School had led the demonstration. The article included a picture of the students marching in a circle, signs raised high as they tried to protect their endangered park.
It was clear that the picture had not been posed. In the background, one teacher knelt beside one of the children whose sign had dropped. The teacher had very short, close cropped hair, a moustache and a goatee. Both child and teacher were obviously unaware of the photographer.
"Yes, it is, Blair. You know it is."
"It's been over 10 years and he died, Naomi. This isn't Paul."
"There's an easy way to find out. Go to the school."
"Chief?" Jim interrupted, "Talk to me."
But Blair as staring at his mother, eyes narrowed.
"Why are you doing this? Why did you bring this? You haven't talked to me in weeks, you don't take my calls and now you show up out of the blue and try to tell me that a grainy photo in a local paper is Paul?"
"I want you to be happy. I deliberated long and hard before bringing this. Just go to Wyioki, check it out."
"Who says I'm not happy? And while I'd love for Paul to be alive, it wouldn't change my life now."
"Blair, you loved him. It nearly destroyed you when he died, or don't you remember who had to pick up the pieces?"
At those words, Blair's eyes were drawn to the confused pale blues of his partner. Jim was staring at him, jaw clenched, hands in tight fists by his side.
"Maybe you should go to Wyioki, Chief. If this Paul meant that much to you, you need to know in either case." As he spoke, he moved to the door and grabbed his jacket, slipped it on and added, "I've got some errands to run and it's obvious you and Naomi need to talk. I'll be back in awhile." He opened the door and walked out, the door sliding shut quietly behind him.
Blair watched him leave, his heart torn. "Dammit."
"Blair, go to Wyioki."
He whirled on her, eyes ablaze. "You don't get it, do you? I love Jim. I've loved him almost from he beginning. We're a - couple now. Do you understand?"
She stood quickly, her purse sliding to the floor. "Blair, I - I didn't know."
"No, you didn't. But you would have, if you'd answered my calls, or letters or emails. If you'd ever really listened. But you never do."
"Blair, honey, what if it is Paul?"
Blair had no answer.
Jim drove in circles, having no errands, but needing to think.
Paul. Some guy named Paul. A man whose death so destroyed Blair that Naomi had been needed to pick up the pieces.
His stomach lurched and his heart constricted. He couldn't lose Blair now, he couldn't.
Somehow, the circles ended and he found himself driving north, toward Wyioki. It was a short drive and he knew the school. He stopped in front, gazing up at the empty building, school long since out for the day. He half hoped a tall man with a moustache and goatee would come down the steps.
But of course, no one did. He turned the truck around and headed back to Cascade.
"Blair, I'm sorry."
Lifting a ravaged face to her, Blair said, "Are you? You can't tell me you didn't know how I felt about Jim, don't try to tell me that. When you were trying to help Jim and I, after the dissertation fiasco, you knew. You knew."
"Blair, this isn't your life. I know that, deep in my heart, I know that. God knows, I've tried to accept this, even going so far as to be present when they offered you the opportunity to be Jim's real partner, but..."
"I know. But...you felt guilty and it was the only way you had to make it up to me. I'm not stupid. Of course, weeks of no contact was definite clue."
Naomi couldn't argue with him, not when every word was true. But she had to make him understand how wrong this life was for him. Had to protect him, from himself.
"Honey, I looked really hard at that picture and I'm convinced it's Paul. There just couldn't be two people who look that much alike, even after all these years. It's only right that you seek him out, find out what happened, if for nothing else that to bring you closure."
"There is closure, Naomi. I closed it years ago."
Her shoulders slumped as she found herself coming up against his stubborn streak again. "Blair, I remember so well how you reacted when you got that phone call, how it tore you apart. You couldn't function, wouldn't eat, you just sat in his room, holding his sweater. It took wee..."
Blair shot up, his eyes full of hurt and anger as he faced his mother.
"YOU STILL DON'T GET IT, DO YOU? I WAS A FUCKING KID, IN A WORLD I WAS IN NO WAY EQUIPPED TO HANDLE!"
Blair suddenly took a deep, ragged breath and sat down, his body suddenly boneless. He had to make his mother understand.
"Mom," he said more softly, "Paul was - wonderful. He loved me, cared for me, protected me and gave me everything I needed at the time. He provided a stabilizing male influence, but it wasn't all roses, mom. Don't glorify it. He gave me a great deal, taught me open affection, gave me a sense of permanency."
"If that last remark was aimed at me, I've never heard you complain before. Not in Greece, or the Orient, or Brazil, or Rome, or..."
"JESUS, DO YOU EVER LISTEN?"
Naomi bowed her head as she carefully picked up her purse, tucked the picture back inside, stood and said, "It would seem that this conversation is at an end. When you're a little more clearheaded, call me. I'm at the Prescott."
She walked around the couch, head held high and without a backward glance, walked out.
And it seemed to Blair, that people were always doing that to him.
"Do you have your books?"
"Got 'em," Blair answered, a piece of toast sticking out of his mouth.
"What time should I meet you at the Students Union?"
"You tell me."
"Well, my last guest lecture should be finished by 12:30, you?"
"Fine for me, 12:30 it is." Blair started for the door, but was stopped by Paul's husky voice.
"Did we forget something?"
Blair smiled, balanced his books and the toast, then leaned down to plant a wet one on his lover's waiting lips. When they parted, Paul smacked his lips and said, "Um, Raspberry jam, tastes good."
Blair laughed and headed out one more time, but his books had another idea as he wobbled and they went crashing to the floor.
"Shit, now I really will be late," he said, as he bent to retrieve the tomes.
"You're always late, Blair. A few more minutes won't hurt."
"You could help instead of sitting there snickering."
"I could, but this is more fun."
Blair opened the door, still balancing as he screwed up his face and said, "Man, you are so gross."
"Yep," Paul said, a definite wicked gleam in his eye.
Blair laughed and was out the door before anything else could happen.
As Paul watched him exit, he decided it was time to get Blair a bookbag.
Yeah, that was just what he needed.
He strolled down the aisles, checking out the bags and backpacks, looking for just the right one. It had to be sturdy, not geekish, but definitely usable and long term.
Paul knew how much travelling Blair had done as a child, how many times he'd packed up and moved away. Paul wanted him to know he still had that option, that freedom. Not that Paul would ever let him go, but he wanted Blair to feel as though he could.
As he moved down the aisle, he spotted the bag. Dark brown leather, strong shoulder straps, roomy inside inspite of being very compact. He lifted it from the peg, proud of his choice.
Blair sat down, his mustard and relish slathered hot dog in front of him. He'd waited for over thirty minutes, but with only twenty-eight minutes of his break left, he'd given in to the temptation to eat.
"You don't really want to eat that, do you?"
"Shit, Paul, don't do that."
Paul slid in beside him and taking the hot dog in his left hand, he said, "They have a nice crab salad today, how 'bout I get us both one of those?"
Blair sighed and gave his hot dog one last lingering look before nodding. He watched the junk food hit the trash with another sigh. Did he like crab?
A few minutes later, Paul returned bearing two salad plates and iced tea. As he sat down, he said cheerfully, "Looks like cooking class was at it again, thank God."
"Yeah, the school cafeteria never has anything that looks this good."
"Well, dig in, you only have about twenty minutes left. But don't gulp, you'll get indigestion."
"Paul, I'm eighteen, I don't get indigestion."
"Um, there's always a first time. Now eat."
Blair laughingly obliged and found that he actually liked the salad.
Maybe not as good as the hot dog, but very tasty.
Between mouthfuls, Paul asked, "What's your next class?"
"Tribal cultures with Montgomery."
"Well, I'll be in Sylvan's office, preparing my notes for the last lecture series so we probably won't have an opportunity to meet up before going home."
"Hey, no problem. What do you want to do for dinner?"
"I'm thinking - Russell's?"
"You want to eat out again?"
"Well, I'm in no mood to cook after a day of talking to idiots masquerading as adults and you don't cook, so yeah, eating out seems to be the choice."
"How 'bout I try that vegetable lasagna you like?"
Paul gazed at his young lover, his expression disbelieving. "You? Cook?"
"I can try. I might be good at it."
"Blair, you're smarter than anyone here and you're cute as a button, but cooking? I don't think so, not safe."
"Okay," Paul shrugged. "But you have to clean up as you go, no mess, understood?"
Blair surveyed the destruction facing him.
Shit. It was a mess.
The lasagna was in the oven, but there were pots, pans, bowls, utensils and wooden spoons all over the place. He was in big trouble. Well, there was only one thing to do. Clean up fast, before Paul got home.
He'd just turned on the hot water when the door opened and Paul walked in, calling his name.
"Blair? Hey, something smells terrific."
"Uh, yeah, uh, don't come into the kitchen, I want to surpris...."
Too late, Paul was already in the kitchen.
"Uh, Paul? I'm cleaning it right now, okay? You won't even know I was ever in here, promise."
Paul's eyes darkened, not in anger, he never got angry, but in disappointment. Blair could see it in his body language. He felt as though he'd just fallen twelve floors in an elevator before someone applied the brakes.
"It's a simple thing, Blair, to just clean as you go. Then you wouldn't have anything to do now. We could be doing something else while the food cooks." He turned and walked out, throwing out, "I'm taking a shower."
Blair swallowed the small tinge of anger he'd begun to experience and started to do the dishes. After all, Paul was right.
They ate in silence, Paul further disappointed by the lack of salad or wine. When he'd sat down, the lasagna bubbling in front of him, he'd asked, "Wine, salad, Blair?"
"Well, we had salad for lunch and we're out of wine."
Paul had put his fork down with great patience and explained, "But that's exactly my point. You should have thought of that, Blair."
There had been no further talking after that.
The rest of the evening passed just as silently, Blair doing some work on his thesis, Paul watching a Maria Callas special. At midnight, Paul clicked off the television and announced his decision to go to bed.
An hour later, Blair gave up, closed his laptop, made sure the apartment was locked up tight, shut off all the lights and walked into the bedroom. Without turning on a light, he undressed and slipped in behind Paul, spooning up, his left arm dropping over Paul's waist.
The older man rolled over, yawned and sleepily asked, "What time is it?"
"About one. Sorry about tonight."
"Next time, you will have learned."
Blair tried to scoot under Paul's arm but the older man said, "I'm tired, Blair." He rolled over, his back to Blair.
The next three days saw no thawing of Paul's emotions until Friday night.
Blair got home early and immediately set about to cooking another dinner. This time, he cleaned up as he cooked and by the time Paul arrived home, Blair had chicken stir-fry, a chopped vegetable salad and a bottle of Cardonnay waiting.
"Blair?" Paul questioned, surprised delight spreading over his features.
"Just thought we'd eat in tonight. Is that okay with you?"
Paul walked up to Blair and pulled him into his arms. "This is better than all right, Blair, this is perfect."
Laughing and sharing stories about their day, they ate heartily and just a bit quickly. They also consumed the whole bottle of wine.
After cleaning up the dishes, they moved into the living room, but any ideas of watching televison were quickly dispensed with as Paul immediately took Blair back into his arms, claiming his mouth. Their lovemaking quickly escalated.
As Paul climaxed, moments after Blair, the younger man whispered, "Love you, Paul, love you."
Paul buried his tongue in the sweet darkness that was Blair's mouth, swallowing the words.
Mentally and physically exhausted, Blair hauled himself from the couch and shuffled into the kithen to start dinner, hoping that Jim would come home.