From Ultimates: "At a dinner in St. Paul, Minn., Mayor John McDonough limited the oratory of each speaker Ė all politicians Ė to the time he could, or would, hold 25 pounds of ice in his bare hands."
We were back together, it seemed, and that was all that mattered. We had cleared up the misunderstanding, Paul and me, and now all I had to do was clear up the other one with Drew. Of course, that would be easier. He already knew my goal was to patch things up with Paul and move on. Also, it was clear to me that moving on from Drew would be a no-brainer. We had only spent the shortest time together and though I could see, already, that he has a serious intent, I had been fairly clear about not returning those feelings. I told Paul what I had to do, sort of, and left to do it.
I said "sort of" because I hadnít really told Paul everything.
"I stayed with a friend," I said to him. "I have to go collect my things." He had known it was Drew. We had fought over it, but finally he had given in, allowed me to end things cleanly with Drew, and not to leave this kind man the way he had deserted me on the ship.
"I wonít be long, Paul," I said. "Itís a quick goodbye and Iíll be back here."
"Of course, dear boy. You know where youíll find me."
"Thank you, Paul, for finally understanding."
"When one is as olí .... when one is as experienced as I am," he said, "one can understand a great many things." He smiled at me with that warm smile he used when he was serious. "You go finish up with your Ďfriendí and Iíll make a few calls to reconfirm arrangements. Donít be long, Max."
"I wonít. I promise." I leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. I thought that was a nice, friendly gesture. Paul held me by the shoulders and changed the chaste buss into something more sensual, more erotic. When he pulled himself away from my lips I could still smell his stage makeup, could hardly breathe in, in fact, without smelling it.
"Donít be long," he repeated. I nodded as I backed out of his dressing room door. There had been something in the tone of his voice as he said those three words that made me tremble, just a bit. It was as though the request had been more of a warning than anything else, as though the phrase "or else" had been left off at the end of it.
Outside his dressing room I paused to lean against the wall and recompose myself. I took a few short breaths, my hand pressed to the side of my face. I was sweating. I was panting. My legs felt none too steady. When my breathing slowed to a more normal pattern, which happily didnít take long, I left the building and headed back to Leicester Square and Drewís flat.
"Youíre back," he said, and he smiled the broadest smile Iíd ever seen.
"Iím not, actually," I said to Drew. "I only came for my things."
He was silent. He looked at me carefully, examining my eyes and my mouth and my neck for any signs of tension or indecision.
"I see," he said, "that things have gone well for you with your old friend."
The kindness in his statement was clear to me when he said "old friend" and never stressed the word "old" but did emphatically endorse the word "friend."
"He understands the mistakes that were made," I said.
"And he forgives you and he forgives himself."
"Well, yes, sort of."
"And now what happens, Maxie?"
"Now we go on as before."
"How very Noel Coward of you both."
"Yes, sure. Whatever." I wasnít really sure what that meant but it seemed like agreeing would be the easiest way to go.
"Youíve come for your things, the few things youíve left here."
"I came to tell you that this was the course Iíve set for myself. Most of my stuff is still at the hotel, you know that."
"You didnít want to just abandon me then?"
"No, of course not." I reached out to touch him but he pulled back a few inches. "Youíve been kind to me Drew. And I know youíre interested in me. I didnít want to just disappear on you, not the way Paul did on me."
"Youíre really very sweet, arenít you?" He sat down on the chintz divan near the window.
"No. Iím not. You really donít know much about me, Drew. You donít know about my family and our ways."
"Of course I do." He smiled at me again. "You donít think I take any young baggage into my life without knowing a bit of background, do you? When we first met on the ship and I found myself so attracted to you I set a few people moving around New York to make a few inquiries. I know something of your history."
"You do," I said, not a question, not a statement, just a few words to bring the conversation back into my ballpark.
"I know about your mother and your father and how they have lived. I know about your sister, too. In fact, I know your sister."
"Brianna, yes. Sheís been attached to a friend of mine for some time now."
"You never said anything."
"And I probably wouldnít have if this moment in our friendship hadnít happened, Max."
"What were you expecting from me, Drew?"
"Just what occurred."
"Precisely. I knew you would spend the night, do the tricks, satisfy the need."
"And then what, Drew? What did you think would happen next?"
He gave me a curious look, then patted the cushion of the divan where he had seated himself and indicated that I should sit down next to him. I hesitated, but then I went there and sat.
"I thought," he said quietly, "that you would ask me for money. Iím sorry, but I did. Knowing what I know I thought you would expect to be paid for services rendered."
"I have never..." I started to say, angry and hurt.
"I know," he said stopping my rant before it could begin. "I know you have never done that. But we had what most people would call Ďcircumstancesí going here Maxie. We had the oddness of desperation - on both our parts. I thought youíd fall into family pattern, thatís all. But you didnít. You were sweet. You were gentle. You were honest with me. You did what I wanted because you wanted to do it. I realized that soon enough."
"Well, thanks for that!"
"Maxie, donít be angry with me. Iím just a stupid, lonely man fixated on the son of prostitutes. How could I think anything other than I did?"
"I donít know, Drew, but at least I know that Paul has never thought of me the way you did."
As I said those words I remembered the final moments in his dressing room, when he had kissed me the way he had. It was the first time I had ever felt the way I did with him or anyone. Mikhael who had abused me in so many ways had never made me feel like a whore and Paul had done exactly that with his goodbye kiss, not an hour before. Now Drew was telling me that he had expected me to make him feel like a client, a "john" but I hadnít. He was telling me that I was better than he had thought me. I leaned back against the arm of the divan and my head leaned further back toward the open window. I sucked in the air of London, not fresh but at least not stale.
"Iím wrong," I said. "Iím so wrong."
"Max, what is it?" Drewís voice was deeply, honestly concerned.
"Iím like a five year old, suddenly. I trust the older folks because I should, because Iíve been taught that my elders know best."
"Drew, you knew about me and offered me your friendship, yes?"
"And Paul knew about me and offered me his."
"But thereís a difference, Drew. Until this moment I never saw it, but thereís a difference."
"You used me because you thought you could, but when I didnít use you, you honestly thought we could be something to each other. Is that right?"
"Yes. You know it."
"Paul, who needs me desperately, only needs me while he needs me."
"Iím not following you here, Max."
"Thereís something wrong, Drew, something wrong with the way Paul needs me. Thereís a trick buried in it somewhere. He wants more from me, but he wants it...I donít know...now."
"What are you trying to say, dear heart?"
"Paul is through with me. Somehow I know that from his, well, his way with me when I left the theater."
"The concert hall, Max."
"Yes, whichever, it doesnít matter. He is used to me doing for him, picking up after him, packing him up, moving him, overseeing his things. He needs me to do that, and to make him feel young and handsome and virile. His calling card on stage is that eternal youth. He needs me for that."
"Iím sure you do your job, Max."
"Itís more than a job, Drew. Itís a vitality he draws from me, through my work, through the sex, through whatever he else he can get from me."
"He sounds vaguely vampirish to me."
"Thatís exactly right, Drew. Thatís what he is - without the teeth and blood stuff, but it is like that somehow."
"How does one get mixed up with such a person?"
"Heís an old family friend. Iíve known him since I was a kid."
"Max, what are you going to do now?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you cannot go back to him, obviously, not now, not knowing what you now know. And I doubt youíd want to stay with me, either. Not now, not knowing what you now know I know. What are going to do?"
"I donít know."
I sat there, leaning hard against the corner of the divan. Drew got up and went into the kitchen, coming back instantly with a glass and a bottle. He uncorked the wine and poured me a large tumbler of the deep, red liquid which I downed without a breath. He refilled the glass and handed it back to me.
"Better?" he asked.
"No, but it will be in a minute or two."
"I have a thought," he said. "May I suggest something?"
"I could call a friend of mine. Have him come over. Introduce you to him. See where that takes you."
"What? Be my pimp?" I jumped up from the couch, horrified at the concept.
"No, no. You misunderstand me, Max. The friend I refer to is your sisterís ... man."
"Oh! You mean, bring Brianna into this mess."
"Only if Geoffrey thinks it wise. Iíd want him to meet you first."
"You would do that?"
"Of course. You may not have gathered this, but I do like you. Sincerely."
I knew at that moment that I would not return to Paul Donnerís rooms, that I would not accompany him and lose myself in servitude to him. That phase of my life was truly over, really behind me. He had been good to me for as long as he believed that I had no interest in anyone else but him and myself. He had turned on me, would likely do it again when he could. I had sensed that somehow when I left him at Wigmore Hall, but hadnít understood it. Drew was a better person that either Paul or me, but there was still something hard for me to grasp in him. I didnít know where he stood, or where I stood for that matter, on the reality of my past and my familyís past. But here he was calling in the troops, my sisterís keeper. He was doing it openly, and without the slightest hesitation. He was a friend to me, a friend indeed.
"Can I stay here, in the meantime?" I asked him. "No strings attached?"
"No strings, no threads," he replied. "Iíve only the one bed, as you know, but I promise to be entirely chaste where youíre concerned. You need have no fears on that score."
"Call Geoffrey, then," I said, "and thanks for that. You have no idea how much I appreciate it."
"Weíll see what transpires, shall we?" I nodded. "Max, you are welcome to stay here for as long as I can handle the burden of you being here. I want you to know that. Iíll let you know when itís too much for me, if that time arrives. If nothing else, youíll be an unburdening place after my hours with Mum."
He went into the other room to place his call to Briannaís friend and, for the first time since I had left Paulís dressing room, I breathed normally and without any pain in my chest. Even my heart felt right again, no angst, or pain, or fear constricting it. I was without funds, without future, without much else but the unfettered friendship of Drew Hatton.