Sequel to Acting Out
When one man has the worst of reputations and believes any misfortune befalling him is deserved, it’s hard to feel worthy of love. Can absolution arrive in three little words?
Journalist Phillip Drake is beginning to doubt the career he’s chosen, his motivation, his whole existence. When an assignment arises to trail up and coming, and coming out, actor Gary Caldwell he’s well aware it’s his duty to dig for dirt ... and when Caldwell seems less than co-operative, Phillip half-convinces himself he’ll be happy to do so.
Gary has always been attracted to the reporter and finds it difficult to maintain a distance. Something is going on with Drake, not least of all the surprising revelation when Gary realises Drake is gay, and the attraction is mutual.
After an intimate encounter, Drake disappears and Gary sets out to unravel a mystery that not only involves tracking down the reporter’s whereabouts, but may also explain why Drake has done the things he has, why Drake harbours more than a little self-hate and more than emotional scars, and why the one thing Drake doesn’t believe he deserves -- love -- is the one thing he’s worthy of.
A day that had started bleak seemed to be growing worse. As loud as the music was, it faded, as if something had insinuated itself between what was going on around Phillip and his ears. His perception muffled. He didn’t know what Gary Caldwell had intended when he dragged him into the dance, but it couldn’t have been this ... connection.
He didn’t understand and disliked his reaction to Caldwell. Even now, he was thinking, wondering, trying to see himself through Gary’s eyes. Why would he do that? Why did he care what the actor thought of him? Yet even when he’d been getting ready for the evening, washing and shaving at Caldwell’s place, trying not to touch anything, as if the items in the bathroom could contaminate him with ... What? With ‘gay’? Even staring into the mirror before he slipped his new clothes on, he’d felt as if he were looking at the ghost of someone else. Someone he used to be, or could be ... if only he’d done things differently, or things had been different from the beginning, hadn’t marred his life. He feared Gary saw something other in him, and the shirt was part of that, as if it belonged to another man he couldn’t possibly be.
During the time Phillip spent in the bathroom before stepping out wearing the fabulous shirt, he’d lost the familiar sense of himself. He hadn’t known who he was, the shirt -- a garment he would never have chosen -- adding to the illusion. He’d felt like a man without an identity until he saw Gary’s appreciative gaze. Something else in that look -- the feeling that the actor was sneering at him -- never quite went away, but he’d recognised appreciation, even desire. Phillip couldn’t remember feeling desired. He’d always taken pleasure with detachment, because no matter how much he shuddered and gasped, the aftermath always left him equally feeling cold.
He didn’t feel cold now. He burned inside, and he wasn’t sure why. He was sure perspiration spotted his brow. His skin would be hot to the touch. This was a fever. He was sick. Nauseous. Needing to flee. Gary’s gaze held him fast. His hands ... Gary’s hands were doing worse things. Thumbs and index fingers pinned his hips in a pincer embrace. They’d stopped dancing, if they’d even begun, but not everyone on the dance floor was moving or moving in time with the beat. The men around them gyrated to music of a different kind. Silent. Secret. Of their own making.
Phillip opened his mouth, then closed it again. He swallowed. They were staring at each other. Although the light around them revolved so they were alternately in darkness and then brilliantly lit, the flash of brightness when he could see Gary’s eyes was enough to leave the imprint of that stare behind. Gary wasn’t just looking at him. His gaze was asking, searching. What could Gary see? The moment he had the thought, Phillip decided he didn’t want to know.
Movement, swaying, a semblance of dance, a mockery almost as Gary shifted into him. The long firm line of another man’s body tight against his, and Phillip didn’t know how he felt about that.