Well-known artist Ellis Williams is in a slump and feeling all his fifty-three years. He's lost the joy which used to permeate his painting and despairs of ever regaining it. It doesn't help when he runs into a young man who comes on to him to win a bet, thus destroying more of Ellis's confidence.
Then, at a party, Ellis meets Martin Lovell, a man his age whose partner died soon after they adopted their son. Will these two middle-aged men learn they should never let go of hope? Or is it too late for men their age to open themselves to the possibility of love and being loved?
When they were seated, Dean rested his elbows on the table. "From what you've said, it sounds like you don't come into town very often."
"That was short and to the point. Do you live far from the city?"
Ellis shook his head. "I have a house to the west of here, on the river."
"Not really. It was a small plantation at one point in time. I bought it a few years back and did my best to restore it and still make it livable by today's standards."
"So it's just you there?"
Ellis laughed. "You're fishing again. It's me and Jive, my dog. Plus my housekeeper during the day. And to answer before you ask, that's all she is."
"To be honest, by now I've figured out you're not into women."
"Astute of you."
Dean chuckled. "I have my moments."
They both went silent, concentrating on their drinks the way men in their position will when they're not certain what to say next.
Is he really interested in me as a person? Or does he just want to be with me for who I am? Ellis studied Dean, trying to find an answer in the varying expressions darting over Dean's face. The man would look at Ellis and then away, apparently checking out the other men on the balcony. Then he'd glance back again, sometimes with a small frown, other times with a smile on his lips.
"Do you ...?" "Are you ...?" the two men spoke at the same instant, then laughed. "You first," Dean said.
"Are you going back home tonight?" Dean asked.
"I haven't decided yet," Ellis responded. "Why?"
"I was thinking, if you'd like, we could go down the street to Fritzel's for a while, and then maybe you could come by my place for a nightcap."
"Sure. Why not. And," Ellis took a sip of his beer, "if you decide later you don't want me coming home with you, that's fine. Listening to good jazz with a nice young man would make my evening all on its own." Emphasis on young.
"Deal. Shall we?" Dean stood, leaving his half empty drink on the table, and with Ellis following right behind him, they exited the club.
* * * *
Three hours later, they left Fritzel's, heading for Dean's apartment.
"I swear, that was the best band I've heard in forever," Dean said, putting one arm around Ellis's waist.
Ellis nodded in agreement. He felt slightly lightheaded from the beers he'd drunk -- and in a romantic mood. So he stopped momentarily in a darkened area under one of the overhanging balconies, intending to kiss Dean, as he had a few times at the club. His plan was instantly thwarted by three men who came up to them. They were obviously very drunk, and more obviously, knew Dean since one of them slung his arm around Dean's shoulder.
"So you found an old man needy enough to believe you wanted him to come home with you," the guy said, looking blearily between Dean and Ellis. "Guess you won the bet."
Ellis froze momentarily before yanking out of Dean's grip. "So this was all a game to you?" he said icily.
"Ellis, hang on. I don't know what he's ..."
"Do not try to lie your way out of this. I hope you had fun letting me make a fool of myself." Ellis glared at him, and then at the men before turning to walk away.
"Ellis, please ..." Dean grabbed his arm. "At least listen to me."
"What do you have to say I might want to hear?" Ellis snarled, pausing but not looking at the young man.
"I'll admit it started out like they said. But after spending the evening with you ... I like you, Ellis. Honest, I do like you, and ... I wish --"
"Sorry, but your apology is way too late, if that's what this is. Go find someone else to torment with your games." Not waiting to hear if Dean replied, Ellis strode back down the street the way they'd come, turning at the next corner to return to his car.
Go to town. Relax. Get some inspiration. Yeah, right. The only thing I'm inspired to do right now is get home and create a dark, dreary, horror painting. Something with a stormy sky, tortured trees, and ...
His anger at Dean's deception deepened. Then, suddenly, he smiled darkly. What the hell. Why not?