Schoolteacher Julian Reynolds is disillusioned with the seedier side of gay life in New York City with its self-absorption, vanity, and preoccupation with sex. When his long-time relationship with his high school sweetheart ends, he returns to his hometown and vows to live a simple life free of the extremes of the gay lifestyle and romantic entanglements. With that end in mind, he rents the carriage house next door to a large Tudor-style home.
Tate Butler, a former student of Julian’s, lives in the big house with his mother. Tate is bitter and withdrawn after losing a leg while serving in the Marine Corps during the war in Afghanistan. Fearing rejection from his mother and blaming himself for his father’s death, Tate stays firmly in the closet and punishes himself by refusing to learn how to walk again.
Can Tate and Julian help heal each other’s pasts and forge a real and lasting future together? Or will the driveway that separates their houses prove too wide a gulf to cross?
As the day was warm, Julian decided to take Mrs. Butler’s offer of using the pool. After all, he thought, there are only a few more weeks of summer left. Might as well get some use out of it before it gets too cold.
He put on his baggy swim trunks -- the ones Virgil always said didn’t show off his “extraordinary” junk properly. Julian was glad to be able to wear them without the argument that often ended with his capitulating to Virgil’s wishes, and his donning skimpy Speedos, which always made him feel self-conscious. Grabbing a beach towel with an image of a Bengal tiger on it, and slipping on his flip-flops, he petted Patch and told her where he was going -- not that she really cared.
Julian walked down the drive along the side of the house. He came to the corner, turned and was surprised at the size of the swimming pool. It was at least a fifty meter, with three meter and six meter spring boards at the far end. Then he realized there was someone at that end of the pool -- Tate. He was apparently swimming laps and hadn’t seen Julian.
Julian then noticed the man’s crutches and wheelchair near the side of the pool. Remembering Tate’s outburst of earlier that morning, and his embarrassment at knowing Julian had witnessed it, Julian wasn’t sure what to do. Not wanting to embarrass Tate further, Julian decided to leave. However, just as he was about to turn away, he saw Tate look up and spot him. Feeling that if he left now, it would be a worse embarrassment for Tate, Julian laid his towel on a lounge chair, walked to the side of the pool, and squatted down.
“How’s the water?” Julian asked as Tate swam toward him.
“Same as it always is, eighty degrees -- it’s heated after all, so what else would it be?” Tate asked, then quickly added, “I’m sorry. It just hasn’t been a good day for me.”
Tate then moved to where his crutches were lying near the edge. He began to haul himself out of the water. Julian was tempted to help, but Tate had been out here swimming alone. Tate obviously didn’t feel he needed help.
Tate rested on his hands, then swung himself around and sat on the edge of the pool. Tate’s upper body was magnificent. Having to depend on upper body strength had honed his torso into a work of Grecian sculpture. Julian suppressed any outward reaction. Internally he felt a pang of attraction which he fought to control.
Tate then proceeded to swing his legs around until he was sitting on the pool deck. Julian had his first clear look at the amputated limb. Tate’s left leg ended in a stump about two inches above where his knee would be. Tate kept his eyes averted from Julian.
“You’re about the only one outside the family that’s seen it,” he said, discomfort showing in his voice. “Well, what do you think? Pretty gross, right?”
Julian wasn’t sure how to respond. To say that it didn’t look all that bad, didn’t seem to be the right thing to do. Yet he actually didn’t find it disconcerting. His more immediate concern was not to make Tate feel he was repulsed by it. The best he could come up with was, “They seem to have done a good job.” Then realizing the statement might be construed to refer to those that had planted the mine that had taken Tate’s leg, he hastily added, “The surgeons I mean.”
Tate snorted. “Yeah, they created a living Picasso.”
“I’m sorry. I ...”
Tate waved off any further attempts on Julian’s part to make things right. He got up from the deck. Standing on one leg, he began to reach for his crutches. In his apparent rush to distance himself from Julian, he overbalanced and began to fall. Instinctively Julian moved to steady him. He pulled Tate to him, their chests pressed together, arms around each other, faces an inch apart.
They stared for a brief moment into one another’s eyes. A thrill of sexual desire passed through Julian, and he saw something of a similar response flicker in Tate’s eyes as well. Then, quickly, it was gone.
Tate pulled out of Julian’s arms, and tottered unstably on one leg. Julian reached out to steady him again.
“Don’t!” Tate almost shouted, holding up a hand to ward Julian off. For a second he looked at Julian. There seemed to be fear in his eyes this time. His chin trembled.
Haltingly he hopped to his crutches and picked them up. Without looking back at Julian, he made his way up a ramp to a deck, leaving his wheelchair behind. When he reached the rear door of the house, he pressed the auto-door button and disappeared inside.
Julian stood for a time staring at the door. What had just happened? Clearly it was more than Tate’s just being self-conscious about his missing leg, or his need to be independent. Julian had lived too long in the gay world to miss the look that had been briefly in Tate’s eyes when he’d held the young man against him.
And if that wasn’t disquieting enough, here he was, only hours after freeing himself from the life he had chosen to spurn, feeling not only a physical attraction to his former student, but the desire to connect with Tate emotionally.
Julian walked to the edge of the pool and dove in. He hoped swimming some vigorous lengths would clear his head. He could not, would not, entertain thoughts of anything developing between him and Tate Butler.