Roman got home a few minutes after seven. As he unlocked his door, he heard the unmistakable sounds of sex. Stepping inside his apartment, his vision was filled with the disturbing sight of an attractive dark-haired man engaged in what could only be called a “hard fuck” with an insect-thin brunette.
He leaned over the back of the couch and watched their pained, robotic faces for a second before rolling his eyes. “I can’t believe you’re still watching that crap.”
“Can’t help it, it’s addictive.” At least that’s what Roman thought he said. It was hard to tell around the kernels of popcorn that Deniz was shovelling into his mouth.
Deniz had taken to life in Hamburg like a hockey player takes to deep heating rub. So well, in fact, that sometimes Roman wondered why they hadn’t left Essen years earlier. There’d been nothing for him there but bartending at No.7 or begging for crumbs from Richard Steinkamp. A ridiculous future for someone with as much energy and enthusiasm as Deniz had, and when Roman was offered the job with Marc’s production company, they’d abandoned Essen and moved north. Here in St. Georg, with the promise of police academy ahead, he’d finally agreed to finish his coursework and get his diploma. And to achieve the peak physical form that the police demanded of recruits, he was working out nearly as much as he’d done in their pair skating days. Roman got to reap the benefit of that, of course, and these days, he didn’t even have to badger Deniz to go to the gym or barter for club nights.
Anyway, nights at their apartment were more fun than any club.
Their eating habits still left something to be desired, however. Roman stared into the fridge, then poked his head in the cupboards, as if his will alone could transform the single tube of tomato sauce and jar of olives into something appetizing. But he had to face the awful truth: they’d have to arrange a grocery expedition soon. “God, so boring,” Roman thought to himself. “It’s like living in a shitty Pinter play.”
Aloud, he said, “So do we have dinner plans? Or is it just popcorn on the menu?”
“Marc called. He’s picking up Thai.”
So that was dinner sorted. Which left time for a few cuddles and kisses – or, more accurately, a lap to flop his head down on and catch a quick nap. There’d be no time for sleep once Marc flung open the door and his two lovers got started.
It was a failproof plan, if not for that damnable soap that Deniz had started watching again.
“So what’s happening now?” he asked, more to be polite than anything. It never hurt to coddle your cushion, after all.
“You really don’t want to know.”
Roman watched as an admittedly fit man raced around a shipyard, sniffing – Roman blinked and looked again, and yes, he really was sniffing – brightly coloured shipping containers. “No, I know. Tell me anyway.”
And so, as Roman helped himself to fistfuls of popcorn, Deniz filled him in on the trials and tribulations of At The Moment. It’d been a story that Roman had loved, once upon a time: two gay figure skaters finding love and fighting prejudice at a struggling skating centre, surrounded by friends and rivals that sometimes, somehow, rose above their stereotypes. The stories had even been good enough that he’d been able to overlook the (often painful) inaccuracies in the skating competitions.
But since Deniz and Roman had left Essen, it seemed the stories had changed. It wasn’t just that ATM seemed to increasingly tiptoe along a line that bordered on homophobia. That in itself would have kept Roman glued to the screen to see what offensive things they’d come up with next. No, it was more that the things that had drawn him to the show – the way they seemed to sneak in extra levels of meaning, or laugh at themselves in an endearing way – were gone. The plots became too simplistic, as did the characters who he’d once loved for their complexities. And Robert Buchmann and Daniþ Ozan, the skating couple around whom the series revolved, had become all but unrecognizable.
Now it was so bad that Roman was planting his face into Deniz’s thigh. It was a nice thigh, and he could think of much better things he could do with it, but right now nothing seemed quite as needful as that.
“Are you kidding?” he said, pulling himself out of his disbelief long enough to ask. “Daniþ slept with a woman? That looked like some horrible cracky dream.”
“No, it wasn’t, and yeah, he did. His father’s girlfriend.”
“Who cares whose girlfriend it is? I mean yeah, sucks to be Mirim, but a woman? Really?”
“I know. Totally destroys Daniþ’s character development, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah. It’s like when he first came on the show.” Roman thought about those early days and Daniþ’s coming out story, and then shook his head. “No, no, it’s not. That made sense – he was just a kid, he didn’t have a clue what he was doing.”
“Hey!” objected Deniz, flicking Roman’s forehead hard. “I was the same age when I came out.”
“Hey!” Roman rubbed his stinging forehead. “Yeah, and as I recall, you were just as confused. Which is fine—” he hastened to add before Deniz could flick him again. “It’s just that now, if you were to sleep with a woman… well, it’d be very…”
“Completely.” He looked at the screen where Daniþ and Robert were hugging in a awkwardly unfamiliar way. “And I assume he hasn’t told Robert?”
“No, but he found out. He ove—”
“…overheard it at the Centre,” Roman chimed in in unison. That old soap staple had never faltered; if anybody had any secret, the first thing they did was talk about it at the skating centre. (And Roman knew he probably shouldn’t pat himself on the back for how Deniz had found out about Marc, because that had been truly nightmarish, but it was still less ridiculous than that.) “And they’re back together already? How’d that happen?”
Deniz covered his face with his hands. “Dude, you really don’t want to know.”
“No, I do.” Roman didn’t know why, but he did. It was like a mystery that he wanted to solve, as if by figuring out the moment things went wrong, he might see it in a different way, a way that made sense. It was pointless, he knew that; like taking apart the VCR when he was twelve and – not being the least bit mechanically inclined – being unable to reassemble it. But he still couldn’t resist.
Deniz cracked his fingers and peered through, making sure that Roman was serious. When he seemed convinced, he reached for the remote and rewound the recording. “They were right in the middle of the German championships, see, and Robert was pissed off at Dan—” Just then Deniz’s phone rang. He squinted at the screen, then looked apologetic. “It’s my brother, I need to take it.”
Sighing, Roman slid into a seated position; there was no chance of a nap now. “Go ahead.”
His agreement earned him a cursory kiss on the cheek that took as long as it took Deniz to flip his phone up. “Alo, Alkim? What’s up?”
For a few seconds, Roman tried to follow the one-sided conversation, but his attention was pulled to a baleful music montage on the screen. He assumed that it was supposed to suggest despondency but really just reminded him of a crazy Korean video that Flo had once shown him on Youtube. It was the kind of thing that you’d watch without any thought but still be too distracted to do anything else; probably the perfect thing if you had the kind of miserable mundane life that most soap viewers did, and wanted to wipe it clean without any thought.
It didn’t appeal to him, though, and Roman was relieved to hear the scrape of a key in the door signalling the arrival of their third flatmate. The door opened with BOOM! and Marc sauntered through, arms laden with white takeaway bags and a bottle of chardonnay. He took one look at Deniz chattering on the phone and smirked. It was that same smirk that had always made Roman feel like he was in the middle of a flying spin, when the centre of gravity shifted and the world was no longer steady or still. Once he was sure he’d lost it forever, then that he’d lost it again. He could live without Marc, just like he knew he could live without skating. But just like he’d miss the thrill of competition, the euphoria and applause that accompanied a perfect routine, just like it felt like a piece of his soul had been neatly carved off and sealed away when he gave up the ice, so he knew it would be when he gave up Marc.
He could have done it, he’d told himself as he had watched Marc’s taxi pull away. He might have had doubts, and he might have lost some of his vitality, but he could do it. For Deniz. But right from the start, Deniz had known that something wasn’t right; that what he was getting wasn’t all that Roman had to give. And then, out of the blue, Deniz had proposed something different, something that would work for all three of them. From that moment, Roman knew that he’d made the right choice.
He gave Deniz’s knee a squeeze before following Marc to the kitchen. The table was already covered with bags and Marc was bent over the drawer. Roman stepped up behind and slid his palm along the front of his work trousers. “Shouldn’t we wait until Deniz gets off the phone?”
Marc made an agreeable humming noise and pressed his groin into Roman’s hand, trapping it against the drawer. But just as he groped for the zipper, Marc twisted easily around in his arms, displaying the natural grace he’d always had as a skater despite the extra weight that the years had brought. He brandished the corkscrew in Roman’s face. “Shouldn’t we wait ’til after dinner? You don’t want him to be rushing through like last time.”
Sighing, Roman let his hands fall, allowing Marc to bestow a consolation kiss as he slipped past. “It’ll be a while, I’m afraid. He’s got a week’s worth of Show to catch up on tonight.”
Marc frowned. “I thought he said he was done with that.”
He turned away to get dishes from the cabinet, but not before Marc noticed and raised his brow. “Oh no. Don’t tell me he’s got you hooked back in too?”
“You just wouldn’t believe what they’re doing to them!” Roman said, a bit too defensively, perhaps; okay, most definitely, but it wasn’t fair. Marc had watched ATM as devoutly as he had at one time, but had somehow cut the ties without looking back. His ability to do that so completely was envious and, Roman thought, just a little suspicious.
“Anyway,” he said, hefting down their three biggest plates, “you might as well watch too, you won’t be able to drag our little Öztürk away for a good hour at least.”
Marc looked at the bags on the table. “Guess we should eat on the couch then.”
He sounded fine about it, and Roman smiled. “If you don’t mind.” Marc had always hated eating crowded around a coffee table, much preferring the civility of a table. Deniz, of course, was just the opposite. At first, it’d seemed like just another of those signs that this arrangement was not going to work out. But over time, Roman had seen both men compromise, and both seemed to have genuinely changed. Either Marc didn’t mind doing it now, or he didn’t mind the concession. In either case, Roman was sincerely pleased.
Marc grabbed spoons while Roman peeked under the tops of the foil pans in the bags. As the rich scents of lemongrass and curry hit his nose, he remembered something he’d meant to ask.
“Oh hey, did you run into Keule?”
Their old friend had arrived in Hamburg shortly after they did. He’d inherited a windfall from a rich relation, so the story went, although the details were fuzzy. Somehow he’d ended up in Thailand for a while with Ingo’s old friend Hotte, who for some reason Roman couldn’t fathom wanted to abandon the beaches for the overcast stressful life of Germany. Hotte and Keule had purchased a rundown café at Kollwitzplatz that they, with the help of Renate Scholz, were turning into a booming Thai restaurant.
“Just for a second. Phuket was crazy busy tonight. But he sends his love and says Annette’s on the warpath because you haven’t called in eons.”
Roman snorted; Annette’s definition of eons was roughly four days. “Okay, I’ll ring her this weekend.” He picked up the plates laden with food. “You ready for this?”
Marc grabbed a handful of spoons and said in a voice as dry as the Sahara, “Two hours of ATM? I can’t think of anything better.”
“Don’t worry,” Roman assured, giving Marc a mild shove as he hoisted the pans with the other hand. “I’m sure we can get him to make it up to us.”
Deniz was just hanging up the phone as they returned to the living room. Roman liked to think his boyfriend’s eyes got their wide hungry look at the sight of his two lovers coming toward him, but he had to admit it was probably the panang curry that piqued his interest. Still, Deniz exuberantly kissed both him and Marc as they sat on either side of him.
“You owe us for this, just so you know,” Marc warned as Deniz attacked the pad thai. Deniz looked up in confusion, and Marc nodded towards the television. “For watching this shit that you know is just going to piss you off. Serious penance is required – spanking, even. Don’t you agree?”
“Oh yes,” Roman concurred. “We’re talking sling, don’t you think?”
“Oh yes, sling. Definitely.” Marc slid his hand up to Deniz’s throat and pressed, gently threatening, on his windpipe. “And maybe a little more...”
At Deniz’s choked gasp, Roman mockingly reassured him, “Don’t worry, Schatz. I’ve been told that gay men don’t engage in kink like that. So you have nothing to worry about.”
“We don’t have to watch now...” Deniz offered, a little too eagerly, his voice a little too ragged. Deniz’s cheeks flushed red, that little hint of boyishness that he still retained despite growing up in every other way. Someone who wasn’t paying attention might think it was shyness. But Roman, who’d learned Deniz’s appetite for breathplay, knew it was anything but.
Just to tease he said, “Well, we do have dinner...” Roman gestured toward the food piled on the coffee table.
“Yeah,” Marc agreed, to Roman’s surprise and dismay. “And you really want to watch ATM, I know.”
Deniz looked doubtful; Roman was too, and he glanced over to see if anything might be given away, but Marc’s face was a blank slate; one that purposefully refused to look directly at Roman as he reached for the remote control. “So wait, what’s happening?” he asked when he saw Robert and Daniþ arguing in the locker room.
“Daniþ cheated on Robert—”
“With a woman,” Roman interjected.
“This is your fault, you know.” Marc said. “You were shipping Daniþ with that other guy, what was his name? Ben? Tom?”
“Jon,” Deniz said.
Roman groaned, remembering the most idiotic argument they'd ever had. “I still don’t think the network was spying on our conversation.”
“I don’t know,” Deniz said. “We had been through a lot getting them back together. It was kinda like a full-time job.”
Roman and Marc both levelled their gaze on Deniz, but it was Marc who said, “For you maybe, schoolboy.”
“Okay, okay, let’s just drop it,” said Roman. “I swear, sometimes you two make me wish I wasn’t gay. Maybe I'll just be a woman for a while.”
“Please don't. So anyway,” Deniz said, picking up the plot in progress, “now Daniþ wants to talk about it but Robert won’t listen.”
“What do you mean he won’t listen?” asked Marc. “He’s right there, Daniþ is right there, they could easily— wait, where is he going?” Marc jiggled his spoon in frustration as they watched Daniþ storm out of the locker room. Roman wanted to laugh at the sudden interest Marc was taking; it put Deniz’s attention to shame. At the same time, he figured it’d be better for the future of their evening if he just enjoyed his chicken rama in silence. Hotte was right; he really did know how to make peanut butter his bitch.
Now that Marc was engaged, it was easier to join in, and dinner progressed through a series of outraged cries – “they just let Daniþ interrupt that skater’s routine like that?” – to squirms of embarrassment – “friends don’t let friends make public declarations of love” – and finally to disbelieving dismay – “seriously? That’s the first thing Robert says, that she’s Mirim’s girlfriend? Like he’d give a fuck about that!” But even so, Roman remained sceptical of how quickly Marc got involved in the story, considering how he had disparaged it even earlier that night. His suspicion grew when Marc said, “I heard a rumour that the guy who plays Robert is leaving in May.”
“Oh yeah?” Roman narrowed his eyes. “Who said that?”
“Oh, I don’t remember.” Which of course was ludicrous, because Marc had a near-photographic memory of people and what they said. It was pretty much the opposite of Roman, who could perfectly recall a skating routine after seeing it a single time but even to save his life could not remember whether it was the head accountant or the costumer who just yesterday had railed at the exorbitant cost of sequins. Marc on the other hand could recall not only what was said and who had said it, but what they were wearing, where they were, and what music was playing in the background. It was an insanely useful and mysteriously unattainable talent, Roman had always thought. Now it was his downfall, and as he muttered “just some guy online,” his shaded eyes revealed that he knew he was busted.
“Aha!” exclaimed Roman. “You’ve been lurking on the message board!”
“I have not! Well,” Marc grimaced, “maybe once or twice.”
“Anyway, it’s May now,” pointed out Deniz helpfully. “Is this from the same guy who said their contracts both end in June?”
Roman’s attention darted to Deniz. “What? You read that crap too?”
“Yeah,” Marc answered Deniz’s questions, rolling his eyes, “and that they’d get back together again. Because the network would do anything to keep Daniþ and Robert together.”
“He’s a moron,” said Deniz dismissively.
“Completely,” agreed Marc. “Anybody with half a brain can see that Robert’s going to die.”
Roman blinked. “You think?”
“Oh yeah. They’re going for the old tragic fag cliché – probably with some lingering illness. That actually doesn’t linger long, just enough for Daniþ to find peace so he can seamlessly move into his new straight life.”
Deniz looked pained but thoughtful. “That’d be crazy. They handled gaybashing so well, and HIV too – wouldn’t they see how politically incorrect that is? It’d be such a huge ‘fuck you’ to the gay audience, especially the ones who came back after the Daniþ/Clarissa mess.”
Roman stabbed a mushroom and dragged it through the curry sauce. They probably will, he thought, and probably won’t think twice about the offensive message they’re sending out: that the only acceptable gay man is a dead one, one whose corpse can no longer mince or prance or snap a punch line like a whip. It was a shame that there were no actual gay people involved in making At The Moment, no one who could tell them just how backwards and prejudiced such an ending would be. But, Roman realised, if they did do this, then at long last he could say goodbye to the series forever. This was not something he would want to see.
He reached for the remote and switched the television off, even though there were several episodes left. “I think we’ve seen enough.” No one protested.
As the image on the screen imploded into a tiny dot of light, and then disappeared, Roman slid his plate into the last clear spot on the coffee table, then took Deniz’s away and stacked it on top. “And now,” he purred, immediately rewarded with the rapt attention of both his lovers, “I think you owe us.”