James parked the car under a street-lamp and cut the engine. It was only 7pm but the sky was already dark. The night fell early at this time of the year. The rain didn’t help, heavily beating against the roof of his car. He almost couldn’t see his house through the dance of the wipers on the windshield and the seemingly endless fall of water from the sky. A soft music was coming from the radio, too sad to alleviate his pain.
The day had been long. There were a lot of issues to settle at work, and personal ambitions and petty jealousy were in the way. Being the manager sucked sometimes: he had to compose with everybody, while everybody thought only of themselves. James was just the tool his company used to make his department work.
That’s why he needed to come back home and have someone taking care of him, reminding him that yes, he was important, and his words had value. That was not the case, unfortunately. Not that he lived alone. Well, not technically…
He had been with Michael for six long years. The guy was lovely, really. He was sweet, tender, beautiful, and imaginative in bed – that was important too. James remembered their first meeting while watching raindrops shine in the orange glow of the lamps.
They’ve been both invited to a party by a mutual friend. Navigating different circles the whole evening, they didn’t meet until a passably inebriated woman tumbled on James and pushed him on Michael. His glass of red wine slipped from James’ hand and spilled his content on Michael’s pristine white shirt. The look of incomprehension on Michael’s face would have been comical if James hadn’t known that the large dark stain would permanently remain on the shirt. The woman was already gone, ignorant of the incident she was responsible for.
“I’m so sorry” James uttered, eyes searching for napkins.
He was about to go to the buffet and ask for some when Michael stopped him by grabbing his wrist. “It’s okay. It’s too late anyway.” And he smiled reassuringly.
At that exact moment, James fell in love.
It took James’ legendary persistence and several dates for Michael to do the same, but he did eventually. Who could resist those pretty blue eyes and that witty mouth?
Six months after the party, they rented a flat together. The first thing they hang in the closet was the stained shirt.
James still loved Michael, and he was pretty sure Michael did too. What had gone wrong then? Why was he so reluctant to go home to a man who loved him?
He knew that Michael would be in his studio when he’d entered the house. James would wait for him in the living room, nursing a drink and reading a book. If he was lucky, Michael would have dinner with him in the kitchen – they only used the dining room when they had friends over, the table there was much too huge and intimidating for just the two of them. If not, Michael would come and get a sandwich, kissing him in passing, and join him later in watching TV. Or they would play a game. Every once in a while, they would directly go to their bedroom and have sex.
Oh, maybe that was the problem… His life with Michael was boringly predictable and lonely. He was still young, for God’s sake, but he felt that his grandmother had more fun than him with her knitting contests and the Bridge Club. Everyday was the same.
Some people would find that situation comforting, but not James. For James, it was like death. A long painful lonely boring death.
Still he had no reason to stay much longer in his freezing car. Unfortunately, thanks to the weather broadcast which had announced a bright and dry day, he hadn’t brought an umbrella.
He switched off the power and left the car, his suitcase over his head vaguely protecting him from the rain. He’d just have to run to the door.
He wished that, for once, he had been wrong. He so desperately needed someone to comfort him right now. Hair still damp from his run outside under the heavy pour, he was trying to warm himself in a fluffy blanket on the sofa, hot cocoa at hand. It did nothing to stop the cold shivers running down his back. And the rain wasn’t the sole culprit for his low spirit.
Since he had entered the house, he had not heard from Michael. He didn’t even want to cook something: what was the point when he would eat it by himself. He had grabbed a spoon and the pot of Nutella, and was slowly getting fat to death, he supposed.
He totally understood why Michael was spending so much time in his studio. Being an artist wasn’t as easy as people thought. He had seen his boyfriend struggle through doubt and low confidence in his skills. Sometimes Michael was elated because he had been able to render perfectly what he had in his mind. But most of the times, he seemed frustrated. And in the worst scenarios, James had witnessed Michael sitting for hours in front of a blank canvas, tears gathering on his eyelashes; it could be like that for days, during which he wouldn’t even talk to James.
And of course Michael was dependant of inspiration. How many times had James heard Michael tell him that he couldn’t work on a schedule, he needed the spark from his mind, the tiny idea that would help him cover the canvas with pretty colors and powerful lines. But it was a fluttering thing, that inspiration. It would disappear in an instant if Michael didn’t pay attention to it. When Michael’s Muse claimed him, he had to obey, or Her wrath could be devastating.
James understood, and respected Michael for his passion. That didn’t make the situation any easier.
Suddenly, a door opened at the other end of the house, and James heard Michael’s heavy footsteps in the corridor. Soon his boyfriend joined him on the sofa, embracing him before he kissed his forehead.
“How was your day, sweetheart?”
A silent battle raged in his head: should he pour his frustration on Michael? Did he want to ruin the evening any more than it already was? “Well, you know, the usual…”
He was a coward. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, awakened by a nightmare or the dark whirls of his depression, he thought that maybe he should talk to Michael, tell him how his life wasn’t satisfying. But came the morning, in front of a mug of coffee, Michael besides him – they did share their breakfast, at least – he would reconsider and choose not to. What if Michael didn’t really care? What if he left him? An occasionally-there Michael was still better than a totally-gone Michael.
“That bad, uh?” So Michael did know him. He knew how James’ work was hell but he still left him alone and cold in the living room. Wouldn’t someone who cared join him and reassure him? A boyfriend was supposed to do exactly that. And yet he had stayed away from him, in his damn studio.
But then Michael surprised him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you arrived. I thought I would be finished by the time you came back home.” The last time something like that happened was several months ago.
“But I’m done now. This project took too much of my time and I neglected you. I’m really sorry.”
Admittedly, James didn’t know what Michael had been working on. He wasn’t usually welcomed in the studio. Either that bothered Michael, or he distracted him from his work. He remembered that one time when they made love on the floor, James’ back stained by droplets of fresh oil paint that covered the dark boards. And the last time James checked on his boyfriend, he was rebuffed so violently that he didn’t dare come again by the closed door.
“Would you like to see it? My last work?”
The question took James by surprise. “Yes, of course.”
Michael smiled to him, an enigmatic smile, tender, mischievous and excited at the same time. Was it even possible to express so many different feelings in one simple stretch of lips?
“Come on.” Michael took his hand, kissed his knuckles and helped him getting up from the couch.
James didn’t know what he expected exactly when he entered the studio, but certainly not that. Against the far wall of the room, a huge canvas was hanging. It covered half the wall at least.
The main color was blue. A tender hue, tinted with a bit of grey, highlighted by specks of navy blue and white.
It wasn’t realistic per se, but James recognized the face all the same. It was him. A large beautiful portrait of him. He was smiling, and his usually rosy lips were rendered in a light shade of grey. The only thing on him that could have been realistic in this monochrome would have been his eyes, but they were almost completely closed. As if Michael had been afraid he couldn’t reproduce their exact color. In front of such a work of art, James forgot his grudges.
He had also forgotten Michael. For the last five minutes or so, he had been silent, and James could see his boyfriend nervously twisting his hands, waiting for his opinion. He had to say something. But language had abandoned him. No word existed to express the turmoil of his feelings. That painting was objectively beautiful, but it also looked like one of those iconic figures in churches. It gave off the sensation that Michael worshipped his model. How should James react to that kind of unconditional love? He could only gawk at it.
Eventually Michael came to him and took his hand in both of his. “So? What do you think of it?”
James now really had to say something. “It’s beautiful, Michael. Very beautiful. But… why…”
He didn’t really know what he wanted to ask. But Michael answered anyway. He knelt in front of James. “Baby, you know I’m not good at expressing my feelings to you. For a long time, I tried to avoid doing just that, and, eventually, I avoided you too, so I didn’t have to try anymore. I know I hurt you.” Seemingly embarrassed, he shifted on the floor but he kept James’ hand, slowly caressing its back.
“And then I had an idea. Since I’m better at expressing myself through my painting, I’d work on something for you. Unfortunately, it kept me away from you, and those months were the hardest I ever lived. Hopefully it was worth the pain.” He then retrieved a little box from his sweatpants’ pocket and presented it to James.
When he opened the lid, a simple ring of silver was encased in the soft velvet. James didn’t have time to grasp the meaning of it before Michael spoke again, the words he thought he would never hear. “James, will you marry me?”
Michael seemed even more nervous than he was before, if it was possible. James didn’t have the heart to torture him any longer. “Yes, of course, idiot. I thought you’d never ask.”
He then knelt with Michael and kissed him like his life depended on it, pouring all his love between Michael’s sweet lips.
That night, they made love again on the stained floor of the studio. On the wall, blue-James was smiling at them, answering their silent prayer and promising them a life-long love and happiness.