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Merely Players: A Love Story in Five Kisses

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I. 1984

Paul plays the tape again. The sound quality's shithouse, but the harmonies . . . "It's good."

Tim nods. "We're good." He's grinning, puppy-sweet. For once he's not using his pretty face, not posing and not mocking. He's just himself, happy.

Fucking beautiful. Which Paul knew, can't help knowing, but it's more now than facial symmetry and good skin. It's that they can make something good, together.

Paul kisses him. Something flutters delighted and afraid in Paul's chest, just like when they sang.

Richard chooses that moment to come back from the toilet. "Christ," he says, but he's smiling too.


II. 1990

It's a joke. Just another video dating sketch, with an extra treat for the audience, because--as even the producers admit--they adore gay stuff from Paul and Tim.

It's an act. Only ever an act, since Tim put that girl in the club and married her.

If Paul kisses Tim harder than strictly necessary, if Tim holds back for a moment and then melts like a bodice-ripper heroine, well, a little realism never hurt a performance.

Richard gives them an odd look, afterwards. Paul can't catch his breath, and Tim goes back to the dressing room without a word.


III. 1994

Perth, for fuck's sake. It's too apt. What a place for endings. What a place for the worst day of Paul's life.

He does the final show and he's almost happy onstage for minutes at a time; he loves Richard and he loves Tim, he forgives Tim. Then the wind shifts, and if he had a bomb he'd blow up the whole fucking theatre.

Afterwards he grabs Tim in the dressing room and kisses him. With teeth at first, then gently, and Tim lets him. Paul says the one word he can manage without pleading (again) or shouting (again).



IV. 2003

"Are you going to die?"

"No," Tim says, then ruins it by adding, "I'm immortal."

"Dickhead. Are you going to die of . . . it?" After this much vodka, Paul can't pronounce its ugly name.

"Probably not. I can't be sure. Not completely. It's . . . " Tim makes a grand swirling gesture of uncertainty and nearly falls off his chair. Drink, or it?

"Don't die. You can't."

Somehow Paul is in Tim's chair too, straddling him, kissing him, and Tim's fingers twist in Paul's hair and Tim whispers, "I'm married. This is idiocy."

But they don't stop.


V. 2010

At home after the GNW taping, Tim says, "They really did want to see us kiss."

"Fuck 'em. I'm never kissing you onstage again."

"I'm heartbroken. It's that little minx Josh Thomas, isn't it?"

"No, I'm serious. No playacting. Not this, not anymore. I'm not kissing you for an audience." Paul's never been able to explain why he fences himself off, how his borders get muddled otherwise. Performing's simpler for Tim. He's stronger.

"No audience here," Tim says, smiling, and kisses him.

Every kiss was real. That's the confusing thing.

Paul holds Tim fiercely, holds this kiss, this certain truth.