Lying half-naked on the double bed, Philip watched his lover struggle with his pants. He drew his legs up to his chin.
How had he gotten into this?
P.T. smiled, looking over at him.
“What is it, ‘Lip?”
Philip squeezed his eyes shut. Only a fantasy.
P.T. walked to the door, gathering his coat as he went. At the door, he turned around, still with that insufferably happy-looking smile.
“I’ll see you next Tuesday. After the party, is that good?” He smiled, walking over to Philip and tapping his nose.
Philip shut his eyes as a wave of longing washed over him. “Yeah. Yes, that’s fine.”
P.T.’s smile pierced through Philip’s being. “I’ll see you then. Bye, ‘Lip.”
“Bye.” The word slipped past Philip’s lips, no more than a whisper. He looked around, noting that light had begun to slip past the curtains. They had fallen asleep for longer than intended. P.T. was going to have a hard time explaining this to his wife.
Philip remembered the first time he met her. It had been the first social event he'd attended with P.T. after their “agreement.” He remembered how sweet she had been, how she had looked at P.T. like she was gazing upon the face of Apollo himself. He remembered feeling bad, thinking he could never go through with their agreement if this was the woman they were hurting.
And he remembered forgetting all these feelings when P.T pushed him up against a wall later, lips trailing across Philip’s collarbone.
That had cemented their deal.
It had been nothing serious, nothing of great importance or sentiment to P.T. Philip had known that from the beginning. P.T. had originally come to him for endorsement. He had hoped, Philip knew, to play on his theatrical side, the side of him that longed to be released from the droll prison that he had been trapped in his entire life. And Philip had wanted to say yes desperately.
But the cost had been too much.
For Philip had a secret. A secret that, if found out, would ruin him and his family. The secret had been easy to hide at first--kiss a girl here, flirt a little there, and whenever anyone asks you when you're going to settle down, laugh and change the subject. Philip couldn't count how many girls he'd brought home only to dismiss when they began to get handsy.
But things had gotten much harder when P.T. Barnum made an appearance. Philip had seen the man’s posters and dismissed them as nonsense, but nevertheless, he had gone to see the show.
To laugh at the ridiculousness, he had said to his parents. But when he saw the ringmaster, the alleged P.T. Barnum, it had...changed.
He had been drawn in by the music, the colors, the everything about the performance at the beginning.
But he knew that he was done for as soon as the ringmaster came out, with his beautiful, deep voice and his bright colors and enthusiastic dances. Philip was fine, he was fine, until the ringmaster stopped.
And looked at him.
With one glance into those whiskey-colored eyes, Philip was in love.
He had sneaked out of the show during intermission; he had no desire to be drawn in deeper. He had been just in time to make it to his play’s opening.
He had left at that intermission, too. He was halfway through his second flask on the steps outside when a man stepped up to him.
At the bar, they had discussed it.
Philip had said no.
And P.T. had taken his hand, looked deeply into Philip’s eyes, and asked if he'd like to come back “to his place.”
Philip, having lost all sense he apparently had, said yes.
That night, after everything, P.T. had proposed a deal.
He would continue coming to Philip’s to provide his “services,” and Philip would endorse and help P.T. run his circus.
It was a bad idea, and Philip knew it. P.T. had a wife and daughters, and if the affair were ever to be found out, the scandal would ruin them. Philip was already on icy terms with his family since the partnership. If the terms of the partnership were ever to be found out, he would be completely isolated, and so would P.T. Not to mention Charity Barnum, the woman whom Philip was convinced was the sweetest mother and most dutiful wife on earth. Over the weeks, she had grown fond of Philip. To find out of the affair would kill her, Philip had no doubt.
Philip knew P.T. had no emotional investment. To be honest, Philip loved working in the circus so much that he would have continued without P.T.’s “services,” if he had asked. But he had not asked, and Philip had not mentioned it. They did not talk of it outside of the bedroom, which was probably for the best. Philip was not good at keeping secrets; his largest one had required so much work to keep under wraps that he had hardly had any others. As a result, the added stress of the affair had taken such a toll on him that he could no longer focus on work as much as he used to. If P.T. were ever to mention it anywhere other than Philip’s bedroom, Philip was sure he would break down crying wherever he was.
And Philip loved him. If he hadn't been in love with the man the moment he had looked at him that first night at the performance, endless weeks of watching him laugh and listening to him talk and seeing him light up as a new idea came to mind had certainly done the job. He loved him, plain and simple, and if a secret affair disguised as an agreement was what it took to make P.T. his, then that was what Philip was going to do.
But P.T. was not his.
Philip could only pretend for so long. In the end, he couldn't ignore the fact that P.T. would sleep for a bit, then leave--sometimes he would leave as soon as it was over. He couldn't ignore that P.T. never came closer to Philip than necessary in public.
But the thing that hurt the most was that P.T. had never kissed him.
Philip had noticed this the seventh time they had gone to Philip’s apartment. He had been naive enough, back then, to believe that P.T. was actually beginning to feel for him.
So that night, when P.T. placed Philip on the bed, Philip took P.T.’s face in his hands and whispered, “Kiss me.”
P.T. had laughed and said, “But that, my dear, would be unfaithful to dear Charity!”
At the time, Philip had been shocked. Later, he supposed he shouldn't have been so surprised. It was P.T.’s nature to tease, to turn the serious into the ridiculous. But Philip had been hurt, and to disguise it, he mustered a quiet laugh and let himself be taken away.
If he had silently cried himself to sleep afterwards, no one had to know.
Philip swung out of bed, wincing as his spine popped. He'd slept wrong. Glancing over at the window, he reached down for his shirt, slipping it over his head and turning to go to the kitchen, picking up his waistcoat as he went.
The waistcoat was halfway on when Philip realized.
It was P.T.’s.