"Would you like a drink?"
“A little bit.”
"I ran up the hill."
"From Castro Street?”
"Yes," Zeno nodded.
"That's a good reason to be out of breath.”
Zeno sat down in one of the armchairs closest to the fireplace across from Abel on the sofa. He crossed his legs and pursed his lips gazing at red embers burning softly in the fireplace.
“Was it up to 17th directly to Twin Peaks or up Pemberton steps?" Abel asked.
“Pemberton Steps,” Zeno said.
Abel glanced down at his crotch and the thing was now slightly erect like a bent stalk in his pants. “You know," he grinned, looking at Zeno happily. "I miss you terribly much when you’re not here."
"Even when I'm painting in the Green Cottage?"
"But of course even then.”
"I started a new portrait.”
“Do I know him?”
“No, I don't think so.”
“Where did you meet?”
“Under that bridge?”
“No, we met at the top of the hill on 19th Street.”
“Oh, so you met there at the gay beach," Abel mused. "Was he good-looking and blond?”
“No...I mean, yes. Yes, he had dirty blond hair and was a Mexican boy.”
"Was it a nude portrait?"
“No,” Zeno swallowed and his eyes were shiny. “Just his face.” He blinked and wiped his eyes. “Nothing more.”
“Was he paid for this sitting?”
“He wanted a burrito.”
“Nothing more than that.”
"Steak, chicken or burrito de cerdo?"
"It was a fat steak burrito with extra meat from a restaurant on Valencia Street. That same one you took me to one afternoon when you first brought me here to San Francisco. I forget the name of the place because I can’t even pronounce it in Spanish-"
"Puerto Alegre with the mariachi music."
"Yes, that's the place on Valencia Street between 17th and 16th The burritos are the very best especially the way they do the melted cheese and rain was falling outside the window on the street then along with the mariachi players and we got kind of drunk sipping two pitchers of Margaritas. I took him there and I could see white fog hovering above Twins Peaks in the distance before we went inside and ordered, and we sat at the bar sipping dark Modelo beer and eating tortilla chips while waiting for his takeout since that’s what he wanted."
“Nothing more than that?”
Abel put his drink down. "Bravo!" he cried clapping his hands so loud the noise popped Zeno's ears. "What a magnificent performance Mr. Zeno Dexter Elliott. Bravo. Bravo!"
"Abel." A startled Zeno glanced around the room. "Isn’t Mrs. Erikson sleeping?"
"Mrs. Erikson?" Abel’s right hand clenched into a fist. "I don't give a goddamn if my excitement rouses that woman. If Zelta fell down a flight of stairs tonight and broke her silly neck I would not shed a tear."
"I'm sorry that Mrs. Erikson has hurt you," Zeno said softly. "I hope someday you'll be able to tell me why you dislike her so. I promise I'll listen."
This pleased Abel wholeheartedly. He grinned, chin up, contented his boy had a compassionate heart and wasn't always so selfish. That raging beast that had overwhelmed him with unseemly thoughts of his mother faded. "What is done is done," he said calmly. "I'm simply happy that you care. But let's not talk about Zelta when I much prefer to hold you in my arms and kiss you."
Zeno looked down at his manicured fingernails with trepidation; they were neat and trimmed just the way Abel preferred. It was the tip of them he now recalled that made him tremble so. He closed his eyes as he remembered dancing with him and their shadows reflecting in unison on the wall in the sunset. He looked over at Abel sitting there on the sofa like a supreme authority and a silly smirk planted on his face. Zeno stood up slowly. On his tiptoes, he went over to him like an obedient puppy. He bent over and gave him a reluctant smooch as cold as an ice cube.
Abel grimaced displeased by such a worthless little kiss. He pulled him down between his legs and drew his mouth to his. "I do love you, Zeno Dexter Elliot," he said, "and tonight you can rest assured I won't lecture you on the importance of fidelity. You're home. However, I must demand that you take extreme caution when you're out and about. According to the media, an incurable virus as ugly as Santa Ana winds is spreading in the worst imaginable way among sexually active men."
"Who said I had sex?" Zeno climbed up. "I swear I was in the Green Cottage working all day."
"It's not wise to swear, my boy, especially when you choose to utter an untruth. Do you think for one minute I believe this ridiculous story of your meeting a homeless man in Dolores Park and painting him not nude?"
"I was there in the studio. That much is not an untruth."
"I'm unconcerned if you spent the day in the studio, Dolores Park or under a windmill in Golden Gate Park with your hands on your hips. I’m simply suggesting you’re careful when you’re out and about and among foolish men who could very well be carriers of this mad Red virus.”
Zeno hated it when he sounded this way. So goddamn fatherly, so goddamn right about everything. Always blabbing something with his "big know it all mouth". Why didn't he just tell him he had been unfaithful without hinting so, and he might've admitted it was true. How could he not be unfaithful to him lying there like a lifeless blow-up doll and unable to reciprocate naturally? Foolish men were indeed better in bed than a humdrum lover who needed a pill to get it up. He sucked-in his teeth and strutted over to the tall windows in front of the terrace that looked over the Castro and east toward downtown skyscrapers and, in the far distance east of the Bay Bridge, the lights of Berkeley and Oakland hills shimmered in the night.
He swung around abruptly glaring at Abel with blazing eyes. In three years he still had his manly good looks, but his brunette hair had turned salt-and-pepper. Thinner and thinner atop his pasty weathered head.
"I want my darling boy beside me where he belongs," Abel motioned him to a spot on the sofa. "I have a surprise."
He only wanted to run away from him, his savior who had rescued, sheltered and supported him for the last three years. Better it would've been if he had confessed all of his sins; then this heavy burden lifted from his shoulders. But he held his tongue, said nothing at all and rejoined his lover on the sofa without even a whimper.
"Do you still love me? Your man? Your teacher? Your lover as I am?"
"Of course, just what you said - all those things about love."
"Then look me in the eye, Zeno, and tell me that distinctly."
He opened his mouth but no words came at first until he thought about the studio he called Green Cottage, the house up Pemberton steps where they lived and "I love you, sir" finally spilled out.
Abel squeezed him in his arms. "Thank the Lord, baby,” he exclaimed. “You said you love me. That is most important to my heart."
"I'm glad you brought me here..."
"Always remember it was I who made this entire journey to San Francisco possible."
Zeno leaned his head against his chest. He felt safe, secure so close to daddy. Nothing more than that. He took a deep breath and wrapped his arms around Abel's slender waist and was almost happy.
"I am the best thing that's ever happened to you," Abel said stroking the boy's kinky black hair. "We will never hurt each other or stop sleeping together because we are a permanent couple. I told my therapist today that I felt I was ready to make love to you. Guess what? (An abrupt laugh) Just before you came home tonight I was aroused. It's true! I am ready to make love to you. That's my surprise! Reach down right now, my boy! Reach down and feel what is truly yours. Tonight..."
But he stopped after hearing Zeno snoring against his chest like a kitten purring softly…