"Would you like a drink?"
“A little bit.”
"I ran up the hill."
"From Castro Street?”
“Was it up to 17th directly to Twin Peaks or up Corbett to Pemberton steps?"
“You know,” Abel smiled, “I miss you terribly when you’re not here."
"Even when I'm painting in the Green Cottage?"
"But of course, even then.”
"I started a new portrait today.”
“Do I know him?”
“No.” The boy nodded sitting in the armchair and fidgeting with his fingers.
“Where did you meet?”
The boy looked up, swallowed and cleared his throat. “Dolores Park,” he said.
“Under that bridge?”
“No, top of the hill.”
“Oh,” Abel cooed, “the gay beach at 19th Street. Was he blond and good-looking?”
“He had dirty blond hair."
“Yeah, he was okay.” The boy got up, took off his leather jacket and, dropping it on the arm of the chair, went over to the fireplace. He snatched a poker from the rack and stirred red embers into a vicious flame.
"Was it a nude portrait?"
“A nude portrait?” The boy furrowed his brow. “Of course not.”
"Of course not?" Abel raised one curious eyebrow.
"Just his face," The boy said squeezing the handle of poker with both hands. “Nothing more than that.”
“Was he paid for this contrived out of the blue sitting?”
“It was truly arranged,” the boy swung around facing Abel and raising the poker in the air, “and he was paid, yes, he was paid a real fat burrito.”
"Burrito de carne, pollo or cerdo?" Abel said sipping his drink without batting an eye.
"De carne with extra meat at that Mexican restaurant on Valencia Street not far from the Roxie. I can’t pronounce its proper Spanish name.”
“Puerto Alegre," Abel articulated staring the boy down until the boy withdrew. "Can you pronounce it now?"
"Yes,” the boy said hypnotically and replaced the poker in the stand. “Puer-to A-legre,” he pronounced almost in Abel’s exact pretense.
"Bravo!" Abel cried clapping his hands and the noise popping the boy’s eardrums. “Isn’t Mrs. Erikson sleeping?" The boy whispered.
"Mrs. Erikson?" Abel clenched his right hand and swung his fist into empty space. "I don't give a goddamn if my excitement rouses that woman. If Zerita fell down a flight of stairs tonight and broke her silly neck I would not care."
"I'm sorry that Mrs. Erikson has hurt you, sir,” the boy said coming back to his seat. “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 Zerita anymore when I much prefer to hold you in my arms and kiss you."
The boy stared at his manicured fingernails with trepidation; they were neat and trimmed just the way Abel preferred. It was the tip of them he suddenly recalled exploring the body of another. A beautiful man with a ponytail down his back and too impractical for his heart to conceive especially under guardianship of an obnoxious other who pulled a lot of weight. He shook his head, got up and took a deep breath. On tiptoes, he went over to him--the supreme authority--like an obedient puppy and supplied him a reluctant smooch.
Abel was unhappy by this worthless kiss and pulled the boy down between his legs and drew his mouth very hard 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. Home where you belong. However, I must demand that when you're out and about to take extreme caution. According to the media, an incurable virus as ugly as Santa Ana winds is spreading in the worst unimaginable way among sexually active men."
"Who said I had sex?" Zeno jumped 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 ludicrous story of your meeting a trick 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". He pushed his hands in his pockets and strutted over to the window. The fog had dissipated in the night and, in the distance, the lights of Oakland and Berkeley hills shimmered beyond the top of San Francisco’s skyscrapers illuminated at the edge of the bay. He wished he were there in anyone of the skyscrapers on a rooftop away from Abel’s unsolicited advice. 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 held his tongue without even a whimper and rejoined his lover on the sofa.
"Do you still love me?” demanded Abel. “Your man? Your teacher? Your lover as I am?"
"Of course, all those things, just as you’ve said."
"Then look me in the eye, Zeno, and tell me that distinctly."
Zeno opened his mouth, but no words came, nothing flowed until he considered the studio, he called Green Cottage and the house not yet his at the top of Pemberton steps and then "I love you, sir," spilled from his lips.
Abel squeezed him in his arms happily. "Thank the Lord, baby, you said you love me,” he exclaimed. “That is most important to my heart."
"I'm glad you brought me here," Zeno said.
"Always remember it was I who made your journey to San Francisco a reality."
Zeno leaned his head against Abel’s chest. He felt safe, secure so close to daddy. Nothing more than that and nothing less. He took a deep breath and, smiling, wrapped his arms around daddy. He was content but tired and closed his eyes.
"I am the best thing that's ever happened to you," said Abel 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 I felt I was ready to make love to you. Guess what? (An abrupt laugh) Today I was in the study reading and I thought of you and needed you. My love, 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..." But he stopped upon hearing Zeno snoring with a sudden gargling and squawking against his chest and a terrifying pause as if he’d run into the devil in a nightmare.