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Looking into those eyes of his made me weak-willed and wanton but Sam had always had that effect on me.
My gaze darted down to his mouth. He wet his lips nervously, leaving them slick and moist. If I kissed him now he’d not push me away. I could taste his desire on the air. It mingled with mine in a heady fog of want.
“Tell me why,” I asked, pressing him again both physically and emotionally. “Tell me why you’d marry this girl. This makes no sense. It’s not you.”
He shook his head. “This is us, Elo. It’s always been us.” He pushed away, and I let him go, my hand falling to my side. “Lust and lies. That could be the title of a painting. Oh! No, even better. The title for a tragic gay romance novel that gets made into a movie.”
He paced around the gallery, working himself into a froth. He did this on occasion. I used to joke and call them “Sam moments” when he’d fall into them. Generally, I’d sit back when he was in an agitated state like this and let him work a bit of it out then we’d fall into bed. We’d fuck our brains out and then he’d go paint like a dervish afterwards, sweat and semen still tacky on his flesh. Loving an artist is sometimes like stepping into the path of an oncoming tornado.
“Our movie would take place in Finland though, not balmy Italy, but it would end with us lying to the world and those fucking lies smashing our love into paste.” He spun from the window to look at me propped against the wall, arms folded over my chest. “Elo and Sam, the tragic gay men, destined to love each other but never be with each other. This shit writes itself. Find me a ghost writer and we’ll be millionaires. We could pitch it to Armie and Timothee. Think that might be too much?” I shrugged. He detonated. “Fuck this life!”
He tore an oil off the wall, one of his landscapes, and flung it across the gallery. It landed by my wet boots with a sickly sound. This was the point when, back when we were us, I’d go to him and pull him to our bed, and the sex would be incredible. Wild, hot, grasping, clawing sex that went on and on and on…
I bent down and picked up the painting, placing it tenderly against the wall.
“Come here,” I said, low and firm. Sam blinked at me, his chest heaving, his talented fingers curled into tight fists.
“No,” he panted, obviously knowing where things would go if he stepped into my arms. We’d be on the floor, rutting like stags, his body under mine as we purged the passion that was always just under the surface with us. “No, we can’t do that. I’m engaged. You should go.”
“Just go before we do something stupid.” He waved a hand in the general direction of the door then climbed the metal stairs leading to the second floor. “Turn out the lights and lock the front door.”
“Sam!” I called but he never slowed. He’d be slapping paint on canvas before I was outside properly. “I’m taking this with me,” I told the empty gallery as I grabbed the slightly dented painting and stalked to the door with it under my arm. After the lights were out I turned the lock before pulling the door shut. Snow and ice beat on me as I pushed through a howling rush of wind to my car. Never once did I look back or up. It would just be pointless. I tossed the landscape into the back, slid behind the wheel, and sat there waiting for heat with my eyes closed and my heart aching.
The drive home took twice as long as normal due to the near whiteout conditions.
It was a battle with the wind to my front door, the oil nearly leaving my fingers three times when a gust would grab it. The door opened to my place as I fumbled to find my keys. I yelled in fright then punched Taz in the arm as hard as I could.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” I snapped as my heart pounded in my chest. I should stop handing out keys to my apartment to friends.
“I’ve been here for like two hours waiting for you. Turn your damn phone on, man. I was ready to call the cops. Also, ouch, fuck, and welcome home,” Taz groaned, rubbing his bicep as I bulled past him. “Been to see Sam, I see.”
“What? No. Oh, yeah.” I placed the damaged painting on the couch, setting it just so. Taz came to stand beside me and we studied the landscape closely.
“You don’t have to lie to me about him, Goog. I know it’s kind of automatic for you, but I’m on your side here.”
I threw him a look then exhaled strongly. “I know. Sorry to lie it’s just…ingrained, you know? This is an older one of his.” I peeled off my coat, my attention fully back on the artwork now. I flung my coat to the coffee table then crouched down in front of it. Taz did the same. “He painted this on a trip we took to Oulanka National Park. See here…” I touched the dried paint on the canvas. “This little cabin is where we stayed. It sits by the rapids of the Kitkajoki River.”
“It’s like looking at a photograph,” Taz murmured as I traced the small wooden house tucked back into the forest, the trees touched with gold, scarlet, and brown.
“Ruska,” I whispered, lost in the memory of that week in the woods, just me and Sam and his paints.
“What’s that mean?”
I pulled my fingertips from the painting and stood. “It’s a Finnish word.”
“Yeah, I kind of figured that one out.” He nudged me in the side.
I smiled a little. “Ruska. Hmm, it’s a word to describe the changing colors of the leaves in autumn.”
“Pretty language you have there.”
“Pretty country. I miss it badly.” I ached to go back in time. Maybe return to that little cabin deep in the woods forever, just me, Sam, and his easel. Fuck hockey. Fuck this country. Fuck parental expectations and society. Just fuck all the lies and covering up.
Taz looped an arm around my shoulders. “You still love him, don’t you?”
I shook my head then nodded. “I think I’d give up everything to be with him again.”
“I know bud.” He tugged me into his side. “Did he say anything? Anything that would give us a clue to why he did this abrupt turnaround?”
“No, nothing really. Maybe I should have kissed him…”
Taz said nothing, simply stood there, arm around my neck, staring at that busted painting of much happier time with me.
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