Not As I Do 5
Pete relaxed into the pseudo-sensory deprivation that floating in the pool provided him, the damp thick warmth of the air steaming from the surface. He felt good, or at least better, for the first time in days. Make that weeks. There was something satisfying about what he’d just done, even if he’d done it without consent. Part of it at least; Darren had agreed readily enough once he’d become convinced of Pete’s power but Taggart had been... difficult.
Pete frowned at the thought floating across his consciousness. He’d wanted to do a lot more mental changes in Taggart, but the man’s mind would only partially accept Pete’s commands, and none of the physical changes Pete had had in mind had happened at all. It didn’t matter, Darren’s changes would more than make up for it, but it was a strange complication he’d never encountered before. It was almost as though part of Taggart was simply not there. He blinked, wondering where that thought came from. He refused to glance at the tattoo, but the strange resonance chose exactly that moment to throb at him so it wasn’t far from his mind. It was very odd... this was the first limitation to the power he’d encountered.. except for that random thing with inanimate objects.. and plants; his wandering jew had croaked on him..
He felt sorry for Taggart. He’d repressed a lot, from what Pete had managed to eke from the man’s mind in the few minutes they’d been behind closed doors. It would have been much easier had he been able to simply “change” the man’s mind, and he had to admit he had a stab of guilt doing it without the man’s consent. But, well... Unexpressed desire has a way of giving implied consent. And if he hadn’t been here...
He instantly went cold, despite the warm water. He shouldn’t be here. He should be at work right now, helping Miguel. Or at home preparing for the trek back to school. His good mood was gone.
Time passed slowly as Pete stared up at a ceiling that was not very originally painted with “The Creation of Man.” Michelangelo was gay, he thought. A real renaissance man. Actually he was considered the Renaissance man. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, and poet. He revolutionized the world.
Another obscure fact floated up from Pete’s subconscious. M’s father wanted him to be a stonecutter. Not a painter. For some reason, that kept nagging him as he slowly paddled his hands and feet just enough to stay afloat.
Stonecutter. The word seemed to lodge in his head. He felt like he was trying to sculpt a form that resisted being created, trying to sculpt it by banging his head against the granite instead of shaping it with his hands. He wanted to pretend ignorance in what the analogy meant, but he had the distinct feeling he knew exactly what it meant.
He was so wrapped up in observing the space between God and Adam, wondering why M. hadn’t painted an electric spark or something like it, that he barely registered the two men entering the pool area, talking and laughing. That is until...
“Peter?!” came a disbelieving baritone voice. Pete blinked, shocked. Even if he hadn’t recognized the voice, the word would have told him exactly who it was. Only his mother, his father, and one other person ever called him by his full given name. He lifted his head, letting his feet fall toward the bottom of the pool as he righted himself and strode out of the water. Of all the people in the world he didn’t want to bump into, certainly here, this one was on the list.
“Mr. Kaye?” Pete said. His creative writing professor and author of a dozen bestselling books, from his textbooks No Stupid Questions and The Word is the Word to a number of torrid romances he wasn’t proud of but, as he said in class, “made him a lot of money.” On the dedication page of his books, he always put Il Faut Manger. Loosely translated, it meant You gotta eat. “What a surprise.” Pete’s tone of voice told exactly just how much of a surprise it was. Crap. Now he remembered who it was who mentioned the baths. Mr. Kaye had made some comment in class about “Don’t think you can escape this test by going to the baths” or some such, but no one in the room had gotten it except Pete. Fortunately for Mr. Kaye.
Mr. Kaye looked uncomfortable himself, especially glancing at the taller, lean-muscular blond at his side, the same one he’d been power-fucking in the back room earlier. “Elmer,” he said to the man, “this is Peter, one of my students. Peter, this is Elmer.” Pete waited for him to elaborate, but Vince clamped his mouth shut after the last word.
Pete shook hands with the blond man, feeling a bit eerie meeting his instructor naked in the baths after watching him having extremely public sex. He repressed his initial response to say Your name is *Elmer*? “Pete. Nice to meet you.”
Elmer repeated the same words, adding, “You’re right, this is a surprise.” There was an added note to his voice, one that said despite his pleasant tone and the fact he was looking at Pete, his words were for Mr. Kaye. They were clearly going to have words later on.
Mr. Kaye gave an inarticulate grunt – they both looked at him – and said, “Uh! Uh, Elmer, why don’t you, uh, go out and get a smoothie. Get me a bottle of water too.” His eyes had a clear plead in them. Pete didn’t have much of a dating history, but he had enough to know which way the wind was blowing. Despite the fact that Vince was very much more muscular and the top between them, his posture told the whole story; he was clearly not in the lead.
After handing Elmer a twenty-dollar bill from a small pouch on a spiral cord around his ankle, Mr. Kaye quietly added, “Go on. I’ll make it up to you later.” Elmer murmured what sounded like “You better” and left the room, glancing back at Mr. Kaye as he left. Pete had an 'oh' moment. In that glance was the entire story.
Pete wanted to ask about Elmer first, but he had no chance. “Peter! What a surprise!” Mr. Kaye repeated through a completely false toothy grin, clearly not sure what to say.
“Mr. Kaye, it’s okay,” Pete said, heading for the nearest lounger. Mr. Kaye glanced him up and down and then jerked his eyes upward, trying not to look. “Oh, come on! After what I did for you, you have to be uncomfortable now?” He shook his head; the man was a brilliant writer and good instructor, but he was inscrutable.
“Oh, all right,” Mr. Kaye said. “But call me Vince, Peter. We’re not at school now and I don’t want to feel any older than I already am.” Pete crossed his arms and Mr. Kaye – Vince – refused to look at him. It had taken a chance meeting at the University – and an idle remark – to reveal Pete’s power to Vince. Over the next few hours Vince learned a few things of his own, not the least of which was not to be afraid of wanting things out of his reach. Sometimes wanting things out of our reach is exactly what we should reach for. And sometimes the things we think are out of our reach are right in front of us. “I’d ask what you’re doing here, but I think it’s obvious.”
“Not as obvious as you think,” Pete muttered. Vince said nothing, so he continued in a milder tone. “I just took a few hours off from work. Miguel can work on his own for once.” There was definite bite this time and he regretted even opening his mouth. “I could say the same thing to you.” There was no response. Pete looked up into Vince’s eyes.
Anyone who didn’t know the man or hadn’t been in his classes would call them bland, but Pete knew better. Vince talked nonstop at times about the worst possible topics – spilling private information to his classes about fellow faculty members for example; that caused a lot of problems – but when he stopped talking, it was never without reason. And his brilliant green eyes always had a look of mischief, but he could have a penetrating look when he needed to, and when he did he always saw right to the heart of the matter. It made him a good instructor. And an infuriating friend. “You’ve got a serious issue on your mind,” he said. It wasn’t a question. “You’re a hard worker, Peter. I’ve never known you to play hooky from work. Spill it.” His deep voice was firm, but not commanding. There was an unspoken question in his voice, asking permission.
Pete opened his mouth to say it wasn’t important, or maybe to give some less important issue, but he couldn’t. Maybe it was because no matter the 17-year difference in their ages, Vince acted like a teenager himself, one who was still dealing with the acne of life, despite the fine lines that experience had put on his face. Maybe it was because Pete knew Vince was a good man, one who regularly donated to the battered women’s shelter, who always helped friends, who always dispensed advice free of charge even if he did reserve the right to say ‘I told you so’ later on. Maybe it was a lot of things.
Pete sat down heavily on the plastic chaise next to the pool and held his head in his hands. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. All the emotion he thought he’d shelved, put away, dealt with, all came crashing back. None of the fun he’d had this summer seemed to be enough, it only seemed to make it worse. “Vince, I’m supposed to be heading back to school in two weeks and I can’t make myself get ready for it. I can’t pack, I can’t resign from the shop, I can’t even care! Why aren’t I getting ready for school? I’m supposed to be doing this right now! It’s what my... It’s what I want, isn’t it? There’s this guy I like, and when I get around him it’s like it doesn’t feel right, like I made the wrong decision somewhere about something with him and I don’t even know what it is! I’m afraid to even talk to him! I feel like every step I take is through the mud. Why?” The last word came out almost as a wail. He was glad that there was no one else in the room but the two of them.
Vince watched his anguished face for a moment longer, then said, “Peter, what exactly is this power of yours you have? I mean, what exactly is it that you do?” Pete goggled at him in disbelief. Vince had had a graphic demonstrated of what his power did. He was a walking example of it. “Peter, please. Bear with me. There’s a reason why I’m asking.”
Not sure where this was going, Pete said, “I... well, I can... change people. All I have to do is say that something is a certain way, or say that I want it to be a certain way, and it, he, she, they, it all...” he gestured in the air, “...changes. Like you did,” he added pointedly.
“And if you had never gotten this power, things would have stayed the same, right?”
”Wrong,” Vince said, his voice slipping into a tone Pete knew only too well. He was about to get a lecture whether he wanted it or not. Worse, the man was going to be right. His students hated this part of his classes. If you think you understand, here’s where I screw you over, he would say. “Things would not have stayed the same if your power hadn’t come along. They still would have changed. No,” he said to Pete’s disbelieving look, “not the way you changed them, but they still would have changed. Nothing stays the same, even the things we think don’t change are different every moment.” Pete blinked a few times, clearly not understanding why he was hearing this. Vince sighed. “The point is, Peter, that things always change. Nothing stays the same. And no one. Not even you.” Something in Pete’s eyes must have registered, because Vince said, “Ah. I’ve gotten right to it, haven’t I? That’s what this is all about. Change. Something changed that you didn’t expect to.”
Pete suddenly realized why this man had such a hard time with his friends. He was hot, nice, charming, romantic, brilliant... and an insufferable know-it-all. “Yes,” Pete said softly.
“What’s more,” Vince continued, “a large part of it is because of what you want. Your exact words were ‘I’m supposed to get ready for school.’ You asked ‘It’s what I want... isn’t it?’ Not the words of a man who’s sure of his next step.” Insufferable? Oh, yes. “What were you about to say?” Peter gave him a puzzled look. “You started to say ‘It’s what my...’ before you changed your mind. What was it?” He waited patiently for Pete to answer, knowing Pete would sooner or later. He was a patient man. He had to be as an instructor.
Pete could have pretended ignorance, but he suddenly decided he didn’t care. “I was going to say ‘It’s what my father wants.’ And it is what he wants. He’s the one who wanted me to become an engineer. They make good money.” He felt ashamed at saying that, at revealing that aspect of his personality. “He never went to college.”
Vince sat silently a moment. “The question is not do we change. Of course we do. The question is, is what we change into something that we like?” Pete didn’t say anything. “You’re not daddy’s little boy any more, Peter. You’ve got to make your own decisions now.” He hesitated a moment, and then added, “I’m not your instructor right now, Peter. I hope I’m your friend.” Pete nodded, unable to speak. At this moment, Vince’s friendship meant more to him than any power ever could. “I think I know what you’re worried about, the real question you need to decide, and I can’t make that decision for you. And technically since I’m an instructor it’s a conflict of interest for me anyway. Whatever you decide is fine with me. And if this guy likes you too, he’ll understand your... own changes.” Pete gave an ironic snort. Vince stood, his expression concerned and a bit sad. “Peter, you have my cell number any time you need to talk. Call any time day or night. School doesn’t start for a couple more weeks.” He gave little laugh. “But then, you know that already don’t you?” He became serious. “I support any decision you make, Pete. But you have to make it soon.” He turned and started for the entrance back to the main area.
“Is Elmer your boyfriend?” Vince stiffened as though he’d been shot. “Thought so.”
“It’s not what you think,” Vince replied faintly. Pete couldn’t see his face from the back, but he sounded upset.
Pete didn’t relent. “Then what is it? I saw what was going on back there, and I saw the looks you two gave each other.” He felt no pique at Vince’s probing, but he still felt a bit of payback was in order. He’d revealed a good part of himself, after all. “You’re not just fuck-buddies. You’re in love with him.” And if he’s not in love with you too, I’ll eat a bus.
For a long moment Vince didn’t move, and considering that he outweighed Pete by a good fifty pounds of solid muscle, Pete knew that there was no moving him until he wanted to move. But, finally, he turned and faced Pete again. Pete was shocked when he saw Vince’s face. There was no other way to describe what he saw other than as anguish. “Elmer and I... We don’t have that... that kind of...” He wasn’t looking at Pete; he was looking through him, with what could only be described as a haunted look. There was a glaze of unshed tears over his eyes. “To answer your question, no, he’s not my boyfriend.” There was an almost nasty undertone to his voice, but Pete knew he didn’t actually mean it.
“Do you wish he was?” Vince didn’t answer. “Why...?”
“Why anything?” Vince interrupted. “Why did you get the tattoo instead of me? Why wasn’t I born rich? Why is the Pope always Catholic? Why indeed, Peter?” He sounded close to crying. “He’s got... more important things to worry about than me.”
“He has a husband.” Vince jerked as though Pete had punched him. “Vince, all I have to do is...”
“NO.” The word was so sharp that Pete’s mouth dropped open. Vince never revealed this kind of emotion; but then, in a classroom setting it was inappropriate anyway. “No, Peter,” he continued in a softer tone. “Don’t. He has to make his own decisions in this. It would be so tempting. And I know I’m going to go to hell just for thinking it. But that’s wrong, Peter.” The look in his eyes was even more anguished, and adamant. Abruptly he sat down on the chaise they had just vacated. “I keep hoping and praying things will change and they never do. I know he loves me too.” He shot a challenging look at Pete. “He does. He’s done things for me that are above and beyond the call of duty. He does. I don’t doubt that. Peter, it’s wrong to leave someone for someone else. If you leave, you leave for your own reasons, not because there’s someone else waiting, whatever else is going on in your marriage, however healthy or unhealthy. It’s dishonorable and it’s wrong.” He couldn’t look at Pete at all now. “And Light help me but I still wish he would.” He buried his face in his hands.
Unsure what to say, Pete just looked at Vince, fumbling for some meaningful reassurance, knowing that it would all be meaningless hollow words. Before he could, however, Vince continued, still hiding his face. “I was married once myself, you know. Oh, Edward. I was so in love with him. I still am. But I was too young.” He lowered his hands, looking around the room a little wildly, his eyes red from the tears he refused to let go. “We both were. I treated him so badly. He doesn’t remember it that way, he regrets telling me to get out, he says... but I know better. He was right. Oh, Edward.”
“Why don’t you go back to him?” The question seemed so logical, so obvious.
“I doubt his husband would approve.” The answer was fairly logical and obvious too.
Pete shut his mouth in embarrassment before he could say anything else tactless.
Pete felt a lurch at seeing Vince emotionally stripped bare. Pete wondered if he would ever feel the depth of love Vince was drowning in. A small, taunting voice in the back of his head told him that he’d already run away from it. He squashed the voice as soon as he became aware of it.
Pete felt guilty. Part of it was because he had needlessly dug into Vince’s personal life without excuse. But mostly... He’d been angry for weeks because he felt trapped, forgetting that there were other people in the world just as trapped as he, and for better cause. Maybe more so in Vince’s case. But he could help in Vince’s case. All it would take would be a dozen or so words spoken to Vince or Elmer and...
And it would cause a disaster. It was a very telling moment. For the first time since he’d gotten the power, he realized that there were consequences to his actions. Words. Same thing. He felt something he hadn’t felt for a long time. Helpless. With all his power, there were still things he couldn’t do, things he wasn’t allowed to say. He had the uncanny feeling that Vince felt much the same way he did.
But there was one thing he could do. He sat down and considered his words very carefully, something he hadn’t thought to do before this. “Vince...”
Vince was too miserable to pay attention at first, and when he did start paying attention it was too late. And by the time Pete was done, Vince no longer wanted to try.
Vince sat by himself for a long time after Pete left. “I got your water,” said a voice.
Vince looked up at Elmer. “Thank you,” he said simply. His throat was tight. He didn’t trust himself to say more.
Elmer handed it to him and after a moment sat on a chair opposite him. Vince glanced at Elmer’s body as he sat down. He was all lean, sinewy muscle, the epitome of what all internet users referred to as “a swimmer’s build,” except in his case it was a real one. Just seeing his smooth skin and tall frame next to him was enough to make Vince’s mouth water. He always had an overriding desire to oil Elmer’s body and rub him for hours. Unfortunately, there was no time for it. There was no time for a lot of things with Elmer. “Was that...?” he began.
“Yes,” Vince said, cutting him off. “That Peter. Pete. Whatever.” He couldn’t even look at Elmer, much as he wanted to. He would either say or do exactly the wrong thing, he knew it. Or start crying, which was the worst thing of all. Elmer didn’t like emotional displays.
Elmer didn’t say anything for a long time, unsure even what to say. He couldn’t say what he wanted to say. He couldn’t look at Vince either, much as he wanted to. When they’d first met all that time ago, he’d been instantly attracted to him, despite the fact that he hadn’t been exactly Elmer’s type, although hairy enough. Just too skinny. That didn’t mean he hadn’t been willing to fool around with him, however. And now he was... beyond big. Huge. He was the epitome of a musclebear to Elmer’s eyes.
And although he would never admit it, and was hard pressed to admit it to himself, Vince was devoted to him. Heart and soul, and most of his body... although Vince had taken advantage of his new musculature a few times on the side. Elmer told himself he wasn’t jealous. Vince wasn’t his husband after all. He just wanted Vince to save it for him. He pushed the conflict out of his head, glancing at the ring he’d received from his husband in Vancouver not too long ago, to replace his old beaten-up wedding ring. I better call Sebastian, he thought guiltily. Right this moment wasn’t the right time, though. “I... heard what you said,” he finally said.
“I figured. I thought you were gone a long time. I had a feeling you were listening around the corner.” Elmer rolled his eyes, as good as a confession.
Vince didn’t say anything for a very long time either, then looked directly into Elmer’s eyes. “We need to talk.” Beautiful eyes. Blue eyes as deep as a well, eyes that Vince could happily drown in, even with the tears streaming down his own face.
From Pete’s hiding place across the lounge, he could just see Elmer sitting down next to Vince, could see the tears. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. He meant it for Vince and Elmer both. He tried to smile at what he’d done, but found that he couldn’t. At least now they were on an even playing field. Vince wanted it, and Pete more than suspected Elmer wanted it too. But Pete wouldn’t break the rule Vince had imposed, so he worked around it instead. Who knew, maybe...?
He shook his head. He had more important things to worry about than other peoples’, um, affairs. He took one last glance – Vince’s face had become extremely firm, Elmer’s looked surprised – and headed toward the lockers. He had no idea what time it was, but he’d been there for hours. Miguel was going to be even more pissed at him than he had been, provided he still had a job. Time to make an exit, stage right.
Pete hurried to the locker room, so wrapped up in his own thoughts he scarcely noticed how quiet the building had become. There seemed to be a muted sobbing coming from the gym, along with a deep basso profundo voice that was so deep, yet soft, that it syncopated perfectly into the background noise of the building; the air conditioners cycling on and off; monstrous humming electrical boxes buried in the floors, ceilings and walls; regurgitating pumps in the various water sources of the building; and the hissing and billowing clouds of the sauna, which did nothing to camouflage the cries of confusion and dismay coming from the men emerging into the brilliant light outside.