Blake had never been one for art shows and, unlike a lot of gay guys, not that much into musicals either. So why he was peering into the window of an art gallery in downtown LA showcasing the work of one Alexander Martin was a bit of a mystery. For a long moment he stood gazing at the display of a black-and-white photograph featuring a rocky seashore, boiling surf surging under a cliff wall.
Nice, he thought at first glance. A bit Ansel Adams. The major difference being when he stared at the photograph more closely, the subtle outline of a naked man reached out as if to touch the waves.
His murmured comment must have caught the attention of a woman standing a few feet away from him. She smiled then gave him a flirty look. “Takes one to know one, I guess,” she said.
“You know what I mean.” She opened the door to the gallery and held it for Blake, probably amused at his flaming cheeks while she gazed without any sign of embarrassment at him, again with the flirting. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how good-looking you are, sweetie.”
Blake stared at her, slightly amazed at how bold she was, and now that they were almost toe to toe, he could tell she might just be old enough to be his mother.
She patted his shoulder. “Alexander Martin’s exhibition is to the right, down the hall there,” she said. “It’s a private showing today, but go ahead. I’m sure he won’t mind. Enjoy.”
“Thanks,” Blake mumbled then added, “You seem to know your way around the place.”
She smiled. “I should. I come here every time they have a new exhibition.” She held out her hand. “Doreen Leslie.”
“Blake Carson.” He shook her hand. He was so bad at this kind of thing. Give him a courtroom floor and he was at home, but talking to strangers not so much. Socially inept, his last boyfriend had called him. “N-nice meeting you.”
“You too, honey. Now go enjoy Alexander Martin’s work.”
With that, she turned on her very high heels and walked quickly away. Still a little surprised by her overt friendliness, Blake watched until she disappeared through a frosted glass doorway with some gold lettering on it. He had to admit it was nice to stand in the gallery’s cooler air. It was September, and the usual California warmth had turned a trifle sticky mid-month.
Alexander Martin… He used to know a boy called Alexander Martin, except he’d known him as Alex. They’d been best buds—more than that really—but that had been many years ago and there was no way this could be any more than mere coincidence. Right? The Alex he’d known had never shown any interest in photography―at least not that he could remember― and this work lining the gallery walls was, even to Blake’s plebian eye, pretty spectacular.
He glanced down at the brochure in his hand. There was a picture of the artist, and although there was a resemblance to his boyhood friend, he might be wary of going, ‘Wow, reunited after all these years’. If in fact Alexander Martin was anywhere around in the gallery, and they just happened to bump into each other.
Of course, the man in the photo was an adult, a handsome adult without a doubt, but the boy in Blake’s memory had been a tow-headed skinny kid with a beaming smile. And now? Blake took a second, closer look at the picture, and there was that smile that stirred something inside him, something warm, a distant memory of a summer’s day when he and Alex had gone skinny-dipping together in Baker’s Pond.
But that had been in DC, or rather, in Bakerton, a small town outside the city with lots of trees and farms and a swimming hole. Just like they’d done so many times each summer, they’d laughed, cavorted and playfully wrestled in and out of the water—but the day that Alex had kissed Blake, everything had changed.
His lips were cold and wet, but when he pressed his mouth more firmly against Blake’s, a definite heat stirred, and not only where their lips were joined. Blake stepped away from him, flustered, looking down at Alex’s penis which was twice the size it had been a moment ago―and oh Jesus, so was his. Red- faced and breathing hard, Blake yelled, “Whatcha do that for?”
Alex looked away, his expression one of fear and something else―longing? “Sorry, Blako. I-I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Don’t tell anyone, will ya? My dad will skin me alive if he found out I like you like that.”
Blake stared at him for a long time, unable to voice the words that were spinning through his head. He likes me like that? He wasn’t even sure what that meant. Like what?
“Like you want to kiss me?” Blake asked him. “You’ve never done that before.”
“I-I know.” He looked at Blake again, shyly this time. “Was it awful?”
“No… Surprising is all.” Truth be told, now that Blake had recovered his senses, he had to admit it’d felt…nice.
Blake smiled at the memory of Alex’s cute face, the corners of his blue eyes crinkling when he’d smiled back at him that day. He stopped in front of one of the larger framed photographs, a magnificent, almost mystical, view of the Shenandoah Valley.
He knew that view. Long ago, on a road trip through Virginia with his parents, his dad had pulled over so they could get out and enjoy what he’d called God’s majesty. Blake had been eighteen and the trip had been a reward for his getting enough passing grades to enter the University of Virginia.
That had been fourteen years ago, and now, staring at and getting lost in Alexander Martin’s beautiful photographic landscape, a sudden prickling in the back of his neck made Blake shiver and want to turn around, sure that someone was standing behind him. That feeling was borne out when a smooth, deep voice, close to his ear, murmured, “So, what d’you think?”
“It’s beautiful…” He didn’t have to turn and look at the man by his side. He was pretty sure he already knew who it was. “Alex,” he added.
Alex gripped Blake’s arm. “Blako, I can’t believe it’s you. After all these years, and I’d know you anywhere, even the back of your head. Especially the back of your head. Still have all those dark curls. This is a very nice…no, more than nice…it’s a fantastic surprise.”
Blake grinned. “I was kinda highjacked, but I’m very glad it happened. This…this is all so incredible. You standing here in front of me—and this talent you have, that I knew nothing about. Why did I not know?”
Alex’s eyes clouded for a second or two. “It was one of the things that I hoped to share with you, but then…” His smile returned, and he squeezed Blake’s arm. “It’s so good to see you again. I can’t quite believe it.”
Blake covered Alex’s hand with his and grinned. “I know, I never dreamed when I walked in here that—and, oh wow—!”
Alex had pulled him into a hug that, although startling in its suddenness, felt so right, as if all the years had rolled away, and they were exactly where they should be—in each other’s arms.
Alex hadn’t changed that much, just added some years—twenty on Blake’s quick count—and some muscle. He still had that thick thatch of sandy-blond hair, the blue eyes Blake remembered so well, and when his gaze dropped to his friend’s mouth, he couldn’t help but admire its pouty fullness. A mouth made for kissing.
Alex had been a cute kid, and now as a grown man, in his prime, he was without a doubt, totally gorgeous. He wore a black polo-neck sweater and tight black jeans, all of it designed to enhance his lean, toned physique.
“So…” Blake cleared his throat and, although he didn’t want to, stepped back from their hug. He felt a tad dizzy. From the rush of emotion that had enveloped him or the distinct impression he’d been aroused by Alex’s hard body, he couldn’t tell, but he knew he had to get control before his face got any hotter. He hoped Alex had simply chalked it up to the excitement of their unexpected meeting.
“A-are you free for a coffee or something, or are you going to be busy with your, no doubt, adoring clients?” From the corner of his eye, Blake had taken in a group of men and women, brochures in hand, who were no doubt waiting for Alexander Martin.
He nodded. “If you can wait about a half hour or so, or better still, join us. I’m giving a quick tour and answering some questions for future PR opportunities.”
It took Blake a moment to realize his hand was still in Alex’s firm hold. No wonder he was breathless. The warmth of his touch was most definitely starting a heat in other parts of Blake’s anatomy. Oh yeah, right there in his groin. Jeez, Carson, get a fucking grip. Or maybe it was the grip that was causing his borderline loss of control.
“Uh, i-if I won’t be in the way,” he just about managed to stammer.
“You won’t. And it’s so good to see you, Blako.”
“No one calls me that anymore,” Blake said without any snark. “I think you were the only one who ever did.”
“You mind? I can cut it out if you want me too.”
“No, it’s okay. Kinda nice hearing it again.”
Alex grinned and squeezed Blake’s hand before releasing it. “Can’t wait to know what you’ve been doing all these years.”
Blake watched him walk over to the group, admiring his athletic build and grace. After shaking hands with the men and women, he engaged them in some small talk that had them all smiling then he turned and beckoned Blake over.
“This is an old friend of mine,” he said, putting an arm around Blake’s shoulder. “Blake Carson. We went to junior high together back in the day. He’s going to join us on our tour.”
The group gave Blake smiles and nods of acknowledgment, then Alex led them into the main gallery where the bulk of his work was on display. Blake was impressed with the sheer number of framed photographs lining the walls, artfully presented with a single spotlight illuminating each one.
He was also impressed with Alex’s charismatic presence while he answered the questions from the group and gave details of where and how some of the photographs had been taken, the type of cameras he used, how he got the lighting just right... Charming and gorgeous. What a combination, and oh, why did it take us this long to reconnect?
Scanning the gallery walls, he could tell most of the work was landscapes but there were a few portraits and Blake wandered over to take a look. The one that caught his eye was of a place he’d never forget—the swimming hole he and Alex had enjoyed so many times, where they’d spent almost all their summer days together, and where Alex had kissed him.
He blinked as he stared at the image of a young boy standing with his back to the camera gazing out over the water to the tall trees beyond. He was naked, his perky ass evidence to that fact, and Blake gasped when he recognized himself. The mop of dark, curly hair he’d sported as a kid, unmistakable.
How on earth did Alex manage to secrete a camera on that day without me ever noticing? And manage to take that picture without me knowing what he was doing? All those years ago, and Blake could recall it as if it were only yesterday. Murmurs of appreciation from the group behind him made his face heat up again. Shit, the second time I’ve blushed in a half hour!
“Hope you don’t mind,” Alex whispered close to his ear, and Blake shivered when his warm breath coasted over his cheek.
“Who’s the subject?” a woman in the group asked.
“A friend from school,” Alex replied.
“Is it you?” the woman asked, staring at Blake. “Alex said you went to school together.”
“I had a lot of friends at school,” Alex said quickly. “I can’t remember who this one is.”
Some guy sidled up to Blake and said in a low voice, “Don’t think I’d forget anyone with an ass like that.”
Blake almost choked. The expression on his face must have alerted Alex that it was time to wrap this up. “So, everyone, thanks for coming today. Y’all have my cards, and I’m up for any podcast or blog interviews you want to do.”
Blake watched with relief as Alex shook hands with everyone, and they began to drift off, still gawping at the photographs they passed.
“What did that guy say to you that made you look as if you wanted to slide through the floor?” Alex asked, grinning.
“I’m not usually that much of a prude, but he was kinda ogling my ass and said he’d never forget one like that. Kinda creepy salivating over a twelve-year-old’s butt.”
Alex grimaced. “That was Charlie Lannigan. He writes for a gay site. I noticed him checking you out. He’s cute, but watch out.”
“That’s okay, I’m not interested.”
“Good to know.” Alex fixed Blake with a long, loaded look. “So…” He took Blake’s hand and led him toward the back of the gallery where there was a small coffee shop Blake hadn’t noticed before. “Let’s have that cup of coffee and start catching up, shall we?”
“I think you’ll have more to tell than me.” Blake pressed Alex’s hand to his side while they walked. He was still somewhat in disbelief that they had connected again after so long, and so out of the blue. That picture of him at the swimming hole kept popping into his mind along with the memories of the day Alex had kissed him for the first time.
They sat at a table in the almost empty coffee shop. “You said you were highjacked into coming here.” Alex quirked an eyebrow. “How’d that happen?”
“Oh, a lady who told me she comes here often ushered me inside. She was uh, pushy, to say the least. Said there was a private showing but to go ahead anyway. She said you wouldn’t mind.”
Alex laughed. “Was that Doreen Leslie by any chance?”
“It was. You know her?”
“Very well. She’s my agent, and she manages the gallery. Doreen was instrumental in getting me this exhibition.” He smiled, and Blake’s heart stilled for a second or two before quickening in his chest. “I’ll have to thank her for sending you in the right direction.”
Before Blake could reply, a young woman approached with menus in her hand. “What can I get you, gentlemen?”
“Just coffee for me,” Blake said.
Alex nodded. “And for me, but I’ll have the turkey, cheddar sandwich, on whole wheat, please. Not hungry, Blake?”
“I had lunch earlier.”
“I’ll get your coffees right away.” The woman left still carrying the menus.
“So…” Alex leaned back in his chair. “Lot of catching up to do, yeah?”
Blake gazed at him, taking in the near male perfection that little Alex Martin had become. “Lots to catch up on, Alex. You disappeared on me.” He tried to keep the accusatory tone out of his voice, but it was hard, because in Blake’s mind, Alex had disappeared, and no one seemed to have known where he’d gone.
Alex’s eyes clouded for a moment then the trace of a smile lifted his lips. “Must’ve seemed like that, I guess. Did you miss me?”
“Silly question. Of course, I missed you. You were my best friend. I missed the heck outta you, Alex. I pestered your folks about where you were until they told me to quit bugging them, and when you were home, they’d let me know.” Blake sighed. “I asked my mom if she could find out, and she spoke to your folks but they gave her no information, or so she said. She looked mad, but didn’t tell me why.”
“How is your mom?” Alex asked.
“She died a few years ago. Liver cancer.”
“I’m sorry. I remember her being a great lady. So kind to me. She never seemed to mind me being over at your house all the time.”
Blake smiled. “She liked you. I used to pretend to pout and say she liked you more than me.”
“Well, that’s easy to understand,” Alex teased.
“Hey.” Blake gave him a mock glare.
“And your dad?”
“Gone too.” Blake sighed. “Just last year. He had a heart attack. He always said he wanted to go quick, and he did. He was living in LA with me at the time, so it was a shock.”
“It must’ve been. Gee, Blake, I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through. I know you were pretty tight with your folks when we were kids.”
“We were, they were good parents. Better than most from what I’ve learned over the years. What about your—?”
“I have no idea.” Alex’s mouth thinned, his full lips pulled into a tight line.
Blake gaped at him. “Really?”
“Really.” He looked up at the busboy who served their coffees. “I was eighteen when I was cut loose,” he said after the boy had gone, “and I didn’t go back home…ever.”
“What d’you mean by ‘cut loose’?”