Chapter no 13

A Little Life

THERE HAD BEEN a day, about a month after he turned thirty-eight, when Willem realized he was famous. Initially, this had fazed him less than he would have imagined, in part because he had always considered himself sort of famous—he and JB, that is. He’d be out downtown with someone, Jude or someone else, and somebody would come over

to say hello to Jude, and Jude would introduce him: “Aaron, do you know Willem?” And Aaron would say, “Of course. Willem Ragnarsson. Everyone knows Willem,” but it wouldn’t be because of his work—it would be because Aaron’s former roommate’s sister had dated him at Yale, or he had two years ago done a reading for Aaron’s friend’s brother’s friend who was a playwright, or because Aaron, who was an artist, had once been in a group show with JB and Asian Henry Young, and he’d met Willem at the after-party. New York City, for much of his adulthood, had simply been an extension of college, where everyone had known him and JB, and the entire infrastructure of which sometimes seemed to have been lifted out of Boston and plunked down within a few blocks’ radius in lower Manhattan and outer Brooklyn. The four of them talked to the same—well, if not the same people, the same types of people at least, that they had in college, and in that realm of artists and actors and musicians, of course he was known, because he always had been. It wasn’t such a vast world; everyone knew everyone else.

Of the four of them, only Jude, and to some degree Malcolm, had

experience living in another world, the real world, the one populated with people who did the necessary stuff of life: making laws, and teaching, and healing people, and solving problems, and handling money, and selling and buying things (the bigger surprise, he always thought, was not that he knew Aaron but that Jude did). Just before he turned thirty-seven, he had taken a role in a quiet film titled The Sycamore Court in which he played a small-town Southern lawyer who was finally coming out of the closet. He’d taken the part to work with the actor playing his father, who was someone he admired and who in the film was taciturn and casually vituperative, a man disapproving of his own son and made unkind by his own disappointments. As part of his research, he had Jude explain to him what, exactly, he did all day,

and as he listened, he found himself feeling slightly sad that Jude, whom he considered brilliant, brilliant in ways he would never understand, was spending his life doing work that sounded so crushingly dull, the intellectual equivalent of housework: cleaning and sorting and washing and tidying, only to move on to the next house and have to begin all over. He didn’t say this, of course, and on one Saturday he met Jude at Rosen Pritchard and looked through his folders and papers and wandered around the office as Jude wrote.

“Well, what do you think?” Jude asked, and leaned back in his chair and grinned at him, and he smiled back and said, “Pretty impressive,” because it was, in its own way, and Jude had laughed. “I know what you’re thinking, Willem,” he’d said. “It’s okay. Harold thinks it, too. ‘Such a waste,’ ” he said in Harold’s voice. “ ‘Such a waste, Jude.’ ”

“That’s not what I’m thinking,” he protested, although really, he had been: Jude was always bemoaning his own lack of imagination, his own unswervable sense of practicality, but Willem had never seen him that way. And it did seem a waste: not that he was at a corporate firm but that he was in law at all, when really, he thought, a mind like Jude’s should be doing something else. What, he didn’t know, but it wasn’t this. He knew it was ridiculous, but he had never truly believed that Jude’s attending law school would actually result in his becoming a lawyer: he had always imagined that at some point he’d give it up and do something else, like be a math professor, or a voice teacher, or (although he had recognized the irony, even then) a psychologist, because he was such a good listener and always so comforting to his friends. He didn’t know why he clung to this idea of Jude, even after it was clear that he loved what he did and excelled at it.

The Sycamore Court had been an unexpected hit and had won

Willem the best reviews he’d ever had, and award nominations, and its release, paired with a larger, flashier film that he had shot two years earlier but had been delayed in postproduction, had created a certain moment that even he recognized would transform his career. He had always chosen his roles wisely—if he could be said to have superior talent in anything, he always thought it was that: his taste for parts—but until that year, there had never been a time in which he felt that he was truly secure, that he could talk about films he’d like to do when he was in his fifties or sixties. Jude had always told him that he had an overdeveloped sense of circumspection about his career,

that he was far better along than he thought, but it had never felt that way; he knew he was respected by his peers and by critics, but a part of him always feared that it would end abruptly and without warning. He was a practical person in the least practical of careers, and after every job he booked, he would tell his friends he would never book another, that this was certain to be the last, partly as a way of staving off his fears—if he acknowledged the possibility, it was less likely to happen—and partly to give voice to them, because they were real.

Only later, when he and Jude were alone, would he allow himself to truly worry aloud. “What if I never work again?” he would ask Jude.

“That won’t happen,” Jude would say. “But what if it does?”

“Well,” said Jude, seriously, “in the extraordinarily unlikely event that you never act again, then you’ll do something else. And while you figure it out, you’ll move in with me.”

He knew, of course, that he would work again: he had to believe it. Every actor did. Acting was a form of grifting, and once you stopped believing you could, so did everyone else. But he still liked having Jude reassure him; he liked knowing he had somewhere to go just in case it really did end. Once in a while, when he was feeling particularly, uncharacteristically self-pitying, he would think of what he would do if it ended: he thought he might work with disabled children. He would be good at it, and he would enjoy it. He could see himself walking home from an elementary school he imagined might be on the Lower East Side, west to SoHo, toward Greene Street. His apartment would be gone, of course, sold to pay for his master’s program in education (in this dream, all the millions he’d earned, all the millions he had never spent, had somehow vanished), and he would be living in Jude’s apartment, as if the past two decades had never happened at all.

But after The Sycamore Court, these mopey fantasies had diminished

in frequency, and he spent the latter half of his thirty-seventh year feeling closer to confidence than he ever had before. Something had shifted; something had cemented; somewhere his name had been tapped into stone. He would always have work; he could rest for a bit if he wanted to.

It was September, and he was coming back from a shoot and about to embark upon a European publicity tour; he had one day in the city, just one, and Jude told him he’d take him anywhere he wanted.

They’d see each other, they’d have lunch, and then he’d get back into the car and go straight to the airport for the flight to London. It had been so long since he had been in New York, and he really wanted to go somewhere cheap and downtown and homey, like the Vietnamese noodle place they had gone to when they were in their twenties, but he instead picked a French restaurant known for its seafood in midtown so Jude wouldn’t have to travel far.

The restaurant was filled with businessmen, the kinds of people who telegraphed their wealth and power with the cut of their suits and the subtlety of their watches: you had to be wealthy and powerful yourself in order to understand what was being communicated. To everyone else, they were men in gray suits, indistinguishable from one another. The hostess brought him to Jude, who was there already, waiting, and when Jude stood, he reached over and hugged him very close, which he knew Jude didn’t like but which he had recently decided he would start doing anyway. They stood there, holding each other, surrounded on either side by gray-suited men, until he released Jude and they sat.

“Did I embarrass you enough?” he asked him, and Jude smiled and shook his head.

There were so many things to discuss in so little time that Jude had actually written an agenda on the back of a receipt, which he had laughed at when he had seen it but which they ended up following fairly closely. Between Topic Five (Malcolm’s wedding: What were they going to say in their toasts?) and Topic Six (the progression of the Greene Street apartment, which was being gutted), he had gotten up to go to the bathroom, and as he walked back to the table, he had the unsettling feeling that he was being watched. He was of course used to being appraised and inspected, but there was something different about the quality of this attention, its intensity and hush, and for the first time in a long time, he was self-conscious, aware of the fact that he was wearing jeans and not a suit, and that he clearly didn’t belong. He became aware, in fact, that everyone was wearing a suit, and he was the only one not.

“I think I’m wearing the wrong thing,” he said quietly to Jude as he

sat back down. “Everyone’s staring.”

“They’re not staring at you because of what you’re wearing,” Jude said. “They’re staring at you because you’re famous.”

He shook his head. “To you and literally dozens of other people, maybe.”

“No, Willem,” Jude had said. “You are.” He smiled at him. “Why do you think they didn’t make you wear a jacket? They don’t let just anyone waltz in here who’s not in corporate mufti. And why do you think they keep bringing over all these appetizers? It’s not because of me, I guarantee you.” Now he laughed. “Why did you choose this place anyway? I thought you were going to pick somewhere downtown.”

He groaned. “I heard the crudo was good. And what do you mean: Is there a dress code here?”

Jude smiled again and was about to answer when one of the discreet gray-suited men came over to them and, vividly embarrassed, apologized for interrupting them. “I just wanted to say that I loved The Sycamore Court,” he said. “I’m a big fan.” Willem thanked him, and the man, who was older, in his fifties, was about to say something else when he saw Jude and blinked, clearly recognizing him, and stared at him for a bit, obviously recategorizing Jude in his head, refiling what he knew about him. He opened his mouth and shut it and then apologized again as he left, Jude smiling serenely at him the entire time.

“Well, well,” said Jude, after the man had hurried away. “That was the head of the litigation department of one of the biggest firms in the city. And, apparently, an admirer of yours.” He grinned at Willem. “Now are you convinced you’re famous?”

“If the benchmark for fame is being recognized by twentysomething female RISD graduates and aging closet cases, then yes,” he said, and the two of them started snickering, childishly, until they were both able to compose themselves again.

Jude looked at him. “Only you could be on magazine covers and not think you’re famous,” he said, fondly. But Willem wasn’t anywhere real when those magazine covers came out; he was on set. On set, everyone acted like they were famous.

“It’s different,” he told Jude. “I can’t explain it.” But later, in the car to the airport, he realized what the difference was. Yes, he was used to being looked at. But he was only really used to being looked at by certain kinds of people in certain kinds of rooms—people who wanted to sleep with him, or who wanted to talk to him because it might help their own careers, or people for whom the simple fact that he was recognizable was enough to trigger something hungry and frantic in them, to crave being in his presence. He wasn’t, however, accustomed to being looked at by people who had other things to do, who had

bigger and more important matters to worry about than an actor in New York. Actors in New York: they were everywhere. The only time men with power ever looked at him was at premieres, when he was being presented to the studio head and they were shaking his hand and making small talk even as he could see them examining him, calculating how well he’d tested and how much they’d paid for him and how much the film would have to earn in order for them to look at him more closely.

Perversely, though, as this began happening more and more—he would enter a room, a restaurant, a building, and would feel, just for a second, a slight collective pause—he also began realizing that he could turn his own visibility on and off. If he walked into a restaurant expecting to be recognized, he always was. And if he walked in expecting not to be, he rarely was. He was never able to determine what, exactly, beyond his simply willing it, made the difference. But it worked; it was why, six years after that lunch, he was able to walk through much of SoHo in plain sight, more or less, after he moved in with Jude.

He had been at Greene Street since Jude got home from his suicide attempt, and as the months passed, he found that he was migrating more and more of his things—first his clothes, then his laptop, then his boxes of books and his favorite woolen blanket that he liked to wrap about himself and shuffle around in as he made his morning coffee: his life was so itinerant that there really wasn’t much else he needed or owned—to his old bedroom. A year later, he was living there still. He’d woken late one morning and made himself some coffee (he’d had to bring his coffeemaker as well, because Jude didn’t have one), and had meandered sleepily about the apartment, noticing as if for the first time that somehow his books were now on Jude’s shelves, and the pieces of art he’d brought over were hanging on Jude’s walls. When had this happened? He couldn’t quite remember, but it felt right; it felt right that he should be back here.

Even Mr. Irvine agreed. Willem had seen him at Malcolm’s house

the previous spring for Malcolm’s birthday and Mr. Irvine had said, “I hear you’ve moved back in with Jude,” and he said he had, preparing himself for a lecture on their eternal adolescence: he was going to be forty-four, after all; Jude was nearly forty-two. But “You’re a good friend, Willem,” Mr. Irvine had said. “I’m glad you boys are taking care of each other.” He had been deeply rattled by Jude’s attempt; they all had, of course, but Mr. Irvine had always liked Jude the best

of all of them, and they all knew it.

“Well, thanks, Mr. Irvine,” he’d said, surprised. “I’m glad, too.”

In the first, raw weeks after Jude had gotten out of the hospital, Willem used to go into his room at odd hours to give himself confirmation that Jude was there, and alive. Back then, Jude slept constantly, and he would sometimes sit on the end of his bed, staring at him and feeling a sort of horrible wonder that he was still with them at all. He would think: If Richard had found him just twenty minutes later, Jude would have been dead. About a month after Jude had been released, Willem had been at the drugstore and had seen a box cutter hanging on the rack—such a medieval, cruel instrument, it seemed—and had almost burst into tears: Andy had told him that the emergency room surgeon had said Jude’s had been the deepest, most decisive self-inflicted incisions he had ever seen in his career. He had always known that Jude was troubled, but he was awestruck, almost, by how little he knew him, by the depths of his determination to harm himself.

He felt that he had in some ways learned more about Jude in the

past year than he had in the past twenty-six, and each new thing he learned was awful: Jude’s stories were the kinds of stories that he was unequipped to answer, because so many of them were unanswerable. The story of the scar on the back of his hand—that had been the one that had begun it—had been so terrible that Willem had stayed up that night, unable to sleep, and had seriously contemplated calling Harold, just to be able to have someone else share the story with him, to be speechless alongside him.

The next day he couldn’t stop himself from staring at Jude’s hand, and Jude had finally drawn his sleeve over it. “You’re making me self-conscious,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” he’d said.

Jude had sighed. “Willem, I’m not going to tell you these stories if you’re going to react like this,” he said, finally. “It’s okay, it really is. It was a long time ago. I never think about it.” He paused. “I don’t want you to look at me differently if I tell you these things.”

He’d taken a deep breath. “No,” he said. “You’re right. You’re right.” And so now when he listened to these stories of Jude’s, he was careful not to say anything, to make small, nonjudgmental noises, as if all his friends had been whipped with a belt soaked in vinegar until they had passed out or been made to eat their own vomit off the floor, as if those were normal rites of childhood. But despite these stories,

he still knew nothing: He still didn’t know who Brother Luke was. He still didn’t know anything except isolated stories about the monastery, or the home. He still didn’t know how Jude had made it to Philadelphia or what had happened to him there. And he still didn’t know the story about the injury. But if Jude was beginning with the easier stories, he now knew enough to know that those stories, if he ever heard them, would be horrific. He almost didn’t want to know.

The stories had been part of a compromise when Jude had made it clear that he wouldn’t go to Dr. Loehmann. Andy had been stopping by most Friday nights, and he came over one evening shortly after Jude had returned to Rosen Pritchard. As Andy examined Jude in his bedroom, Willem made everyone drinks, which they had on the sofa, the lights low and the sky outside grainy with snow.

“Sam Loehmann says you haven’t called him,” Andy said. “Jude— this is bullshit. You’ve got to call him. This was part of the deal.”

“Andy, I’ve told you,” Jude said, “I’m not going.” Willem was pleased, then, to hear that Jude’s stubbornness had returned, even though he disagreed with him. Two months ago, when they had been in Morocco, he had looked up from his plate at dinner to see Jude staring at the dishes of mezze before him, unable to serve himself any of them. “Jude?” he’d asked, and Jude had looked at him, his face fearful. “I don’t know how to begin,” he’d said, quietly, and so Willem had reached over and spooned a little from each dish onto Jude’s plate, and told him to start with the scoop of stewed eggplant at the top and eat his way clockwise through the rest of it.

“You have to do something,” Andy said. He could tell Andy was trying to remain calm, and failing, and that too he found heartening: a sign of a certain return to normalcy. “Willem thinks so too, right, Willem? You can’t just keep going on like this! You’ve had a major trauma in your life! You have to start discussing things with someone!”

“Fine,” said Jude, looking tired. “I’ll tell Willem.”

“Willem’s not a health-care professional!” said Andy. “He’s an actor!” And at that, Jude had looked at him and the two of them had started laughing, so hard that they had to put their drinks down, and Andy had finally stood and said that they were both so immature he didn’t know why he bothered and had left, Jude trying to call after him—“Andy! We’re sorry! Don’t leave!”—but laughing too hard to be intelligible. It was the first time in months—the first time since even before the attempt—that he had heard Jude laugh.

Later, when they had recovered, Jude had said, “I thought I might, you know, Willem—start telling you things sometimes. But do you mind? Is it going to be a burden?” And he had said of course it wouldn’t be, that he wanted to know. He had always wanted to know, but he didn’t say this; he knew it would sound like criticism.

But as much as he was able to convince himself that Jude had returned to himself, he was also able to recognize that he had been changed. Some of these changes were, he thought, good ones: the talking, for example. And some of them were sad ones: although his hands were much stronger, and although it was less and less frequent, they still shook occasionally, and he knew Jude was embarrassed by it. And he was more skittish than ever about being touched, especially, Willem noticed, by Harold; a month ago, when Harold had visited, Jude had practically danced out of the way to keep Harold from hugging him. He had felt bad for Harold, seeing the expression on his face, and so had gone over and hugged him himself. “You know he can’t help it,” he told Harold quietly, and Harold had kissed him on the cheek. “You’re a sweet man, Willem,” he’d said.

Now it was October, thirteen months after the attempt. During the

evening he was at the theater; two months after his run ended in December, he’d start shooting his first project since he returned from Sri Lanka, an adaptation of Uncle Vanya that he was excited about and was being filmed in the Hudson Valley: he’d be able to come home every night.

Not that the location was a coincidence. “Keep me in New York,” he’d instructed his manager and his agent after he’d dropped out of the film in Russia the previous fall.

“For how long?” asked Kit, his agent.

“I don’t know,” he’d said. “At least the next year.”

“Willem,” Kit had said, after a silence, “I understand how close you and Jude are. But don’t you think you should take advantage of the momentum you have? You could do whatever you wanted.” He was referring to The Iliad and The Odyssey, which had both been enormous successes, proof, Kit liked to point out, that he could do anything he wanted now. “From what I know of Jude, he’d say the same thing.” And then, when he didn’t say anything, “It’s not like this is your wife, or kid, or something. This is your friend.”

“You mean ‘just your friend,’ ” he’d said, testily. Kit was Kit; he thought like an agent, and he trusted how Kit thought—he had been with him since the beginning of his career; he tried not to fight with

him. And Kit had always guided him well. “No fat, no filler,” he liked to brag about Willem’s career, reviewing the history of his roles. They both knew that Kit was far more ambitious for him than he was—he always had been. And yet it had been Kit who’d gotten him on the first flight out of Sri Lanka after Richard had called him; Kit who’d had the producers shut down production for seven days so he could fly to New York and back.

“I don’t mean to offend you, Willem,” Kit had said, carefully. “I know you love him. But come on. If he were the love of your life, I’d understand. But this seems extreme to me, to inhibit your career like this.”

And yet he sometimes wondered if he could ever love anyone as much as he loved Jude. It was the fact of him, of course, but also the utter comfort of life with him, of having someone who had known him for so long and who could be relied upon to always take him as exactly who he was on that particular day. His work, his very life, was one of disguises and charades. Everything about him and his context was constantly changing: his hair, his body, where he would sleep that night. He often felt he was made of something liquid, something that was being continually poured from bright-colored bottle to bright-colored bottle, with a little being lost or left behind with each transfer. But his friendship with Jude made him feel that there was something real and immutable about who he was, that despite his life of guises, there was something elemental about him, something that Jude saw even when he could not, as if Jude’s very witness of him made him real.

In graduate school he’d had a teacher who had told him that the

best actors are the most boring people. A strong sense of self was detrimental, because an actor had to let the self disappear; he had to let himself be subsumed by a character. “If you want to be a personality, be a pop star,” his teacher had said.

He had understood the wisdom of this, and still did, but really, the self was what they all craved, because the more you acted, the further and further you drifted from who you thought you were, and the harder and harder it was to find your way back. Was it any wonder that so many of his peers were such wrecks? They made their money, their lives, their identities by impersonating others—was it a surprise, then, that they needed one set, one stage after the next, to give their lives shape? Without them, what and who were they? And so they took up religions, and girlfriends, and causes to give them something

that could be their own: they never slept, they never stopped, they were terrified to be alone, to have to ask themselves who they were. (“When an actor talks and there’s no one to hear him, is he still an actor?” his friend Roman had once asked. He sometimes wondered.)

But to Jude, he wasn’t an actor: he was his friend, and that identity supplanted everything else. It was a role he had inhabited for so long that it had become, indelibly, who he was. To Jude, he was no more primarily an actor than Jude was primarily a lawyer—it was never the first or second or third way that either of them would describe the other. It was Jude who remembered who he had been before he had made a life pretending to be other people: someone with a brother, someone with parents, someone to whom everything and everyone seemed so impressive and beguiling. He knew other actors who didn’t want anyone to remember them as they’d been, as someone so determined to be someone else, but he wasn’t that person. He wanted to be reminded of who he was; he wanted to be around someone for whom his career would never be the most interesting thing about him. And if he was to be honest, he loved what came with Jude as well: Harold and Julia. Jude’s adoption had been the first time he had ever felt envious of anything Jude had. He admired a lot of what Jude had

—his intelligence and thoughtfulness and resourcefulness—but he had

never been jealous of him. But watching Harold and Julia with him, watching how they watched him even when he wasn’t looking at them, he had felt a kind of emptiness: he was parentless, and while most of the time he didn’t think about this at all, he felt that, for as remote as his parents had been, they had at least been something that had anchored him to his life. Without any family, he was a scrap of paper floating through the air, being picked up and tossed aloft with every gust. He and Jude had been united in this.

Of course, he knew this envy was ridiculous, and beyond mean: he had grown up with parents, and Jude hadn’t. And he knew that Harold and Julia felt an affection for him as well, as much as he did for them. They had both seen every one of his films, and both sent him long and detailed reviews of them, always praising his performance and making intelligent comments about his costars and the cinematography. (The only one they had never seen—or at least never commented on—was The Prince of Cinnamon, which was the film he had been shooting when Jude had tried to kill himself. He had never seen it himself.) They read every article about him—like his reviews, he avoided these articles—and bought a copy of every

magazine that featured him. On his birthday, they would call and ask him what he was going to do to celebrate, and Harold would remind him of how old he was getting. At Christmas, they always sent him something—a book, along with a jokey little gift, or a clever toy that he would keep in his pocket to fiddle with as he talked on the phone or sat in the makeup chair. At Thanksgiving, he and Harold would sit in the living room watching the game, while Julia kept Jude company in the kitchen.

“We’re running low on chips,” Harold would say. “I know,” he’d say.

“Why don’t you go get more?” Harold would say. “You’re the host,” he’d remind Harold.

You’re the guest.” “Yeah, exactly.”

“Call Jude and get him to bring us more.” “You call him!”

“No, you call him.”

“Fine,” he’d say. “Jude! Harold wants more chips!”

“You’re such a confabulator, Willem,” Harold would say, as Jude came in to refill the bowl. “Jude, this was completely Willem’s idea.”

But mostly, he knew that Harold and Julia loved him because he loved Jude; he knew they trusted him to take care of Jude—that was who he was to them, and he didn’t mind it. He was proud of it.

Lately, however, he had been feeling differently about Jude, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. They had been sitting on the sofa late one Friday night—he just home from the theater, Jude just home from the office—and talking, talking about nothing in particular, when he had almost leaned over and kissed him. But he had stopped himself, and the moment had passed. But since then, he had been revisited by that impulse again: twice, three times, four times.

It was beginning to worry him. Not because Jude was a man: he’d had sex with men before, everyone he knew had, and in college, he and JB had drunkenly made out one night out of boredom and curiosity (an experience that had been, to their mutual relief, entirely unsatisfying: “It’s really interesting how someone so good-looking can be such a turnoff,” had been JB’s exact words to him). And not because he hadn’t always felt a sort of low-key hum of attraction for Jude, the way he felt for more or less all his friends. It was because he knew that if he tried anything, he would have to be certain about it, because he sensed, powerfully, that Jude, who was casual about

nothing, certainly wouldn’t be casual about sex.

Jude’s sex life, his sexuality, had been a subject of ongoing fascination for everyone who knew him, and certainly for Willem’s girlfriends. Occasionally, it had come up among the three of them—he and Malcolm and JB—when Jude wasn’t around: Was he having sex? Had he ever? With whom? They had all seen people looking at him at parties, or flirting with him, and in every case, Jude had remained oblivious.

“That girl was all over you,” he’d say to Jude as they walked home from one party or another.

“What girl?” Jude would say.

They talked about it with one another because Jude had made it clear he wouldn’t discuss it with any of them: when the topic was raised, he would give them one of his stares and then change the subject with a declarativeness that was impossible to misinterpret.

“Has he ever spent the night away from home?” asked JB (this was when he and Jude were living on Lispenard Street).

“Guys,” he’d say (the conversation made him uncomfortable), “I don’t think we should be talking about this.”

“Willem!” JB would say. “Don’t be such a pussy! You’re not betraying any confidences. Just tell us: yes or no. Has he ever?”

He’d sigh. “No,” he’d say.

There would be a silence. “Maybe he’s asexual,” Malcolm would say, after a while.

“No, that’s you, Mal.” “Fuck off, JB.”

“Do you think he’s a virgin?” JB would ask.

“No,” he’d say. He didn’t know why he knew this, but he was certain he wasn’t.

“It’s such a waste,” JB would say, and he and Malcolm would look at each other, knowing what was coming next. “His looks’ve been wasted on him. should’ve gotten his looks. would’ve had a good time with them, at least.”

After a while, they grew to accept it as part of who Jude was; they added the subject to the list of things they knew not to discuss. Year after year passed and he dated no one, they saw him with no one. “Maybe he’s living some hot double life,” Richard once suggested, and Willem had shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. But really, although he had no proof of this, he knew that Jude wasn’t. It was in this same, proof-less way that he assumed Jude was probably gay (though maybe not),

and probably hadn’t ever had a relationship (though he really hoped he was wrong about this). And as much as Jude claimed otherwise, Willem wasn’t ever convinced that he wasn’t lonely, that he didn’t, in some small dark part of himself, want to be with someone. He remembered Lionel and Sinclair’s wedding, where it had been Malcolm with Sophie and he with Robin and JB—though they hadn’t been speaking then—with Oliver, and Jude with no one. And although Jude hadn’t seemed bothered by this, Willem had looked at him across the table and had felt sad for him. He didn’t want Jude to get old alone; he wanted him to be with someone who would take care of him and be attracted to him. JB was right: it was a waste.

And so was this what this was, this attraction? Was it fear and sympathy that had morphed itself into a more palatable shape? Was he convincing himself he was attracted to Jude because he couldn’t stand to see him alone? He didn’t think so. But he didn’t know.

The person he would’ve once discussed this with was JB, but he couldn’t speak to JB about this, even though they were friends again, or at least working toward friendship. After they had returned from Morocco, Jude had called JB and the two of them had gone out for dinner, and a month later, Willem and JB had gone out on their own. Oddly, though, he found it much more difficult to forgive JB than Jude had, and their first meeting had been a disaster—JB showily, exaggeratedly blithe; he seething—until they had left the restaurant and started yelling at each other. There they had stood on deserted Pell Street—it had been snowing, lightly, and no one else was out— accusing each other of condescension and cruelty; irrationality and self-absorption; self-righteousness and narcissism; martyrdom and cluelessness.

“You think anyone hates themselves as much as I do?” JB had

shouted at him. (His fourth show, the one that documented his time on drugs and with Jackson, had been titled “The Narcissist’s Guide to Self-Hatred,” and JB had referenced it several times during their dinner as proof that he had punished himself mightily and publicly and had now been reformed.)

“Yeah, JB, I do,” he’d shouted back at him. “I think Jude hates himself far more than you could ever hate yourself, and I think you knew that and you made him hate himself even more.”

“You think I don’t know that?” JB had yelled. “You think I don’t fucking hate myself for that?”

“I don’t think you hate yourself enough for it, no,” he’d yelled back.

“Why did you do that, JB? Why did you do that to him, of all people?” And then, to his surprise, JB had sunk, defeated, to the curb. “Why didn’t you ever love me the way you love him, Willem?” he asked.

He sighed. “Oh, JB,” he said, and sat down next to him on the chilled pavement. “You never needed me as much as he did.” It wasn’t the only reason, he knew, but it was part of it. No one else in his life needed him. People wanted him—for sex, for their projects, for his friendship, even—but only Jude needed him. Only to Jude was he essential.

“You know, Willem,” said JB, after a silence, “maybe he doesn’t need you as much as you think he does.”

He had thought about this for a while. “No,” he said, finally, “I think he does.”

Now JB sighed. “Actually,” he had said, “I think you’re right.”

After that, things had, strangely, improved. But as much as he was

—cautiously—learning to enjoy JB again, he wasn’t sure he was ready to discuss this particular topic with him. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear JB’s jokes about how he had already fucked everything with two X chromosomes and so was now moving on to the Ys, or about his abandonment of heteronormative standards, or, worst of all, about how this attraction he thought he was feeling for Jude was really something else: a misplaced guilt for the suicide attempt, or a form of patronization, or simple, misdirected boredom.

So he did nothing and said nothing. As the months passed, he dated, casually, and he examined his feelings as he did. This is crazy, he told himself. This is not a good idea. Both were true. It would be so much easier if he didn’t have these feelings at all. And so what if he did? he argued with himself. Everyone had feelings that they knew better than to act upon because they knew that doing so would make life so much more complicated. He had whole pages of dialogue with himself, imagining the lines—his and JB’s, both spoken by him— typeset on white paper.

But still, the feelings persisted. They went to Cambridge for Thanksgiving, the first time in two years that they’d done so. He and Jude shared his room because Julia’s brother was visiting from Oxford and had the upstairs bedroom. That night, he lay awake on the bedroom sofa, watching Jude sleep. How easy would it be, he thought, to simply climb into bed next to him and fall asleep himself? There was something about it that seemed almost preordained, and the absurdity was not in the fact of it but in his resistance to the fact

of it.

They had taken the car to Cambridge, and Jude drove them home so he could sleep. “Willem,” Jude said as they were about to enter the city, “I want to ask you about something.” He looked at him. “Are you okay? Is something on your mind?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“You’ve seemed really—pensive, I guess,” Jude said. He was quiet. “You know, it’s been a huge gift having you live with me. And not just live with me, but—everything. I don’t know what I would have done without you. But I know it must be draining for you. And I just want you to know: if you want to move back home, I’ll be fine. I promise. I’m not going to hurt myself.” He had been staring at the road as he spoke, but now he turned to him. “I don’t know how I got so lucky,” he said.

He didn’t know what to say for a while. “Do you want me to move home?” he asked.

Jude was silent. “Of course not,” he said, very quietly. “But I want you to be happy, and you haven’t seemed very happy recently.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve been distracted, you’re right. But it’s certainly not because I’m living with you. I love living with you.” He tried to think of the right, the perfect next thing to add, but he couldn’t. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Don’t be,” Jude said. “But if you want to talk about any of it, ever, you always can.”

“I know,” he said. “Thanks.” They were quiet the rest of the way home.

And then it was December. His run finished. They went to India on holiday, the four of them: the first trip they’d taken as a unit in years. In February, he began filming Uncle Vanya. The set was the kind he treasured and sought but only rarely found—he had worked with everyone before, and they all liked and respected one another, and the director was shaggy and mild and gentle, and the adaptation, which had been done by a novelist Jude admired, was beautiful and simple, and the dialogue was a pleasure to get to speak.

When Willem was young, he had been in a play called The House on Thistle Lane, which had been about a family that was packing up and leaving a house in St. Louis that had been owned by the father’s family for generations, but which they could no longer afford to maintain. But instead of a set, they had staged the play on one floor of a dilapidated brownstone in Harlem, and the audience had been

allowed to wander between the rooms as long as they remained outside a roped-off area; depending on where you stood to watch, you saw the actors, and the space itself, from different perspectives. He had played the eldest, most damaged son, and had spent most of the first act mute and in the dining room, wrapping dishes in pieces of newspaper. He had developed a nervous tic for the son, who couldn’t imagine leaving his childhood house, and as the character’s parents fought in the living room, he would put down the plates and press himself into the far corner of the dining room near the kitchen and peel off the wallpaper in shreds. Although most of that act took place in the living room, there would always be a few audience members who would remain in his room, watching him, watching him scraping off the paper—a blue so dark it was almost black, and printed with pale pink cabbage roses—and rolling it between his fingers and dropping it to the floor, so that every night, one corner would become littered with little cigars of wallpaper, as if he were a mouse inexpertly building its tiny nest. It had been an exhausting play, but he had loved it: the intimacy of the audience, the unlikeliness of the stage, the small, detailed physicality of the role.

This production felt very much like that play. The house, a Gilded

Age mansion on the Hudson, was grand but creaky and shabby—the kind of house his ex-girlfriend Philippa had once imagined they’d live in when they were married and ancient—and the director used only three rooms: the dining room, the living room, and the sunporch. Instead of an audience, they had the crew, who followed them as they moved through the space. But although he relished the work, part of him also recognized that Uncle Vanya was not exactly the most helpful thing he could be doing at the moment. On set, he was Dr. Astrov, but once he was back at Greene Street, he was Sonya, and Sonya—as much as he loved the play and always had, as much as he loved and pitied poor Sonya herself—was not a role he had ever thought he might perform, under any circumstance. When he had told the others about the film, JB had said, “So it’s a gender-blind cast, then,” and he’d said, “What do you mean?” and JB had said, “Well, you’re obviously Elena, right?” and everyone had laughed, especially him. This was what he loved about JB, he had thought; he was always smarter than even he knew. “He’s far too old to play Elena,” Jude had added, affectionately, and everyone had laughed again.

Vanya was an efficient shoot, just thirty-six days, and was over by

the last week in March. One day shortly after it had ended, he met an

old friend and former girlfriend of his, Cressy, for lunch in TriBeCa, and as he walked back to Greene Street in the light, dry snow, he was reminded of how much he enjoyed the city in the late winter, when the weather was suspended between one season and the next, and when Jude cooked every weekend, and when you could walk the streets for hours and never see anyone but a few lone people taking their dogs out for a stroll.

He was heading north on Church Street and had just crossed Reade when he glanced into a café on his right and saw Andy sitting at a table in the corner, reading. “Willem!” said Andy, as he approached him. “What’re you doing here?”

“I just had lunch with a friend and I’m walking home,” he said. “What’re you doing here? You’re so far downtown.”

“You two and your walks,” Andy said, shaking his head. “George is at a birthday party a few blocks from here, and I’m waiting until I have to go pick him up.”

“How old is George now?” “Nine.”

“God, already?” “I know.”

“Do you want some company?” he asked. “Or do you want to be alone?”

“No,” said Andy. He tucked a napkin into his book to mark his place. “Stay. Please.” And so he sat.

They talked for a while of, of course, Jude, who was on a business trip in Mumbai, and Uncle Vanya (“I just remember Astrov as being an unbelievable tool,” Andy said), and his next project, which began shooting in Brooklyn at the end of April, and Andy’s wife, Jane, who was expanding her practice, and their children: George, who had just been diagnosed with asthma, and Beatrice, who wanted to go to boarding school the following year.

And then, before he could stop himself—not that he felt any particular need to try—he was telling Andy about his feelings for Jude, and how he wasn’t sure what they meant or what to do about them. He talked and talked, and Andy listened, his face expressionless. There was no one else in the café but the two of them, and outside, the snow fell faster and thicker, and he felt, despite his anxiety, deeply calm, and glad he was telling somebody, and that that somebody was a person who knew him and Jude both, and had for many years. “I know this seems strange,” he said. “And I’ve thought

about what it could be, Andy, I really have. But part of me wonders if it was always meant to be this way; I mean, I’ve dated and dated for decades now, and maybe the reason it’s never worked out is because it was never meant to, because I was supposed to be with him all along. Or maybe I’m telling myself this. Or maybe it’s simple curiosity. But I don’t think it is; I think I know myself better than that.” He sighed. “What do you think I should do?”

Andy was quiet for a while. “First,” he said, “I don’t think it’s strange, Willem. I think it makes sense in a lot of ways. You two have always had something different, something unusual. So—I always wondered, despite your girlfriends.

“Selfishly, I think it’d be wonderful: for you, but especially for him. I think if you wanted to be in a relationship with him, it’d be the greatest, most restorative gift he could ever get.

“But Willem, if you do this, you should go in prepared to make some sort of commitment to him, and to being with him, because you’re right: you’re not going to be able to just fool around and then get out of it. And I think you should know that it’s going to be very, very hard. You’re going to have to get him to trust you all over again, and to see you in a different way. I don’t think I’m betraying anything when I say that it’s going to be very tough for him to be intimate with you, and you’re going to have to be really patient with him.”

They were both silent. “So if I do it, I should do so thinking it’s going to be forever,” he told Andy, and Andy looked at him for a few seconds and then smiled.

“Well,” Andy said, “there are worse life sentences.” “True,” he said.

He went back to Greene Street. April arrived, and Jude returned home. They celebrated Jude’s birthday—“Forty-three,” Harold sighed, “I vaguely remember forty-three”—and he began shooting his next project. An old friend of his, a woman he’d known since graduate school, was starring in the production as well—he was playing a corrupt detective, and she was playing his wife—and they slept together a few times. Everything marched along as it always had. He worked; he came home to Greene Street; he thought about what Andy had said.

And then one Saturday morning he woke very early, just as the sky was brightening. It was late May, and the weather was unpredictable: some days it felt like March, other days, like July. Ninety feet away from him lay Jude. And suddenly his timidity, his confusion, his

dithering seemed silly. He was home, and home was Jude. He loved him; he was meant to be with him; he would never hurt him—he trusted himself with that much. And so what was there to fear?

He remembered a conversation he’d had with Robin when he had been preparing to shoot The Odyssey and was rereading it and The Iliad, neither of which he had looked at since he was a freshman in college. This was when they had first begun dating, and were both still trying to impress each other, when a sort of giddiness was derived from deferring to the other’s expertise. “What’re the most overrated lines from the poem?” he’d asked, and Robin had rolled her eyes and recited: “ ‘We have still not reached the end of our trials. One more labor lies in store—boundless, laden with danger, great and long, and I must brave it out from start to finish.’ ” She made some retching noises. “So obvious. And somehow, that’s been co-opted by every losing football team in the country as their pregame rallying cry,” she added, and he’d laughed. She looked at him, slyly. “You played football,” she said. “I’ll bet those’re your favorite lines as well.”

“Absolutely not,” he’d said, in mock outrage. This was part of their

game that wasn’t always a game: he was the dumb actor, the dumber jock, and she was the smart girl who went out with him and taught him what he didn’t know.

“Then tell me what they are,” she’d challenged him, and after he did, she’d looked at him, intently. “Hmm,” she said. “Interesting.”

Now he got out of bed and wrapped his blanket around himself, yawning. That evening, he’d talk to Jude. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he would be safe; he would keep them both safe. He went to the kitchen to make himself coffee, and as he did, he whispered the lines back to himself, those lines he thought of whenever he was coming home, coming back to Greene Street after a long time away—“And tell me this: I must be absolutely sure. This place I’ve reached, is it truly Ithaca?”—as all around him, the apartment filled with light.



Every morning he gets up and swims two miles, and then comes back upstairs and sits down and has breakfast and reads the papers. His friends make fun of him for this—for the fact that he actually prepares a meal instead of buying something on the way to work; for the fact that he actually still gets the papers delivered, in paper form

—but the ritual of it has always calmed him: even in the home, it was

the one time when the counselors were too mild, the other boys too sleepy to bother him. He would sit in the corner of the dining area and read and eat his breakfast, and for those minutes he would be left alone.

He is an efficient reader, and he skims first through The Wall Street Journal, and then the Financial Times, before beginning with The New York Times, which he reads front to back, when he sees the headline in Obituaries: “Caleb Porter, 52, Fashion Executive.” Immediately, his mouthful of scrambled eggs and spinach turns to cardboard and glue, and he swallows hard, feeling sick, feeling every nerve ending thrumming alive. He has to read the article three times before he can make sense of any of the facts: pancreatic cancer. “Very fast,” said his colleague and longtime friend. Under his stewardship, emerging fashion label Rothko saw aggressive expansion into the Asian and Middle Eastern markets, as well as the opening of their first New York City boutique. Died at his home in Manhattan. Survived by his sister, Michaela Porter de Soto of Monte Carlo, six nieces and nephews, and his partner, Nicholas Lane, also a fashion executive.

He is still for a moment, staring at the page until the words

rearrange themselves into an abstraction of gray before his eyes, and then he hobbles as fast as he can to the bathroom near the kitchen, where he vomits up everything he’s just eaten, gagging over the toilet until he’s coughing up long strands of saliva. He lowers the toilet seat and sits, resting his face in his hands, until he feels better. He wishes, desperately, for his razors, but he has always been careful not to cut himself during the day, partly because it feels wrong and partly because he knows he has to impose limits upon himself, however artificial, or he’d be cutting himself all day. Lately, he has been trying very hard not to cut himself at all. But tonight, he thinks, he will grant himself an exception. It is seven a.m. In around fifteen hours, he’ll be home again. All he has to do is make it through the day.

He puts his plate in the dishwasher and walks quietly through the bedroom and into the bathroom, where he showers and shaves and then gets dressed in the closet, first making sure that the door between the closet and the bedroom is completely closed. At this point, he has added a new step to his morning routine: now, if he were to do what he has been for the past month, he would open the door and walk over to the bed, where he’d perch on its left side and put his hand on Willem’s arm, and Willem would open his eyes and smile at him.

“I’m off,” he’d say, smiling back, and Willem would shake his head. “Don’t go,” Willem would say, and he’d say, “I have to,” and Willem would say, “Five minutes,” and he’d say, “Five.” And then Willem would lift his end of the blanket and he’d crawl beneath it, with Willem pressed against his back, and he would close his eyes and wait for Willem to wrap his arms around him and wish he could stay forever. And then, ten or fifteen minutes later, he would at last, reluctantly, get up, and kiss Willem somewhere near, but not on, his mouth—he is still having trouble with this, even four months later— and leave for the day.

This morning, however, he skips this step. He instead pauses at the dining-room table to write Willem a note explaining that he had to leave early and didn’t want to wake him, and then, as he’s walking to the door, he comes back and grabs the Times off the table and takes it with him. He knows how irrational it is, but he doesn’t want Willem to see Caleb’s name, or picture, or any evidence of him. Willem still doesn’t know about what Caleb did to him, and he doesn’t want him to. He doesn’t even want him to be aware of Caleb’s very existence— or, he realizes, his once-existence, for Caleb no longer exists. Beneath his arm, the paper feels almost alive with heat, Caleb’s name a dark knot of poison cradled inside its pages.

He decides to drive to work so he’ll be able to be alone for a little while, but before he leaves the garage, he takes out the paper and reads the article one more time before folding it up again and shoving it into his briefcase. And then suddenly, he is crying, frantic, breathy sobs, the kind that come from his diaphragm, and as he leans his head on the steering wheel, trying to regain control, he is finally able to admit to himself how plainly, profoundly relieved he is, and how frightened he has been for the past three years, and how humiliated and ashamed he is still. He retrieves the paper, hating himself, and reads the obituary again, stopping at “and by his partner, Nicholas Lane, also a fashion executive.” He wonders: Did Caleb do to Nicholas Lane what he did to him, or is Nicholas—as he must be—someone undeserving of such treatment? He hopes that Nicholas never experienced what he had, but he’s also certain he hasn’t, and the knowledge of that makes him cry harder. That had been one of Harold’s arguments when he was trying to get him to report the attack; that Caleb was dangerous, and that by reporting him, by having him arrested, he would be protecting other people from him. But he had known that wasn’t true: Caleb wouldn’t do to other people

what he did to him. He hadn’t hit and hated him because he hit and hated other people; he had hit and hated him because of who he was, not because of who Caleb was.

Finally, he’s able to compose himself, and he wipes his eyes and blows his nose. The crying: another leftover from his time with Caleb. For years and years he was able to control it, and now—ever since that night—it seems he is always crying, or on the verge of it, or actively trying to stop himself from doing it. It’s as if all his progress from the past few decades has been erased, and he is again that boy in Brother Luke’s care, so teary and helpless and vulnerable.

He’s about to start the car when his hands begin shaking. Now he knows he can do nothing but wait, and he folds them in his lap and tries to make his breaths deep and regular, which sometimes helps. By the time his phone rings a few minutes later, they’ve slowed somewhat, and he hopes he sounds normal as he answers. “Hi, Harold,” he says.

“Jude,” says Harold. His voice is flattened, somehow. “Have you read the Times today?”

Immediately, the shaking intensifies. “Yes,” he says.

“Pancreatic cancer is a terrible way to go,” says Harold. He sounds grimly satisfied. “Good. I’m glad.” There’s a pause. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” he says, “yes, I’m fine.”

“The connection keeps cutting out,” says Harold, but he knows it’s not: it’s because he’s shaking so badly that he can’t hold the phone steady.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m in the garage. Look, Harold, I’d better get up to work. Thanks for calling.”

“Okay.” Harold sighs. “You’ll call me if you want to talk, right?” “Yes,” he says. “Thanks.”

It’s a busy day, for which he’s grateful, and he tries to give himself no time to think about anything but work. Late in the morning, he gets a text from Andy—Assume you’ve seen that the asshole is dead. Pancreatic cancer = major suffering. You okay?—and writes back to assure him he’s fine, and over lunch he reads the obituary one last time before stuffing the entire paper into the shredder and turning back to his computer.

In the afternoon he gets a text from Willem saying that the director he’s meeting with about his next project has pushed back their dinner, so he doesn’t think he’ll be home before eleven, and he is relieved. At

nine, he tells his associates he’s leaving early, and then drives home and goes directly to the bathroom, shucking his jacket and rolling up his sleeves and unstrapping his watch as he goes; he’s almost hyperventilating with desire by the time he makes the first cut. It has been nearly two months since he’s made more than two cuts in a single sitting, but now he abandons his self-discipline and cuts and cuts and cuts, until finally his breathing slows and he feels the old, comforting emptiness settle inside him. After he’s done, he cleans up and washes his face and goes to the kitchen, where he reheats some soup he’d made the weekend before and has his first real meal of the day, and then brushes his teeth and collapses into bed. He is weak from the cutting, but he knows if he rests for a few minutes, he’ll be fine. The goal is to be normal by the time Willem comes home, to not give him anything to worry about, to not do anything else to upset this impossible and delirious dream he’s been living in for the past eighteen weeks.

When Willem had told him of his feelings, he had been so

discomfited, so disbelieving, that it was only the fact that it was Willem saying it that convinced him it wasn’t some terrible joke: his faith in Willem was more powerful than the absurdity of what Willem was suggesting.

But only barely. “What are you saying?” he asked Willem for the tenth time.

“I’m saying I’m attracted to you,” Willem said, patiently. And then, when he didn’t say anything, “Judy—I don’t think it’s all that odd, really. Haven’t you ever felt that way about me, in all these years?”

“No,” he said instantly, and Willem had laughed. But he hadn’t been joking. He would never, ever have been so presumptuous as to even picture himself with Willem. Besides, he wasn’t what he had ever imagined for Willem: he had imagined someone beautiful (and female) and intelligent for Willem, someone who would know how fortunate she was, someone who would make him feel fortunate as well. He knew this was—like so many of his imaginings about adult relationships—somewhat gauzy and naïve, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen. He was certainly not the kind of person Willem should be with; for Willem to be with him over the theoretical fantasy woman he’d conjured for him was an unbelievable tumble.

The next day, he presented Willem with a list of twenty reasons why he shouldn’t want to be with him. As he handed it to him, he could see that Willem was amused, slightly, but then he started to

read it and his expression changed, and he retreated to his study so he wouldn’t have to watch him.

After a while, Willem knocked. “Can I come in?” he asked, and he told him he could.

“I’m looking at point number two,” said Willem, seriously. “I hate to tell you this, Jude, but we have the same body.” He looked at him. “You’re an inch taller, but can I remind you that we can wear each other’s clothes?”

He sighed. “Willem,” he said, “you know what I mean.”

“Jude,” Willem said, “I understand that this is strange for you, and unexpected. If you really don’t want this, I’ll back off and leave you alone and I promise things won’t change between us.” He stopped. “But if you’re trying to convince me not to be with you because you’re scared and self-conscious—well, I understand that. But I don’t think it’s a good enough reason not to try. We’ll go as slowly as you want, I promise.”

He was quiet. “Can I think about it?” he asked, and Willem nodded. “Of course,” he said, and left him alone, sliding the door shut behind him.

He sat in his office in silence for a long time, thinking. After Caleb, he had sworn he would never again do this to himself. He knew Willem would never do anything bad to him, and yet his imagination was limited: he was incapable of conceiving of a relationship that wouldn’t end with his being hit, with his being kicked down the stairs, with his being made to do things he had told himself he would never have to do again. Wasn’t it possible, he asked himself, that he could push even someone as good as Willem to that inevitability? Wasn’t it foregone that he would inspire a kind of hatred from even Willem? Was he so greedy for companionship that he would ignore the lessons that history—his own history—had taught him?

But then there was another voice inside him, arguing back. You’re crazy if you turn this opportunity down, said the voice. This is the one person you have always trusted. Willem isn’t Caleb; he would never do that, not ever.

And so, finally, he had gone to the kitchen, where Willem was making dinner. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

Willem had looked at him and smiled. “Come here,” he said, and he did, and Willem kissed him. He had been scared, and panicky, and once again he had thought of Brother Luke, and he had opened his eyes to remind himself that this was Willem after all, not someone to

fear. But just as he was relaxing into it, he had seen Caleb’s face flashing through his mind like a pulse, and he pulled away from Willem, choking, rubbing his hand across his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he said, pivoting away from him. “I’m sorry. I’m not very good at this, Willem.”

“What do you mean?” Willem had asked, turning him back around. “You’re great at it,” and he had felt himself sag with relief that Willem wasn’t angry at him.

Since then, he has been constantly pitting what he knows of Willem against what he expects of someone—anyone—who has any physical desire for him. It is as if he somehow expects that the Willem he has known will be replaced by another; as if there will be a different Willem for what is a different relationship. In the first few weeks, he was terrified that he might upset or disappoint Willem in some way, that he might drive him toward anger. He had waited for days, summoning his courage, to tell Willem that he couldn’t tolerate the taste of coffee in his mouth (although he didn’t explain to him why: Brother Luke, his awful, muscular tongue, the grain of coffee grounds that had permanently furred his gumline. This had been one of the things he had appreciated about Caleb: that he hadn’t drunk coffee). He apologized and apologized until Willem told him to stop. “Jude, it’s fine,” he said. “I should’ve realized: really. I just won’t drink it.”

“But you love coffee,” he said.

Willem had smiled. “I enjoy it, yes,” he said, “but I don’t need it.” He smiled again. “My dentist will be thrilled.”

Also in that first month, he had talked to Willem about sex. They had these conversations at night, in bed, when it was easier to say things. He had always associated night with cutting, but now it was becoming about something else—those talks with Willem in a darkened room, when he was less self-conscious about touching him, and where he could see every one of Willem’s features and yet was also able to pretend that Willem couldn’t see his.

“Do you want to have sex someday?” he asked him one night, and even as he was saying it, he heard how stupid he sounded.

But Willem didn’t laugh at him. “Yes,” he said, “I’d like to.”

He nodded. Willem waited. “It’s going to take me a while,” he said, at last.

“That’s okay,” Willem said. “I’ll wait.” “But what if it takes me months?” “Then it’ll take months,” Willem said.

He thought about that. “What if it takes longer?” he asked, quietly.

Willem had reached over and touched the side of his face. “Then it will,” he said.

They were quiet for a long time. “What’re you going to do in the meantime?” he asked, and Willem laughed. “I do have some self-control, Jude,” he said, smiling at him. “I know this comes as a shock to you, but I can go for stretches without having sex.”

“I didn’t mean anything,” he began, remorseful, but Willem grabbed him and kissed him, noisily, on the cheek. “I’m kidding,” he said. “It’s okay, Jude. You’ll take as long as you need.”

And so they still haven’t had sex, and sometimes he is even able to convince himself that maybe they never will. But in the meantime, he has grown to enjoy, to crave even, Willem’s physicality, his affection, which is so easy and natural and spontaneous that it makes him feel easier and more spontaneous as well. Willem sleeps on the left side of the bed, and he on the right, and the first night they slept in the same bed, he turned to his right on his side, the way he always did, and Willem pressed up against him, tucking his right arm under his neck and then across his shoulders, and his left arm around his stomach, moving his legs between his legs. He was surprised by this, but once he overcame his initial discomfort, he found he liked it, that it was like being swaddled.

One night in June, however, Willem didn’t do it, and he worried he had done something wrong. The next morning—early mornings were the other time they talked about things that seemed too tender, too difficult, to be said in the daylight—he asked Willem if he was upset with him, and Willem, looking surprised, said no, of course not.

“I just wondered,” he began, stammering, “because last night you didn’t—” But he couldn’t finish the sentence; he was too embarrassed. But then he could see Willem’s expression clear, and he rolled into him and wrapped his arms around him. “This?” he asked, and he nodded. “It was just because it was so hot last night,” Willem said, and he waited for Willem to laugh at him, but he didn’t. “That’s the only reason, Judy.” Since then, Willem has held him in the same way every night, even through July, when not even the air-conditioning could erase the heaviness from the air, and when they both woke damp with sweat. This, he realizes, is what he wanted from a relationship all along. This is what he meant when he hoped he might someday be touched. Sometimes Caleb had hugged him, briefly, and he always had to resist the impulse to ask him to do it again, and for

longer. But now, here it is: all the physical contact that he knows exists between healthy people who love each other and are having sex, without the dreaded sex itself.

He cannot bring himself to initiate contact with Willem, nor ask for it, but he waits for it, for every time that Willem grabs his arm as he passes him in the living room and pulls him close to kiss him, or comes up behind him as he stands at the stove and puts his arms around him in the same position—chest, stomach—that he does in bed. He has always admired how physical JB and Willem are, both with each other and with everyone around them; he knew they knew not to do it with him, and as grateful as he was for their carefulness with him, it sometimes made him wistful: he sometimes wished they would disobey him, that they would lay claim to him with the same friendly confidence they did with everyone else. But they never did.

It took him three months, until the end of August, to finally take off his clothes in front of Willem. Every night he came to bed in his long-sleeve T-shirt and sweatpants, and every night Willem came to bed in his underwear. “Is this uncomfortable for you?” Willem asked, and he shook his head, even though it was—uncomfortable, but not entirely unwelcome. Every day the month before, he promised himself: he would take off his clothes and be done with it. He would do it that night, because he had to do it at some point. But that was as far as his imagination would let him proceed; he couldn’t think about what Willem’s reaction might be, or what he might do the following day. And then night would come, and they would be in bed, and his resolve would fail him.

One night, Willem reached beneath his shirt and put his hands on his back, and he yanked himself away so forcefully that he fell off the bed. “I’m sorry,” he told Willem, “I’m sorry,” and he climbed back in, keeping himself just at the edge of the mattress.

They were quiet, the two of them. He lay on his back and stared at the chandelier. “You know, Jude,” Willem said at last. “I have seen you without your shirt on.”

He looked at Willem, who took a breath. “At the hospital,” he said. “They were changing your dressings, and giving you a bath.”

His eyes turned hot, and he looked back up at the ceiling. “How much did you see?” he asked.

“I didn’t see everything,” Willem reassured him. “But I know you have scars on your back. And I’ve seen your arms before.” Willem waited, and then, when he didn’t say anything, sighed. “Jude, I

promise you it’s not what you think it is.”

“I’m afraid you’re going to be disgusted by me,” he was finally able to say. Caleb’s words floated back to him: You really are deformed; you really are. “I don’t suppose I could just never take my clothes off at all, right?” he asked, trying to laugh, to turn it into a joke.

“Well, no,” Willem said. “Because I think—although it’s not going to feel like it, initially—it’ll be a good thing for you, Judy.”

And so the next night, he did it. As soon as Willem came to bed, he undressed quickly, under the covers, and then flung the blanket away and rolled onto his side, so his back was facing Willem. He kept his eyes shut the entire time, but when he felt Willem place his palm on his back, just between his shoulder blades, he began to cry, savagely, the kind of bitter, angry weeping he hadn’t done in years, tucking into himself with shame. He kept remembering the night with Caleb, the last time he had been so exposed, the last time he had cried this hard, and he knew that Willem would only understand part of the reason he was so upset, that he didn’t know that the shame of this very moment

—of being naked, of being at another’s mercy—was almost as great as his shame for what he had revealed. He heard, more from the tone than the words themselves, that Willem was being kind to him, that he was dismayed and was trying to make him feel better, but he was so distraught that he couldn’t even comprehend what Willem was saying. He tried to get out of the bed so he could go to the bathroom and cut himself, but Willem caught him and held him so tightly that he couldn’t move, and eventually he somehow calmed himself.

When he woke the following morning—late: it was a Sunday— Willem was staring at him. He looked tired. “How are you?” he asked. The night returned to him. “Willem,” he said, “I’m so, so sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened.” He realized, then, that he still wasn’t wearing any clothes, and he put his arms beneath the sheet,

and pulled the blanket up to his chin.

“No, Jude,” Willem said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was going to be so traumatic for you.” He reached over and stroked his hair. They were quiet. “That was the first time I’ve ever seen you cry, you know.” “Well,” he said, swallowing. “For some reason it’s not as successful

a seduction method as I’d hoped,” and smiled at Willem, a little, and Willem smiled back.

They lay in bed that morning and talked. Willem asked him about certain scars, and he told him. He explained how he had gotten the scars on his back: about the day he had been caught trying to run

away from the home; the beating that had followed; the resulting infection, the way his back had wept pus for days, the bubbles of blisters that had formed around the stray splinters from the broom handle that had embedded themselves into his flesh; what he had been left with when it was all over. Willem asked him when he was last naked before anyone and he lied and told him that—except for Andy—it had been when he was fifteen. And then Willem said various kind and unbelievable things about his body, which he chose to ignore, because he knew they weren’t true.

“Willem, if you want out, I understand,” he said. It had been his idea not to tell anyone that their friendship might be changing into something else, and although he had told Willem it would give them space, and privacy, to figure out how to be with each other, he had also thought it would give Willem time to reconsider, opportunities to change his mind without fear of everyone else’s opinions. Of course, with this decision he cannot help but hear the echoes of his last relationship, which had also been conducted in secrecy, and he had to remind himself that this one was different; it was different unless he made it the same.

“Jude, of course I don’t,” Willem said. “Of course not.”

Willem was running his fingertip over his eyebrow, which for some reason he found a comforting gesture: it was affectionate without being in the least sexual. “I just feel like I’m going to be this series of nasty surprises for you,” he said at last, and Willem shook his head. “Surprises, maybe,” he said. “But not nasty ones.”

And so every night, he tries to remove his clothes. Sometimes he can do it; other times, he can’t. Sometimes he can allow Willem to touch him on his back and arms, and other times, he can’t. But he has been unable to be naked before Willem in the daytime, or even in light, or to do any of the things that he knows from movies and eavesdropping on other people that couples are supposed to do around each other: he cannot get dressed in front of Willem, or shower with him, which he’d had to do with Brother Luke, and which he had hated.

His own self-consciousness has not, however, proven contagious, and he is fascinated by how often, and how matter-of-factly, Willem is naked. In the morning, he pulls back Willem’s side of the blanket and studies Willem’s sleeping form with a clinical rigor, noting how perfect it is, and then remembers, with a strange queasy giddiness, that he is the one seeing it, that it is being bestowed upon him.

Sometimes, the improbability of what has happened wallops him, and he is stilled. His first relationship (can it be called a relationship?): Brother Luke. His second: Caleb Porter. And his third: Willem Ragnarsson, his dearest friend, the best person he knows, a person who could have virtually anyone he wanted, man or woman, and yet for some bizarre set of reasons—a warped curiosity? madness? pity? idiocy?—has settled on him. He has a dream one night of Willem and Harold sitting together at a table, their heads bent over a piece of paper, Harold adding up figures on a calculator, and he knows, without being told, that Harold is paying Willem to be with him. In the dream, he feels humiliation along with a kind of gratitude: that Harold should be so generous, that Willem should play along. When he wakes, he is about to say something to Willem when logic reasserts itself, and he has to remind himself that Willem certainly doesn’t need the money, that he has plenty of his own, that however perplexing and unknowable Willem’s reasons are for being with him, for choosing him, that he has not been coerced, that he has made the decision freely.

That night he reads in bed as he waits for Willem to come home,

but falls asleep anyway and wakes to Willem’s hand on the side of his face.

“You’re home,” he says, and smiles at him, and Willem smiles back.

They lie awake in the dark talking about Willem’s dinner with the director, and the shoot, which begins in late January in Texas. The film, Duets, is based on a novel he likes, and follows a closeted lesbian and a closeted gay man, both music teachers at a small-town high school, through a twenty-five-year marriage that spans the nineteen-sixties through the nineteen-eighties. “I’m going to need your help,” Willem tells him. “I really, really have to brush up on my piano playing. And I am going to be singing in it, after all. They’re getting me a coach, but will you practice with me?”

“Of course,” he says. “And you don’t need to worry: you have a beautiful voice, Willem.”

“It’s thin.”

“It’s sweet.”

Willem laughs, and squeezes his hand. “Tell Kit that,” he says. “He’s already freaking out.” He sighs. “How was your day?” he asks.

“Fine,” he says.

They begin to kiss, which he still has to do with his eyes open, to remind himself that it is Willem he is kissing, not Brother Luke, and

he is doing well until he remembers the first night he had come back to the apartment with Caleb, and Caleb’s pressing him against the wall, and everything that followed, and he pulls himself abruptly away from Willem, turning his face from him. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry.” He has not taken off his clothes tonight, and now he pulls his sleeves down over his hands. Beside him, Willem waits, and into the silence, he hears himself saying, “Someone I know died yesterday.”

“Oh, Jude,” says Willem. “I’m so sorry. Who was it?”

He is silent for a long time, trying to speak the words. “Someone I was in a relationship with,” he says at last, and his tongue feels clumsy in his mouth. He can feel Willem’s focus intensify, can feel him move an inch or two closer to him.

“I didn’t know you were in a relationship,” says Willem, quietly. He clears his throat. “When?”

“When you were shooting The Odyssey,” he says, just as quietly, and again, he feels the air change. Something happened while I was away, he remembers Willem saying. Something’s wrong. He knows Willem is remembering the same conversation.

“Well,” says Willem, after a long pause. “Tell me. Who was the lucky person?”

He can barely breathe now, but he keeps going. “It was a man,” he begins, and although he’s not looking at Willem—he’s concentrating on the chandelier—he can feel him nod, encouragingly, willing him to continue. But he can’t; Willem will have to prompt him, and he does.

“Tell me about him,” Willem says. “How long did you go out for?” “Four months,” he says.

“And why did it end?”

He thinks of how to answer this. “He didn’t like me very much,” he says at last.

He can feel Willem’s anger before he hears it. “So he was a moron,” Willem says, his voice tight.

“No,” he says. “He was a very smart guy.” He opens his mouth to say something else—what, he doesn’t know—but he can’t continue, and he shuts it, and the two of them lie there in silence.

Finally, Willem prompts him again. “Then what happened?” he asks.

He waits, and Willem waits with him. He can hear them breathing in tandem, and it is as if they are bringing all the air from the room, from the apartment, from the world, into their lungs and then

releasing it, just the two of them, all by themselves. He counts their breaths: five, ten, fifteen. At twenty, he says, “If I tell you, Willem, do you promise you won’t get mad?” and he feels Willem shift again.

“I promise,” Willem says, his voice low.

He takes a deep breath. “Do you remember the car accident I was in?”

“Yes,” says Willem. He sounds uncertain, strangled. His breathing is quick. “I do.”

“It wasn’t a car accident,” he says, and as if on cue, his hands begin to shake, and he plunges them beneath the covers.

“What do you mean?” Willem asks, but he remains silent, and eventually he feels, rather than sees, Willem realize what he’s saying. And then Willem is flopping onto his side, facing him, and reaching beneath the covers for his hands. “Jude,” Willem says, “did someone do that to you? Did someone”—he can’t say the words—“did someone beat you?”

He nods, barely, thankful that he’s not crying, although he feels like he’s going to explode: he imagines bits of flesh bursting like shrapnel from his skeleton, smacking themselves against the wall, dangling from the chandelier, bloodying the sheets.

“Oh god,” Willem says, and drops his hands, and he watches as Willem hurries out of bed.

“Willem,” he calls after him, and then gets up and follows him into the bathroom, where Willem is bent over the sink, breathing hard, but when he tries to touch his shoulder, Willem shrugs his hand off.

He goes back to their room and waits on the edge of the bed, and when Willem comes out, he can tell he’s been crying.

For several long minutes they sit next to each other, their arms touching, but not saying anything. “Was there an obituary?” Willem asks, finally, and he nods. “Show me,” Willem says, and they go to the computer in his study and he stands back and watches Willem read it. He watches as Willem reads it twice, three times. And then Willem stands and holds him, very tightly, and he holds Willem back.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Willem says into his ear.

“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” he says, and Willem steps back and looks at him, holding him by the shoulders.

He can see Willem trying to control himself, and he watches as he holds his long mouth firm, his jaw muscles moving against themselves. “I want you to tell me everything,” Willem says. He takes his hand and walks him to the sofa in his study and sits him down.

“I’m going to make myself a drink in the kitchen, and then I’m coming back,” Willem says. He looks at him. “I’ll make you one, too.” He can do nothing but nod.

As he waits, he thinks of Caleb. He never heard from Caleb after that night, but every few months, he would look him up. There he was, for anyone to see: pictures of Caleb smiling at parties, at openings, at shows. An article about Rothko’s first freestanding boutique, with Caleb talking about the challenges a young label encounters when trying to break out in a crowded market. A magazine piece about the reemergence of the Flower District, with a quote from Caleb about living in a neighborhood that, despite its hotels and boutiques, still felt appealingly rough-edged. Now, he thinks: Did Caleb ever look him up as well? Did he show a picture of him to Nicholas? Did he say, “I once went out with him; he was grotesque”? Did he demonstrate to Nicholas—whom he imagines as blond and neat and confident—how he had walked, did they laugh with each other about how terrible, how lifeless, he had been in bed? Did he say, “He disgusted me”? Or did he say nothing at all? Did Caleb forget him, or at least choose never to consider him—was he a mistake, a brief sordid moment, an aberration to be wrapped in plastic and shoved to the far corner of Caleb’s mind, with broken toys from childhood and long-ago embarrassments? He wishes he too could forget, that he too could choose never to consider Caleb again. Always, he wonders why and how he has let four months—months increasingly distant from him—so affect him, so alter his life. But then, he might as well ask—as he often does—why he has let the first fifteen years of his life so dictate the past twenty-eight. He has been lucky beyond measure; he has an adulthood that people dream about: Why, then, does he insist on revisiting and replaying events that happened so long ago? Why can he not simply take pleasure in his present? Why must he so honor his past? Why does it become more vivid, not less, the further he moves from it?

Willem returns with two glasses of ice and whiskey. He has put on a

shirt. For a while, they sit on the sofa, sipping at their drinks, and he feels his veins fill with warmth. “I’m going to tell you,” he says to Willem, and Willem nods, but before he does, he leans over and kisses Willem. It is the first time in his life that he has ever initiated a kiss, and he hopes that with it he is conveying to Willem everything he cannot say, not even in the dark, not even in the early-morning gray: everything he is ashamed of, everything he is grateful for. This time,

he keeps his eyes closed, imagining that soon, he too will be able to go wherever people go when they kiss, when they have sex: that land he has never visited, that place he wants to see, that world he hopes is not forbidden to him forever.



When Kit was in town, they met either for lunch or dinner or at the agency’s New York offices, but when he came to the city in early December, Willem suggested they meet instead at Greene Street. “I’ll make you lunch,” he told Kit.

“Why?” asked Kit, instantly wary: although the two of them were close in their own way, they weren’t friends, and Willem had never invited him over to Greene Street before.

“I need to talk to you about something,” he said, and he could hear Kit making his breaths long and slow.

“Okay,” said Kit. He knew better than to ask what that something might be, and whether something was wrong; he just assumed it. “I need to talk to you about something” was not, in Kit’s universe, a prelude to good news.

He knew this, of course, and although he could have reassured Kit, the slightly diabolical part of him decided not to. “Okay!” he said, brightly. “See you next week!” On the other hand, he thought after he hung up, maybe his refusal to reassure Kit wasn’t just childishness: he thought what he had to tell Kit—that he and Jude were now together

—wasn’t bad news, but he wasn’t sure Kit would see it the same way. They had decided to tell just a few people about their relationship.

First they told Harold and Julia, which was the most rewarding and enjoyable reveal, although Jude had been very nervous for some reason. This had been just a couple of weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, and they had both been so happy, so excited, and they had both hugged him and Harold had cried, a little, while Jude sat on the sofa and watched the three of them, a small smile on his face.

Then they told Richard, who hadn’t been as surprised as they’d anticipated. “I think this is a fantastic idea,” he’d said, firmly, as if they’d announced they were investing in a piece of property together. He hugged them both. “Good job,” he said. “Good job, Willem,” and he knew what Richard was trying to communicate to him: the same thing he had tried to communicate to Richard when he told him, years ago, that Jude needed somewhere safe to live, when really, he was asking Richard to look over Jude when he could not.

Then they told Malcolm and JB, separately. First, Malcolm, who they thought would either be shocked or sanguine, and who had turned out to be the latter. “I’m so happy for you guys,” he said, beaming at them both. “This is so great. I love the idea of you two together.” He asked them how it had happened, and how long ago, and, teasingly, what they’d discovered about the other that they hadn’t known before. (The two of them had glanced at each other then—if only Malcolm knew!—and had said nothing, which Malcolm had smiled at, as if it was evidence of a rich cache of sordid secrets that he would someday unearth.) And then he’d sighed. “I’m just sad about one thing, though,” he’d said, and they had asked him what it was. “Your apartment, Willem,” he said. “It’s so beautiful. It must be so lonely by itself.” Somehow, they had managed not to laugh, and he had reassured Malcolm that he was actually renting it to a friend of his, an actor from Spain who had been shooting a project in Manhattan and had decided to stay on for another year or so.

JB was trickier, as they’d known he would be: they knew he would

feel betrayed, and neglected, and possessive, and that all of these feelings would be exacerbated by the fact that he and Oliver had recently split up after more than four years. They took him out to dinner, where there was less of a chance (though, as Jude pointed out, no guarantee) that he would make a scene, and Jude—around whom JB was still slightly careful and to whom JB was less likely to say something inappropriate—delivered the news. They watched as JB put his fork down and put his head in his hands. “I feel sick,” he said, and they waited until he looked up and said, “But I’m really happy for you guys,” before they exhaled. JB forked into his burrata. “I mean, I’m pissed that you didn’t tell me earlier, but happy.” The entrées came, and JB stabbed at his sea bass. “I mean, I’m actually really pissed. But. I. Am. Happy.” By the time dessert arrived, it was clear that JB—who was frantically spooning up his guava soufflé—was highly agitated, and they kicked each other under the table, half on the verge of hysterics, half genuinely concerned that JB might erupt right there in the restaurant.

After dinner they stood outside and Willem and JB had a smoke and

they discussed JB’s upcoming show, his fifth, and his students at Yale, where JB had been teaching for the past few years: a momentary truce that was ruined by some girl coming up to him (“Can I get a picture with you?”), at which JB made a sound that was somewhere between a snort and a groan. Later, back at Greene Street, he and Jude did

laugh: at JB’s befuddlement, at his attempts at graciousness, which had clearly cost him, at his consistent and consistently applied self-absorption. “Poor JB,” Jude said. “I thought his head was going to blow off.” He sighed. “But I understand it. He’s always been in love with you, Willem.”

“Not like that,” he said.

Jude looked at him. “Now who can’t see themselves for who they are?” he asked, because that was what Willem was always telling him: that Jude’s vision, his version of himself was singular to the point of being delusional.

He sighed, too. “I should call him,” he said.

“Leave him alone tonight,” Jude said. “He’ll call you when he’s ready.”

And so he had. That Sunday, JB had come over to Greene Street, and Jude had let him in and then had excused himself, saying he had work to do, and closed himself in his study so Willem and JB could be alone. For the next two hours, Willem had sat and listened as JB delivered a disorganized roundelay whose many accusations and questions were punctuated by his refrain of “But I really am happy for you.” JB was angry: that Willem hadn’t told him earlier, that he hadn’t even consulted him, that they had told Malcolm and Richard— Richard!—before him. JB was upset: Willem could tell him the truth; he’d always liked Jude more, hadn’t he? Why couldn’t he just admit it? Also, had he always felt this way? Were his years of fucking women just some colossal lie that Willem had created to distract them? JB was jealous: he got the attraction to Jude, he did, and he knew it was illogical and maybe a tiny bit self-involved, but it wouldn’t be truthful if he didn’t tell Willem that part of him was miffed that Willem had picked Jude and not him.

“JB,” he said, again and again, “it was very organic. I didn’t tell you

because I needed time to figure it out in my own head. And as for being attracted to you, what can I say? I’m not. And you aren’t attracted to me, either! We made out once, remember? You said it was a huge turnoff for you, remember?”

JB ignored all this, however. “I still don’t understand why you told Malcolm and Richard first,” he said, sullenly, to which Willem had no response. “Anyway,” JB said, after a silence, “I really am happy for you two. I am.”

He sighed. “Thank you, JB,” he said. “That means a lot.” They were both quiet again.

“JB,” said Jude, coming out of his study, looking surprised that JB was still there. “Do you want to stay for dinner?”

“What’re you having?”

“Cod. And I’ll roast some potatoes the way you like them.”

“I guess,” JB said, sulkily, and Willem grinned at Jude over JB’s head.

He joined Jude in the kitchen and began making a salad, and JB slumped to the dining-room table and started flipping through a novel Jude had left there. “I read this,” he called over to him. “Do you want to know what happens in the end?”

“No, JB,” said Jude. “I’m only halfway through.” “The minister character dies after all.”


After that, JB’s mood seemed to improve. Even his final salvos were somewhat listless, as if he were delivering them out of obligation rather than true depth of feeling. “In ten years, I’ll bet you two will have made the full transition to lesbiandom. I predict cats,” was one, and “Watching you two in the kitchen is like watching a slightly more racially ambiguous version of that John Currin painting. Do you know what I’m talking about? Look it up,” was another.

“Are you going to come out or keep it quiet?” JB asked over dinner. “I’m not sending out a press release, if that’s what you mean,”

Willem said. “But I’m not going to hide it, either.”

“I think it’s a mistake,” Jude added, quickly. Willem didn’t bother answering; they had been having this argument for a month.

After dinner, he and JB lounged on the sofa and drank tea and Jude loaded the dishwasher. By this time, JB seemed almost appeased, and he recalled that this was the arc of most dinners with JB, even back at Lispenard Street: he began the evening as something sharp and tart, and ended it as something soothed and gentled.

“How’s the sex?” JB asked him. “Amazing,” he said, immediately. JB looked glum. “Dammit,” he said.

But of course, this was a lie. He had no idea if the sex was amazing, because they hadn’t had sex. The previous Friday, Andy had come over, and they’d told him, and Andy had stood and hugged them both very solemnly, as if he was Jude’s father and they had told him that they had just gotten engaged. Willem had walked him to the door, and as they were waiting for the elevator, Andy said to him, quietly, “How’s it going?”

He paused. “Okay,” he said at last, and Andy, as if he could discern everything he wasn’t saying, squeezed his shoulder. “I know it’s not easy, Willem,” he said. “But you must be doing something right—I’ve never seen him more relaxed or happier, not ever.” He looked as if he wanted to say something else, but what could he say? He couldn’t say, Call me if you want to talk about him, or Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with, and so instead he left, giving Willem a little salute as the elevator sank out of sight.

That night, after JB had gone home, he thought of the conversation he and Andy had had in the café that day, and how even as Andy had been warning him how difficult it would be, he hadn’t fully believed him. In retrospect, he was glad he hadn’t: because believing Andy might have intimidated him, because he might have been too scared to try.

He turned and looked at Jude, who was asleep. This was one of the nights he’d taken off his clothes, and he was lying on his back, one of his arms crooked near his head, and Willem, as he often did, ran his fingers down the inside of this arm, its scars rendering it into a miserable terrain, a place of mountains and valleys singed by fire. Sometimes, when he was certain Jude was very deeply asleep, he would switch on the light near his side of the bed and study his body more closely, because Jude refused to let himself be examined in daylight. He would uncover him and move his palms over his arms, his legs, his back, feeling the texture of the skin change from rough to glossy, marveling at all the permutations flesh could take, at all the ways the body healed itself, even when attempts had been made to destroy it. He had once shot a film on the Big Island of Hawaii, and on their day off, he and the rest of the cast had trekked across the lava fields, watching the land change from rock as porous and dry as petrified bone into a gleaming black landscape, the lava frozen into exuberant swirls of frosting. Jude’s skin was as diverse, as wondrous, and in places so unlike skin as he had felt or understood it that it too seemed something otherworldly and futuristic, a prototype of what flesh might look like ten thousand years from now.

“You’re repulsed,” Jude had said, quietly, the second time he had

taken his clothes off, and he had shaken his head. And he hadn’t been: Jude had always been so secretive, so protective of his body that to see it for real was somehow anticlimactic; it was so normal, finally, so less dramatic than what he had imagined. But the scars were difficult for him to see not because they were aesthetically offensive, but

because each one was evidence of something withstood or inflicted. Jude’s arms were for that reason the part of his body that upset him the most. At nights, as Jude slept, he would turn them over in his hands, counting the cuts, trying to imagine himself in a state in which he would willingly inflict pain on himself, in which he would actively try to erode his own being. Sometimes there were new cuts—he always knew when Jude had cut himself, because he slept in his shirt on those nights, and he would have to push up his sleeves as he slept and feel for the bandages—and he would wonder when Jude had made them, and why he hadn’t noticed. When he had moved in with Jude after the suicide attempt, Harold had told him where Jude hid his bag of razors, and he, like Harold, had begun throwing them away. But then they had disappeared entirely, and he couldn’t figure out where Jude was keeping them.

Other times, he would feel not curiosity, but awe: he was so much

more damaged than Willem had comprehended. How could I have not known this? he would ask himself. How could I not have seen this?

And then there was the matter of sex. He knew Andy had warned him about sex, but Jude’s fear of and antipathy toward it disturbed and occasionally frightened him. One night toward the end of November, after they’d been together six months, he had reached his hands down Jude’s underwear and Jude had made a strange, strangled noise, the kind of noise an animal makes when it’s being caught in another animal’s jaws, and had jerked himself away with such violence that he had cracked his head against his nightstand. “I’m sorry,” they had apologized to each other, “I’m sorry.” And that was the first moment that Willem, too, had felt a certain fear. All along he had assumed that Jude was shy, profoundly so, but that eventually, he would abandon some of his self-consciousness, that he would feel comfortable enough to have sex. But in that moment, he realized that what he had thought was a reluctance to have sex was actually a terror of it: that Jude would perhaps never be comfortable, that if and when they did eventually have sex, it would be because Jude decided he had to or Willem decided he had to force him. Neither option appealed to him. People had always given themselves to him; he had never had to wait, never had to try to convince someone that he wasn’t dangerous, that he wasn’t going to hurt them. What am I going to do? he asked himself. He wasn’t smart enough to figure this out on his own—and yet there was no one else he could ask. And then there was the fact that with every week, his desire grew

sharper and less ignorable, his determination greater. It had been a long time since he had wanted to have sex with anyone so keenly, and the fact that it was someone he loved made the waiting both more unbearable and more absurd.

As Jude slept that night, he watched him. Maybe I made a mistake, he thought.

Aloud, he said, “I didn’t know it was going to be this complicated.” Next to him, Jude breathed, ignorant of Willem’s treachery.

And then the morning arrived and he was reminded why he had decided to pursue this relationship to begin with, his own naïveté and arrogance aside. It was early, but he had woken anyway, and he watched as, through the half-open closet door, Jude got dressed. This had been a recent development, and Willem knew how difficult it was for him. He saw how hard Jude tried; he saw how everything he and everyone he knew took for granted—getting dressed in front of someone; getting undressed in front of someone—were things Jude had to practice again and again: he saw how determined he was, he saw how brave he was being. And this reminded him that he, too, had to keep trying. Both of them were uncertain; both of them were trying as much as they could; both of them would doubt themselves, would progress and recede. But they would both keep trying, because they trusted the other, and because the other person was the only other person who would ever be worth such hardships, such difficulties, such insecurities and exposure.

When he opened his eyes again, Jude was sitting on the edge of the

bed and smiling at him, and he was filled with affection for him: for how beautiful he was, for how dear he was, for how easy it was to love him. “Don’t go,” he said.

“I have to,” Jude said. “Five minutes,” he said.

“Five,” Jude said, and slid beneath the covers, and Willem wrapped his arms around him, careful not to wrinkle his suit, and closed his eyes. And this too he loved: he loved knowing that in those moments, he was making Jude happy, loved knowing that Jude wanted affection and that he was the person who was allowed to provide it. Was this arrogance? Was this pride? Was this self-congratulation? He didn’t think so; he didn’t care. That night, he told Jude that he thought they should tell Harold and Julia that they were together when they went up for Thanksgiving that week. “Are you sure, Willem?” Jude had asked him, looking worried, and he knew that Jude was really asking

if he was sure about the relationship itself: he was always holding the door open for him, letting him know he could leave. “I want you to really think about this, especially before we tell them.” He didn’t need to say it, but Willem knew, once again, what the consequences would be if they told Harold and Julia and, later, he changed his mind: they would forgive him, but things would never be the same. They would always, always pick Jude over him. He knew this: it was the way it should be.

“I’m positive,” he’d said, and so they had.

He thought of this conversation as he poured Kit a glass of water and carried the plate of sandwiches to the table. “What is this?” Kit asked, looking suspiciously at the sandwiches.

“Grilled peasant bread with Vermont cheddar and figs,” he said. “And escarole salad with pears and jamón.”

Kit sighed. “You know I’m trying not to eat bread, Willem,” he said, although he didn’t know. Kit bit into a sandwich. “Good,” he said, reluctantly. “Okay,” he continued, putting it down, “tell me.”

And so he did, and added that while he wasn’t planning on announcing the relationship, he wasn’t going to pretend otherwise about it, either, and Kit groaned. “Fuck,” he said. “Fuck. I thought it might be this. I don’t know why, I just did. Fuck, Willem.” He put his forehead down on the table. “I need a minute,” Kit said to the table. “Have you told Emil?”

“Yeah,” he said. Emil was Willem’s manager. Kit and Emil worked with each other best when they were united against Willem. When they agreed, they liked each other. When they didn’t, they didn’t.

“And what did he say?”

“He said, ‘God, Willem, I’m so happy that you’ve finally committed to someone you truly love and feel comfortable around, and I couldn’t be happier for you as your friend and longtime supporter.’ ” (What Emil had actually said was, “Christ, Willem. Are you sure? Did you talk to Kit yet? What did he say?”)

Kit lifted his head and glared at him (he didn’t have much of a sense of humor). “Willem, I am happy for you,” he said. “I care about you. But have you thought about what’s going to happen to your career? Have you thought about how you’re going to be typecast? You don’t know what it’s like being a gay actor in this business.”

“I don’t really think of myself as gay, though,” he began, and Kit rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so naïve, Willem,” he said. “Once you’ve touched a dick, you’re gay.”

“Said with subtlety and grace, as always.”

“Whatever, Willem; you can’t afford to be cavalier about this.” “I’m not, Kit,” he said. “But I’m not a leading man.”

“You keep saying that! But you are, whether you like it or not. You’re just acting like your career is going to keep going on the same trajectory it’s been on—do you not remember what happened to Carl?” Carl was a client of a colleague of Kit’s, and one of the biggest movie stars of the previous decade. Then he had been forced out of the closet, and his career had faded. Ironically, it was Carl’s obsolescence, his sudden unpopularity, that had encouraged the rise of Willem’s own career—at least two roles that Willem had gotten were ones that would once have gone, reflexively, to Carl. “Now, look: you’re far more talented than Carl, and more diversified as well. And it’s a different climate now than when Carl came out— domestically, at least. But I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you to prepare for a certain chill. You’re private as it is: Can’t you just keep this under wraps?”

He didn’t reply, just reached for another sandwich, and Kit studied

him. “What does Jude think?”

“He thinks I’m going to end up performing in a Kander and Ebb revue on a cruise ship to Alaska,” he admitted.

Kit snorted. “Somewhere between how Jude thinks and how you think is how you need to think, Willem,” he said. “After everything we’ve built together,” he added, mournfully.

He sighed, too. The first time Jude had met Kit, almost fifteen years ago, he’d turned to Willem afterward and said, smiling, “He’s your Andy.” And over the years, he had come to realize how true this was. Not only did Kit and Andy actually, creepily know each other—they were in the same class, and had lived in the same dorm their freshman year—but they both liked to present themselves as, to some extent, Willem’s and Jude’s creators. They were their defenders and their guardians, but they also tried, at every opportunity, to determine the shape and form of their lives.

“I thought you’d be a little more supportive of this, Kit,” he said, sadly.

“Why? Because I’m gay? Being a gay agent is far different than being a gay actor of your stature, Willem,” said Kit. He grunted. “Well, at least someone’s going to be happy about this. Noel”—the director of Duets—“will be fucking thrilled. This is going to be great publicity for his little project. I hope you like doing gay movies,

Willem, because that’s what you might end up doing for the rest of your life.”

“I don’t really think of Duets as a gay movie,” he said, and then, before Kit could roll his eyes and start lecturing him again, “and if that’s how it ends up, that’s fine.” He told Kit what he had told Jude: “I’ll always have work; don’t worry.”

(“But what if your film work dries up?” Jude had asked.

“Then I’ll do plays. Or I’ll work in Europe: I’ve always wanted to do more work in Sweden. Jude, I promise you, I will always, always work.”

Jude had been silent, then. They had been lying in bed; it had been late. “Willem, I really won’t mind—not at all—if you want to keep this quiet,” he said.

“But I don’t want to,” he said. He didn’t. He didn’t have the energy for it, the sense of planning for it, the endurance for it. He knew a couple of other actors—older, much more commercial than he—who actually were gay and yet were married to women, and he saw how hollow, how fabricated, their lives were. He didn’t want that life for himself: he didn’t want to step off the set and still feel he was in character. When he was home, he wanted to feel he was truly at home.

“I’m just afraid you’re going to resent me,” Jude admitted, his voice low.

“I’ll never resent you,” he promised him.)

Now, he listened to Kit’s gloomy predictions for another hour, and then, finally, when it was clear that Willem wouldn’t change his mind, Kit seemed to change his. “Willem, it’ll be fine,” he said, determinedly, as if Willem had been the one who was concerned all along. “If anyone can do this, you can. We’re going to make this work for you. It’s going to be fine.” Kit tilted his head, looking at him. “Are you guys going to get married?”

“Jesus, Kit,” he said, “you were just trying to break us up.”

“No, I wasn’t, Willem. I wasn’t. I was just trying to get you to keep your mouth shut, that’s all.” He sighed again, but resignedly this time. “I hope Jude appreciates the sacrifice you’re making for him.”

“It’s not a sacrifice,” he protested, and Kit cut his eyes at him. “Not now,” he said, “but it may be.”

Jude came home early that night. “How’d it go?” he asked Willem, looking closely at him.

“Fine,” he said, staunchly. “It went fine.”

“Willem—” Jude began, and he stopped him.

“Jude,” he said, “it’s done. It’s going to be fine, I swear to you.”

Kit’s office managed to keep the story quiet for two weeks, and by the time the first article was published, he and Jude were on a plane to Hong Kong to see Charlie Ma, Jude’s old roommate from Hereford Street, and from there to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He tried not to check his messages while he was on vacation, but Kit had gotten a call from a writer at New York magazine, and so he knew there would be a story. He was in Hanoi when the piece was published: Kit forwarded it to him without comment, and he skimmed it, quickly, when Jude was in the bathroom. “Ragnarsson is on vacation and was unavailable for comment, but his representative confirmed the actor’s relationship with Jude St. Francis, a highly regarded and prominent litigator with the powerhouse firm of Rosen Pritchard and Klein and a close friend since they were roommates their freshman year of college,” he read, and “Ragnarsson is the highest-profile actor by far to ever willingly declare himself in a gay relationship,” followed, obituary-like, with a recapping of his films and various quotes from various agents and publicists congratulating him on his bravery while simultaneously predicting the almost-certain diminishment of his career, and nice quotes from actors and directors he knew promising his revelation wouldn’t change a thing, and a concluding quote from an unnamed studio executive who said that his strength had never been as a romantic lead anyway, and so he’d probably be fine. At the end of the story, there was a link to a picture of him with Jude at the opening of Richard’s show at the Whitney in September.

When Jude came out, he handed him the phone and watched him

read the article as well. “Oh, Willem,” he said, and then, later, looking stricken, “My name’s in here,” and for the first time, it occurred to him that Jude may have wanted him to keep quiet as much for his own privacy as for Willem’s.

“Don’t you think you should ask Jude first if I can confirm his identity?” Kit had asked him when they were deciding what he’d say to the reporter on Willem’s behalf.

“No, it’s fine,” he’d said. “He won’t mind.” Kit had been quiet. “He might, Willem.”

But he really hadn’t thought he would. Now, though, he wondered if he had been arrogant. What, he asked himself, just because you’re okay with it, you thought he would be, too?

“Willem, I’m sorry,” Jude said, and although he knew that he

should reassure Jude, who was probably feeling guilty, and apologize to him as well, he wasn’t in the mood for it, not then.

“I’m going for a run,” he announced, and although he wasn’t looking at him, he could feel Jude nod.

It was so early that outside, the city was still quiet and still cool, the air a dirtied white, with only a few cars gliding down the streets. The hotel was near the old French opera house, which he ran around, and then back to the hotel and toward the colonial-era district, past vendors squatted near large, flat, woven-bamboo baskets piled with tiny, bright green limes, and stacks of cut herbs that smelled of lemon and roses and peppercorns. As the streets grew threadlike, he slowed to a walk, and turned down an alley that was crowded with stall after stall of small, improvised restaurants, just a woman standing behind a kettle roiling with soup or oil, and four or five plastic stools on which customers sat, eating quickly before hurrying back to the mouth of the alley, where they got on their bikes and pedaled away. He stopped at the far end of the alley, waiting to let a man cycle past him, the basket strapped to the back of his seat loaded with spears of baguettes, their hot, steamed-milk fragrance filling his nostrils, and then headed down another alley, this one busy with vendors crouched over more bundles of herbs, and black hills of mangosteens, and metal trays of silvery-pink fish, so fresh that he could hear them gulping, could see their eyes rolling desperately back in their sockets. Above him, necklaces of cages were strung like lanterns, each containing a vibrant, chirping bird. He had a little cash with him, and he bought Jude one of the herb bouquets; it looked like rosemary but smelled pleasantly soapy, and although he didn’t know what it was, he thought Jude might.

He was so naïve, he thought as he made his slow way back to the

hotel: about his career, about Jude. Why did he always think he knew what he was doing? Why did he think he could do whatever he wanted and everything would work out the way he imagined it? Was it a failure of creativity, or arrogance, or (as he assumed) simple stupidity? People, people he trusted and respected, were always warning him—Kit, about his career; Andy, about Jude; Jude, about himself—and yet he always ignored them. For the first time, he wondered if Kit was right, if Jude was right, if he would never work again, or at least not the kind of work he enjoyed. Would he resent Jude? He didn’t think so; he hoped not. But he had never thought he would have to find out, not really.

But greater than that fear was the one he was rarely able to ask himself: What if the things he was making Jude do weren’t good for him after all? The day before, they had taken a shower together for the first time, and Jude had been so silent afterward, so deep inside one of his fugue states, his eyes so flat and blank, that Willem had been momentarily frightened. He hadn’t wanted to do it, but Willem had coerced him, and in the shower, Jude had been rigid and grim, and Willem had been able to tell from the set of Jude’s mouth that he was enduring it, that he was waiting for it to be over. But he hadn’t let him get out of the shower; he had made him stay. He had behaved (unintentionally, but who cared) like Caleb—he had made Jude do something he didn’t want to, and Jude had done it because he had told him to do it. “It’ll be good for you,” he’d said, and remembering this—although he had believed it—he felt almost nauseated. No one had ever trusted him as unquestioningly as Jude did. But he had no idea what he was doing.

“Willem’s not a health-care professional,” he remembered Andy

saying. “He’s an actor.” And although both he and Jude had laughed at the time, he wasn’t sure Andy was wrong. Who was he to try to direct Jude’s mental health? “Don’t trust me so much,” he wanted to say to Jude. But how could he? Wasn’t this what he had wanted from Jude, from this relationship? To be so indispensable to another person that that person couldn’t even comprehend his life without him? And now he had it, and the demands of the position terrified him. He had asked for responsibility without understanding completely how much damage he could do. Was he able to do this? He thought of Jude’s horror of sex and knew that behind that horror lay another, one he had always surmised but had never inquired about: So what was he supposed to do? He wished there was someone who could tell him definitively if he was doing a good job or not; he wished he had someone guiding him in this relationship the way Kit guided him in his career, telling him when to take a risk and when to retreat, when to play Willem the Hero and when to be Ragnarsson the Terrible.

Oh, what am I doing? he chanted to himself as his feet smacked

against the road, as he ran past men and women and children readying themselves for the day, past buildings as narrow as closets, past little shops selling stiff, brick-like pillows made of plaited straw, past a small boy cradling an imperious-looking lizard to his chest, What am I doing, oh what am I doing?

By the time he returned to the hotel an hour later, the sky was

shading from white to a delicious, minty pale blue. The travel agent had booked them a suite with two beds, as always (he hadn’t remembered to have his assistant correct this), and Jude was lying on the one they had both slept in the night before, dressed for the day, reading, and when Willem came in, he stood and came over and hugged him.

“I’m all sweaty,” he mumbled, but Jude didn’t let go.

“It’s okay,” Jude said. He stepped back and looked at him, holding him by the arms. “It’s going to be fine, Willem,” he said, in the same firm, declarative way Willem sometimes heard him speak to clients on the phone. “It really is. I’ll always take care of you, you know that, right?”

He smiled. “I know,” he said, and what comforted him was not so much the reassurance itself, but that Jude seemed so confident, so competent, so certain that he, too, had something to offer. It reminded Willem that their relationship wasn’t a rescue mission after all, but an extension of their friendship, in which he had saved Jude and, just as often, Jude had saved him. For every time he had gotten to help Jude when he was in pain, or defend him against people asking too many questions, Jude had been there to listen to him worrying about his work, or to talk him out of his misery after he hadn’t gotten a part, or to (for three consecutive months, humiliatingly) pay his college loans when a job had fallen through and he didn’t have enough money to cover them himself. And yet somehow in the past seven months he had decided that he was going to repair Jude, that he was going to fix him, when really, he didn’t need fixing. Jude had always taken him at face value; he needed to try to do the same for him.

“I ordered breakfast,” Jude said. “I thought you might want some

privacy. Do you want to take a shower?”

“Thanks,” he said, “but I think I’ll wait until after we eat.” He took a breath. He could feel his anxiety fade; he could feel himself returning to who he was. “But would you sing with me?” Every morning for the past two months, they had been singing with each other in preparation for Duets. In the film, his character and the character’s wife led an annual Christmas pageant, and both he and the actress playing his wife would be performing their own vocals. The director had sent him a list of songs to work on, and Jude had been practicing with him: Jude took the melody, and he took the harmony.

“Sure,” Jude said. “Our usual?” For the past week, they’d been working on “Adeste Fideles,” which he would have to sing a cappella,

and for the past week, he’d been pitching sharp at the exact same point, at “Venite adoremus,” right in the first stanza. He’d wince every time he did it, hearing the error, and Jude would shake his head at him and keep going, and he’d follow him until the end. “You’re overthinking it,” Jude would say. “When you go sharp, it’s because you’re concentrating too hard on staying on key; just don’t think about it, Willem, and you’ll get it.”

That morning, though, he felt certain he’d get it right. He gave Jude the bunch of herbs, which he was still holding, and Jude thanked him, pinching its little purple flowers between his fingers to release its perfume. “I think it’s a kind of perilla,” he said, and held his fingers up for Willem to smell.

“Nice,” he said, and they smiled at each other.

And so Jude began, and he followed, and he made it through without going sharp. And at the end of the song, just after the last note, Jude immediately began singing the next song on the list, “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” and after that, “Good King Wenceslas,” and again and again, Willem followed. His voice wasn’t as full as Jude’s, but he could tell in those moments that it was good enough, that it was maybe better than good enough: he could tell it sounded better with Jude’s, and he closed his eyes and let himself appreciate it.

They were still singing when the doorbell chimed with their breakfast, but as he was standing, Jude put his hand on his wrist, and they remained there, Jude sitting, he standing, until they had sung the last words of the song, and only after they had finished did he go to answer the door. Around him, the room was redolent of the unknown herb he’d found, green and fresh and yet somehow familiar, like something he hadn’t known he had liked until it had appeared, suddenly and unexpectedly, in his life.

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