“Is your eye OK…it’s looking kind of puffy?” Monica asks.
“It’s OK,” I respond, “Just allergies.”
“It’s the damn dog. I keep telling Garrison that we need to get rid of it,” Sean says, grabbing my hand.
“It’s my baby,” I laugh.
We got rid of the dog weeks ago.
Sean’s mother Dianne laughs with me. His dad and his brother Desean give me harder looks. The two of them have always been more judgmental of me. Sean’s Dad was Chief of Police and his brother Desean was a hero at the force at the tender age of 30.
Sean was always the baby brother who wasn’t supposed to be gay and seemed to want to spend the rest of his life making up for it. He always wanted to prove to them how perfect our relationship was. After Desean’s wife divorced him, Sean and I were supposed to be the couple that made it.
“It’d be nice if you stop looking at the dog as your baby,” Captain Carmichael says and then adds in with a judgmental tone, “And find a way to actually get one.”
“I don’t think that’s possible dad,” his brother Desean laughs, “Two guys remember? No uterus.”
“Actually,” Sean starts, “Once we get this house we are thinking about adoption.”
Captain Carmichael raises his eyebrow.
Sean’s mother Dianne and Monica are damn near doing back flips over this news. I look over at Sean. We had talked about it but I never agreed to the adoption. I just didn’t know how I felt about raising a child. My parents had died when I was young. Sean’s parents had damn near taken me in since I was a teenager. They were the only family that I knew. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to raise a child.
Sean smiles, “One of many I’m sure.”
“Well now. This is actually news that I did want to hear,” Captain Carmichael says, “Unlike Monica and that music mumbo jumbo.”
“Music is my passion dad and it’s the same for Garrison,” Monica argues.
“It’s a waste of time,” Captain Carmichael says, “Sean why don’t you tell your husband he’s wasting his time.”
Sean laughs, “I’m already on it. Once we get this kid…all that music stuff is done with.”
The captain looks over at his son. He is pleased. I have to admit. It’s so hard to make the Captain happy that I find myself smiling as well. For god sakes, the entire family, including his kids walked around calling him the Captain. Captain Carmichael lived for authority. He ran his city and his household like a police state. And when I became a part of this family I was sure to fall in line.
That’s how it worked.
“Well in the meantime,” Dianne says, “Garrison have you been working on new music? I’d love to hear…”
“No,” I respond.
“Actually, he was working with an artist of mine a few days ago. Garrison left and has been avoiding my calls ever since then.” Monica clears her throat looking over at me, “I was wondering about that. An explanation, at least, would be great, bro."
I had a feeling Monica was going to bring this up. This is the wrong time. Not only was Captain Carmichael here, so was annoying ass Desean. I knew Sean didn’t know anything much about what happened a few days ago with Reuben.
I wanted to keep it that way.
“We just didn’t click in the studio,” I explain to Monica.
“Really? Because Climax says that the two of you vibed really well. He let me hear the song. It’s amazing.”
“Climax. That teenage singer who dries humps girls on stage?” Desean states, “Sean, you trust your husband in a studio with that guy?”
“Whose this Climax person again?” Sean asks.
Monica looks over at her brothers, “Sean isn’t intimidated by some sexy R&B singer. Unlike you ---Sean can actually keep a relationship. And not be some jealous wreck.”
Sean looks over at me. Monica is talking so much that she doesn't even notice how upset Sean looks. I see Sean pull out his phone. He’s doing it under the table but he is frantically googling with his phone who Climax is. I see the images that pull up. Climax never has a shirt on. He’s posted in all these positions that make him look like straight eye candy.
Sean’s entire demeanor just…switches up.
“Monica, if my man doesn’t want to work with this guy, he’s not working with him,” Sean states with some authority, “I’d appreciate if you stop trying to force it on him.”
“Back off Monica,” Captain Carmichael says.
“Climax wants to do more music. He wants to redo his whole album using Garrison. Do you know how much money that is?” Monica asks.
“Garrison is worried about getting me some grandkids. Unlike you.”
Monica is feisty, “Kids ain’t free.”
I’m not surprised when Desean gives Sean a hard look and adds, “Especially since Sean didn’t get that promotion. I guess Garrison is going to have to be the man in the relationship and maybe Sean can stay at home.”
Desean laughs. I see Sean get red at that moment. Sean gets up off the table and leaves. No one gets under his skin as much as Desean does. I’m sure Desean does it on purpose. The two of them have always been rivals.
“Sean didn’t get the promotion?” I ask.
I’m so confused. His father was the dam Chief of Police.
Captain Carmichael just shakes his head, “I had to pass him up. Unfortunately. There were more qualified candidates. I can’t choose favorites you know. I have to be fair.”
That’s just how Captain Carmichael is. He was always “fair”. He’d been promising his son this damn promotion forever and now that the time came to give it to him…he just decided not to.
We arrive back at our house. I look over at Sean. He’s quiet and clearly in his feelings.
“I’m sorry that you didn’t get your promotion,” I tell Sean.
He’s so upset that he’s shaking. He gets mad like that.
“I gave everything to that man. I…I deserved that G,” he tells me shaking his head, “I don’t fucking get it. I do everything for my fucking Father. EVERYTHING and he gave it to someone else. He just wants me to fucking work for free because I’m his son.”
To say Captain Carmichael was hard on Sean was an understatement. I walk over to Sean and hug him. All these years and I’m still attracted to him as though I just first met him. Sean isn’t a Top even though he wants to let everyone in his family believe it. We are actually in a versatile relationship. Truth also is when I was working heavily with Monica I was making way more money than he was. He never wanted his family to know that part of it either.
It was clear why. Sean wanted his father’s respect…one way or another.
“Listen. I’m here for you. You know that right?” I ask him, “Anything you need. Even if I got to go back to work for a while.”
“With that…THOT ass guy?” he asks, “Did you see the videos of that guy grinding without a shirt on? What’s that guy do? Just work out for a living?””
“Sean seriously. He’s straight.”
“I don’t give a fuck. I don’t want you fucking near him,” Sean says pushing me.
He pushes me so hard that I fall back on the chair a little bit. I look up at him. I know he goes through a lot. He hasn’t been the same since he came home from the military. His anger was just…so much. Whatever he saw in the military changed him and a father like the one Sean had did not seem to pacify him either.
“Sean, I told Monica I wasn’t working with him,” I explain, “Like seriously. This guy is a sex icon. I make fun of guys like him. You really upset with me over this?”
Sean glares at me for a minute.
“I just…I get crazy over you,” Sean explains.
“I know you wouldn’t go there with the guy,” he explains, “It’s just. You’re the perfect man. You’re supportive. You’re always there for me. I know sometimes I get angry. I know sometimes I do stupid shit. I love you, though. You believe that right?”
I smile at him.
“10 years and counting baby.”
Sean comes over and kisses me. It’s the soft kisses that I remember. It’s the soft kisses that made me fall in love in the first place. His protective nature. I know he gets upset but I also know that he cares about me deeply.
“Thank you for covering for me about your eye. I just lost it. I promise I’ll never do anything like that again. You hear me?”
“I hear you.”
“I don’t want you just to hear me, though. I want you to believe in me. I’m not perfect but you’re the love of my life…and I’ll show you for the rest of my life what you mean to me.”
“I believe you.”
“Good…hey babe---I’m about to head to the shower,” he says taking off his shirt, “You should come join me.”
I laugh, “I might. Gimme a few minutes ok.”
He takes off his shirt, “Don’t take too long.”
He flexes as he takes off his shirt and licks his lips. He has a nice body. It isn’t all sculpted like some model but it reminds me of a hunky football player or something like that. He’s strong, husky and thick. He’s definitely solid. In a way, that has what attracted me to him in the first place. He didn’t look like the average gay boy wearing stylish fedoras and long t-shirts. He got muscular without spending hours a day in the gym like I’m positive Reuben did. He wasn’t trying to look cool or even cute. Sean just managed to be him and it came naturally to him.
I’m checking the bills when Sean leaves. We are behind. Cops don’t get paid that much. With a second income, we are good but Sean doesn’t seem to understand that. He’s so set up on being the man of the household and taking care of me because his father expects the men of the household to take care of the women. The only problem that Sean doesn’t get is that I have a dick. And truthfully my dick was two inches bigger than Sean’s was.
I’m not quite sure how he sometimes seemed to miss it.
There is a doorbell.
I walk over to the door at that moment a little confused. It’s a little late and I’m not sure who could be knocking at my door at this time of night.
I open the door and I’m shocked.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
Reuben is standing there. He has on a button up shirt that is buttoned a little low. He has a tight shirt. Hard nipples and perky muscles are flaring. His dark hair is neatly brush. He is smiling at me with his Hollywood smile and playing in that little beard of his seeming to want to charm the fuck out of me.
“Garrison. I love that name,” he says.
“I’m going to kill Monica,” I respond.
I have no doubt how the fuck Reuben found my address. I see his car outside. It’s a Range Rover. Reuben is smiling as though somewhat amused by all of this. This man lost it. He seriously lost his goddamn mind.
“I’m assuming your husband’s home,” he says with this cool demeanor.
“No SHIT!” I say catching how loud I said it before fixing my tone, “No shit.”
“Can I meet him?”
“My husband? You do understand he keeps guns right. He’s a cop. You meet my husband and the next person you’ll be meeting is your maker.”
“Cops are supposed to be the good guys, I thought,” he laughs.
He’s amused! He’s actually at my FUCKING door amused.
“Have you not heard of the Black Lives Matter movement?” I ask him, “You must really want to end up as another statistic…”
“I don’t…so why don’t you come take a ride with me.”
“No why the fuck would I do that.”
“Because I’m not leaving unless you do,” he says, “I want to talk to you.”
“After what happened the other day?” I ask.
“It’s business I promise,” Reuben says, “I won’t kiss you again. Not unless you ask me to. And even then just to make sure I’ll make you ask me twice.”
Reuben cheeses at me. There is something so charming about this guy. There is some reason I’m so excited about the fact that this guy was on my fucking doorstep. I was the worst husband in the fucking world. The guy who just kissed was at my fucking house.
And I was actually thinking about leaving with him for a while.
“Give me a second. I’ll tell him I’m heading to the store.”
“Where are you taking me?” I ask him.
“Relax,” Rueben replies and smiles at me, “Just say that the store you went to just so happened to have a really long line. He’ll be ok.””
“You play games I see.”
“I don’t,” Reuben states, “I don’t know why I kissed you. I never even kissed a guy before. I just had this urge and I just went with it. It was ---“
“I thought you brought me here to talk about business,” I cut him off.
“You’re a good husband,” he says and then clears his throat, “But yeah. Business. So ever since I left you I just felt inspired. I’ve been writing like crazy. I’ve been just brainstorming. The inspiration is just so…crazy since I left you. It’s almost like you were my muse.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that. Good luck with that then.”
He pulls over. We are in a parking lot a few blocks from my house. It’s an empty parking lot but it overlooks a beach. The waters wash up on the beach. They are actually really beautiful. The waves wash up on the shore and down again. It keeps doing the same thing over and over. The beautiful waves are almost mesmerizing.
“I need you with me. I need you to help me redo my album. All new beats. All new songs…just like Save Me.”
He named the song Save Me. I smile at the title. It fit. It was perfect.
“Listen, Monica and I played Save Me for the label. They loved the new direction we are going in. They gave us a whole new budget. I can give you 100k off top for this.”
My mouth gets dry.
“And this is just the advance,” he explains to me, “Who knows where we can go from there? You co-write my album with me and the money is yours.”
I think about the fact that Sean didn’t get his promotion. Whether Sean liked it or not we were struggling and I had to pull my weight. I had to take this offer. This was money that I just couldn’t refuse.
“We need ground rules.”
“Ok. Anything you want.”
“No more trying to figure out why we both seem to remember one another,” I explain, “That whole thing is just getting weird.”
“Wait. I thought you said it was just one sided. You said you didn’t feel like that,” Reuben says.
“Two seconds ago you said anything I wanted and you’ve already turned your back on not talking about this.”
“That was when I thought I was crazy. I knew it. I knew I wasn’t fucking crazy.”
“Reuben no more of that.”
“And no more showing up at my house.”
“What if I’m invited?” he asks.
He smiles at me. He has the sexiest smile.
“You won’t be.”
Reuben shakes his head, “Damn you’re cold. Ok. I won’t. Any other crazy rules you want me to follow, Hitler?”
“Don’t try to kiss me….ever.”
Reuben stares at my lips.
He stays silent.
“Fine,” he finally says and sighs a little bit, “Have you always been so mean?”
“I’m not mean. I’m just married,” I tell him.
“I’m not talking about you not wanting me to hit on you,” Reuben says, “I’m talking about the fact that you scooted so far to the door that I think you’re going to jump out of the car any minute now. Do I make you that uncomfortable?.”
“You like judging me huh?”
“I’m just making observations.”
Interesting. Reuben was trying to figure me out. I lean back in my chair a little bit.
“Well how about I make an observation about you,” I state.
“You were a child star. Which means you’ve always been famous. You probably were raised to be shallow. All that has ever mattered to anyone is how you look. You’re not confident in your music. As a matter of fact, you don’t even listen to your music anymore. Every time an old song of yours plays on the radio you shut it off…”
Reuben stares at the beach. The water hits the sands. I’ve made him uncomfortable. All of a sudden he’s the one moving over away from me.
“My mom is one of those momagers. My whole life she raised me to be a certain way,” he explains, “I just fired her and got with Monica. You want to know the last thing she said to me?”
“My mom said I’m not deep. I don’t make real music. She said if I’m not selling sex, no one’s buying. And I believed her. I’ll never get deep. I’ll never go anywhere past the skin. The truth is I don’t even know what real music sounds like. All I know is the Billboard top 40. Sad right?”
Reuben seems to have finally let his guard down. He seems to have finally been shaken up a little bit.
“Then let's go find out,” I tell Reuben.
“Let’s go listen to some real music,” I tell him.
“I’m sure you know a place,” I state, “For some reason I have a feeling you’ve been thinking about this.”
“I heard of a place. Guys like me stick out like a sore thumb at places like that, though.”
“Well, luckily you got the conscious guy with you.”
He smiles at that moment, “Ok.”
The place is a hole in the wall. As we walk in I notice that Reuben puts on his sunglasses. I look over at him and I can’t help to laugh.
“Are you serious?”
“Paparazzi is a real thing,” he says.
We are at the door. I look at the bouncer and ask the bouncer, “Do you know who this guy is?”
The bouncer looks Reuben up and down, “I don’t have any idea.”
“Good,” I state and take off Reuben’s glasses.
Reuben is used to going to these night clubs. He’s even dressed the part. He’s used to skipping long lines, having girls who remembered him from their childhood get all hype that he’s walking in. The fact that as we walk into a bar where no one knows who he is, seems to throw him. He keeps looking around as though expecting someone to run over to him and ask for his autograph. No one does. I’m not sure how he feels about it.
The bar is a Jazz club. I can hear the live instruments as we walk down a hallway full of pictures of jazz musicians from the past. I’m so focused on how Reuben is reacting to it all I can’t even take in the landscape really.
As we get to the table I realize that he’s still looking around.
“This is so weird for me,” he tells me.
“I go to places like this all the time.”
“What’s she singing?”
There is a woman on the stage. She is dressed in a plain white dress with live instruments at her back. She doesn’t need lights. She doesn’t need backup dancers. She doesn’t need a huge stage like Reuben is used to. All she has is her band. There is a man with a guitar and one with a piano. She hugs the microphone. It’s one of those old school microphones. She leans in and belts out beautiful soft sweet notes as her hands gently touch the finger waves in her hair.
“You’ve never heard of Nina Simone?” I ask him.
“Uh. No…whose she?” he asks.
I laugh a little bit, “A legend. She’s singing Sinnerman.”
The man with the guitar is strumming the beats as the woman slowly sings the song,
“Oh sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Where you gonna run to?
All along dem day
Well I run to the rock, please hide me
I run to the rock, please hide me
I run to the rock, please hide me, lord
All along dem day.”
I look over at Reuben. Other people seem to be enjoying it but he just seems…confused. That is a nice way of putting it. He orders drinks and downs them as though feeling out of place. I have to admit he looks out of place. He’s not really embracing this moment.
“I don’t understand this shit,” he says, shaking his head, “This chick is talking about rocks and shit. Like…I don’t know. Maybe this was a mistake.”
“Why does this music make you so uncomfortable?”
The woman gets louder in the microphone and Reuben adjusts in his seat not understanding why this pretty woman was fixing her face in such an ugly way and screaming out these words. He’s not used to the idea of looking ugly on stage. Reuben sold sex on stage. That’s what he did. This was something that didn’t come easily to him.
“So I run to the river, it was bleedin'
I run to the sea, it was bleedin'
I run to the sea, it was bleedin'
All along dem day
So I run to the river, it was boilin'
I run to the sea, it was boilin'
I run to the sea, it was boilin'
Along dem day
So I run to the lord, please hide me lord
Don't you see me prayin'?
Don't you see me down here prayin'?
But the lord said, go to the devil
The lord said, go to the devil
He said, go to the devil
All along dem day
So I ran to the devil, he was waitin'
I ran to the devil, he was waitin'
Ran to the devil, he was waitin'
All on that day
I cried -
Reuben takes a deep breath.
“Cause it doesn’t make sense…”
“The protagonist is in a panic, realizing that their life is in awful mortal danger, yet no matter where they go, whether to mountain or to ocean, the answer, over and over is the same: “I can’t hide you.” The song gains in intensity as it progresses, and Simone masterfully keeps her emotion in check, starting out in a state of mild concern and building to a state of full-blown panic, practically shrieking the line “Please hide me, Lord! Don’t you see me praying?” But no matter the passion of Simone’s request or the number of times she makes it, the response from God is devastating: “Go to the devil.” It’s that sickening reversal, the idea of a God, who should be benevolent, demonstrating stone apathy to one of his children, that gives the song its terrible force. By the time the song hits Simone’s thundering declaration of Power!, she’s gone completely frantic is sadness and confusion. No one's coming to save her...”
“Fuck that’s sad. God just abandons her?”
I nod, “In the song. Good right?”
“Good?” he asks, getting up, “This shit is----no----I can’t do this shit. Let’s get out of here.”
I’m confused as I look up at him, “Yo---are you ok? You’re like sweating. What’s wrong with you?”
“I can’t with this. I can’t with some song about God just abandoning someone,” Reuben states, “Can we bounce?”
“Reuben it’s just a song.”
“I want to go…”
“Reuben calm down…”
I grab onto Reuben’s hand and try to ease him on. He is looking up on the stage and I swear at that moment he is sweating something fierce. I don’t get it. There is a reason Reuben is acting like this but he isn’t letting me know what it is. Right now this song is having an impact on him that he never really expected it to have and he doesn’t seem to appreciate it at all. The woman is singing Power into the microphone over and over and each time she belts it out Reuben gets more uncomfortable.
“Look at me. What’s wrong? Talk to me…”
I pull Reuben closer than I should. I am hugging him at that moment. Whatever demons Reuben has in his past he seems to need a hug at that moment. There is a verse of clapping from the crowd and Reuben fast beating hard starts to finally slow down. He finally opens up his eyes and looks over at me with these embarrassed expressions.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he says but then lets out a slight smirk, “I’ll take another hug, though…”
I laugh but I know Reuben is still uncomfortable. He’s red in the face. He’s flushed.
That’s when I feel someone at my back touching my shoulder.
I turn. Fuck. My heart races. Desean.
“What are you doing here?” I ask my brother-in-law.
“I’m on a date,” Desean laughs at that moment, “What are you doing in here?”
He looks at me. He looks at Reuben. Then he stares at the fact that we are touching. My hand is still in Reuben’s hand. I’m still comforting Reuben.
“Um…just came with a friend of mine.”
“Close friends, I see,” Desean laughs, “Sean knows you here?”
My heart is racing.
“You’re going to tell him…aren’t you?”
Desean laughs, “Oh you know I will. Guess his perfect relationship isn’t so perfect after all.”
I find myself running out at that moment. I just bolt. Reuben comes after me, though. He quickly grabs my hand in that hallway with all the photography on the walls.
“Wait. Are you ok?” Reuben asks me.
“That was my brother-in-law. He’s going to tell Sean that he saw me here,” I explain.
I knew Desean. Desean was petty for the sake of being petty. He hated his brother and seeing his brother throw his relationship in his face made Desean bitter. Desean would jump at the opportunity to tell Sean and I was scared of Sean. I was scared of what he would do to me.
“Listen…I can talk to your husband if you’re worried. I’ll just let him know that you were just helping me relax,” Reuben offers.
“You don’t know Sean,” I state shaking my head, “Once he’s mad.”
“You scared he going to leave you?”
“What are you scared of?” Reuben asks me.
“Just take me home Reuben. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have come here with you. This isn’t business.”
“No, it isn’t…” Reuben says.
He grabs me and he pushes me up against a wall. He keeps me pressed up against that wall. He just looks at me. He looks at my eyes. He looks at my nose. Then his eyes linger on my lips. Reuben is looking at my lips and he’s getting closer. Way too closer for comfort.
This wasn’t about business at all.
“Stop,” I tell Reuben, “You promised you weren’t going to kiss me…”
“I can’t help it. This connection I have with you. I’ve never felt this…I…I…”
Reuben isn’t looking at me any longer. He’s looking past me at the wall. There is a picture hanging up on the wall of the Jazz bar hallway that he’s looking at. It’s a picture right behind me. It’s taken all of his attention away from me. Reuben’s mouth drops in confusion.
“Um…Garrison look at this…”
I turn, “What?”
Reuben and I are looking at the picture. The picture hung up on the wall is a picture of a jazz band. It’s an old black and white picture. Reuben points at two men all the way in the back. It’s a picture of Reuben and me.
“I don’t remember taking this picture,” I state.
It’s definitely us. It’s DEFINITELY us. Reuben doesn’t have a beard in the picture. I have a hat on. Old style hat. We are smiling in the back of the band. Reuben has his hand on my thigh in the picture. In the back of the picture, there is a sign. Trampoline Club.
“No…it can’t be us,” He says, “Look at the date on here. It’s before either of us were born."
I read the date.
"Reuben, why are you in a picture with me from 1965?”
To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com