Can I Hold You
k e a t i n g 1 0 1
d i s c l a i m e r - d i s c l a i m e r - d i s c l a i m e
- d i s c l a i m e r - d i s c
l a i m e r - d i s c l
i s c l a i m e r - d i s c l a i m e r - d i s c l a i m e r
While the story obviously refers to a BOYZONE remake of a song
by Tracy Chapman, the story is a fantasy. It does not imply anything
about the sexual orientations of the celebrities whom the characters
R o n a n P a t r i c k J o h n K e a t i n g :
h i s s t o r y
Ronan tiptoed into the half-lit room. On the bed was Stephen, a crumpled form, motionless save for the slight, rhythmic swell and fall of his belly. Ronan looked at the sleeping boy and wondered how long the latter had waited before finally giving in to sleep. Had he been playing sleep, ready for the ambush the moment Ronan should step in? Half-illuminated by lamplight, the boy, thought Ronan, looked even lovelier than usual. The soft light blurred the bags beneath his eyes, but there were what looked like the traces of tears on his cheeks. So, Ronan thought, he had been crying. Looking at the sleeping body, he knew he had to tell Stephen.
But not just yet, not tonight. Not on this quiet third night of March, his birthday. Tomorrow. After breakfast. Tonight, let the sleeping boy dream on... of him coming home, maybe?
He had been coming home too late--or rather too early for the next day, as Stephen would say--for too long a time now, and always smelling of places he knew he should not have been in. But he couldn't help himself. He never could have, even before he and Stephen had agreed to move in together. If there was anything that had stopped Stephen from moving in with him it was his drinking.
Ronan had argued that drinking was as good as any other vice. In fact, it was better than most other vices. "At least, I'm not breaking the law," he had told Stephen.
Stephen merely nodded. Ronan was sure that he had not convinced Stephen, but the boy must have convinced himself eventually. For some days after, Stephen was unpacking his bags in Ronan's upper eastside apartment.
Their first few months together were fine, a brief serene season that was like an intermission between the acts of a tragic play. But this was such a play as offered no catharsis for either actor or audience. The curtain rose for the second act to reveal the careless litter of empty bottles and cans, the lonely setting of late nights--this night with his agent, that night with his producer, the next with his "buddies from the old neighborhood"--and the smell, the unmistakable smell of liquor made more pungent by mint candy. (Instant oral Lysol--that's mint candy.) And then in bed... He would be too tired sometimes to even look at Stephen. Hell, who enjoys snogging with a skunk, anyway, Ronan would think to himself.
Once, Stephen suggested he get professional help. "I know a doctor just..."
"I don't need it."
Recalling the incident now, Ronan wondered if he had been too harsh with Stephen. His reply had been given swiftly, and without even so much as a glance at the boy. But there was metal in the voice that he had not intended. And that was that. Stephen never mentioned the subject again.
Maybe that was when Eloy stepped in, Ronan thought, as he pulled off his shirt. For a moment, it brushed against his nose. The smell irked him, and as if by reflex, he hurled the shirt away.
Eloy de Jong. Dutch boy: almost as insufferably indelible as the paint his name suggested, though not half as bad smelling. (God, I smell worse!) Ronan frowned at his own attempt at humor. The matter was too serious to be treated with irony, even self-inflicted irony. Where and how had Stephen met the Dutch boy? When he was dating Stephen, the boy never mentioned knowing anyone named Eloy, or anyone Dutch, for that matter. (Was it always Dutch between Eloy and Stephen?) Another bad joke. Ronan bit his tongue to suppress the sarcasm.
Maybe one of the boys had introduced them. Nicky? Shane? Mark? Bryan? Kian? They always had foreign friends around them. Well, it didn't matter now who had done it. The fact is, as he had told Shane that afternoon, "That Eloy affair only made things worse between us." Ronan had winced at his own choice of words: "Affair."
That must have been why he started smoking again--because of the "affair." Oh, there wasn't anything concrete, nothing that would, as they say, stand in the court of law--a telltale letter, an incriminating present, a curious mark on the skin, a furtive phone call--but there was just a little more distance in Steo's speech, more disquieting silences. What Ronan remembered most was the look in Stephen's eyes when Steve strangely came home later than he, Ronan, did. It was an accusing look but also one that was begging for forgiveness. They had said nothing, save for the "Good night, love" that had become hollow from rote and more hollow because false.
But at that moment, Ronan knew. There was no need for him to catch a whiff of Eloy's perfume on Stephen. He had wanted both to crush Stephen in his arms and to lash out at him, make him whimper like a bedraggled puppy. He felt a shuddering in his body, but he stifled it. He uncorked a pint of beer, making sure Stephen saw him guzzle the bitter liquid, and let a bit of the foam trickle down his chin. The following day, he was puffing a stick at the studio, and then another, and another, until he heard Shane telling him--how long Shane had been standing in front of him he didn't know--he heard Shane telling him, "I thought you'd quit..."
Ronan pulled down his trousers and wondered what underwear Eloy wore. And did Steo smell it as he used to sniff his? The thought of Steo biting the garter, pulling the briefs down with his teeth made Ronan suck in a mouthful of air. The boy was an agile lover--and until recently, a faithful one, as well. There was nothing quite like love guilt-free, Ronan thought. The last time they did it he felt hollow, no matter how adroitly Stephen worked him. Guilt dripped from Stephen's fingers, but also anger. Was he doing the same things to Eloy, Ronan kept asking himself as Stephen's fingers slid down his torso, squeezed the cheeks of his buttocks, groped his thighs. Ronan went through the motions and traded kiss for kiss, but in his mind were Stephen and Eloy, limbs and lips locked tight. Still, Stephen kept at it and began to work harder. Ronan closed his eyes. Then: the willful shutting out of facts, the surrender to mere sensation, the tightening of the muscles, the shudder. And then the brute fact staring at him from out of Stephen's blue, blue eyes--that he had played a fool.
Ronan couldn't remember the last time he had made love with Stephen and was happy.
He turned his gaze at the sleeping boy again and half thought to touch him. Maybe tonight it would be different. Maybe tonight the moves would feel right: first, the nape, then, the chin, then the lips (which should be partly parted by now...).
But Stephen was going Dutch. He prefers Dutch treat, which is no treat. My boy is putting me in the Dutch. He bit his lip again. The feeble Dutch jokes were only convincing him that he had indeed gone mad.
My boy. He thought he had to unlearn the possessive--my boy, that boy is mine, mine own dear boy--because tomorrow he would tell Stephen that he was his own dear boy no longer.
Yes, that was what Shane had told him to do that afternoon at the suite. "You can't live together," he had said, pulling his trousers back on, "not that way. You know how lovers are when they start hating each other."
"How?" Ronan asked wearily. He was still naked on the bed. Shane had worked him to exhaustion, and he felt enervated after the rigorous lovemaking such as he had not had with Stephen for some time.
"Don't be obtuse, Ro."
"Pray, tell me, how, Mr. Shane Filan?"
"And don't be sarcastic, either."
"All right, I'm sorry."
"They get to be such enemies, don't you know. And I've never seen you love anyone so much... not even Nicky."
"To hell with Nicky," Ronan whispered.
"He still in love with you, you know."
"Well, I love Steo."
"You think coming home drunk every night is going to convince him of that?"
"I love Steo."
"You're only giving him a reason to dump you."
"I love Steo."
"But can't you see? You must leave him if you love him... or if you want him to love you back."
"I love Steo."
"You're hurting Steo."
"I love Steo."
Shane raised his arms and rolled his tiny brown eyes. There was nothing more exasperating to him than a stubborn and senseless repetition. "If you really love him, you'll leave him."
"In the beginning, it was lovely."
"If you really love him, you'll leave him."
Shane was apparently not up to responding to a non sequitur. He was going to play Ronan's game of stubborn repetitions instead. "Or let him leave you."
Shane had the mind of an executive in a hurry, Ronan had thought. Everything was a matter of expedience: "leave him or let him leave you." Everything was a matter of expedience, even these regular trysts he had been carrying on with Ronan were a mere expediency. ("No strings, you understand, just you and me getting off. And no one has to know. You haven't been doing it with Steve, I sense...")
The way Shane made love was also a matter of expedience, as if he wanted it over and done with: a quick undressing, some breathy dirty whispers, a swift and steady exchange of cut-and-thrust-and parry, a quick building up and letting down and building up again, and all the while heaving, heaving, heaving... The execution was expert; but the emotion--economic, thrifty, bankrupt. Ro marveled at how Shane had managed to steer himself clear away from any emotional complications. He had never heard Shane complain about any relationship, and he's had quite a few--with Mark most recently. But then, thought Ro, with Shane investing so little, how could ever he lose?
Ronan lay still in bed, his eyes a little watery.
"I love Steo."
"Of course you do," Shane said with something like genuine concern in his voice. He sat by the bed and began to tousle his friend's golden hair.
"Immensely. That's why I'm not letting go."
"Even if that means making him hate you?"
Ro was silent.
"Even if that means making him miserable?"
Ro was shutting down.
"Or making yourself miserable? If you love him..."
Ronan lost Shane after that. But was what was it that Steo really wanted? That he stand by Steo despite his affair with Eloy to prove how much he loved the boy? That he give up Shane? That he kick the habit altogether? But how? Was Stephen's affair with Eloy the boy's way of forcing the play to its crisis? And would it be worth the trauma, when the cast comes out for a curtain call and the lights in the theater are switched on? Wouldn't it be better to keep the place dim, the audience in suspense?
The last thing Ronan could remember of what Shane was saying was, "You don't have to go on making each other suffer when you can be such good friends." He had dressed himself, looking fresh and rested, and was already at the door. How long had Ro blocked him out? "Think about it, mate."
--Steo, I want out.
No, that didn't sound right. Too direct. It made it seem as if it was all Stephen's fault. "I want out," as if Stephen hadn't had enough of his drinking and smoking, either. And maybe he already knew about Shane.
He tried again.
--I'm sorry I've been drinking... and smoking... too much...
How to tell? He tried one more time.
--You can have the flat...
In medias res? But would the audience be prepared? Quit fooling around, Ro. Get serious.
--I've been a bad partner. Anyway, you have Eloy...
That sounded as if he was finding an excuse to get out of the relationship. And was he even supposed to know about Eloy?
--We've not been good to each other. I... We can't go on hurting...
He must have said that aloud, for Stephen stirred, opened his eyes, blinked, squinted, and then was fully awake.
"I'm sorry if I woke you up, I was just going to..."
"That's okay, love."
"Get back to sleep, Steo."
"Are you coming to bed, Ro?"
"Get back to sleep."
He gave Stephen a quick peck on the cheek where the stains still showed, walked to the bedside, and shut out the lamp.
S t e p h e n P a t r i c k D a v i d G a t e l y :
h i s d i a r y
Sometimes I don't understand him. Why won't he get help? This afternoon, I asked him if he would see a doctor... because I thought maybe it's something in his genes. I know people addicted--really, clinically addicted--to things like carbohydrates. Imagine that. To be addicted to carbohydrates. Addicted. Like carbohydrates was a drug. So it isn't inconceivable for Ro to be genetically addicted, too. I thought he was rather cross. "I don't need it," he said.
But I need it, I wanted to say. I need him to be sober. But of course, I didn't. How could I?Right now, watching him in bed, it feels as if he's never touched the bottle. I counted ten tonight. That's two more from the other night. It makes me wonder sometimes how he keeps his tummy tight despite all that drinking.
Ro surprised me with a lovely bouquet tonight: lilies, gardenias, roses, carnations... He must be trying to make it up for yesterday. Lovely yellow roses. (But why the yellow carnations? Doesn't he know that yellow carnations stand for disdain? I must "educate" him on that. J) I told him it was quite all right, but he insisted on taking me out to dinner. He hasn't done that in months. He's always been out on some business meeting--with Mr. W. and then with Mr. H. and then, of course, with Shane and the other boys. I can't pass this opportunity up--not when Ro's being so charming.
He was as charming as when he had told me he would quit--that was some months ago. Ah, he never did, but he was charming. How could I have resisted?
He's perfectly repentant now. I wonder how long this will last. I should perish the thought!
Am I a fool?
Kian says I should meet his new Dutch friend next week. He's supposed to be very funny. Kian always has funny friends--maybe because he has a funny face: kinda squarish with long long bangs. Like the Frankenstein monster with overgrown hair. A cute monster. No, that's horrid, not funny. I'll think of a better image maybe tomorrow--when I'm over this night.Ro still can't dance. J
Kian was right. His Dutch friend IS a funny person. He's name is Eloy de Jong. "E-loi dyhong." "You have to let the breath out at Jong."
Kian took us to the B&N cafe down the bridge. Very cozy, and with such beautiful china, too. (Ro wouldn't like it. He would think it overly dainty, and whoever drinks beer out of hand-painted china?) E. is so funny. He impersonated all the blokes at the Judy show. A gas. A perfect gas. It's partly the accent, I'm sure, and the way he contorts his face, like a clown. But then just before we left, he said something I thought rather forward... tactless. I'll try to reconstruct it as best I can:
We ought to go out again, he told me.
I said, Why?
He said, Because I make you laugh.
I said, But I don't want to laugh all time.
And he said, Ah, but you have not been laughing lately.
Kian pretended not to hear--well, at least, he coughed all of a sudden and was reaching for a tissue. Kian is so transparent; he's so bad at... Ah well, never mind. I still can't think of a perfect image for him.
Is E. also clairvoyant? "Oh, my prophetic soul!" That's from Shakespeare. Wait, I should check that quotation...
Yes, it is from Shakespeare. "Oh, my prophetic soul." Either K. was gossiping again or E. just sensed it. And he's right. I haven't been myself since that little row with Ro last week. No, it was a major row. An ugly row. And all because I asked him when he would come home before bedtime again. I mean, he leaves the flat in the morning and comes home the morning after. I didn't want to ask him about the bottles anymore, because I know that would only make things worse. (There were 15, by the way, that night--or morning, I don't know now.)Ro was so very upset. And I am very tired. I must go to bed. It is 2:15 AM and still no Ro. Just a few nights before that scene he had been so sweet with the flowers and the dinner at the Hotel B. I don't understand him sometimes. But do I love him? Yes. And again Yes.
E. took me to the D&D for some new wallpaper and then to the B&N again for some coffee. He tells me he is starting a software business and thinks his Dutch accent will help him win clients.
Why, I asked him.
Because they will think I am an ignorant foreigner.
Well, aren't you? I said.
No, but that's the point. They can get one over me, they will think. It will make them feel powerful and smart.
So, they will buy from me. Nothing persuades people more than their ignorance.
You're a silly ass.
You have a cute ass.
I suppose he meant that as a joke, and that I was supposed to be flattered. E.'s been more forward lately, sometimes, too forward. But then he smiles that smile of his and everything is supposed to be a joke.
Just kidding, he did say. Just kidding. I was just, eh, `horsing around,' you say in English?
"Kidding," "horsing around "--are animals supposed to be joking all the time? Why all these animal metaphors?Ro is still meeting with his agents, so he tells me. That was four hours ago. He must think that I'm asleep so he hasn't called.
I'm keeping a diary again. I haven't for a long time because I was afraid. I still am, but writing my thoughts down might make me be more reasonable.
been getting very close. He calls almost everyday.
Who^m am I kidding? He IS in love with me. (There I've said it.) He's said as much. It was at the B&N--that day when Ro's touring some town down South with Shane and the boys.
Don't be silly, I told him.
I am not.
You're silly. You're making things up.
You're silly. You're still with that drunk...
I must have hit him, because he stopped and his eyes looked like they smarted. The waiter came and offered us new glasses for the ones that had fallen off the table. E. apologized. The bastard had cut to the quick. He said he knows, and he added that he knows I have feelings for him, too.
Damn the boy.
I don't love him. Not like I love Ro. Not like I love Ro.
Still, I can't see how this diary business is going to make me any less mad.
Today, he says Ro
doesn't have to know, but how can he not?
But why am I asking that question? It's almost as if I do DO want E. and what's preventing me is the fear of Ro finding out. Eloy is funny, thoughtful, charming. He's a puppy. But I love Ro. I can't do this to him. It would hurt him--and me.
Brunch with Nicky tomorrow at the L&C. Funny why Ro's ex should be so interested to have lunch with me. Funnier that I agreed to meet himI AM a fool.
He's lying. That bugger Nicky is lying about Ro. He still hasn't gotten over the fact that it's me Ro loves, not him. Even if that was a long time ago. He's still copying Ro--hairstyle, clothes, the moves.
So now he wants me to believe that Ro's been making out with Shane. Well, little good that would do you if that were true, I thought. Nicky would just say anything just to get Ro back.
The bastard then began insinuating about telling Ro on me and E. What does he know? And anyway, Ro wouldn't believe him. Why should he believe a bitter ex-boyfriend? "A bitter ex-boyfriend who's still jacking off to Ro's old photos"--those were my exact words. That shut him up. I was mean, I know, but I couldn't help it. Nicky's a bastard.
Still, if Nicky does tell... I must tell E. to stop. It's for his own good. He deserves someone who will--or can--love him. It's so easy to love him but I cannot. I shouldn't.12 bottles today.
E... called again. Says he wants to see me.
E. called again. The boy is relentless. Today he said he loves me--as if I don't already know. I should be flattered. Ro doesn't say he loves me anymore. Not even when we made out last night--one of those nights that he actually came home before midnight. Wait, there's the phone...
That was Ro.
He said he'll stay out late again.
We did it last night. Or at least, I did it to him. He said he was dead tired. He's been tired nights, I told him. But he just looked away.Does Shane work him out that much? And that often? What does Shane do that I can't? Bugger.
We did it. E. says I shouldn't feel guilty because it's R. who made me do it.
But what made me do it? That was the bastard Nicky who called the other night. Nicky Dicky!
Do you want to know where your precious Ro is? he said in that whine of his. Don't you know what he's doing? WHO he's doing? Do you know why he hasn't been fucking you lately? I know the signs, you faggot. Remember I had him before you did. Ro doesn't change.
Nicky is vulgar. Everytime he speaks he betrays his origins. VULGAR.
I can't get those words out of my head. And those pictures...
But I don't feel guilty because I'm breaking R.'s trust--I'm not. I love him. It's that I'm playing with E.'s feelings. He's such a dear. He loves me, truly. I know. E. is a good lover. E. is a tender lover. But I love R.
I don't think R. suspects. When I came home, he just uncorked another bottle and started taking it all down. I said, "Goodnight, love." He didn't say anything, he just nodded his head, and then went to the backroom. My darling is so dense, it kills me to betray him this way. I must tell E. to stop.But Ro is being unfaithful. I've been unfaithful, too. We can call it quits.
I'm writing again, but just to note down how many bottles Ro is emptying. I counted 8 today. That's two fewer than yesterday. At least, R.'s improving. Maybe it'll be worth it after all.
Okay, so what if he's been sleeping with Shane? It's not going to last. I know Shane isn't ready for a commitment--he's never ready for a commitment. Mark told me as much. When they were together Shane kept sneaking off. And Mark knew all about it. An open relationship, that's how he described it. It's all for kicks when Shane does it with other blokes, and he's free to do the same, he said. But then, after a while, he couldn't take it. Shane was just too promiscuous--or too insecure. He can't surrender.
Surrender. With Shane, it's one quick shag after another because he can't surrender. It's too scary for him.I'm not scared.
E. on the phone. He tells me he loves me. Poor lad. He looks at me with those big weepy eyes of his and I can't tell him this has got to stop.
I'm not scared. I love Ro.
I surrender to Ro.
Besides, E. is too tall for me.I must be mad.
Valentine's Day.I must stop this with E. Ro still doesn't know, or if he does, he's not confronted me about it. I can save this. And it doesn't matter if he's sleeping with Shane. (I'm not supposed to know that.) I still love him.
Ro's birthday today! Must make sure the cake is vanilla, not chocolate.
E. took it rather well. Or he controlled himself rather well. I guess his clairvoyance helped him here. I mean, he must have sense it coming, just as he knew there was something wrong between Ro and me.
This has to stop, I told him plainly.
He didn't say anything... just nodded his head very slowly.
His silence was oppressive. I tried to cheer him--and myself--up. I told him you can't love someone and expect them to love you back. I mean, it just doesn't work that way. You just love. And just because you do doesn't mean you'll be loved back. That doesn't make your love any worse or better or truer or false. That's just the way it is.
It breaks my heart still to remember those weepy eyes of his, but what else could I have done? It would have been more difficult if it hadn't told him off.
What did he do wrong, he asked me.
I said, Nothing. It's not you. It's just the way things are.
Didn't he make me laugh, he said. He was getting a little excited. And didn't he make me happy? And didn't he return all my calls? And didn't he buy me presents and wrote me letters and...
At that point, I shut him up by kissing him. He calmed down a bit. He just sat there all quiet and said he knew it was coming. He said he hopes I am making the right decision. I said I am.
You're not throwing away happiness, are you? That was a rather cheeky question, I thought, but then he probably thought he'd risk it. What else is there to lose?
I told him, No.
And then he said, There we are, then.
That's Teutonic resignation for you. I hope he finds someone else. He deserves someone else. And I deserve Ronan.
I must be mad. I love Ro--which is a kind of madness, isn't it?
Starting tomorrow, it will be as if Eloy had never happened at all. And
Shane? He'll give up on Ro, or Ro will give up on him. I can't wait to
see him tonight. Happy Birthday, Ro, and happy birthday to
t h e e n d
The author thanks Jonathan Andrew Ybanez, whose stories appear in
this same webpage, for his friendship and technical support. He also
thanks Alvin Y. for innumerable intelligent conversations on the
boyband. The story is for all gay-friendly BOYZONE fans or
sympathizers, but specially Piglet and Cyan. Comments are welcome.
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