In a way, it almost seemed like a betrayal, talking about it. Not so much who he was talking about it with – she was probably the best, if not in fact only, choice – but just that he was talking about it at all. It wasn’t just that he’d learned that you shouldn’t, it was that Face was a very private person. He wouldn’t like it if he knew he was being talked about, not in depth, anyway. But the problem was that Frankie just wasn’t sure what to do.
“It’s a big thing,” he observed. “Maybe it shouldn’t be, it’s one of those fake holidays somebody makes up to get you to spend money, but –”
“But once it’s out there,” she nodded, “it’s hard to say no to it.”
“That’s it exactly,” he said, grateful that she got it. “It’s like there’s this whole … field manual out there, you know? All the movies and tv shows telling you exactly what to do. Buy flowers, chocolate, jewelry – at least one, and two’s better and all three’s best. A nice card, funny if you’ve been married for five years or so. Romantic dinner. There’s no excuse for doing it wrong.”
Anne laughed but then said, “So why not do it right?”
Very like a teenager, which she was of course, and really why he was talking to her. She tended to see things, not plainly but as plain, simple and direct, if also in super-saturated color and with a psychedelic, Phil Spector-ish soundtrack. Much more than her brother, she cut through to the heart of things pretty quickly. Why not, indeed? He sighed softly. “Because that manual, like so many of them, isn’t written for us.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
He shrugged with more indifference than the situation – not her – warranted. “Well, I can’t exactly take him out to dinner, can I? Not a romantic one, anyway.”
She cocked her head slightly. “I reckon not, but… it don’t have to be in a restaurant to be romantic, does it?”
He paused. “No, I guess not.”
“You can make a romantic dinner right here. You don’t even have to make something fancy, you know; spaghetti an’ cheap red wine can be romantic with the right person. And you and Mr. Howard are the right person for each other.”
“Not cheap wine,” he said, but the joke didn’t cover the admission that she was right.
She smiled at him. “You can buy expensive wine, then. You can buy flowers and chocolate and, okay, maybe not jewelry, and you can buy candles and Barry White records. But you already know all that, Mr. Rivera. What are you really asking?”
“It’s just…” he paused again, but if he wasn’t going to ask, why had he even started? “I don’t know. He might not like it.”
She almost laughed; he could see her stopping it before it started. “Why not?”
“It’s so clichéd.”
She did chuckle at that. “My mama says things are only clichés because they’re true. Mice are quiet, lighting is fast, wolves do eat a lot. Romance may be a cliché, but I’ll bet Mr. Howard likes it, even if he acts like he don’t. Has he said anything? He has to know what day Tuesday is.”
“He probably expects that from me. I mean, I’m sure he does. But … well, no. He hasn’t said anything.”
She looked at him almost pityingly – a look he was very familiar with from his cousins and aunts. Women started in on that pretty damned early. “I suppose all I can really say is, if he knows you’re going to do it and he hasn’t asked you, even like it was a joke, not to, then why not?”
“Why hasn’t he?” She stood up. “I ought to be getting home. You think on it, Mr. Rivera, you’ll decide right. You two, it’d be hard to go wrong, I’d think.”
“Gracias,” he said, because she liked it when he said things in Spanish. “Que pases una buena noche.”
She smiled at him before climbing onto her bicycle. He’d used to offer her a ride home, but she’d always preferred to bike. So now he sat on the front porch and watched her disappear up the road and thought about what she’d said. Why hadn’t Face said anything to him? It had to mean something. Because Face was like the recently ex-president in one thing anyway – he was a great communicator… of the things he chose to communicate. Only of those, though, and the things he didn’t choose were legion. But one thing was definitely true: Face didn’t keep quiet about things he didn’t like.
Sure, he was – Frankie knew it – making an effort to be part of a couple. And he would smile and say he liked things that he probably didn’t much, if he thought Frankie did. But the key was that those were things that had already happened. Hacer de tripas corazon, as his aunts always said, but Face wasn’t the slightest bit slow to head things off if they hadn’t happened yet. So … Anne was probably – more than probably – right. Face wouldn’t want to suggest a big deal for Valentine’s Day, he wouldn’t want to risk Frankie being surprised or unwilling, and he wouldn’t want to think that the only reason he, Frankie, was doing something was because he, Face, had told him to.
But he’d want it. He’d want to know that Frankie wanted to make a big deal out of it. He’d like that, though he wouldn’t ask for it. Face hated asking. Frankie leaned back on his elbows and looked up at the waxing moon scudding through the clouds. Face carried on about the dark, and Frankie understood that, but he’d spent more time in dark places than Face. Well, more happy times, anyway, nobody hunting him or anything. So he kind of liked the dark, the stars and the emptiness. Maybe not as a steady diet, not instead of LA, but as a vacation…
He closed his eyes for a minute, because no matter how he tried to pretend, this wasn’t a vacation. This was an escape, a refuge. They only had a couple of days before they had to be back, and who knew when they’d get out here again. It might be spring. And Face might not like the dark, might not like the emptiness, might prefer to do his hiding in a crowd, but this was where they had, now. At least, Frankie thought, at least you can make sure he gets other things he needs. He doesn’t like to ask, he likes to make you prove it, that you know what he wants, what he needs, that you’ll give it to him… Sweet Mary, but he’s high maintenance. Then he felt himself grinning like an idiot. “Worth every bit of it,” he said out loud before getting up to go inside.
And anyway, it wouldn’t last forever. Someday he’d have Face convinced that he was loved and that he didn’t need to have it proved. Someday, he thought, someday Temple will ask.
Inside the house he paused and then decided to look in on Face, who had gone to take a nap soon after they’d arrived that afternoon. He was a lot better than he had been, but ‘a lot better’ still wasn’t up to par. Frankie had driven them in and done the unpacking. But that had been a few hours ago.
He looked in the bedroom and was met by Face’s blue eyes, only a little sleepy. “Hey,” he said. “You feeling better?”
“Hmmmm,” Face answered. “We alone?”
Frankie smiled at him. “We are.”
“Then come over here and I’ll show you.”
Two steps to the bed and Face was taking a handful of shirt and pulling. Even as he fell, controlling it so he landed next to instead of on the other man, Frankie was laughing. Some things Face didn’t mind asking for at all…
Monday morning Face came out of the bedroom in shorts and an olive-drab tee-shirt. Frankie looked at him with alarm he didn’t have to fake at all. “I know it’s going to be 70-something today,” he said, “but shorts?”
“Don’t you like me in shorts?” Face said, mock-wounded.
“That is not the point.”
Face laughed. “I’m going to run. You don’t have to; your time was good last week. Hannibal chewed me up and spit me out.”
“You want to take it easy –”
“I’ve been taking it easy,” he said frustratedly. “It’s not helping. I need to start working harder.” He paused and then put his hand on Frankie’s shoulder. “I’m just going to run ten miles, nothing major. And I’ll take it easy – I’ll aim at ninety minutes, not seventy, and I’ll slow it down if I need to. I’ll be fine.”
“You want me to come with?”
“No.” That was a bit sharp, but he immediately added, more softly, “You don’t need to. I’m not an idiot, I won’t kill myself.”
“Well, make sure you warm up good before you start. And stay off the main roads. And I’ll shut up now.”
Face shook his head. “No. I mean, yes, shut up, that’s good and I like it. But I also like that you care.” He moved his hand up and tugged loose a lock of hair so he could tuck it behind Frankie’s ear. “You balance nicely. When I get back I’ll show you how much I like it. But I’d better go or else I won’t.”
Frankie dropped a quick kiss on Face’s wrist. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
“I know.” Face paused a second and then headed out the back door.
This was actually good, as long as he didn’t push himself too hard. Ninety minutes was enough time to go into Crisfield and buy some stuff for tomorrow. It was actually enough time to go to Salisbury, which was probably where he’d have to go, considering. Crisfield had less than 2,000 people in it. Not a shopping mecca by any means, unless you wanted seafood, in which case there might not be many places in the whole country to beat it. But flowers? Not so much. Frankie fixed his hair, giving Face enough time to get down the road and then climbed into the old truck and headed inland.
Rifling through the Easy Listening bin at the local record store looking for (pace Anne) not Barry White but Frank Sinatra he was pleased to find both “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” – with Face’s favorite “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – and “Wee Small Hours”. He bought them both, along with a portable record player since the house didn’t have one. Then he bought wine and some insanely expensive scarlet roses he’d have to figure out how to hide till tomorrow and a big red Whitman’s heart full of “our finest chocolates”. He found a nice card with a sailboat on it and a Kahlil Gibran quote inside (make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls) that seemed perfect. Dinner would be whatever they had, no way to keep Face out of the refrigerator; Anne was right that candles and the person were more important than the menu. So he went and found some fancy tall white tapers instead of the utilitarian in-case-of-power-outage ones they already had, with two crystal candlesticks, and found himself glad for José Maria Rivera’s platinum credit card.
He paused in front of a jewelry store on his way back to the truck and looked wistfully at rings. But only wistfully, not even half seriously – even if they made sense, it was way too early for rings. He wasted about five more minutes looking at watches, but in the end he decided he’d gone far enough overboard as it was. So he just shifted his purchases around a bit in his arms and walked on. Next year, maybe. In LA. He laughed to himself. Next year in LA – one of the lost tribes… But if not next year, the year after. There was no way he could see Face still in Virginia that long. Johnny might counsel patience, but Face would rather live on the run than in a cage…
He plopped the bags onto the truck’s hood and unlocked the door. Wonder what exactly it’s like, on the run, he thought. In some ways, pretty much like this, I guess. But with people chasing you. Well, he tucked his purchases in on the floor to keep them spilling everywhere, if they could do it, I can. As long as I’m with Temple… Then he shrugged and said out loud, “¡Basta! Ya nos preocuparemos de eso cuando llegue el momento. Or as Martin Riggs would say, I don’t have to go looking for trouble, it pretty much knows where I live.” Then he laughed and started the truck. “And with whom, so don’t darken my door, Trouble, or you’ll be sorry.”
Back at the house he had plenty of time to hide everything in the closet in the spare bedroom before Face came back, sweaty and tired but pleased with himself. He invited Frankie to share the shower with him, and Frankie accepted with alacrity, and after a lazy and frankly hedonistic afternoon they drove into Crisfield for a seafood dinner by the water. Frankie envied the straight couples sharing the restaurant floor with them; looking at Face, he could tell he did too. The place wasn’t dark enough for the other man’s favorite ploy of footsie, either, so delayed gratification was their only resort. He said so to Face as they climbed into the truck.
“I’m not crazy about delay,” Face said, “but the gratification is pretty damned gratifying.” He wrinkled his brow as he put the key in the ignition. “Does this thing have too much mileage on it?”
“Like I’d know,” Frankie answered as casually as he could. “Bob probably used it one day when he was warming up the engine and making sure everything was okay. We did tell him he could.” He reached over and squeezed Face’s knee as he spoke.
“True,” the blond said, forgetting about the odometer as he put his own hand on Frankie’s. “We did. Why are we talking about him?”
“I have no idea. Would you like to keep on doing it, or would you like to drive home?”
“God, yes, I would like to drive home. But I’ll settle for driving back to the house.” He put the truck in gear and threw a sideways glance at Frankie as he pulled out. “I might settle for driving halfway back.”
“Oh, no. All the way – oh, be serious,” he said when Face started laughing. “I have no desire to get beaten up by some drunken redneck fisherman driving down the wrong road.”
“That would kill the mood,” Face agreed, but Frankie wasn’t sure he really believed it. Maybe just as well, but it was a bit odd to be the one who’d lived through a bit of the dark instead of Face. Maybe he could save that up and point it out the next time the other man started in on his ‘you just don’t understand’ kick. Or, he thought looking at Face’s profile against the darkness, not. Probably not.
The next day he managed, via a combination of letting Face sleep in very late and then getting him out on the boat – it was over 70 again, craziest February weather they’d had in years, everybody had been saying at the restaurant – to keep him from going running until late in the afternoon. In fact, he’d gotten so involved in sailing that he’d almost lost track of the time himself. “It’ll be dark in an hour,” Face had said as they tied the mooring lines to the dock. “I’m only going to do five miles.”
“You should anyway,” Frankie had answered. “Don’t overdo it.”
“I won’t,” his answer was a bit impatient. He came out of the bedroom pulling on his shirt and looking good enough to tackle if Frankie hadn’t had other plans. “I am starving,” he added. “Have dinner waiting, would you?” His grin robbed that of seriousness. “See you in an hour, maybe less.”
Which wasn’t much time. Frankie put the meat in the oven and the potatoes on the stovetop and then started getting ready. He unboxed the record player and made space for it in the living room, putting “In the Wee Small Hours” on the turntable but leaving it off. Then he cleared off the small coffee table in the living room, setting it with the linen tablecloth folded double and tossing pillows onto the floor for them to sit on. He put the roses into a bowl for the center of the table, stems trimmed down with a paring knife, and the candles on either side. The chocolate box and the card he put on top of the record player, after which he stopped and reconsidered and swapped the Sinatra albums, putting the B-side of “Swingin’ Lovers” up.
He stepped back and looked at the scene. Pretty nice if I say so myself, he nodded.
When Face came in through the back door he paused and sniffed the air appreciatively. “Pot roast? Nice,” he said. “I’m just going to shower real quick, because now I am genuinely starving.”
“I’ll get it on the table,” Frankie said. He waited till the water stopped and dished up the food, laying the plates on the coffee table and lighting the candles.
Then he stood next to the table and held his breath.
Face came into the living room on his way to the kitchen and stopped dead in his tracks. His hair was still slightly damp, a burnished dark bronze rather than blond, and he was wearing a shirt Frankie hadn’t know he’d brought out to the Shore, a pale rose dress shirt with the collar unbuttoned. There was a moment of complete silence, so deep Frankie could hear the water out in the Bay sliding in under the dock.
Then Face spoke. “You remembered,” he said, and Frankie’s heart almost broke from the wonder in his voice. “My God, how did you do all of this?” He stepped into the room and lifted one of the roses out of the china bowl to smell its musky fragrance.
“Bob hasn’t been driving the truck.”
“And we’re talking about Bob again,” Face said half-seriously. “I could almost be jealous… my God, Franklin.”
“Let’s eat before it gets cold,” Frankie said before it got too fraught.
Face laughed and sat down on one of the pillows, tucking the rose into the button hole of his shirt. “I could eat a horse,” he acknowledged. They ate in silence punctuated by all the touching they hadn’t been able to do the night before – holding hands and leaning across for quick – and not so quick – kisses. For someone as hungry as Face claimed to be, he didn’t want seconds, just cleared their plates into the kitchen and came back with the wine bottle to find Frankie laying the box of chocolate on the linen tablecloth.
He swallowed and put down the wine so he could pick up the card. But before he did that, he reached into the pocket of his slacks and held out a small envelope of his own. “I didn’t know if you’d,” he started; then he stopped and then started again. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Franklin.”
Frankie took the envelope, hoping his fingers weren’t trembling too noticeably. He waited till Face picked up his own and they opened them together. His was a simple white card with a lovely watercolor rose drawn on it and inside, in Face’s best handwriting, “You don’t complete me; you make me better.”
He raised his eyes and met Face’s. “Better, but not braver I guess,” the other man said softly.
He had no idea what to say to that so he didn’t try. Instead, he turned around and switched on the record player, dropping the arm onto track one. That marvelous Nelson Riddle orchestration started up and when he turned around, Face was right there next to him.
The kiss lasted until Frank began singing. I’ve got you under my skin; I’ve got you deep in the heart of me – so deep in my heart you’re really a part of me…
“Let’s dance,” he said.
“Dance,” he repeated. “Come on; you know how, I’ve seen you.”
“I’ve never…” Face’s voice trailed off.
“Don’t worry about it. No one’s here but us.” He put his arms around Face. “Let go, Temple,” he whispered into his ear. “Come with me.”
The first few steps were tense, but then he felt Face relax against him, into the music, into his arms.
But each time I do just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin, ‘cause I’ve got you under my skin.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Temple.”
I took a trip on a train and I thought about you, I passed a shadowy lane and I thought about you
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Franklin.”
Moon shining down on some little town and with each beam, the same old dream … And what did I do? I thought about you
They danced together in the darkness and let Sinatra sing.
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