Mark looked out the window of the St. James Place hotel. Across the street was Spencer House, where the Prince and “the Rottweiler” his second wife took residence. Behind Spencer House was the parade ground that surrounds the grandeur of Buckingham Palace. On Wednesday afternoon crowds gathered for the pomp and circumstance of the daily parade to change the guard. Drums banging and horses clomping in that particular way that only the British Empire could produce. Mark listened to the parade with one ear and to Johnny’s resting breath with the other. It had been a wild night and Johnny would likely be asleep for some time.
Mark was hungry, but he wanted to be there when Johnny roused. Johnny had a special sweetness when he first woke up, maybe especially when he was hungover. The moments of meanness from the night before were forgotten and what was present was this beautiful and somewhat lost puppy that Mark loved dearly.
Last night started well enough. Friends arranged for them to be on the guest list for an upscale rooftop bar in exquisite gardens overlooking Kensington. But the crowd was too staid for Johnny and they went prowling for a more exciting spot. Johnny was a master at getting through long queues and scored a spot at the front of the line from a few young and very hot Russian guys at a dank and sweaty discotheque near SoHo. From there, the evening got fuzzy. Mark remembered svelte dancers and Johnny’s smiling face as drinks and eXtasy flowed. They stumbled through the door of the hotel at 4am. Mark remembered a scathing argument on the tube with Johnny accusing Mark of everything from dishonesty to gluttony. The arc was getting consistent. Johnny; the life of the party, the guy throwing money around, his jokes hilarious and his actions wild, would dance and tease and invariably pick out a young Latino as his target for the evening. On their way back, away from the crowds Johnny would turn mean and hateful. Steeped in guilt, drugs and alcohol, there was no limit to the hurt Johnny could inflict.
With luck, Mark could get Johnny to bed where he would sleep heavily and wake in a childlike haze with a contrite and loving heart.
This was why Mark stayed in the room, hungry and hungover. He needed to connect with the kind side of Johnny. He needed the closeness of his waking hours when there were few words, just caressing and nuzzling. Sometimes, if Mark allowed Johnny get into an apologizing mode, there would be tears, but Mark had learned that these tears were not healing tears, they were the tears of re-hashing what Mark had already worked hard to forget.
Hopefully, they would be up and about, eating, shopping and if the weather held, a stroll in Green Park and if it turned wet, a visit to the British Museum where Mark could lose himself for many hours. Maybe a quiet dinner near Portobello Road before the darkness came again.
Maybe Mark could talk Johnny into buying late tickets to the theater but he doubted if Johnny would be able to stay seated that long.
Looking at the sleeping Johnny, Mark felt waves of tenderness, worry and violence flow through him. On some level he knew this wasn’t sustainable, but the thought of life without Johnny was unbearable. When Johnny loved you, it was powerful despite the obvious pain. But it wasn’t Mark’s pain that Mark worried about. It was the gaping wounds inside Johnny. Everyone had some, but Johnny’s ran bone-deep. Just when Mark thought that the analyst, the life coach, a new prescription, or Mark’s quiet love were helping, the wounds exposed themselves as having festered and deepened.
Mark watched Johnny’s quiet sleep. He looked at Johnny’s broad shoulders, at his athletic thighs, at the freckles Johnny was always trying to hide, and Mark sighed. Johnny was always trying to be beautiful and he wouldn’t accept the fact that he was undeniably handsome. Even in sleep, he seemed to want to jump out of his body and into something lighter and more lithe, like he needed to escape the heavy strength nature forced him to lug around.
Mark had always chosen bad boys. Men with bad habits and cruel mouths. He loved a bad boy’s ability to say “fuck you” to the world. He loved curling up in the soft spot of a bad boy’s psyche.
Johnny picked fights with all his close friends most of the time over nothing. He’d call a friend out of the blue and with surgical precision, he’d poke at the heart of their deepest insecurities. It was as if he was daring you to love him, always testing, always sure that you would walk away. Most of their friends did. How could they not? The abuse was deeply personal and nobody could be expected to take it indefinitely.
The only one he never abused was Ann. Johnny loved Ann so fiercely he even made efforts to keep Mark at bay – as if Ann was his special possession. Mark accepted and even revered this. He loved their tiny and amazing Ann too, but there was something about her independence, her pragmatic intelligence, her extreme competence, her complete lack of sophistication that charmed Johnny to the core. Mark often thought that Ann was the sister that Johnny never had or possibly the mother he’d dreamed of having. The daughter? The wife? Mark didn’t worry about the deep psychological need that Ann filled, he was just grateful that she was in their lives and she wondered if Ann would have the temerity to stay when Johnny’s testing ire turned on her. Leaving Ann in the hospital for this trip was hard for both of them. So hard they didn’t discuss it other than to agree that she would convalesce at their house. They would hire a nurse if they had to and they would wait on her hand and foot. The notion of healing their Ann together brought them joy. Now, if they could just make their stubborn tiny Ann see the logic of this.
For now, it looked like they had a rare sunny day in London ahead of them. The darkness was hours away, Johnny was stirring and Mark went to him, kissed him tenderly on the lips and was rewarded with a sleepy smile and open arms.